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Posts Tagged ‘controversy’

This just in on the 5:30 PM EST news:

The awful, terrible, disrespectful, ignorant-based, senseless, idiotic “International Burn a Koran” Day, sponsored by and fathered by Pastor Terry Jones, has been called off.

الحمد لله!

In a press release, Jones has agreed to cancel his “event” after being put in contact with Faisel Rauf, the imam of the proposed Cordoba Islamic Center (of “Ground Zero” fame and controversy), who (he claims) agreed to move the mosque’s location if the burning were cancelled.

I’m so happy that he’s saying he’s not going through with it. Thank GOD.

Read about it at the NYT

The VOA has a remarkably prompt article on it as well, albeit with spelling errors.

Also, President Obama has condemned the “event” as being a “recruiting bonanza for al-Qaeda,” noting that images of Christian-Americans burning the Islamic holy book would do nothing but incite violence against Americans internationally across the Islamic world.

The State Department also released a notice via e-mail to registered American expatriates in Egypt:

The Department of State is issuing this Travel Alert to caution U.S. citizens of the potential for anti-U.S. demonstrations in many countries in response to stated plans by a church in Florida to burn Qur’ans on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Demonstrations, some violent, have already taken place in several countries, including Afghanistan and Indonesia, in response to media reports of the church’s plans. The potential for further protests and demonstrations, some of which may turn violent, remains high.  We urge you to pay attention to local reaction to the situation, and to avoid areas where demonstrations may take place.

I should point out that the State Department  issues these warnings as a matter of mundane routine; we were even issued warnings in the aftermath of the Egyptian defeat against Algeria this past year, when Egyptian’s were throwing rocks and spray painting Algerian Air offices. But I wouldn’t in the slightest be surprised if there were protests in Cairo had this thing actually gone through.

This whole disgraceful affair might finally be at an end, and I’m happy at that.

Let’s just hope it really is at an end.

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Can’t believe I forgot this one.

The other night, John suggested going out to the movies to see a good, old-fashioned Egyptian film.

Perhaps not old-fashioned.

We had heard quite a bit in the past few months about Ahasees (“Feelings”) and the controversy that its caused post-release. Ahmed declared that when he went to see it on the Eid al-Adha break that it was like watching a pornography in the middle of a crowded theater.

From what I gathered, apparently the main heroine had an affair with a man seven years prior and, after marrying and having two children, feels shame but also longing for her old lover, and is unable to resolve her guilt. This is exacerbated by her other friends relationships, who also seem to be cheating or have cheating husbands in some form or another. For subject matter and several scenes, it was stamped “Adults Only” by the censors.

Good lord; this was probably the worst film I’ve ever seen.

Meedan’s followed the controversy now for some months, and (expectedly) there have been denunciations of all sorts; the movie breaks Egyptian cultural taboos by depicting adultery or extramarital sex in a sympathetic light, that it talks about women’s sexuality in ways not previously discussed, even that it portrays Egypt and Egyptian morality in a negative light.

I’m left at a frustrated impasse. While I like things that generally do all of those things — and especially when they cause controversy — I’m irritated at the form and the presentation.

From the get-go you realize it’s going to be bad. It’s like an hour-and-a-half film school project, in which the director was required to use certain techniques, the most heinous of which:

1. Triple-takes, Dr. No, style. Opening scene is a woman in a bikini coming out of the water, but shot in black-and-white with colorized bits (her swimsuit) like those cheesy b&w photos of the kids with the red roses. Only it fades into a repetition of the same scene. God, it was awful.

2. Long, extended takes of the couple making out. Like, waaaay too long. Uncomfortable long.

3. Long, extended takes of the couple making out, but from the perspective of the ground they’re making out on. I think what they did was have the actors lie on top of a piece of plate glass, make out, and then shoot from under them. Ick.

4. The piece de resistance: a whole dialogue scene with a revolving camera — The Bodyguard-style. You know that scene where Whitney Houston is kissing Kevin Costner, and the camera spins around them? Imagine that for five minutes. I wanted to vomit.

This also says nothing of the reception of the audience, which was actually exclusively male, and nonstop with cries of “Ya ragl!” (“Oh, man!”) and similar exclamations. Oooo, sex! It’s so naughty. It would be one thing if sex were a taboo topic and taken seriously, but it was like watching the movie with eleven-year olds: ridiculous, unpleasant, and an exercise in human stupidity.

Clerics will point to the immodest dress of women as causing earthquakes, and how the West is decadent in its standards regarding women. Usually the argument for the headscarf goes one of two ways: it’s a command from God OR that a woman’s beauty is precious and should not be seen by all — the metaphor is usually that “she is like a pearl and must be guarded.”

Why then, is there rampant sexual harassment throughout Egypt?

I’m not saying that there isn’t sexual harassment in the West. There is. Quite a lot, actually. But the idea of a woman being groped on the street….and the man not arrested…man. There might be something to the whole “protection” thing that people argue, but I think for the wrong reasons. Here, it is almost more necessary; without it, you’ll get hassled more. Perhaps they’re mistaking the result for the cause. After all, women in the West aren’t hassled for exposing their upper arms and legs, but here they are. Perhaps they are forgetting the standard and assume that it’s the same elsewhere.

John’s mentioned one of his professors has looked into certain aspects of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) about the hijab and if it were permissible to remove it in countries where it isn’t required for a woman’s modesty. Isn’t modesty something culturally local, I wonder?

Something to think about a little more, I suppose.

The consoling part of the night was going across the street to the side room of the Assteria bar, which, unbeknown to us prior to that night, served alcohol. The salon looked a bit like a Soviet bus station, and the waiters were  mysteriously nonpresent most moments, but the company was good and the beer cold.

Sigh. Way too much sexual frustration pent up in this country sometimes.

I don’t think I’ll be seeing the other movie that’s been causing just as much controversy (Rasa’il al-Ba7r, “Letters from the Sea”) any time soon.

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In my advanced class the other day, the following exchange was had:

Me: Who knows what the Big Bang is?

Mahmoud: You mean the clock?

Me: The what?!

Mahmoud: You know. The clock. In London. It’s big. (Thinks for a moment) And it bangs.

Uproarious laughter.

Point of clarification: we actually did end up talking about Big Bang theory as incidental to the grammar exercises we were going over, which in my all-boys’ class has been a veritable gold mine of debate and controversy. The other day we talked about genetic modification — seriously. It actually helps that three of the students are medically qualified and are constantly telling them to lay off the giant thermos of coffee they see me touting around the center like a wino’s brown-bagged bottle of Tokay.

Initially, I thought that teaching boys would be a giant headache — all that testosterone floating around and everyone trying to assert themselves. But actually, it’s pretty awesome; it’s kind of like I’m the cool kid that knows what we’re doing and is directing the flow of things. But it does mean I can joke around about generally haram things that I’ve seen my girls blanche at.

For instance, when Mahmoud (a skinny, but altogether charismatic young man with a bit of an eye for trouble) started elucidating us on the differences between bango (common marijuana) and hashish (just what it sounds like), my eyebrows went up. When one of the Muhammads asked, “Does it feel like being drunk, or is it different?” I nearly burst out laughing. I had to fight myself from saying “Keep talking! Keep going!” which is the little devil in me just aching for conversations on the forbidden in a society that is big on forbidding.

When Mahmoud complained that one of the exercises was boring (it was), he asked

Mah: Why do we have to do this?

Me: Because I’m evil. Like you. Because you smoke hashish on the weekends. And Mohammad gets drunk with you. And Osama chases women. (Osama is one of my best male students with a keen ear for slang, but rather meek and clean-cut looking.)

Muhammad 2 : (interjecting) And me?

Me: You probably get drunk, too. (I turn to Amr, who has a Muslim Brotherhood-beard)

Amr: Don’t look at me. I worked double shifts this weekend. No break. I hate it.

It’s nice to joke around about these things. I turned off the music this class, and discussion raged. It was great.

My Proficient 5 class is wrapping up today with the final day of presentations. Over the last few classes there’s been a distinct us-versus-them between the five men who are vocally chauvinistic against their ten female counterparts, who are equally resistant. In a stunning display of mild-mannered, but effective, assertiveness, one of the girls even used the occasion of her conclusion in the final presentation to shut down a few of the boys, asking:

D (girl): Did you like my presentation?

M (boy): Yeah, it was brilliant.

D: Do you think you could have done a better job?

M: No. You were great.

D: Than isn’t this an instance of how women can do just as good a job as men can?

(Oo’s and aah’s from the class)

Totally unexpected. But wonderful.

One of the more absurd suggestions I’ve heard from the men in the mixed-gender class was the idea that women should not be in the workforce because they are preventing men from taking their jobs; that if women left their work, men would be able to take over, and thus be able to afford apartments, cars, marriage, etc. I obviously don’t agree, but considering how frighteningly long it takes for men to get married — just because they have to save up so much — it’s scary to see the logic behind the chauvinism.

I should get back to those papers.

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I redirect you, Noble Reader, to Sociological Images, a website I’ve been following for some time. The following link is actually pretty offensive, as it includes a YouTube clip of Bill Maher’s “Burqa Fashion Show.” For those of you with the stomach for culturally insensitive (though pretty clever) humor, watch away. However, I would like to point out SI’s commentary, which I applaud:

Taken from "PostSecret"

The comedy is tasteless, at best. And it brings out two interesting assumptions: that measures of women’s liberation include (1) the right to show skin and/or your body’s shape and (2) the choice to express your individuality through your clothes.

But I do think it prompts us to interrogate our own assumptions about what women’s liberation looks like and if being able to choose your own style really is a good measure of it.

I’d bet that most Western women feel like being able to choose her clothes is a central part of her sense of freedom. Does that translate in this context? That is, if women were required to wear burqas, but could wear any burqa they like, does this mediate how oppressive the burqa seems to you? Conversely, does the seeming freedom that comes with choosing your clothes become less convincing once you think about it in this context?  I know this is tough to think about, but I think it’s an interesting thought experiment.

In the wake of my own statements about the Antwerp and French headscarf bans, as well as the flood of messages regarding the rather racy picture that I posted a week or so ago, I think this is a refreshing gulp of new air.

One of the things that I’m a big fan of is that SI’s statements throughout seem to highlight that most people have a knee-jerk reaction to the women’s liberation movement: one of the most-often repeated statements I’ve heard here from Egyptian women is that liberation, etc. requires the absolute right of the woman to choose between wearing the veil and not wearing it. I don’t agree with the statement that a woman needs to wear the veil to be a good Muslima, but I think the option and choice to do so should be applauded; just like saying a rosary every night or going to Mass every day isn’t a requirement of Catholicism, it sure as hell helps you to be a good Catholic.

Highlights (and scroll down in the links — the comments, for once, are worth reading)

“Lingerie as Liberating”: advertisement for a German lingerie commercial: woman admires herself in her unmentionables, only to cover herself up. The woman dresses up in lingerie, admiring herself, only to cover up in a burka.  But she is still “hot” underneath, affirming the idea that looking “hot” is what makes women both happy and liberated.  The idea that a woman might want to be FREE from capitulating to the male gaze (even if just an imagined one) is left unexplored.

“Questioning Definitions of Freedom”: article from which the PostSecret image is snagged. The person who sent in the postcard suggests that she’s not sure which is worse: the rigid and extreme standard of beauty in the U.S. and the way that women’s bodies are exposed to scrutiny or the idea of living underneath a burka that disallows certain freedoms, but frees you from evaluative eyes and the consequences of their negative appraisals.

I wonder about this, actually. I wrote earlier last month (or at least hinted) if the veil weren’t a kind of sexual objectification of women’s bodies. Interestingly, SI’s article above seems to conflate the two standards: that Western ideals of feminine beauty are equally, if not more, oppressive than the perceived “Islamic objectification” of women.

And finally:

The Burqa, Fashion, and Measures of Freedom: again, I must stress that this video (which I’ve been leading up to) is pretty tasteless, though clever. SI’s commentary works well in complement with it.

Also: does anyone know if Zarinas.com is a legit burqa fashion website? Cause I totally want to get my little sister a camouflage burqa!

More fuel for the fire of discussion. As I tell my students in an overly enthusiastic voice, “GO!”

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