Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sexual content on Arab satellite channels

(Originally Published by Media Monitors, Friday September 23 2005)

( May Hariri)

The subject of sex on television or in public in general in the Arab world is still in the realm of the taboo; it has always been dealt with in the mildest of manners so as not to offend the sensibilities of the Arab audience.

The Arab world is by nature and circumstance belongs to the traditional and conservative societies of the East, such as India, China, Japan and other cultures.
Arabs tend to be tradition-bound and conservative. Both Christians and Muslims
With this backdrop came the explosion of satellite channels that has entered every home in the Middle East with avalanche of good and bad programming.

Aljazeera for example comes across as a representative and respectful of popular Arab values, as well as feelings and attitudes toward current events, whether be it war, culture or religion. It is no small wonder that Aljazeera is viewed by 40 million people daily and is the number one satellite news channel in the Middle East and Arab Diaspora in the west.

Its strength seems to be coming from its understanding of its viewers taste and cultural sensibilities

At the other end, Satellite channels such as the Lebanese Broadcast channel, LBC, the Future (Mustakbal),owned by the Hariri family, ART, MBC and others MTV-like channels that peddles unprofessional, sleazy programs come across as very offensive to good taste, to Arab families and the Arab value systems in general.

The casual observer of those mostly Lebanon-based, and Dubai-based channels such as the LBC and the Future channel notice their emphasis on flavoring their programming with sexual innuendo, and sexually suggestive “entertainment”
LBC for example features “news readers” and reporters whose clothing for the most part revealing and unprofessional so as to, one might argue, to bring the attention of the audience to the “news readers” and reporters’ body features and not to the news!

Perhaps the vast majority of its shows regardless of its nature are from an Arab and Middle Eastern perspective is sexualized. We see for example women talking about the weather in tights, or semi dressed women doing a cooking show, or women in night club clothing talking about how to raise children and so on!
All that might not raise eyebrows or seems outlandish for the average American or European viewer.

Shouldn’t a news organization reflect the values of the society it operates within?
In this case it is not necessarily. Societal norms and values are of secondary importance to the owners and operators of those channels.
LBC was founded by former warlords of the Lebanese forces, a mix of Para-military and feudal bosses and Saudi investor-prince Walid Bin Talal. That alone shows that such satellite channels were created to serve and advance political agendas and not as professional news organizations.
( AlJazeera anchor Layla Al-Shayeb)

Lebanon serves as the perfect environment for such enterprises, it is a country of feuding medieval clans, who for centuries, and still today fight each other over power and treasure, and is where sexual entertainment and sexual tourism is geared toward rich playboys from the gulf and Europe to fatten up the pockets of warlords and their princely overlords.

Other channels like the Arab Radio and Television, ART, Middle East broadcast channel, MBC , are all virtually owned by Saudi royals, and, strangely all uses semi-dressed women to twist and turn, speaking in sexually suggestive tones and moves in an attempt to win an audience through sexualizing the imagination.
Conspicuously absent however, are the commercials, or the multi million-dollar advertising deals, and more importantly a rating system to determine market share and price index of airtime.

Sex sells,Freedom sexualized
It is universally true that most Television programming around the world uses sex appeal in their programming to garner a wide range of viewer ship as possible therefore increasing market share and ratings. The ratings and market share in turn will determine price and sales of advertisement.
Emily Barr, president and General Manager of ABC Television in Chicago was astonished when I asked her opinion about sexual content on some of the Arab satellite channels.

Mrs. Barr assumed that Arab Television should be more conservative than American and western ones, simply because the Arab society is generally more traditional and conservative in an Arab context.

(Freedom rally in Lebanon last year :) )

Mrs. Barr , whose news organization is number one in ratings in several news segments according to Nielsen ratings, Chicago is the third largest media market in the US, said that it was not uncommon that about fifteen years ago, for news directors to ask their women subordinates to be a bit more revealing in their dress.
That was the norm until Barbara Walters refused to go along with that idea and more and more women became news managers and news directors, and things changed toward morerespectful and professional attitude toward women in the business.

In the Arab World the trend is going in the opposite direction, news, media, and entertainment is increasingly going toward subtle and often times explicit sexual direction. At this point there seems to be no Arab Barbara Walters in sight.
Arab Satellite channels have virtually no advertising revenues, and from a business perspective they all are losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year, including Aljazeera, but the question remains why sexualizing the news and entertainment.
As a consequence, Arab and Muslim audience have to endure a barrage of sleaze and an avalanche of third-rate music videos done by third-rate singers, or “video clip” as it’s called in the Middle East.
( ALJazeera news team)

Part of the problem lies in negative westernization, which is the assumption that if Arabs imitate everything in the west, they become westernized.
This particular issue is rooted in the power relations between underdeveloped societies and super advanced European and American cultures.
The weak seems to gravitate toward the strong trying to emulate him so he can be like him and so he can reach an imagined sense of accomplishment, pride and superiority.

These segments the in Arab world and particularly in Lebanon, where this problem is more acute feel that if they act in the ways of the west ( in their mind, that basically means living a glamorous Hollywood life style) they themselves become modern and advanced. Some thinkers in the Arab and Muslim world called this phenomenon a “Westoxification”

But those westernized slices of Arab societies are misguided in their westernization. Freedoms of thought, press, opinion, or equal opportunity of citizens, let alone having the right to live as sovereign citizen in one’s own country, are all, in the modern sense, western inventions and hard won accomplishments, are almost non-existence in the Arab world.

( Flag of Saudi Arabia)
Perhaps encouraging those freedoms to take root in the Arab and Muslim world is much more important than spreading societal ills into traditional Arab homes.
The normalization of sexual promiscuity, largely perceived as a western import, in a society that is largely geared toward channeling sex into the institution of marriage, is likely to breed resentment and discontent against the west.
Another problem is that such covert-sexual programming and sexually coded music videos reach Arab homes and Arab children unencumbered and unfiltered and without warning.

(Barbara Walters)

In the absences of a rating system (as in the US) that warns parents about sexual content, and without civic organizations that monitor and lobby against such programming, there are hundreds of such organizations in the US. Moreover, the absence of Arab-wide agency similar to the United States Federal communication commission, FCC, which monitors the airwaves and fines violators of pubic indecency and public morality, the problem, will have overarching consequences.

by courtesy & © 2005 Ali Alarabi

A martyr: The hero of a people

originally published by :The Oregonian - Commentary

Friday, November 12, 2004

A martyr: The hero of a people


Yasser Arafat's life symbolized a nation struggling in pain to be born
on the world stage. He was the living, charismatic symbol of a
would-be nation. An imperfect symbol, yet the only real Palestinian
voice for the past 50 years.

His enemies portrayed him as a bloodthirsty killer, a terrorist and
the embodiment of evil. But any attempts to dehumanize Arafat, and
thus weaken him, only lifted his popularity and swelled his influence.

Surely, some parts of the world may wince at the thought of glorifying
Arafat, but to the Palestinian people he was a larger-than-life hero
who helped legitimize and internationalize the Palestinian cause.

His 40-year dominance of Palestinian politics was unrivaled; his
leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization resulted in his
people gaining a diplomatic voice on the world stage. For that, this
man should be revered, not reviled.

For tens of millions around the world, he was a romantic figure, no
different from any other guerrilla leader fighting for a national
liberation movement. In their eyes, Arafat's armed resistance was used to advance political ends and nothing more.

Arafat was no more a terrorist than Nelson Mandela, who because of his
armed resistance also was labeled as a dangerous terrorist and a thug
by the former racist South African regime. Even Charles de Gaulle was
a terrorist in the eyes of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Muchspeculation in the days leading up to Arafat's death focused on his
supposed vast wealth, yet his actions reflected a frugal life .

Arafat's image often suffered because one is judged by the company he
keeps. For him, that meant cronies and corrupt officials, many who
were loathed by the Palestinian people. Despite his authoritarian
rule, the opportunistic leeches that attached themselves to the cause
ultimately began to chip away at the man and his power base.

The internal problems were compounded in that he not only faced a
ruthless enemy in Israel, but also Arab rulers who plotted his death
and often attempted to control his fledging PLO through their proxy.
So Arafat had to operate in this difficult Middle East environment,
and perhaps because of it he adapted in a way unpalatable to much of
the world.

An Arab proverb sums up his world: "If you do not become a wolf, you
will be eaten by wolves." Arafat, by necessity, became a wolf for the
Palestinian cause. He was a lonely wolf, too. His predicament with the
Arab rulers drew these words from former President Carter: "I never
met an Arab leader who in private professed a desire for an
ndependent Palestinian state."

Knowing the difficulties of his cause, Arafat, by necessity, became a
realist. His pragmatism took him to work on establishing contacts with
Israeli leftists to advance peaceful relations based on United Nations
resolutions and international law.

For his enemies, Yasser Arafat will die a reviled man. But for the
long-suffering Palestinian people, he was a visionary, a martyr, a man
of conviction. He may not have succeeded in changing their lives, but
he without a doubt succeeded in changing their world.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mr. Nasrallah's Opus

On Saturday evening, over a million and a half Lebanese gathered to hear the most popular man in the Middle East today. This man is Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah who appeared for the first time in months, an appearance came to crown his Magnum Opus ever.

According to press and security officials the crowed gathered in the southern areas of Beirut this past Saturday September, 23, was the largest ever in the history of Lebanon. They came to see and hear Hassan Nasrallah, arguably, the most popular man in the Arab and Muslim world today.

( Nasrallah Super star)

Hassan Nasrallah popularity stems from his effective leadership of Hezbollah,a group founded in 1982, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah is credited with liberating South Lebanon in 2000, through a war of attrition that lasted over two decades through which Hezbollah fighters honed their military and leadership skills against their Israelis nemesis.

Nasrallah who appeared for the first time publicly since the beginning of hostilities with Israel on July 12, dubbed his victory as “ Divine victory” engaging the public with his masterful rhetoric coupled with humility he is known for and dedicating the victory to the martyrs, the Lebanese, Arabs and Muslims.

( southern Beirut Saturday 9/23)

Nasrallah’s demeanor of being candid and honest appeals to the public and has been constant theme in his speeches and interviews throughout the war, in which he came across as a pan-Arab-Muslim leader, appealing to all Arabs and Muslims rallying them sometimes and often times thanking them, “the Nation” with striking simplicity and humility, a rare quality among Middle East leaders. His appeals did not go unheeded in the Arab street, It had made major difference in making the official Arab countries tone down their anti-Hezbollah rhetoric and press for cease fire after they were squarely and publicly against it.

Arabs and Muslims throughout the Middle East and around the world did not fail Nasrallah either. They took to the streets by the thousands, held up his posters; hoisted Hezbollah flags and banners proclaiming support and solidarity. This wave of support was unprecedented in the modern Middle East, for it sent shock waves in the Arab palaces and halls of power, and partly because Hezbollah, to the Arab populace, was making history that for once in their lifetime they felt they were witnessing an Arab party bloodies Israel’s nose and remains standing despite its merciless bludgeoning blows.

In commenting on Nasrallah’s speech and the ramifications of Hezbollah success against Israel; Dr. Khair aldean Hasib, president of Arab Unity Studies institute in Beirut,in an interview on Aljazeera Channel Open Dialogue program, when asked about the meaning of this success and how would it impact the future of the Arab world and perhaps the Middle East, This is an “ Earthquake” he said, “the change might not be immediate or apparent now, slowly but surely the politics of Arab World will change based on this historic event” he added. “ In Jordan, already the trade unions,and the opposition parties feel empowered in standing up to government policies, in Egypt too, the opposition has become more vociferous and emboldened by Hezbollah’s victory” added Mr. Hasib.1

Nasrallah’s first public appearance in months was not without grave risks to his life. Israel had made it known that it wants to kill the leader of Hezbollah. Acknowledging this danger, Nasrallah said, "My presence here is not without any danger. However, my heart and my soul would not allow me to address you from a distance and through some screen."

* Hidden diplomacy

Rosana Abu Munsef a columnist for Lebanese daily Al-Nahar wrote that “ there were hidden diplomacy before Nasrallah public appearance, in which there was an implied understanding that if Israel were to harm Nasrallah, the implications would be catastrophic, not only for Lebanon and Israel but also for the entire region"

" Harming Nasrallah would be considered a blatant violation of UNSC 1701 but such move on part of Israel would transform the conflict from a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel into a conflict between the state of Lebanon and Israel,which would drag the entire region into yet another destructive war" Abu Munsef added.2
unconfirmed reports claim that French fighter jets protected the Lebanese skies to deter any Israeli attempts to kill Nasrallah.

20.000 rockets and more!

In one of the most important parts of his speech; Nasrallah declared that Hezbollah is even stronger, {militarily) than it was before the start of hostilities in July 12. “ The resistance has replenished its military, organizational and firepower strength in the immediate days after the cessation of hostilities with Israel” said Nasrallah".

The resistance today is stronger than it was on July 12 the day the war started with Israel. With regard to Hezbollah rockets, Nasrallah declared that the resistance possess “over and above 20.000 rockets”

This astonishing declaration underscores Hezbollah ability of maintaining its supply routes with Syria despite extensive Israeli bombardment of all major roads and bridges that lead and connect Lebanon with Syria.

This comes after knowing that a week after the fighting broke out Israel bombed the entire road and bridge systems in Lebanon to cut off the supplies lines from Iran that runs through Syria. According to Nasrallah statement,it appears that Israel had destroyed much of Lebanon civilian infrastructure in vain.

The efforts to deprive Hezbollah of its arms, however,or at least preventing it form rearming itself were not a unilateral Israeli effort. In an almost simultaneous move with Israel, on July 12, the US administration moved to immediately trying to intercept arms shipments to Hezbollah.

On July 19, US spy satellites apparently photographed Iranian military planes being loaded with eight Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship “ Noor” missiles, the same kind of Missile that hit the Israeli ship across Beirut shores in July, and three launchers at the military terminal of Mahrebad Airport. The Turkish authorities apparently acting on a tip from the American intelligence refused to allow the transport planes to use Turkish air space on its way to Damascus. 3

This type of information about early US involvement in the war supports Hezbollah assertion that the war was preplanned and it was planned to occur in late September or early October in order to destroy Hezbollah with a preemptive strike.It also undermines Israel's casus belli to save its two captured soldiers as the reason for its massive bombardment of Lebanon.

moretellingly,the argument and analysis putforth by Seymour M. Hersh in his famed essay in August issue of The New Yorker magazine, supports this line of thinking, that the war was essentially a joint effort between Israel and the US, a war that from a US perspective, would serve as a dress rehearsal to an anticipated conflict with Iran.4.

It is no surprise that the chief of US diplomacy Ms. Condoleeza Rice refused repeated calls and resisted pressure form world leaders and from US’s Lebanese allies to convince Israel to halt its fire and agree to a some kind of cease fire especially after it became clear that Israel in its efforts to destroy Hezbollah, it was turnning the entire country of Lebanon into a one big pile of rubble.

Ms. Rice went on describing the war as a “ Birth Pangs” of the new Middle East. In Other words, the war against Hezbollah was necessary to rework the political map of the Middle east, beginning with obliterating Hezbollah or as Max Rodenbeck had put it, in that “ The Shia party will be brought to heel, and its revolutionary zeal, culturally as well as politically jarring to many Lebanese will be muted. A foreign army, and the vaunted and powerful Israeli one at that, would eliminate the last remaining nonstate actor of the civil war.” 5
( Hezbollah fighters parade)

Unfortunately for the US, Israel and their allies, Hezbollah turned out to be a tough nut to crack and a bigger surprise than they were expecting and even beat them to the punch. Thanks to years of diligence and preparation clocked in deep secrecy.

Moreover, Britain the closest US European ally was on it too. John Kempfner the Scottish writer wrote on August 7 that :

“I am told that the Israelis informed George W. Bush in advance of their plans to "destroy" Hezbollah by bombing villages in southern Lebanon. The Americans duly informed the British. So Blair knew. This exposes as a fraud the debate of the past week about calling for a ceasefire. Indeed, one of the reasons why negotiations failed in Rome was British obduracy. This has been a case not of turning a blind eye and failing to halt the onslaught, but of providing active support. 6

Hezbollah surprised even the most seasoned military observers and analysts with its performance in the battlefield and the strength of its military doctrine, logistical preparedness, level of training and the quality of its fighters.Those were matched by surprising military hardware and the quality of weapons that were not known to have had.

Hezbollah came into this war a guerrilla fighting force with a classical or regular army weapons, training,intelligence apparatus, and battle-hardened leadership.

For Hezbollah, victory means that they withstood the Israeli devastating onslaught and were at the same time able to punish Israel with painful loses to its elite units and even more devastating loses to its celebrated Mirkava tanks.

Key to understand Hezbollah's success in facing off with Israel and come out intact militarily and without any loses to its top military and political leadership include those general themes:

1. The native son : Hezbollah fighters were defending their own homes, land, towns and villages. they were not about to cut and run, this was a determined indoctrinated force.

2. Intelligence: Hezbollah has a superior Intelligence apparatus , one of the best in the region, with resources equal or even more than those of small independent countries.

Its intelligence units ran spying and code-cracking operations inside Israel and on the battle field during the war which enabled its command and control centers to react to constant military development on the battle field.

3:Training and armaments: Hezbollah has battle-hardened career soldiers with vestiges of a standing army . It also has weapons inventories that include its long range rockets that enabled it to strike back at Israel almost at will.

( South Beirut in July)

During the war and in a move that shows Hezbollah’s leadership strategic thinking and foresightedness; Hezbollah embarked on ambitious rearmament program to foil an Israeli or international attempt to prevent it from replenishing its inventories and thus weaken it in any possible future arrangements after the war.

For its part,Iran,Hezbollah's patron, fearing a Hezbollah demise, made sure that Hezbollah remains battle ready and fully equipped with Iranian weapons. Especially that a Hezbollah victory would strengthen Iran’s angling in the region and would give her the recognition it desperately wants as a regional power to be reckoned with.

For that, Western intelligence and diplomatic sources confirmed Iran's intent to supply Hezbollah with Surface-to-air-missile {SAM} systems. Also Iran, according to those sources will supply Hezbollah with Russian made SAMS including SAM-7, known as "Grail” in western military parlance, Strela-3 ( SA-14" Gremlin" ), and man portable Igla-1E ( SA-16 Gimlet) 7

*Intelligence War.

( Imad Mughaniyeh)

While fierce battles raged in the hills surrounding the southern towns of Bint Jubail, Aita al-Shaab,and Marwaheen between Israel's Mirkava tanks and Hezbollah highly mobile anti-tanks units, another cloak and dagger battle was raging between Hezbollah’s Intelligence and Israel’s Mossad and Military Intelligence.

Hezbollah intelligence capabilities has surprised even the Israelis during this war, it was widely known,however,that Hezbollah’s intelligence apparatus is much better than that of the Lebanese state and that Hezbollah’s operatives are planted deep under cover in different government agencies and security organs, Hezbollah intelligence has also infiltrated all of the Lebanese factions, which would make it very difficult for them to openly challenge them, in fact “ Hezbollah intelligence on the Lebanese factions is even better than Israel’s intelligence on those factions” noted a senior official in the Jordanian Department of General Intelligence. 8

During the first weeks of the war, Hezbollah was able to arrest and dismantle several Israeli spy rings in the Southern Beirut areas and arresting several local informants working for Israel.

Imad Mughaniyeh,one of the world’s most elusive and wanted men, whose picture is not even authenticated and no updated picture of him is known to exist;unconfirmed reports claim that Mughaniyeh is Hezbollah's Intelligence Chief . He is, also implicated in numerous acts of terrorism against US, French, Israeli targets in Lebanon and around the world. Mughaniyeh, some reports claim that he was put in charge of military operations in the south during the war.

Hezbollah also has what’s called “ Preventive Intelligence” which is something like the counter-espionage departments in western intelligence agencies. Preventive Intelligence, PI, is tasked with enforcing security and protecting the leadership and ensuring that members of the Party especially top leadership tiers rarely use communication technology that would enable Israel to spy on them. It has been rumored that Nasrallah has rarely used a telephone ever since he became the Secretary General of the group.

This strategy has paid off for Hezbollah. In an interview with Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah has suffered no loses in its first, second and third tier leadership. The only loses Hezbollah sufered as far as its leadership,were four or five village commanders who were 4th-tier leadership level.9

Hezbollah seems to have learned from the PLO mistakes during its days in Lebanon in the sixties and seventies. The rakish PLO suffered catastrophic loses in its top commanders and political leaders to Israeli Mossad assassination units whose spies have infiltrated the different PLO organizations in part due to the party and thuggish life style its leaders had adopted during their days in Lebanon.

Another lesson learned from the PLO fighters who flaunted themselves everywhere they went, was for Hezbollah to remain invisible among the population and lay low to hide its capabilities therefore cause its enemies to underestimate its real strength as this war has shown.

Hezbollah intelligence units for example were able to intercept and decode Israeli transmission traffic, and militray signals during the war signifying that Hezbollah had higher military capabilities than what American and Israeli officials thought. Throughout the war Hezbollah continued to surprise Israel by deploying different types of missiles and military tactics. 9

Hezbollah intelligence breakthrough enabled its fighter’s to thwart and hunt down Israeli Mirkava tanks destroying and damaging tens of them, an embarrassing defeat to Israel’s most celebrated tank, and the pride of Israel’s military industries,considered to be a moving fortress for its heavy armor.
( Israeli Mirkava MBT series)

“ We were able to monitor Israeli communications, and we used this information to adjust our planning," said a Hezbollah commander involved in the battles. 10

One of the major military lessons that came out of this war was that a small, well-trained, well-armed determined militias can inflict and even defeat well established super powerful armies. A lesson that was madeduring the nineties in the battle of Grozny, when the mighty Russian army suffered heavey losses and was unable to defeat the Chechen guerrillas for the city of Grozny despite obliterating the entire city.

Lebanon’s other battle.

Hezbollah’s victory might not be the best thing for several Lebanese segments and politicians who view Hezbollah's emerging regional power as a threat to the fragile balance between its many religious and political groupings. During his “ Divine Victory" Speech on Saturday, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah outlined his Party’s future plans in Lebanon.

1: A National unity government
2: New national election law, which would ensure more accurate representation of different Lebanese groups.

Nasrallah is demanding, in light of Hezbollah’s victory, a major realignment of the Lebanese political system that was based on sectarian representations of the 1930s and 1940s. The Shia today represent the largest segment of the Lebanese population, almost half of the population of Lebanon. Yet they are represented by 1940’s standards when they were considered the runt of Lebanon, mostly rural and mostly poor.

Today, Hezbollah stands to demand, and perhaps forcibly, a rearrangement in Lebanon’s political system based on its new realities.

(PM Siniora and parliament speaker Berri)

The problem, for Hezbollah, however, is that the political machination in post July-war Lebanon is already being aligned and polarized. Samir Geaga, one of the Lebanon’s leading Christian politicians, and former warlord, speaking to thousands of supporters the next day on Sunday in a rebuttal to Nasrallah’s speech,addressing his supporters with: “ O’Christians” an ominous sign and a grizzly reminder of Lebanese tribal- religious warfare between 1975-1990.

Fawaz A. Gerges, a Lebanese American who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College,wrote describing the break down of state and civil society in Lebanon during its bloody civil war, 1975-1990, the following:

“ Religious coexistence gave way to estrangement and suspicion. Waving holy banners, neighbor railed against neighbor. People seized upon their communal identity in a desperate effort to self-preservation. The state of war pushed people into their sectarian bunkers and turned an open, tolerant society into a jungle”12

The future of Lebanon today depends on its leaders ability to cause Fawaz Gerges's words to come to life again, or not.


1:Al-Jazeera, Open Dialogue interview, Arabic 9/25/06
2:Annahar newspaper: Arabic, issue # 22783, 9/23/06
3: Jane’s Defense weekly, September 6 2006
4: The New Yorker magazine, issue of 2006-08-21
5:New York Review of Books Magazine, 9- 21,2006 issue
6:The New Statesman newspaper, 8/7/2006 issue
7: Jane's Defense weekly, 8/7/2006 issue
8:Jane's Defense Weekly 8/14/2006 issue
9: AlJazeera channle, Ben-Jeddo interview with Hasan Nasrallah
10:Newsday: 9/18/2006
11:Newsday 9/18/2006
12:Fawaz.A. Gerges: Journey of the Jihadest, Harcout Books, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A public apology to Palestinian Christians

( Old Palestinian Church at Yafa port)

After the unfortunate comments last week by Pope Benedict regarding his views ( or not) of Islam, things did not bode well for either Muslims or Christians.

The Pope should have known better, and perhaps ought to follow in the steps of his predecessor Pope John Paul II who was very much beloved by Christians, Muslims and Jews for his tireless work to promote dialogue and understandings between religions and nations.

Strangely and of all people around the globe some Palestinian Muslims decided to burn and destroy their fellow Palestinian churches and property!

Why! Perhaps we can call it stupidity, act of extremism and severe case of ignorance or actually all of these things.

Some Muslims who protested the Pope’s words,have proven his words to be true that they are “ violent creatures” that do not know any other way to express disagreement or discontent but only through violent means!

Aside of the validity of the Pope's remarks, which I find highly disrespectful to Muslims,let alone invalid, what’s more disrespectful, however, was the actions taken by some Muslims in torching down Christian properties in Palestine.

I find it abhorring and quite embarrassing to Palestinians and Muslims in general that Palestinians Christians came under assault, which to me represent an act of betrayal and a stab in the back.

( The late Edward Said throws a stone at the Israeli side of the border in Lebanon)

Palestinians Christians happened to be at the forefront of struggle and sacrifice for Palestinian rights and the quest for Freedom and independence.

People like world-renowned intellectual the late Edward Said who made the Palestinian cause an international issue in the academic world,and whose work inspired generations of Palestinians as well as millions of people around the world, and whose gallantry had lent itself to great many men empowering them unafraid.

Also Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna, one of the greatest religious leaders In Palestine today, an ardent Palestinian patriot who defended both Muslims and Christians against repeated Israeli violations, and suffered indignation and many arrests by the Israeli authorities for his patriotic zeal.

(Ray Hanania)

Here in the US, I am fortunate to know great many Christian Palestinian colleagues, friends and brothers. Men like Ray Hanania a great friend and a mentor who tirelessly worked for his Palestinians identity and cause since the early seventies and who pioneered Arab American journalism in Chicago and in the country.

My friend and professor Mazen Qmsiyeh who not only dedicate a great deal of his time to work for Palestinian freedom for both Muslims and Christians,. But also suffered professionally as a result of his work. His work and devotion continues to inspire so many people for his exemplary dedication

Palestinian poet, author, and playwrite and best friend, Natalie Handal, who lives and breathes Palestinian issues personally and professionally and whose thoughts I find very inspiring and touching every time we talk and in her deep soul I often found insights to issues of identity and exile I wrestled with over the years. for that I am deeply indebted
( Natalie Handal on a cover of her latest CD, of Arabic Musical sound and her poetry)

Through this forum, I would like to publicly and deeply apologize to my friends and to the rest of the Palestinian Christians for the transgression committed against them and their property and churches in the Palestinian areas.

This crime I am sure does not represent the feelings of the general Palestinian public or authorities. The actions of a few do not represent the will and feelings of the whole.

It would be the same thing if Christians started burning down mosques and hunt for Muslims to kill them because Bin Laden killed Christians or as he often does when preaching of hatred and terrorism!

However, one must take a hard look at the reasons behind such acts of self-destruction, and I am not talking about the Pope’s remarks.

*The man in the prison
The way I see some of the Palestinian people behavior in West Bank and Gaza, is like a grown man who was abused as a child, and have grown disturbed, and unstable because of injures and violations during his childhood.

He is a traumatized, unstable, disturbed, and often times resort to violent expressions of himself at the slightest provocation.

The cause for this man’s misery and state of insanity, is the Israeli occupation, in itself a violent enterprise, built on enslaving, humiliating and exploiting an entire segment of humanity.
(Father Atallah Hanna arrested by Israeli Police)

Over 900,000 Palestinian civilians went through the Israeli prison system in the past 30 years according to official Palestinian figures. Israeli prison system tortured, humiliated, and destroyed the lives of Palestinians who were entangled by its web of violence.

After the prison experience, the Palestinian leaves bitter, unstable, injured, his manhood shaken, his humanity taken way, and then let loose in the society to either heal on his own or stay traumatized forever by the prison experience.

Generations of Palestinians went without meaningful education because of long prison terms and constant arrests.

For such man, violence becomes the only expression he knows to express his views. He was victimized before but helpless in prison shackles, but now he is provoked and insulted, but now without the shackles so he feels free to strike back with the only way he knows best. Which is violence.

Violence restores his lost confidence and the gun becomes the symbol of his lost manhood.

Unfortunately he directs his expected act of violence at harmless holy sites belonging to people who share him his own identity, nationality and language and above all the misery of being themselves occupied and victims of the same executioner

( The late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said)

The behavior of the late Yaser Arafat and now Mahmoud Abbas’s men did not help either, they too became abusers of the Palestinian people, often times behaving like Mafia bosses, thugs and sheer criminals instead of Politicians or statesmen.

Muslims should raise funds to repair Churches

( Mosque-Yafa)

This, however, does not justify attacking Christian places of worship, and therefore Muslims should help in raising funds to repair the damage incurred by those attacks.

This should represent a token of solidarity between Christian and Muslim Palestinians.

I call on Muslim religious leaders in the US especially in Chicago to reach out to Christian Palestinian religious leaders and work together to repair those damaged churches and repair the souls too.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Slave trading Arab shieks

The Ruler of Dubai Sheik Mohammad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, has been accused of enslaving young children and force them to work is camel jockeys in Dubai.

The Associated Press reported Thursday September 14 that the lawsuit filed in Florida accuses the sheik and his brother Hamdan as well as others in Dubai royal family of kidnapping young boys mostly from poor and ruler areas in Pakistan and Bangladesh and force them to work as Camel jockeys. A very popular sport in this country.

Sheik Mohammad, or “Sheik Mo” as he is affectionately known is one of the richest people in the world and also known for his horse racing and owning some the best thoroughbreds in the world and for his stables and horse Farms in Kentucky and Florida.

In addition to his camel and horse racing activities, Sheik Mohammed Al-Maktoum is the Ruler ( or the Owner if you will) of Dubai which is one of the seven Emirates ( or city-states) that comprise the United Arab Emirates and also the Vice president and Prime minister of the UAE.

( self portrait of a camel)

Ansar Burney who documented the abuse and slavery of these children in an award wining documentary on HBO in 2004 has helped many of those kidnapped children some of whom were as young as 3 years old by taking them back to their countries and their families. (click to watch the video) (part one) ( part two)

The documentary shows how crazy the sheiks are about their camels. The camels for instance enjoy the finest medical facilities and have their own camel hospitals, have world class trainers and exercise equipments, eat the best and finest food, enjoy the luxury of Olympic size swimming pools. in short those camels live better life than 95% of the world population.

On the other hand, the young boys were kept in cramped dirty quarters that look more like prison camps than housing units,according to the documentary. The boys were also starved to stay under weight so they can jockey the camels and some were sexually abused and mistreated. Others were simply killed or trampled on by the camels.

According to reports Sheik Mohammad was shocked to have been served court papers while attending a horse show in Lexington,Kentucky last week where he was reported to have spent over 30 million dollars.( what's a 30 million! its nothing! )

The lawsuit which seeks class action status,demands compensation for over 30,000 children it claims were abducted, abused and enslaved by the sheiks over the years.

As a result of international pressure, however, and the ripple effects of Mr. Burney documentary the UAE and Qatar have placed a ban on the practice of using young boys as camel jockeys, in 2002,and thus placed a minimum age of 15 to jockey the camels. yet many reports however indicate that the practice is still wide spread and the law is on paper only.

Like other countries in the gulf, Dubai and its rulers have a money glut, they accumulated astronomical wealth and untold billions from selling off the national treasures of their countries. A lot of these billions are spent on buying camels, horses, women,slaves, and every vanity a man could think of.

In addition to owning hundreds of camels, horses, cars, planes, Sheik Mohamed also owns reportedly four wives, and 16 children, 7 boys and nine girls .The latest wife was Princess Haya of Jordan, daughter of the late King Hussein, who married him in 2004.
( Princess Haya, and slave trader his royal highness Sheik Mohamad Al-Maktoum)

Princess Haya, herself a horseracing enthusiast and has participated in several world championships and addition to these activities; Princess Haya is a good will ambassador of the United Nations and campaigns against Child abuse according to her web site.

(a child camel jocky is begging for water)

The Visionary :

Sheik Mohammad is also an author, he has written a book called “ My vision” which is about his plans and vision of development and business. According to the sheik's web site, his book "My Vision" is “one of the most important books to be published in the Middle East in the past 50 years” !

The lawsuit could be a major hurdle for the sheik because he is the vice president of the UAE, the prime minister and the ruler of Dubai, among many other things.

I am just not sure where does sheik "Mo" find the time to do the work of Vice president, Prime minister, and a ruler of Dubai or the time to sit and reflect to write a book called “ My Vision” while he is busy camel racing, slave trading, horse racing, attending horse shows, and also a real estate developer developing super expensive real estates in Dubai and also had the time to have 16 children too!

(Frankly I am a little confused as to how to address the Sheik, should I address him as Sheik Mo, Mr. Vice president, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Ruler, Mr.Sheik, your honor, your majesty, your Royal highness, or Mr. Slave trader, child abuser , or perhaps I should just call him Superman)Please email me your suggestions.

like his farms or stables, Dubai for all intents and purposes is more or less a one big farm or stable for the Sheik. The population is 65% Indian, and for sure it feels like you are in India if you ever go there ( I never have) they basically run the country, while the sheiks are left to enjoy their camels, horses and women they keep in their stables and palaces.

Commenting on this observation, Ray Hanania, a stand up comedian and my co-host on Counter Point talk show in Chicago, said when introduced on the stage in Dubai:” I love being in India, I always wanted to go to India, but where is Taj-Mahal”!!

He also told me that the Indians in Dubai live in a “ ghetto” , but that ghetto he said is like “ Orland Park” a very rich suburb of Chicago that has million dollar homes! Hindi is the number language there, not Arabic!

It is amazing how wealth and money glut has transformed the gulf and its people, some for the better and some for the worst.

Though I am sure that there are well-meaning wealthy gulfian Arabs somwhere, however all what we hear about in the western press is of this princess or that princes either enslaving their servants or their extravagant spending habits and thier playboy life style and outlandish behavior.

I am not revealing a secret when I say that rest of the Arab peoples in the Arab world resent such behavior of these slave traders, sheiks & Sheikas. They have become a national embarrassment for their stupid adventures and their immoral behavior.

The Archduke conferring with his court about horses matter ( who has time to run a country!)

Arab gulfies often treat other Arabs with contempt and with a sense of superiority, because they feel that they don’t have to work or do anything, they simply contend that they can hire ( or perhaps buy! )other Arabs, Indians, south east Asians to do basically everything for them. This has evolved to become a national culture in the gulf, in which the idea of “ work” has become a demeaning lowly concept, while the feelings of being a Kuwaiti, or Saudi, or Emaratian for example is more or less akin to the feelings of belonging to the Aryan race in Nazi Germany.

Though there is no such thing, in general terms as the Kuwaiti, Emaratian or Saudi, heritage, culture, language or any aspect of uniqueness that separate gulfic Arabs from the rest of the Arab family.

Bill Gates, the richest man in the world created Bill and Melinda Gate foundation worth over 25 Billion dollars to help the children and poor people of the world get better health and better education, Billionaire Warren Buffet joined them in their foundation and put his money in to double the effort.

Ted Turner too dedicated a Billion dollar to UN to help under develop countries fight poverty.

Bill Gate, Warren Buffet, and Ted Turner to name a few noble men who use their wealth in noble causes to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of millions of people.

Where is Maktoum’s foundation, or the Walid Bin Talal (A Saudi royal-Billionaire) foundation to help the poor, or the children in the Arab world or in Africa or any where in the world!

The sense of philanthropy, charity and good well, seems to be an alien and strange concept to the Sheiks of whom i am speaking about on here. Why? I don’t know.

But it seems perfectly fine for them, or even rational, to provide their camels with great swimming pools and feed them the finest food, give them the best exercise facilities while at the same time abduct small boys, enslave them, tie them up on a camel back then sit and watch them with a complete sense of sadistic satisfaction.!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Flying while being an Arab

I didn’t realize when I made my reservation that my trip would be on September 11, a fateful day, and a day that has literally changed the face of the world, forever.

The thought of flying on Monday morning September 11th worried me at varying degrees the whole weekend.

Throughout the weekend the image that kept creeping to my mind was that of actor Anthony Hopkins, as Hannibal Lector in the movie "Hannibal" where he was wheeled off on two wheeler hand truck, his hands chained to his chest, his mouth and face restrained by a horrific mask to prevent him from talking or perhaps biting, his legs were chained to the two wheeler to prevent him from any possible movement.

I confided my thoughts to my good friend Ray on the weekend where we got together to tape our cable talk show. He laughed at this stab of dark humor.

Humor from my other friends did not alleviate those thoughts much, especially when my other friend Ray (that’s another Ray! :) ) Suggested after I told him about it that: "they might even wheel you all the way off the Guantanamo bay".

I half smiled at the thought, I am an Arab, but I am not a terrorist, I murmured.

On this fateful day, my friend took me to the airport, it was a rainy day in Chicago, and that means heavy traffic and flight delays.

I checked in thought one of those airport machines that allow you to get your ticket by swiping your credit card. I wanted to do just that because for one I didn’t want to stay in line for long, but deep down I was trying to avoid drawing attention to my Arab ethnicity, today was not a good day to flash my Arab identity around, I will try to remain as invisible as possible though it does not mean I am ashamed of who i am or ashamed of my identity and culture.

And also I did not want to take a chance and deal with perhaps an overly suspicious or zealous counter person who once looking at my name, Ali, will be thinking, ha ha , here is one of them one of those Arabs trying to fly on September 11, how dare he! Here is the face of the enemy standing before me trying to be on a plane! he sure looks like an enemy, after all, all Arabs look alike.

To my surprise, the machine was very nice and very sweet to me; it checked me in right away, wow, so far so good, then after some easy questions that flashed on the screen about my name and my destination, I heard the sweet sound of ticket being printed out to me, it was all mine for the taking. I exhaled in restrained relief. It was painless first step.

But still I have to go through the lines of security and the preying eyes of those who man the machines and whose eyes scan for suspicious behavior or terrorists or perhaps for those who even look like terrorists.

These people are doing their job, the thought flashed in my head, I mean they are suppose to do that, its for my own safety and the safety of everyone else too, therefore I should not be afraid of them, I mean I don’t want to be on a plane and end up being hijacked, if that is to happen, God forbid, for sure the FBI, after looking at the passenger’s manifest and seeing the name Ali! Definitely will think that I am either the hijacker or one of them! Not good!

Then I walked through the security line with my ticket and driver license in hand ready and eager to pass through when suddenly I heard a voice behind me, SIR! …For a second my mind froze, thinking oh my God! That is it! I am busted for flying while being an Arab!

You dropped your ID back there sir, a soft female voice said, I looked and there was a sweet blond lady handing me my own driver license, it was my driver license for sure, there is my face was on it. Ohh thank you, thank you very much Ma’am I said it with an obvious sign of relief and appreciation. Can you imagine I walk up to the front of the line without an ID and just a ticket, for sure this will arouse suspicion of me, and the last thing I want is to be stopped, taken aside and being searched and frisked thoroughly and even investigated by the cops. This lady had just saved me a lot of trouble, even though she read my name on it, Ali! And for sure I look like an Ali, but still she handed it to me, and did not call the guards or somebody on me! Deep down I was grateful that she didn’t because I have heard horror stories about Arab Americans who got into a lot of trouble and humiliated simply because they were Arabs.

It was my turn up the line, I handed my license and my ticket, the young lady looked at both attentively and handed them back to me, I put my bag, my jacket, my other belongings through the X-Ray machine, and proceeded to walk through the metal detector, when the security on the other side said, take your shoes off sir. I promptly and dutifully obliged then proceeded to walk through the metal detector, which luckily for me remained quiet.

I collected my bag and put my jacket on and walked to my gate thinking the worst is over now. I called my friend Ray who dropped me off to tell him that I made it thus far and I am still walking on my own feet, I am not chained up or masked up or being wheeled off by stern looking guards.

I got to the gate and it was packed with passengers going to other cities, my plane was delayed due to the weather, so I sat drinking coffee and reading the papers while the TV over head showing memorial services and stories about 9-11.

After finishing reading the papers, I found myself in a standing area watching TV, and others also gathered around me watching the moving images of 9-11 tragedy. I looked at the faces of passengers seated across from me, there were many people young and old, men and women. Then I realized that it might not be a good idea standing just like that in full view of everyone, someone might spot me and alert everyone that there is an Arab in here!

At that moment I remembered a line I heard in the movie Menace II Society which was about the rough life of young African Americans in the ghetto, where an older actor was giving a troubled young black man an advise to straighten up by warning him with an ominous line “ It is very hard to be a black man in America, the hunt is on, and you are a prey” His words for sure sums up the feelings of Arab Americans post 9-11 world, many of us often times feeling like a prey and being hunted at the first sign of being identified as Arabs particularly at airports. For me, I was trying to be invisible and avoid being hunted.

Those fears might real or might be imagined, but nonetheless so many Arab Americans feel them.

My fears did not arise to an alarming level, however I mean, I never had any problems before; I was never stopped for simply looking like an Arab! And I did not see any staring eyes looking at me suspiciously, even though I scanned the multitude of faces around me, looking for some worried face eyeballing me, or trying to measure me up, or looking for any sign of me being a terrorist. But I found non, in fact no one had paid me any attention. Perhaps no one thought of me as stereotypically Arab, I mean I wore no turban like Bin Laden or any other” turbanite” I had no thick bushy long beard, I didn’t even have a light one, nor did I wear a bushy mustache like that of Saddam Hussein, in fact I clean shave my face every morning, but perhaps more importantly I was not wearing one of those long white fluffy robes nor did I sport big curvy hand-crafted dagger around my waist a symbol of manhood In some middle eastern societies.

Finally they called us to start boarding the plane, a process that was easy and fast, I took my seat next an older man who immediately took a nap, while I immediatly resumed reading a book about the history of Iran devouring its pages consumed by the historical events that shaped that nation that seems to be sitting on tenterhooks now.

An hour an half later we were on the ground, and I felt good that I made it thus far and hoped there will be no last minute surprises. And sure there weren’t any. I waited till I am physically outside the airport to call my friends, just to be sure, and to tell them that I made it safe without a mask, cuffs or being chained to a two-wheeler hand trucked like Hannibal lector.

On September 11 five years ago, there were many passengers on planes that did not make it to the ground safely. Those passengers did not have a chance to call their wives, husbands, and friends and loved ones to tell them that they made it safe to their destinations. My fears and worries were nothing comparing to the horror the victims of September 11 have went through knowing they will no longer see their loved ones again, nor will they even live to tell their own stories of fear and the terror they went through before they departed this world forever.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

South Suburb or South Beirut?

South Suburb of Beirut, or Southern Beirut?

The words “South Suburb of Beirut” were the most erroneous and common mistakes used during the war in Lebanon by members of the media when referring to a part of Beirut mostly inhibited by Lebanese Muslim Shia and a Hezbullah’s stronghold and the part that was turned into another Dresden by Israeli bombardments.

The mistake stems from erroneously translating the Arabic word “ Daheya” { Da-he-ya) into the English word “ Suburb” without taking into consideration the obvious difference in meaning and designation of the two words in these two different languages.

Daheya in Arabic simply means an area that is in a sense part of a larger area or city, and not an administratively independent town outside of a major metropolis as the English word” Suburb” indicates.

Much like Chicago’s Lincoln Park, or Inglewood, or Albany Park, which are all areas in Chicago but neither suburbs of it nor independent towns in it!

So, I would use the words “ South Beirut” since “ East Beirut” and West Beirut” are very commonly used in English and Arabic.

Moreover, the error is obviously is in the translation and lack of understanding of how words are conceptualized to mean certain things according to certain set of peculiar conditions, economic, religious or political... etc.

To explain this we can look at the way Arab cities were planned and structured. Unlike European or American cities in which the center of the town is the commercial, and business hub where people converge in the morning and fan out in the evening to their own “ Suburbs” which are basically residential areas.

Fouad Khouri, an Arab intellectual and author wrote that Arab cities do not have suburbs in the western sense of the word because each city consist of many areas or neighborhoods sometimes following ethnic lines, or socioeconomic lines, or religious lines each one of those areas has its own businesses, and residential areas as well.*

Arab Jerusalem for example has four quarters, or neighborhoods: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. Cairo is described by Professor Janet Abu Lughod as having sub-cities* due to its semi-independent nature of its areas, which mean in a sense that each area support itself socially and economically while still legally and administratively part of Cairo and not cities on their own* *

Beirut too is no different than other Arab cities with its Christian East Beirut, Shia Southern Beirut, or Sunni West Beirut.

So when a member of the media here utters the words “ Southern Suburb of Beirut” the question that jumps to mind immediately is: what’s the name of this southern suburb Since the word suburb, in an American mind, implies an independent town with its own administrative apparatus.

The answer is of course is that this imaginary “ Suburb” has no name, because its not a town outside the city of Beirut.

it is simply South Beirut, much like Chicago, to use a city that I am most familiar with, South side of Chicago, or simply “ The South Side” of the West Side.
This should have been a very simple and straight forward case.

So too,” Beirut’s Daheya Janoubiya” which is how Arabic speakers in Lebanon and outside it refer to it which simply mean the (southern area of Beirut or Southside, or Southern Beirut) . And for short it is simply called the “ Daheya” which come to mean not only geographical designation but also a religious connotations, a Shia Muslim area in this case.

* Fouad Khouri, The Arab Mindset (1993) Dar AL Saqi, London} Arabic
** Janet Abu Lughod,(1971) Cairo, Princeton University press)

Tyre or Suur

Suur After an Israeli air raid

While the war in Lebanon is slowly fading away from media prominence after it reached dominance. Those who worked in non-Arab media, especially non-Arabic speakers,or even Arabic speakers, were puzzled by the different spellings, pronos, or even names of Lebanese towns and villages.

The southern port city of “Tyre” stood out as a confusing word, since in Arabic it is called “Suur” alongside another city north of Beirut called “Byblos” or “Jubayl in proper Arabic.

Though I initially thought that this difference had to do with the Biblical usage and references, since the Bible was originally written in Greek, therefore the name Tyre though in English form.

The Semitic name of Tyre,however, is “ Suur” which means a mountain or a peak, in Canaanite. The Greeks, who occupied the area and the rest of the Levant adopted the local name “Suur” into Greek as “Turos” or “Tyros” when the letter u shifted to a y. thus becoming Tyros.

The reason for the shifting of the S, in Suur , into T in Turos, had to do with the difference in pronunciation in different Semitic tongues, of the sounds of S, Th. and T.

Then Tyros when Latinized became Tyrus, which later became Tyre in English.

The interesting thing I found that the Arabic name “ Suur” which has pre-Arabic roots, would have been “Tuur” , same phonetic sound as in Suur, the shift in the letter S ( actually a throttled S in Arabic) has to do with slight differences in carrying over from Canaanite, Aramaic then to Arabic ( the Semitic family).

Tuur, still means Mountain in Arabic and it is mentioned the Quran referring to Mount Sinai, as “Tuur Sinai.
So whether its Tyre or Tuur, these words harkens back to one root. Which is Suur, the official name of the city in Arabic today.

The city of Byblos/Jubayl, follows the same exact etymology as “Suur” in which the original name Jubayl, which means the little Mountain in Arabic ( by adding the sound of YA, in Arabic to a name like Jabal which means mountain, the mountain would become the little mountain interestingly enough, we find the same idea in English when we add the letter Y to a noun, it becomes smaller, such as , Jim/Jimmy, or kitty) was adopted by the Greeks as Byblos, by changing the phonetic sounds of Arabic into Greek ones thus giving rise to a seemingly different name of “ Byblos” which is actually is the same name as Jubayl, however,hellenized.