Category Archives: Thoughts

Society’s Chains?

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We are born with an identity. Even as strangers we have some sort of identity. You are born a boy or a girl, a Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu. You are rich or poor. You are ‘pure-blooded’ or you are ‘mixed’. “Mud blood”, as Harry Potter would say. If you’ve ever looked at newly born babies, and your mind is anything like mine, then you see them as people with identities, futures, obstacles they will have to overcome or succumb to.

For example, a girl born in Indonesia would have to endure female circumcision anywhere from being a few days old till she reaches puberty. For some reason it is more common for this brutal act to be performed when the girl is old enough to be conscious of it and to be permanently traumatized. Of course, this not only strips her of any self-respect she may have for herself as a woman in the future, it also tells her that the point of her existence is to be an object to be used for pleasure by a man who will probably be at least twice her age. Ironically, it is usually the girl’s mother who holds her down during the procedure, which, besides being monstrous, is done without anesthesia, and has a high risk of infecting the child with countless viruses.

An African-American child born in the 1800s, for example, would not have been born a ‘son’. He’s not even a person. He’s just a future slave, to be separated from his mother and sold to the highest bidder whenever he’s old enough to walk. He will live as a slave, a servant, and he will endure a lifetime of torture, humiliation, and hardships. He will not live past the age of 30, most likely because he will die of one too many beatings.

A baby boy whose father was an alcoholic and whose mother was a foreigner, will grow up watching his father abuse his mother and his mother accepting it. He will either follow in his father’s footsteps or he will struggle to protect his mother while still wondering why she is choosing to be defenseless when she can leave her husband.

How much of our choices are really ours? Is fate a fictional concept or are we really just slaves to predestined stories that we are mere characters in?

What determines our stories? Age? Gender? Who our parents are? What our status is? Where we grew up? What kind of health problems we encountered? Who we grew up loving? What religious faith we followed? What education was imposed upon us? What country we lived in? What political instability we had to endure? What loss we dealt with? What we were blamed for?

A child whose mother died while giving birth to him may forever carry a burden on his shoulders because of that, as innocent as he is of her death. A girl who went to a religious school may grow up believing she is a walking subject of sin because of what her teachers would preach to her. Cinderella grew up lonely and oppressed because her mother died and she ended up living with an evil stepmother. Adolf Hitler decided to wipe off the Jewish race off the face of the Earth because his mother died of cancer and the Jewish doctor who treated her could not find a cure.

A stranger will look at you and write you a whole story. Based on your looks, he can determine your nationality – and he may be wrong. Maybe you have your mother’s blond hair, and the stranger will assume that you are foreign, when in fact your father is Arab. A stranger will look at you and make assumptions based on whether or not you are a veiled girl. He will look at you and decide how ‘virtuous’ you are based on how much of your skin is covered or exposed.

How much of our stories are actually written with our own pens? Is it even our pen that’s being used? Are we even put down on paper, blank and smooth at first, to be filled up with lines whose words we would determine? Or are we shackled and chained, expected to walk around with titanium cuffs around our wrists and our ankles for the rest of our lives?

What if we decide to break free from those chains? I mentioned this possibility to a friend the other day, and she said “but that’s so hard”.

Isn’t it supposed to be? What if we were literally chained? Breaking free is supposed to hurt, isn’t it? You’re supposed to end up with red, bloody wrists at the end of it. And you will have scars. And your captor will try to shut you up, and try to put you back in your place. Of course, giving up is easier. Accepting your fate as a slave, as a prisoner. Maybe even embracing those chains, figuring out ways to make them fashionable, see what else in your wardrobe would match them and make your outfit look nice. Heck, some people manage to brainwash themselves into believing they are free. Creating an alter-universe within the prison-cell they live in.

“I am free. I am choosing this fate. I am choosing to listen to all the miserable things society is expecting of me. I do not secretly desire to do all the things society tells me is taboo. I dream of  all the aspirations society wants me to do; I want to end up at a job where nothing is expected of me, I want to have children that I will spoil rotten, I want to watch them grow up to be brats, I want to live without purpose, I want to consume until I am consumed. I am happy. The person I married is someone I married of my own free will. The job I work at is a job that I enjoy; I put my feet up and I drink coffee from 8 AM till 2 PM. The friendships I have are meaningful. The car I own is not for the sake of impressing people I have never met. The clothes I wear are my own taste, and I would wear them even if they weren’t trendy. I don’t sleep to escape reality. I don’t watch TV to drown out the sound of my spouse’s screaming. These chains are comfortable. They protect me from harm. My captor knows what is best for me. I will obey and abide by his wishes.”

Society’s chains are made of titanium. But our spirits are too. Question is, how far is our mind-power willing to go to break those chains? Can our spirits conquer society? What is it that holds us back? What scares us so much that we’re too afraid to even consider breaking free? Is it that we would look odd, being the only ones walking around without any chains? Would we be accused of treason, of being disloyal to the chains? The holy chains. Sacred chains. Chains of sanctity and sin, contradicting everything they claim to stand for.

I wonder, how many people actually have embraced their chains, how many have quietly submitted to them, and how many are violently fighting to break free from them?

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The Big Questions – Part II

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For the past couple of days I’ve been reading The Big Questions on my way to school in the morning.  I love the feel of it, it’s very open and really makes you contemplate everything it addresses. I think I may have jinxed it because yesterday in Philosophy my teacher asked us to take out our books and a black marker.

We had an assignment due that day so it was kind of weird for him to ask us to take out the books, since we always do the reading at home. So before reaching into my bag, I asked him, “Why?” and he told me “We’re going to censor them.”

“We’re going to do it with our own markers?!” my classmate asked him way-too-excitedly

“Yes we are”

And he put up the page numbers on the board. Entire chapters. Pictures. Questions. Quotes. Single-lined phrases. And he went around to make sure we were all ‘censoring’. The classmate that was very excited about it was doing it with more energy than I had ever seen him putting into his actual work. Every single one of my classmates did it with a black board marker, eliminating the words completely. I cannot describe how much it shocked me. No one hesitated when he said “Censor these pages”. Some looked at them, said “Oh it talks about religion/oh it has a nude picture/oh it talks about sexuality/oh it talks about revolutions” and went on with their task. My excited classmate said it was like being in a KG coloring class. He also said this was like “government appreciation day”…to which I will not comment on. But me, being the odd one out that I am, instead watched everyone marking everything out. The markers were the type that are used with English magazines when celebrities are shown in their bikinis or other ‘inappropriate’ clothing, the type that you couldn’t see past no matter what. Every word, blacked out. No one cared to know what those words were! “The Authority” says they are not meant to be read – therefore they obeyed.

Personally I lied and said I didn’t have my book with me, because I wanted to keep reading the book. You know how there’s always that one student in Biology class that refuses to dissect the frog because he/she thinks it is an act of animal cruelty? I am that one student that refuses to ruin books because I think it is an act of book-torture (which I do think should be a crime)! The result was my teacher giving me another copy, telling me to censor it along with everyone else and give him back the uncensored version later. And after five minutes of watching everyone scribbling at their books, my teacher told me my time was limited and I had to get this done before class ended. So with tentative hands, a heavy heart, and a very light pink pen, I drew thin lines across pages, thin enough for a person to still be able to read the words. Someone seemed to get tired of all the ‘coloring’, and jokingly asked, “Can’t we just rip them out?” to which he was told, “Yes, as long as you throw the pages in the recycling bin and they don’t leave the room when the bell rings.” So he ripped the pages. Crunched them up into little balls. Aimed for the recycling trash like it was a basketball hoop. And went on chatting with his group.

I once read a quote that said, “Where they burn books, they will eventually burn people.” Isn’t ripping out pages and blacking out words essentially a form of burning books? I’m really not lying when I say it hurt my heart to see my 17 and 18 year old classmates mindlessly blacking out extremely thought-provoking words that they would never understand the magnitude of, simply because they didn’t take a few moments to allow their curiosity to get the best of them.

  It wasn’t all blues though. My friend Nawaf particularly enjoyed censoring the picture of the nude woman. I love his version.

The Big Questions

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It is Saturday evening and I am supposed to be reviewing for my Math quiz tomorrow and working on my article which I also have to finish by tomorrow. But I was looking through my Philosophy book, “The Big Questions” and it kept asking me thought-provoking questions that I thought I should share.

  The first question that grabbed my attention was “Do you want to have children? If so, why?”

Each question is provided with a more in-depth explanation to help the reader come up with his own answer. This particular question’s elaboration was:

“Most people have children for terrible reasons — or for no reason at all. They have them to keep a floundering relationship together. Them have them because they are temporarily lonely. They have them because they forgot to use a contraceptive or miscalculated the time of the month. But having children is one of the most important decisions anyone can ever make, and it is a decision with the longest-lasting personal consequences. It is a decision that reveals a great deal about the way we deal with the world — or fail to deal with it. Do we want to provide some future for the family name? Why? Do we need more hands around the house to help with the chores? (Don’t bet on it.) Do we look forward to having absolute authority over someone? (It doesn’t last very long.) Do we need someone to inherit the throne after we’re dead? (Not applicable to most of us.) Do we think that having children will give us a sense of immortality? Could it just be a matter of curiosity? Vanity? Are we willing to sacrifice that much of our time and energy? Or do we not consider it a sacrifice at all?”

I posted this on Twitter as well, and Shurooq Amin said that her purpose was “to create new people that would be an asset to the world by teaching them how to change the world for the better.” My friend Anan said it would give you “a child to love and cherish”. I personally love kids. Just not sure if I would love for them to be mine. Maybe I would if it was for the sake of seeing my spouse and myself wrapped into one person. I actually like the idea of adoption, but as we all know that’s “culturally unacceptable” (i.e. one of the reasons we are looked upon as primitive). Grey’s Anatomy’s last season, when Derek and Meredith adopted an African baby, made me fall in love with the idea.

Of course, McDreamy is unrealistically dreamy – and strangely enough, has more motherly instincts than his wife, Meredith, does, which explains why he fell in love with Zola and decided to adopt her. Now even if I wanted to adopt, where can you find a Kuwaiti man that would be willing to do that? 😦 There is this insane cultural belief that all children not born out of wedlock are “damned” – which I think is r e a l l y primitive, to believe in such an illogical superstition. Not only that, but it is unfair to sentence a newly born child to an entire life of damnation when you can give him or her a chance at a good, happy life like all children are entitled.

Well, those were my thoughts on two of the pages my Philosophy book covered about having children. Will be sure to mention all the other great questions later on 🙂

Kuwait’s Double Standards

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Kuwait’s double standards when it comes to gender is by far the most pathetic issue we have here. Men and women are simply not equal, and anyone that claims otherwise is in denial or is living too luxuriously to acknowledge other people’s problems. Guys can stay out late, girls can’t. Guys can leave the house in the middle of the night, girls can’t. Guys can travel with their buddies, girls need a “male escort” — because she’s a little girl who needs her hand to be held, even if she is 24 and leaving for her MA degree. Guys can study abroad and have fun and meet amazing professors and people and build a proper college experience, girls are looked down on if they do. Guys can smoke, girls are considered dirty if they do. Guys can swim shirtless – girls are given dirty looks even if they’re wearing boarding shorts over their swimsuit. If a guy is good at sports, he’s a popular jock. If a girl is good at sports, she’s a “boya”. Guys can have as many ‘relationships’ (i.e. flings) as they want, but if a girl falls in love with one guy she genuinely cared about, she is forever looked upon as tainted goods. Because really, that’s what women are in Kuwait – goods. When a guy wants to get married, he evaluates her as he would evaluate a product. Is she good looking? Is she clean? Has she been used before? Is she purebred? Has her previous owner tamed her properly? Does she sit when I tell her to, ask “how high” when I tell her to jump? How does she dress? Has she been exposed to foreign places? Has she done any of the things I have shamelessly done? If so, I want nothing to do with her, and I pray that every “good” Kuwaiti man (whatever that is) be warded from this tainted woman.
Guys wouldn’t be able to last ONE day living as Kuwaiti girls, let alone a lifetime of living in this society that is so damn miserable. And if we do try to go against everything that this messed up society stands for and deems “honorable” and “virtuous” – we lose every ounce of respect that we have worked so hard to earn. We’ve worked hard to earn that respect by doing something good for others, by taking part in our community, by being good to all, by thinking outside the box, by educating ourselves, by reading about taboo subjects in an effort to expand our thinking, by demanding our right to be equals, by wanting to love and to be loved, by asking for our simple right to have coffee with friends of the opposite sex. Every ounce of respect, obliterated. Why? We had coffee with a coworker. We fell in love. We went tanning in a bikini. We pursued an education abroad – because we want to learn from the very best, not because we are hoping to get lucky like the guys are. We openly discussed how unjust the different standards for marriage are for men and women, different standards for everything. And we were labeled “impure”. Keep your definition of purity if it means I must oppress myself so you can buy me later on.

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.

Cane is Bitter

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In English class, we are doing a unit on Language and Culture. Our current focus is on a short story based in Trinidad, called “Cane is Bitter”. The story revolves around a Hindu family with several children, the eldest being their son Romesh. The family is very poor and uneducated, and their source of income totally relies on how much cane they cut. So the children work all day and into the night, and wake up the next morning to do it all over again, their entire lives – and then continue the same lifestyle with their own children. Since education isn’t offered, they don’t really have another alternative. But Romesh’s mother decides to send him to a city nearby where they do offer education. At this point Romesh is a grown man in his early 20s, and goes away for a year to study there. He studies math, English, learns to speak, read, and write in proper grammar, political science, history, poetry, philosophy, and reads a lot of fiction and non-fiction books. He feels like the horizons of his mind have expanded greatly because of the knowledge that has been bestowed upon him, enlightening his existence. He starts to appreciate beauty, romance, manners, words, poetry, and realizes how oppressed the people of his small village really are – especially his own family. When he goes to visit them (which is only on an annual basis), he is a completely different person. Though his mother is extremely proud of him, and glad that she had encouraged him to pursue an education elsewhere, his father is not. His father wants him to get married to a girl from a middle-class family (as the dowry in their culture is given by the girl to the man) and continue with the family ‘business’ of cane-cutting. As Romesh’s father and mother are discussing his future marriage — without his knowledge — a possibility crosses his father’s mind: “What if he’s in love with someone who is from a different culture?” In his case, he meant a black woman; but his wife quickly dismisses the thought from her husband’s mind.

Anyway, so one of the discussion questions had asked us what we would do if we were in Romesh’s situation. In my head, Romesh basically had to choose 1 of the following:

A) Keep his education and marry the girl his family wants, keeping his family happy and embracing the knowledge he had received

B) Keep his education and marry the girl *he* wants, which would end up with him having to give up his family

C) Refuse to get married and risk losing the education he is receiving, since his parents can easily prevent him from going anymore.

Our teacher was more detailed about the question, she wanted to make it more local, more personal. She asked us girls, “If your family said you could study abroad, as long as you would get married, would you?”

And we are talking about university. As in, she was asking us, 17 and 18 year old girls, if we would get married after our high school graduations just for the sake of having a male escort in order for our parents to approve of us going to a good university and getting the education we deserve. She told us that this had, in fact, happened a few years ago. A high school female student of hers got accepted to a university in the U.S. to study medicine, but her family wouldn’t agree unless she was married. Though the girl posed no objection, and did get married, she couldn’t juggle marriage with medicine, since she got pregnant a year into her studies, and had to drop out to care for her husband and her child.

What my teacher said was, that we didn’t even have the same options as Romesh. She pointed out that as Kuwaiti girls, if our families did not approve of the man we loved, that was it for us. It’s not like we can leave our families like Romesh can and choose our soulmates instead. We do not have that option, of walking away and running after the one we love; we let go, which was a really sad but very accurate point that she made.

Two of my classmates shocked me with their answers by saying, “I would find any guy to marry, travel with him abroad, and get a divorce when I’m done.” which is, in my opinion, taking advantage of a guy that doesn’t want to take advantage of you: he’s marrying you, he wants to spend the rest of his life with you! I told them that it wasn’t fair, that was using him. Their response was that “men are always using us, what’s the difference?”

It just got me thinking. Personally I would rather not get married and travel abroad than marry a stranger just for the sake of using him and be stuck with him forever – because I know myself and I wouldn’t leave someone who has been there for me for four years. Marriage is meant to be a commitment, not a way of taking advantage of your partner’s benefits for your own personal needs. I don’t know how my classmates would have the heart to use a man for four years and then leave him. What if, despite it being an arranged marriage, he falls in love with you during those four years? Would you break his heart and leave him anyway? How would the woman be any different than your typical man in that case? The only difference is that the typical man is seeking ways to satisfy his male ego, while apparently the typical woman (since I know two others who have said the same thing, making a total of four) is seeking ways to satisfy her academic dreams – and the trend seems to be that the best way to do that is by finding a man to ‘tolerate’ for 4 years.

I think it’s more than fine, to get married and travel abroad, if it is of the couple’s own free will and it was their own decision. I think that’s great, when two people are in love and decide to be together and support each other through their university years. But when that is the parents’ condition, and the girl marries a stranger with the intention of leaving him, then it isn’t fair to him. And regardless of what everyone says, both ends have feelings, both ends get hurt when their hearts are broken. I don’t think that men are always using women. I’m lucky enough to know a few really good men who would never take advantage of women. Some men do use women. Some women use men. If we were to go by the stereotypes, men love having their ego fed, and women love having their wallets fed. If we were to go by stereotypes, we would never be able to trust each other – not even when we’re married. Personally I think you can’t fully trust the stranger you are marrying if it is an arranged marriage, especially if you are planning to travel abroad with him at 18. Trouble could easily escalate, as mentioned before, pregnancy being one of the concerns, as well as domestic abuse; if you don’t know this man as well as the back of your hand, how do you know how he will behave when he is angry? In a foreign country, away from your family, living only with him, what will you do if he crosses a line? For me, it’s too fishy. I guess it works for some people though.

Outer Identity VS Inner Identity

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I started my senior year of high-school this week. I’m taking great classes this year, one of them being TOK: Theory of Knowledge. We study and discuss everything we are not ‘supposed’ to study and discuss according to our society’s views – which is just what we discuss. Why can’t we discuss them publicly? Why do we live in fear? Why do we keep our mouths shut just for the sake of preserving the so called ‘security’ of our lives? Is it better to live an oppressed life of silence, than a life of being judged for your desire to be free, for your voice to be heard?

On the first day we discussed identity. We discussed our outer identity VS our inner identity. There are no right or wrong answers in this class; the point is to convince our teacher of the validity of our opinions. Conclusion was, that our outer identity is our “fake skin”. It is something that is out of our control. It is in complete control of the eyes of the beholder — and beauty won’t always be what he will see.

He judges me based on what I look like, based on what my name is, based on how I dress. One look, one piece of information (my name, which represents my background) and he has come up with an entire analysis of who I am. It may not be fair, but that is how our outer identity is judged. It is something that is totally out of our hands. As for our inner identity, that is something that we do control. It is a compiling of our interests, our desires, our fears, our secrets, our dreams, our experiences. And unlike our outer identity, we always have a guard up when it comes to our inner identity.

When meeting a stranger, we will do one of two things: we will keep that shield up, because how do we know that we can trust this person? How do we know he won’t judge us? The other choice is, we would wait. We would talk, and talk, and talk…and then wait. Observe. Listen. We notice we are both focusing intently on each word coming out of the other’s mouth. And we wait. We wait to see who will let his guard down first, and only then do we let our own guards down as well. It is like two cowboys who have no real quarrel with one another standing across each other defiantly, playing the “drop your gun I’ll drop mine” game.

They are skeptical of each other and are aware there is no trust between them, but they have mutual a desire to make peace. In my opinion, the one that drops his guard – his gun – first is the braver one. Because he is giving the other person an opportunity to shoot him, to judge him, to take his secret and turn it into a public fact. He is risking his safety for the sake of…what? Trust? Friendship? Love? Acceptance? Something. Everyone’s purpose differs.