“The Middle East Conflict”: Mind your language!

It is inaccurate, distorting, even misleading, to call the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis the “Middle East conflict” or the “Arab Israeli conflict.” At a minimum, the Middle East includes Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and UAE. Other definitions may go further to include Libya, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but even if we stick to the smaller set of countries, the usage of this term can be problematic.

Jordan and Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, they maintain diplomatic relations, and even before the peace treaties, relations between the governments of Jordan and Israel were friendly. As far as Iraq is concerned, it is true that historically, Saddam’s Iraq had been in conflict with Israel. Iraq also supported the Palestinian resistance movements financially and politically. But since that time, and especially after 2003, Iraq has been too occupied with its own problems to have an actual conflict with Israel.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and UAE don’t enjoy formal diplomatic relations with Israel, but neither have they engaged in actual conflict. The practical life of the average citizen in any of those countries is not in the slightest impacted by Israel (or vice versa). The only other countries in the Middle East that have a palpable problem with Israel today are Lebanon and Syria. On any average day, the life of a Lebanese or a Syrian is nowhere impacted by Israel, though. Existentially, it is the Palestinian’s day-to-day life, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, that is made unnecessarily so much more difficult, if not unbearable, by the Jewish State. Read More »

At Muslim Reverie: It’s time to end gender segregation in mosques

Hop on over here for a very interesting post that touches upon everything from the example of Khadijah to Amina Wadud. Check out the discussion in the comments too.

The Dead Keep It

There are grooves and holes
In rose rock.
They were alive before you and I
Came by
And briefly unclasped our hands
To touch them.
They are alive within the airless space
Of now.

They’re wrinkles
On the face of history.
History is a tired woman.
History stands by the side of the road,
Her cheap necklaces toll for you.

Read More »

The Fake Muhajaba

When we face stereotyping, a common response is to try to transform our own identity. But as I discovered, sometimes that cure can be worse than the disease. (Originally published in JO Magazine.)

SOMETHING INSIDE OF ME died when I read about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a ban on burqas on the streets of France.

Beyond the usual platitudes about “respect for other cultures,” or “but what if the women choose them freely,” what upset me was the possibility that the women wearing whatever it is that Sarkozy deems objectionable—he wasn’t even specific about what he meant by the word “burqa”—might face harassment from law enforcement in addition to the stereotyping of mainstream society.

If a woman knows what it’s like to be harassed and stereotyped, if she has experienced the scorn of people who, based on just a few silly outside markers, have decided to debase her, how could she not worry about it happening to someone else?

I am the least likely person to support the total veiling of a woman’s face and body. Yet my experiences with sexual harassment in Amman have cemented my belief that there is something fundamentally violating about being bullied into trying to pass as someone you’re not.

In the early spring of 2009, I began wearing the hijab when leaving my house in Amman. I am a non-Muslim woman with a drawling American accent and Slavic heritage—and no, I don’t think “Russian Natasha” jokes are cute, just so we’re clear. I was trying to appear to be someone else. It started when I realized that the compromises I had originally expected to make when coming to Jordan—more conservative clothing, no alcohol on my breath, no smiling at strangers in public, and so on—were not enough to allow me to feel safe.

After a number of increasingly scary experiences in comparatively nice neighborhoods like Shmeisani and Abdoun, I was nearly run over by a man who was pursuing me in his car. He must have realized I was set on ignoring him as he shouted the standard lines: “Where are you going?” “Five JDs, baby!” Then he decided to impress me by turning sharply into my path at an intersection, screeching to a halt inches from my body. As it happened, all I could think was: “Am I really about to die or get maimed because of some guy trying to pick me up?”

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What’s missing in the GCC states? Well…

Lengthy reports by international institutions are often long to digest. But when the process starts, it nourishes lively discussions. It is what is happening in the case of a much-acclaimed World Bank report, titled the “Road Less Traveled”, released back in February 2008. This report aims to support policymakers in the Middle East and North Africa (“MENA”) region develop more effective education strategies that is based on global and regional experience in the sector.

The key messages of the report are as follows. Education is at the crossroads for the future of MENA. It plays crucial role in promoting poverty alleviation and economic growth, both at national and household levels. Various stakeholders in the region regard education as their most important development challenge, and education reform is on top of the reform agenda of many regional governments.

Having succeeded in expanding the education systems to include most eligible children, boys and girls, the MENA region is now ready to travel a new road. While the exact configuration of this new road will not be the same for each country, all countries, irrespective of their initial conditions, will require a shift from “engineering inputs” to “engineering for results”, along with a combination of incentives and public accountability measures, as well as measures to improve labor market outcomes.

Finally, labor market reforms will need to be implemented hand in hand with those for the education system proper. In the case of MENA, the relevant labor market extends much farther than the confines of any country or even the region because of important migration trends and opportunities.

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Sasha, Charlotte and Taymoor

One I strangled with the pearls
You once dived for in a boutique.
One I rammed with a creaking taxi
(Prayer beads over the rear view mirror
Nancy on the stereo).
One I left out in the night,
When the desert cooled off
And the spit of the dogs
Grew hotter.

Read More »

At Saleeha: of fatwah and fitnah

A little poetry on a rather big topic. Don’t click if you can’t stand “dirty” words. 😉

At the Arab Observer: Jordan’s Tribal Heritage Shouldn’t Justify Death Sentence

When the international declaration of human rights goes up against age-old traditions…

At The Sudanese Thinker: Morality Does Not Come From Holy Books

This post just brings all the boys to the yard. 😉

Arab reaction to Obama’s Middle East policy

By all accounts, the new American administration is moving at a frenetic pace in trying to break the seemingly interminable deadlock between Israel and the Arab world. Recent press reports suggest that George Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy, is reaching a critical point in his negotiations with the Netanyahu government and the Palestinian authority.

Amid this whirlwind of activity, it is fair to say that the average Arab’s assessment of US policy is rather puzzled. Arabs have gotten used to the US government’s absolute bias towards Israel, a bias that reached its ultimate climax under the forgettable George W. Bush.

President Obama has spoken a different language. He seems genuinely focused on trying to build a bridge over the long years of mistrust between the Arab masses and the US political establishment.

Read More »