Waltz With Bashir

I heard about this movie only because the same director’s new movie was reviewed but my library doesn’t have it.  So I checked out Waltz With Bashir.  I had no idea what it was about, but was hooked from second one.  I had to brush up on my Middle Eastern history as this is about the Israeli-Lebanon war of 1982.  Thank heavens for Wikipedia!  While the movie is political, what I thought was really important was how it portrayed the individual soldiers and their responses to the violence, centered on the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.  Following Wikipedia, I discovered how each movement of troops, each bombing or massacre or battle was justified as a response to some earlier violence.  This goes way beyond “an eye for an eye”.  A very powerful film, both cinamatography (it is composed of animation and real action) and story narrative are brilliant.

Celebrating Women, Celebrating Civic Engagement: A message from Queen Rania of Jordan

I found this at The New Service, and have to say, I think Queen Rania is amazing!

March 10, 2010 — Colleen Hammelman, Innovations in Civic Participation

Guest post by Talloires Network Intern Alissa Brower. Cross-posted from the Talloires Network blog.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, this article places a spotlight on one female leader who has had a great deal of influence on civic engagement in the Middle East. Recently, Jordan’s Queen Rania Al-Abdullah delivered a speech to students at the American University in Cairo about their impact in society and the difference they can make in the larger community. Her objective was to encourage students to realize the kind of difference they can make in society and take advantage of attending a university that provides support for civic engagement and community service.

Her majesty started her speech with a story that symbolizes where civic engagement and understanding can start. The story itself can be considered a celebration of women making a difference in the world, as it involves a young girl who wanted to change the living conditions of a less fortunate community. The story begins with Raghda visiting an elderly community outside of central Cairo. Raghda met a woman who invited the girl into her home. What Raghda saw when she stepped inside was nothing like what she had expected. Raghda, accustomed to a very comfortable lifestyle, could not believe a family of eight was living in a one-room home with no floor and no ceiling. When she looked up at what should have been the ceiling, the girl saw a blue sky. At this moment, Raghda realized that something must be done to improve these unsatisfactory living conditions. She felt a responsibility to help these families in need. After having this experience, Raghda El Ebrashi, who is also an AUC alumna, founded Alashanek Ya Balady, an organization that helps families rise above poverty.

(Coincidentally, Queen Rania is not the only one who recognizes Raghda’s dedication to civic engagement. Last year, the Talloires Network awarded Alashanek Ya Balady third place for the MacJannet Prize 2009. To learn more about the program, click here.)

The story showed students of AUC that they have the capability to help those in need; they simply must have the will to put those capabilities to use. And, being students at an institute of higher education provides them the opportunity to implement that will. In her speech, her majesty proclaimed, “Our universities must be incubators of this social blue sky thinking.” The American University in Cairo has embraced this duty, promoting community among its students and allowing “social practice [to take] its place alongside academic theory.” AUC has taken steps toward fostering greater social recognition and development among its students, and the Queen wants other universities to do the same.

Queen Rania addressed the importance of service-learning in the education system. Service-based learning initiatives are gaining more ground in universities worldwide. The Corporation for National and Community Service of the United States, a country that has had one of the longest histories in implementing this initiative, defines service-learning as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” Institutes of higher education have adopted this approach of a new system of learning, creating comprehensive curricula that engage both academics and service alike.

AUC has also contributed to this trend. Specifically, the university offers a number of opportunities to engage in service, including community-based academic courses, aiming to make “community service an integral part of the students learning experience.” Queen Rania encouraged the AUC to continue to embrace service-learning “so students can balance their quest for a career with their call to help others” and serve as a model for other universities in the Middle East.

Queen Rania has become a major proponent of citizens engaging in community service efforts in their communities. She has used her title and influence to spread this message throughout the Middle East, encouraging citizens to share “a sense of duty and pride in promoting the common good.” Because of her international efforts to enhance the role of citizenship, Queen Rania certainly is one of many women worth celebrating on today’s holiday.

To learn more about International Women’s Day, please visit the website.

The Talloires Network is an international association of institutions committed to strengthening the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education. Tufts University’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and Innovations in Civic Participation serve as the Network’s secretariat.

For all that we say democracy is awesome (and it is, of course) there is something very refreshing about a well-educated, articulate leader who works for decades to make her country a better place!  If you have to have a royal family in charge, I’d rank the Jordanian Hashemites highly.

Life in the West Bank

I can’t be in Jordan without facing the reality of what is happening one the other side of the Jordan/Israel border. If only CNN and their pals would pay attention!!! Please read this quick posting (clipped below) , then watch “Who profits from Israeli occupation” (also below or at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L32Nama7ad8). I heard about both from Juan Cole (Uof Michigan Middle East expert-guy and great blogger) at http://www.juancole.com/. Get the word out!!
clipped from www.huffingtonpost.com

On August 3, my husband Mohammed Khatib, and my little brother Abdullah, were taken from their beds in our West Bank village of Bil’in at 3 AM by the Israeli military. My husband is a member of the Bil’in Popular Committee, which has been leading our village’s nonviolent campaign against Israel’s construction of a Wall and a settlement on our land. For nearly five years, every Friday we have been joined by supporters from Israel and around the world as we attempt to march to our land on the other side of the Wall. According to the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the settlement amounts to a war crime, and in 2004 the International Court of Justice ruled the Wall illegal.

Despite this, the construction of the Wall and settlements continued, and we are treated as criminals in our quest for justice. On top of tens of arrests, hundreds of protesters from Bil’in have been injured and one has been killed by the Israeli military.
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The video:

Separate and Unequal: Challenging Israel’s segregated education system

Had to include this entire article.  Israel claims to be the only “democracy” in the Middle East, yet it has no constitution or bill of rights.  Moreover, it supports a segregated education system which denies Arab children a decent education.  Well at least  Palestinian kids won’t have any dreams or hopes for a prosperous future–then they can become targets of Islamist propaganda which will encourage them to throw rocks at Israeli tanks and be gunned down, or blow themselves up in a pizza place.  Doesn’t Isreal see that it is CREATING a generation of anti-Israelis?  Sigh…

Of course, it’s not like the US can claim the moral high-ground, our education system is practically segregated and poor, urban and black kids get crappy preparation for the future too–hence drugs, gangs, poverty and violence continue.  But at least we have a bill of rights that purports to protect us all and a constitution meant to serve equally–regardless of race, religion, or gender.  Israel doesn’t even have that…wouldn’t you want to be a Palestinian?

Arab family sues over ‘racist incitement’ in Israel
Six Jewish parents demand removal of one-year-old Arab girl from Israeli day-care centre.
By Jonathan Cook – NAZARETH, Israel

Israeli School Apartheid

An Arab couple whose one-year-old daughter was expelled from an Israeli day-care centre on her first day are suing a Jewish mother for damages, accusing her of racist incitement against their child.

Maysa and Shua’a Zuabi, from the village of Sulam in northern Israel, launched the court action last week saying they had been “shocked and humiliated” when the centre’s owner told them that six Jewish parents had demanded their daughter’s removal because she is an Arab.

In the first legal action of its kind in Israel, the Zuabis are claiming $80,000 from Neta Kadshai, whom they accuse of being the ringleader.

The girl, Dana, is reported to be the first Arab child ever to attend the day-care centre in the rural Jewish community of Merhavia, less than 1km from Sulam.

However, human rights lawyers say that, given the narrow range of anti-racism legislation in Israel, the chance of success for the Zuabis is low.

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has operated an education system almost entirely segregated between Jews and Arabs.

However, chronic underfunding of Arab schools means that in recent years a small but growing number of Arab parents have sought to move their children into the Jewish system.

Dana was admitted to the day-care centre last December, according to the case, after its owner, Ivon Grinwald, told the couple she had a vacant place. However, on Dana’s first day six parents threatened to withdraw their own children if she was not removed.

Ms Kadshai, in particular, is said to have waged a campaign of “slurs and efforts aimed at having [Dana] removed from the day-care centre, making it clear that [her] children would not be in the same centre as an Arab girl”. Mrs Zuabi was summoned to a meeting the same evening at which Ms Grinwald said she could not afford to lose the six children. She returned the contract Mrs Zuabi had signed and repaid her advance fees.

Mrs Zuabi said that while she was in the office Ms Grinwald received a call from Ms Kadshai again slandering Dana and demanding her removal.

Ms Grinwald refused to speak to the media last week. However, last December, when the Zuabis first complained, she told Army Radio: “The [Jewish] parents called her a girl from ‘the [Arab] sector’, they said this is a day-care centre for Jewish children and that it should stay that way … I can’t change the world, I have to look out for my livelihood.”

Although Israel lacks a constitution, the Zuabis’ lawyer, Dori Kaspi, is suing Ms Kadshai under the terms of the 1992 Basic Law on Human Freedom and Dignity, the nearest legislation Israel has to a bill of rights.

In previous cases when Arab children have been excluded from schools, the parents have launched a legal action for discrimination against the education authorities or the school itself.

Lawyers are doubtful that the couple can win given the law’s lack of reference to the principles of equality or equal opportunities.

One lawyer, who wished not to be named, said: “Instances like this are not covered by laws against discrimination. Anti-discrimination legislation in Israel is very specific, covering mainly examples of discrimination in employment and access to public places like pubs and clubs.”

Even then, the lawyer added, enforcement was extremely lax.

Instances of Arab children being denied places at Jewish kindergartens and junior schools have become more common in recent years, especially in the country’s handful of mixed cities.

Yousef Jabareen, head of Dirasat, a Nazareth-based organisation monitoring education issues, said when parents tried to switch their children to Jewish schools it was because of the poor conditions in Arab education institutions.

“Although it’s an understandable reaction, it’s a cause for concern,” he said. “In Jewish schools Arab children are not taught their language, culture or history. Their Arab identity has to be sacrificed for them to receive a decent education.”

A report published in March revealed that the government invested $1,100 in each Jewish pupil’s education compared to $190 for each Arab pupil. The gap is even wider when compared to the popular state-run religious schools, where Jewish pupils receive nine times more funding than Arab pupils.

There is also an official shortfall of more than 1,000 classrooms for Arab children, said Mr Jabareen, though Arab organisations believe the problem is in reality much worse. In addition, a significant proportion of existing Arab school buildings have been judged unsafe or dangerous to children’s health.

In some parts of the country where private religious schools are available, particularly in Nazareth and Haifa, Arab parents are turning their back on the state-run system, said Mr Jabareen.

Two-thirds of the 7,500 Arab pupils in the northern mixed city of Haifa, for example, are reported to be attending private schools, despite high levels of poverty among the population.

Last September, the Adalah legal centre for Israel’s Arab minority forced the municipality of the mixed city of Ramle, near Tel Aviv, to register an Arab boy in a Jewish kindergarten close to his home.

The mayor, Yoel Lavi, had earlier told the boy’s parents that he could not be admitted because he was an Arab and that the kindergarten served only Jewish children.

Mr Jabareen said he favoured binational and bilingual schools in which Jewish and Arab children could meet and study as equals. However, the state did not offer such schools to parents.

Four bilingual elementary schools admitting both Arab and Jewish children have been established privately. Israel has no mixed secondary schools.

Mike Prashker, director of Merchavim, an organisation advocating shared citizenship in Israel, recently told the Haaretz newspaper: “The Israeli reality of segregated education systems creates ignorance and fear of the ‘other’.”

A poll published by Haifa University in January found that three-quarters of Jewish pupils regarded Arabs as “uneducated, uncivilised and dirty”.

A recent survey by Merchavim found that the segregation among pupils was mirrored by segregation among teachers. Despite some 8,000 Arab teachers being recorded as unemployed by the education ministry, only a few dozen work in Jewish schools, mainly teaching Arabic, even though the Jewish system is suffering from staff shortages.

The previous dovish education minister Yuli Tamir established a public committee last year to develop for the first time a “shared life” policy for Jewish and Arab schools.

The committee issued its report earlier this year recommending more meetings between Jewish and Arab children, that Arabic should be taught to Jewish pupils, and that schools should employ both Arab and Jewish teachers.

The new rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu announced it was freezing the report in April.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

The Islamist by Ed Husain–Book Review

The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left by Ed Husain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Saw the author on “The Doha Debates” last year.  During the program he was very articulate and dedicated to combating extremism.

This book is Ed Husain’s story of his personal journey into and out of the Islamist movement in the UK.  As Husain depicts it, Islamism is the idea that the Islamic faith requires an Islamic political state–that political power and religion are one.  Husain’s family, from India/Bangladesh, practiced a Sufi Islam which focused on spiritual connection to God and to other humans and he sees this as a more “mainstream” Islam.  Living in Jordan, a moderate Islamic state, I’m not sure that his Sufi brand of Islam would necessarily be accepted–though most of the Muslims I know here do support secular governance.

The first few chapters, relating his time in the islamist movement, including Jamaati-e Islamia and Hizb tTahrir, were distanced, written almost dispassionately.  It is like he can’t even relate to the boy he once was.   This was frustrating for me, as I’d hoped the book would help me grasp the emotional and intellectual pull of such movements for the young people raised in the West.   However, as he related the incidents which brought him out of the movement, including the violence, hypocracy, and time spent, ironically, in Syria and Saudi Arabia, his passion in delivery grew.  By the end, he was writing eloquently and passionately against Islamism.

I learned quite a bit from the book:

1–Husain related how the Islamists gained power in Britain (and similarly in the US) until the British authorities believed them to be speaking for and representing the views of all Muslims.  This gave them legitimacy–whereas most of these groups were outlawed in the Middle East.

2–Husain argues that Islamists must be countered, fought, and challenged.  I realized that in all my studies of Arabic and Islamic culture, we never talk about the extremists: Islamists, Wahabis or others.  I had never heard of most of the groups Husain mentioned tho they are well-known here in Jordan and elsewhere (especially Hisb Tahrir which has many factions and is involved in violence in Palestine, Bagladesh, and I believe India among other places).  Husain implies, and I agree, that the refusal to talk about such groups in mainstream education means that we don’t understand the movement and can’t launch effective opposition to it.   Our courses should not ignore such groups–nor suggest that “all” Muslims belong to them.  Acknowledging and debating their merits would be much more effective.

3–Husain traveled to Saudi Arabia (where I have never been and have NO desire to go) where much of the desires of the Islamist movement are fulfilled and was appalled at what he saw there.  He strongly denounces the Wahabi form of Islam (a very repressive one) which funds a great deal of the Islamist movements and seeks converts around the globe.  Husain reported that it is a country where the more women are wrapped and hidden away (women must wear full-face veils and long, loose black robes in public, must only go out with close male relations, only recently gained the right to drive, etc.) the more Saudi men objectify them.  He said that his wife, dressed appropriately, was often leered at, insulted, and propositioned even while he accompanied her.  Others I know in Jordan who’ve lived in Saudi report conflicting stories–that on the compound everything is fine and there’s no reason to “go out”, that Saudi men are very respectful during the Hajj, etc.   I don’t know from personal experience, but from the public behaviors of Saudi men in Morocco and here, I can’t believe it is a place I would ever want to go.

4–Husain described all the ways the groups in which he participated manipulated the laws, freedoms, and rights of British citizens.  The police seem, from his telling, to be naive in their treatment of Islamist youth groups; universities and other moderates completely incapable of countering their methods.   We need to teach our youth how to think critically about what they see and experience around them, to look beyond what such people say and see clearly what they do, believe, and propagate.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the inside of the Islamist movement, particularly as an introduction for one mostly unfamiliar with the phenomenon.

FYI Ed Husain co-founder and co-director of The Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank devoted to combating Muslim (and I assume other forms of) extremism.

Hamas 2.0

Forgot how great is Foreign Affairs.
clipped from www.foreignaffairs.com

Summary —

The January war in Gaza overshadowed the fact that Hamas is in the midst of an unprecedented ideological transformation — and it’s time for the West to pay attention.

MICHAEL BRÖNING is Director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung office in East Jerusalem, a German political foundation affiliated with the Social Democratic Party. He is a regular contributor to German newspapers and magazines, including Die Zeit and Der Spiegel.

For decades, Western decision-makers have viewed Hamas as a terrorist organization that seeks to destroy the state of Israel and thus will never accept a territorial compromise based on a two-state solution.
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The Middle East: A Cultural Psychology by G. Gregg

The Middle East: A Cultural Psychology (Culture, Cognition, and Behavior) The Middle East: A Cultural Psychology by Gary S. Gregg

Very interesting, insightful, yet easy-to-read, this is a great overview of Middle Eastern society in the first 3 chapters, then of the development of the people who live in them for the final 7 chapters.  I especially enjoyed that the author used many Arabic sources, and used ethnographies and sociological studies rather than purely “psychological” literature to understand the complexity of this culture.

Best points:

1) Gregg takes a big-picture view and notices that cultural structures and value systems are created in an ecological context. Hence shifting alliances evident in Middle Eastern and North African societies respond to the dynamic availabilities of food, forage, and environment in the region.

2) Gregg spent a whole chapter delving into the different value systems of the honor/modesty code and Islam. They are not one and the same (even if many tie them together), sometimes Islam supports, sometimes conflicts with, the honor-modesty code. Also, the whole male-protector (machismo) and female-secluded and protected aspects of the region (the honor part of the honor-modesty code) are prevalent throughout the Mediterranean area–which is why southern Italy treats women very similarly to Jordan. It is NOT simply a part of Islam–Italians, Greeks, and Spaniards tie it to Christianity. I think it’s really important not to assume that such things are tied to the religious beliefs or dogma when they may be socio-cultural (or even ecological) in origin.

3) Terrorism/Violence/Authoritarianism is NOT part of “traditional” society. Rather, they are a result of underdevelopment where powerful interests control the benefits of modernization and the majority are excluded from them. This is something I’ve been trying to articulate to people in the U.S. for ages–it’s not inherent in people, it’s tied to the oppression they face every day. According to Gregg, the authoritarianism especially is a result of both tradition and modernity failing.

In brief: if you’re interested in Middle Eastern and North African societies cultures and value systems, read chapters 1-3. If you REALLY want to understand how these people develop over a lifetime, or are a psychology buff, go beyond to chapters 4-10.