So my Arabic final is over, and lets just say, it was harder than anticipated. I still plan on learning Arabic though, so I’m not selling back my book, even though I could get $20 for it. Hopefully I can manage to go over Arabic again from the beginning this summer. I’d really like to use this blog as a tool for reviewing, and they say the best way to learn is to teach, so I’m going to be creating some lessons to learn the Arabic alphabet soon!
I stumbled upon a website a few days ago called Campus Watch and the subheading states: “Monitoring Middle East Studies on Campus.” Apparently the site is devoted to critiquing and improving Middle East studies on college campuses across America. The first article I read at the site was one re-posted from the New York Sun detailing how few Americans are learning Arabic in a time when we need to connect with the Middle East the most. I thought, cool, this site wants to promote Americans learning more about Arab culture! But as I looked at the “About Campus Watch” page I became a bit nervous.
Campus Watch provided a list of some of the things the organization had problems with – here are few quotes:
“…out of the Middle East Studies Association’s four-day conference in November 2002 where more than 550 papers were presented, exactly one dealt with Al-Qaeda and one with ‘fundamentalism.’ ‘Militant Islam’ was not the subject of a single paper.”
So apparently they take issue with the fact that colleges aren’t regurgitating the propaganda that generally surrounds the Middle East concerning terrorism and extreme oppression in the name of Islam.
“Even after 9/11, Khalidi [presumably a professor] advises Washington to drop its ‘hysteria about suicide bombers.’”
I remember the months following 9/11 when suddenly all Middle Eastern people in America were regarded with undue suspicion. I recall the racial profiling that went on in the Airports, as people who looked like they might be from an Arab country were pulled aside for extra screening. Did America prevent any terrorist attacks this way? No, it simply marginalized a whole group of people and set the civil rights movement back a good 15 years.
As I get further down the page I see these two comments:
“In a Berkeley course on ‘The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance’ (that initially informed conservatives that they ‘should seek other sections’), a student who took the course found ‘anti-Semitism tolerated’ by the instructor.”
“…a doctoral student in the Middle East Studies program was discouraged by faculty from studying militant Islamic ideologies, told that this topic was created by a ‘sensationalist media’ and forwards ‘Zionist’ interests.’”
They seem very worried that a) Schools are promoting anti-Jewish agendas and b) Schools aren’t teaching enough about militant Islamic ideologies. The whole thing seems strange and I just don’t quite trust it. What do you think about Campus Watch?
I was just perusing Al Jazeera’s English language site and found this article that seemed related to my earlier post on Feminism in the Arab World. The film I mentioned in that post dealt a bit with women fighting for colonial independence and equality for all in their respective countries only to be told after the wars that they’ll get their turn for independence later.
First, let me apologize for my lack of posts. I created this blog in good faith, but school and life in general sort of got in the way. It turns out that I actually do have some traffic, so it seems I’d better start giving visitors something to look at!
Today I went to a viewing/discussion of the film “Beyond Borders: Arab Feminists Talk About Their Lives” and it was far more interesting than I anticipated. I find it important to note that, initially I went to see this film for the extra credit in my Arabic class, however I stayed for the discussion because it opened my mind to a new way of viewing feminism in the Arab world.
I want to avoid critiquing the film and focus more on the following discussion, but I do want to mention that the film was at least 10 years old and didn’t seem to follow a very specific string of thought beyond “this is what some seemingly randomly picked Arab women are doing about women’s rights in their respective countries.”
What the women seemed to stress most throughout the film was the difference between Islam the religion, and the various fundamentalist groups that have grown out of “Islamic” roots. There were three main points in the film/discussion that were most poignant to me.
First, one must realize that there are some countries in the Arab world that do not govern/create law based on the Sharia (شريعة) aka Islamic Law. Iraq, for example had a secular government before the United States invaded – that means that like in America, Iraq had a separation of church and state.
Second, one must understand that Sharia is open to interpretation, just as one may interpret the Bible literally or metaphorically. Because of this, each Islamic state implements Sharia differently, which is why in some countries one may see women required to wear a burqa (برقع) while in other countries women can decide whether or not they even want to wear a hijab (حجاب). Also bear in mind that there are many Arab countries with varying Christian and Jewish populations, so everyone is not necessarily Muslim, just like not everyone in America is necessarily Christian.
Third – and this was the most mind boggling one – feminist movements in the Middle East are often impeded by Western “help.” This “help” is not even always the undermining, imperialist “help” that the West often offers other countries, but is sometimes legitimate and empathetic. To completely understand how this problem came about, we must journey back to colonialism.
When Egypt was a colony of Britain, Lord Cromer was the controller-general in the late 19th century, which meant that he was basically in charge of the country. Cromer liked to talk about how backwards the Egyptians were because they didn’t educate their women, etc. The British however, were fully functioning players in the modern world, and in order to modernize Egypt, which “apparently” couldn’t fend for itself, it was necessary that the British colonize it and give the country a helping hand into the new age. Even while he’s spouting this bit about women in Egypt, he is the president of the anti-suffrage movement back in England. So women’s rights were only a tool that benefited his occupation of Egypt. Now women’s education wasn’t the only example of Egyptians and other Arab countries being “backwards” and all of these things add up to a general mistrust of these ideas (like women’s education) in the Middle East because of their connection to colonialism.
So now, when Westerners get involved in feminist movements in the Middle East, it de-legitimizes them because the movements are then seen as a product of negative Western ideals and values. So the best way for Westerners to help women in the Middle East is to understand that they can and want to help themselves. We can also protest when organizations like CNN & Fox News do ridiculous and biased exposés on subjects like female circumcision in the Arab World.
Basically know that not all women in the Arab world are being oppressed; the oppression that does exist is a twisting and polluting of Islamic law for political gain, not a direct result of the religion of Islam; and there are women in the Arab world who are highly educated and are capable of fighting their own battles and making their own choices. This is not to say that outside help is not necessarily needed, but lets give them a chance to help themselves first, because they know best what they want and need.
Arabic is freaking hard and there are absolutely no resources out there for someone in my position!
Before I get ahead of myself ranting and whatnot, let me explain my situation and this blog a little bit. I’m a 20 year old college student in the Washington D.C. area, and I’m currently enrolled in Arabic 101. Why am I taking Arabic? Well, unlike many people in my class, I’m not Muslim, so I’m not learning it to read the Qur’an.
Even though my name, Nabila, is an Arabic name, I’m not of any Arabic ethnicity. I’m mixed black and white, and the name Nabila that my father gave me is actually a West African name that just so happens to look like an Arabic one.
I’m really just learning Arabic because it seemed interesting. It has a reputation of being a very difficult language to learn, so I liked the challenge aspect. America is constantly involved in the Middle East and as a result, Americans have developed certain stereotypes about Middle Eastern and Arabic culture, and I have a feeling many of them aren’t as true, or at least as concrete as I’ve been led to believe.
For example, I’ve already discovered that not every woman in Arabic speaking countries wears a Hijab. Even though I knew that the Hijab is a Muslim thing, not necessarily part of Arabic culture, I’ve been led to believe that 99% of the Arabic world practices Islam devoutly, and the few who don’t aren’t necessarily true Arabs, but foreigners living in the area.
So this blog will follow my struggle to learn Arabic, and my exposure to the Arab culture, which I know virtually nothing about, except for more of the stereotypes like the one I mentioned above.
I’ve also noticed that it’s rather difficult to find resources for learning Arabic online, so hopefully I’ll be able to dig up a few goldmines and share them here!