Archive for Seriously

The Hopelessness of Being Arab

When I was a child, the biggest Arab tragedy was that of Occupied Palestine.

فلسطين المحتلة.

The tragedy was the source of both great sadness and imagination to Arabs the world over. In the melting-pot that is Saudi Arabia, being Palestinian meant that I got a role in the majority of our end-of-year school plays (which were often about Palestine), and that I passed Arabic class solely for my diplomatic usage of Palestine as an essay-topic in all my assignments. Charitable telethons collected money to send to the West Bank, and we were taught patriotic songs about how we WILL get our land back. The entirety of the Arab world came together and agreed to boycott Israel and all companies that operated in Israel, including Coca Cola.

Palestine, the tragedy of the Arab world, united us all in sadness and resolve.

Then everything exploded.

Iraq, the queen of civilization. A country that has over 10,000 years of culture, and where Arabs flocked to learn the fine arts and study engineering.

Libya, booming Libya. The place of crazy Gadaffi was crazy, but with oil and money, things were certainly looking up.

Egypt, full of strife. Injustice, death, theft and corruption.

Syria, break my heart. The heart of identity to those of us from the Levant.

Bahrain, the little tiny country. How can a place so small have so many problems?

Lebanon, self-inflicted insanity. I remember the joy of the Lebanese Civil War ending, and I was just 6 years old.

Yemen, which keeps going back in time. You would think that things are supposed to get BETTER, not worse.

And of course, there is still Palestine. Was the situation in Gaza as bad as it is today, when Palestine was the sole tragedy of the Arab world?

Amidst so many tragedies, I find myself unable to believe that at some point, Palestine was the major tragedy of being Arab.

My heart aches for all the Arab children of today. My heart aches for our little children, who have their own catastrophes. The Iraqi children, the Syrian children, the Libyan children, the Sudanese children, the Yemeni children, the Gazan children. My heart aches for the rest of the Arab world’s children too, even if they lead beautiful sheltered lives in Saudi Arabia, like I did. Growing up with one tragedy was heartbreaking, what is it like to grow up with so many?

What’s it like to not remember a time before the Gulf War? A time before the fall of Baghdad? A time when the craziest form of extremism was Saudi Arabia? What’s it like for children who don’t remember a time when Syrian drama was the star of Arab TV? When it was easy to drive to Beirut. And when Gazans in diaspora went back to Gaza for the summer, and had fights on who would eat the hottest chili. When there was hope for Yemen, and when everyone wished they could find a job in Libya.

I can’t imagine what it’s like.

And I will leave you with a song by Palestinan artist Amal Murqus. It refers to the Palestinian tragedy, at a time when Palestine was the major tragedy of being Arab.

At a time when there was still hope for a better tomorrow.

ا أحد يعلم – No one knows
لا أحد يعلم من الآتي في الدور غداً – No one knows who’s turn it is next tomorrow
سماء المخيم عابسة أحلامه مكتوبة – The sky of the refugee camp is gloomy
على كل جدار – And its dreams are written on every wall
اطفال المدينة يلهون بلعبة الموت قرب الشعار – The city’s children are having fun with death games near the slogans
لا أحد يعلم – No one knows
أبطال حكايات النهار نعرفهم في نشرة المساء – We know about “The champions of today’s stories” in the evening news
أناس عاديون يسرقون العناوين للحظة – Regular people stealing the headlines for a second
ويرحلون بعيداً ويرحلون بعيداً – Then they go so far away
في زحمة الأسماء والأحداث والأخبار – In the congestion of names and events and news
لا أحد يعلم – No one knows



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Berlin, 1945

This is a colored film of Berlin in 1945, right after the end of World War II.

Look at it, it’s very dark, and shows the horror of war… bombed out buildings, endless ruin, desperate people, and destruction. Watch it till the very end to see an incredible aerial shot of the Brandenburg Gate, and to get a sense of the utter desolation.

To me, this is not a video of desolation though, it is a video of hope, potential.

Berlin sprung back from these ruins.

Maybe Aleppo can, too. Baghdad. Libya.



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Welcome to the “We Have No Water!” Club — Tips to California from One of the World’s Driest Countries

Hi, California. Welcome to the “SHIT, WE HAVE NO WATER!” Club. It’s not a very happy club, but you must do what you can.

I’m responsible for introducing new members to club rules.

I know what you’re thinking. I too wish that our club rules are all about guest cards and lower charges for family members under the age of 21, and not about water days and how to brush your teeth. It sucks, ask me. Jordan’s been in the club for decades. We’re almost the leader, with one of the lowest levels of water-resource availability, per capita, in the world. We’re sort of like stars of the scene.

I’ve been reading the news and how you’re really sad about all your backyard pools. It’s cute. Ha. Backyard pools. You’re a lucky bitch, California, that you have that concern at all. When I was a kid, the closest thing we had to a backyard pool was a big bucket that my mom used to place in the bathtub when we wanted to take a shower. Oh, you’re not sure what I’m talking about? Yeah, I suppose people with backyard-pool-problems wouldn’t relate. Okay, so water was so scarce at some points in my childhood that my mother had to go nuclear. She would fill a little bucket with clean water, and she would pour it over our heads with a plastic cup, to conserve water. Backyard pools! Ha.

Shit, I’m talking too much, right? Sorry, sorry. I’m just really eager to get you on the right foot. Implications could be disastrous, otherwise.

Here’s a printed copy of the club rules, please keep it. I’ll read them out for you, too, just in case you’re the kind of person who’ll shove these rules in the nearest trashcan the minute I turn my back. Let me know if you have any questions.

1. Club members must observe stringent water conservation measures at all times when practicing personal, daily sanitation. (I know that’s a funny-sounding rule. It’s like the person who wrote this shit is a dainty little girl who doesn’t want to say “BATHROOM!” I’ll tell you what it actually means though, so don’t you worry! One, when you brush your teeth, turn off the damn water between wetting your toothbrush and rinsing your mouth. Two, when scrubbing your body or washing your hair in the shower, turn the water off. Three, when you’re washing your hands, turn the water off when getting soap to lather. You get the idea, I’m sure.)

2. Install appropriate aerator faucets across all sinks in your home or office. (You can get those from any hardware supply store. They just add bubbles to the water coming out of the faucet, and they’re cheap and fantastic.)

3. You have two weeks to apply the club’s lawn and plants guidelines, attached separately. (This one sounds tough at first, but don’t panic, you’ll be fine. Ahh.. what do you mean what about your automatic sprinklers? I’ve never seen automatic sprinklers in my life. Seriously, stop being so dramatic. Get a good, solid water hose with a built-in sprinkler, and use it once a week. Yes, I know your grass won’t survive watering only once a week. Let it die and plant something that doesn’t need as much water. Stop being a sissy, California! At least we’re only talking about your stupid lawn. Did you know that in Jordan, we get water supplied to our homes only ONCE a week? There’s a water day for each area from the government. My family’s water day is on Monday. Water days are a big thing in our culture — it’s when we water the garden, wash our clothes, and clean the house. Yes, I’m dead serious. So shut up and stop being dramatic.)

4. Club members may extend invitations to guests. (I gotta warn you here California, this rule is pretty tricky. For the most part, you can only extend invitations to two kinds of guests: those who will spend a shitload of money on tourism, or those who are the water-conservation academic sort coming in from other countries, or states, I guess, in your case. Ah, yeah, I guess you wouldn’t be familiar with those kids. Don’t worry it’s not too bad, some of them are really great people actually. They will poke stuff into you, and and they may be really arrogant about their degrees and knowledge, but in general, they’re very nice, especially the Germans.).

5. Members with greywater installations in their homes get extra benefits.

6. Baths are strictly prohibited, and showers should not take more than 10 minutes per day. (Come on, that’s not too bad. Did you ever try filling a bathtub? It takes forever. Such a waste of water.)

7. Replace household appliances that waste water, especially toilets, with more water-efficient ones. (Want a trick from an old-timer? Put a water bottle inside your toilet tank, and you’ll automatically get a free WaterSense).

8. Reuse your towels.

Okay, I’m getting tired of reading this list. I think the rest of the stuff aren’t as important, and you get the idea. One thing to keep in mind: always worry about the water.

Grrr… STOP COMPLAINING! At least the drought in your case appears to just be a temporary stunt.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s forever.



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Gluten-free, organic, bullcrap

Here’s a post on Gawker on why you shouldn’t believe everything you read about “what’s bad for you”.

STOP CUTTING SUGAR OUT OF YOUR DIET. I’ve been attending a lot of food events these days, and I cringe every time a mother upturns her nose and says that she doesn’t allow her little children to have any sugar. THAT IS SO MEAN. Yes, sugar is bad for you, but the World Health Organization has guidelines that you and your family can follow to consume just enough. You can also read this long and detailed article which investigates whether sugar is toxic. From the article:

It’s one thing to suggest, as most nutritionists will, that a healthful diet includes more fruits and vegetables, and maybe less fat, red meat and salt, or less of everything. It’s entirely different to claim that one particularly cherished aspect of our diet might not just be an unhealthful indulgence but actually be toxic, that when you bake your children a birthday cake or give them lemonade on a hot summer day, you may be doing them more harm than good, despite all the love that goes with it. Suggesting that sugar might kill us is what zealots do.

HUMANS HAVE BEEN CONSUMING GLUTEN FOR THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF YEARS, WITH NO PROBLEM. So many people I meet these days are on gluten-free diets, citing “intolerance”. As a person who has suffered from an actual food allergy my entire life, I find it upsetting that people don’t appreciate having a healthy body. MODERATION, FOR GOD’S SAKE. Here is a genius New Yorker piece on gluten:

For many people, avoiding gluten has become a cultural as well as a dietary choice, and the exposition offered an entry ramp to a new kind of life. There was a travel agent who specialized in gluten-free vacations, and a woman who helps plan gluten-free wedding receptions. One vender passed out placards: “I am nut free,” “I am shellfish free,” “I am egg free,” “I am wheat free.” I also saw an advertisement for gluten-free communion wafers.

I would like to go on about the other sort of carb-free, organic, “natural” fad diets that people are subjecting their bodies to, but I think you get the point.

Eat well, exercise, follow scientific dietary guidelines, and you’ll be fine. Or a truck might run you over tomorrow. Or you may die from pollution-induced cancer. Or you may have bad genes.

Moderation.

Fad diets



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To Love Muath

1

I’ve been worried to death about Muath since I heard about his fallen plane in late December. Yesterday’s news was one of the most horrifying moments in my life, second maybe only to my father’s death.

There isn’t much to say. I believe that violence begets violence, so I will not join the ranks of people calling for vengeance. We need to weed out extremism from our midst, and that can’t be done with violence. We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.

I’m getting really upset by the people dwelling on the details. I find it really rude and cowardly when I hear people discussing the validity of the video. I know the incident is disgusting. I know we don’t want to believe it. But we must face the truth. Muath died a horrible death to keep you safe. He died so you can go to your job in the morning, and come back home to your family at night. Don’t you forget that, and don’t you belittle that.

The Jordanian government says Muath was murdered a month ago. That means that the ISIS assholes had a whole month to add special effects to make the experience even more sadistic. Special effects don’t bring Muath back to his wife, mother, father, and to us. He’s still just as dead.

May you rest in peace, Muath. You’re a hero.

We love you.



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Justice, Racism, and Accountability: The Serial Podcast

I listened to “Serial” this weekend, a podcast that tries to “solve” a murder case that happened 15 years ago in 1999, in which a Pakistani immigrant called Adnan Syed was charged for murder.

I strongly recommend you listen to “Serial”. For one thing, it’s real. Adnan is a real person, and he really is serving a life sentence for the alleged murder of his girlfriend. He was convicted in Maryland, the United States, when he was 18, and if you listen to the podcast, you’ll see that the conviction was pretty shady.

The podcast is an amazing insight into the nature of justice, the objectivity of perspective, and racism. Sarah Koenig meticulously goes over every piece of evidence at hand, both incriminating and otherwise. She interviews every person related to Adnan and Hae, the victim. She poses questions that tackle every single angle. She is so thorough it’s impressive.

Yet, even with all Sarah’s thoroughness, my own personal conclusion is that there isn’t enough data to decide whether Adnan is innocent or guilty. The information is inconclusive.

You see, I’ve spent a good portion of time in the past few years consciously training myself to think critically. This has involved learning formal logical fallacies. Ultimately, it is fallacious reasoning that keeps us from knowing the truth. As I listened to the prosecution, all I could do was count the logical fallacies I heard: Fallacy of Presumption, Ad Hominem, Appeal to Authority, Biased Sample, Appeal to Ignorance, False Dilemma, Poisoning the Well, Questionable Cause…

Yes, I’m aware that misusing fallacies is a natural part of the justice system. Tapping into people’s inability to think critically is what law seems to be all about: manipulation by those skilled in the art of rhetoric.

This is where accountability comes in. Our humanity is based around the concept of accountability. What makes us different from animals is not intelligence — animals are intelligent too — but accountability. Thousands of years of laws, tradition, and religion has cemented our need for accountability.

There is not enough evidence in the case to assess Adnan’s innocence or guilt. Regardless of whether Adnan is guilty or not, it seems to me that Adnan was convinced to hold someone accountable for the death of an innocent girl.

And this is why Serial is so amazing. It just shows you what such a screwed up thing justice is.

Yet, the worst part by far is the motive claimed by the prosecution. Racism screwed up a kid’s life. It is atrocious, disgusting, racist, and xenophobic. According to the prosecution, Adnan’s motive was something in between being the “crazy possessive Muslim guy” and the hypocritical bad guy who is pretending to be a “good Muslim” but is instead doing something “evil”. He was after all, they claimed, dating in secret, due to not wanting to his conservative families to know.

It was this “motive” that was used against Adnan by the prosecution, and he was made out to be the psychopath who hid his dating from his family because he is a psychopath. They said Adnan was guilt ridden about lying to his family about having a girlfriend, and so he killed his girlfriend. They presented him as this two-faced bastard with a split personality.

This is where I was like WTF.

In 1999, when Adnan was convicted, I was a teenager too. I keep going back to 1999 and feeling horrified that this poor guy basically got locked up for hiding stuff from his parents, when me, myself, and everyone I knew were hiding stuff too.

They put a kid away simply because they couldn’t relate to his background.

1. Hiding stuff from parents during your teenage is the normal thing as far as Middle Eastern culture is concerned. You operate thinking that your parents don’t want to know these things. I hid stuff from mine all the time, even though I knew they wouldn’t have given a crap. I hid it because everyone else in the community hid it from their own parents.

2. Middle Eastern culture is very strongly connected to religion, so it’s harder to face parents. Their concern over their children’s behavior is deep-rooted in the fear of God. Parents get really worried when they think their kids might go to hell, and so kids just avoid letting their parents know that they’re doing stuff that “god might not be too happy with” for their parents’ peace of mind. This is totally normal. It doesn’t make anyone a bad person. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s really sweet. Let the mothers sleep soundly at night, yeah?

I can’t believe that the prosecution used this against Adnan. It really is atrocious.

So yeah. A lot of thinking about a podcast. Listen to it, it’s really good.



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