A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for November, 2006

adventures in Arabic: transcribing websites

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 29, 2006

My friend M forwarded a series of jpgs this morning, with the subject line “only in Syria”. there is an entire genre of images like this – photographs of mis-spelled signs, ‘ironic’ juxtapositions (in this case, a photograph of a donkey-driven cart of butagaz containers), etc. Some of them are funny; some annoy me with their presumption of what should be normal and how Syria (or any other country unlucky enough to be outside the 50 states) deviates from this norm.

I did have fun with the following image, though – not because I found anything strange about the transcription of a website (English transcriptions of Arabic are equally awkward), but because it took me so long to figure out what the site name was.

Here is the image, with the website address highlighted:

syria1.jpg

dblyo I first read as “diplo”, thinking “diplomat” or “diplomatic”, but soon realized stood for “w”.

ghof I figured out relatively quickly meant “gov”.

mwelek was more difficult. mawilik? muwelek? finally, I considered what “wizarat al-kahraba'” meant in English, and understood. The Ministry of Electricity’s website is:

http://www.moelec.gov.sy, or http://www.moelec.gov. The latter I imagine is a typo as .gov is an American government server indicator, and I doubt that the US government is willing to host Syrian ministries.

As for moelec.gov.sy, I can “see” it on google, but … an “only in Syria” moment indeed: the country’s electricity ministry website is down.

On the other hand, perhaps the ministry’s employees are busily updating it to reflect the new electricity agreement signed with Iran yesterday. Iran will link its power grid to Syria’s via Turkey and Iraq. Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria (which in turn connects, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the changing affections of the shaqiqatayn, to Lebanon). This story should be receiving more attention in the global media than it has thus far.

Posted in Arabic, Damascus, economics, news, research, Syria, words | 4 Comments »

time for a new purpose: one last post on the Rick Warren debate

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 28, 2006

Debate may not be the most appropriate word to use, as only one man seems interested in keeping Rick Warren’s trip to Syria in the news.

Joseph Farah’s latest column is less a thoughtful exposition of his opposition to Warren’s trip than an emotional declamation. The change (and, I would say, degeneration) in tone is evident from the column’s title, which is both wordy and too personal:

New Age leader Marianne Williamson has come to the aid of “The Purpose-Driven Life” author Rick Warren, under fire from me for statements he made during his recent visit to Syria.

Here is the link to the full piece: http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=53116.

Farah has raised several good points in the previous columns he has written on this subject – including Syria’s very poor treatment of its Jewish population, which lasted from the 1950s until the early 1990s. His relentless focus on the YouTube video/audio clip shows Warren in a poor light – not for making the statements he did, which while not likely to meet universal agreement are certainly defensible, but for removing it from the website. The issues surrounding today’s Syria, and the country’s relationship (on political, cultural, religious, economic, and individual levels) with the United States need more discussion, not less. Closing the door on public dialogue shows poor leadership, particularly when coming from a man whose work has made a positive impact on so many.

Farah errs, however, in his characterizations of Syria and the position of its Christian population. As a scholar, I suggest to him what I would suggest to any colleague whose conclusions outstrip his evidence: more research.

This post concludes my tracking of the Rick Warren story. There are many other, more pressing and more consequential stories to follow, as well as more anecdotes of my various Arabic gaffes to record.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, Damascus, politics | Leave a Comment »

anti-sectarianism: the back story

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 28, 2006

FINALLY someone has taken up the 05amam anti-sectarianism campaign as a news story. And that someone is a good someone: Anthony Shadid. Shadid learned Arabic before coming to the Middle East. I wish more American journalists would make a similar effort.

Ad Blitz Satirizes Lebanon’s Divides
Provocative Signs Target Pervasive Sectarianism
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2006; A12

BEIRUT, Nov. 27 — The evening was tense, as most are these days in Beirut, its Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Sunni and Shiite Muslims and Druze perched imprecisely between war and peace. Malak Beydoun, a young woman, pulled her car into a parking lot in the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh. She peered at a billboard overhead, alarmed and then indignant.

“Parking for Maronites only,” it read.

Beydoun recoiled. “How did they know that I was a Shiite?” she remembered asking herself.

Part provocation, part appeal — with a dose of farce that doesn’t feel all that farcical — advertisements went up this month on 300 billboards across the Lebanese capital and appeared in virtually every newspaper in the country. Thousands of e-mails carried the ads across the Internet to expatriates. Each offered its take on what one of the campaign’s creative directors called a country on the verge of “absurdistan” — cooking lessons by Greek Orthodox, building for sale to Druze, hairstyling by an Armenian Catholic, a fashion agency looking for “a beautiful Shiite face.” At the bottom, the ads read in English, “Stop sectarianism before it stops us,” or, more bluntly in Arabic, “Citizenship is not sectarianism.”

The campaign, designed for free by an ad agency and promoted by a civil society group, has forced Lebanon to look at itself at a time when the country is spiraling into one of its worst political crises in years. The timing was coincidental, the message universal, in a landscape with ever dwindling common ground: The forces that dragged Lebanon into one civil war are threatening another.

Many have praised the ads for asking uncomfortable, even taboo questions about a system in which sectarian affiliation determines everything from the identity of the president to loyalty to sports teams. Some have mistaken the campaign for reality. Across the capital, one in six billboards was torn down, prevented from being put up or splashed with paint, usually the tactic of choice for conservative Muslims irked by lingerie ads.

“They didn’t get it,” said Fouad Haraki, a 53-year-old shawarma vendor, idly dragging on a cigarette next to a kerosene tank, across the street from billboards that had been defaced. “They just read what was written on top, not what was on the bottom.”

The result in his neighborhood, he said, was “a sectarian clamor.”

It is almost a cliche that Lebanon is home to 18 religious sects — from a tiny Jewish community to Shiite Muslims, the country’s largest single group. The system that diversity has inspired has delivered minorities a degree of protection unequaled anywhere else in the Arab world. But it has left Lebanon a country where individual rights and identity are subsumed within communities and, by default, the personas of their sometimes feudal leaders, who thrive on that affiliation.

By tradition, the president is Maronite, the prime minister Sunni, the parliament speaker Shiite. Other posts are reserved for Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Druze. Boy scouts are organized by community, not country — the Mahdi Scouts for the Shiites, for instance. Television stations have their own sectarian bent — the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. for Christians, Future for the Sunnis. Christians are partial to the Sagesse basketball team, Sunnis the Riyadi team. There are even two Armenian soccer teams — Homenmen and Homenetmen — one faithful to Armenian leftists, the other to the community’s right wing. Before this summer’s war, Sunni soccer fans loyal to Ansar brawled in a stadium with Shiite youths loyal to Nijmeh.

The system, known as confessionalism, dates to long before Lebanon’s independence in 1943. But there is a growing sense that the decades-old principles underlying Lebanese politics have grown obsolete. In some ways, today’s crisis is about the assertion of power — a coup to its critics — by the long-disenfranchised Shiite community led by Hezbollah. Hardly anyone can forecast with certainty how the struggle will end, but almost everyone sees it as a turning point, a crisis that intersects raw ambition with ideology, foreign policy, perspective and history, all awash in sectarian combustion.

“This is today a very explosive situation where you have all those sects being triggered, teased and hammered by all their leaders,” said Bechara Mouzannar, the regional creative executive director for H&C Leo Burnett in Beirut, which authored this month’s ad campaign. He calls himself “a little dazed and confused.”

“Something is about to explode, unfortunately,” he said.

Added his colleague, Kamil Kuran: “If we keep thinking like this, the future is going to look like this.”

The inspiration for the campaign came almost by coincidence in their cramped offices, its walls cluttered with ads for L&M cigarettes, a poster for the film “Reservoir Dogs” and memorabilia from last year’s protests after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Those protest signs appear a little dated; “Independence ’05” and “All of us for the nation.” On one window hangs a handwritten quote: “The greatest thing to be achieved in advertising, in my opinion, is believability.”

Manal Naji, a 27-year-old senior art director, had glanced at a r?sum? tucked underneath another piece of paper. “Christian,” it read. “We were so shocked,” she recalled. In the end, it turned out it was the name of the applicant’s father, but it gave Naji an idea. “What if it actually existed,” she said. “What if it reached the point of putting it on your job application.”

“We wanted the same shocking effect,” added Reem Kotob, a 25-year-old member of the creative team.

This weekend, the two sat with another member of the team, 26-year-old Yasmina Baz, in the agency’s conference room, looking over the ads they designed in a burst of energy on that first night and a later session at a nearby bar, Club Social.

One is a doctor’s plate: “Dr. Mohamed Chatila, Muslim Sunni.” Another is a three-story banner that reads, “For Druzes, Building for Sale.” A license plate is pictured: “A Shiite car,” it says in Arabic, “Shiite” in English. And an ad for a car: “2000 model, in near perfect condition. Owned and maintained by a Maronite. Never driven by non-Maronites.”

The team took the ads to Amam 05, a grass-roots group that grew out of last year’s protests. The name means “ahead,” an acronym of the Arabic for civil society. It states its mission, admittedly ambitious, as “a modern, sovereign state built on non-feudalism, non-confessionalism and non-clientelism.” But even its leaders admit to being a little glum, given today’s crisis.

“Very frustrated,” said Nicole Fayad, one of the activists.

The original idea was to actually hang the signs in the city: “Maronites only” in a parking lot, “For Druzes” on the side of a building. But when Asma Andraos, one of the group’s leaders, approached the owners, they cringed.

“They called me back, and they said they loved it, that I was crazy, and that there’s no way they could do this,” she recalled. She shook her head. “If I had a building, I wouldn’t have done it, either,” she said.

They went instead to newspapers, placing the ads in eight papers for two weeks this month. One printed them for free, the others at a 50 percent discount. A billboard agency agreed to post 300 for free for a week. In all, it cost the group $40,000; Mouzannar estimated it would have cost more than $500,000 commercially.

But before the billboards went up, they had to go through the formality of getting permission from the intelligence branch known as General Security. At first, officials refused; one compared the ads to Nazi-era segregation. It took two hours of face-to-face meetings to reach a resolution, by convincing the officials that the campaign was intended to be ironic.

Then when the billboards went up, 50 were defaced or torn down. Some residents stopped them from going up in the first place. In Lebanon and abroad, e-mails flitted back and forth, some of their authors believing the messages were real.

“People were seriously panicked,” Andraos recalled. “Are there really signs like that in Lebanon now? The mere fact that people think it’s possible, that there might be signs like that in Lebanon now, means we’re not really that far off.”

Members of the group say people have criticized the timing, and the group delayed the campaign’s next step after the assassination last week of a government minister, Pierre Gemayel. But they plan to distribute as early as this weekend 15,000 business cards with the same theme at bars and restaurants in Beirut. Each card lists a person’s name and religious affiliation. Next, they will send copies of the cards to Lebanon’s 128 legislators.

“We want it to be raised as an issue,” Fayad said, “but we don’t have the pretension to say we have the answer.”

At a cafe near downtown, Randy Nahle, a 21-year-old student, wondered about the way out. His father is Shiite, his mother Maronite Catholic. The neighborhood he sits in, like virtually every one in Beirut, has its markers: the posters and religious symbols on walls, the muezzin or the church bells that identify its affiliation.

For once, he said, something organized spoke to his rejection of being “categorized or oversimplified.”

He smiled at his favorite ads, the ones that identified doctors by their sect. “It has infiltrated our fabric so much, almost indelibly,” Nahle said. “If I have an earache, an Orthodox doctor will understand it better. It’s an Orthodox ear.”

He recalled sitting with a Shiite woman at a cafe near the American University in Beirut. She treated him as a fellow Shiite until he revealed his mixed background. She looked at him disapprovingly. It’s bad for the children, she said. “They’re going to come out confused,” she told him.

“I said, ‘You know, the problem of this country is we don’t have enough confused people. The problem is we have too many people blindly convinced by their political orientation, by their religion, by their community’s superiority.’ ”

She smiled, he recalled, and then laughed a little uncomfortably.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/27/AR2006112701456_2.html

Posted in advertising, Arabic, art, Beirut, Lebanon, news, politics, religion | Leave a Comment »

A little light war reading: Psywar on the summer war’s leaflet literature

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 27, 2006

The Psywar website has just posted a very interesting article by a retired sergeant major named Herbert Friedman (whose bio is available at http://www.psywarrior.com/HerbBio.html). Friedman states at the outset that “This article is not about the war. We will mention some pertinent points briefly, but this article is about the psychological operations conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces and the Hezbollah Party. Readers who are interested in the military aspect of this short 34-day war must look elsewhere.” He also notes that several Arabic-English translations are rough and/or imperfect, and await the assistance of more fluent Arabists.

The materials that this article does contain are fascinating – including numerous images of the Israeli leaflets and cartoons dropped during the war (as well as a sampling of those dropped in 1982), and an assessment of Hizbullah’s post-war advertising/pr efforts.

Several leaflets and cartoons were shown on Arabic television channels (or passed around the region in facsimile form, as was the case in Damascus), so they will not all be “new news”. However, seeing them as a complete set, with explanatory text providing translation for non-Arabic speakers and the ‘back story’ of their creation for all, makes the article well worth reading.

Psychological operations during the Israel Lebanon War 2006

http://www.psywar.org/israellebanon.php

Posted in advertising, Arabic, art, Beirut, Israel, Lebanon, media, news, politics, research, travel | Leave a Comment »

walking humbly with God: another priest visits Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 26, 2006

SANA’s website reports that another American Protestant priest has decided to brave the lion’s den of evangelical criticism by visiting Syria:

Grand Mofti of the Republic meets American Rev. WinWrite

Aleppo (SANA) –

Grand Mofti of the Republic, Ahmad Badriddin Hassoun, discussed on Saturday with Chairman of the Middle East Association in the United States, Robin WinWrite, the necessary measures which should be taken to acquaint the American churches with the Middle East issues, and to pave the way for launching developmental projects in Syria.

Talks during the meeting also dealt with the preparations for the Orient Wisemen Second Trip to the Middle East which will be carried out in autumn 2007.

(http://www.sana.org/eng/21/2006/11/25/88647.htm)

As is often the case with SANA’s English news reportage, enthusiasm has outweighed accuracy. The “Middle East Association” is NOT a mis-nomer for MESA, the Middle East Studies Association, and the trip mentioned is not one led by MESA’s president, the well-known scholar (but not Reverend) Juan Cole.

The priest in question is a man named Robin Catlin Wainwright, a philanthropist active in several humanitarian non-profits. A profile of him can be found on the Ethics and Public Policy Center website; he served as moderator for an EPPC panel on “Governance, Polity, and Civil Society in Islam and Christianity” held in March 2005:

Robin Wainwright is Chairman of the Board of International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians in the USA (INFEMIT USA). He is also President of Holy Land Trust, USA, a nonprofit humanitarian organization established in 1998 with the aim of strengthening, encouraging and improving the Palestinian community through working with children, families, youth, and the non-governmental organization (NGO) community, and to aid communities in distress in the Middle East. He is Director of the Catlin Foundation in Miami, Florida. He has spent more than 20 years developing and implementing programs for a variety of humanitarian organizations involved in outreach work in the US, overseas, and particularly in the Middle East. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from WestmontCollege, Santa Barbara, California, and a Master of Divinity/Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

(http://www.eppc.org/conferences/eventID.96/conf_detail.asp)

In 2000, Wainwright and his wife Nancy led a group that traced the steps of the three wisemen, chronicled at www.magijourney.com. I assume that the “Orient Wisemen” trip SANA mentions refers to a planned second “journey of the magi” tour. Wainwright organized and executed the first tour in his capacity as president of the Holy Land Trust (www.holylandtrust.org). Given that the trust is headquartered in Bethlehem, I imagine that negotiating logistics for the second journey are even more a headache than they must have been six years ago. There must be much holding-one’s-nose-and-going-ahead on both the Syrian and the Israeli sides.

One of Wainwright’s other philanthropic organizations, the Middle East Fellowship, is also sponsoring a trip to Damascus – a nine-week service, learning, and fellowship journey scheduled for July and August 2007.

The MEF looks like a terrific organization – a Christian non-profit dedicated to building bridges in fellowship with Middle Eastern Christian and Muslim communities, committed to social justice and partnership rather than charity. (Ironically in light of SANA’s statement that Wainwright and the mufti discussed ‘developmental’ projects, the Fellowship adheres to the ‘Micah Declaration’ of September 27, 2001, which states that:

“We object to any use of the word “development” that implies some countries are civilised and developed while others are uncivilised and underdeveloped. This imposes a narrow and linear economic model of development and fails to recognise the need for transformation in so-called “developed” countries. While we recognise the value of planning, organization, evaluation and other such tools, we believe they must be subservient to the process of building relationships, changing values and empowering the poor.”

(http://www.middleeastfellowship.org/about/micah))

July and August 2006 put the “sakhin” in what al-3Arabiya insisted on calling “the hot summer”. Hopefully for the MEF’s Damascus Encounter participants, July and August 2007 will prove more temperate.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, Damascus, Islam, media, politics, religion, Syria, travel, words | 1 Comment »

purpose-driven jealousy: commitment to a free press and the Rick Warren controversy

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 26, 2006

Criticisms of Rick Warren’s visit to Syria earlier this month appear to be dying down in the American Christian press, though i imagine that references to his visit will continue to pop up intermittently in conservative mainstream media news accounts (as an example of why the US should not engage Syria) for some time.

Meanwhile, I found this editorial quality letter to the editor Friday, and was impressed not only with the writer’s clarity and conviction, but also by its publisher: World Net Daily.

World Net Daily describes itself as follows:
“WorldNetDaily.com is an independent newssite created to capitalize on new media technology, to reinvigorate and revitalize the role of the free press as a guardian of liberty, an exponent of truth and justice, an uncompromising disseminator of news.

“WorldNetDaily.com performs this function by remaining faithful to the central role of a free press in a free society: as a watchdog exposing government waste, fraud, corruption and abuse of power – the mission envisioned by our founders and protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution.” (http://www.worldnetdaily.com/resources/about_WND.asp)

These are admirable goals. While some of the articles WND publishes make me question whether this “uncompromising disseminator of news” might not have a slant of its own (the Middle East, Arab, and Arab-American themed pieces tend to present Muslims as teachers of jihad, would-be suicide bombers, etc., as a sampling of current headlines suggest: ‘Gutless’ publisher nixes book: might offend Muslims; ‘Hi, my name is Ahmed and I want to be a suicide bomber’; Muslim barber who taught kids jihad flees US; Islamists ‘revere’ Jesus, but still maim and rape), the sincerity of WND’s commitment to uncensored press freedom is proven by its publication of this letter.

Here is the letter:

Is Farah jealous of Rick Warren?

Joseph Farah:

I am a big fan of yours, but I have to respond to your unrelenting and unfair criticism of Rick Warren. I have seen Warren criticized by lots of people for ridiculous reasons having absolutely no basis in fact. You have a few facts on your side, but your criticism is just as unfair. Why do you hate Warren? What spawns your personal animosity toward him? Could it be jealousy of his success as an author? It certainly looks that way to readers of your column. Whatever the reason, you need to examine your own heart to determine what drives you.

You write as if you think Warren had no business traveling to Syria or meeting with the president. You say he put himself in the position of being a “useful idiot.” You are just flat wrong. Warren did not go as a diplomat or politician; he went as a pastor. Rick is trying to build bridges to a culture that desperately needs Christ. As a pastor, it is his calling to reach out to people with the love and gospel of Christ. Christ does not want any “Berlin Walls” keeping people from the gospel, and He does not want you trying to keep the gospel from people in the Middle East.

Honestly, I do not expect Warren will see much success in Syria, but then again I have seen Warren’s faith accomplish a lot more than I thought possible. I know better than to try to tell Warren he will fail. And so what if he does fail? At least he will have been true to his calling. When doing the Lord’s work, nothing done is ever truly in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

You write that Warren betrayed the persecuted believers and Jews living in Syria. That is an indefensible statement. Based on what I know, the term “persecuted” seems a tad shrill. You report that Voice of the Martyrs says Christians in Syria are afraid to evangelize. Obviously, that is not a good situation, but I am not sure I would call it “persecution.” By the way, did VOM say why Syrian Christians are afraid to evangelize? Are they afraid of their government or Muslim extremists? Your reporting does not make this clear. It is my understanding Muslim extremists are the threat, but you seem to be shifting the blame on to the government.

I am not saying Warren did not make any mistakes. Warren has admitted that he wished he had been better prepared for the trip and that he had watched his words more closely. But your criticism of him goes far beyond the limits of fairness.

Attacking Warren for his association to Ted Haggard was clearly off base. You are using a classic “guilt by association” style of argument that is transparently invalid. You could use Haggard to criticize almost every evangelical leader in America. Why single out Warren like this? You are just piling on.

You call on Warren to condemn Syria for its role in the assassination of Pierre Gemayel. I doubt if you will get your wish. Warren sees the Church as the Body of Christ in the world. Jesus said He did not come to judge the world but to save the world (John 12:47). It is certainly the role of politicians to condemn governments involved in murder, but Warren is not a politician. Would you demand that Billy Graham condemn Syria? Or Greg Laurie? Or Charles Stanley? Come on Mr. Farah, at least try to be fair!

Rick Warren is a servant of God. Your criticism of Warren reminds me of Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”

Ron Cram

(http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=53088)

Joseph Farah is WND’s founder, editor, and CEO. I disagree with the positions he takes in many of his columns, but I admire the commitment to freedom and good journalism evident in his decision to publish a well-written (rather than obviously crack-pot-ish), critical (rather than laudatory) letter as WND’s letter of the week.

Posted in Americans, Damascus, politics | Leave a Comment »

Some are more equal than others: Canada’s dual citizenship debates

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 24, 2006

I have been following the Canadian press more assiduously than usual recently, since the publication of the first reports regarding the cost of last summer’s evacuation of Canadian nationals from Lebanon – and, of course, Foreign Affairs Minister MacKay’s description of the evacuation as ‘no worse than a mall at Christmas-time’, which I commented upon in early November – adiamondinsunlight.wordpress.com/2006/11/02/evacuation-shopping-mackay-on-canadas-lebanon-evacuation/). Now that the holiday shopping frenzy has officially begun, what better time to revisit the issue?

The CBC reports on the costs, and the controversy, in an article published today. The article features a Lebanese immigrant couple who are restaurateurs in Charlottetown, a city with a decades-old Lebanese population. They were on vacation in Lebanon when the war started, and the wife suggests that dual nationals who reside in Canada, rather than Lebanon, should receive priority evacuation when funds are tight. Here is the article:

$94m for Lebanon rescue, but Canadian evacuee grateful

The cost of rescuing nearly 15,000 Canadians from war-torn Lebanon has come in at about $94 million — up from a preliminary tally of $76 million — but Charlottetown restaurateur Nawal Abdallah, for one, is grateful the money was spent.

“Canada acted very well,” says Abdallah, who was winding up a two-month vacation with her husband, Maroun, when the conflict between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group broke out in July.

The evacuation effort, which involved scores of chartered flights and sailings arranged by harried Canadian officials, was criticized by some evacuees, many of whom said they endured heat and chaos on the docks, slow boat rides and sometimes wretched shipboard sanitation.

In Canada, some political and taxpayer groups suggested that thousands holding dual Canadian-Lebanese citizenship and living in Lebanon should not have been eligible for the help.

Nawal Abdallah has some sympathy for that view.

“I think it was money well spent,” she said, “but I think people who have lived there for a number of years should not have been evacuated. I think it should have been reserved for people who were on vacation and young people, children.”

The evacuation cost was posted on Thursday in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2006 economic and fiscal update. Officials had warned that the earlier figure would probably increase substantially when all the bills were in.”

(The full article is available here: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2006/11/24/lebanon-cost.html.)

An editorial piece by Arthur Weinreb in yesterday’s Canada Free Press takes a much harder line:

Duel Citizenship – we better decide soon

The war that broke out last July between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon brought the concept of dual citizenship to the attention of Canadians. Several thousand Canadian citizens found themselves in Lebanon while that country was being bombed by Israeli forces and the Canadian government was forced to evacuate its citizens. While many of these Canadian citizens were residents of Canada who were visiting the Middle East during a peak vacation time, many others were not. Many people that Canadian taxpayers were forced to pay to evacuate were those who had originally come to Canada as permanent residents, taken out citizenship and then gone back to live in Lebanon on a permanent basis. While most no doubt paid taxes to Canada while they were here, many hadn’t been residents of Canada in decades. They were Canadian citizens in name only. Yet for evacuation purposes, the Canadian government did not distinguish between those citizens who were spending a two-week vacation in the Middle East country and those that had been living there permanently.

On Tuesday, Pierre Gemayel, 34, an anti-Syrian Christian cabinet minister was assassinated in Beirut. The death of the son of a previous Lebanese prime minister threatened to plunge the country into a civil war between the pro and anti-Syrian factions in the country. Although it is too early to tell if there will be all out war between the two groups, the possibility cannot be ignored.

If a civil war breaks out in Lebanon, Canada will be forced to once again withdraw its citizens from what will be a war-torn country. Along with Canadians who happen to have the misfortune to be visiting Lebanon when the war breaks out will be those dual citizens who are permanently living in Lebanon. Canadian taxpayers will be once again forced to pay the cost of bringing to Canada, many of the same people who were brought to Canada last summer and then made their way “home” after the hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel ended.

When the war ended, the dispute between Israel and the Syrian-backed terrorist group naturally moved off of the front pages of newspapers along with the debate that took place regarding the rights of dual citizenship. Now there is a strong possibility of a replay of last summer’s situation.

Many people argue that all citizens should be equal and no one should be relegated to the status of second class citizen. Rubbish. Although many people oppose this view, Canadian citizenship should not only come with rights but with responsibilities as well. But in the last 40 years or so, the notion that people (as opposed to the state) should have to take responsibility for anything, least of all their own actions, has fallen out of favour. We need to change the laws regarding dual citizenship to make Canada more than just a rescue squad for people who are citizens in name only. And if this leads to two classes of citizenship, then we’ll simply have to have two classes.

Lebanon and the Lebanese seem to be singled out for the wrath of Canadians who resent having to pay to bring these citizens back to Canada to wait for calmer times when they can return to the country of their preferred residence. But Lebanon is far from being the only country that has a significant number of residents that hold Canadian passports. Lebanon just happens to be the country that was engaged in a war last summer and now stands on what is perhaps the brink of another war.

The law needs to be changed and changed now. Canada doesn’t necessarily have to strip these people of their citizenship, but all Canadian citizens should be forced to take some responsibility. Those who have not resided in Canada for a certain period of time or those who have not paid Canadian taxes while being abroad for a certain length of time should be disentitled to financial assistance to return to Canada to sit out current hardships in their chosen country of residence. This issue should not be allowed to go away if the current possibilities of war in Lebanon do not come to fruition.

Last year’s evacuation of Canadian citizens was an expensive proposition. The next one will be an expensive joke.

Bah humbug to Mr. Weinreb, whose piece can be found in situ at: http://www.canadafreepress.com/2006/weinreb112306.htm.

Holiday shoppers looking for stimulation beyond that of shopping mall Santas and window displays must, like me, be eagerly awaiting the report on the debate held at the University of Toronto this morning, on dual citizenship and ‘passports of convenience’ in light of last summer’s war. A brief article announcing the debate appeared Wednesday on the University news’ website:

U of T panel tackles value of Canadian citizenship

Experts to discuss Israeli-Lebanon conflict and implications of dual citizenship

Has Canadian citizenship lost some of its value? Join U of T professor Randall Hansen and a panel of experts as they discuss the devaluation of the Maple Leaf on Friday, Nov. 24, …

“Current policy is producing large numbers of Canadian citizens living abroad with no meaningful attachment to this country,” says Hansen, Canada Research Chair in immigration and governance in the Department of Political Science. “The Israel-Lebanon conflict this past summer revealed the existence of 40,000 Canadian citizens in Lebanon. When offered safe passage to Canada, less than half chose to evacuate – at a cost of $68 million – and most have since returned to Lebanon.”

Hansen will be joined by National Post columnist Andrew Coyne as well as Professor Jeffrey Reitz, R.F. Harney Professor of Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies in the Department of Sociology at U of T, and Professor Audrey Macklin of U of T’s Faculty of Law.

Panellists will discuss whether the acquisition of so-called “passports of convenience” has produced a cavalier attitude towards Canadian citizenship and what the ramifications of policy reform – such as calls for an end to dual citizenship and taxes on citizens working abroad – might be.

The full article can be found at: http://www.news.utoronto.ca/bin6/061122-2754.asp.

I am curious to hear more about this morning’s debate, and hopeful that it offered a demonstration of the ‘civil, informed, and national conversation’ that Allan Thompson advocates in this (slightly older, but still worth perusing) November 16 opinion piece from the Toronto Star:

No Point in Fighting Duals

There’s a lot of talk about changing Canada’s dual citizenship policy. The trouble is, no one really knows what they’re talking about.

It’s as if we started this conversation before we have anything to say.Canada is not being invaded by absentee dual citizens here to soak up social services or run for political office. So let’s not rush into changing a system that goes to the heart of who we are and how we intersect with the world outside our borders.There is room for debate, to be sure. There are few issues more important than the value of our Canadian citizenship. But before acting, we need to spend a lot of time thinking, absorbing information, mulling it over. And the end result of that deliberation could well be: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We don’t really know how many dual citizens there are in Canada, where they live or who they are. By some estimates, there could be as many as 4 or 5 million Canadians eligible for dual citizenship. And we literally don’t have a clue how many Canadian dual citizens are living in other countries. We simply don’t keep track.And just as we have no way to measure the cost to Canada of allowing its citizens to hold multiple passports and move about freely, nor do we have any reliable way to measure the economic or other benefits to Canada of its dual citizenship policy. We’re operating on gut instinct. We need more information.All we know for certain is that a lot of people were annoyed when thousands of Canadians living in Lebanon were evacuated from that country during the war with Israel this summer, at an estimated cost to Canada of more than $80 million.The notion that dual citizens who live in another country were somehow taking advantage of Canada sparked an outcry in some quarters. That prompted the Conservative government to declare it was time to review the dual citizenship policy established in 1976.The response is largely about politics, not policy.”Canadians want to know that citizenship means something, that we’re not just a port in a storm,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Monte Solberg told a House of Commons committee last week. That sentiment puts the focus on access to services by Canadian citizens who live abroad for extended periods. Because they seem to have little attachment to Canada, the argument goes, why should they benefit from Canadian largesse without paying the price? Some critics are asking: How can we let someone who has lived outside Canada for years, even decades, just come along and get access to our services?In fact, we do it every year with tens of thousands of new immigrants who have never set foot in Canada before, let alone lived here long enough to obtain citizenship. How could we possibly treat Canadian citizens — albeit absentee ones — more harshly than we treat new immigrants? The logic begins to break down the more you think about it.And that’s why we need to think about these issues, long and hard. What are the legal issues at stake here, particularly in view of the Charter of Rights, which deems all citizens to be equal before the law? What about the consular issues, the rights that Canadians hold when they are outside this country? How would we differentiate among different classes of citizen? How would such a new citizenship policy be implemented, or policed? And is it really necessary?How many times in 30 years of allowing dual citizenship has Canada expended significant resources on absentee citizens? Apart from Lebanon, no other examples spring to mind. And in those intervening 30 years, how has Canada benefited from its openness to the world?No, this discussion is being driven by political considerations and by politicians who are anxious to assuage their constituency.These politicians are not making policy. They’re making noise. And frankly, they’re probably glad to be garnering some headlines about a review of our dual citizenship policy. It is one of those public policy deliberations that come at virtually no price to a government: make some noise, get people talking, scare a bunch of people, satisfy some others — then do nothing. After letting the citizenship question percolate for a while, sparking some news reports that the government was actually considering abolishing dual citizenship, the government finally made crystal clear last week that Canada’s policy of allowing its citizens to also hold the nationality of another country was here to stay.”We’re not tinkering with dual citizenship,” Solberg declared.News reports of Solberg’s committee appearance zeroed in on his “port in a storm” comments, the few minutes when he did talk about dual citizenship during a question session with MPs after his opening remarks. But notably, Solberg didn’t utter the phrase “dual citizenship” in the prepared speech drafted for him by officials. Instead, his speech on his priorities started with a mention of refugees from Cambodia that Canada has recently taken in. Then he talked about how immigration could address the shortage of workers in Canada. He boasted that the government’s immigration target for 2007 was the highest in 15 years, at 265,000. He went on to decry how earnings by immigrants have been slipping over the years as newcomers face more and more barriers to integration in Canada. Then he talked about plans to use immigration policy to allow more temporary workers.Nary a word about dual citizenship. Not a syllable. Sometimes you can read a lot into political speeches, especially set pieces drafted by senior bureaucrats. Often, it is what is not said that matters. Media attention notwithstanding, there is every indication that dual citizenship is nowhere near the top of Solberg’s list of priorities. And it is certainly not on the list of priorities being brought forward by his officials, who are instead in an information-gathering mode.Canadians — dual citizens and those attached only to Canada — should take a deep breath. Then we should think for a while before embarking on a civil, informed, national conversation about what it means to be a Canadian citizen in today’s world.The piece is available online here: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&col=969483202845&c=Article&cid=1163588588095&call_pageid=968350130169.

The proposal to establish hierarchies of citizenship horrifies me, but I recognize that there is some logic to ranking those who demonstrate commitment to their new country by residing there above those who do not. But how would this work – would each citizen be assigned a point value assessing his or her value and commitment to the nation-state? Would those like me – native-born but resident abroad – be ranked higher or lower than those foreign-born and resident abroad? foreign-born and vacationing in their natal land? foreign born but with a record of service in the government or US military? would I receive more points because my ancestors fought in the Revolutionary war? would I as an academic abroad receive more or less points than an equally DAR friend working abroad as a journalist? working for a NGO? an oil company? or abroad as the spouse of a foreign national?

Selfishly, I am pleased that these debates are taking place in Canada, rather than the US. Its a relief to see that for once our ideal of equality has not been superceded by our penchant for protectionism.

Posted in Beirut, Canada, Canadians, Lebanon, media, news, politics, travel, words | Leave a Comment »

Musical Syria: further joys of SANA

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 22, 2006

There are many, many comments I would like to offer about the current media coverage of Pierre Gemayel’s assassination. However, as a scholar I prefer to write from a less emotional perspective, so that posting must wait for a bit. Instead, I offer the latest from SANA, titled:

Syria sings accord with Montreal University

Syria is in fact a highly musical country. As my friend M pointed out one summer, while playing tour guide to visiting friends, one of the nice things about Syria is how often men (and women, but in public it tends to be men …) break into bits of song, illustrating a story or a point or welcoming a friend. I don’t mean humming – I rarely hear men or women humming – but singing a phrase or a verse of some well known Arabic song. Its lovely – as is the idea of Syria singing an agreement with a French Canadian university. I hope one day that Syria will sing with the US – with an entire chorus of regional and European powers fleshing out the song.

Here is the article:

DAMASCUS, (SANA) – Syria and Canada signed on Wednesday the agreement of scientific cooperation that is giving the mastering and PHD degrees to Syrian students studying at Montreal University human sciences, social, medical and natural specialties.

Deputy Minister of Higher Education Dr. Najib Abdul Wahed said “the agreement constitutes a step towards openness of the higher education system in Syria to the Canadian universities and building a scientific and educational body between the Syrian and Canadian universities.”

For his part, Deputy Chairman of the Montreal University welcomed the Syrian students imminent entering into the Canadian university to get the mastering and PHS degrees in various specialties, hoping “to widen horizons of scientific and cultural cooperation with the higher ministry of education.”

The article can be found at: http://www.sana.org/eng/21/2006/11/22/88163.htm.

Happy singing.

Posted in Arabic, Damascus, media, music, news, Syria, tune, words | Leave a Comment »

Purpose-driven criticism: more on Rick Warren’s trip to Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 21, 2006

Pastor Rick Warren’s trip to Syria and the favorable comments he made about the state’s commitments to secularism and religious freedom, as well as Syria’s centrality to any meaningful peace in Iraq, continue to percolate through the United States’ religious press.

The latest piece comes from the Agape Press. It is mostly a summary of news and reactions first printed in earlier articles, but includes an exegesis of the official statement Warren released last week, in which he stands his ground regarding Syria’s position on religious freedom and secularism. Much of what he says is true, although Jews’ freedom of worship is largely theoretical, as most of Syria’s Jews left the country in the early 1990s, after the Madrid peace talks. This is the article:

Meeting with Syrians Done as a Favor, Says Rick Warren
Fred Jackson & Allie Martin
AgapePress

But His Comments on Syria’s ‘Religious Freedom’ Draw Criticism

Well-known Christian author Rick Warren says Syria offers more religious freedom than many other nations considered hostile to Christianity. His comments are included in an official statement he has released in connection with his controversial visit this week to that terrorist nation.

After Warren — pastor of Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life — met with Syrian officials and top Muslim leaders there, he was quoted by the official state-controlled Syrian news agency as praising Syria for the peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims in the country.

“Pastor Warren hailed the religious coexistence, tolerance and stability that the Syrian society is enjoying due to the wise leadership of President al-Assad, asserting that he will convey the true image about Syria to the American people,” reported the Syrian news agency. He was also reported to have conveyed to Syrian officials that “80 percent of Americans reject the U.S. administration’s policies and actions in Iraq.”

Shortly thereafter, in an e-mail to WorldNetDaily publisher Joseph Farah, the Southern California pastor denied making such statements and said he made the trip only as a favor to his Muslim next-door neighbor.

In his official statement released on Thursday afternoon (November 16), Warren says many Americans do not realize that both Christianity and Judaism are legal in Syria. Among other things, he says the Syrian government provides free electricity and water to all churches and allows Christians to create their own civil law instead of having to follow Muslim law.

The popular Christian author goes on to say that “the Syrian government has long had a bad reputation in America, but if one considers a positive action like welcoming in thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq, or the protection of freedom to worship for Christians and Jews in Syria, it should not be ignored.” Warren says in fact, when it comes to religious freedom, Syria is far more tolerant than places like Cuba and Iraq and other nations identified in the U.S. Commission Report on International Religious Freedom.

Warren made it clear in a letter to his congregation about his trip that while he may have praise for Syria’s handling of Christian refugees from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, in no way should that be interpreted as approval of everything the Syrian government does. “That’s nonsense!,” he is reported as telling his congregation. “Syria needs many reforms, but in terms of religious freedom, they are ahead of places like Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and many others.”

In his press release, Warren makes no mention of Syria being on the official U.S. list of terrorist nations, nor of Syria’s support of the Hezbollah terrorist group, one of Israel’s most deadly enemies.

A spokesman with the Washington, DC-based Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) says Pastor Warren should think twice before he allows himself to be used by terrorist-sponsoring nations — and that he should have known Syrian officials would misrepresent his comments.

“It’s not very difficult for most dictatorships who are very adroit at their own propaganda work to exploit someone who does not have experience in that area,” says IRD’s Mark Tooley. “If you’re meeting with the dictator of Syria and the foreign minister and the chief Islamic leader, you have to know that your visit is going to be used by that dictatorship in a certain way.”

Tooley also advises that “if you want to prevent that from happening or preempt it, at the very least you put a statement on your own website outlining what your own views are.”

Warren says he was advised by the U.S. State Department to expect Syria’s state-controlled media to issue press releases about his visit. But he says he believes it is a mistake “not to talk to nations considered hostile.” Isolation and silence, he says in his statement, has never solved conflict anywhere.

( http://www.crosswalk.com/news/religiontoday/1450295.html )

One of the curious results of the ongoing coverage of Warren’s visit is that I now find myself in the curious position of agreeing with Marianne Williamson, who I ordinarily find utterly loopy. She has an opinion peace in today’s Detroit News, which argues that spiritual leaders have at least as much ‘right’, and perhaps more responsibility, to work to bring peace and light to the world. While we differ on the question of whether Iran and Syria, as countries, are sources of darkness and terrorism, we are in full agreement that moral stature brings greater, not lesser, responsibilities in, and to, the world. Here is her piece:

Faith leaders deserve a shot at creating peace on earth

E vangelical leader Rick Warren has been criticized for meeting with the president of Syria, chastised into making sure we understand that he supports President Bush, the troops and the war on terrorism. It has been suggested he has fallen for a huge sin that sometimes tempts religious people: They get involved in politics. For shame! For shame!

Who exactly, then, has the “right” to be involved in politics? Just politicians? Lawyers? The media, perhaps? But “religious leaders”? How dare they!

Last time I read it, the U.S. Constitution didn’t say that when you take up the clergy, you give up your citizenship. It is hardly a violation of church and state for religious leaders to speak their minds about political issues. Quite the opposite: They’re the last people on earth who should ever, ever, ever be complacent or quieted by a worldly status quo. Today, the status quo is failing miserably in its ability to create peace on earth.

I don’t usually agree with right-wing Christians about politics. Gay marriage? I find it abhorrent to think the power of the U.S. government would be used to officially limit the rights of any group of Americans. Abortion rights? Abortion is a choice between a woman and her God, and the government shouldn’t even be in on that conversation. They could demand a time of reflection — and that would be OK, but not have the right to stop it.

But if Rick Warren wants to go to Syria and meet with its president, then God bless him. He should do whatever he wants to do. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won’t go there. And her behavior hardly makes me sleep better at night.

The problem here is not that religious people are messing with politics; the problem is that politicians are messing with religious people.

The point of religion is that it answers to a Higher Power; its loyalty is to God. Religious people might not always agree on what God is asking of us, but that is not the point. Spiritual leaders are leaders, too. Political leaders are not the only kind of leaders, nor should their voices be the only ones that affect the affairs of the world today.

What traditional politics is offering us is not working, and perhaps it is the religious people among us who should if anything be pointing that out.

Terrorism is a spiritual darkness; it is a mass psychosis. People who know how to lead groups in prayer and collective meditations, people who have expertise in healing hearts and minds and relationships, people who know about dismantling insane behavioral patterns — such as these have at least as much to offer in response to terrorism, as do people who know how to drop bombs.

Killing a terrorist does not of itself kill terrorism. If worldly might is our only response, then the problem is going to devour us.

If Rick Warren, or anyone else for that matter, has a better idea for how to handle Syria, Iran or any other nation — even if I don’t agree with it — unless it hurts someone, then I hope he or she shouts it from the rooftops. As they do, the false idol of politics as usual might actually fall away, and that would be fine.

As the saying goes, “War is far too serious a business to be left in the hands of politicians and generals.” Don’t go quiet, Rick. If anything, push back — and do not back down.

( http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061121/OPINION03/611210308/1008/OPINION01 )

Posted in Americans, Damascus, Iraq, media, news, politics, religion, Syria | Leave a Comment »

the new public blogosphere

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 21, 2006

Conversations about the ‘public sphere’ are hugely popular with academics – particularly those interested whether a relationship can be found between new media and broadened or more active publish sphere. The term comes from a Jurgen Habermas work, and its application to new media is usefully discussed online in an article by Georgetown professor Denis Gaynor entitled “Democracy in the age of information: a reconception of the public sphere”, which can be found at http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/gaynor/intro.htm.

I will quote a bit from a more general analysis, UCLA professor Douglas Kellner’s “Habermas, the public sphere, and democracy: a critical intervention” (http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/papers/habermas.htm) , which explains Habermas’ work as follows:

Jurgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere is an immensely rich and influential book that has had major impact in a variety of disciplines. It has also received detailed critique and promoted extremely productive discussions of liberal democracy, civil society, public life, and social changes in the twentieth century, among other issues. Few books of the second half of the twentieth century have been so seriously discussed in so many different fields and continue, almost forty years after its initial publication in 1962, to generate such productive controversy and insight. While Habermas’s thought took several crucial philosophical twists and turns after the publication of his first major book, he has himself provided detailed commentary on Structural Transformation in the 1990s and returned to issues of the public sphere and democratic theory in his monumental work Between Facts and Norms. Hence, concern with the public sphere and the necessary conditions for a genuine democracy can be seen as a central theme of Habermas’s work that deserves respect and critical scrutiny …

Habermas’s focus on democratization was linked with emphasis on political participation as the core of a democratic society and as an essential element in individual self-development. His study The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere was published in 1962 and contrasted various forms of an active, participatory bourgeois public sphere in the heroic era of liberal democracy with the more privatized forms of spectator politics in a bureaucratic industrial society in which the media and elites controlled the public sphere. The two major themes of the book include analysis of the historical genesis of the bourgeois public sphere, followed by an account of the structural change of the public sphere in the contemporary era with the rise of state capitalism, the culture industries, and the increasingly powerful positions of economic corporations and big business in public life. On this account, big economic and governmental organizations took over the public sphere, while citizens became content to become primarily consumers of goods, services, political administration, and spectacle …

The bourgeois public sphere, which began appearing around 1700 in Habermas’s interpretation, was to mediate between the private concerns of individuals in their familial, economic, and social life contrasted to the demands and concerns of social and public life. This involved mediation of the contradiction between bourgeois and citoyen, to use terms developed by Hegel and the early Marx, overcoming private interests and opinions to discover common interests and to reach societal consensus. The public sphere consisted of organs of information and political debate such as newspapers and journals, as well as institutions of political discussion such as parliaments, political clubs, literary salons, public assemblies, pubs and coffee houses, meeting halls, and other public spaces where socio-political discussion took place. For the first time in history, individuals and groups could shape public opinion, giving direct expression to their needs and interests while influencing political practice. The bourgeois public sphere made it possible to form a realm of public opinion that opposed state power and the powerful interests that were coming to shape bourgeois society.

“Habermas’s concept of the public sphere thus described a space of institutions and practices between the private interests of everyday life in civil society and the realm of state power. The public sphere thus mediates between the domains of the family and the workplace — where private interests prevail — and the state which often exerts arbitrary forms of power and domination. What Habermas called the “bourgeois public sphere” consisted of social spaces where individuals gathered to discuss their common public affairs and to organize against arbitrary and oppressive forms of social and public power.

The principles of the public sphere involved an open discussion of all issues of general concern in which discursive argumentation was employed to ascertain general interests and the public good. The public sphere thus presupposed freedoms of speech and assembly, a free press, and the right to freely participate in political debate and decision-making. After the democratic revolutions, Habermas suggested, the bourgeois public sphere was institutionalized in constitutional orders which guaranteed a wide range of political rights, and which established a judicial system that was to mediate between claims between various individuals or groups, or between individuals and groups and the state.”

“Kellner cautions that “Many defenders and critics of Habermas’s notion of the bourgeois public sphere fail to note that the thrust of his study is precisely that of transformation, of the mutations of the public sphere from a space of rational discussion, debate, and consensus to a realm of mass cultural consumption and administration by corporations and dominant elites,” which latter Habermas understood as the state of the sphere in the twentieth century.”

All the above is merely an introduction to what follows – a mention of the panel I attended yesterday evening, one of many at the annual Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America conference, currently taking place in Boston. I like to think of us as hummus-flavored nerds, rather than the generic variety found at other conferences.

Yesterday evening’s panel promised a discussion of blogging, the Middle East, and the possibility of a new public sphere:

SPECIAL SESSION–Blogging the Middle East: A New Public Sphere?
Organized by Leila O. Hudson

This session will consider how the new genre of online weblogs has changed the relationship of Middle East studies to public opinion, journalism, and policy making and reshaped the public sphere within which the MESA community works. Among issues to be addressed, are: blogging and the wartime public sphere, blogs and the traditional media, blogs and policy-making, adversarial and attack blogging, blogging readership communities, blog censorship and control.

Chair: Leila O. Hudson, University of Arizona

Juan Cole, University of Michigan (http://www.juancole.com)
As’ad AbuKhalil, California State University, Stanislaus(http://angryarab.blogspot.com)
Helena Cobban, Contributing Editor, Boston Review (http://justworldnews.org)
Joshua Landis, University of Oklahoma (http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/syriablog/)
Marc Lynch, Williams College (http://abuaardvark.typepad.com/)

(http://mesa.wns.ccit.arizona.edu/annual/session9.htm )

Josh I know from Damascus, the Angry Arab I read frequently, Marc Lynch teaches at my alma mater, Helena Cobban I know from her work as a journalist, and Juan Cole of course both for his prominence as a blogger-turned-media authority on Iraq and for the vicious ad hominem attacks he receives because of that prominence (and, I would argue, which he facilitates by allowing photos such as

Juan Cole

to circulate publicly, giving anti-Middle East studies folk like those at Campus Watch ample visual support for their rabid critiques).

In the end, none of the panelists spoke much about a new public sphere. Most spoke anecdotally about their personal experiences, while Cobban raised the very sanguine point of gender in the blogosphere (there are more male bloggers than female, which I would push further by noting that the ‘authoritative’ blogs – blogs to which readers go for information and analysis, rather than personal narratives – are almost exclusively male written). The panel was lively and the panelists dynamic, but for the most sophisticated analysis of the public sphere vis-a-vis new media and the Middle East, I suggest Lynch’s very old media format book: Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today.

update, November 22, 2006

Marc Lynch has posted his take on the panel on his Abu Aardvark site. He has this to say:

“… I focused on two things: why there aren’t more MESA bloggers, and the relevance of Arab bloggers rather than just American academics writing about the Middle East. At least I think I did – like I said, I was freestyling and talking real fast. One point which I forgot to throw in was about the competing demands of different audiences: what impresses other academics will not be the same as what impresses policy audiences or wider general blog-reading publics or readers from the countries you’re writing about, and scholar-bloggers have to think carefully about who they are trying to reach and why.

I pointed out out that all of us on the panel had started our blogs by fall 2002. Why hadn’t a new generation of Middle East studies bloggers emerged to replace join us? Maybe because the critics of MESA are right, and Middle East studies scholars just don’t have much to add to the public debate. I don’t think that’s true, though – I know how much quality knowledge about the region was at the conference, and in the room, and how much they could add to the blogosphere if they chose to. Maybe they’ve all just got better things to do, but – I argued – the internet is of growing importance in shaping public debate and even policy in areas we care about, and if experts don’t engage then they just cede the field to others with less (or different) expertise. Or, more bluntly, they can’t cry about the state of public debate about the Middle East if they refuse to take part in that debate.

But most of the answer, I suggested, was that the first five speakers had presented an overly rosy picture of academic blogging. Now, I’m as big a fan of blogging as anyone, and blogging has been very good to me, but it’s important to have a balanced perspective on the risks and costs, as well as benefits, of academic blogging. I mentioned the various rounds of intense public criticism that Juan and Josh had received, and the ways in which blog-fed firestorms could threaten scholars, especially junior scholars without tenure, or at least consume huge amounts of their time and energy. I mentioned the very real time commitments that blogging entails – no matter how many synergies you can create between your research and your blogging (and I create a lot of them), time spent on blogging is time spent not doing other potentially productive scholarly activities. Bloggers’ energies can be diverted into policy-relevant work which isn’t conducive to long-term research projects. Even the best blogging just doesn’t rate compared to a peer-reviewed publication… and probably shouldn’t. Blogging often means writing fast, and that can mean making mistakes – horrors! – especially if you venture outside your areas of expertise… and academics sometimes live in fear of making such mistakes. Bottom line: I feel uncomfortable advising junior scholars, who I think are probably best placed to become great bloggers, to take those risks.”

In his talk, Lynch mentioned bloggers IN the Middle East, which no other panelist did, and had this to say on his blog:

“The other major thrust of my talk was to point to Arab and Iranian and other bloggers from within the region. I spent a lot of my time at the podium urging the audience to pay attention to Arab bloggers, many of whom offered sharp, savvy political analysis in both English and Arabic. These folks can represent themselves and speak for themselves, and don’t need North American based scholars to do it for them – what they need is for people to pay attention to them, which is why I try to link to them as much as I can and why I spent so much of my talk touting them.”

Lynch’s full post, followed by a thoughtful and reflective series of comments, can be found at: http://abuaardvark.typepad.com/abuaardvark/2006/11/mesa_blogging_p.html#comments.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, blogging, friends, Iraq, Lebanon, media, politics, research, Syria, teaching, time | Leave a Comment »