Tag Archives: Egypt

Covering the Hijab at the Rio Olympics

Past weeks have seen the internet come to blows over pictures from a women’s volleyball game between Germany and Egypt. This picture:

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Now where most sane folks would see a simple game of beach volleyball, the denizens of the interwebs have managed to read in some fantasy about a clash of cultures- “the free and civilized West against the superstitious, primitive savages of the East.” Comment sections have been flooded with everything from sarcastic half-jokes…

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…to open propaganda.

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“Because I, from the comfort of my armchair, know this athlete’s situation better than she does.” -Idiot Commentor

There’s been snide comment after comment directed not at Doaa Elghobashy’s performance in the game, not towards her assertion that what she wears is her own damn business, not towards her teammate (Nada Meawad) who doesn’t wear a hijab…

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And I think it’s because people aren’t actually angry about any of that.

For all the sanctimony, the issue at hand seems not to be with mandates or even just pressure to wear the hijab. It has nothing to do with standing up for women- on the contrary. I do think that the extreme contrast between Elghobashy and her German counterparts hit a nerve that most people didn’t realize they had. I think it does forced folks to ask themselves some truly uncomfortable questions about why they actually watch the sport.

I’m talking about this:

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Now I seriously debated putting that picture up, but as cringingly uncomfortable as it is, I think it speaks volumes about our culture. Continue reading

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Fergustan

On the ninth of this month Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown during a traffic stop. The subsequent days have seen massive protests in both the city and across the nation, matched only in their intensity by the crackdown of the local police.

Now while the police have just now cited that the deceased Michael Brown was the suspect in a local convenience store robbery (nothing has yet been proven), the cops have nevertheless come under widespread criticism. By all accounts, 18-year-old Michael Brown, who has no record of bad behavior- criminal or otherwise, surrendered to Wilson after a brief struggle. Despite his raised hands and his shouts that he was unarmed, Wilson opened fire anyway, shooting the teenager no less than six times.

We could talk about the struggle that allegedly occurred, the protocol in place for such events, and a host of other factors, but ultimately the fact that Wilson shot and killed an unarmed teen remains undisputed.

But we’re not here to talk about that.

We’re here to talk about the days that have since passed.

Continue reading

Shame Day: Whitewashed Bible Movies and the Christians Who Watch Them

I think it only fair, given the current situation in the Gaza Strip, to shout-out the West’s general view of the Middle East today as having honorary Shame Day status [you can check out yesterday’s post for what that’s all about]. Cue my flawless segue into today’s actual topic, which is in regards to the West’s general view of the historical Middle East.

This retreads some pretty well-worn ground for me, because it’s about Hollywood and race. I’ve spotlit problems with the “one size fits all” approach to casting minorities, heavily criticized Hollywood’s attempts to whitewash their remakes of groundbreaking animated films, and outright condemned producers who cite the inevitable change in the industry while stolidly refusing to have any part of it. The difference here is that this time it’s heavily tied into Western Christianity.

It’s been almost 60 years since The Ten Commandments, and I want to say we’ve come a very long way since then. Again note that that’s something I want to say. To be truly and completely honest there is almost nothing I want more than to be able to write to you all and tell you that in six decades we are so, so far from the time when Charles Heston and Anne Baxter were cast as Moses and Nefertiti, respectively. You know what they say, though, you can’t always get what you want. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About The Hijab

We make no pretension of being unbiased here at the CWR. We have our particular axes to grind and banners to wave. Evan, you’ll notice, often covers the place of Asians in culture- in no small part because Evan is a combo of a few Asian peoples himself, and more directly affected by that issue. I, alternatively, grew up in the Middle East, and after having spent pretty much the entirety of my life with Arabs and Muslims (not the same thing, shouldn’t have to explain that), I’m more sensitive to Middle Eastern issues- Islamophobia in particular.

I could spend all day railing on the treatment of the Middle East/Arabs/Occupied Palestine/Muslims/etc. The way Arabs/Muslims are singled out for scrutiny and criticism. Casting Indian actors to play Arabs, since Arabs don’t match their own stereotype. The lack of appreciation for the key role the Middle East played in preserving and advancing science and philosophy.

You get the idea.

So rather than trying to tackle a single issue that could be (should be, and has been) covered by an entire academic book, I’m going to hit up super-specific issue.

The hijab. Continue reading

Fame Day: The Young Turks Arabs

A few days ago, a client at the nonprofit where I work heard that I was from the Middle East.

The conversation went as it usually does, beginning with some surprise, followed by a few questions like “why on earth were over there?” and “How did you learn to speak English?”

You get used to questions like that.

Then came the inevitable comments on the ongoing violence in my adopted homeland of Syria. Those comments are always pretty vague- existing as a result of having to say something so as to not appear ignorant while being ambiguous enough to avoid proving that you are ignorant. In this case it was a theatrical, sad shake of the head, followed by the statement “Well that’s a shame. But y’know? There always has been fighting over there and there probably will be to the end of time.”

I’ve always hated that statement.

In all fairness, that’s true as well…

First and foremost, it’s a complete lie: “There’s always been war in the Middle East?”

No, there hasn’t. For centuries, the Arab world was the shinning pinnacle of human civilization. Even in its decline, the Middle East was still a relatively peaceful place- especially when compared with the rest of the world. Look at European History in the 19th and 20th centuries and compare its body count with that of the Middle East in the same time period.

Secondly, there’s a deeply racist implication in the statement that “there will always be war in the Middle East.”

Why?

Because of the way the borders are drawn? Because there’s oil in certain parts of the desert?

Or is it because the Arabs are simply and inherently angry, violent people?

That statement is on par with saying “Africa will always be poor.” Why?

Because, you know… Africans?

This is some ol’ bull. “Africans are capable of nothing but starving, as they always have done and always will do, and Arabs are capable of nothing but fighting- always have and always will”?

Nevertheless, that was the line (and often still is) that was fed to the public over the past couple decades. Recently however, the events of The Arab Spring have completely and utterly turned that picture on its head.

Starting with the self-immolation of 26-year-old street vendor in Tunisia, ripples of protest spread out across the Arab world, building in power and momentum until they evolved into revolutions against some of the most brutal and dictators and entrenched bureaucracies in modern history. Egypt, in particular, stands out as a shining example, with thousands of young, unarmed Egyptians doing in 18 days what the US and all her allies couldn’t do for Iraq in nearly 10 years.

And no, in case you’re wondering, that had nothing to do with either Facebook or Twitter. I recall during the weeks following the victory of the Egyptian revolutionaries, pundits in the West were desperately fishing for some way to co-opt the accomplishments of the young Arabs and paint them as somehow being ultimately rooted in the bounty and decency of America. Facebook and Twitter were cited as essential tools, without which there would surely be no free Egypt. Again, any sane person is going to call bull on this. Twitter never set itself on fire. Facebook didn’t dodge gas canisters or face-off with riot police and tanks. Again, as a result of the American media’s desire to scare you without actually showing you any blood or gore, grasping the full scope of what many of these young protesters were up against is difficult, if not impossible.

You’ve got to see the casualties of battle to really and truly understand the courage and sacrifice of those going into the maw. Perhaps its for that reason that westerners often look to social media to take a slice of a glory (though my bet is still on jealousy).

And what’s even more impressive isn’t simply that the Arab people have faced off with their governments in the past, it’s that they’re still doing it.

You might think “Hey- we came, we saw, we conquered. Insert-dictator-here is dead and/or gone, let’s all go home and take a much deserved and well earned break.”

That’d certainly be a temptation for me.

But instead of resting on their laurels, the Arab people (again, the Egyptians serving as a prime example) continue to stand on the front line and demand nothing short of total freedom and complete justice. Yesterday, another young Tunisian vendor set himself ablaze in protest. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians continue to hold hunger strikes. In spite of recently reaching over one million refugees, the rebels in Syria continue fight on against the Assad regime.

Across the Arab world, in the face of vicious repression, the Arab people are fighting on. Through their perseverance and valor, this generation of Arabs is changing the image of the Middle East from a place that “always has been violent and always will be” to something soon to be synonymous with democratic revolution, collaboration, and freedom. There’s certainly still a long way to go, but time and time again the young Arabs have proven that they’re on the right path and they’re not taking one step backwards.

What did you do today?

The Good, The Bad, and The Evil

In an early Shame Day post I called a particularly reprehensible political lobby “what cancer would look like if it were a social movement.” While I continue to stand by that statement (this group was pulling the exact same ploy against Muslims that Middle Ages Christians used against Jews), a commenter did assert that I had gone too far, stating “as wicked or wrong as you think these people are, they remain human beings.”

It’s got me back to thinking on a subject that’s long held my interest- namely the issue of evil. You’d think it’d be pretty straight forward- right is right and wrong is wrong- but let me get right into an example.

Was this guy evil?

No question. Hitler and his followers aren’t simply evil- they’re the go-to example of evil. They’re our baseline for evil. Everything vile and nefarious is measured against either Hitler or the Nazis.

So what about this guy?

Columbus’s long-list of achievements (discovering America not being one of them) read more or less as a chronicle of genocide, slavery, and theft. It’s well known, certainly at this point, that Columbus was a greedy, narcissistic, tyrannical, and corrupt man. Even with streets, cities, a holiday, and even an asteroid commemorating him, surely we can all agree that this guy was evil. Not on the level of Nazi Germany, but still indisputably evil.

But what about him?

Yep, that’s Thomas Jefferson. President.  Founding Father. Author of the Declaration of Independence.

Slave owner.

Not just a slave owner, but an abusive one- carrying on an affair with one of his slaves (that slave also being his wife’s half-sister), getting her pregnant multiple times, and then promptly allowing his own children to spend the rest of their lives as slaves.

Pretty depraved, eh? If I did any one of these things, I’d be called out as a first-rate ******* (and rightly so). I’d be called evil, and that would be telling it like it is.

But let’s move on.

Is this guy evil?

That’s J. Edgar Hoover, founder of the FBI, which he oversaw with about the same leadership you’d expect from some Stone Age self-proclaimed god-king. Hoover was an egoistical, jealous, paranoid man who used the FBI to advance his own political agenda. In addition to all of this, Hoover was a rabid racist, and struggled long and hard against the Civil Rights movement, targeting MLK Jr. in particular, as well as spearheading a campaign to undermine the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Would you call this guy evil?

Ok, what about them?

Yes, the average American family (not pictured above), or heck, even just the average American? Our money goes to supporting companies that use sweatshop labor. Our money goes to supporting companies that recklessly destroy the environment. Our money goes to supporting corporations that push objectifying ads (especially, but not exclusively, in regards to women).

Our taxes go to supporting dictatorial regimes (such as former Egyptian president Mubarak), racist and apartheid states (such as Israel), and even states that utilize child soldiers.

Where does that put us?

Now all of that is simply to illustrate the apparent complexity of the issue. Evil is evil, yes, but pinning down exactly who is and isn’t evil becomes a little more complex once we look at someone other than the Nazis. Jefferson was instrumental not only to the founding of this nation, but to the establishment and perpetuation of the core concepts of democracy and human rights- even to the point where Martin Luther King Jr., a man whose ancestors Jefferson owned– wound up quoting him in his iconic I Have a Dream speech.

Likewise, there’s the issue with the average American. Almost none of us would actually be able to manage a sweatshop, or put an assault rifle in a twelve-year old’s hands, at least, not in person. Despite this, our economy is built on the backs of Bangladeshi kids working for twenty-five cents an our. Our security (we are told) is predicated on us coordinated with nations whose human rights records are drenched in blood (*Cough*China*Cough*Saudi Arabia*Cough*Columbia*Cough*). The vast majority of us either don’t know or don’t care; not enough to raise a voice in protest, anyhow. Again, what does that make us? We might not be ourselves actively implementing imperialism and violence and despotism, but we still do rake in the rewards and howl for more.

We could try arguing innocence by virtue of not being the ones pulling the trigger on any of this, but the truth that history has taught us over and over is that simple knowledge of an injustice creates moral culpability. To ignore injustice equates with committing injustice. We simply can’t escape it.

Not without risk of being hunted down by zealously religious Irishmen…

And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe we can’t be so picky about where we draw the line between right and wrong. Maybe the answer is sweeping judgment. That’s not meant to be some fire and brimstone-esque statement, that’s simply a fact of the matter. You’re not good and evil only when you embark on a mission of genocide- you’re a participant in a viciously evil system until such a time as you act otherwise. You’re part of the problem until you’re part of the solution.

That’s not to say that you have to be flawless. You’re not going to be able to do that (neither am I, for that matter)- in part because we’re human, and in part because the world we live in simply isn’t going to cooperate. But people, we can at least try. I don’t think making an effort to not totally **** up the planet and all that’s in it is really all that much to ask, do you?

British Television VS American Television

Despite our focus on American issues, we here at Culture War Reportersrecognize that in our world of ever-shrinking borders, there’s plenty more out there than just the cloudless skies of Nevada or the homeless-packed streets of Toronto (Evan, seriously- if the healthcare system’s so good, why does Canada have so many crazy people?).

Today we turn our attention to our pasty cousins across the pond, more specifically, their TV,  excuse me, “Telly” (this is why you lost your empire- well, this and genocide), and how it stacks up next to ours.

CGI and Production Values

Now I have to admit- I haven’t extensively researched British and American television financing, nor have I had a chance to compare the two, taking into consideration differences in the economy and advertising fees over the past couple decades.

What I’m saying is- I’m not an expert.

That said, I don’t need to be an architect to tell you that chances are pretty good that a lot less money was put into making a tent than a condo. British TV shows, put bluntly, just seems to be vastly less funded than their American counterparts. Just take a look at this scene from America’s Battlestar Galactica.

Pretty intense, right? If there’s any poor-quality, it’s probably from the YouTube video, rather than the actual series.

Now look at this clip from Britain’s Doctor Who.

Way worse. And oddly enough, Doctor Who has a bigger fanbase than Galactica, and despite it’s ever-increasing popularity, still has to deal with props dug out of someone’s kitchen drawers. I’m not saying Doctor Who is bad- it’s not. It’s really good- only it’s tough to really feel the full effects of a horrific reveal when the monstrous alien that’s been lurking the shadows until now makes your sock-puppets look scary by comparison. I can’t claim to know the reason for it, and I’m not putting the Brits down for it- I’m simply saying that funding- especially in CGI- appears to be a significant difference between the worlds of British and American TV.

Pretty Faces

You’ve probably heard jokes cracked about this. Not the “British are ugly” or the “British have bad teeth” jokes- the fact that the people on British television have the audacity to look like the people you’d see on the street.

That’s not to say the Brits don’t share the American weakness for fantasizing and glamorizing each and every facet of life, but it’s pretty clear that it’s nowhere near on the scale we have here in the US. Here- take a look at the leading characters of the American version of Being Human.

The guy on the left is decently attractive, as is the girl, and the guy on the right looks more or less like a life-sized Ken doll. Idealized people- no question about it. Now look at the same characters in the British original:

There’s not a huge difference between the girl (the blonde girl is another character- ignore her), and the dark haired guy certainly isn’t his American counterpart and stop looking at that guy’s ears! Yes, they’re huge- they’re gargantuan– and no, this isn’t just an unflattering photo- they actually are trying to escape his head in the first three seasons.

The point is, when it comes to their actors, the British are- well, appear to be- considerably less shallow. They don’t need a couple of supermodels to tell a compelling story of murder, secrecy, and perversion- and speaking of which…

Raunch Codes

Watch this clip- but before you do, get all children and Weslyans out of the room.

Pretty nasty stuff, right? Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

People complain that American media is nothing but sex and violence, but believe me- those Axe commercials are prudish compared to the Brits (and indeed- most of Europe). We may give the Brits a run for their money when it comes to blood and gore but never will we compete with them when it comes to explicitness of this degree. It’s almost to the point where it’s not even repulsive- you’re just impressed at how logic-deafeningly far they take it.

But only almost.

The Dying and the Dead

It’s been said that the difference between British comedies and American comedies is that American comedies begin with everything going wrong and end with everything being fixed, while British comedies begin with everything going right and end with everything falling apart. I wouldn’t call a story where everyone dies of scurvy at the end a comedy, but then again, I don’t whittle my life away on a miserable island full of alcoholics and skinheads.

I can say that because the only people who hate the British more than the Irish, the Kenyans, the Indians, the Chinese, the Australians, the New Zealanders, Iranians, and the Egyptians are the British themselves.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is this viciously self-deprecating mentality that pervades every element of British culture (barring fox hunts, which are just weird) that couldn’t be further removed from the general sense of optimism that you tend to find in America. Just take a look at British crime series.

Now I’ve seen quite a few, and while this certainly isn’t universally true, what I’ve typically found is that British murder mysteries focus on the whole “Whodunnit?” element, whereas American murder mysteries either have a “How’d he do it?” or a drive to keep the murderer from murdering again. Gross over-generalizations, I know, but it does seem to be true that American crime series episodes end with the detectives patting each other on the back for having done justice, while British crime series episodes end with the detective giving some despairing monologue about the tragic depravity of all mankind.

Because that’s a very depressing (and therefore, British) way to end the post- allow me offer this:

To say I’ve been ragging a bit on the British would be an understatement, and no- despite our attempts to be unbiased, we here at Culture War Reporters don’t care much for contemporary English culture. That established, there may very well be something to be said for the Brit’s here. Is it pretty? Not remotely, but for all the weirdness (from our perspective) that British TV has to offer, it can’t be denied that it’s simply more “real” than American TV. The sets aren’t shiny, the people aren’t (exclusively) gorgeous, and a stories of sin and murder actually recognize human suffering. There’s certainly a lot from British TV that merits imitation here in America.

Except for sexually explicit sausage commercials. **** that.