The rapidly developing events in Egypt over the past few days have shown how all dictators (who we will call ‘Dics’ for short, as the term will  be repeated extensively in this piece) think and act alike.

I have always been fascinated with the behaviour and thinking of Arab Dics. Growing up in the Middle East, I have witnessed first-hand how Dics react to different situations and different contexts. (how could you not be fascinated with Colonel Qaddafi for example?)

Qaddafi... a text book example of an Arab Dic

Obviously, in a Dic-Society and due to the conterminous nature of this status, Dics aren’t just heads of states, presidents and politicians – Dics would also be school teachers, principals, business owners, HR managers, editors in chief, clerics, police officers and even civil servants at government bodies who under normal circumstances should be concerned with making people’s lives easier and not more difficult (basically, anyone with a bit of authority in the Arab World is likely to be a candidate for being the perfect Dic).

So, what goes on inside the mind of a typical Arab Dic? First of all – Most Dics are male. There are female Arab Dics, but I am afraid this is one domain which is pretty much male-dominated.

However, there is a room for the ladies in the sick world of a male-dominated Dic-Society.

Most male Dics always seem to have a favourite female associate or assistant who he would typically have ‘Special Love Under the Table’ for – in other words, a female who falls under this description could be called a Dic’s “S.L.U.T”. (a S.L.U.T. would tend to like to abuse this situation and gain as much benefits as possible)

Yet, as the male Dic is typically highly arrogant, he doesn’t express his emotions directly to his S.L.U.T, and could even actually seek to humiliate her – but once he gets his ‘fix’, he rewards her by giving her enough authority to be arrogant herself and became a female Dic within her own jurisdiction.

The second thing you must know about Dics, is that they didn’t arrive to power based on their merit, but because of their relation to a much bigger Dic, be it through family ties or a Dics ability to please a bigger Dic’s ego and re-assure him that he will always be a smaller Dic than him.

The fact is, meritocracy can’t exists in a Dic-Society and in fact the first thing most Dics tend to do is that they quickly get rid of any and all qualified, educated and/or hard working people within their realm.

Dics can’t handle competition, this is why the Late Iraqi Dic, Saddam Hussein, was quick to rid himself from Iraq’s best scientists and technocrats who then had to seek refuge in Europe and the US.

If you want a more modern example, just remember that it is the classic mind-set of ‘My Dic is bigger than yours’ that has started the recent ridiculous race to build the world highest sky-scrapers, when there is not enough people in Arab countries to populate these buildings.

Late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was quick to get rid of people who could out-shine him

Also, Dics don’t have ears! As I write these lines, there are millions of people on the street in Egypt chanting: ‘Irhal’ (Leave) to President Husni Mubarak who in return appeared on TV ontly to say  that he will fire his Prime Minister. (Eventually, they get the message the hard way, as what happened with Bin Ali who first said he will not seek to re-elect himself and vowed, a bit too late to offer freedom to the media, but then found himself on a plane to exile).

(Egyptians tearing down an image of Hosni Mubarak)

The other biological defect with Dics is that they have only one eye. This means that by default, they only see what they want to see, can you imagine how harming to the truth this could be if you are a Dic and happen to be an editor of a newspaper? You would cherry-pick bits and pieces of information that would suit your argument, just so that you are not proven wrong!

Of course, Dics abuse, and abuse happens from top-to-bottom due to the nature of people who are being abused and can’t resist the Dic that abused them. As a result they would start abusing people underneath them instead. (Just think of how Israelis abuse Palestinians, and some Palestinians take it out on other Palestinians rather on Israelis!)

The sickening thing is that there is some satisfaction that comes with power; people LOVE to feel that their word or signature controls other people’s lives and with this power comes the ability to benefit from this status.

Hence, Dics dream of standing tall for ever! And after succeeding at it for a while, they start believing it is possible and perceive themselves as invincible.

However, the one thing I’ve learned from my own experience is that Dics grow bigger when we allow them to.

Basically, we are the reason why Dics become so cocky! If we say NO, if we realize that they don’t control our lives and challenge them, we will soon see how quickly you can topple down even the stiffest of all Dics. I am sure you can think of an example of this from your personal life, I know I can, but if can’t just look at what happened with Bin Ali.

I don’t suppose that I could add anything to what has already been said about Reverend Terry Jones intends to do on the upcoming 9th anniversary of the atrocities of 9-11.

I am of course referring to the intended ‘Burn a Quran Day’  activities which have been condemned by President Obama, various American religious leaders, The Vatican and the European Union to name a few.

However, watching these events unfold and anticpating what is going to happen – I must say that I feel  sad and not angry, because for me, the Quran has already been burnt, along time ago!

The way I see it, what Jones intends to do is merely burn a book in its physical definition. In fact, I don’t even think he genuinely hates Islam or even knows much about it anyway.

I say this because I truly think that he is just another person on the ‘Islamophobia Milking’ bandwagon.

Nevertheless, let us not fool ourselves; he might not know or care much about Islam but he certainly knows what he is doing, after all he is a salesman!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is all a PR extravaganza – the world is his theatre (thanks to satellite television, internet and globalization) and we are all his audience.

Come on! Do you seriously think that he believes that burning a copy of the Quran will end ‘Islamic Radicalism’? or that he actually cares if radicalism increases as a result of his actions?

I genuinely believe that Jones is only after creating publicity for his otherwise unheard-of ‘Dove World Outreach Center’, which reportedly has only 50 followers. Of course, more followers and donations will follow with more publicity.

One thing is for sure, the man certainly knows how to put on one ‘hell’ of a show (No religious pun intended!), he picked the right time (9-11 anniversary), place (in front of his church) and an activity which will certainly make headline news (book burning and Christianity are old acquaintances as we all know, add a bit if Islamic radicalism and you got a front page story!)

However, I am not writing these lines with an ‘I GOTCHA!’ attitude, as I think Jones’s motives are pretty obvious. I am actually writing to say that I am not surprised that Rev. Jones feels at ease with burning the Holy Book of Muslims.

Let us face the facts – to many people, Islam has become a mockery and a subject to fear, thanks to those who preach hate and those who ignorantly believe them. But more importantly, thanks to the actions or inactions, of us Muslims.

This is why I believe that the Quran has been already burnt.

Muslims have lost much of the respect we once dictated not by the throw-weight of our arsenal, but by our magnificent achievements in arts, science, medicine and other fields of study of which almost nothing remains today.

That is not to say that military might, and more importantly military strategy, is not vital — however, even the most advanced Muslim countries on this front are way behind their Western counterparts.

Diplomaticaly, we have failed on so many issues, especially the Palestinian one.

Even when it came to the legitimate resistance of an occupation which any self-respecting person would naturally resort to, we allowed it be labelled as ‘terrorism’ by resorting to non-Islamic methods of targeting civilians ourselves.

On another occasion, in the Balkans, we stood there and did nothing and if it wasn’t for the American and NATO’s interference, Muslims would have been annihilated in that area.

More importantly, we allowed extremists to ‘hijack’ our religion and did no serious effort to take it back to the tolerant, moderate and loving religion it is.

So the question is, why wouldn’t Rev. Jones burn a Quran? Who is going to stop him? Whereas he might yield to internal American pressures (such as explaining that his actions would impose a threat on US troops abroad), I seriously doubt there is anything any Muslim can do to stop him.

Of course, some Muslims might see killing him as a legitimate solution. However, the question is – is it really? While it will surely shut him up, I wonder if taking the life of one man will end a whole wave of anti-Islamic rhetoric that has concurred people’s lives in the West?

This is like the idiotic belief that killing Osama Bin Laden will end Al Qaeda (Which isn’t an organization I may add, but an ideology). Killing him will not solve the issue; it will just get rid of one of its result. I truly believe that we must look at the reasons behind the actions of the likes of Bin Laden and Jones (without giving them justification, of course!) .

Rev. Jones has the right to feel angry, has the right to hate those who committed the 9-11 attacks – but I would have assumed, as a man of faith, that he should be slightly wiser than Bin Laden, who decided to punish ALL Americans for what he believed were wrongful foreign policies by their Government (and some people say he just wanted to hurt the Saudi-American relations).

The Quran is the Holy Book of ALL Muslims – Rev. Jones knows this and by going forward with his plan, he is no different than Osama Bin Laden in my view.

I would also like to stress here that while I deeply condemn the atrocities of 9-11 and honestly do think that nothing in the world could justify the killing of innocent people, I would be ignorant to disregard the political factors and gains which were capitalized on by the George W. Bush Administration following that horrific day.

Yes, I know that if 9-11 didn’t happen – we most likely would have seen a different decade so far.

However, I am talking in particular about the shameful depiction of Islam which was popularized by the previous administration, paving the way to the hatred we are witnessing today.

I lean to the view that Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland mentioned in a recent Foreign Policy article. He argues that following 9-11, Israel feared that the US might conclude that this horrific attack should be blamed on the U.S support for Israel. (Which even if is partly true, doesn’t legitimize the killing of civilians, I may add).

Of course, the emergent interpretation by the Bush administration was that ‘they hate us for our values’ Telhami explains that this framing is now being unravelled by the Obama administration as it seeks to reach out to Muslims.

This despicable and untrue interpretation by the Bush Administration has caused us Muslims much harm; be it in the shape of hate crimes, waging illegitimate wars on Muslim countries or making life more difficult for 2 billions followers of this faith.

The truth is Muslims don’t hate Americans for its values; as our Quran (the one Rev. Jones want to burn) also calls for equality,  truth and justice – just like the American way!

 

I am really getting fed up with most Arab reactions regarding the election of Barack Obama as America’s 44th president.

 

Until this day, all I hear about is that “Americans have finally made the right choice” and that what has happened was a “victory for democracy and reason”, yet what is most interesting is listening to people in the Middle East talk about how beautiful it is to see an African American immigrant, who otherwise may have not had a chance to survive, become the President of the world’s number 1 superpower.

 

Now, I won’t claim this argument is my own as I have heard it over and over here in Europe, especially during Obama’s tour of Europe last summer. It goes something like this: People in France in general backed Barack Obama and urged Americans to vote for him…But when the time comes, would they themselves vote for a North African immigrant for example to sit in their prestigious Élysée Palace ?

 

And if this question is raised in France, one of the world’s oldest democracies, one only has to wonder what would the true Arab feeling be regarding a similar situation in a Middle Eastern country.

 

For the sake of argument, let us take The Gulf region (the name itself is the cause of an ongoing racial issue, as many are divided between calling it The Persian Gulf and The Arab Gulf) as an example.

 

GCC countries are uniquely distinguishable by the massive numbers of immigrants that are imported to fill huge gaps that locals can’t or choose not to fill in the labour market (particularly blue collar jobs such as: construction workers, janitors and drivers).

 

Indeed in a country like Saudi Arabia with a population of more than 28.5 million, there is an estimated foreign population of more than 8 million. These expatriates reportedly include 1.6 million Indians, 1.5 million Bangladeshis, 1.2 million Filipinos, 1 million Pakistanis, according to the International Religious Freedom Report 2008 published by the US Department of State.

 

 

In the United Arab Emirates, another Gulf country which is famed particularly for its ‘out of this world’ projects such as man-made islands and skyscrapers that make New York City look like a miniature park, the locals forms only 20% of the total population, again with massive numbers of the immigrants being imported to join the workforce needed to build and maintain these humongous developments. 

 

So how would an Arab feel if a young, well educated and charismatic descendant of one of these immigrants decides to run for Presidency in an Arab country?

 

This perhaps could be an interesting basis for a large scale opinion poll in the region; I would be very keen on finding out the results, if such a poll was allowed to be conducted, of course.  

 

In the mean time, one indicator of what could be the general mood lies in the comments of the Dubai Police Chief in a recent Emirati ‘National Identity’ conference which was held last April in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital.  

 

According to the London based Asharq Al Awsat http://www.asharqalawsat.com/details.asp?section=4&issueno=10732&article=467144&feature=

Dubai Police Chief – Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim said that “in 70 years time, we will be well off, if the sons of our Emirates Crown Princes maintain their rule”.

 

Tamim also said reportedly: “If Obama can run for President and he is of Kenyan origins, what guarantees do we have that Koti (a common Asian name that indicates to immigrant workforce according to Asharq Al Awsat) won’t come and compete for Presidency (in the UAE)?”. 

 

 

Such statements might push you to start thinking that perhaps it is a good thing that most Arab countries aren’t democracies; I for one would be ashamed to have a democracy where people are elected on the basis of race, color or religion, rather than political program and agenda.

 

In fact we do have one of example of this in the so-called democracy of Lebanon; where a President ‘has to be’ a Maronite Christian, a Prime Minister ‘has to be’ a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament ‘has to be’ a Shiite Muslim.  

 

The conclusion is if we, Arabs, want to praise Americans for doing what we think is that the right thing… that is fine by me, but let us not give others a standing ovation for overcoming racism while we ourselves are sitting on piles of it, not to mention not having a true democratic process to start with!

 

This whole situation reminds me of a sad joke: An Arab visits the US for the first time; so he goes to Washington DC to see the White House and ends up arriving on the day of a massive protest against President Bush by Americans who disagree with his policies.

The Arab stops and laughs, so one of the American protesters asks him what he finds so amusing and the Arab replies: “I just discovered that it turns out we don’t lack democracy as you people claim…we are no different than you”.

The American asks how this is so, and the Arab replies: “Well, you are allowed to protest against your president anytime you wish, right?’, so the American replies “Yes, and?”.

“Well, we have the same rights! We can protest against YOUR president anytime we like”, concluded the Arab.   

 

Of Men and Mice

September 24, 2008

 

 

In case you have not heard yet, Sheikh Mohamed al-Munajid (a Saudi cleric, who is said to be from a Levant origin) has labelled mice as ‘agents of Satan’, calling for the extermination of them all. He has also made it clear that this includes famous cartoon mice, such as Mickey Mouse and Jerry (of the popular cartoon series ‘Tom and Jerry’) in particular. 

 

I assume this should call for an urgent meeting of ‘Rodents Without Borders’ and the CMCA (Cartoon Mice Characters Association), had they both existed, to discuss recent threats against fellow members, Mickey and Jerry.

I personally think that in light of these recent threats, all ‘mouse shaped cartoon characters’ should be forced to have supernatural powers for the purpose for self defense; following the ‘Mighty Mouse’ and ‘Danger Mouse’ models.  

 

I am of course blabbering because there isn’t much one could say regarding this situation.

 

Even the Shiekh’s justification (that mice are dirty creatures and that by creating popular cartoon characters based on them, kids might grow up liking this unclean animal) is ridiculous.

  

I think one of the best reactions was that of many American news anchors, who couldn’t help laughing at the matter. You could watch a few clips here http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=qO3TqDS1XHE (unfortunately, another MEMRI instant hit).

 

Some relief came to me when a number of Arab ‘liberal’ writers and an Egyptian Muslim scholar ridiculed his views.   

AFP reported today that Suad Saleh, a woman preacher who hosts a popular television programme on fatwas, or religious edicts, told the English-language daily Egyptian Gazette that Munajid’s ruling “tarnishes Islam’s image.”

“An edict should be based on knowledge, logic and reason,” she said. “Yes, mice should be killed when seen according to Islam’s teachings. But it is illogical to deal with a cartoon character as a live mouse and kill it.” (my reaction: …you don’t say!!)

As much as it was painful to see someone who is supposed to be a respectful member of the clergy being mocked, I can’t find any sympathy in me towards al-Munajid.

 

You see, one must understand how clerics are regarded in most Muslim societies, they have great influence and most of the time, and their opinions are not questionable. (As the case was during the show which al-Munajid was a guest on when he said what he said, this was on al-Majd TV by the way, an Islamic station that many regard as fundementalist).

 

What is interesting is that earlier this month, another Saudi cleric said owners of satellite television channels that broadcast “immoral” content deserved to die.

The point is, when you have so much authority over people, you must be very careful regarding what you say…. It also goes without saying that when wearing a clergy robe, you ought to be a role model of tolerance, love and peace. (almost a no-brainer, isn’t it?)

Many people might not know this, but back in 2005… the ‘big thing’ in the Arab world was reality television shows, such as ‘Big Brother’, ‘Star Academy’ and the Arab version of ‘Pop Idol’ came under attack for their attempts to ‘strip away the virtue of Arab youth’.

 

Star Academy in particular was dubbed “Academiat Al Shaytan” (Satan’s Academy).

 

Why… you may ask? Well, so that it would be named after its founders, the “evil devils in our world” as one Islamic ‘awareness recording’ suggests.

 

And who may that recording be made by… why, it was non-other than Shiekh al-Munajed himself !  

 

Honestly, this is not a desperate attempt to market my previous articles, but you must read the full story I wrote back then http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=5&id=344  to understand the impact clerics could have on the youth.

 

One teenager actually told me he was s convinced that “Star Academy” is “part of a huge plot planned many years ago to strip away all virtue from the Arab youth”. The 18-year-old proceeds to explain that this scheme is also “proven” in a website, where he read that it is “part of Zionist plan which goes back to the year 1935”.

 

Another Shiekh, Ali Al Shahrani, produced a similar recording called ‘SARS Academy’, in which he uses a long list of insults that are commonly used against prostitutes and homosexuals to describe the way he feels about participants in reality shows.

 

“If some people don’t like these words, perhaps it is because they haven’t heard them before… or maybe they are living on a different planet,” the Shiekh told me back then.

 

What can I say? I for one would like to be living on that different planet, where my kids could watch Mickey, Minnie and Speedy Gonzales without feeling guilty… But mostly a planet where men don’t pick on mice (especially while ignoring extremists, occupying forces, corruption and poverty to name a few issues they could chew on).

 

 

 cover of ‘Satan’s Academy’ – Al Munajed’s 2005 recording. (asharq al awsat photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sex On The Beach

July 27, 2008

It was interesting to see how the British media treated the recent ‘Sex on The Beach’ row, which involved two Brits who got slightly too intimate at a popular Dubai beach resort.

Now, as much as I like the pun with regards to the name this issue was given,  its amazing to see how some papers here refered to it as a ‘clash of cultures’… 

Obviously, one can understand how convenient labelling it in this way is: Dubai is in an Arab and Muslim conservative country (mind you, it is not a country on its own, as some fellow journalists think)!.. while Westerners are used to a liberal way of life, and occasionally like to have sex.

Well… you know, we Arabs like sex too, in fact we are known for liking it too much… and despite the UK being quite a liberal country, its very rare to see any of us having sex in public, as it happens to be  unallowed over here.

As a matter of fact, the last time I checked you would still get arrested if you get cought in the act in a public place like Hyde Park.  

Even in the trendiest London bars or lounges, you often the odd ‘Get a room!’ shout when a couple fail to resist the urge of getting slighly too intimate.

In fact, I can’t think of a public place that actually allows people to have sex in most places around the world… so, I can’t really see how this could be a ‘culture clash’ issue.

Dubai is one of the exceptions in the Arab world, yes.. booze is allowed, prostitution is tollareted… but it still has laws… one might think that 6 years is too much for such a trivial issue, but hey… its up to the local authorities to decide on its punishments… just as the case is over here.

So, next time you are in Dubai and you want Sex on The Beach, stick to the drink.. and if things go well, then ‘get a room’.. or at least go behind a palm tree.

OH, COME ON!

July 2, 2008

A new storm of controversy seems to be emerging today, as the police force in the UK apologised after complaints that an advert featuring a German shepherd puppy might have been offensive to members of the local Muslim community.

British media has been consumed with the story ever since Tayside Police used a picture of 29-week-old black puppy Rebel on postcards promoting the force’s new non-emergency telephone number, and then apologized after the choice of image was questioned by a Dundee councillor who said it would “not be welcomed” by some communities.

First of all, I must say I keep on getting impressed with how tolerent this country is, I mean for the police to first of all consider such a trivial matter, and then actually apologize for it… that says a lot.

I also appreciate the fact that after a certain series of events that happened lately, including particular ones which involved Danish cartoons, a certain teddy bear in Sudan and a controversial debate about the veil,  one should be very careful with what many of us might consider as ‘trivial matters’, as what might seem silly on the surface could cause serious unexpected harm in the end of the day.

Any how, I can’t seem to stop myself from shouting: COME ON!!!

Am I the only Muslim who is wondering what could possibly be offensive about a picture of a puppy?

I am not blaming the police force or the long-lasting traditions of tolerance and fairness in this country, especially when it comes to cultural sensitivities… and I really can’t blame it on people being ignorant when it comes to Islam as well, as one can’t seem to know what is considered offensive and what isn’t these days!

I can only blame the ‘members of the Muslim community’ who have reportedly complained about the picture, the British media went on to explain that a”Muslims consider dogs unclean and Islamic tradition warns Muslims against contact with dogs because they are seen as impure”.

I have to say, I am quite familiar with the texts and  religious teachings relating to dogs; I do know they are considered ‘unclean’ and in fact I do agree that they aren’t.

This is probably why we are urged to wash our hands 7 times after getting in contact with a dog (that was however before the invention of sprays, shampoos and a whole set of accessories that are used today to clean dogs, I would like to read what modern day Islamic thinkers’ take on the issue would be).

However, there are no teachings that consider images of dogs offensive to Muslims. Not only that, but there isn’t anything that considers images of even the much dreaded pig as offensive to Muslims as well (only a teaching that prohibits eating its meat).

So, I think everybody needs to relax… if indeed members of the Muslim community have complained about this incident, I think they should re-examine their priorities.

What I think is truely insulting is the standard of living many of this community live in, the lost opportunties and the continuous ammunition we are giving racists and extremists to attack us with (just have a look at some of the tabloids today… this story beautifully complements previous ones about Muslim doctors who refused to see female patients in need, and a Muslim taxi driver who wouldn’t allow a blind man to enter the cab with his dog, which are both very shameful incidents and require urgent action to see why some people could interpret religion this way, if the reports were true of course).  

On the other hand UK institutions shouldn’t be apologizing for such a silly thing, but for allowing a part of its people to live in a condition whereby they feel they are always being targeted, to the extent that they feel threatened even by a cute and innocent puppy.

I received many comments regarding my previous piece “On Building Bridges and Winning Hearts”, mostly of readers accusing me of being “Pro-Western Media” and turning a blind eye to the many biases and inaccuracies that occur in American and European media.

To those I say please go back and read what I wrote again, I never said that ‘Western’ media is flawless or argued that biases or mistakes don’t occur.

In fact I am a fierce critic of any mistakes or imbalanced reporting, whereever it happens.

I would also like to invite you to read my opening statement of “The Truth Behind The Myth” which was story I wrote last year for Asharq Al Awsat after visiting a number of media outlets and meeting with top journalists in the US (as part of an International Visitors Programme that coincidentally carries the name of American journalism icon, Edward R. Murrow).  

If you have read that piece ( available on http://www.asharq-e.com/news.asp?section=5&id=9052) you would have understood that I am with the school of thought that argues that there is absolutely no such thing as completely unbiased media to start with.  

However, where Western media is at an advantage is that is exists in a democracy, which in theory means that the media is there to serve the public interest and that it is subject to accountability on what it reports; which also means you can ultimately correct an inaccuracy or shame a bias once spotted and proved.  

Of course democracy has its flaws, I agree, especially when mixed with capitalism.

One could argue that this has resulted in many media outlets serving advertisers’ and owners’ interests rather than the public’s, and that spin doctors and pressuare groups will always find ways to sway you away from the truth. (and one should also mention that the West itself realizes these issues and debates them all the time).

Having said that, there are two points to consider here, first: what is the alternative? and the second is the fact that with all the plagues that Western media is infected with, it still is able to produce ‘breakthrough’ journalism.

We have to admit, although I know many might not want to, that  Watergate and Abu Ghraib were not a work of fiction… and that those were real stories written by real journalists (who are still alive) and have achieved real results.

But the issue doesn’t end there, the interesting part is that the reporters who have worked on those stories weren’t later banned from writing, labelled as traitors, arrested or suddenly killed in a car accident (or a car bomb for that matter!) as the case was several times in the Arab World when journalists sought to challenge authority.

Once we have admitted that the above is true, we could discuss Western media’s biases and inaccuracies all you want… and the beauty of it is that in theory; we can actually do something about it… that is the advantage of democracy.