Saturday, September 27, 2008

Not Syria!

What?! A car bomb went off in Damascus?

Syria is a gorgeous country, with a fascinating culture and heritage, but it's not exactly in a greatest place in the world pecking order at the moment. If it has any political advantage over its neighbors, though, that would be security. Unlike the often jittery streets of Lebanon, Palestine and even Jordan, Syria is ridiculously safe. Go out at nearly any time of day or night and you won't have anything to worry about.

But now we have this car bomb going off near a Shiite shrine and a government security checkpoint in Damascus. Where in the world did that come from? I'm going to be keeping an eye on this story and see what develops.

Check out this AFP article for a more in-depth look at the story, including political decisions that were made days before the attack and reactions of various world leaders to the attack.

And click here for a timeline of terrorist attacks in Syria.

17 people, all civilians, dead. And during the last ten days of Ramadan, the holiest days of the Muslim calender. Why do people do this to each other?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Global Financial Crisis for Dummies

Let me say here and now that business and economics have never exactly been my favorite subjects. But following all the craziness that's been going on in the financial world since last week, I felt like I had to do at least some reading on the subject.

Jumping from website to website, I tried to work my way through the economic jargon to figure out just what was going on. For a more literary-minded person like me, all this "money stuff" had to be seriously dumbed down.

And then I found it. The easiest, most readable article on the global financial crisis. Courtesy of Al Jazeera English. Enjoy.

If anyone has any other really good articles on the subject, please do put up a link to it in the comments section. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Institute for Policy Studies - A Nour Obsession

I've been looking up internships lately, and I came across a D.C. think tank called the "Institute for Policy Studies" (IPS). The organization is .. amazing, for lack of a more sophisticated word. Calling itself "Washington's first progressive multi-issue 'think tank,'" it focuses on providing alternative policies in three areas: peace, justice and the environment.

Founded in response to the Vietnam War, IPS devotes itself to helping pave the way towards social justice. A quick quote from their website gives you a small taste of what IPS is all about:

Washington is awash with dealmakers who pursue narrow, short-term interests. But who looks out for future generations? Who is responsible for the stewardship of the planet? Who seeks to go beyond temporary peace to a future without the possibility of war? Who says, “Let’s try an approach that protects human rights, meets human needs and that our resources can sustain over decades and centuries, not election cycles”?

The Institute for Policy Studies is the counterweight to the dealmakers. We work to reclaim democracy. We collaborate with grassroots movements to foster the conditions for long-term change. We promote relationships, linking activists and public officials who share our belief that a better world is possible ...

Who wouldn't want to work for an organization like this? The site's homepage is full of insightful articles on the issues IPS is currently working on. If you find them interesting, you might want to sign up for the IPS newsletter, "Unconventional Wisdom."

Anyhoo, that's my blurb today. If you found IPS as fascinating as I did, spread the word about it! We need to get these alternative news sources and organizations out there - ASAP!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Anis Mojgani - Good, Good Poetry

I love Anis Mojgani. And I want to share him with you.

Check out this interview to find out all about him.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Seven Years (and a Day) On

Another 9/11 anniversary passed yesterday. I always have such conflicting feelings on that day.

2974 innocent people died, and millions more were traumatized when the Twin Towers fell. Horrible, I know, but what about the thousands that die every day from ongoing wars and diseases and lack of basic resources like shelter, food and water? And what about the countless people who’ve died as a result of the U.S.’s post-9/11 war on terror? Why doesn’t the world recognize the suffering they go through like it recognizes the suffering of America? Just because all those people don’t come from the most powerful country in the world doesn’t mean they hurt any less.

Here’s an article I came across on about “The Other 9/11” – one in which the U.S. was the bad guy. Kinda puts things in perspective.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The "I Love America" Post

Whenever I discuss issues that show America in a bad light (like in my last post), I always have this urge to censor myself. Lately in America, it’s been very difficult to critique the status quo without being branded anti-American or “unpatriotic” (I’ve always had a problem with that word). Add in being an Arab-American who is very visibly Muslim into the mix, and you suddenly have national security risk potential.

I love being American, but I hate having to reassure people of that fact. Believe me, I’ve had my fair share of Thanksgivings, Halloweens and Fourth of Julys. For me, an In-N-Out Burger is the best comfort food and Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth.

But love doesn’t replace justice and truth. Those are separate things. Just because I love America doesn’t mean I’m going to let its (often gigantic) mistakes slide. (Iraq, anyone?) If anything, loving America makes me hold it to a higher standard than someone who doesn’t care much for the country might.

I believe strongly in the ideals America was founded on. But, like most of my fellow countrymen (and women), these last eight years have made me very, very frustrated.

I know I keep tooting the Obama horn. But change, change, change. We need it. The whole world needs it. And it can’t come soon enough.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The First Middle Eastern Coup: The U.S. Starts It All in Syria

I'm right in the middle of looking for a topic write about for my "American and the Middle East" research paper. And I came across something... interesting.

Apparently, in the 1940s, the United States wanted to undertake a project called the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (TAPLINE). The enterprise, which would transport oil from Saudi Arabia to Europe and the eastern United States via Lebanon, was created to save millions of dollars in terms of oil transport costs. The pipeline’s route went through Jordan, over the Golan Heights in Syria, and ended at Sidon in Lebanon, rather than snaking along the original, significantly longer, transport route through the Persian Gulf and Suez Canal. It was the greatest industrial project of its time.

The terms of TAPLINE, however, weren't in the interests of the Syrian government. There was a democracy in Syria at the time, and the Syrian leaders collectively refused to support TAPLINE. Around that time, a magical coincidence occurred. A military coup by Husni al-Zaim overthrew the resisting Syrian government, replacing it with one much more compliant with American interests in the Middle East. The first act this new government took was to approve the pipeline, and construction went ahead through Syria.

Recent studies on America and the Middle East have shed light on the events that led to the al-Zaim coup. It now appears that the CIA was involved in this first coup in Syrian and Middle Eastern history. CIA agents Miles Copeland and Stephen Meade, acting military attach├ęs in Damascus, helped al-Zaim orchestrate the event and sparked the necessary fires in domestic Syrian politics that allowed the coup to take place.

It was the beginning of Syrian-U.S. relations that would later turn very sour.

I can't wait to find out more about this early stepping stone in Syrian-American relations. With Damascus gaining ground on the international stage, studying Syria is becoming crucial to understanding just how the Middle East ticks, and how America has historically tried to deal with the region.

I'll post up any interesting updates as I make my way through this research paper over these next few weeks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Taste of Iftar

Fifteen minutes to go and I’m rushing around the kitchen. The food is still cooking in pots, the radio isn’t tuned to the Quran station, and I haven’t put out dates or even incense. Thank god I had the sense to dress ahead of time, I think to myself as I lunge to tame a pot of boiling soup. They’ll be here any minute!

An alarm clock clangs to life on the other side of the kitchen. The scent of my finished cheese pastries floats through the air, hypnotizing. But I have no time for mulling over them. The moment I pull them out of the blazing oven, I hear a cackling back on the stove. In a flurry of skirts, I’m at the side of my burning rice. I manage to save the day by dumping it all in a porcelain bowl and scraping off the burned black layer.

All is not well for long. On my way to light the incense in the dining room after turning on the radio, the sizzling of chicken reaches my ears. I dart back into the kitchen, and take a sip of the chicken’s sauce. Just as the liquid scorches my tongue, I remember with a start that I’m fasting. Sunset is still five minutes away! I sprint to the sink and spew out the sauce.

Back in the dining room, I fumble with a wooden match that refuses to light until I get a green cigarette lighter that does the job. The spicy sent of the lit incense floats through the air, reminiscent of old bazaars and temples. I smile and stop for a moment to survey the room.

The dark mahogany chairs are arranged around a table heavy with set silver and the prospect of food. Soft light floats through the open window, from where I can see the sun, a large yellow cracker, dipping into a soupy orange sky. Quranic passages from the radio hover through the room, leaving behind traces of tranquility.

The doorbell rings. I walk swiftly to the kitchen, get the tray of dates and water waiting on the counter, and then place it on the dining table. All is set. I go to the door and turn the knob, letting in a drove of greetings and guests, followed by the sound of the call to maghrib prayer, signaling the end of the day’s fast.


Originally published in TimeOut Dubai.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ramadan Rambles

I love Ramadan. Sleepy suhoors before sunrise, lavish iftars at sunset, taraweeh prayers every evening at the mosque. This month really has its own unique atmosphere.

Even the fasting is enjoyable when you know that the people around you are doing it with you. You really feel a sense of community. There's nothing like sitting with friends around a table in the last few minutes before sunset and hearing the call to prayer go off. In those first few moments of eating dates and drinking water or coffee, you're all the happiest people in the world. It's an experience that becomes even better when you do it surrounded by the people closest to you.

While Ramadan food gets a lot of hype, it's not what makes this month so special. Ramadan is really a social event. You get to see people you haven't seen for ages (probably since last Ramadan), and almost every day there's someone inviting you to their house or out to a restaurant. Collective tarweeh prayers at the mosque give you a chance to meet new people or catch up with old friends. You're almost always with someone doing some thing or other.

And then, of course, there's the spiritual aspect of it all. Ramadan offers a time to step back from the whirlwind of daily life and consider your place in this universe we find ourselves in. Between all the religious traditions of Ramadan, there are those rare and special moments when everything falls in to place. It's as if all the planets align or something. You feel the universe fall at your feet, and you are One.

That's what Ramadan is really about, in the end. Those moments.

Wishing you all a blessed month.
Love it while it lasts!