Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Iraq has vanished!

So I've been sitting at work today, browsing online because it's just one of those days that you can't focus. Thank God for not focusing, or I would have missed this little gem, courtesy of Fox news. Just when you think they couldn't lose anymore credibility, I find this.

Was anyone else aware that Iraq had been wiped out, and replaced with Egypt? Hehehehehe....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Publish or perish...or don't publish at all??

The nature of Arab-West Report, and therefore most of my job, is fair and balanced reporting, ultimately working towards a greater understanding between cultures. Topics such as religion will remain a sensitive subject, particularly when there is such a level of misunderstanding, leading towards mistrust, between the varying cultures and religious beliefs. To achieve this understanding, the media has an obligation to present any story in a fair manner, with the facts present, and thereby allow the reader the option to form their own opinion of a story. To not do so, would appear to presume the ignorance of any reader "don't worry guys, they're too stupid to do their own research", or highlight the selective bias in reporting that many journals and publications employ. Sadly, last week I witnessed a blaring example of this.

On July 15, news broke of a report prepared by Breaking the Silence, a campaign group which includes former Israeli soldiers. The 110 page report presented testimony collected from 26 Israeli soldiers in which they detail the abuses they were ordered to commit against civilians during Israel's strike on the Gaza strip. Among the abuses were employing Palestinian human shields, firing on water tanks during a dramatic water shortage, the use of white phosphorous in residential areas, among others. The Israeli government has dismissed the report as slander and hearsay, urging officials to take the "official accounts" as factually sound. Yes, because you know, if you're just a regular Joe Schmo soldier, you bear no credibility. But those high ranking generals, that are paid enough to keep their mouths shut, yes, they are completely and unequivocally reliable sources. Uch. Breaking the Silence is not the first group to cry out for infractions of human rights, claims of war-crimes carried out by the Israeli army have been made by Amnesty International, the United Nations, and other human rights organizations. This 110 page report is unique however, in that it presents testimony from Israeli soldiers who themselves were carrying out these acts.

When I first read the story on the BBC, I posted the link to the story on Facebook. Awareness begets understanding and tolerance. The story received comments almost instantly, many from Egyptians or people living in Egypt, applauding the efforts of these Israeli soldiers in exposing the truth. I then received a request from a friend of mine, another expat working in journalism here in Egypt. She wanted to see the perspective that the U.S. media was giving to the entire situation, bearing in mind that the U.S. media (well...the U.S. in general sorry), is notoriously pro-Israeli (but hey, who am I to judge). I was intrigued to see the spin that the American media would provide to the story. What I found however, greatly shocked me. Searches run on the Web site of the New York Times returned no results. Fox news (the voice of any self-respecting neo-con) also returned no results, there were no reports whatsoever mentioned of Breaking the Silence. Through CNN I was able to find a report yet the Israeli military's statements rejecting the report and denying its credibility received more coverage than the report itself. Sidenote: The report is now available on CNN's site. However, when I ran my initial search on the 15th, I was unable to find anything on CNN's site, and only on their affiliate site Times.com. The only news publication, other than AP and Reuters, that I found which deemed this story news-worthy, was The Washington Post.

Publish or perish; the number one survival method in journalism. Yet if you pick and choose which stories to publish, and which stories to completely ignore, is that still considered fair and balanced journalism? If both sides of any account cannot be equally reported on, is there still no spin on media reporting? It would be ignorant to presume that there isn't manipulation of the media, yet to be confronted with it in such a blatant example shows just how far there really is to go in fair and balanced reporting. It is shameful when such outright examples of "censorship" are evident - I use that term lightly, as I'm sure that many can agree with me that this is not an issue of censorship, but rather an issues of who is paying who's bills....

"I have one hand in my pocket...."

To veil or not to veil. That is the question.

So it's been a while since I've last updated my blog, I've been swamped with work! One of the main issues that I have seen in the media at the moment came after French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his opposition to the niqab [Full face veil] in France, noting that it further segregates society. Sarkozy has done his utmost to ensure that his statements are not taken from a religious perspective, pointing to the fact that he is not attacking Islam, but rather the dignity of women that he sees as being jeopardized in donning a niqab.

I have read many varied responses to this issue, and thought that I would clarify my perspective on the entire subject. Western Europe, and France in particular, pride themselves on their policies of secularism and a democratic society. Freedom to practice one's creed is considered a cornerstone to any truly "democratic society." Of course, France has been notorious for their attempts to maintain an entirely secular approach, with debates having brewed about the permissibility of wearing a crucifix in public. Don't you DARE let me see that piece of wire around your neck! My intolerant atheist brain cannot handle it! I'm clearly FAR smarter than you are, as I know that when we die we just rot in the ground, keep your silly mumbo-jumbo religious iconography to yourself. Pfft.

France's close geographical location to a blend of various cultures, Mediterranean, Arab, and Anglo-Saxon, and its role in "exploring" these territories however, has resulted in a melting pot of cultures that reside both within Western Europe and France. This has lead to many "indigenous" Europeans to beg the question “at what point does assimilation end, and maintaining your own cultural identity begin?” The population of Muslims throughout Europe is increasing, and with this increase many are seeing shifts in their country's demographic. Veiled women are becoming more and more frequent on the streets, which has brought with it a wave of mis-understanding and heightened Islamophobia. I would just like to add as a side note here, that this increase includes European Muslims, and Muslims that have emigrated from the Arab peninsula.

While the origin of the veil in Islam has no definite answer, Islamic scholars agree that modesty is elemental for any Muslim, male or female. It is the interpretation of this modesty that has brought with it a variety of solutions. The hijab, a covering just for a woman's hair, is a popular form of veiling. The niqab however is a growing phenomenon. An increasing number of women are choosing to wear the niqab in Egypt, with an estimated 17 percent of women in the country opting to don the niqab. Women are said to be attending mosque classes, and are there being convinced to wear the niqab. While this form of covering a woman's body is not seen as a part of Islam, its popularity surged in the 1970s with the rise of the Islamic groups, and continues to stir debates among Islamic scholars. If the issue of the niqab can create such heated debate within a Muslim country, it is easy to see why it is creating such a buzz in Western Europe.

President Sarkozy has been spearheading a campaign against the niqab in France. He has expressed his belief that it is a sign of a woman's “subservience” to men, stressing “that is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity.” A belief shared by many is the difficulty that issuing a law that can enforce a certain dress code would bring, as it will indirectly end up isolating certain groups, in this case the Muslims. "Sorry madam, you cannot have your face covered, but please feel free to remove your shirt and walk around in your bra and panties...that's completely acceptable." Of course, should the niqab interfere with legal proceedings, such as the issuance of identity cards etc, then there should be legal parameters in place to overcome this problem (such as female security at airports to search female passengers...one plus one is two - very good!). While the niqab is seen as an extremist interpretation of a religious conviction, fair enough, intolerance alone should not be the basis of outlawing it.

Sarkozy however, has repeatedly noted that he is not targeting Islam directly, that he is rather addressing the social cohesion of French society. Surprisingly, this belief is echoed by many French youth online, who see the niqab as an immediate factor of isolation, and an obstacle to true cultural assimilation, without any reference to the religious element whatsoever. [I'm sure I'm not alone in finding this belief rather laughable, as France has proven to be one of the main hotbeds of Islamophobia in Western Europe] Other opinions stress that should a woman choose of her own free will to wear a niqab, that no governmental institution should hinder her decision. There has not yet been open Muslim opposition in France to Sarkozy's statements; some expressed the belief that it may in fact help weaken the extremist movements in France. This is a topic that will certainly be one to watch in the future.

Ultimately, if you chose to wear a niqab, knock yourself out. As long as it's your choice. As a woman however, I cannot understand this decision, as I would agree with Sarkozy that it is a sign of a woman's subserviance to men. Why is it that we, as females, are the one's responsible for controlling the sexual urges of any male that we pass on the street? And lets be serious here, if a man is already a pervert, and already has those thoughts on his mind, no amount of flowly black material is going to prevent him from his little mental picture show....

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gaming Geek and Google's masterpiece!

What a news day, the geek in me has been wholly satisfied. With the date announced for the release of Dan Brown's new book, "The Lost Symbol," Google's new operating system scheduled for release in 2010, Harry Potter only a few weeks away, and an awesomely new interactive application on the iPhone, the inner nerd sits back and smiles.

So, first comes first. I have loved Dan Brown since I first laid my hands on a copy of "The Da Vinci Code." I ate the book up, literally couldn't put it down. I followed up with his prequel, "Angels and Demons," which proved to be - if even possible - better than the Da Vinci Code. Robert Langdon, Brown's central character in both novels, is an engaging, charismatic, intelligent leading man, and Brown promises nothing but a great read. I have read his other works as well, but there's something special about Robert Langdon that just adds to the story. The Lost Symbol's storyline has been kept under close wraps, but rumours abound that it deals with the Freemasons in the US, the original "old boys club" if you will. September 15, PLEASE get here soon!!! My hands are itching to get a hold of this book!

Google. You are my hero. I have long been bleating about gmail, in my opinion, the best free e-mail service offered out there. Built in chat, loads of space, very easy to navigate and manage, I was instantly hooked. Fortunately now, many other people have fallen prey to the power of gmail, so I'm no longer alone in my enamour for it. Google has truly revolutionized the Internet, and what better company to develop a web-based operating system than Google! Chrome OS is set for release in 2010, and I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy! Take that microsoft. What is certain to set this OS apart, is the process in which it was developed. Rob Enderle, industry watcher and president of the Enderle Group commented that "Google is coming at this fresh and, because it is based on a set of services that reside on the web, it is the first really post web operating system, designed from the ground up, and reconceived for a web world." I couldn't agree more. Finally, no more Vista! No more Microsoft bugs! I wash my HANDS of XP.

Ok so check this out. In this day and age of techno-savvy youth, and constant access to new and innovative technologies, it's not surprising that many children's lives revolve around the computer or tv screen. Now, in my personal opinion, I believe that it is the responsibility of the parents to monitor their child's TV/Computer time, and encourage them to get outside and about. I had limited TV time when I was younger (course, there wasn't the channel selection back then that there is now, so really there was only an hour a day when something was on that I would actually want to watch :p). Most of my days were spent outside, either in the wood behind our house in the UK, or out in the fields in Germany. That rant aside though....squeal I want an iPhone! "The Hidden Park," is an interactive application for the iPhone, designed by Australian company Bulpadok. Using the built-in GPS on the iPhone, users can take to the streets so to speak, and explore their alternative reality game. Getting around requires solving riddles and puzzles, pointing your iPhone at certain locations to reveal secret clues, creatures or objects. Scavenger hunts while avoiding dragons, finding hidden treasures, solving riddles and puzzles....who wouldn't want one of these!!! (Image courtesy of Popular Science)

Finally, I just think this is really cool. A group of Spanish scientists have successfully managed to isolate a protein that allegedly increases your visual memory. Their subjects thus far (all mice :p) had a memory increase from roughly one hour, to around 2 months! (hmm...how do you possibly test that on a mouse...does anybody know? haha) Either way, effin sweet! No more written directions, just take a peek at your map and VOILA. Instant visual memory retention. Taking tests would be so much easier. Why couldn't this have been developed, oh, 5 years ago or so. :p

My inner nerd is smiling today :)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I say what I want! But should I?!

Democracy. A government of the people, for the people, by the people. Considered by many Western nations as the only way forward, as the only means of rendering any political entity or country a success. Democracy grants citizens fundamental privileges such as the right to free speech, the right to vote without fear of suppression, the right to practice your own religious creed.

These are all values that are inherently part of the democratic structure. Or are they? Through working with Arab-West Report, I have witnessed a variable of cases where this does not hold true, both within Egypt, and in the West. Freedom of expression, and the freedom to practice one's creed, are values that are hard to argue with. Yet there are clear examples of when these traits have not been upheld (such as the recent Facebook scandals involving censorship and arrests carried out by the Egyptian government - but lets save that for another time, I'm not here to point fingers). The right to express yourself freely is crucial in building a society that is based on equality and understanding, but sadly many take this right for granted, or wholly abuse it. To make accusations and place blame on another party or person, purely because it is your "right" to do so, and without having any evidence to support your cause, is wrong, immoral, and should never be tolerated.

To use this freedom to fuel any strife or sedition only leads to further tensions and potentially aggressions. I see this frequently with AWR - it's a constant game of he-said she-said, and as is often times the case, it generally involves either political or religious factors. One of the more outrageous examples of abusing freedom of speech that I have personally witnessed was the crisis of the monastery of Abu Fana. For those unfamiliar, I'll explain. Abu Fana is a Coptic Orthodox Monastery located in Upper Egypt. Last year, tensions erupted between monks of the monastery and Muslim residents of the village. The dispute centered around the monastery's construction of a wall, which local residents claimed to be on land that did not originally belong to the monastery. This resulted in a vicious cycle of blame game and a highly tense atmosphere. This tense atmosphere was manipulated by many, who through their employment of the freedom of speech, attempted to stir the rumour mill causing people to believe that this was a pre-empted attack against the monastery, further evidence of Coptic persecution in Egypt, among other claims. I do not wish to downplay the severity of the situation that evolved, but the allegations that were proclaimed (often times print in "reputable" publications) stoked the fire of sedition, and are evidence that freedom of expression, while a right, should NOT be manipulated to serve your own needs and/or desires. (Btw, anybody wanting further information on this, contact me :) )

[**EDIT 20 JULY: After discussing this posting with my sister, she informed me that my position on this entire situation is unclear. While I am talking about governmental infractions on freedom of speech being wrong, I am also commenting on about people abusing it, which may seem like a Catch-22. Either governments are going to hinder freedom of speech, or people will say whatever the hell they want. I am not discussing individual "people" in this case, I am referring to media outlets, who are supposed to have a responsibility to check things they are reporting on. If some dude wants to run down the street, screaming "The moon shines of out my ass," he has every right to do so. However, the media should not then present his rantings as a credible source...**]

As is the case with many cases of "sedition," troubles arise from a lack of understanding, or an unwillingness to accept differences. I'm not naive, I don't expect sunshines and butterflies to shine out of everyone's orifice, but I do believe that people have the ability to at least open their minds a little bit, and try to understand. When I first moved to Egypt, I was shockingly unfamiliar with Islam. I have always considered myself to be a worldy person, but I was forced to face the reality that I really didn't know as much about Arabs, the Middle East and Islam as I had first believed. I had been sheltered in my "post-9/11" media bubble, which notoriously played the blame game, pinpointing Arabs in general, and Muslims specifically, as the terrorist enemy. There were countless occasions when I would be asked, in all seriousness by my friends in the U.S., if I was afraid to live in Cairo. "Why?" I would ask. "Aren't they all a bunch of terrorists there?" Sad, truly sad, that people actually believe that everybody walking down the streets in Cairo has a hidden agenda against crushing the Western nations and ridding the world of evil! Having been here for three plus years, I can honestly say, I feel very safe in Cairo - so let me dispel that right now.

When I started my work with AWR, I was barraged by articles on Muslim-Christian relations, Islam and the interpretation of the Quran, the Coptic Church, religious dialogue, you name it, I've probably read about it. Yet one thing that I passionately and whole-heartedly support, particularly when I take my own experiences into consideration, is inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue. Many Muslims living in the West are faced on a daily basis with the same misguided impressions I used to have. Recently, the German Federal Minster of Interior Wolfgang Schรคuble delivered a lecture at Cairo University, discussing inter-religious co-existence in Germany. The minister pointed to a number of factors in Germany that are supporting the democratic ideal of "freedom of creed," and I truly applaud his efforts. Similar initiatives are the foundation blocks of building a better understanding between the Arab world and the West, and only through a greater sense of understanding can we remove the veil of suspicion that has erupted between the two cultures. I feel that I have only touched on how important this subject is to me, so for now, I'll say "food for thought," until the continuation....

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pushy Pissy!

So I've embarked on a new mission for my "office day job," which consists of browsing blogs for worthwhile posts to comment on, contribute to, etc, in an attempt to increase traffic to our web site. This can prove to provide hours, and i really mean hours, of entertainment, perusing blogs and reading people's entries, with comments following often times being the best part of the entire read.

Now, with the nature of what I'm searching for, naturally I'm going to run into quite a few heated discussions. Number one rule of table etiquette, do not discuss politics or religion at the dinner table, as you never know who you are going to offend. Of course, online, this goes straight out the window. "Netiqutte" as it has become known, would basically seem to consist of adequate spelling, reasonable grammar, and proper punctuation. Anything else, is a no-holds-bar. It truly astounds me how some people adopt this tough guy persona online, funniest is when physical threats enter the heated arguments. "don't make me attempt to climb through my computer screen and punch your virtual face!"

All this aside, I was reading a blog today on "Gitmo," and the alleged cases of torture that happened there. Anyone is entitled to their opinion, and should be able to defend it accordingly. When you're discussing a subject as sensitive and controversial as this, you're naturally going to stoke the fire's flames. Dialogue is healthy, it brings about a deeper understanding of the subject matter, and it allows you to critically consider a situation before drawing your own conclusions on it. Research, dialogue, and debate are all very healthy in fostering better understanding. But where is the line drawn? On so many Internet blogs now, people resort to personal character attacks in an attempt to validate their own arguments. All I can imagine is a toddler running around on the playground, taunting "neener neener" with tongue sticking out at children on the other side of the playground. "I'm right because YOU'RE stupid" seems to be the closing statement of so many of comments on blogs. When all else fails, attack the individual's political orientation, or spirituality. "oh yeah? you liberal's always use un-credible news sources and believe the biggest fairytales," vs. the "you conservatives always skirt around the issues I'm trying to raise and blatantly ignore any questions i pose."

I wholeheartedly support constructive dialogue and debate. But when it resorts to personal attacks and "neeener neeeener" my opinion is the best because I said so - well then that's just fruitless. If you have nothing nice or at least reasonably educational to say, then please, keep your keyboard to yourself.