A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

Archive for March, 2009

Merchants and other lyricisms

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 31, 2009

Today’s winning spam email does not promise me untold wealth – but nor does it refer to me as “Sir”, either. Its just a straight-up, awkwardly-phrased plea for help:

I am Mohammad Hazim an oil merchant in IRAQI, I would need you to help me out from an urgent situation, God will bless you as you listen to my cry to respond back to me so I can give you details on how you can help me out.

Please response at the below email address;

Email: mohammadhazim@aim.com

May the almighty Allah be with you

Regards,
Mohammad Hazim

Mohammad gets points for the unusual spelling of his name (more commonly written Mohammed or Muhammad) but loses them for adjectivizing the name of his country. Surely we all know that the country is Iraq, not Iraqi.

Mohammad also gets points for his very poetic use of language – or does he? I find his use of religious rhetoric surprisingly Christian (not that Muslims would disagree with God being described as “almighty”, but it seems to have been lifted from one hymn or another), and his language in general seems to be stuck in the 1700s.

I find that this happens when people who don’t know the Arab world try to imagine how people there might speak. Rather than thinking: “they speak like us, only in Arabic”, they seem to think: “they speak like Shakespeare’s grandchildren”, giving them liberty to put all kinds of poetry and anachronism in the mouths of their imagined Arabic speakers. Hence Mohammad calls himself an “oil merchant”.

I have known several people who work in the oil industry, and that is exactly how they describe themselves: “I work in the oil industry”. I have never heard anyone describe him or herself as an oil merchant – particularly someone who in all other aspects, such as signing his or her emails “Regards”, seems to live in the 21st century.

Most of the spam that finds its way to me amuses me greatly. But spam that perpetuates stereotypes – like the idea that Arabs live in a world more primitive than ours – does not amuse me. It makes me angry, and it makes me sad.

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Posted in Arab world, Arabic, words | 2 Comments »

dirty laundry

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 30, 2009

You may have noticed that I neglected to post anything yesterday. The truth is: I was hiding.

I took the first part of Edcomm’s Anti-Money-Laundering course after blogging about it on Saturday, planning to post the certificate once I had earned it.

But I didn’t earn it. I failed: I couldn’t get my quiz scores to reach the 80% needed to pass (and get that darn certificate).

I feel lame, and humbled – but I also feel a lot better about the AML program.  I still think that its use in Syria will be restricted to those who are corrupt and anger the regime, rather than for those who are corrupt but docile. But I’m glad at least that the bankers and other finance professionals working on corruption cases will in fact be professionals, with some level of meaningful training.

As for me, I guess this fully rules out any hope of a second-stage career in finance :).

Posted in Syria, vanity | Leave a Comment »

Anti-money-laundering software: from Syria to the world

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 28, 2009

This post is for A, who has been on a Syria corruption kick recently.

Yesterday I found this delightfully Alice in Wonderland press release in my Google alert, advertising “anti-money-laundering” training for banking and financial institutions “in any language, for any country”. The software training itself isn’t the Alice in Wonderland part: its the fact that the client highlighted is the country of Syria.

Non-democratic regimes throughout the region, and including Syria, use corruption charges as a way to crack down on disloyal regime figures: they may be as corrupt as they like until the regime tires of them, at which point it becomes a useful political tool. I’m sure that Edcomm’s training is solid and professional, but I suspect that the Anti Money Laundering Commission will use it selectively.

In any case, if you are looking for AML training, happy reading – and if you would like to take the Syria AML course (for which Edcomm will issue a free certificate), click here.

New York, NY, March 26, 2009 — A free tutorial that provides Anti Money Laundering (AML) training for banks and financial institutions located in Syria is now available from Edcomm Banker’s Academy. Focus on Anti Money Laundering for Syria offers a comprehensive overview of the AML laws and regulations that are specific to financial institutions in this Middle Eastern country.

The Government of Syria passed several decrees since 2003 in an attempt to criminalize money laundering and generate an Anti Money Laundering Commission, which was established in 2004. Under Decree 33 (2005), all banks and non-financial institutions are required to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with the Commission, which serves as the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). The Commission has the right to conduct an investigation, relinquish bank secrecy on specific accounts and share information with the police and judicial authorities, and lead the police to carry out a criminal investigation.

Focus on Anti Money Laundering, from Edcomm Banker’s Academy, teaches bank employees about AML laws in their country and familiarizes them with their company’s own policies and procedures. Through this interactive course, students learn everything they need to know to detect and prevent money laundering. Focus on Anti Money Laundering can be customized to meet the needs of every Bank, Credit Union, or Money Services Business (MSB). Each course is regularly updated to include changing laws and policies. Recognizing that money laundering can occur anywhere and everywhere, Edcomm Banker’s Academy is prepared to create a course for any country in need.

For more information about multilingual, multicultural training programs, or to find out how The Edcomm Group Banker’s Academy can customize any training program in any language, for any country, log onto www.bankersacademy.com or call 888-433-2666.

Posted in advertising, laundry, Syria | 4 Comments »

the evolution of scam: from Nigerian princes to US soldiers

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 27, 2009

Ho-hum. Another morning, another bout of gender-incorrect, Iraq-focused spam:

Dear Sir,

[Um, no. Guess again!]

Good day to you,

My name is Sgt. Josh Hubbell. I am an American soldier, I am serving in the military of the 1st Armored Division in Iraq, we have just been posted to leave Iraq and go back to Germany. I am now in Kuwait at the mean time. I and my superior moved funds belonging to Saddam Hussein, the total is $25,000,000.00 (Twenty Five million US dollars) this money is being kept safe in a security company. When I hear from you, I will give you a link to read about everything that took place here.

[Lovely. In one short, grammatically questionable paragraph, you have managed to impugn the honor of our enlisted soldiers, our officer class, and – less surprisingly! – our contractors.]

Basically since we are working for the government we cannot keep these funds, but we want to transfer and move the funds to you, so that you can keep it for us in your safe account or an offshore account.

[Let me rephrase. “Basically, since we are working for the U.S. government and this is Iraqi money that Saddam Hussein stole from the Iraqi people, keeping this money would be not only totally illegal but also wholly unethical. Naturally, we thought you might be interested in partnering with us.” Gee, thanks.]

We will divide the total funds in three ways, since we are 3 that is involved. This means that you will take 30%, I will take 30%, and my superior will take 30%. 10% will be kept aside for expenses. This business is confidential, and it should not be discussed with anyone.

[$2.5 million in “expenses”? Do you mean “bribes”?]

There is no risk involved whatsoever. If you are interested I will send you the full details, my job is to find a good partner that we can trust and that will assist us.

[I hate it when people use “that” instead of “who” when referring to human beings. For humans, the correct relative pronoun is “who”. Animals can go either way: you can choose to refer to your pet as a “who” and a snake as a “that”, but humans are always “who”.]

Can I trust you? When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest including your most confidential telephone/fax numbers for quick communication also your contact details. This business is risk free.

[Given that you have cavalierly stolen a massive sum of money that rightly belongs to the people you are meant to be HELPING, I believe the more accurate question should be mine, and it should be: “Can I bring you to justice?”]

Please reply me via this email: sgt.joshhubbell@web2mail.com

Respectfully submitted

Sgt. Josh Hubbell.

Ugh.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Iraq | Leave a Comment »

… but words are good, too

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 25, 2009

This morning when I woke I found an email from Qifa Nabki waiting for me in my inbox.

Hi D., QN wrote.

I’ve got a post on those funny flag posters, and the hilarious response by some enterprising Aounist graphic designer. Thought you’d be interested.

Interested? The response to my post on the original billboard had left me more mystified than before – of course I was interested! I couldn’t wait to see them, and his take on both sets of images. The Aouni response is provocative and thoughtful – especially the last one. You can see them – and read QN’s delightful commentary – here.

By the way, QN also asked, did you ever figure out anything more from the commenter who explained the campaign?

No – I didn’t. In fact, I’ve been feeling guilty about this: the person who wrote in had a Leo Burnett address, and in my response to him/her I mentioned that I was familiar with the quality of “your work” – meaning the agency’s. The poor commentator took it personally, assuming that I knew him/her, and asked me to be in touch offline rather than via the blog.

In any case, I’m still wondering about the original billboard. I do find it typical of Leo Burnett’s work in the region: visually striking and conceptually sophisticated, but totally bereft of key elements like contact info and an explanatory tag line. Does every Leo Burnett ad produced in Lebanon need to be a mystery ad?

I have other questions as well – about the deeper logic of the ad. For example: Why highlight only the Arab contributors? Many countries – including my own – gave generous cash and in-kind contributions. What’s so special about the Arabs?

And why include Lebanon among the “donors”? Not to be too GOP about this, but shouldn’t a country be expected to help pay for its own recovery?

Finally: claiming to speak for “the Lebanese” without disclosing the paying client (whether a government agency, a NGO, or a private corporation) is, or should be, totally illegal in a paid advertisement.

Bah humbug. And yes, bring on the party politics!

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Lebanon, politics | 2 Comments »

Fun with Lebanon’s video division

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 24, 2009

Last week a long-awaited box arrived from Lebanon, filled with those things that – at the last minute – I couldn’t manage to fit into my luggage last summer. Many thanks to H’s mother for sending it off – and for dealing with what seems to have been a nightmare of Lebanese red tape.

In addition to requiring her to present an inventory of the box’s contents (wonder what Customs thought of the one and one-half pairs of gym socks?), Customs took it upon itself to make a more thorough, secondary search that seems to have involved turning my various wallets inside out. (Hope whatever leftover bakkala change you might have found was worth the effort, gentlemen.)

When Customs finished, the Video Division seems to have taken over.  Its industrious personnel must have enjoyed The Holiday (a long-ago gift from a would-be beau), Paris Je T’Aime (ditto), clips from various news programs, and my Macbook installation CD.

When they finished, they bundled all those discs into a nice manila envelope and sealed it with several stamps, including this one:

customs

I hope that those of you who can read Arabic are getting as great a kick out of the date-stamp as I did. Someone was feeling nostalgic, I think: the stamp reads March 13, 2005.

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Beirut, film, Lebanon, shipping | 2 Comments »

fun with footnotes: Kenize Mourad’s “Regards from the Dead Princess”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 23, 2009

I spent a good amount of time this past weekend on a series of airplanes, which for me translated into “a good amount of time for reading”. As the unhappy woman next to me on the way home yesterday cursed the airline, the flight attendants, her fellow passengers, and God for collectively conspiring against her and slow arrivals to LaGuardia (could this SERIOUSLY come as a surprise to any regular traveler?), I was happily ensconced in a novel: Kenize Mourad’s “Regards from the Dead Princess”.

regards

Its not the best book – the writing is a bit over-wrought, and riddled with cliches. And I bet you can tell from the cover design just who its target audience might be.

But I’m hooked, just like the 20-million-plus readers who preceded me. Why? Because the story that Mourad tells is that of her mother, Selma, the great-grandaughter of the briefly-reigning Ottoman sultan Murad V. Selma was a young teenager when the sultanate and then the caliphate were abolished, and in the mid-1920s she, her older brother, and her mother were among the many members of the House of Osman forced into exile.

Selma’s mother chose Beirut, since it was close enough to allow the family to return to Istanbul when ‘the people’ asked for their return, as she was sure they would.

I’m about a quarter of my way through the book (its a big one!), and Selma is currently a student at Besancon, where the French girls and the Maronites spurn her, and her only friend is an Atrash. The narrative is definitely worth the pained prose – and made better by some of the textual errors.

One is an oldie but goodie: Hussein, the grandfather of Jordan’s King Abdullah I, is described as the “Sheriff” of Mecca. This is one of the rare English-Arabic faux amis: Hussein was the “Sharif” of Mecca (pronounced “sha-reef”), a title that conveyed the sense of a personal honorific as well as of a governing position. He was NOT the “sheriff”: he did not wear a badge, or spurs, or engage in shoot-outs – well, at least, not of the Wild Western kind, although Mecca does seem to have had its lawless side.

(The English word “sheriff” derives from the same root as “shire”. Think “Hobbit”, not “Hajj”.)

What really made me laugh, though, was the book’s description of the start of the 1925 Druze rebellion against the occupying French. The book describes the Druze leadership as “hurl[ing] their keffiyehs to the ground: from now on they were at war with the French.” (161)

There’s a footnote next to “keffiyehs”, which helpfully explains that “keffiyeh” is “the Lebanese name for a fez”.

My snort of laughter did nothing to improve the mood of my unhappy seatmate, but it sure gave me a lift.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, books, Lebanon | 3 Comments »

Americans abroad – but not often

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 21, 2009

One of the many A’s I know in the Arab world, Andrew Mills, has written a very interesting article on the findings of a recent IIE report on the extremely low number of American college students who study abroad in the Arab world for a semester or year.

I’m pasting A’s article in its entirety, as well as its link to the report (one caveat: the report is a fairly bulky pdf), because I think we do need to encourage more students to study in the Arab world and the Middle East more broadly, and we need to encourage universities to work with their counterparts in the region to develop meaningful study-abroad programs. Americans abroad can be wonderful bridges: if each student talks about his or her experiences abroad to 50 American friends and family, and talks about his or her American life to 50 people in his or her study abroad country, and each of those people talks to one other person about what they learned from the study-abroad student, that’s 200 people with a new appreciation for a foreign country, culture, and way of life.

I’ll climb off my soapbox and give you the article now – enjoy!

Report Highlights Challenges of Expanding Study-Abroad Opportunities in the Middle East

Enrollment in Middle East studies and Arabic-language programs on American college campuses continues to rise, yet the number of American students who spend time studying in the Middle East remains low, according to a white paper issued this week by the Institute of International Education.

The report, “Expanding U.S. Study Abroad in the Arab World: Challenges and Opportunities,” grew out of a workshop held last year for representatives of American and Middle Eastern universities that looked at ways to expand study-abroad opportunities in the Arab world.

Participants attributed the small presence of American students at Arab institutions to several key factors. They include deep concerns among American students over safety in the Middle East, questions among American administrators over the academic quality of many Arab institutions, and the challenges inherent in Arabic-language instruction.

Of the American students who enroll in for-credit study-abroad programs, only one percent of them—just 2,200 students—study at institutions based in the Arab world, the report notes. What’s more, 80 per cent of those students are concentrated in three countries: Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco.

The report says that most American colleges grant credit for relatively few study-abroad programs in the Middle East, usually only for those they manage or those that are closely affiliated with other American institutions.

The workshop, organized by the institute and the Hollings Center for International Dialogue, convened at Al Akhawayn University, in Ifrane, Morocco, last March. Representatives came from 19 universities in 11 Arab countries. There were also 14 representatives from American colleges and organizations that develop study-abroad programs.

In addition to looking at the causes of low enrollments, participants also tried to come up with some ways to encourage the growth in study-abroad programs in the Arab world. Among other things, they encouraged the development of a consortia of Arab-world institutions to share resources and advice, and to better market themselves to an American audience.

Although the quality of programs offered varies widely across institutions in the Middle East, the report concludes that American college administrators often have unrealistic expectations that a quality study-abroad program will exactly match American curricula. The academic culture at Arab institutions may be quite different—placing an emphasis on memorization over critical thinking—yet to reject partnerships because of that, the report states, defeats the larger goals of study abroad, such as exposing students to a different way of life.

Fears About Safety
But by far, the biggest barriers to the expansions of study-abroad programs, the report notes, relates to their safety and security in a region where attacks on Westerners—no matter how statistically infrequent—remain a huge concern.

American educators’ perceptions of the situation often vary significantly from those of their Arab counterparts, the report says.

For example, all of the American participants in the workshop said that students’ and parents’ concerns about safety in Arab countries “hindered their institutions from sending more students to the region, and nearly three-quarters of these participants identified this issue as a ‘great challenge.’”

But more than half of the participants from the Arab world said that ensuring the safety of more Americans would “not be a challenge at all.”

In fact, the preconceived ideas that many American students have about Middle Eastern culture—not to mention their cultural missteps—remain a huge challenge when Arab universities attempt to integrate them into the classroom.

“Students should not expect that survival strategies that they have employed in other challenging situations will necessarily work well for them to adjust to life in the Arab world,” the report says.

Students who travel to the Middle East seeking Arabic-language instruction also face great difficulty tackling the language itself, which is extremely complex and has many dialects. Vastly different dialects are used in formal situations as compared to casual conversation, and dialects change drastically from country to country. American students who may have spent years studying Modern Standard Arabic at their home campuses often find much of what they have learned is useless when they arrive in the Arab World, the report says.

“Drawing on these considerations, workshop participants emphasized the need for students and their sending institutions to make strategic choices about Arabic study in the region,” the report says.

Posted in academia, Americans, Arab world, college | 3 Comments »

I graduated too soon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 20, 2009

The Columbia University Middle East Research Center opens Sunday in Amman.

Doesn’t it look beautiful?

cumerc-image

Posted in academia, Amman, Arab world | 2 Comments »

In the United States, Congress is the government

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 19, 2009

Sometimes I love Naharnet.

Here is its take on the Lebanese Parliament’s voting to lower the national voting age to 18 (sadly, not until 2010, for the same lame procedural reasons that are slowing down absentee voting):

Parliament threw the ball into the government’s court on Thursday after it unanimously approved a draft law to lower the voting age to 18 effective in the 2010 municipal elections. Legislators voted in favor of amending article 28 of the constitution to lower the age of voting from 21 to 18.

I know that Lebanon has two types of laws: legislated laws and decrees.

But how is the Lebanese Parliament considered separate from the Lebanese government?

Posted in Lebanon, politics | 6 Comments »