danes "liberate" muslim women? not...

I don't usually borrow from other blogs, but saw something so shocking on Svend White's thoughtful and incisive blog called Akram's Razor (link added to my list) about the Danish People's Party's new campaign targeting Muslim women.

Called "Free Yourselves," they offer an escape for Muslim women as though they are trapped in a cult and in need of an intervention to "deprogram" them. The image speaks volumes of the message they wish to send out, and it's highly offensive. Now I'm not a big fan of the veil, but I also believe it's every Muslim woman's right to choose her path...clearly this group doesn't agree. The text of their campaign webpage, which Svend translated, reads:
If you as a Muslim woman free yourself from old Muslim traditions that require you to submit to male family members, you can become an independent woman and member of modern society. A woman who is not dependent on a man. A woman able to create for herself a career on the job market and not just stand over the stove or serve as a baby machine. You can show your children what a woman's potential is by having a job, home, and family while remaining a good mother. Women in the West have done it for decades. We live well and are thriving. You can be one of us.

One of us, indeed. No thanks.

tony + maria, david + fatima

Fifty years after "West Side Story" filled the stage, the Israeli-American filmmaker Ari Sandel brings his reinterpretation, "West Bank Story," to the world. Winner of the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, it's available for download for a mere $1.99 (or so it was at press time) from iTunes.

Politically incorrect to make a film about a war between West Bank Arabs and Jews, owners of "Hummus Hut" and the "Kosher King?," perhaps... A good innocent laugh for partisans of both sides?...definitely.

quran in tamazight

It was shocking to me to read that the very first translation of the Quran into Tamazight is being published, funded by the Religious Affairs Ministry of Algeria and the Saudis. Considering the fact that North Africa has been Muslim since the Arabs arrived in the 7th century, I can't believe that it took that long.

Portions of the Bible were published in Tamazight as early as 1919, with equally old and even older translations in multiple other berber languages including Tachelhit, Kabyle, Tarifit, etc.

One of the things that always encouraged me to forge ahead when learning the prayer in Arabic was the story a friend once told me of his mother, a Kabyle berber who spoke no Arabic. Throughout her life she performed her prayer regularly, having memorized the basic verses and simplest prayer as a child in Arabic, but without ever understanding the words she said. While she clearly understood the general meaning, the Arabic words were as foreign to her as, say, Chinese.

the blue of chefchaouen

Nothing really to blog about. Thinking a lot about the movies I saw this weekend, Babel and The Last King of Scotland. Both haunting and frightening.

Also, finally was able to get my photos off my camera onto my computer, so I just had to share one. This is a picture I took this past September, in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Chefchaouen, Morocco. My visit there coincided with the King of Morocco's, who stayed several days (I was shuffled up to a front-row seat to be able to wave to his motorcade as it cruised by)...the man has good taste in vacation spots, although I must admit that I didn't join him in shooting boar!

a radioactive sahara

A group of French veterans (AVEN) who witnessed nuclear tests in the Algerian desert in the 60's have offered their support to the Touareg who were exposed to the radiation and asbestos from this testing, as part of their effort to force the French government to acknowledge the testing and compensate its victims.

Between 14 and 17 tests were held in Algeria, with bombs four times more powerful than those dropped on Japan during WWII. Radioactive fallout was detected in areas 1000 kms. (over 600 miles) away from the bomb sites, and many believe there is still evidence of contamination. Mansouri Amar, an Algerian nuclear researcher, when discussing the Saharan regions of In Ecker and Reggane where much of the testing was carried out, said:
Thousands of hectares have been contaminated, and the region is still dangerous for humans and the animals. Our goal today is to show our invitees what happened here, and we should also mobilise public opinion on this issue.

Toureg bedouins for years have told tales of how they dug up metal around Taourirt Tan Afella and made it into jewelry and ornaments, not realizing that doing so could cost them their lives.

Also sought is an acknowledgement by the French of the link between this testing and cases of thyroid cancer in those exposed to the fallout, as well as the drafting of a law formally recognizing this link. This effort has been led by Christiane Taubira, a Segolene supporter and a deputy of the PRG. The French government has not made public any documents about nuclear testing in Algeria, which has impeded the study of any possible links. The declassification of these documents is critical, and an urgent call to do so has been made by Dr. Florent de Vathaire, head of cancer epidemiology at the Gustave-Roussy Institute in Paris, part of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research.

De Vathaire has studied the correlation between France's nuclear testing in Polynesia (after Algerian independence, testing was moved to French Polynesia), and has found a direct statistical relation between the testing and the cases of thyroid cancer in the islands.


P.S. Yours truly, a frustrated doctor with no medical training whatsoever (read: disclaimer!) has for many years told anyone who would listen that there must be a reason for such a prevalence of thyroid disorders in Algeria, evidenced not merely by the multiple cases within my Algerian family, but also by the number of people one sees throughout Algeria who clearly suffer from Thyroid Eye Disease, evidenced by a wide-eyed and bulging stare.

the thing that covers the head and doin' the nasty

OK, I won't say the words, but let's just say that one starts with "hij" and is the arabic word describing a certain headcovering and the second starts with the letter "s" and ends in an "x." The reason I won't say the words is that those words, which I included in a previous post, have generated a ridiculous amount of traffic to my blog, originating from a google search containing both...and most of these come from the middle east! So that leads me to believe that perhaps the covering meant to show modesty is actually the object of desire to many....ewwwwww!

la mezquita de córdoba

An age-old battle has been revived in Spain, in Córdoba, to be exact, between the cristianos and the moros. Ever since Mansur Escudero, president of the Islamic Board, asked the Catholic hierarchy permission to allow Muslims to perform their individual prayers in the famous Mezquita de Córdoba, a war of words has followed, as evident in the press and in internet forums.

This architectural jewel, which represents for many the glories of the period of Muslim rule in Spain called Al-Andalus, has been a Catholic church since the 13th century. Construction of the mosque lasted over two centuries, commencing in 784 A.D., and the image of its giant red & white horseshoe arches and over 1,000 columns are familiar to centuries of lovers of art and architecture.

On Christmas Day, the Islamic Board sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking his permission to allow Muslim prayers alongside the Christians (and the tourists, who no doubt outnumber the faithful on any given day), as a model of tolerance and a way to foster interfaith dialogue. “Do not fear,” the letter read, “together we can show the violent, the intolerant, the anti-Semites, the Islam-phobes and also those who believe that only Islam has a right to remain in the world, that prayer is the strongest weapon imaginable.” Calling upon the image of the Pope praying shoulder to shoulder in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Escudero stressed that rather than an attempt to reconquer the mosque, they seek to restore “the spirit of Al Andalus,” when Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in relative harmony.

At the end of January, Escudero held a symbolic prayer at the door of the temple, which lasted five minutes and ended with his placing some white roses at the entrance. A supporter, Antonio Cutanda, writer and president of the Avalon Foundation, subsequently asked him to withdraw his petition. Cutanda, a supporter of peaceful coexistence between races and religions, expressed his sadness over the Catholic leaders’ absolute refusal to participate in a dialogue with the Muslim group: “There is nothing wrong with a dialogue between them, we should require religious leaders to also build a culture of peace…We have to eliminate radicalisms, tolerance is not enough: we must build respect.”

Escudero’s prayer was met by a small group of ultra right neo-Nazi’s, who view Escudero's request as evidence that Muslims are preparing an attempt to reconquer the power they lost several centuries ago, to regain the glories of Al-Andalus. Escudero and Cutanda stress that the Islamic group advocates non-violence and respect for women, and in no way supports any idea of reconquering the lands lost back in the 500 years ago.

These battles over religious sites are not new, and go back to the beginning of time. The same year that King Ferdinand III conquered the city, the mosque was reconsecrated a Christian church (not unlike the Hajia Sophia which was consecrated a mosque the day the Ottomans entered the city). There are buildings throughout the Iberian Peninsula and beyond that have been synagogues, mosques and churches in a musical-chairs type of rotation, depending on the powers at the time. When visiting the mosque/cathedral (whatever you want to call it...) the architectural tragedy of these conversions is evident in the nave, built in the 16th century, which even the King, Carlos V, recognized “destroyed something unique in the world.”

In a previous post, I mentioned the incredibly intricate replica of this amazing mosque in the virtual universe of Second Life, and the creepy parallel world of conflicts and religious bias that reared its ugly head there. I’m happy to report that the mosque is once again open in Second Life, where anyone Muslim, Jew, Christian or furry headed avatar with a tail, can pray.

Inshallah I’ll be standing under these same arches in a little over a month when I travel to Spain. No doubt the rebel in me will remain quiet, but I can assure you that, faced with such a monumental and mystical center of Islamic history, I will certainly, and quietly, say a prayer, for all of us.

...with a winged heart

Starting in September NYC will have its first public school dedicated to teaching Arabic language and culture, with half of its classes eventually to be held in Arabic. The Khalil Gibran International Academy hopes to attract not only Arab-American students, but also those students with no background in Arab cultures.

Efforts such as these will no doubt help to educate people so that hopefully, someday, we'll see fewer posters such as the one in my previous post, fueled by ignorance and blind hatred.

no comment

Found this photo on flickr, but saw a very similar one on the street the other day.

bees in the city

The UNAF (The Union of French Apiarists) is getting the word out about their project “The Bee, sentinel of the Environment” which promotes urban beekeeping, or putting hives on rooftops in cities all over France...and beyond. So far, the results have been impressive. Sounds nice, right? But what’s really disturbing is their reason for doing this: to save the ever-dwindling bee population, decimated by their lives in the country where they buzz about in bliss amongst all kinds of pesticides.

Populations of bees are dropping worldwide. Because farmlands are often heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and dominated by monocultures, bees often find life in the city to be easier than that in the bucolic countryside. They happily set up house in city parks, balconies, gardens, vacant lots, and rooftop hives, where higher temperatures and a diverse urban plant life translates into a longer period of pollination from a wider variety of flowers, without the exposure to the toxicity of pesticides and other crop treatments.

These little hymenopterans (ok, I had to look it up to…the order of insects which includes sawflies, wasps, bees and ants) possess a filter which protects them better from urban pollution than from the neurotoxins in pesticides. (Bet a lot of city dwellers would like to get a hold of this filter for themselves...). Bees roam within a radius of three kilometers from the hive, and if they encounter pesticides on their wanderings, they die. And before they die the neurotoxins cause disorientation which prevents the poor bee from finding its home, causing some regions to “lose” up to 45% of their bees.

Interestingly enough, the beehive which produces the most honey in Paris is that on the roof of the Opera of Paris, which yields 100 kilos of honey, conveniently sold to tourists and bee lovers at quite a premium. Hives placed in the city of Nantes produced far more honey that those in the countryside 30 km away. City bees have longer, happier lives than their country relatives: the mortality rate of city bees was 6% compared to 33% for the rural bees studied. And apparently their honey is believed by many to be even tastier!

By 2009 the UNAF hopes to convince all the countries in the European Union to join this effort.

sahrawi refugees in tindouf

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program (WFP) have sounded the alert about the conditions of the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. These camps, comprised of between 160,000 and 200,000 (depending in whose estimates you believe) Sahrawis, house those who fled the Western Sahara when it was ceded by the then colonial power, Spain, to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975. This makes the Tindouf camps among those with the longest duration, not a very admirable title.

Acute malnutrition is on the rise among the refugees, especially among the children, and the group recommended several measures to curb this trend, included a more varied diet, supplementary nutrition for children and pregnant/nursing mothers (two-thirds of whom suffer from acute anemia), better monitoring of food distribution and adding soy to the general ration. They also suggested education programs targeting the refugees to address nutrition, water handling and hygiene. Another recommendation was to separate those children suffering from acute malnutrition (which requires immediate attention) from those suffering from chronic malnutrition.

Janak Upadhyay, who took part in the mission, was quoted as saying: "Most of the refugees have been there for more than 30 years.... We met children in the camp who were born and raised there…They are children who don't know any better than living in a desert – dependent on aid, part of a political problem without a solution in sight. It is very sad."

Tindouf, in the western Sahara, is known for its very inhospitable conditions, with summer temperatures reaching over 122 degrees in the shade (if there is any) and in winter the temperatures reach freezing. In addition to these harsh weather conditions, the area is devoid of economic opportunities and the refugees depend on aid for all of their needs. One year ago, torrential rains inundated the camps and washed away food, belongings and tents, leaving the camp devastated.

In an ironic twist, it’s the WFP, the organization that sounded the alert, that has contributed to this crisis. Yahia Bouhubeini, president of the Sahrawi Red Crescent, reported in January that the WFP was withholding donations from different humanitarian organizations, valued at several millions of euros, which are needed to avert an imminent famine. Houhubeini asked the UNHCR to convey to the international community the gravity of the situation for the region’s refugees, who exhausted food supplies in October. The Sahrawi Red Crescent (SRC) officially declared the situation to be an emergency of the first degree.

Hep brezhoneg Breizh ebet*

I don’t know if it’s that I have a habit of living in and traveling to places where there is an autochthonous cultural and linguistic people who struggle against the powers that be, or if it’s just that I’m drawn to their struggles, but here I am, once again faced with the same, or similar issues.

Here in Brittany, arm-in-arm with the political (and military, but apparently it’s illegal here to even discuss that so I won’t go there in this post) struggle, is the linguistic one. The knowledge and use of the Breton language, or “brezhoneg,” is in decline, and there are valiant and very interesting efforts to preserve it, through bilingual French-Breton classes in the public schools (first one opened in 1983), in “Diwan” or immersion schools (first opened in 1977), and in private Catholic schools (first opened in 1980).

Whereas the government still clutches in its hand the Constitution of the 5th Republic which states that French, and only French is the language of the Republic (sound familiar?), and the subsequent Toubon Law determines that French is the language of public education (thus no government funding for Breton-language schools), the Bretons are using creative ways to get around that in order to ensure that their language survives.

Breton is an indo-European language, which has been spoken for the last 1500 years. The first written texts in Breton date from the 9th century and, interestingly enough, predate by 50 years those written in French. Declared as a language in danger of extinction by UNESCO, Breton speakers are in decline: from over one million at the beginning of the 20th century, to 270,000 one hundred years later. According to the website ouiaubreton.com, at least 10,000 Breton speakers are lost each year, which translates into 28 a day and 1 each hour…an illustrative way of viewing this linguistic decline, no?

This past Fall 11,000 students attended bilingual Breton-French schools, which is an increase of 6.6% over last year, and approximately 2000 attended Diwan schools (unable to be more precise because for some mysterious reason¬---call me a conspiracy theorist---the diwan website is down). The Diwan (Diwan is Breton for “sprout”) immersion schools were created in 1977, modeling themselves after other immersion schools in Western Europe such as the Basque “iskastolas,” the Occitane “calandretas” and the Catalan “bressola.” Most diwans are in Brittany, but not all: the “Skoazell Diwan Paris” was opened in 2004, representing a symbolic coup by establishing a diwan in zee most French of all French cities, Paris.

There are clear parallels here to the Tamazight movement in Algeria and its struggles to establish itself within an Arabist educational system. Based on web searches I didn’t find any evidence of collaboration between the Algerians and the Bretons, but it seems that the experience of the Bretons might be very helpful to those who believe in the preservation and revitalization of the Berber language.

*Without the Breton language there is no Brittany.

pass the crepe, please

After a week in France, I feel like I'm on another planet. Better said, I feel probably as close to a North African immigrant as possible for a gringa like me. Everythings seems so, well, civilized. Clean, sanitized, polite, organized, formal. The apartment is in a 15th-century building (found that out when large groups of young children, pads in hands, convened under my window looking up and sketching the façade), the food is amazing (except for the fact that I have to keep my pork-radar on permanent alert...it's everywhere), and life is good. That said, I do miss Algeria...really I do. Will be happy to get back there this summer, but in the meantime will enjoy eating lots of crepes, traveling around, saying a lot of "bonjour madame's" and walking freely around for hours without anyone once looking at me oddly. Oh, and there's amazing merguez and couscous here, so I won't feel that lonesome for el Djazair!