Category Archives: History

Destroying Our Own Planet

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Write for Rights

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I watched this video, and it made me think of the infinite power that writers possess. What really shook me the most is Adnan Ibrahim saying that the average Arab reads of his own free will for approximately three minutes a year – an utmost tragedy. Yet, I can’t help but wonder who is to blame. The Arab himself for not trying to find the tools to his own liberation, or the government for making the tools seem unappealing? I know people who HATE reading. Even more who actually can’t read. 18 year old full-blooded Arab students who stutter over their words in Arabic class, and use terms like “imaginating” in English class. It would be one thing if they compensated for their lack of Arabic fluency with their English skills, but it’s a total embarrassment when they can’t speak either of the two. Then again, I do have to say that schools, in this case, are partially to blame. When the material presented is deathly-boring and dry as a dead man’s bones, the student won’t show any interest and won’t feel encouraged to learn the material. But if you present him or her with poetry, or stories, or articles, or literature that they can relate to and will grab their attention, it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll want to take part in the class – and there you have it, he’s learning! I sometimes sit in my Arabic class while the teacher is talking about grammar, and I hide my poetry book under my desk and read. And to be honest, it feels like I’m learning more while I’m reading that book than while I’m listening to my teacher – my appreciation of language is deepened, my understanding of certain concepts expands, my own writing develops. How else can you be a better writer if you don’t read?

 

Almost every intellectual will tell you that he only managed to liberate himself through reading. And the ones in Kuwait will tell you they did it by reading many, many banned books. Adnan Ibrahim also mentioned self-critiquing; I along with several other writers I know have made this a habit through our writing. Keeping a journal to keep yourself in check is the best way to see how much you’ve grown from day to day. It gives you easy access to the person you were last night, or last month, or last year. That way, you can compare the ‘two people’. You can also compare yourself to the characters you read about, whether in fictional or in non fictional books. Read books that insult you, read books that provoke you, read books that make you squirm and feel uncomfortable and queasy. Those are the only books that challenge your frame of thought; if by the time you reach the last page, you still don’t agree, then your beliefs are firm. If not, then you’ve acquired new, better beliefs that would make you more comfortable with yourself. Read books that tell you to question everything, to doubt, to inquire, to aspire, to love, to fight, to rebel. Rebelling does not necessarily have to be violent. Simply by carrying a set of values and beliefs that opposes your society’s, you are rebelling. Simply by reading books that your society has deemed to be inappropriate, you are rebelling. And most importantly, by writing, you are rebelling.

In 1984 by George Orwell the main character keeps a journal. He’s afraid of keeping a journal, because he’s not allowed to – the ‘Thought Police’ arrest anyone who keeps track of his own thoughts or feelings or memories. Yet he writes, with a trembling hand and a quivering pen, he writes to remember. He writes so he can later assert the truth. He writes of his dreams, his secret desires, his childhood memories, the country he knew before it turned into a totalitarian state. Of course, later he is arrested – but it takes so much to break him after he had liberated himself. Books were also banned in this state, so when his new-found lover gives him books that discuss liberty and freedom and innate rights, he’s introduced to a completely new world. All of a sudden he’s awestruck with intimacy being an expression of love rather than a duty, with education being enlightening rather than evil, with family being sacred rather than a group of people put together to worship Big Brother. Of course, because he’s so enlightened, he’s caught. Intellectuals are always outcasts in these societies, and rejected because they think differently.

People of Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Arab world altogether – write. Write about the injustices you experience, the disrespect you’re forced to tolerate, the discrimination you witness, the hopes you dream of for our future, your ambitions, your goals, your disappointments, your expectations, your demands, your sadness, your happiness – whatever that may be. You’ll be surprised to find that you’ll experience your own epiphanies while you are writing. Do it through poetry, fiction, non-fiction, articles, books, editorials, blog posts, anything. Write for you, write for your people, write for freedom, write for rights. Bring back the true power of the pen. Pour your heart and soul on paper and then share it. I’ve finally realized that the only reason the radical religious figures are more influential than the liberals is because they are organized and the liberals are dispersed and afraid of speaking out, for more often than not, they are already social outcasts.

But yesterday with the Paint to Freedom incident, I was surprised to see how many people seemed to share the same thoughts. Once you get your ideas and concerns out, I guarantee you will find at least one more person who feels the same way you do. And it’s always good to find someone who’s on the same side as you are.

The Cruel Society

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My friend Arie wrote an article called The Cruel Sea about Bas Ya Bahar (an old Kuwaiti film) and an upcoming Egyptian author, Yahia Lababidi. It can be read here. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t watched the movie, even though it’s one of the only Kuwaiti films to be considered top-notch. In my defense, however, it’s very difficult to find lately. But I will try my best to find a copy at any of the old video stores in Salmiya.

I asked some older people about it, and they told me that it depicts the pearl-diving history of Kuwait before the discovery of oil. I asked, “That’s it?” and they said yes, mostly. I didn’t understand because Arie had mentioned something about rape victims in the Middle East, and here they were telling me it was about pearl diving. After Arie finished writing his article, though, I saw the very critical element that my elders seemed to have found irrelevant: two of the characters are in love with each other, but their families don’t approve of the relationship. So the girl is married off to a rich, old man. The girl is raped by her husband on their wedding night.

Of course, many people would argue that a woman can’t be raped by her husband, when in truth it’s more common than people think. If she’s not giving him her consent and he does it anyway, it’s rape. I got a reply on Twitter also mentioning a crucial occurrence that’s equally neglected: prostitutes being raped. Although that’s a separate issue on its own (I think this gives a good portrayal of the truth), women can be and are forced into sexual acts under all sorts of different circumstances. 1,000 women are raped per minute, according to UN statistics. That’s not even counting the ones that go unreported.

But what I think should be discussed, is how rape victims are looked at. Generally, they carry *at least* partial blame. Most societies all over the world tend to blame the victim in some way. In the Middle East, they carry most of the blame. It’s usually said that she asked for it by dressing or acting in a certain way, or by being out ‘too late’. Other times, she’s very badly beaten up by her own family, sometimes even killed, simply because her ‘honor’ has been violated – i.e. her virginity. I read about a sixteen year old Kuwaiti girl who was raped in 1991 by an Iraqi soldier. A case was filed a while later, but not because the girl was raped. A case was filed because the sixteen year old was murdered by her father and two brothers who thought they were preserving their family’s ‘honor’. The girl’s mother was also investigated with, but she apparently showed no objection to their act – she was ashamed of her daughter and proud of her sons and husband. The degree of monstrous inhumanity to which brainwash can lead to is just stunning. When a brother can kill his own sister, a father can kill his own daughter, and a mother can look on and say ‘good riddens’, that’s when you know society has reached a terrifying definition of priorities. ‘Honor’ – a figment of Middle Eastern mentality – topples over love. Over family, over justice, over protecting your loved ones.

I also remember watching a Kuwaiti TV show back in 2004 or 2003, where a woman is raped, and her brother finds out and decides to kill her. He takes her out to the desert, holds a gun to her temple, and you hear the girl’s thoughts being narrated, you hear her blaming herself and saying that she doesn’t blame her “maskeen” brother because she brought عار to her family. Then you see the brother having flashbacks of all their childhood memories, and suddenly she isn’t the cause of “shame” to his family, but his little sister. I can’t remember what happened later, I just remember that he couldn’t bring himself to do it and he cries because of what a “coward” he is. This was shown on TV! Even the media advocates honor killing! Heck, in Jordan, it’s legal! TODAY IN 20-FREAKING-12!!!

I wonder how Arab men today would react to their sister or future-fiance or wife getting raped. Would they blame her or support her and help her through the healing process? Someone was offended that I asked, saying that I was implying that they were savages. It really isn’t what I think, but from what I’ve seen and heard, most Arab men do tend to blame the victim, saying that she asked for it by doing something, as I said before. I have to point out that rape is never asked for, and that if they insist on going with that logic, then they’re also saying that men are animalistic savages who can’t control their sexual urges if they see something that appeals to them.

A friend of mine told me about a married 19-year-old girl in Saudi who became widely known across the media as Qatif Girl, and was sentenced to 90 lashes for being in a car with her ex, and another 110 for trying to ‘distort’ Saudi’s reputation through the media by reporting her case to a Human Rights organization. She was gang-raped by 8 men, who got varied sentences ranging from 2-15 years. That’s it. So half of them will be released in two years, go back to society, and probably repeat their crime. Very few of the victims will have the courage to report the crime. Not even Qatif Girl did; her husband found out because the gang kept gossiping about what they did in an attempt to ‘ruin her reputation’. They were hoping that her husband would find out and kill her. Her brother tried to, apparently, when he found out; he beat her up until she was unconscious, but she didn’t die. She did, however, try to kill herself twice since then. Her life has been an absolute hell from what she’s said. If we were to apply the “she asked for it” logic in this case, it doesn’t apply. She was wearing an abaya and a niqab.

Why do they pretend to be ‘open minded’ and say that they would never blame the girl, but all of a sudden change their opinions when it’s a relative or someone close to them? All of a sudden it involves their honor. All of a sudden the first question that comes to mind isn’t, “How will I help her overcome this?” but rather, “What will people say?” and then there’s the sub-questions of “Who will marry her now that she’s lost her virginity?” “How will I deal with the shame?” “What do I do with her?”

What do you think? Guys – honestly, if it was your sister/mother/wife/fiance/steady girlfriend, what do you do? Do you ever blame the victim?

Girls – “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” 😉 keep that in mind next time you judge a girl who was harmed by a man.

Arab Spring in Kuwait?

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For a while now, many foreigners have been asking us Kuwaitis why the Arab Spring has not reached Kuwait – and doesn’t look like it’s going to. The answer has been one and the same: because we’re living the dream. We have malls with all the clothes we could desire, restaurants to fill our mouths with food to keep us fat and quiet, jobs that pay us to do nothing, universities that accept and nurture students with zero ambition, public schools that only require you to do well on exams, and extravagant cars that don’t get stolen or vandalized when we park them outside our homes – something very rare, since this hardly EVER happens in other countries. Many of my teachers still express their surprise over how secure our cars are.

But, the dream is going to die very soon, when Kuwait will have to find an alternative for oil. And from the looks of things, no one has a back up plan yet. No one is even considering a back up plan. No one is thinking long term. Not even the Kuwaiti men and women running for Parliament right now. Everyone is thinking short term instead.

If we were to come up with a long-term plan to improve Kuwait’s future rather than sustain this materialistic, meaningless abyss everyone loves so much, then the key parts are social development and education. Socially speaking, our society is still living in the stone age, where you’re judged according to who your ancestors are. You don’t defy the ‘alpha male’ of your family. MP’s beat each other up at the parliament and disgrace the entire nation. Human rights are violated on a daily basis, citizens robbed of their right to freedom of speech, religion, sexuality, political views, and marriage.

I think that for the Arab Spring to reach Kuwait, it’s the youth that needs to make it happen. The hard part is actually getting them to wake up and realize that the dream they’re living in isn’t what reality is actually like. It’s a world that was created to keep them quiet and away from ‘trouble’ – i.e. freedom. It still baffles me that this is enough for them, that they’re satisfied with shopping and eating and tanning their lives away. It’s no coincidence that that’s all there is to do in Kuwait. Dumbing an entire nation down is a process that requires careful thought and precision. First you start with the education. You make sure that all the modern, revolutionary ideas of the evil West are not incorporated into their academic studies. Then you make sure that the language of those evil ideas isn’t taught well enough for the students to be able to go out and explore those ideas; that way, they won’t pick up a book that tells them all about oppressive regimes and their cunning ways. 😉 They won’t do that because, 1) they don’t understand the language well enough. 2) they don’t like reading. If you create an entire generation of people who hate books and who groaned their way through English class, a class that was supposed to teach them to be fluent speakers, writers, and readers of a universal language that could be their gateway to knowledge and enlightenment, then you are essentially creating slaves who will submit to your laws and rules without complaint.

Then you show them what their boundaries are by making examples of other people. You use the media to your advantage. You arrest writers. You censor magazines, newspapers, and movies. You ban books. You make TV shows that encourage the mistreatment of domestic workers, that demean the importance of treating your partner properly, that glorify disrespecting women, and tell girls that the only way to ‘be beautiful’ is to objectify yourself – by Kuwaiti media standards, that means dress in really tight clothes, rub your face in a ton of make up, and make your voice about ten pitches higher than what it naturally is.

Then you create laws that tell them there’s no escape, but you don’t make it obvious. You make it seem like a good thing. You tell the women that they’re never allowed to marry a man without daddy’s approval, even if they’re 40 year old well-known professors. Then you narrow it down even more. You try to avoid intercultural marriages by telling those women that if they marry a non-Kuwaiti, you will guarantee them and their children a crappy future. Then you move on to the Kuwaiti marriages. In that case, it’s the family who instills those values within their children’s minds. They’re taught not to fall in love with someone who’s from a different religious sect – because you don’t need to worry about them falling in love with someone who’s from a different religion. Then you emphasize the glory of your own ethnic background, so that way they look down on other backgrounds enough to find them unappealing, thus ensuring that they won’t fall in love with an ‘outsider’. Of course, this is all if they fall in love.

If they’re allowed to fall in love, I should say. This is all assuming that the family in question is one that’s not a big fan of arranged marriages, of hooking up strangers and hoping for the best. It drives me insane because I’ve heard too many stories of couples who genuinely loved each other and couldn’t get married because their families didn’t approve – and, legally, that’s exactly what was supposed to happen. A ‘bad’ marriage was prevented because the parents were an obstacle that the couple could not overcome.

There’s the question of whether or not you’re allowed to fall in love, and there’s the bigger question of whether or not you’re allowed to learn. University is one of the biggest ‘decisions’ a person is supposed to make. But when your options are narrowed down to AUK, KU, and GUST, you don’t have much to look forward to. If you talk to high school Kuwaiti students who are considering one of those three universities, most of them will tell you they’re having a hard time deciding because “they all have such nice campuses”. The education level is hardly ever taken into consideration if we’re talking about a typical Kuwaiti high school student. The other day I was actually surprised to hear one of my peers saying that she had ruled out one of those three universities because “girls smoke in public there!” so the princess felt like she wouldn’t be comfortable there.

Too many girls aren’t given the option of studying abroad, at a prestigious university that can provide them with the opportunity of an eye-opening academic and personal experience. And, once again, without daddy’s approval, there’s no way in hell that can happen for them. Let’s also not forget, a certain university in K-Town has different GPA requirements for both genders 😉 that way, 18 year old girls who didn’t do well enough to get into university can simply find a husband and make more Kuwaitis for the country. It also encourages young men to aim for a minimum GPA – what incentive would they have to do any better?

It makes no sense to me. The youth is robbed of so many basic rights, yet they’re also the biggest fans of this clever system. So long as they’re paid, fed, and given pretty clothes and cars, no one complains. I can only hope that soon enough their eyes will be opened, because when we’re no longer ‘living the dream’, it’s the youth who’s going to have to save the country.

“Why Fewer Young American Jews Share Their Parents’ View of Israel”

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This is an interesting article I came across on Time.com

you can find it here

“I’m trembling,” my mother says when I tell her I’m working on an article about how younger and older American Jews are reacting differently to the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the United Nations. I understand the frustrations of the Palestinians who are dealing with ongoing Israeli settlement construction and sympathize with their decision to approach the U.N., but my mom supports President Obama’s promise to wield the U.S. veto, sharing his view that a two-state solution can be achieved only through negotiations with Israel.

“This is so emotional,” she says as we cautiously discuss our difference of opinion. “It makes me feel absolutely terrible when you stridently voice criticisms of Israel.” (See pictures of the West Bank settlements.)

A lump of guilt and sadness rises in my throat. I’ve written harshly of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and assault on Gaza in 2009, and on civil rights issues in Israel. But speaking my mind on these topics — a very Jewish thing to do — has never been easy. During my childhood in the New York suburbs, support for Israel was as fundamental a family tradition as voting Democratic or lighting the Shabbos candles on Friday night.

My mom has a master’s degree in Jewish history and is the program director of a large synagogue. Her youthful experiences in Israel, volunteering on a kibbutz and meeting descendants of my great-grandmother’s siblings, are part of my own mythology. Raised within the Conservative movement, I learned at Hebrew school that Israel was the “land of milk and honey,” where Holocaust survivors irrigated the deserts and made flowers bloom.

What I didn’t hear much about was the lives of Palestinians. It was only after I went to college, met Muslim friends and enrolled in a Middle Eastern history and politics course that I was challenged to reconcile my liberal, humanist worldview with the fact that the Jewish state of which I was so proud was occupying the land of 4.4 million stateless Palestinians, many of them refugees displaced by Israel’s creation.

Like many young American Jews, during my senior year of college I took the free trip to Israel offered by the Taglit-Birthright program. The bliss I felt floating in the Dead Sea, sampling succulent fruits grown by Jewish farmers and roaming the medieval city of Safed, the historic center of Kabbalah mysticism, was tempered by other experiences: watching the construction of the imposing “security” fence, which not only tamped down terrorist attacks but also separated Palestinian villagers from their land and water supply. I spent hours in hushed conversation with a young Israeli soldier who was horrified by what he said was the routinely rough and contemptuous treatment of Palestinian civilians at Israeli military checkpoints.

That trip deepened my conviction that as an American Jew, I could no longer in good conscience offer Israel unquestioning support. I’m not alone. Polling of young American Jews shows that with the exception of the Orthodox, many of us feel less attached to Israel than do our baby boomer parents, who came of age during the era of the 1967 and 1973 wars, when Israel was less of an aggressor and more a victim.  A 2007 poll by Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis found that although the majority of American Jews of all ages continue to identify as “pro-Israel,” those under 35 are less likely to identify as “Zionist.” Over 40% of American Jews under 35 believe that “Israel occupies land belonging to someone else,” and over 30% report sometimes feeling “ashamed” of Israel’s actions.

Hanna King, an 18-year-old sophomore at Swarthmore College, epitomizes the generational shift. Raised in Seattle as a Conservative Jew, King was part of a group of activists last November who heckled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with slogans against the occupation at a New Orleans meeting of the Jewish Federations General Assembly.

“Netanyahu repeatedly claims himself as a representative of all Jews,” King says. “The protest was an outlet for me to make a clear statement … that those injustices don’t occur in my name. It served as a vehicle for reclaiming my own Judaism.”

A more moderate critique is expressed by J Street, the political action committee launched in 2008 as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” counterweight to the influence in Washington of the more hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Simone Zimmerman heads J Street’s campus affiliate at the University of California, Berkeley. A graduate of Jewish private schools, she lived in Tel Aviv as an exchange student during high school but never heard the word occupation spoken in relation to Israel until she got to college.

During Zimmerman’s freshman year, Berkeley became embroiled in a contentious debate over whether the university should divest from corporations that do business with the Israeli army. Although Zimmerman opposed divestment, she was profoundly affected by the stories she heard from Palestinian-American activists on campus.

“They were sharing their families’ experiences of life under occupation and life during the war in Gaza,” she remembers. “So much of what they were talking about related to things that I had always been taught to defend, like human rights and social justice, and the value of each individual’s life.”

Even young rabbis are, as a cohort, more likely to be critical of Israel than are older rabbis. Last week, Cohen, the Hebrew Union College researcher, released a survey of rabbinical students at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, the premier institution for training Conservative rabbis. Though current students are just as likely as their elders to have studied and lived in Israel and to believe Israel is “very important” to their Judaism, about 70% of the young prospective rabbis report feeling “disturbed” by Israel’s treatment of Arab Israelis and Palestinians, compared with about half of those ordained between 1980 and 1994.

Benjamin Resnick, 27, is one of the rabbinical students who took the survey. In July, he published an op-ed pointing out the ideological inconsistencies between Zionism, which upholds the principle of Israel as a Jewish state, and American liberal democracy, which emphasizes individual rights regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. “The tragedy,” Resnick says, is that the two worldviews may be “irreconcilable.”

Still, after living in Jerusalem for 10 months and then returning to New York, Resnick continues to consider himself a Zionist. He quotes the Torah in support of his view that American Jews should press Israel to end settlement expansion and help facilitate a Palestinian state: “Love without rebuke,” he says, “is not love.”

The Girl Effect: Blogging Campaign

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On October 4th, The Girl Effect will be posting

bloggers’ entries from all over the world on their

views about different issues more and more young

girls are experiencing all over the world, including lack

of education, child prostitution, domestic abuse, child

marriage, and other horrible conditions they are suffering through.

I just heard about this today, so I will definitely start working on mine.

Click on the picture if you would like to participate in this

significant event of voicing our support for girls everywhere 🙂

guys are more than welcome, break the stereotype 😉

 

 

 

 

 

Child marriage, though illegal in India, is very common and is held at night.

The Significance of Names

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I am thoroughly enjoying the Language and Culture unit we are doing in English. A few days ago we focused on an integral part of each culture: names. Mot of the time, names reveal a person’s ethnic background. Us Arabs have very obvious names; Fahad, Noor, Bader. Sometimes they reveal religion; Mohammed, Abrar, Abdullah. As for our full names, last names reveal history. It tells strangers where we descended from, what kind of lives our ancestors lived, what conditions they lived through, what struggles they overcame or what luxury they lived in. It tells people what kind of person you are; maybe your parents gave you a name that made you want to live up to its meaning.

My English teacher is originally from Guiana, and told us that the last name she carries is not technically hers. When slaves were still owned, they would take the last name of their ‘owners’. My teacher is proud of her last name because as she said, her people have nothing to be ashamed of, and did nothing to be ashamed of. The ‘owners’, on the other hand–the whites–do. The same people who deem themselves ethical and everyone else to be primitive today, have a long, disgusting history of torture, imperialism, oppressive methods, and establishing supremacy. When my teacher was in school, whites and blacks had recently started attending classes together. But the content they studied, of course, focused solely on white history. When my teacher would ask if they could even sing black music in Music Class, it would be dismissed as “backwards” and “primitive”. Whites would impose their beliefs on the blacks, trying to get them to despise themselves and feel ashamed of their innocent ancestors, imposing their immoral perspective on them, leading to their self-loathing and sadness.
In my Understanding Knowledge class, we looked at a form the U.S. uses for their annual census. I can’t seem to find it online, but one of the things the citizen would have to fill out was identifying his race by putting a check mark next to the options given. The options were extremely limited. “White – Hispanic – Asian – Black – Other – Declined to provide.” Now think about just how many races fall under ‘other’! Are all the other races — including us as Arabs — too insignificant for the officials to be bothered to include them? Or is the point of these options to hurt our pride and make us choose “declined to provide”? Declined to provide could mean three things: 1) we didn’t want to be categorized as “other”. 2) we were too insulted by their racism to actually tell them where we are from. 3) some may actually feel ashamed of their race. Which, again, makes no sense to me, as we do not have a shameful history. At some point we were the most powerful people on Earth, and that is good reason to be proud of our heritage.

I see nothing wrong with embracing certain positive aspects about the Western culture, such as education and a different way of thinking – but I do not think that we should strip ourselves of our own cultures. If we do that we are signing up for our own ethnic cleansing upon our Arab culture – at some point our grandchildren/great grandchildren would not speak Arabic, would not know how Gulf countries reached their current economic statuses, would never read Arabic. Our language is one of the most difficult languages to learn for foreigners who are so fascinated by it and want to learn how to speak, write, and read it so badly. We are privileged enough to have been born as native Arabic speakers. It is an integral part of who we are, and I think it’s vital that we never let that part go – it is in our blood. In honor of all the sacrifices our ancestors have made for us, the least we could do is cherish our cultures. Balance is key.