Sectarian Battles on YouTube

April 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

While watching al-Jazeera’s exclusive interview with Muqtada al-Sadr (his first televised appearance in about a year) on YouTube, I scrolled down to read the comments. We all know anonymous commenting on YouTube empowers assholes to be bigger assholes and I don’t want to provide a platform for the hatred and prejudice that some people espouse (since these people are usually a minority), but I do want to highlight how sectarian tensions have manifested themselves on YouTube.

Here is the comment from YouTube user “TruthDaTruth” which prompted further investigation:

dirty filthy muqtada the aeroplane of sadri is worthless

The YouTube user “TruthDaTruth” obviously typed his original Arabic into a bad online translator which resulted in “al-Tiyyar al-Sadri” or the Sadr Current/Wing being translated into the “aeroplane of sadri.” In Arabic, “tiyyar” literally means current, like an air or water current, but it used to mean political currents as well. So, the “aeroplane of Sadr” is literally the “Sadr current.”

Anyways — I checked out the guy’s profile and there is an interesting mix of insults and compliments being hurled at TruthDaTruth. (It appears possible that TruthDaTruth is Sunni and harbors some resentment toward Shi’a, but I, nor any of the commenters, know this person’s true identity.)

The comment breakdown:

1) Insults from Shi’a or supporters of Shi’a who do not appreciate his Shi’a bashing.

saudi wahabi lozer,,, saudi wahabi lozer to hell with zarkawi el zarbawi haha and to hell with bin laden bin monkeys hahahaha

2) Insults from individuals who are anti-Muslim and not discriminating between sects.

fuck you, why u named after a Christian rapper u dumb fucked up muslim hahahaha go suck off ya imam u faggot ass bitch

you muslim prick. if you fuckers didnt fly planes into the twin towers there wouldnt be wars all over the shit muslim countries…..
3) Compliments and support from people who appear to be anti-Shi’a. One commenter posted a link to his anti-Shi’a blog which I will not link to here because it is hate speech. Another uses a photo of Bin Ladin as his user photo and expresses support for TruthDaTruth.

Internet as “Real” Speech

I think that many of us define certain Internet spaces as a “community” of sorts. We post videos, photos, and journals on the Internet and many times, people respond. The purpose of this post is to show how certain types of Internet communities are host to some very negative and racist ideas and how they do not serve any constructive purpose whatsoever. I think we have to ask how these Internet “communities” translate into “real” life — but at the same time — I think this question is problematic since the Internet is becoming more integrated into our everyday lives. By this, I mean that the “anonymous commenter” may appear to be a faceless, distant Internet user, but in many societies where the Internet is pervasive, the speech that is made online may just as well have been made face-to-face. Speech made on the internet is “real” speech and should be treated as a tangible phenomenon and not something that exists in some “digital” world of little consequence.

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The Summit must go on!

March 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Emir of Qatar.

No Shows: King of Jordan Abdallah II, President of Yemen Ali abd al-Salah, King of Saudi Arabia Abdallah bin abd al-Aziz, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Sultan of Oman, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the King of Morocco, and Lebanon.

Shows: Eleven Arab leaders including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the President of Algeria, the Emir of Qatar, and some other dudes. Eighteen leaders were present at last year’s summit in Riyadh.

Summit Time!

Algerian President Abdalaziz Boutflika and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One is short; the other is tall!

Double-chin twins! Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and head of the Arab League Amr Moussa.

Double-chins for everyone! Qaddhafi looks fat!

Assad intimidates Palestinian President Abbas by grabbing his bicep. Hot!

I am calling men fat because this label is normally disproportionately saved for women.

Information and Photos from al-Jazeera and al-Thawra.

Stay the fuck out of Oman

March 20, 2008 § 1 Comment

(Image from the NY Times.)

More gems from the travel writing section of the NY Times. This time, we travel to the new Middle East hot-spot — Khasab, Oman! The landscape looks like Utah, the ladies are mysterious, and it’s in a country you’ve never heard of before! But before I go further: Orientalist Cliche Count — GO!

an Arabian land

oil-rich

Omani women in flowing black head scarves

Ok, not too many this time, but the article is only 500 words.

Not to repeat myself, but what separates orientalist descriptions of a place from legitimate descriptions of a place? I mean, if there are Omani women wearing flowing black head scarves, then what should prevent us from describing this? Context. Travel writing is all about the “exotic” and the “unique” or “edgy.” Women cease to be human in this type of writing; they are objects of the orientalist’s attention. We have to ask why the author chose to point out this observation out of all other possible observations.

Either way, I’ve got a bigger problem with this piece: luxury hotels.

Khasab’s center is free of souvenir shops, but that may change. In July, Oman Air doubled its weekly flights from Muscat, the capital, from two to four. Luxury hotels are under discussion for Khasab’s main port, near a restored 17th-century Portuguese fort that now houses a museum.

When a town like Khasab becomes a tourist stop, a sad fate awaits.

In other Oman news, Cheney met with Oman’s leader Qaboos.

(Image from AFP.)

Terry Atlas, the author of the article “6 Signs the U.S. May Be Headed to Headed to War with Iran,” says this about Cheney’s visit to Oman:

Cheney, who is seen as a leading hawk on Iran, is going on what is described as a Mideast trip to try to give a boost to stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But he has also scheduled two other stops: One, Oman, is a key military ally and logistics hub for military operations in the Persian Gulf. It also faces Iran across the narrow, vital Strait of Hormuz, the vulnerable oil transit chokepoint into and out of the Persian Gulf that Iran has threatened to blockade in the event of war. Cheney is also going to Saudi Arabia, whose support would be sought before any military action given its ability to increase oil supplies if Iran’s oil is cut off. Back in March 2002, Cheney made a high-profile Mideast trip to Saudi Arabia and other nations that officials said at the time was about diplomacy toward Iraq and not war, which began a year later.

U.S. News and World Report via Informed Comment.

When will the NY Times get sick of writing stories on Arabs and camels?

March 19, 2008 § 1 Comment

(Image from the NY Times.)

In order to portray a society as “foreign” or an individual as an “other,” you must cast their customs, rituals, or even daily activities as something exotic or peculiar. This entry in the “Riyadh Journal” from the NY Times typifies the practice of creating an other.

This time of year, when the weather here is still cool and comfortable and the flowering plants and shrubs are everywhere, how better to spend a day than to be out in the desert with beautiful camels?

To be sure, the untrained eye [read: Western, –ed] might find it hard to appreciate such beauty. But here, camel aesthetics can be evaluated according to a series of precise and exacting standards.

“It’s just like judging a beautiful girl,” said Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh. “You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck — maybe 39 or 40 inches.”

As he spoke, Mr. Madr was surveying the offerings at Saudi Arabia’s largest camel market, on the outskirts of Riyadh. The souq al-jamal, as the market is called in Arabic, sprawls over the open desert for so many acres that it is handy to have a car to drive from pen to pen.

The article labels camel contests as “camel beauty pageants” (a term which I am sure is not directly translated from Arabic). The author has chosen to portray a camel contest as something bizarre by elaborating on the comparisons between females and camels — perhaps the author is also trying to imply that Arabs treat their camels better than women.

Either way, if the author had visited the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo — which has several contests that judge steers, goats, and pigs based on their appearance — I doubt that the coverage would’ve been so suggestive.

“See this one?” he asked, pointing to a white female camel with long eyelashes and a calm gaze. “She isn’t married yet, this one. She’s still a virgin. Look at the black eyes, the soft fur. The fur is trimmed so it’s short and clean, just like a girl going to a party.”

Suddenly, Mr. Shammari grabbed the white camel’s chin and kissed it square on the mouth. “When you get to know the camels, you feel love for them. My camels are like my children, my family.”

Five years in Iraq

March 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

Security has improved. Security has improved. Security has improved.

The surge was successful. The surge was successful. The surge was successful.

Five years in Iraq and the network triumvirate — ABC, NBC, CBS — has produced special segments to commemorate the day.

ABC News brings us “Iraq 5 Years Later: Where Things Stand” which presents a pretty optimistic portrait of the current security situation in Iraq. The anchor announces that “security is a bright spot” in Iraq and attributes this success to the troop surge.

Interestingly, they have an interview with a female from Fallujah who says that the security situation is a “million times” better than a year ago. Of course the security situation is better in FALLUJAH from a year ago since that city saw some of the worst fighting in Iraq and now that the violence has lessened — even a little bit — the security situation has improved. Ask someone in Baghdad about the security situation and I do not believe the answer would be as optimistic.

NBC Nightly News produced the segment “Iraq: 5 Years Later” which is more like an interview with their super good-looking bureau chief who says his five years reporting from Iraq has been “quite a ride.” Insightful. The whole segment essentially rotates around the question: “So, what’s it like being in Iraq, like, were you scared when the U.S. shocked and awed Baghdad?”

The report is equally optimistic by reporting the “dramatic reduction in violence” in Iraq and attributes this to the surge. Oh, and guess what? If you don’t support the war on Iraq, the troops hate you.

CBS News (sans Katie Couric) has reached many of the same conclusions as NBC and ABC with their segment “Iraq: 5 Years Later,” namely that there has been a reduction in violence and this reduction in violence is due to the troop surge. I do not believe these conclusions are accurate, but the CBS report is of a vastly higher quality and seems more realistic than the two other broadcasts since it acknowledges that Iraqis are suffering from unemployment, lack of water and electricity, and they do not want to live under a foreign military occupation. It is also noteworthy that both the anchor and correspondent are females — in contrast with the other male-dominated broadcasts.

American Liberation and Muslim Catalog

March 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

The NY Times is now offering Arabic-language translations of some of its articles which I think is a good decision, but reading the Times’s articles in Arabic have made me realize the biases which are embedded in the Times’s reporting. (I am not saying Arabic-language news sources are un-biased, it is just that many times, I agree with the biases of the Arabic reporting.)

This Times article on how young Iraqis are becoming skeptical of religious leaders was made available in Arabic. Here are a few observations from my readings of the original English-language article and the Arabic translation:

  1. The English language article refers to the “American liberation” of Iraq in 2003. The Arabic article translates this directly as “al-tahrir al-amriki.” No respectable Arabic-language news source would ever call the American invasion of Iraq a “liberation.” The only Arabic-language station that would use the term “liberation” would be al-Hurra, which is funded by the U.S. to pump out news on how much of a democracy Iraq is becoming.
  2. When the English-language article mentions an individual who is “Sunni” or “Shiite” it is almost always prefaced with an adjective. For example, this man is a “moderate Shiite” or this person is a “religious Sunni.” The Arabic translation uses the same terminology, but it is awkward, but it seems out of place in the context of this article. It is not uncommon for Arabic-language news sources to label a group “mutatarif” or extremist, but it is normally relevant to the subject matter. If there is ever an article which deals with religious leaders or Iraqi citizens, then it would be rare to see the person’s sect prefaced with an adjective.

The English-language article uses the following descriptors:

a moderate Sunni cleric

a moderate Shiite sheik

a moderate Shiite cleric

a secular Shiite

militant Shiite cleric

a moderate cleric

a non-religious Shiite

From the Times’s article, we are not given any definition on what it means to be a “moderate” Sunni or Shiite. Do “moderate” Muslims support the occupation? Do “moderate” Muslims encourage females to wear hijab?

To call someone a moderate in this context is beyond ridiculous and far from informative and I can only assume that the author (or editor) has other motives when they attach these labels onto individuals. Specifically, these buzz-words are used so that readers can discriminate between good Muslims and bad Muslims. The Times’s definition of “moderate” seems to equate with “reasonable” or “logical,” but it is also the Times’s way of identifying who the U.S. has publicly identified as a non-threat to U.S. interests.

Furthermore, the whole premise of the article is shaky.

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.

I am sure that there are many young Iraqis who have rejected public religious figures, but 40 interviews can not be indicative of any huge trend. It seems like the reporter knew exactly the type of article she had in mind and then set out to get filler quotes.

Israel boycotts al-Jazeera

March 12, 2008 § 1 Comment

Israel has officially boycotted al-Jazeera. The Israeli foreign ministry has announced that it will deny al-Jazeera reporters interviews with government officials and entrance visas. This Israeli government said this decision is the result of al-Jazeera’s “biased” (muhayza) reporting of the events in Gaza. Al-Jazeera reports that some observers say this is another step in the Israeli media war against Palestinians.

Believe it or not, al-Jazeera, as well as al-Manar, are widely available on satellite tv inside Israel. The article did not say if the boycott would affect access to the channel inside Israel.

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