Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on Bills Targeting Foreign Law: Kansas, Oklahoma and Florida

Kansas

In Kansas, some members of the Catholic community have expressed concern that SB 79 could lead to interference in the operations of the Catholic Church. Elaborated Michael Sean Winters in a recent editorial, "if a group of parishioners decide they do not like their pastor and, having raised the money to build their church building, take the bishop to court asking for control of the church building, will the courts of Kansas say that the cannon law of the Church has no bearing on the case?"  He continued, "after all, the current Code was signed by Pope John Paul II and the Vatican is a 'foreign jurisdiction.'"

Proponents of the SB 79 have repeatedly made assurances to the contrary; section 7 of the bill addresses such concerns, to a certain extent.

Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, another bill banning foreign law recently failed to pass. Senator Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) authored Senate Bill 671, which prohibits foreign law from being practiced in Oklahoma courts. “Our legal code is much more than just a series of rules and procedures – it is the expression of our unifying principles,” said Newberry last week in an Oklahoma State Senate press release.

He continued, “our laws reflect our values and ideals, and those who embrace and wish to protect those values should be pleased by this bill’s passage. It’s simple - either you wish to see our law used to determine court rulings, or you think it’s appropriate for foreign law to excuse or justify crime in our state.”

In the end, SB 671 passed in the Senate, but was not heard in the House. Newberry expressed disappointment at that outcome, but vowed to reintroduce the bill next year. He suggested that the SB 671 is not discriminatory. "This bill says that no international or religious law can be used when deciding a court case in the state of Oklahoma. So it doesn't limit it to just sharīʿa law," he said.

Florida and elsewhere

In Florida, Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) introduced SB 1360, which blocked foreign law; the latter bill failed to pass this March. However, Hays said that he will reintroduce a similar bill next year.

Bills prohibiting the practice of foreign law remain under consideration and could be theoretically passed in 2012 Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Reactions: Kansas Governor Signs Anti-Foreign Law Bill

On Friday, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced that he had signed HB 79, a bill which prohibits any foreign laws (implicitly sharīʿa) from being applied in American courts. HB 79, which was already approved by the state legislature, will become effective on July 1st.

"The bill," elaborated Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the Communications Director/Press Secretary for the Office of Governor Sam Brownback, "makes it clear that Kansas courts will rely exclusively on the laws of our state and our nation when deciding cases and will not consider the laws of foreign jurisdictions."

Seal of the State of Kansas (Wikimedia Commons).
She continued, "this disturbing recent trend of activist judges relying upon the laws of other nations has been rejected by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the Kansas House and Senate."

The American Public Policy Alliance (APPA) hailed the signing as a victory, adding that HB 79 is in no way discriminatory. Rather, it protects values like freedom of speech, religion and ensures equal treatment under the law.

Added APPA spokesman Stephen Gele, who insisted that HB 79 is constitutional, "the bill should provide protection for Kansas citizens from the application of foreign laws. The bill does not read in any way, to be discriminatory against any religion." (For an ongoing case cited by APPA as evidence of the need for HB 79, click here).

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) denounced the bill, cited bigotry, discrimination, and demonization of Muslims; furthermore, argued CAIR, supporters of HB 79 frequently alluded to sharīʿa as a main concern despite the fact that it is not mentioned by name in the bill. The CAIR promised to challenge HB 79 in the future.

Other concerns, as we have seen in other states where anti-sharīʿa legislation was proposed, are related to how HB 79 will affect carrying out marriages, wills, burials as well as international business and contracts with multinational corporations. One provision of HB 79 that could be said to address this concern is the fact that it bans only foreign laws "that would not grant the parties the same fundamental liberties, rights and privileges granted under the United States and Kansas Constitutions."

However, it is not clear whether HB 79 will provide protect citizens' rights, or discourage foreign businesses from operating in a perceived intolerant and discriminatory environment in Kansas. Overall, the bill remains controversial. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bill to Ban Foreign Laws Approved by Kansas Legislature

The bill, known as SB 79, was approved in the Kansas House and Senate earlier in May. Its text resembles other anti-sharīʿa bills that I have written about, which draw on model legislation proposed by the American Laws for American Courts organization; the main provision of SB 79 prohibits any foreign laws from being practiced in Kansas.

The Kansas State Capitol (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

SB 79, summarizes Gavel to Gavel, defines 'foreign law,' 'legal code' or 'system' as "any law, legal code or system of a jurisdiction outside of any state or territory of the United States, including, but not limited to, international organizations and tribunals and applied by that jurisdiction’s courts, administrative bodies or other formal or informal tribunals."

One reason the bill passed by a wide margin was that it does not explicitly single out a particular religion.

Currently, SB 79 awaits the signature of Governor Sam Brownback; he has until Friday May 25th to sign it. He also has the option of a veto, which groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have lobbied for. Even if Governor Brownback signs the bill, it is not clear whether it will stand or will later be struck down by higher courts.

Supporters of SB 71

Supporters of SB 71 like Rep. Peggy Mast (R-Emporia) argue that it protects women and children from unfair treatment and the intolerance of the sharīʿa. "I find sharīʿa law to take away all the rights of women," said Senator Susan Wagle (R-Wichita)."They stone women to death in countries that have sharīʿa law, they [women] have no rights in court, female children are treated brutally.  In this great country of ours and in the state of Kansas, women have equal rights."

As in other states, supporters of SB 79 argue that American courts must be protected from the encroachment of foreign laws; thus the bill is not aimed at discriminating against Muslims. "We don't have any intolerance in this bill. Nobody's stripped of their freedom of religion. This is talking about the law, American law, American courts," said Senator Ty Masterson (R-Andover).

An example of threatening foreign laws cited in the debate on the bill was as follows. In Sedgwick County, Hussein Hamdeh, a Professor of Physics at Wichita State University, filed for divorce from his wife in November 2010, and asked the court to honor a sharīʿa-based prenuptial agreement; according to the terms of this agreement, his wife was to receive a $5,000 compensation payment from him, which would cover any outstanding claims that she would have on his property.

David Yerushalmi, a lawyer behind many of the anti-sharīʿa bills, expressed his support for the legislation, in an interview with media personality Ezra Levant (below).


Opponents of SB 71

Opponents cited discrimination and unfairly singling out the sharīʿa."I believe this bill is unconstitutional (and) intolerant," said Senator Tim Owens (R-Overland Park). "I think this bill will set Kansas out as a place not to go if you believe any other way than particularly a very small religious-right perspective […]. This country is based on freedom. And it isn't 'you can only be free if you think like me'." 

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has denounced SB 79, and held a press conference along with the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim American Society in front of the Capitol Building last Friday in Topeka to lobby the governor to veto it (below).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Miral Al-Tahawy's "Brooklyn Heights"

This semester I read Miral Al-Tahawy's Brooklyn Heights (2010, Arabic) as part of my (4th year) media Arabic class. I struggled at first to decrypt the plethora of unknown Arabic words that I encountered in each chapter, but by the end of the novel, as I became accustomed to al-Tahawy's writing style and the plot of the novel, the reading process became smoother and I was able to deduce words from their contexts more easily. The main point here was that it was a great exercise for improving my Arabic reading comprehension, to force myself to start reading more naturally rather than trying in vain to look up every unknown word in the dictionary.

Above: front cover of the Arabic edition of Brooklyn Heights. 
The novel sketches a portrait of some diverse immigrant communities in Brooklyn. The main character in the novel, Hind, based on al-Tahawy's experiences during a stay in the U.S., has recently arrived in Brooklyn from Egypt with her young son; the novel alternates between Hind's experiences in Brooklyn with flash backs to her childhood memories in Egypt.

Hind struggles with feelings of loneliness, self-loathing, despair, depression, anxiety and often struggles to make meaningful connections with others. Hind is stubborn and talented; her personality was shaped in part by a difficult relationship she had with some members of her family during her childhood.

Brooklyn Heights won the 2010 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, which has been awarded every year since 1996 by the American University of Cairo Press to honor the most outstanding "contemporary novel published in Arabic (but not yet in English)." In her acceptance speech for receiving the award, al-Tahawy cited Mahfouz as an influence to her writing.

Al-Tahawy grew up in a Bedouin village in the Nile Delta. She has also published the novels The Tent (1998), Blue Aubergine (2006) and Gazelle Tracks (2008), as well as a collection of short stories.

In sum, I highly recommend this novel. For NYU students, click here for the Arabic version; the novel was also translated into English in 2011. Check out Arabic editions of her other works here

Friday, May 4, 2012

Arab Spring Carpets

This will be my last blog post for the Spring. Thank you my dear readers (all seven three of you). Stay tuned for the fall return...oh the suspense!

I'll end on a colorful note as part of my effort to insert more color to this blog. Beloved "Arab Fall" and "Arab Spring" carpets by talented and avant-garde Lebanese designers bokja.

From the designers' words to your eyes:

Bokja’s map of the “Arab Fall” interweaves imported jeans as a backdrop for the sad reality of an Arab world where imported fads and fast foods have replaced timeless traditions and native delicacies: 





That was then, this is now in the hopeful season of the Arab uprisings: 








The flying elephant serves as a reminder of all the inane slogans that have been forced upon generations of an incredulous citizenry across the region.
It is this awakening that delineates Bokja’s Arab Spring map.
The background is an old valuable carpet (representing our core values) that should be the basis of any new start.
The carpet is in a dilapidated state, like many of our discarded ideals and is in need of resurrection.
The mood is that of optimism and rejuvenation.
The symbols are many, among them a woman riding a horse on the road to a new and unknown world.
If I could say a word the Spring carpet is, of course, awesome...an artistic tapestry and momento in offering to this propitious time in the Arab world when the Arabs have staked a claim to their dignity, proud of their ancient heritage, as the wellspring for their collective future. 
What I like best is the rooster raised forth from Tunisia as the crying call to the Arabs...the home of the Arab uprisings. 
And Handala. The little Palestinian refugee symbolizing (for me, anyhow) that the Arab uprisings, the Arab fight for dignity and freedom, will not be complete until freedom for the Palestinians has be achieved...until the refugees return...until the world stops turning its back on Handala. 
Neat carpets!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pascal Menoret and Toby Jones On Saudi Arabia and Bahrain


Reuters. 

Recently at KEVO our very own (kind of - borrowed from NYU Abu Dhabi) Pascal Menoret and Toby Jones (Rutgers) spoke about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in the wake of regional upheaval. 

Pascal opened up with two dates: February 24, 2011 and March 11, 2011. The former marking King Abdallah's return to the kingdom after a months long convalescence and the latter a "Day of Rage" modeled after the Egyptian gathering that culminated in the toppling of Hosni Mubarak. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, lined the streets of Jiddah to welcome the king while very few turned out for the protest. Saudi dissidents joked that the "Day of Rage" became a "Day of Police Demonstrations" as security forced constituted the only large presence. But the al Saud were not worried, notwithstanding the security precaution, and even allowed for journalists to parade the streets as a demonstration of official rhetoric: Saudi subjects are too well-cared for by their royal masters. 

20% of Saudis, according to official state figures, live on $3 and 5% live on $1. Literally, millions of improvised people in a nation resting on top of 25% of proven oil reserves. Social services in Saudi Arabia (ex. education and medical) rank low in quality. The Saudi people are clearly not well-cared for, but why does the system hold? Why the confidence of the al Saud?

Pascal outlined several reasons. The royals' ability to co-opt segments of the population, fermenting divisions between Sunnis and Shi'a, a promotion of a brand of Saudi nationalism and exceptionalism, an information blackout and the politicization of data (especially on demographics), censorship, sexual repression, and - what may be the crucial aspect of domination - the political economy of debt termed by Menoret as "the political economy of subjection". Saudis nations have accumulated heavy burdens of debt (60,000 are on a "bad debt list" and may be treated harshly, including jail) and through debt are financing their own subjection. 

Beyond that there is also the imbibed fear of repression that is recognized through the widespread prosecution of Saudis - intense and random - that has created a society were 1 in 600 Saudis are held in jail. Heavy repression and, in addition, difficulties in unifying are the challenges of Saudi dissidents and reformers.

Needless to say, a bleak picture. 

Jones spoke about Bahrain. Describing the nation as now effectively an apartheid state headed by an increasingly ruthless authoritarian (Sunni) monarchy systematically oppressing and repressing the Shi'a majority. Bahrain's regime, aided by Saudi and UAE troops, crushed a peaceful, pro-democracy movement back in 2011, but the protests continue along with their corollary of confrontations with the armed coercive state apparatus. For a background on Bahrain this Economist article is useful. 

Jones outlined a worsening reality where hopes for a compromise breakthrough are increasingly distant as the opposition has been radicalized through the bloody attempts at crackdown (the self-styled moderate vanguard has lost control and the "street" increasingly will settle for nothing less than the overthrow and exile of the royals as opposed to the erstwhile goal of constitutional monarchy) and the regime is now directed by hardliners unwilling to devise any plan of accommodation and committed to plenary obviation of the protest movement. These two polarized forces threaten to bequeath a bloody Sunni-Shi'a stalemate (akin to occupied Iraq) and regional intervention in Bahrain where Saudi, Iran, the United States and likely other nations contest the regional map on the landscape of Bahrain (akin to civil war, and arguably present, Lebanon). 

I would add (and I'm reasonably certain that Jones would agree): This is not to draw symmetry between a genuine democratic movement and an authoritarian system. The latter imposes a structure of violence that is the sparking force, conditions any reactive violent and is responsible for the entire scene of violence and its consequences.

The regime's sole basis of support has been the (mostly) Sunni middle class, but this class - Jones argues - is growing frustrated. The regime promised a crackdown would restore the order and stabilize the nation. But it is clear that political turmoil continues, especially in the villages outside of the capital Manama. Tourism, a crucial sector, has collapsed; the merchant class is shifting funds overseas, and many of the foreign banks (Bahrain's claim to fame is being a hub of mostly Islamic finance) and financial houses have relocated. Despite the regime's PR staging of a Formula One race in order to feign a turn to normality, the nation remains on precarious grounds. That remaining leg of support, akin to Syria's business class in Damascus and Aleppo, will only be aggrieved further as protests and confrontations continue and is vulnerable for the regime. 

Is there a way out for Bahrain based on liberal democracy? Jones is skeptical. The past conduct and present comportment of the regime does not augur well. 

The unifying force in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Jones concluded, is the political economy that the House of Saud must enforce - domestic and foreign - in the Gulf in order to maintain the royals' authoritarian rule: a regional, pro-Saudi balance and the economy of scarcity in the oil industry. 

An incredibly informative event, though sad, very sad. 

Jones' book, "Desert Kingdom" (Harvard University Press), is incredibly good and highly recommended. 

Pascal's book, "The Saudi Enigma", is on my summer's reading list but knowing Pascal I'm certain it is excellent. Pascal has a forthcoming book from Cambridge University Press, "Thugs and Zealots", on Saudi youth. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Feminism Here & There

Foreign Policy has hired Mona elTahawy to explain to Americans why Middle Eastern Arab Muslim women suffer domestic violence and why they lag behind in entrepreneurial pursuits; it's really simple: "They" (the Muslim man) hate "us" (the Muslim woman). It's purely personal hatred, apparently, and not structures, institutions, consequences of regional turmoil (partly due to Western intervention), ect... What to say to an entire article premised on a talking point made famous by George Bush?

But what's coincidentally amusing is that while Foreign Policy thinks it's conveying depth in its regional coverage through a polemical article about how the Middle East mistreats women (and, of course, there is heavy mistreatment) due to some essentialist features of the "Muslim male mind", a fellow American publication has its own cover story about women, American women:



Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Here We Have A Grand Prix To Enjoy"

Bahrain's dear and beloved foreign minister has a message for all those obnoxious journalists and human rights activists: Go bother someone else! 


Just a bit of background, after the Tunisian revolution and Egyptian overthrow of Hosni Mubarak the people of Bahrain joined their Arab compatriots in marching and rallying for democracy and representative government in their own country (a margin called for the outright abolishment of the carpet-bagging monarchy). Bahrain is effectively an apartheid state where a Sunni monarch favors the Sunni minority and disenfranchises the Shi'a majority; not only in parliamentary vote allocation (in the confined, to be generous, form of democratic-like governance allowed by the royals) but in state benefits and entitlements as well. This isn't a rigid form of apartheid akin to South Africa, but there is no denying that Shi'a are discriminated against based purely on the fact that they are Shi'a. 


Because of the sectarian schisms in the nation (a product of policy rather than history) the peaceful marches took on a sectarian character. They were never wholly Shi'a, but Sunni presence was less than forthcoming - Shi'a had a stronger claim to protest while many Sunnis feared a majoritarian government after growing accustomed to the benefits of minoritarian rule Whether the regime was willing to accommodate calls for a more robust parliament and fair distribution of votes and services is now speculation as the neighboring House of Saud sent in tanks across the Saudi Arabia-Bahrain causeway and ended the large-scale public displays of protest, although dissent and protest do continue in smaller, sporadic form (the al Saud have been aligned against any democratic movement in the Arab world, fearing precedents for their own highly repressive reign, and when they haven't been able to send tanks have sought to throw oil money in order to sabotage). And because of the sectarian split, the protests have been erroneously portrayed as pernicious doings of Shi'a Iran parlaying the Bahraini Shi'a as a fifth column to strike the Sunni Arab world. Okay then. 


For symbolic purposes, the regime even demolished the Pearl Roundabout which served as a meeting place akin to Cairo's Tahrir Square. The tanks have since left and Bahrain's government allowed for a human rights delegation as part of an effort to 'mend the wounds' and 'move on'. Really, they mean well. That delegation found evidence of not only heavy-handed police and military tactics, violent suppression of peaceful protests, arbitrary arrest and detention without charge, harassment of doctors treating the wounded, but also cases of official tortue which in many instances led to death. Over 20 Bahrains were killed during the initial phase of suppression and others have died since then (in a nation of 500,000 citizens). 


As for the Obama administration? Obama has since praised the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, but in Bahrain - where the US maintains the Navy's Fifth Fleet - the administration has adopted the following stance: "Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, reiterated the administration’s position that it condemns all forms of violence. “These are unproductive, unhelpful acts in building the kind of meaningful trust and reconciliation that is needed in Bahrain, and we’re calling for...demonstrators’ restraint in ensuring that they are peaceful"


The administration's coy behavior and complete disregard for the structure of violence inflicted by the regime against an unarmed civilian population (feigning as if regime violence and demonstrators with rocks are equal) is quite reminiscent of when Hillary Clinton, hedging her bets, said that the US is not "taking sides" between the Tunisian people and the now-defunct Ben 'Ali regime. Courageously, Obama called for free election in Tunisia...after Ben 'Ali's plane departed. 


In its PR campaign to whitewash a bloody suppression aided by one of the most oppressive regimes, the authoritarian royals of Bahrain have won back their staging rights to host a Formula One race: "Bahrain's government has spent $40 million to host the global luxury sporting event, hoping to demonstrate that normal life has returned to the Gulf island kingdom after it cracked down harshly on Arab Spring demonstrations last year.  But vivid televised images of streets ablaze - as masked youths hurl petrol bombs and police fire teargas and birdshot - threaten to embarrass Formula One and the global brands that lavish it with sponsorship.  "The government are using the Formula One race to serve their PR campaign," said rights activist Nabeel Rajab. "It's not turning out the way they wanted."


And Bahrain's Minister of Foreign (Subservience) Relations does not want to hear it anymore:  
"If any here to cover ugly bloody confrontations ,go to syria. Here we have a grand Prix to enjoy. Also, there is an ongoing war n the Sudan"

That was his Tweet. It's really cute. And made more so by borrowing the tactics of the Israeli government: 



Of course, this is a transparent tactic of obfuscation - by their standards the Syrian regime and Sudan, likewise, can point to...Bahrain and Israel. If you can't protest them all, why bother? 


But, then, why wouldn't Bahrain turn to Israel's model? It seems to have worked well enough for Israel.

The Israelis would take offense if the al Khalifa didn't. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sexual Harassment In the Arab World


A women's protest against sexual harassment in Tunis. Source: TunisiaLive. 

It is no secret that sexual harassment is  a common phenomenon in the Arab world. This isn't grounds for resorting to crude stereotypes about the vulgar and lascivious essentialist nature of Arab men. After CBS foreign correspondent Laura Logan was sexually assaulted in the midst of celebratory Cairo (when at least a million people were on the street of Tahrir Square), some racist and ignorant commentators held this ONE incident as somehow reflective of Arab male attitudes toward women. Most female correspondents were, of course, not bothered in the midst of millions of Arab men.

More to the point: As if sexual violence is absent from American (heavily male testosterone-fused) cowards - day or night. Sadly, a woman surrounded by excited men in a massive coward - and the anonymity that affords both the woman and men - is vulnerable to be attacked - if one wants to generalize, it should be a critique of male primitiveness rather than cultural misogynist norms. And the United States is one of the most violent arenas for women: 23 women in the US are killed every week due to domestic violence, nearly half of all high schools have been or know someone who has suffered physical attack from their boyfriend and, lastly, the number one reason for female admittance into the Emergence Room is domestic violence. The doyen of American feminists, Betty Friedan, wrote in her memoirs her own experience with domestic violence. 

All the above was an effort to situate the following in its proper context by criticizing Arab society while simultaneously disarming Western righteousness, which often (always?) harbor (sometimes in worst manifestations) the very ills they condemn in "the Other". There is no denying, as a frequent visitor to an Arab country, that sexual harassment is a major daily problem for many Arab woman. Anecdotal evidence is so pervasive that it rightly serves as grounds for stating that sexual harassment is a phenomenon widely practiced against Arab and foreign women. 

In the wake of the Arab uprisings, some commentators (ex. Rashid Khalidi) have argued that the problem is (at least partly) rooted in the rule of Arab regimes. Arabs protested in the name of their dignity - the dignity denied them by humiliating and repressive regimes. As Arabs devalued themselves in a form of symbolic violence, the argument goes, young (often unemployed) Arab men shed their dignity and sense of shame and traditional respect for women and inaugurated a culture of cat-calls and whistles. Whether this theory is true or not isn't the point (a generation shift in treatment of women may be due to urbanization - before the local girl was known to all and could not be subjugated to hissing without it being public knowledge. A city of unconnected individuals changes the dynamic. Even today, men who holler at women avoid doing so to those who live on the block), the point is that sexual harassment exists and if the dignity argument is true than the transition to democratic and liberal polities where individual rights are respected should augur well for a change in male comportment. But it isn't cause-and-effect. The Arab opening offers Arab women an opportunity to declare their opposition to the harassment and organize against it along with parlaying organization into political power to that raises broader issues of gender rights onto the table: TunisiaLive for those interested has a very good discussion on this. 

Also recommended readings are Judith Tucker's and Leila Ahmad's books on gender and Islam. 

This will not be done by Westerners with a White Savior complex but by Arabs themselves. The Arab Uprisings have taught us that: liberation comes from within. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Formula One Race in Bahrain

Despite ongoing protests, it appears that the Formula One race is on, and scheduled to begin in Bahrain next Sunday.

A Formula One race (via FIA). 

Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of Formula One Management and Formula One Administration, argued that Bahrain's problems are separate from, and unrelated to the Formula One race; he articulated his refusal to interfere in Bahrain's domestic issues. "I don't think sports should be involved in politics," he told CNN yesterday.
                                 
Above: Bernie Ecclestone explains his decision to keep the Formula One race in Bahrain.

I think Ecclestone's desire to separate sports from politics is laudable. If we accept the argument that the F1 race ought to be cancelled in Bahrain in order to punish the government for its human rights abuses, then we could argue that 2012 Chinese Grand Prix race should also be cancelled. It is well known that China has an abysmal human rights record, and, to understate, does not look kindly on democracy activists.

In other words, cancelling the race in Bahrain would imply that human rights compliance is a prerequisite for hosting international events. If such is the case – and perhaps it should be -- then who gets to determine which countries are worthy of hosting? Who has the authority to set the terms of the debate in the first place? An editorial published in the Gulf Daily News last week made a similar point.

A press release from the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the organization in charge of the Formula 1 race, explicates its decision to hold the race in Bahrain

The FIA must make rational decisions based on the information provided to us by the Bahraini authorities and by the Commercial Rights Holder. In addition we have endeavoured to assess the ongoing situation in Bahrain.

President Jean Todt led a fact-finding mission to the Kingdom in November 2011, meeting a large number of decision-makers and opinion formers, including elected Shīʿa members of parliament, the president of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, ambassadors from the European Union countries, the Crown Prince, the Interior Minister and many members of the business community.

All expressed their wish for the Grand Prix to go ahead in 2012, and since then, the FIA has kept in close touch with all these stakeholders. Away from the public eye, the FIA has received regular security briefings from the most senior diplomatic officials based in the Kingdom as well as from other independent experts.
The Government 

Bahrain has assured the international community that the country is safe enough to host the race. Last night in an interview on BBC Arabic, one Bahraini pointed out that the Formula One race is extremely important for Bahrain's economy. Last year, when the race was canceled amidst protests, the tourism industry suffered immensely.

The Opposition

The race is likely to be held with heavy security measures, especially for team members. Bahraini opposition groups have continued to protest against the race, and have threatened to block main roads and burn tires everywhere in the country. Today, an unconfirmed rumor circulated that a bomb was found in the F1 track, then dismantled.

Violence continues in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Protestors have criticized the government's poor human rights record among other things, arguing that they are using the F1 race as an opportunity to improve their image on the world stage. The opposition has highlighted the plight of jailed hunger-striking Danish-Bahraini activist Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja.

As Amnesty International pointed out,

Holding the Grand Prix in Bahrain in 2012 risks being interpreted by the government of Bahrain as symbolizing a return to business as usual. The international community must not turn a blind eye to the ongoing human rights crisis in the country. The government must understand that its half-hearted measures are not sufficient -- sustained progress on real human rights reform remains essential.
The Obama Administration has treaded carefully with its strategic Gulf ally, and has frequently been accused of hypocrisy.
In a statement last week on Bahrain, the White House alluded to the violence:
More broadly, we urge the government to redouble its ongoing efforts to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, and renew our call for the government, opposition parties, and all segments of Bahraini society to engage in a genuine dialogue leading to meaningful reforms that address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis.
In conclusion, I have tried to fairly portray the Formula One debate, which continues online (Twitter: #Bahrain #F1 #Formula1 #formulaOne).

Friday, April 13, 2012

Syria: Bad/Catastrophe


I had the fortunate opportunity to attend a workshop on the Syria uprising last Saturday where Paulo Pinto and Bassam Haddad, Professor of Middle Eastern studies at George Mason University, offered their insights. Since I wrote about another KEVO event headlined by Pinto (see above link), I will focus solely on Haddad's remarks.


The last thirty years have marked a period of transition in Syrian Ba'ath history from a leftist alliance with labor to a rightist tilt toward business. This privatization has led to diffuse regime power which is more pervasive in society. 

Economic policies have shifted from public sector to market-focused. And the beneficiaries have been  private and regime officials who left government for business. A consequent has been polarization between rich and poor, countryside and city. 

Haddad then outlined what he termed "stubborn facts": 
  • An opposition born out of decades of oppression and brutality, but does have problematic aspects. We may no longer take the uprising at face value. Started as legitimate uprising against dictatorship, but now less about democracy. Much more sectarian and anti-democratic, whether Islamist or not. Opposition today is not the opposition of yesterday. Vulgar sectarian currents are present, much of it animated by the fierce brutality of the regime. Also the opposition has failed to be transparent or independent (influenced by regional players). 
  • But no matter how problematic the actors on the other side, this does not mean that the regime should not be overthrown and opposed. A reason not to uncritically support the regime, but to demand the opposition step up. 
  • Americans, Saudis and Qataris are engaged in real politick. The United States does not have historical credibility to speak in the name of the Syrian people and Saudi Arabia and Qatar are far from democracies to be midwifing the revolution. Self-interested foreign intervention will cause much more bloodshed (just look at Libya - Syria will be a lot worse. And arms may go to al Qaeda, regional powers will intervene, and America will not benefit). Thus no nation wants to intervene and whatever on-the-side intervention exists is not about the welfare of the Syrian people, but the regional game of politics. 
  • Returning to point one: Revolutionary leadership in the future may no longer be taken for granted. 
Dynamics of the uprising. 

1) Structure and Causes - There have been decades of oppression and economic pauperization, but brutality, repression and authoritarianism do not on their own produce mass mobilization let alone revolutions. There is the matter of dignity of individuals in the mid-to-late 1990s. After Tunisia's uprising, the similarly extant problems and structural issues collapsed into a moment of collective consciousness. Suddenly, going to the street in 2011 is different than 2010. In the end, the uprising was imminent, just cannot predict when.
2) Regime Resilience - A question of structural factors: coherent and cohesive institutions have been emptied of meaning and autonomy as a result of a strategy. Military, for instance, does not have independent leadership. Thus there is no regime schisms: if ship falls, all sink. That cohesion stiffens regime resistance (all fall or stand together) and even if there is a coup will not have legitimacy because it will be internal to regime. Regime policies have also focused on supporting the minorities. This leadership creates fear (among minorities) of a majoritarian-led opposition. Anxieties not without some serious concern although not true that they would, say, slaughtered. And much of the urban middle class has assets intertwined with the regime. Even if they wish the regime to fall are nonetheless wary about a new social order, especially considering rural revolt is not a middle class uprising. So there is a class dimension. Thus a lot of the middle class is on the sidelines, which allows the regime to benefit. Lastly, oppositional fragmentation also aids regime. 
3) Impasse - On the ground there is a stalemate caused by the fact that no party is able to limit the other: regime cannot decimate opposition and opposition cannot kill regime. But time not on regime's side: lost its ability to govern expect by brute force. Can rule but not govern. Thus shelf life is limited. 
4) Where are we going? Transformation from domestic and legitimate uprising to an illegitimate (i.e. sectarian with undemocratic trends) and international reality. Syria is being played by foreign powers in an effort to redraw regional political map. A complex picture that requires us to think along layers of reality. Many Syrians, for instance, are opposed to the dictatorship but also opposed to the opportunism of the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar who, if allowed to guide a post-regime era, may produce an equally awful reality. 

In sum, Syria is stuck been bad and catastrophic. But there is hope in the Syrian people. Many Syrians are charting an independent course in the form of communal meetings away from regime and foreign machinations in an effort to secure a future, if the regime falls, that is rooted in the aspirations of the Syrian peoples - discussed and debated in a manner befitting a liberal polity. 

May the well-being of the Syrian people prevail. 


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Courage to Think in Tunisia

On Monday, April 9, NYU's Center for Dialogues hosted an event co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch and Scholars At Risk titled "Courage to Think: Intellectual Freedom in Tunisia and the Arab Spring" moderated by the center's director (and American of Tunisian heritage) Mustapha Tlili and featuring four Tunisian academics.

Tlili gave the opening remarks, which I will briefly summarize:

Is the "Jasmine revolution" at risk? The protesters who brought an end to Ben Ali's regime are the educated sons and daughters of the state built by Habib Bourguiba, the independence leader among a generation of intellectuals who looked to Europe and the Enlightenment. Tunisian identity has been shaped by this history and an education valuing individual liberty, openness, and women's rights. It is this transmission of values from Bourguiba that has built a modern Tunisia.  
The so-called spring did not last, however. The Islamists have ushered in the Winter. Their rhetoric had been tactical and measured but after their October 2010 electoral victory has become harsher and forceful.  
One of history's darkest trends is when a minority hijacks a liberal revolution and gains control through any possible means, including violence. Will Tunisia follow that example?  
The world's liberal democracies need to influence the Islamist government in Tunisia to adhere to a free democratic society and to enforce the law against violent ultra-conservatives as opposed to allow them carte blanche in the name of  "freedom of expression". The ruling interim government must change its course to save Tunisia's "honor and image in the eyes of the world".  
If we are not vigilant and Tunisia's revolution is hijacked then the Arab world may witness a long (decades even) winter as Tunisia serves as a warning for the region. In other words, if liberal democracy cannot prevail in Tunisia, what hope is there for (allegedly) less propitious landscapes (such as Egypt)?  
Arabs will pay the price in backwardness and poverty, and the West will not be spared either: an explosive mix of backward, poverty, and fanaticism will lead to terrorism. 
I thought this presentation was problematic for several reasons, one I voiced in the Q&A: The speaker collapses the ultra-conservative Salafis with the more moderate and amendable ruling Islamists of al Nahda into one essentialist bloc that isn't useful for purposes of political distinction and also inevitably undermines what I believe to be the crucial task of compromise between secularists and Islamists (no matter what we may think, they exist, are prominent, and have to be part of the equation) during a transitory period toward the institutionalization of democracy when political polarization is a perilous path that may retard democratic gains. 

Tlili responded with what I thought was a fair answer: There isn't a blurring of lines between Salafis or al Nahda but a continuum. al Nahda is not the instigator of violence, but its passivity in the face of it makes it complicit. Why has it allowed, or failed to properly prosecute, acts of vandalism against a Christian cemetery, violence against Jews and the Russian Orthodox community, a radical cleric who on the main thoroughfare in Tunis called for the killing of Jews, and the beating up of artists? al Nahda is either managing its electoral base or allowing the Salafis to run wild in order to intimidate Tunisians and even maintain Salafis as a potential tool of violence. Is there then a blurring between the two? 

Fair enough, but I still contend that al Nahda is more varied and diverse in outlook, even though admittedly there are pro-Salafi currents in the party. One criticism of the party I do share is their weak-kneed, at best, approach to Salafi violence (sometimes arresting them, but no public prosecutions to date) while forcefully going after a newspaper editor for alleged indecency and recently arresting, charging and sentencing two young men for posting images of the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook. al Nahda may be wary of going after Salafis because they do serve part of their base (one member of the panel suggested Nahda was hedging its bets), but the party cannot just be indiscriminately lumped in with the former. 

I also strongly contest the idea that Bourguiba had raised "sons and daughters". This is a paradigmatic statism that imagines Tunisians as less agentive, idealizes Bourguiba's authoritarian years, and may be conflated with a pinning for a return to the old system of charismatic, self-aggrandizing politics. Let us not forget that Bouguiba once stated, "I am the state". This mindset produced the president-for-life in Tunisia. And we should qualify what constitutes "modernity" since many secularists believe that only a Western way-of-life is "modern". Many al Nahda voters are education and ambitious professionals with all the commercial modern amenities, and their commitment to their faith and vote for a party they believe represents their values does not make them less "modern". Tlili, I believe, uses "modern" in an exclusive manner; a modernity that is a political project. 

And backwardness and poverty, even mixed with religious zeal, (a point made by others as well) is not the cause of terrorism. 

The other speakers, I believe, offered a more measured presentation. 

Professor Hamadi Redissi (al Manar University - School of Law and Political Sciences) spoke about the hopeful post-revolutionary turn from uncertainty toward the building of stable democracy. But he criticized al Nahda for refusing to govern in a more conciliatory manner befitting a transition period. Instead its efforts to monopolize the process, after its electoral victory, has resulted in tension and polarization: secularists and Islamists, state and society. 

He also noted how the "newcomers" (Salafi) have put al Nahda in a bind: it cannot repress them given the reality of democracy but as the same time these "newcomers" are highly aggressive and even challenge the party's understanding of Islam in Tunisia. How al Nahda navigates this moment will determine whether this period will be a moment for democratic consolidation or a portent for a bleak future. 

Then Professor Fawzia Charfi (Professor of Physics, University of Tunis and former cabinet secretary for higher education in the first post-revolutionary interim government) spoke about one of the hopeful signs in the constitutional draft proposals. A draft written by the former head of the electoral commission has been tabled; one that includes the liberal rights enshrined in the UN's Declaration of Human Rights. 

These aspirations for a liberal constitution are shared by civil society in a reflection of Tunisian gains and the history of liberalism and secularism in Tunisia, and if the nation succeeds it will be another example for the Arab world. 

Professor Ikbal Gharbi (Professor of Anthropology at Zaytuna University, the premier center for Islamic jurisprudence in the nation) spoke about how the revolution has presented an opportunity to live through the ecclesiastical debates she had been teaching for years. 

Gharbi went on to detail the history of religiosity and co-existence in Tunisia. The Jewish minority has lived for a millenium and Christianity has been present since Roman times. There are sects of Islam, ex. Shi'a, in the south. And Tunisia Islam has been heavily influenced by Sufi trends emphasizing balance, love of life and a convivial atmosphere. But this reality is threatened by the Salafis who have acted aggressively against the Jewish and Christian minority, along with Shi'as. A monastery of a Sufi saint in Tunis has been attacked, for example. Tunisia's history of religious tolerance - codified in a pact in 1861 - compels us to be vigilant. 

The Salafis are promoting the false idea that there are those pro and con Islam. The truth is that Tunisian Islam is centuries old and a faction has kidnapped it in the name of Wahhabi and a unilateral reading. But Gharbi is not without hope: Tunisian youth, in particular, have brought a new sense of unity: We should overcome this clash between religion, identity and freedom. 

Well said! 

For the record, she has been a personal victim of Salafi thuggery in the form of an apostasy accusation because she dares to teach religion as a subject of study as opposed to preaching it as infallible truth. 

Lastly, there was Habib Kazdaghli (University of Tunis-Manouba and Dean at the humanities school). Mr. Kazdaghli has been at the center of a months-long drama at his university when a collection of Salafis (not students, but "outsides" in Kazdaghli's word; and some dressed in "Afghan garb") violently took hold of the university after their 'sisters in Niqab' were denied admission to class on the grounds that a full-face veil obstructs the communicative aspect of higher education. His office was turned into a Salafi camp until they were forced out by riot police. Kazdaghli expressed gratitude for the secular and liberal President Moncef Marzouki (the head of the center-left CPR, one of two secular parties in a governing troika with al Nahda) for criticizing the Salafis and conveying his collegial support as a former academic, but had less than enthusiastic words for the way al Nahda handled the affair by being, in his view, less than forceful in defending the university. 

The universities in Tunisia can play a crucial role in creating a space for education and debate in the nation's future and he touched on the already promising changes: Deans and university boards used to be appointed by the ancien regime, but the revolution enabled all schools and colleges to have elected board of directors and trustees. Last June elections were held at 195 institutes. The revolution rid the universities of the police. On every major campus there was a police center that reported to the Interior Ministry. And student prisoners, of course, have been freed. 

Academic freedom, the concern of the panel, is still a cause calling for its courageous fighters. Every single one of the guests has been targeted by Salafis for insufficient piety or "un-Islamic" ways. And they have had to contend with ultra-conservative voices. Ms. Charfi, for instance, relates how from the beginning of her tenure as a cabinet secretary she was being petitioned by Salafis calling for gender segregation. But, as Gharbi noted, take a look at the intermingling of sexes at the hajj: Islam is a not a faith of segregation. 

In the end, the panel concluded, what is needed is a constitutional provision securing academic freedom. The Salafis may protest. That have that freedom, but freedom also needs law and order to ensure freedom for all. 

A snapshot of post-revolutionary life in Tunisia. 


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Tunisia After the Revolution"

Tunisia, the tiny brave nation the sparked the Arab uprisings, relies heavily on tourism. But the revolution, subsequent instability and a months-long civil war in next-door Libya convinced many tourists to look elsewhere. 

The national climate has gotten a lot better in the last several months after the historic free and fair October elections. Protests, riots, and strikes are a near daily occurrence but now in a normalized manner befitting a democracy as opposed to a general state of insecurity.

One of the reasons for the revolutionary upheaval was the state of the economy, especially high youth unemployment. Creating a thriving economy remains a laborious task and unemployment has actually risen since the revolutions as businesses have shut doors and tourism taking a fall.

You can do YOUR part but checking out this beautiful country.

That is why I was quite pleased to see the New York Times travel section do a very nice piece on Tunisia this past week:

BELOW the watchtower of the ancient fortress known as the Ribat, a panoramic view of the Tunisian city of Sousse unfolds. To the east lies the Mediterranean coast, where the Carthaginians moored their navy during epic battles with the Roman Empire. To the south and west, the labyrinthine passageways of the medina, the city’s old walled quarter, extend to the vanishing point amid a sea of tightly packed houses and minarets.....
For those further intrigued, a few years back the Times did an even better piece - less a blow-by-blow travel account and more a poignant memoir on Tunisia - that featured one of my favorite places in the country:



The crowd that gathers at El Firma, a 1920’s colonial farmhouse-turned-restaurant on a desolate stretch of land outside Tunis, is as sexy and stylish as any in the world. The work of two young Tunisian brothers, Sadri and Iyed Tej — one trained in Nice, the other at the legendary Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon — and a Tunisian designer, Mona Mechri, El Firma is an incredibly beautiful place: antique cushioned chairs reupholstered in fuschia and furs play off the rough, warm texture of old stone walls; in the long, narrow dining room, a large plate-glass window frames a tumult of vegetation outside, lighted from below. On a soft night recently, when the seating moved out into the large, open courtyard, I found young Tunisian fashionistas just home from Paris or Rome sitting on sofas backed by elaborate antique headboards while their mothers (even more stylish) remained at tables deep in conversation in a jumble of languages. Above it all, a canopy of sheer curtains billowed sensuously in the soothing breezes of the North African night.... 


Check it out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Islam in Brazil: Local and Transnational Trends in the Making of Diasporic Islam


Last week, the Kevorkian Center was honored to host Brazilian anthropologist Paulo Pinto, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Universidade Federal Fluminense.

Paulo had done extensive fieldwork among Sufis in Syria and has now undertaken a study of Muslims in Brazil. With regards to the latter, the key questions he presents are: what is Islam in Brazil? how is Islam produced in Brazil?

While this short blog will not recap all his insights, I would like to focus on a few that really struck me. 

Pinto rightly emphasis taking into account local dynamics alongside national and transnational orders in the way of making Brazilian Muslim identity. 

There is a parallel history of Islam in Brazil. A colonial heritage of African slaves that disappears in with end of slave trade due to cut off with African and assimilation to Catholic or African Brazilian religions. 

And the contemporary Muslim presence of Middle Eastern immigrants (mostly Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians). But this presence is based on a search for a community in the name of ethnic identity. Muslim immigrants articulate identity as Syrian, for instance, due to a Brazilian immigrate narrative viewing Arabs as undesirable non-Europeans and Islam as less than favorable. 

Between the 1920s-1960s, Brazil witnessed the creation of Muslim charitable societies that ensure social welfare but also places of sociability to maintain Muslim identity. 

The 1960s-1990s witnessed the first mosque (mainly due to funding from Gulf countries and Iran). But Islam is understood as a cultural heritage within larger set of religious norms. Until the 1990s Islam is understood by Muslims in Brazil (or at least institutions) as a Middle Eastern cultural heritage and not a missionary religion. The first conversions start in 1990s and spark fierce debate: Should we accept them? How do we integrate people who do not know Arabic or cultural norms? 

Some preachers argue, for instance, that Brazilian society is not conducive to Muslim life. In 1995, Maria Morara, an engineer from a Catholic university, converts to Islam after traveling to Egypt and Turkey. But a many preachers reject her and she starts a debate with the preachers arguing that Brazil is indeed compatible: traditional, religious, and very family oriented; and Evangelical Churches are not much different from Islam and manage convert millions, and Islam could do the same only if it took seriously the task of tackling Brazilian religiosity. During this era, some communities begin to open up for converts. And in 1997 Rio-based institutions stop being heritage-oriented and begin to see Islam as a universal message for all and accept conversion of Brazilians without Arab or Muslim background. By 2010, half of Brazilian Muslim community is already converts and the figure is 85% in Rio. 

But this is not without internal tension between Brazilians of Arab heritage and simply Brazilians (everybody without Middle East background). For instance, a Brazilian Arab Christian who converts to Islam is considered Arab but any other isn't. So ethnic and heritage-bound identity remains very important. Arab Brazilians righteously argue they have an imbibed (one surmises) Muslim culture and do not need to learn it while converts challenge/retort that they know the actual purpose of Islamic norms and practices as opposed to Arabs who simply reproduce their heritage. A binary between  tradition vs. acquired religion. 

Among converts many identify with Salafi (conservative Islam), a codification of Islam as a way-of-life learned and followed, and more than the sacred texts. Very pedagogical. But born-and-raised Muslims do not see any attraction to Salafism. Instead Islam in often an expressed (occasionally Sufi) cultural tradition (Sufi traditions in Brazil are just traditions removed from pious sentiments. Ex. muwlid (Prophet's birthday), a Sufi holiday opposed by Salafis as antithetical to orthodox Islam). When these traditions and rituals are performed in mosques, such as muwaild, this is where religious differences between born-and-raised Arab Brazilians and converts rise to the fore as the latter exit the mosque in opposition to the intermixing of culture and Islam.

But converts do not deny religious value of some culture aspects, such as Arabic where Islam isn't localized but complement to religiosity. Or living in a Muslim society: Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, India, South Africa, and Pakistan are popular destinations. 

In a related tangent, each Muslim community in Brazilian (meaning regionally) produces a different codification of Islam and Muslim identity because local dynamics connection differently to national and transnational processes. Ex. Rio is different from the tribal area near Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

What I found so interesting in the talk is the difference between pedagogical Islam and an Islam that is imbibed through upbringing. An Islam that is simply Islam without necessitating explanation. Islam is culture. Islam is going to mosque on Friday but drinking on Saturday. Islam is a holiday centered around food. As one Muslim recently said, "I don't do Islam correctly, but you don't actually know that...lines between Islam and Afghan culture are blurred." 

This is the Islam I was brought up in and the one I practice now, and the only Islam I recognize: We live Islam as we live it. And that is the source of our unassailable faith. This is our connection to Allah.

And it is the Islam of 99% of Muslims, Brazil included.

As a corollary, here's an interesting video on the rise of Islam in the favelas of Brazil:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Idiot "Feminism"

Here is a cartoon published in a French publication as of late:

On the left, the Spring Arab Collection headlined with "Degage", the oft-repeated Tunisian arm-waving cry for Ben 'Ali to "Get Out". And on the right, a beautiful black one-piece with a daring eye cut just in time for the Fall Democratic Collection this season evoking "Charia [Shari'a, or Islamic law]".

Does a silly and simplistic cartoon like this even warrant critique? Have the fall elections in Tunisia and Egypt ushered in the burka? The French media often have an eye on Tunisia, no less, and here the ruling government has been anything but theocratic - even ruling out Shari'a as a source of legislation in the new constitution.

I mean, really! What stupid nonsense (please let me vent!!!)!!! 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Coming Out Muslim

NYU's LGBT student organization recently held an event titled 'Coming Out Muslim' exploring the intersection between queerness and Islam. In the form of a live-show performance, two queer Muslims, Wazina Zondon and Terna Tilley-Gyado (the latter a convert or revert in Islamic parlance), engaged mostly individually but at times collectively in a verse, sketch and dance interplay seeking to convey their identity as queer and Muslim. The event was not only amusing in its own right but politically significant in presenting an image of the diversity of Muslim "life as lived", to quote the anthropologist Charles Hirschkind, far removed from the silly and prejudicial images on mainstream television.

Wazina, a young Queens native of Afghan heritage, launched the show with a humorous take on 'what made me queer'. Of course, as Wazina related to the audience, being queer is as natural for her as a straight person being straight. As she succinctly put it: Never gave much thought to what made me queer...just found whatever I found attractive...like who you like and move on. But here are the theories:


1) Boy George. Yup, this gay pop artist is at 'fault'.

2) Boys and Hellfire. Her parents' admonition that 'eight minutes of pleasure are not worth an entirety in hell...so stay away from the boys.'


3) Never got the Birds and the Bees talk (ironically now a sex educator at a New York public school). Where did babies come from? You prayed for them. Fear of the immaculate conception made her queer.

4) Never had any girl friends in high school. This is her father's preferred theory. According to her (somewhat disapproving father), because she never got any attention from girls in high school when the first girl (her girlfriend) gave her the time of day, his girl-attention starved daughter became queer.

But, as Wazina concluded, nothing really made her gay…"Allah made me gay." 

Terna, an American of Christian Nigerian heritage, had an amusing anecdote about the Homo-Monster. "Don't go running after people's daughters! Africans don't do that kind of 'thing'!" her mother shouted as she was packing for a trip to Nigeria. Terna assured her mother that she will not, but how absurd the command was. Are all queers lascivious individuals who run around after people's sons or daughters? Queer, Terna noted, has traditionally meant strange and odd, but does it also mean monster. "Am I a monster because I am queer?" she pondered. The "Homo-Monster"?

And what is meant by Africans not doing that kind of 'thing'? Not natural for Africans? Was the continent homo-free until White people started colonizing?


One interesting point of the show was during an intermission when an audio montage was played of stereotypical questions or statements put forth to Muslims in America (or the West in general): 

You don't look muslim...do you wear black because of your religion?...does your mother wear a buuuurrrrkkkkaaaaa?...do you pray five times a day?...what does your family think about the war?...when are you going to do your pilgrimage?...since Afghanistan is in Asia how come you don't look Chinese?…can you actually be gay and Muslim? 

Some innocuous, some ignorant, and some silly. 

Trying to recap the rest of the show may be difficult since it quickly moved from one scene to the next as if streams of thought. So I'll just relate it as such: 

Why my parents don't approve? Is is because of their interpretation of the Qur'an? Or Afghan cultural and norms? Or family's sense of respectability? ... 

I stay in Islam because there is no racism in Umma (Islamic community) and I know there is room for me... Islam has never turned its back on me as opposed to the people who interpret it ...

I don't do Islam correctly, but you don't actually know that...lines between Islam and Afghan culture are blurred. 

I will end where the evening ending: with one of the very poignent aspects of the show when Wazina read from a letter to all her lovers and girlfriends who have sought to offer advice on how she should  address her family's fraught feelings toward her queerness: 

My family is not your struggle...support me without judgement...they won't fall in love with you if you demonstrate 'cultural sensitivity'...they are not for you to rationalize or quantify...my success is unlike the ways you're used to. 

My success is listening to their stories even after they kicked me out of the house...they are so many ways I don't know them...they walked miles across their homeland...living in a world where people only see you by your beard or your suspicious accent …I don't know them. 

Why am I not mad at them? Success is them knowing I am not how they wanted me to turn out and I'm still invited home…sharing space…moving one step further with father…working-class revolutionary spirit…how will (or when) families come together?…love them for all they are and are not just as you love me. 

A performative rebuke to all the essentialist nonsense hurled at Islam...however Muslims make sense of their faith.