A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for September, 2008

mapping the Middle East: Lumeta

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 30, 2008

For today, something beautiful and scientific mapped into one: Lumeta’s Internet mapping project, which includes this lyrical (okay, slightly alien-looking) map of Internet usage in the Middle East. (And no, I don’t know why Afghanistan and Pakistan are included here – one of the many moments in which stereotypes override geography.)

The map shows IPs rather than individual users, and I’m not sure how it accounts for Lebanese providers’ tendency to use European IPs (hence my confusion in 2007 when I suddenly found myself online from Lithuania). But its still a lovely map, and an interesting way to visualize our use of the Internet.


Posted in Arab world, art, Lebanon, media, research | 4 Comments »

more on Iowa newspapers and the Obsession with radical Islam

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 29, 2008

Its been an up-and-down weekend, both in my own life (I was meant to spend the weekend at a family wedding in Vermont, but thanks to a trifecta of flight cancellations, spent a good chunk of it in the airport without actually getting anywhere, bah humbug) and in Lebanon’s. We cheered the removal of all the party posters and flags that started the weekend – cheered, and wished that we were there to see the removal (and the change in street feeling) first hand.

And this morning the cheers stopped when I sleepily turned on my laptop to read the news over breakfast.

At first I didn’t quite believe it. I saw “Deadly blast rocks Lebanese city” on the BBC news site and thought: there’s something wrong with the BBC today. Its broadcasting old news – this bombing happened in August.

But it didn’t. I’m so sorry for the people of Tripoli, who already face the challenges of deep poverty and political powerlessness. And I am terribly sorry for the Army, whose soldiers and commanders do not need these terrorist attacks when they are trying to build a strong institution for all Lebanese to be proud of.

This weekend also brought a funny Iowa connection to my Lebanon experience. When I clicked on the “Letters to the Editor” section of Saturday’s Daily Star, I found one that mentioned a familiar newspaper:

I love that someone with such a typically Scandinavian name (which is more typical of Minnesotans than Iowans, but there is a lot of overlap) can read a Lebanese paper, thanks to the Internet.

Mr. Johnson’s letter prompted me to return to the Des Moines Register‘s own website, where I found a few more reader responses to the paper’s decision to include copies of Obsession in its Sunday issue.

This letter appeared just yesterday – a happy sign that the debate continues:

We received a copy of a right-wing terror propaganda DVD bundled into our Sept. 14 Sunday Register, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” I checked out the distributor, the Clarion Fund, and found that it is a New York-based group, an outfit that claims a 501c(3) nonprofit status despite an article recently on its Web site, since removed, that backed Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

We wondered when the scare tactics of the 2004 campaign would return. To coincide with Sept. 11, 28 million copies of the 60-minute film went out bundled with the ads in 70 newspapers in 14 swing states, including Iowa. First shown on Fox News during the 2006 mid-term elections and on college campuses, the production shows a long series of unsubstantiated experts equating radical Muslim movements with the German Nazis.

Despite two mild verbal disclaimers that not all Muslims are radical, there were two printed and verbal “quotes” about Muslim radicals planning to eventually occupy the White House. This is a not-so-subtle tie-in to the ideas behind the hate e-mail frequently passed along over the Internet this past year depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim, along with other supposedly despicable traits.

I would have thought the Register knew better than to pass along such drivel.

– Joann Estle, Washington

(It appeared with another letter, whose writer had a very different opinion. Gerald Haas of Alba wrote: The DVD included in the Register Sept. 14 provides insight into radical Islam that is lacking in the mainstream media. It is to our peril that we do not understand the threat before us. Thank you for providing this. I disagree with Mr. Haas wholeheartedly, but I appreciate his decision to write a professional letter that does not describe all Muslims as terrorists, backwards, or children of Satan, as some of the reader comments have done.)

This letter appeared in last Friday’s paper:

The wisdom of Jesus should guide us when he says, “Fear not! Do not be afraid.”

It is when we are afraid that we make irrational and tragic decisions such as the war in Iraq. The DVD recently distributed inside the Register, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” seeks to foment fear and cause us to make electoral decisions based on that fear.

The Clarion Fund, which financed the DVD, seems to be a reincarnation of the Swift Boat hate, fear and lies campaign.

Equating Islam with radicalism is no more rational than equating Christianity with torture because some of its adherents have engaged in those practices.

– Cora Bartemes, Urbandale

Bartemes’ letter has been up long enough to have attracted reader comments – almost 60 when I last checked. Some are thoughtful comments by people wrestling with their feelings about ‘others’ in the world, and some are, er, not.

I’ll spare you the truly bigoted anti-Islam and anti-Christianity barbs and just give you a sample of the goofier comments:

From a reader who obviously appreciated neither the DVD nor Bartemes’ invocation of Christ: Religion is a distraction to really enjoying life. Plus I didn’t waste my 75 cents on this crappy paper.

From another reader who would have liked a free copy, “crappy” or no: I guess the hate group who put it out is cheap. I didn’t get it in my paper, just 70 miles out of Des Moines.

And from one reader to another, in a charming display of mature conversation: I suggest you adjust your meds.

I laughed when I read that comment, but today I am also thinking of the people of Tripoli (as well as the people of Damascus), and hoping that they find comfort despite the brutality of this weekend’s bombs.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, explosion, Iowa, Lebanon, politics, Tripoli, words | 8 Comments »

more on platinum dialing: paying for a 70?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 28, 2008

Those of you who were intrigued by my post about Lebanon’s introduction of “platinum numbers” might be interested to know what digits are available at next Friday’s auction. Here’s a list, courtesy of last Tuesday’s Daily Star:

More information about the auction can also be found on the website of MTC Touch, one of Lebanon’s two mobile phone carriers. MTC Touch seems to be sponsoring this auction, meaning that the numbers will all be required to subscribe with MTC. (The charges and services for MTC and Alfa are almost exactly the same, thanks to the government’s stifling of any attempt at market competition, but it is still odd to me that the numbers would not be divided between the two companies.)

In my opinion – and I must admit that I’m not really one for numbers – these numbers are fine, but I wouldn’t pay $200 just for the privilege to bid on them. And what mature government decides that 696969 is an appropriate set of digits for a mobile phone? I hope that number goes to some person with international business or political dealings, whose overseas contacts’ laughter will soon shame him (I’m guessing) into buying a more generic line.

I noticed something else about all of these numbers, which the Lebanese phone users among my readers will also have noticed. They all begin with “70”.

Historically, all Lebanese mobile numbers began with the prefix 03. When the Telecommunications Ministry introduced “70” in 2005 (?), the new prefix was greeted as warmly as the 646 in Manhattan. 212 was for New Yorkers; 646 was for arrivistes.

When I arrived in Beirut in early 2006, I didn’t realize that there were two prefixes, and I bought a card with a 70. What is this number? friends would complain, looking peeved. Do you mean 03 70 xx xx? others would ask. No no – I want your Lebanese mobile, not your foreign one, some people said.

I’m a snob. And a fast learner. So I exchanged my number for a 03 and we were all much happier.

But I’m guessing that after another two years, the 03s are really almost used up. And 70 has won a grudging acceptance from Lebanese dialers – or at least it has become normalized.

But the idea that people might actually consider 70 numbers “pretty” – and be willing to pay a premium for them! – still boggles my mind a bit.

Posted in advertising, Beirut, economics, fashion, Lebanon, license plates | Leave a Comment »

Not-quite-white: Middle Easterners adrift in the US’s racial hierarchy

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 26, 2008

One of the things that I learned from living in Damascus and then Beirut is that if one is an English-speaker, one almost invariably seems to wind up with a number of friends who work as journalists. Thanks to them, I pay much more attention to how American and Canadian media cover Syria, Lebanon, and other Middle East countries and issues.

And thanks to two of them who have each spent time as the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s correspondents in the region, I also pay much more attention to the Chronicle. Its not a mass-market paper – its a weekly newspaper-print magazine that covers American colleges and universities, and its primary audience is an academic one: professors and administrators.

The Chronicle‘s articles can be a bit specialized, so I tend to pick and choose what I read. (I’m most interested in articles that relate university issues to the broader picture – like the issue of lowering the US drinking age and how university presidents and other administrators have reacted to this proposal.)

I particularly like its commentary pieces, which are often very thoughtful reflections on issues that any professional can not only understand but relate to.

Yesterday, I read an absolutely fascinating piece about race, and how Arabs, Iranians and other Middle Easterners often fall through the cracks of the almost exclusively black-white racial divide that characterizes the US. I’ve read before that Middle Easterners fall into the unhappy category of “not-quite-white”: legally white, which allowed them to immigrate to the US in years when Asians were barred; but like Irish, Italian and Russian Americans, considered “less white” than the British, French, German and other North-Western Europeans who formed the first block of immigrants.

I’ve read about this issue in academic terms, but this piece helped me think about it in human terms:

Middle Easterners: Sometimes White, Sometimes Not

A few years ago, I was invited to interview for a tenure-track position as a law professor. I spent a pleasant day meeting with my prospective colleagues and received strong indications that I would receive a job offer. But a bloc of professors opposed my candidacy, and I ended up one vote short.

One faculty member called me to relay the unhappy news. Although disappointed, I was not disturbed until he said: “You shouldn’t take any of this personally. The group that voted against you thought you’d be a great colleague and a wonderful addition to the law school. It was just a race issue.” Confused, I muttered something about my opposition to discrimination against minorities.

That surprised my caller. “No, no, John. They objected to the fact that you’re white. They insisted that we hire a minority candidate.”

Although the professors who voted against me were apparently progressive liberals in favor of diversity in the law-school faculty, they seemed to have no concern about its lack of a full-time professor of Middle Eastern descent — an absence brought into relief by the large number of Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Armenians in the student body and local community. I asked, “They do know that I’m Middle Eastern, don’t they?”

“Yes, of course,” he said, “so they consider you white.”

Utterly perplexed, I muttered: “White, huh? That’s not what they call me at the airport.”

Ultimately, university administrators determined that the faculty’s actions were illegal and offered me the job, which I politely declined. But the underlying premise of the entire debacle — the whiteness of Middle Easterners — remained unexamined. And so it remains in both the academy and society.

The Middle Eastern question affects some of the most pressing issues of our time: the wars in Iraq and on terrorism; the growing tension between preservation of our national security and protection of our civil rights; and the debate over immigration, assimilation, and our national identity. Paradoxically, scant attention is given to our domestic Middle Eastern population and its place in American society.

Middle Eastern Americans are caught in a Catch-22. Our government, our educational institutions, and the private sector almost uniformly classify individuals of Middle Eastern descent as white. On paper, therefore, they appear identical to a blue-eyed blond of North European descent. In reality, however, Middle Eastern Americans have faced growing discrimination in recent years — through targeted immigration policies, racial profiling, a war on terrorism with a decidedly racist bent, and increasing workplace harassment and hate crimes.

Unless you belong to the group, however, it might be hard to see that. Middle Eastern Americans have little collective voice, as they are not considered a minority in official government data. Despite our heated discourse about diversity, therefore, Middle Easterners have remained surprisingly absent from the debate.

The academy has the ability to lead a vigorous colloquy about Middle Easterners and diversity. But government classifications for tracking admissions and hiring decisions have crippled us. As a result, bureaucratic reductionism has trumped critical thinking about what race and ethnicity mean, and what constitutes diversity.

For example, a recent newsletter from the American Bar Association celebrated significant increases in minority hiring for law-school faculties: From 2000 to 2004, minorities increased their share of full-time faculty positions from 13.9 percent to 16.0 percent, leading to plaudits for “meaningful progress in diversifying the law school community.”

Like almost all accounts of diversity, however, that report paid no attention to Middle Eastern representation. While we have specific counts for law professors of African, Asian, Pacific Island, Latino, and Native American descent, the official data camouflage professors of Middle Eastern descent in the majority, with European-Americans.

That approach causes several problems. First, efforts to quantify minority representation in education and industry have brought to light systemic discrimination and underrepresentation, thereby leading to efforts to improve minority recruitment. By failing to measure the representation of Middle Eastern Americans, we cannot ascertain the degree to which they may suffer from discrimination or underrepresentation.

Second, by whitewashing Middle Easterners, we unwittingly send the message that they do not contribute meaningfully to diversity. The Supreme Court has allowed institutions of higher education to use diversity policies to promote cross-racial understanding, enervate invidious racial stereotypes, and enliven classroom discussion. Greater representation of Middle Eastern Americans could advance all three goals.

Of course, ethnic diversity does not guarantee a diversity of opinions, and the majority is not de facto incapable of relating to minority experiences. But a diversity of perspective helps, and a more visible Middle Eastern presence in academe could promote further exploration of the important, but underappreciated, issues raised in this essay and my forthcoming book on the subject, Whitewashed: America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority.

Re-examining our notions of diversity is particularly important at this juncture, when race-conscious policies are coming under increasing attack. Indeed, the recent experiences of many Middle Eastern Americans readily belie the Panglossian trope of colorblindness that has permeated recent Supreme Court jurisprudence and fueled attacks against affirmative action. Arguing that the use of race-conscious policies to redress past discrimination is never constitutional, Justice Antonin Scalia once optimistically posited that “in the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.”

Reflecting the ascendance of that view nearly a decade later, the Supreme Court effectively ended the use of affirmative action at secondary schools in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s famous proclamation that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Although Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the University of Michigan law school’s race-conscious admissions policy by the thinnest of margins, has not been overturned, the current composition of the Supreme Court and the Seattle decision make the viability of any remedial policies precarious at best.

Surprisingly, however, various branches of government have continued to promulgate race-conscious policies, thereby undermining the colorblind rhetoric. Consider the continued tolerance of racial profiling — a practice that often targets individuals with Middle Eastern appearance or names in airports. Roberts’s tautological edict against discrimination apparently gave a federal appellate court no pause when it declared earlier this year, in Cerqueira v. American Airlines, that the “race or ethnic origin of a passenger may, depending on context, be relevant information in the total mix of information raising concerns that transport of a passenger ‘might be’ inimical to safety.” On that basis, the court took the remarkable step of reversing the jury verdict for a plaintiff who, because of his Middle Eastern appearance, had been forcibly deplaned despite clearing all security checks.

Colorblindness is also still lacking in segments of the private sector. Yet courts have shielded certain discrimination from adequate legal remedies. For example, in 2005, a federal jury held that Abdul Azimi, a Muslim immigrant from Afghanistan, had suffered years of vicious racial invective and physical abuse at his workplace. The evidence established that co-workers had regularly taunted Azimi with the N-word, linked him to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and left him notes with swastikas and profanity-laced vituperations against his faith. They even assaulted and battered him, forcing pork into his mouth and pockets as they denounced his religion in the crudest terms imaginable. Shortly after Azimi finally filed a complaint against that hateful and abusive treatment, and just a few weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001, he was summarily fired.

Despite agreeing that Azimi had suffered discrimination, the jury found that the unlawful harassment had not caused Azimi “to be damaged by emotional distress, pain, suffering, emotional anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and/or inconvenience.” Azimi appealed, in Azimi v. Jordan’s Meats (2006), but the unfathomable verdict was affirmed and Azimi did not receive a single penny in damages.

Such a precedent threatens to provide carte blanche for the targeting of Middle Easterners in the workplace. Shockingly, Azimi’s case was a relative success: In the year of the Azimi decision, courts ruled on 69 employment-discrimination cases involving claims by Muslims, many of Middle Eastern descent. Azimi’s, with its acknowledgment of discrimination, was — in the words of The New York Times — the “only … victory, if you can call it that.”

Historically, no country has ever been more open and welcoming to immigrants than the United States, and no country has ever demonstrated a greater respect for civil rights and the protection of minorities. However, we still have work to do. At a time when issues related to Middle Eastern Americans have risen to the forefront of our country’s debates about national security, assimilation, and civil rights, there is no reason for those Americans to be excluded from the debate over diversity. As academics, we have an opportunity to lead the way.

One thing that I particularly like about this piece is that its author, John Tehranian, is not a specialist in Middle Eastern history or Iranian studies. He is identified as a law professor at Chapman University – in other words, while heis a scholar, this isn’t his field. But it apparently has become an issue that he has chosen to pursue at a professional level. The Chronicle ends this piece by noting that Professor Tehranian will publish a new book in December – a book called Whitewashed: America’s Invisible Middle Eastern Minority. Having read this commentary, I can’t wait to read the book. 

Posted in Americans, Arab world, citizenship, Iowa, words | 2 Comments »

more on Obsession

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 25, 2008

After four days of steaming about Obsession and combination of hate and money that must have fueled the distribution of 28 million copies of it around our beautiful country (if this is news to you, please see my previous post, available here), I have powered numerous cups of tea and am still irate. As an American, as an Iowan, and as a New Yorker, I am furious both that such hate exists in our country and that these same people have such a low opinion of my compatriots in Iowa, Florida, Ohio and other swing states. We may be in the flyover states, but we are not dumb – and this attempt at manipulating opinions, let alone votes, is pathetic and if not anti-American, at least certainly un-American.

Thank you to the many of you who have written with your thoughtful, sincere comments – RJ, Valerie, Faemom, Dawn et al. And thank you Intlxpatr and Faylasoof for posting about this story on your own blogs.

Thanks to my friend K, I have learned that an aptly named group called Hate Hurts America has published a website that addresses the DVD’s points: ObsessionWithHate.com. And CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has asked the Federal Elections Commission to investigate the distribution of these DVDs. (If you want to contact the FEC yourself, you can do so via its website or by calling 1-800-424-9530.

And if you think that this DVD issue will raise a stink here at home, you might be interested to know that the international press is starting to cover it as well. My aunt saw an article about it in todays Kuwait Times, and the Abu-Dhabi-based The National yesterday published an article titled: “Electioneering with Arab Stereotypes” – which mentions, among other things, that the Clarion Fund, which distributed Obsession, has yet to file its requisite 501(c)(3) forms with the IRS.While it might seem obvious that the Arab world would be interested in this story, I’ve also found articles about it in Hong Kong’s Asia Times and the British paper The Guardian.

Meanwhile, I can see from the letters to the editor and “oops!” articles printed in the papers that distributed this DVD that public opinion is largely (although certainly not exclusively) against this kind of hate – and this kind of manipulation.

Here’s a sample, from Del Stone Jr., the Online Editor of Florida’s NWF Daily News (and yes, I am including it here partly because I love the title):

Putting Lipstick on Propaganda Doesn’t Change It

Wednesday’s mail brought a curious delivery, a DVD titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West.”

I’d heard of the film only that afternoon. When I received my copy I became curious about its creation … and its creators.

“Obsession” is a controversial 60-minute “documentary” that attempts to describe radical Islam’s threat to the West through footage of terror attacks, clips from Arab TV and historical films of Nazi rallies. It has been shown on college campuses and on Fox News, and is now being distributed through direct mail and newspaper inserts.

“Obsession” was produced by the Clarion Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization which claims to accept no funding from the U.S. government, political institutions or foreign organizations. Clarion Fund’s mission statement reads as follows:

“Our primary focus is on the most urgent threat of radical Islam. By utilizing the following three mediums, Clarion Fund is helping Americans understand that the mainstream media is (sic) not adequately conveying the reality of radical Islam: documentary film production and distribution, online education, college outreach.”

Clarion Fund was founded in 2006 by Canadian filmmaker Raphael Shore, who now lives in Israel. The organization was described by a blogger on The Huffington Post as “shadowy” because it has not revealed the source of its funding. Clarion Fund Communications Director Gregory Ross said money for the distribution of “Obsession,” which has run into the “millions,” was collected from “private American individuals that span the political spectrum.”

Some 28 million copies of “Obsession” are being sent to Americans through the mail or bundled into the inserts of 70 newspapers in “swing states,” the implication being the filmmakers hope to influence the presidential elections, a charge Clarion rejects. The states include Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Virginia.

Newspapers in Florida carrying the DVD include the Daily Commercial, Florida Times-Union, Fort Lauderdale El Sentinel, Fort Myers News Press, Miami Herald, Ocala Star Banner, Orlando Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Tampa Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat, St. Petersburg Times and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The newspapers have come under fire from critics who say the news organizations are circulating hate to earn back revenue lost in advertising declines over the past year. But a New York Times spokeswoman, questioned by journalism industry magazine Editor & Publisher, said the DVD did not violate their advertising terms of service.

Critics say Clarion is trying to skew the election to the Republicans. A group that distributed the movie at the Democratic and Republican conventions maintains a congressional “scorecard” that rates elected officials on terrorism-related issues (see watchobsession.org ). Sen. John McCain rates a 58, while Barack Obama and Joe Biden score a 25. Also, E&P reported an article on the “Obsession” Web site all but endorsed John McCain, but was taken down after questions were raised.

If you watch “Obsession,” remember this: The film is propaganda, just as Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” and Sergie Eistenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” were propaganda films. Even Frank Capra’s “Why We Fight” series was described as propaganda by the U.S. Army.

Even if you agree with “Obsession,” you should maintain a healthy skepticism.

Propaganda doesn’t stop being propaganda just because you agree with it.

“Obession” is being marketed through direct mail, newspapers, and on the film’s Web site.

If you want to offer Del Stone feedback on this piece, the paper states that he can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 1433, or dels@nwfdailynews.com.

I also like this letter to the editor, published on Monday in the Rio Rancho Observer:


I’ll make this brief. I have thoughts of 9/11 in my mind as often as I have prayer. That is most of the time. It cannot be judged because of surface things such as if I’m flying my flag or wearing my flag pin.

Why would your paper think that you have the right to say we don’t (think about 9/11), and you are going to bring this “Obsession” DVD into our home unwanted, to make sure we do? We are not so dumb and I am appalled that your paper takes on this preachy attitude. This DVD message has not the purpose to bring us into remembering 9/11. We are not about to forget it. We all know that this was meant to be a “smear and scare” tactic to move the Republican party forward in this country. These wicked DVDs were sent out by some unknown source at this convenient time to promote the fear again.

I was told the last time I ran an ad in your paper that the reason it was not being delivered to my area was there was too much growth, yet on Sunday morning there it was in my driveway, so you could deliver this DVD to as many as possible. Shame on you.

Beverly Norman

Rio Rancho

The Miami New Times, which apparently did not distribute the DVDs (although I am not sure whether this was as a matter of conscience or because the paper was not approached), has also been taking a keen interest in the issue. Here’s what one of its reporters, Kyle Munzenrieder, had to say yesterday on the paper’s blog:

Remember that Anti-Radical Islam DVD, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, you got in your Herald two weekends ago? Remember how we said it was controversial, and possibly a teensy bit Anti-Islam, as opposed to plain old anti-Radical Islam? Remember how after we suggested The Herald should have included a bit of a disclaimer, two days later they did and interviewed the director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations? Do you remember Miami, do you?

Because now CAIR is asking the FEC to probe itself all up into the Clarion Fund, the shady organization that paid for the distribution of that DVD in the Herald and 70-something other newspapers. CAIR’s thinking is that maybe, just maybe the fund “is really a front for an Israel-based group seeking to help Sen. John McCain win the U.S. presidential election,” according to a press release they just sent out.

“According to the website for the Secretary of State for New York, Clarion Fund Inc. is incorporated in New York as a Delaware based foreign not-for-profit corporation. According to the Delaware Department of Corporations, Robert (Rabbi Raphael) Shore, Rabbi Henry Harris and Rebecca Kabat incorporated Clarion Fund. All three of whom are reported to serve as employees of Aish HaTorah International, an organization apparently based in Israel. Also according to the Delaware Department of Corporations, the incorporators of the Clarion Fund used Aish HaTorah’s New York City address (150 West 46th Street, New York) to incorporate Clarion Fund in Delaware. It appears that the funding for the production, marketing and distribution of ‘Obsession’ may have originated from Israel-based Aish HaTorah International.”

So, basically we know that a foreign group may have paid for the distribution of some propaganda that drummed up national security fears at the expense of Muslims. Normally Republicans would be up in arms about “Got Dang Foreigners” involving themselves in our election process, but since this benefits them we’ll bet they’ll be silent (because they, meaning the people who control the party, not necessarily the voters, appear to have no morals and standards anymore, and it has never been more evident than during this election cycle, so we doubt they’ll man up now). And of course most of the mainstream papers aren’t going to push the issue because they were the ones who profited from all of this, but it was wrong, it was bullshit, and the FEC isn’t probably going to do anything about it either. Even if CAIR’s probing into the issue turns out to be a bit off (and frankly, no one seems to have any idea who the backers of the Clarion fund are, and this is the best we’ve seen), we’re glad someone isn’t letting it get swept up under the rug.

While we’re at it kudos to the Palm Beach Post (who also distributed the DVD) for coming down hard on the Clarion Fund:

“The irony is that The Clarion Fund, whatever the group is and whoever runs it, is operating like the secret cells it warns about. Terrorists are cowards. In their own way, so are the people sending out this campaign ad.”

And my friend K emailed me yesterday to relate her experience and to suggest that those of you in these swing states contact the publishers of your local papers to express your opinion. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear all,

I urge you to make a phone call.

As you will read at http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/sep/24/me-islam-dvd-provokes-inquiry-request/, “The Tampa Tribune is one of about 70 newspapers that agreed to bundle the DVD inside its paper. One shipment went out in Sunday’s Tribune. Another is to be distributed this coming Sunday.” Please call Denise Palmer, the publisher and president, at 817 259 7424 and urge her to reconsider the second shipment. I got her assistant, who I kindly asked to put me through to voicemail, where I left a message stating who I am and how I urge the Tampa Tribune to make the right decision and not distribute racist propaganda again on Sunday. Many of you can probably come up with better, more articulate or persuasive arguments.

Also, I called the reporter Lindsay Peterson and thanked her for her even handed report for Tampa Bay Online (just a regurgitation of the AP story below, in fact, with some incriminating details re the distributors of “Obsession” left out, but still…).  I told her my concerns about the redistribution of “Obsession” next week–she was very sympathetic and at least acted as if she agreed. I don’t know if it would be productive or counter-productive to flood her with calls, but I do think that thanking her via email (lpeterson@tampatrib.com) and letting her know that you have called Denise Palmer would pique her to pressure being put on the leadership of the paper.

Feel free to forward; if we could get one Florida paper to pull the DVD, it would be a great start. There ARE papers in this country who have refused to distribute the DVD, for instance the Greensboro News & Record and the St. Louis Dispatch.

This issue isn’t really about Muslims, or Islam, or even radical Islam. Its about us: about America, and how we treat one another. As citizens we all have the right to vote based on our opinions and our values – and manipulating us to skew our opinions in one direction or another not only demeans each of us, but more than that, it smears our country and our democratic traditions. As Beverly Norman said: Shame on you, newspapers who agreed to distribute these DVDs. And shame on you, Clarion Fund, for treating American citizens so poorly.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, citizenship, Iowa, media, politics, words | 2 Comments »

from gold to platinum

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 25, 2008

I am still still still furious about the Obsession DVD, and deeply grateful to the many of you who have written and commented so thoughtfully about the issue, from all sides. And I do have an “update” post to send out tomorrow morning – but today I just couldn’t resist posting about this very light, very Lebanese advertisement:

What is a platinum number? you might be wondering to yourself.

I’ll be honest: its a new term for me, too. But I can figure out what it means.

In Lebanon and around the region, “golden numbers” are phone numbers whose digits are particularly “pretty”. They might be easy to dial, like the “212” of the New York area code. Or they might be memorable, like (03) 033 033. Or they might just be meaningful to the user – like the story of one Lebanese guy in Dubai, who asked for a number that spells out his name. (“Diamond” would be 342-6663.)

Unsurprisingly, the mobile phone companies and re-sellers often try to sell “golden numbers” for a higher price. (They do this with license plates, too, as I noted earlier this year in this post on license plate auctions in the United Arab Emirates.)

And now, apparently, there is a new category of pretty numbers: the platinum ones. They must be beyond pretty, and into the realm of truly beautiful, super-model mobile phone numbers.

I’m poking fun a bit, but I’m also quite impressed with what Gebran Bassil has been doing with the Telecommunications Ministry since he took it over. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed with him – for the most part, I was expecting him to be a total twit, and was actually looking forward to a double-dose of twitiness from him and, of course, Talal Arslan.

And I do think that his presence at Aoun’s right-hand weakens the FPM’s anti-nepotism position. (For those of you less engrossed with Lebanese politics than me, Bassil is Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, and his rise in the party has caused tensions with long-term FPM supporters.) But he has really taken charge of the Telecommunications Ministry, and has been pushing through much-needed changes, from the controversial (reducing phone rates) to the mundane (adding much-needed pay phones).

Of course, I wouldn’t pay the money to enter the auction, let alone the price of each “platinum number”. But then again, I’m American – and I just can’t appreciate beauty the way that Lebanese can :D.

Posted in advertising, art, Beirut, Lebanon, license plates, vanity | 2 Comments »

brand loyalty in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 23, 2008

I’m still breathing fire about the 28 million copies of Obsession that have been distributed to swing state residents over the past few weeks – equal 9% of our total population, and as I noted in my last post, a huge financial investment in hate. I welcome your comments, thoughts, and stories about any reactions you might have heard from people who received the DVD, as well as political and civic leaders.

But I’m also moving back to my usual focus: Lebanon. Today’s topic is: counterfeit products. Its not a completely off-the-wall segue: just imagine how much cheaper the Obsession campaign would have been had the Clarion Fund simply made illegal copies of the film? I bet production costs could have been cut from $1 to $0.10 – including the cost of the movie ticket for someone’s Malaysian cousin to tape the film surreptitiously in a local theater.

On Saturday, this advertisement/announcement appeared in the Daily Star:

What does this mean? I thought to myself.Even if you don’t read Arabic, you can see that the Arabic text is a bit unusual. See the diagonal line over the black word on the far right, and the two diagonal w’s over the black words on the left? Those are diacritical marks, which are only used for less familiar words – words that Arabic-speakers need guidance in pronouncing, which in turn indicates their meaning.

For me, those diacritical marks meant that I had to get out my dictionary.

Here’s what the announcement says:

Congratulations to the 67,000 Lebanese

Who have combated imitator and false products

The red button with Arabic text on it says: Ask for your right. Call 1739.

“Ask for your right?” I thought. And how exactly have these 67,000 Lebanese combated imitations and fakes?

Apparently they have been combating them for the past five years. According to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, which honored the Brand Protection Group – Lebanon in 2007, it

strives to raise awareness of the social and economic effects of counterfeiting in government as well as in the general public. In 2005, BPG Lebanon launched a national awareness campaign under the message “Ask for your right. Refuse counterfeit products” and repeated it in 2006/2007. The BPG Lebanon is also Commended in the Media category of the GAC Awards 2007.

I do think many products in Lebanon are less-than-licit, even (or perhaps especially) those from major Western companies. But maybe this organization is making an impact. On its website, it lists “useful tips” for consumers and for companies. For consumers, one of its recommendations is: Always ask for the invoice of your purchase. This is your tool to claim back your rights and be refunded.

Receipts in Lebanon can be a very serious matter. Not the ones from Monoprix or the corner bakkala – but whenever I’ve purchased something major, like my wireless router or my television, the seller has ceremoniously attached an official stamp to it, and had me sign over the stamp. Its not merely a record – its a legal document.

Of course, the production of fake commodity-level branded products is just as insidious for their manufacturers. But just as with the designer handbags knocked off and sold on Canal Street here in New York, attacking brand imitators seems to start with high-end products.

And I do like the idea that 67,000 Lebanese were confident enough in the hotline’s efficacy (or mad enough that their purchase turned out to be fake) to call and complain. Accountability is an important part of good governance.

Posted in advertising, Beirut, economics, Lebanon, words | 1 Comment »

Obsession: a deadly DVD

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 22, 2008

My father’s emails usually have fairly straightforward subject lines – ones like “Wedding in VT”, “small rug”, or “First Draft”. But the email he sent me Friday afternoon was a bit different. The subject line was merely:


What on earth? I thought, clicking on it. My father isn’t the type to become obsessed with anything. But someone thought he should be – he and every other Iowan. So this someone – a shadowy someone incorporated as a non-profit called “The Clairon Fund” – sent DVD copies of a film called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” to every subscriber of the Des Moines Register last weekend.

My father scanned the DVD in its accompanying packaging, which you can download as a PDF here. (The download is more than worth the effort, but if you are on a Lebanese connection, be forewarned: its 4.5 MB.)

This is the poster of the movie (again, the scan my father made is much, much richer – it shows not only the DVD cover but also testimonials from various “experts” and other promotional materials. Horrifying, and McCarthy-esque.):

I am an Iowan and a New Yorker, and both parts of me are furious.

First, the New Yorker. This poster shows MY CITY. My New York, my Manhattan, my World Trade Center towers in their stark aftermath. This city, this image, and these buildings are not up for grabs, and they should not be taken by people bent on exploiting them for their own ends.

Second, the Iowan. My fellow Hawkeye State’rs are down-to-earth, middle-of-the-road Americans. They favor family values, a hard work ethic, and sensible, durable clothing. And for the past 12 or so years, their votes have helped determine the results of the US presidential election.

Iowa is a farm state, but its citizens are not ignorant. Our public schools are among the best in the country, and our state universities turn out some of the top medical and scientific research (well, not in ALL fields – but in several). The slick New York propagandists’ idea that they can simply slip a DVD into the local paper and frighten Iowans into voting one way or another offends me. More than offends me.

Thanks be to God for my fellow citizens. What was their response to this DVD?

Here’s the first one:

I am incredibly disappointed in the Register for serving as the delivery agent for “jihad Swift Boating” by including the DVD “Obsession” in the Sept. 14 edition. I watched it in its entirety.

This DVD connects modern Jihadi to Nazi Germany ideologues. It attempts to scare us into a paranoiac approach to our place in the world.

While I do not deny that terrorism is a real threat, and feel strongly that we must all prepare to deal with it, this is a blatant attempt to frighten us into our own brand of Western militancy. The last eight years of the Bush doctrine have taught us the consequences of stirring the hornets’ nest of militant Islam in the Middle East. Saber rattling, “shock and awe” and cowboy diplomacy have only fueled hatred of the United States in the Islamic world and threatened our long-term security here at home.

The fact that this DVD, which was produced in 2006, should be released with less than two months before our national election and that it should be targeted for newspapers in swing states is a thinly veiled ploy to frighten the electorate into voting for the perceived “party most likely to protect us.”

I shouldn’t be surprised that the Republicans are willing to stoop to frightening footage to secure votes. I had not thought the Register would serve as the delivery boy for Jihad hysteria.

– James L. Fritz, Decorah

Mr. Fritz doesn’t come from a booming metropolis – Decorah is a small town with long-standing farm roots. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has never met a Muslim – and his capitalization of “Jihad” is quaint. I’m glad that he wrote this letter, and I’m proud to share a state with him.

Here’s another:

The DVD enclosed in Sunday’s Register contains 60 minutes of propaganda aimed at convincing the viewer that “radical Islam” threatens everyone in our country and that very nearly everyone in Muslim countries grows up learning the beliefs of “radical Islam.”

Though several people are named as responsible for making, manufacturing and mailing the DVD, in spite of a strenuous search on the Internet, I learned almost nothing about the executive producer (Peter Mier), the director (Wayne Kopping) and the Clarion Fund Inc., the nonprofit that apparently sponsored the DVD and seems to exist only as a street address in New York and as a 501c(3) with no disclosed source of funding.

What did the Register ask to know about the Clarion Fund Inc. before agreeing to insert the DVD?

-Mark Kane, Des Moines

Good question, Mr. Kane. This isn’t exactly the usual type of Sunday insert. Why didn’t the paper’s advertising staff ask about the DVD and its distributor – or watch it themselves? Why would this Clarion Fund fund its distribution? And why would a New York non-profit (located in … Koreatown, naturally) be interested in Iowans?

When I talked with my parents this afternoon, my father said: You know, we weren’t the only ones who got this DVD. The packaging included a long list of other US newspapers.

Yes, my mother added. All swing states – just like us.

So when I finished talking to them, I did a little online investigating. How might readers of the Flint Journal have felt about the DVD, or the Rio Rancho Observer?

I can tell you how readers of the Toledo Blade responded. Here is a sample of the letters that the paper published today:

DVD gives a one-sided view of Islam

Imagine my shock and dismay when I received last Sunday’s Blade with the hate-filled DVD, Obsession, to preview. The fact that many staff members of The Blade have been hosted generously by many of the northwest Ohio area Muslim community and then would place that offensive DVD for general distribution is appalling.

In an era when we are trying to teach tolerance and acceptance of others, what would possess The Blade to send out such intensely anti-Muslim propaganda?

If it was for profit, then shame on you. Education? Then shame on you, again. There are two sides to every issue. The true Islamic side was never considered.

Unfortunately, there are many people who will view this DVD and accept it as an authority on Islam, while the ‘other side’ of Islam, who make up the majority, will not have been represented. The true meaning of Islam is peace.  I will find my peace in
canceling my Blade subscription.

Catherine L. Hammoud

‘Obsession’ crosses line of free speech

I am writing to express my extreme disappointment with The Blade’s decision to allow the Obsession DVD to be distributed with The Blade.

I am all for free speech, and have no problem with right-wing people expressing their views. A free exchange of ideas is necessary for a healthy democracy. I also realize that with declining readership, newspapers need all the advertising revenues they can get. But the Clarion Fund’s Obsession DVD crosses the line — it not only represents an utter distortion of fact but is also incredibly unproductive and outright harmful in the way it perpetuates and builds upon existing stereotypes of Muslims.

I think The Blade should apologize for its poor judgment in allowing the
DVD to be distributed with its newspaper and, in the future, refrain from distributing such material — be it right-wing or left-wing in nature.

Jeff Nelson
Robinwood Avenue
Fear makes people easier to control

Having tried for many years to mount programs, including films, that promote interfaith understanding, I know very well how difficult it is to secure funding and marketing for such positive events.

So I am absolutely astonished at the amount of money spent distributing the DVD
Obsession to communities across the United States.

Especially in an election year, the promotion of fear is very suspect. If you can keep the people afraid, you can control them. In my personal opinion, fear-based government policies have dangerously undermined sacred American principles. As a result, we are not more safe, but less so.

I know money talks, but I am seriously disappointed in The Blade for supporting this fear-mongering campaign.

Judy Lee Trautman

I’m seriously disappointed in all these papers. Didn’t any of them have the courage to say: this is hate speech?

I’ll end with one more pasting – an editorial from the Palm Beach Post‘s Editorial Page Editor, Randy Schultz.

The secret cell helping McCain

Last week, an ad for John McCain came with The Post. But it wasn’t labeled as an ad for John McCain.

The stealth ad is a DVD titled Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West. The film’s premise – and this will shock you – is that groups such as Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah and their copycats are worth worrying about. Why, though, is this an ad for John McCain? To sound like one of the speakers in the film, it’s a matter of connecting the dots.

Distribution of the DVD, whose producers say it will “change the way you look at the world,” was timed with the post-Labor Day start of presidential election season. About 95 percent of the papers that contained the DVD are in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and New Hampshire.

Notice a pattern? Right, those are the swing states that most analysts believe will determine the election. The issue on which polls consistently show John McCain ahead of Barack Obama is national security. One way to make voters worry less about the economy and more about national security would be to send out a DVD that opens with clips of 9/11 and includes scenes of Muslims chanting “Death to America!”

Oh, and there’s that lie recirculating on the Internet that Barack Obama is a Muslim. So, for good measure, the DVD went in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and a suburban paper north of New York. All have many Jewish readers. The DVD went in the World Jewish Digest. The clear intent is to plant the idea that electing Barack Obama would be like putting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the Oval Office.

If you’re a strong John McCain supporter, you might be saying, I don’t believe it. Why don’t you call the people who sent out the film and ask what they intended? Good thought. I had it myself.

The sponsoring group for Obsession is The Clarion Fund, based in New York. I left two messages for the media contact. Neither was returned. I e-mailed a request for an interview to a related Web site, radicalislam.org. I got no response.

The Clarion Fund was organized in 2006 as a 501(c)3, which grants it tax-exempt status as an educational nonprofit. But The Clarion Fund is not listed with Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits based on efficient use of donors’ money. You can find Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast and United Way of Palm Beach County with the maximum four stars.

I called NSA Media in suburban Chicago. NSA placed the DVD with The Post, which – like the other publications – approved it after the usual review by the Advertising Department. NSA Media referred specific questions to The Clarion Fund. “It’s all on their Web site.” In fact, the Web site contains little information about The Clarion Fund. No names of directors. No sources of money. Just the mission statement, which includes this line: “Clarion Fund is helping Americans understand that the mainstream media is not adequately conveying the reality of radical Islam.”

Of course. Obsession contains a chapter called “Denial,” which compares the supposed failure to confront Islamic terrorists to the failure to confront Nazi Germany: Al-Qaeda in 2008 is Adolf Hitler in 1938. It’s a tempting comparison, because of the anti-Semitism then and now, but a false one.

“Radical Islam,” unlike Hitler, has taken no territory. This is not Munich in 1938. In fact, the very terror tactics shown in the DVD have turned sentiment strongly against Al-Qaeda in many Islamic countries, including Iraq. As one U.S. national security expert said a couple of years ago, two people believe that Al-Qaeda could pull off world domination: Osama bin Laden and George Bush.

The irony is that The Clarion Fund, whatever the group is and whoever runs it, is operating like the secret cells it warns about. Terrorists are cowards. In their own way, so are the people sending out this campaign ad.

If you want to contact any of the newspapers that distributed this DVD, an article in the Huffington Post lists them by state:

Colorado – Boulder Daily Camera, Centennial Citizen, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post, Fort Collins Coloradoan, Greeley Tribune

Iowa – Daily Nonpareil, Des Moines Register, Iowa City Press Citizen, Quad City Times, Sioux City Journal

Indiana – South Bend Tribune

Florida – Daily Commercial, Florida Times-Union, Ft. Lauderdale El Sentinel, Ft. Myers News Press, Miami Herald, Ocala Star Banner, Orlando Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Tampa Tribune, Tallahassee Democrat, St. Petersburg Times, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Michigan – Detroit Free-Press, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Lansing State Journal

Missouri – Springfield News-Leader

Nevada – Las Vegas Review-Journal/Sun, Nevada Appeal, Reno Gazette-Journal

New Hampshire – Portsmouth Herald News, Union Leader

New Mexico – Clovis News Journal, Hobbs News-Sun, Rio Rancho Observer

Ohio – Canton Repository, Columbus Dispatch, Dayton Daily News, Middletown Journal, Morning Journal, Toledo Blade, Youngstown Vindicator

North Carolina – Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News & Observer

Pennsylvania – Bucks Co. Courier Times, Erie Times-News, Morning Call, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Reading Eagle, The Patriot-News

Virginia – Sun-Gazette, Virginian-Pilot

Wisconsin – Green Bay Press-Gazette, Janesville Gazette, Journal Times, La Crosse Tribune, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

And if you want to contact the Clarion Fund, the address given on the DVD packaging is:

255 W. 36th Street, Ste. 800
New York, NY 10018
(646) 308-1230

Just remember: be polite, be professional, and articulate your position using evidence, not personal insults.

Posted in advertising, al-Qaeda, Americans, Arab world, citizenship, Iowa, Islam, politics, religion, research, words | 25 Comments »

3oyoun 3ala al-ri2asa: Al Jazeera covers the conventions

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 21, 2008

This post has been long in coming, but I hope that you will all still find it interesting (and if not, feel free to skim!).

When it came to news coverage of the US presidential conventions, my favorite channel was Al Jazeera. I loved not only how much attention it devoted to each convention and the electoral process, but also how it incorporated Arab-American delegates and party activists as commentators. Al Jazeera covered the conventions extensively during Arab World primetime hours – I watched an online stream at work one afternoon, transfixed by the top-of-the-hour live report and the detailed explanation of everything minutely related to the election, from swing states to House and Senate majorities.

Al Jazeera’s tag lines were just as dramatic as CNN’s, and perhaps for me more fun because they looked fresher in Arabic. The Democratic Convention offered: “Obama and the Democrats: Eyes on the Presidency” (3oyoun 3ala al-ri2asa); “Before the Decision” (qabl al-7asm); “seesaw states” (wilayat al-taraju7); and of course, the great electoral tradition of “Mutual Exchange of Revelation of Political Defects” (tabadul kashf 3awrat siyasiya”.

And the Republican Convention, of course, had Sarah Palin. Al Jazeera, like the US news channels, took her very seriously, and spent considerable time and effort introducing her to its viewers:

Here’s what the text above says:

Sara Palin

Republican candidate for the position of vice president in the American presidential election

Elected in 2006 as the youngest and first woman to the office of governor of Alaska

First woman to be a candidate on the Republicans’ ticket for the American presidential elections

Opposes the right of abortion

Delineated authority of the large oil companies in their attempts to try to develop [oil] wells to capacity

(I may have elided the details of the last point, but that’s the gist of it. If anyone feels strongly that nufudh and ta7adat should be treated differently, I am more than open to another translation.)

To me, this list is very interesting, because it shows Al Jazeera’s view that these are the four most salient pieces of information for Arabic-speaking viewers looking to know more about Governor Palin. (I have more to say about the Arabic words for terms like “vice president”, but I will save those comments for tomorrow’s post.) I’m not surprised that abortion plays such a large role here – I suspect that her firm anti-abortion stance would make her popular with devout and/or conservative viewers, Christian and Muslim. And I guess I’m not surprised about the other points: she is the first woman to govern Alasak and to serve on the GOP presidential ticket, and oil and energy issues generally are certainly playing a major role in this campaign. But I’m having a hard time seeing this as sufficient. I keep imagining someone in the Hawran or Khartoum or the Metn saying to him/herself the next time he/she hears Palin’s name: oh yes, she’s the anti-abortion one who is the first conservative woman candidate for vice-president – and she’s young. On the other hand, I suppose its better than she’s the one with the pregnant teen-ager, which story hadn’t broken at the time I took this photograph, but which certainly dominated the US news.

But all these tags and bullet points, interesting though they were to me, were mere background to the main component of Al Jazeera’s convention coverage: live reporting from the convention hall, with an on-the-scene anchor, instant translation of the major speeches and commentators giving their analysis from a set of “directors’ chairs” positioned in front of the convention floor.

The anchor was a regular Al Jazeera correspondent, whose name I unfortunately do not remember. And the commentators were Arab-Americans who were at the convention either as delegates or party activists.

Here’s one of the Democrats, Saba Shami:

I confess that I hadn’t heard of him before Al Jazeera, but he is evidently a Palestinian-American who emigrated to the US in the 1970s and who has been very active in Virginia politics, and in encouraging Arab-Americans to take part in the political process. (You can read a 2004 interview that the BBC conducted with him here.)

And here is one of the Republicans, David Ramadan:

I hadn’t heard of Ramadan either, but he is a Lebanese-American who emigrated in the mid-1980s and is also very active in Virginia politics. (You can read a recent interview that Al Jazeera English conducted with him here.)

Here they are together, offering a very clear example of the channel’s commitment to broadcasting “the opinion … and the other opinion”. I took four pictures of them debating, and all look much like this one: intense exchange of opinions with many hand gestures:

I love this. I love that Al Jazeera, with its massive viewership, dedicated so much time to broadcasting the US political process in action: the pageantry of it, the goofiness of it, the tedium of it – not to mention the nitty-gritty of showing what states might vote which way, and what that will mean for the future president’s ability to work with Congress to pass good laws.

And I love even more that the channel found these and other active Arab-American citizens to explain, comment on, and argue over the process and the candidates. I do have my own personal feelings about who I will vote for in November, but I think that in this election we have two very good, intelligent, sincere, un-corrupt candidates. And what I believe most of all is that our country gets stronger whenever more citizens engage with the political process. I hope that Al Jazeera’s coverage gives viewers outside the US a sense of what our political process really looks like:no “99% of the vote” victories, on the one hand; and no Jewish cabals, on the other (and on my secret third hand: the acknowledgement that yes, both parties’ conventions could stand a little less spectacle and a little more grassroots groundedness).

And I hope that viewers inside the US, or coming to the US, see Shami, Ramadan, and the channel’s other commentators as men who they might emulate. Arab-Americans have been largely invisible as a political constituency, which means that politicians and political parties have done little to address their particular needs, whether these be an end to racial profiling or incentives to public schools that include Arabic in their roster of foreign languages – or whether these be changes to current immigration laws or to foreign aid allocations in the Middle East.

Joining a political party, going to community board meetings and political meetings, hosting fundraisers, door-knocking for candidates – all these are signs of active citizenship. And all these are ways to raise the profile of Arab-Americans with both parties, as a constituency whose votes and whose support are an important segment of the larger US community.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, citizenship, Iowa, media, politics, television | 2 Comments »

Arabic gchat: new service or PR?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 20, 2008

Earlier this week I was surprised to find this press release about Google’s gchat published as a new item on AME Info. The press release announces the launch of Arabic gchat:

Have you ever wanted to ask a friend a quick question online without writing an entire email? Or do you want to be able to switch an email conversation easily from English to Arabic without having to change your setting each time? Google now offers solutions to both, following the launch today of several new features in the Arabic version of Gmail.

For the first time, the popular webmail service provides the ability to send instant messages in Arabic with the introduction of Gmail chat.

Instead of composing a formal email to a friend or colleague and waiting for a reply, you can now use chat to get a rapid response to quick queries. Gmail chat lets users see when their friends are online and get in touch however they want and just like email messages, chat sessions are searchable by you. Some of the features included are as follows:

– Gmail chat is integrated with your email so you can access it easily from the same screen as your Gmail inbox.

– Chat is in fully bi-directional (left-to-right and right-to-left) format, making it easier than ever to converse with family, friends, and colleagues in your own language.

– Customise your status so friends and colleagues can see what you’re doing or where you are. If you don’t want to be disturbed, you can make your chat status ‘invisible’ or ‘busy’.

– Use the Group chat option to converse with a number of friends at the same time, in the same window.

– Chat off-the-record if you want to keep conversations with other Gmail users from being archived in your inbox or your friend’s inbox.

– Enjoy new emoticons that allow you to add smiley faces and other expressions to your conversations

In addition to the introduction of chat, users will see some other changes to Gmail from today. We understand that Arabic language speakers may need to use Gmail in other language settings (such as English, French or Spanish) so we’ve made it easier for them to switch between languages. For example, if your email thread starts in English but you want to reply in Arabic, that’s now no problem…

[To read the rest of the release, please click the link above.]

I’m confused. After my first read of this press release, I thought: I’ve been able to use gchat (and Gmail) for Arabic script chat and email inter-changeably with English since at least the start of 2007, so how is this a new feature? After my second read, I thought: Okay, its Arabic Gmail and gchat that now offer this feature. But that doesn’t make sense, either. Why would the Arabic version of Gmail be slower to offer Arabic chat capabilities than the English version?

This is a total mystery to me. I’ve looked on Google’s corporate page and its official blog, but I can’t find any mention of the “launch” of Arabic gchat. Do any of you use Arabic Gmail? Does this press release make more sense to you than it does to me?

Posted in advertising, Arab world, Arabic, media, words | Leave a Comment »