Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why Do They Hate Us: Culture NOT Religion

In an article published in US-based Foreign Policy Magazine, titled Why Do They Hate Us, Mona Eltahaway, who is often a guest commentator on news shows, brings up some very legitimate issues affecting women in the Middle East. She raises some good points, though paints all the issues with the idea that women are "hated," which is untrue.

She tries to link "Islamists" to the status of women in the Middle East:

"This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region -- now more than ever."


"I'll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl's urine made you impure? I wondered.
Hatred of women"
 [Let me say I have literally no idea what she is talking about. Urine is considered unclean in any circumstance I know of and no Muslim I know would pray in clothes ANYONE peed on.]

But this is a political and cultural issue, not a religious issue.

Numerous times Saudi Arabia, an easy target, was used as an example of a lack of women's rights:

"Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can't vote or run in elections, yet it's considered "progress" that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in -- wait for it -- 2015."

Having lived in Saudi Arabia I have to agree that women are treated more like second-class citizens. The entire infrastructure, from banks to airports to restaurants separates men from women with two doors marked WOMEN and MEN, invoking images of the US's segregated south before the civil rights movement.

But it is unfair to pin these ideologies on Islam. Within every country in the Mideast there are also other religions including Christians and Jews, and also many sects of Islam. Particularly Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, have large Christian populations.

The issue that needs to be addressed is deeply rooted in culture across all religions in the Middle East, and needs to be tackled from a religiously-objective standpoint. Even if you take God out of the discussion, some Arab men still believe women should be married and stay at home. And some of the ones who don't, still believe that women should live close to their families (or in their parent's home) and get permission from their fathers or male relatives to travel, marry, divorce, etc. In relation to other grievances these are not particularly suppressive norms, but it speaks to the very core of the issue. And when you compare these expectations of Arab women to the expectations of Arab men who are almost at the opposite end of the spectrum, the very real inequality is obvious, and ugly, and embarrassing. 

The gap in social expectation between men and women is what needs to be addressed. Arabs have a hard time really vocalizing and accepting that women should be free to wear what they want -- in all capacities -- from niqabs to bikinis. Even women are uncomfortable with this because modesty for women is deeply engrained, as is the need for femininity. But men have no qualms about wearing swimming trunks and no shirt on the beaches of the Middle East. Men are not questioned when they come home late at night. Men are not considered a burden on their families if they never marry. Men are not frowned upon for being loud in public.

To this point, I agree from my own experience, with Eltahawy's assessment that "it's the men who can't control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it's for the men's sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up."

Of course, not every Arab family subscribes to these notions. Not every Arab woman is oppressed.

The point is not to make a sweeping diagnosis of the whole region, but to encourage the revolutionaries to not stop short at deposing dictators, and to encourage women to speak up at a time when the popular voice has become so important.

And let's not make a very legitimate discussion into a religious issue.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Israel Loves Iran: Grassroots Social Media Project a Hit


By Samira Said, CNN
March 19, 2012

Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry has created posters with messages of peace for the people of Iran and posted them on Facebook.

(CNN) -- It is not possible to dial an Iranian number from an Israeli telephone. It will simply not go through. That lack of communication stems from the government level, where there is no dialogue between the two countries aside from public speeches meant to carry weighty threats of war to each camp.

That is why it was so difficult for Ronny Edry, an Israeli graphic designer based in Tel Aviv, to get his message across to the people of Iran.

"My idea was simple, I was trying to reach the other side. There are all these talks about war, Iran is coming to bomb us and we bomb them back, we are sitting and waiting. I wanted to say the simple words that this war is crazy," said Edry.
Using his graphic design skills and his wife's help (she is also a graphic designer), he plastered memes over pictures of himself, his wife, his friends and his neighbors. He then posted them on the Facebook page of Pushpin, his design preparatory school, with a resounding message:

we will never bomb your country
We *Heart* You

The response, said Edry, was overwhelming. "In a few hours, I had hundreds of shares and thousands of likes and it was like something was happening.

"I think it's really amazing that someone from Iran poked me and said 'Hello, I'm from Iran, I saw your "poster" on Facebook,' " Edry said.

"I thought it was crazy because I never spoke to an Iranian in my life. I woke up my wife: 'There is someone on Facebook from Iran!' "

He posted his designs for anyone to take and plaster over their own photos. The photos and posts have been flooding the page.
Edry says he started the campaign to get past the harsh words and talk directly to Iranians to see whether there really was anything to fight about.

Iran's nuclear development program is causing alarm in Israel and its Western allies. Critics in the West say Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon while Iranian officials insist their nuclear program is for peaceful energy generation only.

Edry has received thousands of messages from people in Iran sending a statement to Israel, he said.

He shared one private message from Iran, without revealing the identity of the sender: "We love you too. Your word reaches out there, despite the censorship. And Iranian people, aside from the regime, have no hard feelings or animosity towards anybody, particularly Israelis."

One post on the Pushpin Facebook page says: "We share a common history, have been sharing both our great and ancient cultures, languages and poetry together. ... We are so similar, and politicians cannot cut a tie that has been tied thousands of years ago. I am proud to have you as my friends."

Not all the responses to the campaign were positive, however.
One meme says "Iranians We *Heart* You SO MUCH we are coming over."

The first meme was posted Wednesday, and Edry says he hopes the dialogue will not end merely with Iranians and Israelis. He noted the tension involves more than these two countries and he would like to include allies and neighboring countries in the conversation. "The idea is to put the message out there that we don't want this war."

"At the end of it, I will be the one doing this war. Bibi is not going to take the gun," he said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanhayu, "I will have to. Before I go into another war, maybe I check this one a bit better."

\When asked whether this style of campaign could work with Israelis and Palestinians, Edry said that it was probably already past that point, but now Israel has the chance to capitalize on an opportunity to start fresh with another regional neighbor.

"We are [right next to] Palestinians, so communication was not a problem. This situation is different because [Israel is] now just starting to talk to Iran," he said. "And maybe just by talking we can end it."

In an Israel Public Opinion survey by Shibley Telhami and the Dahaf Institute conducted February 22-26 among a nationally representative sample of 500 Israelis (margin of error is +/- 4.3%), only 19% of Israelis expressed support for a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear facilities without U.S. backing. And while 45% believe an Israeli strike would weaken the Iranian government, 44% believe it would actually strengthen it.

The United States has pushed for a nonmilitary solution, including tougher sanctions and diplomatic negotiations.

The growing tensions between the two countries have already impacted other countries as well: Israel blamed Iran for a Valentine's Day bombing in Thailand and for a bombing the next day in India that targeted Israeli diplomats.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mother sentenced to jail time for sending her kids to out-of-district school

Kelly Williams-Bolar, a resident of Akron, Ohio's housing projects, was sentenced to 10 days in jail and 3 years probation. What crime did she commit?

She sent her two children to schools that were not within their designated school district. It is reported that Williams-Bolar made it seem like the kids lived with her father, who resides in neighboring Copley Township.

"The jury deliberated for seven hours and the courtroom was packed as the sentence was handed down. She was convicted on two counts of tampering with court records after registering her two girls as living with Williams Bolar’s father when they actually lived with her."

To make matters worse for this family, the girl's grandfather was essentially charged with stealing tuition:

"Edward L. Williams, was charged with a fourth-degree felony of grand theft, in which he and his daughter are charged with defrauding the school system for two years of educational services for their girls. The court determined that sending their children to the wrong school was worth $30,500 in tuition."

This estimation amounts to $7,652 per year, per child. For public school education.

The case raises quite a few questions:

Was the court trying to make an example out of Williams-Bolar to discourage other parents?

What are school district's in poorer neighborhoods doing to combat violence and bullying, which --like the case of Chicago's Fenger High School student-- can be deadly?

What action is being taken for the public school that is so bad it is driving parents to commit fraud and grand theft to get their children out of there?

And of course - if you come from a family with less resources, what options do you have to move up in America?

How did they verify that the children did not, in fact, live with their grandfather?

They did break the rules - but was this sentence too harsh?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Putting yourself in danger to save your country...

Can you imagine the courage this man has? Imagine if your boss could order your doctor not to examine you. According to the NY Times he has been fired, arrested and interrogated.

"I can't stand detecting non-existent crimes, imprisoning people who are not guilty. I can't stand it anymore."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Transcript of Blagojevich wire taps

For anyone interested in the Blagojevich circus, this is a transcript of
one of the phone calls in question during his trial. The tapes were kept
secret and he pushed for them to be published. It is still unclear why he would want the tapes played - if anything they are in bad taste, particularly around page 2, line 29.

DATE: 11/04/2008
TIME: 12:19 P.M.
ACTIVITY: Rod Blagojevich home line incoming call.
BLAGOJEVICH: Rod Blagojevich
GREENLEE: Robert Greenlee
* * * * *
1 * * * * *
2 BLAGOJEVICH Anyway, O-, Obama's gonna win a
3 landslide and we'll just operate under
4 that, and I'm on the phone with Doug.
5 He's always fucking fighting against, I
6 can't take the Senate seat. And I can't
7 stand that, his attitude. What's his
8 fucking, angle, what's his motivation?
9 He says, "it's gonna be awful,
10 everybody's gonna resent you for it",
11 you know, and then, he's making it sound
12 like my fellow senators would resent me,
13 which I find ridiculous.
14 GREENLEE Yeah, I, I find it ridiculous that your
15 fellow senators would care.
17 GREENLEE Um, look, you know, I don't think he has
18 a motivation. I'm, I'm sure he's just
19 giving you his opinion.
20 BLAGOJEVICH Oh he's got some, there's some
21 motivation in it on him. There's
22 somethin', he's generally got my, he's
23 got a little motivation, I don't know
24 what it is. He's worried Quinn's gonna
25 in-, institute all kinds of
26 investigations. He'll, he'll order
27 investigations on every contract that we
28 issued...
29 GREENLEE Mm-hmm.


1 BLAGOJEVICH ...he's saying that. Okay, so let,
2 let's analyze that, war game that. What
3 about that? So what? U.S. Attorney's
4 looking at 'em anyway.
5 GREENLEE Yeah, it's, I mean, look, if you wanna
6 look at the crassest possible
7 motivation, then he has, like, you know,
8 it's harder for him to keep clients.
9 BLAGOJEVICH I mean, yeah, isn't it?
10 GREENLEE Yeah, but...
11 BLAGOJEVICH Isn't that what they're thinking?
12 GREENLEE I re-, I mean, look, I would suspect
13 that's the, you know, that's the
14 crassest motivation. I gotta tell you,
15 I don-, I would expect more from him and
16 I, I guess I'm hesitant to say that
17 that's his motivation. That may just be
18 his opinion.
19 BLAGOJEVICH It's a sub-conscious thing. He's a
20 great guy. He's not, this is not a bad
21 thing on Doug. I, Doug is a good, good
22 person, but sub-consciously, I think
23 he's trying, he, his first reaction is,
24 ooh, I don't want him to leave, I don't
25 want him to, you know, and so now he's
26 trying to, just quickly, his mind is
27 operating, coming up with reasons on why
28 it's bad. You know, and I yelled at
29 him, and I said, "you know...my upward
30 trajectory is fucking stalled if not
31 fucking terminally wounded, you know, by
32 Obama now." Okay?
33 GREENLEE Mm-hmm.
34 BLAGOJEVICH You know? "For the last, better than
35 two decade, uh, you know, decades, I've
36 made decisions at the expense of my
37 family's best interests, for my
38 political career and you, you know, my
39 job as governor." You know?


2 BLAGOJEVICH And, you know, "because I'm, you know,
3 the, this, his election blocks me now
4 from any immediate upward mo-, movement
5 or, you know, maybe never have any
6 upward movement. Then, you know, now is
7 the time for me to put my fucking
8 children and my wife first, for a
9 change."
10 GREENLEE Mm-hmm.
11 BLAGOJEVICH Does that make sense Qui-, Greenlee?
12 GREENLEE Yeah. Look I, that's how I feel
13 strongly.
14 BLAGOJEVICH Yeah. You know...fuck Bill Knapp and
15 fucking Fred, and all these fucking
16 consultants who I listened to at the
17 expense of my fucking family. Okay?
18 And then I, I started venting...you
19 know, part of my vent was, "yeah, and
20 what have I gotten for-? Oh, the people
21 are gonna fucking be mad and the fucking
22 newspapers are gonna rip me for this?"
23 Okay? "I fucking busted my ass and
24 pissed people off and gave your
25 grandmother a free fucking ride on a
26 bus. Okay? I gave your fucking baby a
27 chance to have health care. I fought
28 every one of those assholes including
29 every special interest out there, who
30 can make my life easier and better,
31 because they wanna raise taxes on you
32 and I won't, I, I fight them and keep
33 them from doing it. And what do I get
34 for that? Only thirteen percent of you
35 all out there think I'm doing a good
36 job. So fuck all of you. Not to
37 mention the fact that I'm a fucking,
38 criminal investigations and my family's
39 in jeopardy."


1 BLAGOJEVICH "I should worry because, you know, the
2 thirteen percent who approve of me
3 might, I might lose them too?" (Laughs)
4 You know what I'm saying?
5 GREENLEE Mm-hmm. I, look, I gotta tell you...
6 I'm not, I'm not moved by that, I mean I
7 think it means it makes it hard if you
8 were gonna try to run again, for that
9 position. It's ha-, hard, make it
10 harder to hold it, so you have time to
11 regain that. The uh, the only worry you
12 have, and this is maybe where Doug's
13 going is, you have to worry, will they,
14 you gotta make sure they seat you...
15 * * * * *

Monday, June 7, 2010

The funniest way to send a message to BP

I am going to Florida next week for a journalism conference and we have received email warnings from the organizers about the "tar balls" on the beach. Not very appetizing. Which makes me even more disgusted with BP for causing this unnatural disaster. But funny man Aziz Ansari performed this "song" (if you can call it that) at the MTV Music Awards, and it made me smile about the situation. It sends a message to BP and is still entertaining - thanks Aziz!

Friday, April 9, 2010

USA Today website outsources travel section to Demand Studios

USA Today has announced it is outsourcing online travel news to Demand Media, a network of freelance journalists (of which I'm a member). And while I am overjoyed that freelance journalists will have the rare opportunity to work with such a large publication on a topic as desirable as travel, I can't help but think -- Why?

Is it really a positive thing that USAToday.com will not have any travel journalists on staff? That means no health insurance, no benefits, no office to go to and no resources for educated, trained, professional journalists. Are we selling ourselves short for the chance to get published?

The other part of this discussion has centered on the ethics of Demand Media. They are clearly making a profit off of this deal, and they will have a great deal more jobs to fill. But will the journalists who are chosen make more than the pittance they are currently accepting for writing small listings and explanations for obscure hardware and tech websites? Media Bistro says it's doubtful.

It may be sad to say, but as a freelance journalist, I don't care what they're paying. Actually, when I sent in my request to join the travel writing team, I was under the impression that I would be doing it for free. That's fine for me -- I have been traveling internationally since before I could walk, and I happen to be a great writer with an advanced degree in international journalism. But if I was a USAToday.com staff travel writer, I would hate me right now.

So is the freelance me right, or the hypothetical full-time employee journalist me right?

One thing I can say with confidence: this is not the end of this debate. As the recession recedes and companies restructure, "freelancers" in every industry will become more popular and the matching-401Ked, benefitted employee will become more rare. And yet, I am still happy for freelance me.