A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for December, 2006

the streets of Beirut, where hygiene meets politics

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 31, 2006

Sukleen has been running some very interesting advertisements in the Daily Star, non-Arabic speaking Lebanon’s favorite newspaper, reminding readers that Sukleen is non-partisan. I understand that during the current protests Sukleen’s sanitation and maintenance workers have been made objects of derision and attack – by partisans from a variety of Lebanese parties and political groups – and I assume that these advertisements are meant to prevent future occurrences. However, I can find no further information about them. Sukleen’s website (www.sukleen.com) has not been updated since 2002, so it is of little help, and none of the usual PR and advertising agencies have mentioned a Sukleen campaign on their website. To me it is a mystery, and an intriguing one.

This is the latest advertisement, published on December 30:



Posted in Beirut, Lebanon, media, politics | Leave a Comment »

in honor of `Eid: a post on Abraham

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 30, 2006

Today, or tomorrow, depending on whose calendar and which sect one might be, is Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that commemorates Abraham’s sacrifice.

Rather than debate the differences in each tradition’s narrative of the sacrifice story, I would like to honor the patriarch and father of the ‘three Abrahamic faiths’ by mentioning a new Abrahamic faith project. Founded in the desert (of Arizona, not Palestine) and supported by Harvard University (giving it credibility beyond the religious sphere), the Abraham Path Initiative is working to create an open route from Harran to Jerusalem for pilgrims, scholars, and others to trace as a means of improving inter-faith and inter-cultural understanding. Its website describes its mission as the following:

The aim of the Abraham Path Initiative is to inspire and assist the opening of a route for tourism and walking that retraces the footsteps of the Prophet Abraham.

The Abraham Path will link sites of historic and religious significance through the heart of the Middle East, from Urfa and Harran in Turkey, where Abraham first heard the call to “go forth,” to Abraham’s tomb in Hebron/Al Khalil. Along this itinerary of outstanding natural beauty and cultural interest, travelers will visit some of the most revered sites in the world — including the Holy Places in Jerusalem, the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Path will eventually extend to encompass Abraham’s travels to and from Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

The Path will offer an experience of the spirit of Abraham — a journey through his legacy of faith, hospitality and respect.

Many travelers will walk parts or all of the Abraham Path, guided by maps and signs along the way. Many more will use the Path as an itinerary of sites that can be visited by bus or car. Schools and families in the communities along the Path will use it as a recreational and educational resource.

The Abraham Path Initiative is an international affiliation of scholars, religious leaders, social entrepreneurs, and eco-tourism experts. It is non-political and non-partisan, affirming the dignity of all people.

The Initiative includes a very cogent list of “FAQs” that address very real concerns: whether the organization will ever get off the ground, what security concerns for travelers are realistic and what are hyped, whether would-be travelers will face difficulty obtaining the necessary visas, how accurately the API can claim to trace Abraham’s actual path, etc.

On Christmas Day, the Arizona Daily Star published a very nice article on the Initiative:

Focus on Abraham unites three religions on a path to peace

by Eric Swedlund

Heeding God’s call, Abraham embarked on a journey to a new land, where a covenant with God, believers say, made him the patriarch of Jews, Muslims and Christians, celebrated for his faithfulness today by nearly half the world.

That same path through the Middle East is drawing new attention as a way to ultimately inspire and promote reconciliation for his children.

The Abraham Path Initiative calls for a renewed focus on the journey itself as a way to emphasize the shared ancestry of three often divided faiths. The group hopes to draw people to the region to retrace Abraham’s footsteps and spiritually connect with a prophet known for his hospitality as well as his faith.

“Abraham is a powerful story for all three religions — Jews, Christians and Muslims,” said Martha Gilliland, an affiliate faculty member at the University of Arizona and a leader of the initiative.

“He’s the same guy with the same values of inclusivity, hospitality, respect and faith,” she said. “Nobody inside that story has to be wrong.”

The Abraham Path project started at Harvard University’s Global Negotiation Project with a plan to chart Abraham’s path as closely as possible, from where he heard God’s call to his burial site. The route starts at the ruins of Harran in what is now southeastern Turkey and proceeds through Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. It ends in Jerusalem at the tomb of Abraham in Hebron, known in Arabic as al-Khalil.

“I’ve come to believe that things change through conversations, and they change because people share life projects, share information about their children, share a meal together,” said Gilliland, a former dean and vice provost of the UA who returned in the summer to assume her new role. “They experience each other across the divides, and they experience each other as human beings, not stereotypes.”

In November, a delegation with the project made a study trip to the region, traveling the 600-mile route by bus to bring U.S. and international scholars together with local businesspeople, religious leaders and residents.

“My own personal experience on this was of two kinds,” Gilliland said. “One where I was so touched by the hospitality and one of an overwhelming sadness I’m still processing, particularly in Israel and the West Bank, where manifestations of violence and anger are simply an assault on your emotions.”

Though Abraham’s exact route is likely impossible to determine, the project will link sites of historic and religious significance along the route, said Joshua Weiss, managing director of the initiative and associate director of the Global Negotiation Project. Weaving together the sites under the banner of Abraham will create a greater significance overall, he said.

“Everybody resonates with who he is and what he stood for,” Weiss said. “The path itself is really the vehicle, a multiplier effect, for people-to-people interactions and the preservation of cultural and historical sites.”

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson also said he’s encouraged by the idea of people making pilgrimages along Abraham’s Path.

“The Bible and the Quran and really many sacred writings tell us humanity is on a journey of spiritual discovery, and a pilgrimage is a sign of the commitment to the challenge of that journey,” he said. “With this initiative to invite people to walk in the footsteps of Abraham, who is our father in faith and who ventured into the unknown on a call from God, we too are being called in a sense.”

Kicanas said the project is a blessing in its invitation to people to find ways of reconciling and living in peace.

“My prayer would be this initiative would be fruitful, that hearts could be transformed and that God’s intention of man living peace and harmony could be realized,” he said. “The encouragement there is the journey of humankind is toward peace to restore what’s broken, and this is critically needed today in the world.”

Stuart Mellan, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, called the initiative a “wonderful vision” and said it would bring people together who didn’t previously have a chance to create a dialogue of peace.

“We all become a little jaded, and sometimes we’re afraid to allow ourselves to dream, and this is a wonderful dream,” he said. “To try to move beyond the realm of politics and somehow overcome the obstacles in accomplishing this kind of process is perhaps exactly what this world needs.”

Mellan said he hopes new voices join the discussion, moving away from politicians to include scholars, historians and people of all religions.

“So much of what we hear about is on a political realm, and that’s what’s exciting here: It transcends the politics,” he said.

Muhammad As’ad, administrator of the Islamic Center of Tucson, said the initiative is a good way to bring the three Abrahamic faiths together, calling it a breath of fresh air compared with the usual negative news about the Middle East.

“I think we have to do more of this, because our leaders in general aren’t showing any guidance or direction in improving the situation,” he said. “A grass-roots thing like this is excellent. In today’s world; maybe the people should lead and the leaders should follow.”


While it would be a mistake for would-be pilgrims to believe that by going to the region they will be going back to the time of Abraham, I do think that those who live side-by side with places that birthed the fundaments of our three faiths have a more vibrant sense of their worth. I remember vividly my (Muslim) friends’ anguish this summer at the news that Israel had attacked Qana – the Biblical Cana, where Christ performed his first miracle by changing water into wine. That gentle bleeding of sincere piety from one faith into another is something I wish more people could witness, and embrace.


Posted in Damascus, Israel, Jordan, maps, media, news, politics, religion, Syria, time, tourism, travel | 2 Comments »

global laundering: adventures in clean clothing

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 29, 2006

One of the less glamorous aspects of world travel is the way it dirties the world traveler’s clothing.

I grew up in a household in which laundry chores were assigned early. My mother hates the constant-ness of laundry: the un-ending cycle from clean to dirty, making Sisyphuses of all laundry-doers.

My sister and I were required to help with the laundry starting when, as my sister reminds us, she was so little that in order to reach the dryer knobs she had to stand on a chair. Laundry was always listed on our Tuesday/Thursday (summer) or Saturday (school year) chores, in a shorthand that never failed to amuse outsiders:”fold and deliver”. We were required to fold clean laundry, sort by owner and deliver the clean, folded piles to the owner’s bedroom. In the case of parental laundry, we also had to put it away, resulting no doubt in some curious choices for non-standard pieces such as slips and ambiguously sized socks.

Thanks to this training, I spent my early adulthood quite cocky about my laundry skills. However, an unfortunate string of washer blowouts and other mechanical rebellions starting in 2003 convinced me otherwise. I documented these in a PTSD-y email written after an inexplicable flooding incident in my Paris apartment in October 2005 (feel free to skip if you are either not at all or particularly sensitive to laundry trauma):

Curse of the Washing Machine

I have often wondered whether I cast some sort of evil spell on technology. Perhaps the emf thrown off by my body interferes with machine functionality … ? My mobile phone seems always to get less reception than all others in the vicinity. My laptop battery seems to last far less time than the manufacturer supposed. Light bulbs often pop, and fuses blow, in my presence. As for washing machines … well, I have frequently suspected that they in particular exhibit a special dislike for me.

There was the washing machine in Budapest, 2003. It looked a torture device and frequently chased me around the kitchen while on some kind of mad turbo spin cycle.

There was the washing machine in Damascus, same year. I believe it had been reconstructed from old Soviet airplane parts. It was such a formidable beast that I gave in immediately and began taking my wash to the local dry cleaners.

Then there was M’s washer, Damascus 2004. It worked fine, until … one day, it stopped draining. Just for me. And then others, including S, innocent victim of what I now believe to be a global washing machine vendetta. Once M returned, the shami washer reverted to its normal state: sweet. innocuous. functioning.

This summer [2005], we (S foolishly signing on for another season of destroyed clothing) again had a washing machine sans spin cycle. Unfortunately this one raised the bar, refusing not only to drain but also refusing to rinse. We had clean, if rather soapy clothing.

One might think that the problem is location: perhaps Damascus has a particularly rich supply of cantankerous washers. However, I assure you that this is only because in New York I take my wash to be done by Toy Chin Laundry. The machines there, industrial beasts that they are, nonetheless submit gently to the professional hands of their masters. They and I remain blissfully unacquainted.

And now to France: two weeks of perfect laundry experiences, followed by what I can only described as a low (3” / 7.5 cm) wall of water coming directly at me as I sat peacefully, if ineptly, cross-stitching on my bed. At first I thought the machine was offering political commentary: I’ll Nouveau Orleans you, silly American. Then I just thought: mop.

Mop. Mop. Mop. Wring. Mop. Mop. Mop. Wring. Incidentally, I don’t have a mop. I was using towels.

Finally I called the concierge, relieved to find my language skills sticking by me in moments of crisis. After several “ah, my pauvre”, Madame Bou S. sent up her husband, who brought my savior: the shop-vac. Or shoppe-vacc, as I suppose it might be in French. (Actually, he called it the “aspirateur”. perfect. I too was ready to be aspirated.)

After much vacuuming, my floors are now cleaner than they will ever (I hope) again be during my stay here. And judging by the amount of well aged food bits and other detritus that floated around on the kitchen floor, cleaner than they have ever been. This is me, looking on the bright side.

On the not-so-bright side, Monsieur Bou S. took a look at the washing machine after all the water had been sucked away. He looked at the hoses (my initial hope: that one had come loose), the clothing receptacle, the machine’s position on the floor, the wash settings, etc. Puzzled, he finally said: but there’s nothing wrong with it.

Happily, my Beirut washer has been a dream. new, clean, functional – we get along beautifully. Perhaps my propitiary offerings and its regal perch in the mudroom have allowed me to break the curse.

Even when my washes were disasters, however, my dry cleaning experiences have been delights. In Damascus, I take my dry cleaning to Sno White. I went there initially because I found the idea of having my clothing cleaned by a fairy tale character … well … enchanting. Now, though, I go because the men who work there are enchanting.

Sno White must be owned by someone very devout, as whichever branch I go to has either Qur’anic recitation playing from the stereo or men praying. At first the men would politely turn it off when I entered (thinking it might offend me?) … then, remembering that on previous visits I had demurred, they would merely raise their eyebrows and gesture towards the stereo … and finally they began to leave the cassette playing. They are delightful, young and old – sweet and courtly, and unfailingly gracious. When I had stitches in my chin after an unfortunate fall at the airport, they carefully advised me on the importance of good plastic surgery. When I … oh … I have lots of Sno White stories – and I have one favorite.

When I travel, I try to choose one color theme – it facilitates mixing and matching, and minimizes my shoe requirements. Last November and December, I went to Damascus with a “brown” theme. One day I went to Sno White with two pairs of (to the undiscerning eye) very, very similar brown trousers. A bit embarrassed to have put myself in such a … haha … brown study, I said ruefully to my favorite Sno White-r:

Oh, I am a bit boring – here I am with two brown trousers.

Oh no, he said (and this is the part that is my favorite). Your trousers are beautiful. Each of your trousers is beautiful, just as you are beautiful.

I thanked him for his care and his very sweet self-esteem building comment, and walked home in a daze. Never, never, never have I received a compliment like that before.



I took this photo in Jerusalem, quite proud of myself for having mastered drop off and pick up with smiles and gestures, at a shop where neither Arabic nor English proved at all helpful:



Posted in Americans, Arabic, clothing, Damascus, family, home, Israel, Syria, travel | 1 Comment »

“of course its good – its from Lebanon!”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 27, 2006

A recent conversation with a Lebanese-American about the tastes of milks around the world (when I was little my favorite first thing to do when returning home from a trip was to pour myself a big glass of milk, milk with the “right”, i.e., central Iowa, Anderson Erickson Dairy, flavor) reminded me of my own experiences with “Lebanese” milk.

When I am in Damascus, I buy Bongiorno “diet” (i.e., skim) milk. Despite the total lack of attractive packaging – the milk comes in flat sky blue boxes with “Bongiorno” printed in red – I prefer it to Fayhaa, which to me tastes too creamy to be truly skim. (Just as those who were raised on whole milk find skim too watery to satisfy, we who were raised on skim milk find anything thicker too thick.)

Not every shop carries Bongiorno, but I know the ones that do, and I amuse the shopkeepers by buying them three at a time. I would buy more, but three is the most I can carry while still maintaining a dignified, not completely bent-over, posture while walking on the street.

One Thursday evening, having just realized that we would run out of milk on Friday, when all our (mostly Sunni) neighborhood’s shops were closed, I rushed to my favorite everything shop to buy another box.

The boy behind the counter handed me … something else. A colorfully designed box of milk with the brand name Silhouette. “But what is this?” I asked, panicking to see something so unfamiliar. “Don’t you have any Bongiorno milk?”

“Don’t worry”, he told me, smiling. “Its good – its from Lebanon!”

It was good – and once I had brought it home, I realized that I had indeed drunk this milk before – at my friend M’s mother’s condo up in Jounieh. M’s mother, a brilliant philosopher whose leather-bound Boston University doctoral dissertation on Heidegger terrified me with its erudition whenever I stayed in their study-cum-guest room, had told me cheerfully: “you can drink as much as you want – its fat-free”. (At the time, I worried that she had detected some displeasing change to my usually petite self. After learning how much time she had spent in France as well as the U.S., I realized that she was making a much-appreciated deduction that while the French might enjoy whole milk, Americans drank skim.)

That fall, I moved to Paris for a research fellowship. Jet-lagged on my first evening, I nevertheless decided to make my first grocery run – to the nearby Geant. I wandered up and down the aisles, taking in the array of products through my decalage-fogged brain. Finally, I reached the milk aisle and … there it was. a taste of ‘home’: Silhouette milk.

Wow, my beleaguered brain cells thought: this really must be good milk, if the French import it from Lebanon. I took a six-pack, made my stumbling way home, put the groceries away and tucked myself into bed.

When I woke the next morning, I made tea. While drinking it, I examined the Sihouette box more closely, curious to see where these Lebanese cows were located.

As it turned out, Silhouette’s cows were actually … French, and belonged to the British conglomerate Candia Farms. What a pity – I was much less enchanted by the idea of drinking British milk in Paris than I would have by the idea of drinking 7halib lubneini.


Posted in Americans, Beirut, Damascus, food, Lebanon, Paris, travel | 1 Comment »

birds of a feather: the bald ibis in Syria

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 26, 2006

For the first time ever, MSN Messenger’s news scroll displayed a video I wanted to see: a five minute National Geographic feature on the Society’s efforts to track the bald ibis in Syria.

Here is the link:


The birds are found in the desert near Palmyra/Tadmor, and they are beautiful:


(Well, the bird in this image is not beautiful, but it was one of the few to connect the bald ibis with Syria.)

A National Geographic team has been working in partnership with Syrian authorities and local Bedouin to tag and track the birds. Tagging was done last summer, and researchers have followed the birds’ progress south through Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, across the water into Eritrea and now Djibouti.

An article published last July about the tagging and tracking operation is available here:


The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has posted the birds’ progress, which is mapped via satellite, here:


Syria has been in the news many times in 2006, but most of the media attention has gone to political developments. Meanwhile, the country has witnessed some of the most exciting archaeological discoveries in decades, as well as zoological ones such as this. Donning my historian’s tweed, I predict that in fifty years’ time, these will be the events for which the year is remembered, not the vagaries of up-and-down Syrian-American relations.

Posted in animals, maps, media, Syria | Leave a Comment »

the spirit of brotherly love: wishing across religions

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 26, 2006

A very disheartening Associated Press article was published on December 24 in the Kuwait Times, the International Herald Tribune, and a few other papers. Its subject was the decline of communal tolerance in Kuwait, as evidenced through the increasing unwillingness of some Kuwaitis to wish their Christian brethren a merry Christmas.

Theologically, this position is highly defensible. After all, one of the major ‘sticking points’ between Christianity and its two Abrahamic siblings is the divinity of Christ. A strict interpretation of Judaism or Islam would see wishing someone a “merry Christmas” as encouraging him or her in the error of seeing Christ as the son of God. The same would be true for Christians or Jews wishing Muslims an 3eid mubarak – after all, in Islam it is Ishmael, not Isaac, who is sacrificed, and there is less emphasis on the covenant God makes with Abraham.

Like many who favor ecumenicalism over sectarianism, I prefer to consider the faiths of all believers as the product of sincere human striving towards God, and our differences as a mystery for God, not man, to unravel. I wish my fellow Christians, Jews, and Muslims joy and peace on each holiday, and I was delighted to find that the first holiday greetings in my inbox yesterday came from one of my Muslim friends.

Here is the AP article, taken from the Kuwait Times:
Religious ‘intolerance’ rising in Kuwait

KUWAIT: Is it religiously acceptable for Muslims to wish their Christian colleagues or acquaintances a Merry Christmas? In Kuwait, it depends on who you ask. Days before the holiday that is not officially celebrated in Kuwait, fundamentalists like Mohammed Al-Kandari began urging fellow Muslims not to extend the greeting to Christians they know. Al-Kandari, who heads the Society of Sharia, or Islamic law, told Al-Watan daily the celebration contradicted with Islam because Christians believe Jesus (PBUH) was the son of God. The decline in tolerance of other faiths comes as political Islam is sharply increasing its presence in mainstream politics across the region.

A year ago, the militant Islamist group Hamas swept Palestinian elections; Jordan appointed an Islamist to the Cabinet in November; and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood formed the largest opposition bloc in parliament since elections in 2005. There are few hundred Kuwaiti Christians among the country’s 1 million citizens. However, many of the 2 million foreign workers who live here are Christian. Kuwait University political science teacher Ahmed Al-Baghdadi said posters expressing sentiments similar to Al-Kandari’s appeared around campus for several days. “It is dangerous because it means that the extremist movement feels stronger than before …maybe in the future they will call for closing down (non-Muslim) places of worship.”
Kuwait permits several churches to operate. Senior Shiite scholar Mohammed Baqer Al-Mahri issued a statement saying Muslims can “congratulate their brethren the Christians” on Christmas and “show joy” on the occasion. “Let all Christians in the world know that all Muslims love Jesus … and his mother Mary,” just like the Holy Quran tells us to, Al-Mahri said. The government is fighting extremism with a campaign to spread “moderation” especially among young men, many of whom have adopted fundamentalist Islam and taken up arms in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Christmas Eve, Al-Watan columnist Nabil Al-Fadhl urged officials leading the campaign to make a concrete gesture to Christians. “It is a silly joke to try to preach moderation …. if you do nothing about those who fight Christmas and describe as infidel those who wish Christians a Merry Christmas,” he wrote. Christians freedom to worship in the Arabian Gulf is generally more constrained than elsewhere in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is the least tolerant of other faiths. It bans non-Islamic holidays.

Meanwhile, with Santa Clauses in trendy malls, giant Christmas trees in hotels and holiday treats on supermarket shelves, Christmas cheer is can’t be missed in Dubai. In fact, the holiday kitsch is at an all-time high in this Muslim city where many residents reveal in the commercial hype of the Christian holiday. Though winter temperatures feel more like summer here, it hasn’t stopped people from purchasing Christmas trees, which are shipped in from colder, northern countries, and taking pictures with Santa amid fake falling snow inside a local mall.

Despite a growing rift between some Muslims and Christians, it’s no surprise that the commercial side of Christmas is all the rage in Dubai, home of other over-the-top, flashy attractions including an indoor snow skiing park and man-made islands created in the shape of palm trees. The majority of the 800,000 citizens of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates are Muslim. But an estimated 3.7 million foreigners also live there. Though most are guest workers from other Arab and Muslim countries, many come from predominantly Christian countries including Britain.

Anger toward the West and Christians by some Muslims has escalated over the past year after cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were first published in a Danish newspaper and following the explosive comments made by Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI in September about violence and the prophet. But unlike conservative Islamic Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, which bans celebrating non-Muslim holidays, and Kuwait, where debates spring up about whether it’s un-Islamic to wish people Merry Christmas, Dubai has long been the liberal bastion of the Arabian Peninsula where people from all countries and religions seeking to reap the benefits of its booming economy live.

The commercialised Christmas shopping spirit is most prominent in Dubai’s vast malls, which feature displays of fake snowmen, furry polar bears and fuzzy reindeer wagging their heads as they pull sleighs full of presents. A snowstorm erupts every hour at the Emirates mall, where for US$11, children can visit Santa and receive a gift. Across town at the Ibn Batutta Mall, fake Santas strum electric guitars, singing “Jingle Bell Rock.” At the Wafi City mall, an Egyptian-themed shopping centre built around a fake pyramid, children played among gingerbread houses and shoppers listened to Christmas carols.

“It’s lovely,” said Donna Ralf, 43, from England, while shopping with her granddaughter. “It definitely makes home seem closer.” Dubai’s legions of hotels and clubs also seem to be competing to outdo each other to attract well-heeled residents to luxurious Christmas dinners. Many have sent teenagers to slip fliers under apartment and office doors in neighbourhoods favoured by expatriates. One hotel, the Mina a-Salaam, even boasts a giant, brightly lit Christmas tree that floats on a raft in an artificial lake.

The Christmas frenzy has spilled over to residential neighbourhoods. At one apartment complex, fliers are posted inviting residents of all denominations to Christmas parties, and the greeting “Happy Christmas” is in vogue here, even among non-Christians. Newspapers also have jumped on the Christmas bandwagon, with the top headline of the Khaleej Times yesterday reading: “Look, it’s Christmas” above a picture of a mother and daughter wearing Santa’s hats. Emirati resident Loloa Al-Khalifa, dressed in the traditional black cloak or abaya, said she welcomed the Christmas cheer while taking photographs of her 1-year-old son in front of holiday decorations at one of the malls recently. “I’m very proud of our traditions but happy that my son is growing up in such a cosmopolitan city,” Al-Khalifa, a Muslim, said. – AP

Posted in Islam, Kuwait, religion | 1 Comment »

the midwest melting pot ii: more on the mother mosque

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 25, 2006

The Wall Street Journal has posted several online reader responses to Michael Judge’s “Mother Mosque” article. Some reflect an attitude that is … exactly what I would (stereotypically) expect of WSJ readers, such as the following:

Not Enough for Me
Kelly Lofton – Kennewick, Wash.

I applaud Imam Tawil on his efforts to educate his fellow citizens on Islam. However, until I see more of these Muslim Americans take the stance that they are not so much Muslim Americans as “just Americans” and begin to seriously and forcefully condemn the attacks by their terrorist “other brother,” I will continue to view them with skepticism and suspicion. If they are truly Americans, they should hold no allegiance to any other government or people than this country and the rest of their fellow American citizens. I am sure that there are many “Americans” of Muslim descent or the Islamic faith that feel exactly as I have described. The problem is that we never hear from them. They remain silent, and as long as they do so, they will continue to be viewed as either on the opposing side or at least sympathizing with the enemy.

Flowery articles like this do nothing to convince me that anything has changed. The only thing we hear is that Islam is misunderstood and that Muslims are the victims. Well, I see something completely different every time I turn on the TV or read a paper. There are “Islamic” people around the world committing genocide and murder in the name of their faith, and on no small scale I might add. It is organized and it is coordinated. I see no convincing condemnation of those actions from the American Muslim.

If they wish to be viewed as Americans they should indicate forcefully that they do not agree with organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stop trying to change our culture to suit their design, adapt to our way of life, learn the language, and speak out against the violence and destruction being perpetrated on the innocent people of other faiths by Islamic militants and terrorist around the globe.

The people who have hijacked their faith are the ones responsible for most of the killing in the world today. We will help them retake their faith if they will step up and lead as Americans. Otherwise we will continue to assume that they may be “one of the enemy” and treat them accordingly.

Well, this is one view. I do not agree that Muslims are ‘responsible for most of the killing in the world today’, nor that American Muslims are putting any greater pressure on American culture today than American Latinos, or American Irish, Italians (whom we might alternatively term American Catholics) have in the past.

An equally reactionary if somewhat loopier view is the following:

Is Diversity Worth It?
Walter Kasun – Visalia, Calif.

Besides the United States where the heritage of Islam can be counted in tens of years, where else in the world has Islam peacefully cohabited with other religions?

Yes, the United States can make this kind of diversity work: But will the marginal cost of these endeavors exceed the marginal benefit? Is it any kind of benefit to us or the rest of the world to have a country where all cultures are allowed to prosper and grow?

Someone, somewhere needs to do the hard analytical work. We need less flowery language on the “benefits of diversity” from conservatives and liberals and bit more analytical thought on the issue.

I do find it strange that both these responses managed to use the term “flowery”, one which rarely makes it into my own vocabulary set. What I find utterly bizarre is his question: “is it any kind of benefit to us or to the rest of the world to have a country where all cultures are allowed to prosper and grow?” Perhaps we should consider the converse: a country where only one culture and one sect is allowed. I can think of at least one example of this – can you?

And finally, a response more in line with my own:

Joining the American Gothic
Michael D. McCaffrey – Yarmouthport, Mass.

When the word mosque becomes as much a part of our vocabulary as church or temple, we will be well down the road toward understanding our religious diversity as bedrock Americana instead of a red flag to argue that America is really a Christian country or that politicians should be sworn in on the Bible only. Hats off to the Cedar Rapids imam and the Journal for highlighting this story. Maybe, with enough pieces like this, the simple white clapboards of an Iowa mosque can be integrated into the background as American Gothic.

American Gothic was not only painted in Iowa, but also continues to inform Iowan culture, as a badge of Iowan-ness. My parents live in a Des Moines suburb that sports its own larger-than-life-size wrought iron rendition of the painting; it sits in the front yard of the neighbors who commissioned it and is decorated according to the season.

This past summer, the Iowa State Fair replaced its traditional Lego and/or sand sculpture with one made from … balloons. The ‘sculpture’ filled the atrium of the fairgrounds’ Cultural Center – a massive, air-filled recreation of … American Gothic:


I like the idea of a clapboard mosque, and I like even more the idea that my fellow Iowans welcome it.

In closing, I must correct Mr. Kasun’s statement that in the United States, the “heritage of Islam can be counted in tens of years”. The Mother Mosque may be the oldest functioning mosque in the country, but our Muslim presence vastly pre-dates the twentieth century. American historians believe that the earliest American Muslims were brought to the United States when we were still a British colony – as early as the late 1600s, and certainly by the 18th century. While Muslims ‘arrived’ to this continent later than Christians or Jews, they are certainly no Johnny-come-latelies. (Richard Brent Turner’s Islam in the African-American Experience covers this early history, while Robert Allison’s The Crescent Obscured addresses the early United States’ relations with Muslim world states and peoples.)

The responses can be viewed at: http://www.opinionjournal.com/cc/responses.html?article_id=110009412.

Posted in Americans, art, Iowa, Islam, media, mosque, news, religion | 1 Comment »

“I’m glad you’re clean”: adventures in expression

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 24, 2006

This isn’t really my story, but it has become part of my everyday life. I think of it whenever I shower.

My friend M. lived and worked in Damascus for several years.
Because M. dated the very nice Mouhammed for some time, she was deeply integrated into the milieu of Shami expressions – far more so than I was, since my primary exposure to Arabic came through coursework and research.

One of the expressions we did both know, however, was “na3iman” – blessings, which is said to someone who has just bathed, had a haircut, or shaved. The newly shorn and/or clean responds with: yna3m 3aleik/i, may God bless you (too).

One could speculate endlessly about the origins of this – whether from an orientalist view that the original, desert-dwelling Arabic speakers must have considered the opportunity to bathe in water a great blessing, or a more practical expression of relief at seeing one’s loved ones survive another experience with a sharp, non-safety razor, blade.

What is clear, however, is that we English-speakers have no equivalent expression – no blessings for the clean! (Perhaps this is an inheritance from our medieval, Renaissance, and early modern European ancestors, who preferred flea scratchers and heavy perfume to bathing …)

One of M.’s closest friends and co-workers was a Damascene woman named Y.

One day, Y. asked: what do you say in English to someone who has just showered?

M., startled, responded with the only words that came to mind:

“Gosh, I’m glad that you’re clean.”

Every time I jump into the shower after a workout, I think of M.’s answer and it makes me smile.


Posted in Arabic, Damascus, friends, women | Leave a Comment »

Middle East makeover: the Daily Show on al-Jazeera English

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 23, 2006

Ordinarily, I am quite content without a television. Every so often, however, the Daily Show does something so brilliant that I am tempted to reconsider.

Happily, the diligent YouTubers are right there, putting up content so sharply funny that ROTFL is too weak a description.


Last week, the Daily Show’s Samantha Bee did a five minute “makeover” of al-Jazeera English. The channel’s producers, news staff, and anchors all appear, gamely joining in as she maligns their presentation and format in an effort to make the channel more appealing (read: more FOX-like) to American viewers.


Early in the segment, Bee interviews Will Stebbins, al-Jazeera English’s bureau chief, who says:

“We’re looking to produce a journalistically quality product.”

Bee interrupts him, asking quizzically:

“Aren’t you trying to appeal to an American audience?”

The segment ends with a “lead in” broadcast by the newly madeover anchors. The channel boasts new graphics and new music; the anchors boast new names (Ghida Fakhri, having taken to heart Bee’s discomfort with the homonymic quality of her last name, introduces herself as “Robin Gomez”) and attempt heroically to banter with one another. Its laugh-out-loud funny, but its also brilliant funny – poignant and sharp at the same time.

Here is the youtube link:


Posted in Americans, media | 1 Comment »

to your health: the wines of Lebanon go west

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 23, 2006

This afternoon I escorted my parents through the new “downtown” Whole Foods. My mother was enchanted – we went up and down every aisle while she exclaimed over each different item. I lost them in cereal; found them amongst the potato chips. This evening she told my sister: “it was like a trip around the world”.

honestly, I haven’t had so much fun with my parents since I took my mother on her first city bus trip earlier this fall.

The grocery extravaganze paid off richly for me, too, as I spotted this bottle hiding modestly amidst WF’s many wines:


Michael Karam, whose deeply professional spitting prowess impressed me greatly at a private Chateau Massaya function last spring, had this to say about Musar’s wines in an interview published on Wine-Pages.com early last summer:

“Musar needs no introduction, but readers may not be as familiar with the Hochar Pére et Fils 2000, Musar’s second and, according to Serge Hochar, “more accessible” creation. A Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan blend, it is, as with all Hochar’s wines, one that you will either love or dismiss as an anachronism (or worse). I like it. A nose of rain on wood, tobacco and oranges, while in the mouth, it is all berries and chocolate. One really should sample the eccentric, trippy and generally thought-provoking ‘Château’ whites and the chocolaty Cuvée Réserve Rosé.”


Writing shortly after the summer war began, Sean of More Is Less had this to say about Musar’s 2001 Hochar Pere et Fils:

“Château Musar makes a few other wines, one of which is Hochar Père et Fils. This label produces a red, a white and a rosé. I picked up a bottle of the red the other night because I really have a thing for Château Musar and think they can do no wrong as far as my palate is concerned.

According to their web site, the Hochar is “A mix of cabernet sauvignon, of carignan with a dominance of cinsault and a hint of grenache, the HPF is partially aged in oak vats from 6 to 9 months.”

Its colour is much lighter than I’m used to from any red wine other than one made by Musar. Despite the lighter colour, it’s still pretty full-bodied and carries the distinctive Musar-like nose. I don’t really know how to accurately desribe the nose. If you’ve had a Château Musar red, you know what I’m talking about. It’s light-berry-like with touches of tar and leather, but in a really unique way… like it’s been run through a ripe cranberry patch on the way to the tasting. It’s really unique and tasty. I could definitely pick these wines out in a brown-bag tasting.

The label recommends decanting and I’d definitely stick with that… about an hour’s worth. After that, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. It’s unlike many wines out there at the moment and that a GOOD thing. I really like this. So tasty.”


Yum. I can’t wait to open this bottle during our Christmas dinner.

Posted in family, food, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »