Thursday, May 5, 2016

Reflection 7: A Reflection on the Class

When I started this course at the beginning of the semester, my expectations were that I would be introduced to the Arab world and become engaged with issues that I did not have a previous knowledge of, such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In this aspect, my expectations were fulfilled.

I learned so many things during this semester that it is difficult to know where to start. I enjoyed learning about the contributions that Arabs have made to society. I have also learned a lot about literary contributions from the Arab world. As an English major and someone who loves literature in general, I was very much interested in the different types of literature that have been written by Arab authors. I was intrigued by the theme of identity that ran through so many of these novels and look forward to reading some of these myself for fun during the summer.

The guest speakers that came to the class presented many different perspectives on history, politics, and culture from the Arab world. I enjoyed all of these lectures. Dr. Zaru gave a very thought-provoking talk, as her lecture centered around her personal experience. It was one thing to learn about these events taking place in Israel and Palestine, but it was quite a different thing to hear first hand experience from someone from Palestine. It made the events much more real. Dr. Leahy’s explanation of the politics involved was also very helpful in understanding the complicated events taking place in the Arab world.

All in all, though the SIS requirement has now been dropped from the McDaniel Plan, given the chance I would take this class again simply because I learned so much valuable information. Though I do not plan to go into a field such as politics and am not an Arab Studies major, the knowledge I learned from this class has helped me to become a more informed, global citizen that can continue to learn more about this part of the world and work to educate others about the many misconceptions that they have about this region and the Arab people.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Weekly Report 8

Saladin Ahmed is an Arab-American writer who currently lives in Huntington Woods, Michigan. He was born in 1975 to a Lebanese/Egyptian father and a Irish/Polish mother in Detroit, Michigan. Early in his youth, Saladin became aware of the racism that existed against Arab-Americans in his city. A mayor of his town was elected because of his speeches about “the Arab problem” and he watched as an Arab community center that his father helped to build was burned to the ground twice. Ahmed developed his love of reading while working part time at a library during his youth. It was also during this time that he began to write poetry.

Ahmed went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he got his undergraduate degree in American studies. He also became an activist during this time, campaigning for human rights. He then did some traveling in Europe and the Middle East before going to Brooklyn College’s poetry program to get his MFA. He then got his MA in English at Rutgers University.

Ahmed is known for his science fiction and fantasy novels. His trilogy The Crescent Moon Kingdoms are based off of stories from One Thousand and One Nights. He won the something prize for the first novel of the trilogy, Throne of the Crescent Moon. His works have been translated into five other languages.

He married Hayley Thompson in 2007, and became a father to twins in 2010. His works continue to be included in journals and anthologies he has been given several fellowships from the University of Michigan, Brooklyn College, and the Bronx Council on the Arts.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Weekly Report 7: Arab-Americans

Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal
Etel Adnan is a famous Arab-American poet and abstract painter. She was born on February 24th, 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon. Her mother was a Christian Greek, while her father was a Muslim Syrian. In her early years, she spoke mainly Turkish and Greek at home, but also learned French while she was at a French convent school. In fact, French was the first language that she began to compose poetry in. She also then learned English and composed much of her later work in that language. It was also at this time that she began to paint. As she spoke so many languages, she never was sure which one she ought to compose in, and described herself as being “caught” between the languages. She explained that art requires no language, and she was free to be herself when she was painting.

Adnan moved to Paris in 1949 at the age of 24, where she studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. She then moved again to the United States, where she continued her graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and also at Harvard University. She then began to teach at the Dominican University of California from 1952-1978, as well as lecturing at other universities across the country. During this time, as the Algerian war was then taking place, she tried to resist the political implications that society placed on writing in French.

She then returned to Lebanon to work for the French language newspaper Al-Safa. She contributed significantly to the cultural section of the paper, working as both a journalist and the culture editor at this time. Adnan is also known for her insightful political commentary that would be published in the paper, commenting on the politics of that time.

Adnan moved back to Paris once the Lebanese civil war began, where she penned Sitt Marie Rose in 1977. She then later returned to the United States, where she has been a prolific writer and lives with her partner, fellow writer and artist Simone Fattal.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Weekly Report 6: Alaa Al Aswany and his role in the revolution in Egypt

Image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal
Author Alaa Al Aswany, writer of the book The Yacoubian Building, was an important leader during Egypt’s revolution in 2011, also known as the Arab Spring that spread throughout the Arab World. Al Aswany himself is an author who is also a dentist, which brings him into contact with many types of people and gives him a keen insight into human nature, which is shown in his books.

Al Aswany was a key part of the demonstrations that took place across the country. He was there during each and every one of the eighteen days that the demonstrations took place. He helped demonstrators focus and work together while in Tahrir Square, as he led them to call for officials to investigate the Murabak family and look into charging them with corruption. This demand was met, as officials began to investigate the finances of the Murabak family, and Murabak himself was later required to go in court in Cairo.

One of Al Aswany’s most memorable moments during the revolution was his discussion on a television chat show with then Interim Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. Al Aswany asked many insightful and important questions during the chat show, but the prime minister became increasingly more agitated during the discussion. Shafik eventually became angry at the many questions that Al Aswany had for him, and began to shout at him, declaring that he was a great patriot. Al Aswany’s answer for this sudden outburst that he, as an Egyptian citizen, had the right to ask such questions. The Prime Minister was later fired from his position.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reflection 6: Dr. Leahy's Lecture

Dr. Leahy’s lecture took a look at the relations between the United States and the Arab World while examining the reasons why there are anti-American sentiments proliferating in that region of the world. First, she talked about 9/11 as a starting point, as many Americans were shocked at the events of that day. Many could not understand and an article was published in Newsweek entitled, “Why Do They Hate Us?” This article addressed the question that many Americans were asking.

The United States has intervened in the Arab World for a long time, and certainly has not acted with motives of justice and peace during all of this time. The US has played a role in brokering peace between Israel and Palestine (such as at Camp David, the Oslo Accords, Wye River, Clinton’s Camp David, and the Annapolis Talks), but one of the reasons that this occurred was because they had to, as they were very involved in the events in that area of the world.

One of the points that stood out to me the most from Dr. Leahy’s talk was the fact that many of the numerous acts of atrocity that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) committed was partially aided by US weapons and such. In the Battle of Jenin (April 1-11, 2002), the armored bulldozers that were used to demolish homes and kill civilians were made in and shipped from a US company in Pennsylvania. It is very understandable why the people from that area might hate the US, as they flee their homes and try to save themselves while being chased by machines from America.

I was shocked to hear that Israel, which is one one thousandth of the world population and yet has the 16th highest pc income, gets 40% of US aid. Israel commits many crimes against civilians and yet nothing is done by the UN. Even when an American citizen, Rachel Corrie, was killed by one of the US made armored bulldozers nothing was done about it. And when reports are made, such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur report or the Goldstone Report, nothing is done about it. In fact, the government tried to hush up the Goldstone Report and the Jewish author of the report was dismissed as a “self-loathing Jew.”

Dr. Leahy made many good points during her lecture, and I agree that something must be done. The US cannot continue to act like a hypocrite and say that they do not support acts of terror against innocent civilians while they are fully cognizant of the situation in Palestine. I do not think anything will be done about the crisis until more people around the world begin to become more informed about these events and are vocal to world leaders that they will not continue to accept such blatant acts against civilians in their own land.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Weekly Report 5

As the Turkish president prepares to visit Washington, relations between Turkey and the US have become strained as there are disagreements in the discussion over what NATO members ought to do in Syria. These two countries have different priorities as to what the world should be focusing on in Syria. The US and its leaders would like to focus on uprooting the Islamic State militants and defeating them. However, this is not the main priority for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who believes that it is most important for the NATO countries to focus on ridding Syria of its current leader, Bashar al-Assad.

Another problem that is causing the tensions between the US and Turkey is the fact that the US supports the Democratic Union Party (PYT) rebels within Syria. Turkey dislikes this, as they believe the PYT to be a part of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group that wants to take land from Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran in order to form a Kurdish state. Turkey does not want this, and the rising tensions stem from the fact that it appears that the US is supporting a group that is endeavoring to bring that about. Leaders do not see any foreseeable changes in Turkey-US relations until the issue of the two countries’ positions on the status of PYT is resolved.

Also, the US is not pleased with Turkey’s recent crackdown on newspapers in Turkey. The government recently took control of the country’s largest newspaper. The US embassy in Turkey has tweeted support of journalists who have been jailed by the Turkish government, causing even more tensions and some ill feeling toward the US ambassador to Turkey.

Though President Erdogan had announced that he was to meet with President Obama, it is reported that he will now be meeting with Vice-President Biden. Erdogan is also going to be presiding over the opening of a mosque in Maryland, which he invited Obama to attend, however the American president declined.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Reflection 5: Professor Zaru's Talk and Field Trip to DC

I learned a great deal from Professor Carol Zaru’s talk and the field trip to the different embassies, mosque, and Palestine Center. It is hard to weigh in on such a complicated subject as the Israel-Palestine conflict, but from the different lectures that I have listened to and the articles I have read, it seems that there are several things that must be accomplished if this conflict is ever to be resolved.

Firstly, the United States and the rest of the world need to recognize that the Palestinians are being treated very poorly by the Israeli government and military and must intervene more. One can say that something is bad, but if nothing is done about that bad thing then nothing will ever be accomplished. The world needs to show Israel that they are serious about condemning their actions, rather than metaphorically shaking their heads and saying what a shame the whole situation is.

Secondly, the Israelis must stop treating the Palestinians so harshly. They should let the Palestinians govern themselves and cease their occupation, especially the actions that come along with their occupation. Professor Zaru spoke of the stringent curfews, power and water outages, and the overall treatment of the Palestinians by the occupying Israelis, and I found the situation horrifying. The illegal Israeli settlements are also causing more tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians, and those should be removed.

The land division between the Israelis and Palestinians should be proportional to the number of people that each belong too. It is not right that the Palestinians should be given such tiny allotments of the land, and it is even worse that there should be roads that they are not allowed to drive on in order to travel between these sections. This is blatantly apartheid, and the rest of the world should not stand by and watch as the concern for human rights that these countries claim to value are stomped upon through this conflict. If the rest of the world perhaps was able to step in and mediate more, but allow the Palestinians and Israelis to come to a mutual solution that benefited both parties, this troubled land might be able to finally start taking steps in the direction of peace.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Weekly Report 4: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

On Thursday, March 24, 2016, an Israeli soldier shot a Palestinian man after another soldier sustained minor injuries from a stabbing attack in the Hebron area of the occupied West Bank. This act was caught on film, showing an Israeli soldier being treated for his wounds by medical workers. Off to the side, a Palestinian man is seen lying on the ground, injured but alive, and surrounded by more soldiers. The footage shows one of the soldiers raising his gun and shooting this man in the head. This man, Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, and another man, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, had already been reportedly shot after stabbing a soldier. Both of these men died after being repeatedly shot.

This incident is only one of many in this area that is divided between Israel and Palestine. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has condemned the Israeli soldier’s actions as a “grave breach of IDF values, conduct, and standards of military operations.” However, this type of incident continues to happen in this area, as tensions continue to rise.

Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International, had stronger words to use on this subject, and said that, "The shooting of a wounded and incapacitated person, even if they have been involved in an attack, has absolutely no justification and must be prosecuted as a potential war crime.”

The concern is that the perpetrator of this crime will go unpunished, based upon similar past events where justice was not meted out. This new act of violence is not good, as it will only serve to further escalate the rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides need to come to some sort of agreement so that the senseless violence can stop and the civilian population.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Reflection 4: Dr. Boukhars' Lecture

Dr. Boukhars’ lecture was extremely informative, and I found the points that he brought up during class very interesting. He started talking about how ISIS, and other groups like ISIS, began after the US invaded Iraq in 2003 due to their war on terror as a result of the events of 9/11. One thing that he made very clear during his talk was that ISIS cannot be defeated unless the Sunni problem is addressed. This is a problem of persecution that drives some of these people to radicalism.

Another of the aspects of the ISIS problem that Dr. Boukhars addressed is how one of the group’s goals is to set the non-radical Muslims against the rest of the Western world. ISIS feeds on sectarianism, Sunni Arab marginalization, and failing regimes. Each act of terrorism creates increased tensions between Muslim communities and the rest of the world, sometimes causing the rest of the world to react negatively toward Muslims. This only contributes to certain groups within these communities to feel like oppressed minorities, which then causes some to join with radical groups and the cycle begins again.

He also talked about the hypocrisy of the West, as often times those in Western countries will mourn persecution and acts of terrorism against countries such as France and Belgium while ignoring the thousands that are slaughtered in Arab countries on a regular basis. At the same time, the US is trying to save face and withdraw from these problems that it has created. Meanwhile, Russia is continuing to bomb peaceful groups of non-ISIS members, causing greater outrage among those communities. Russia is free to do such things because the US refuses to act.

Dr. Boukahrs talked for quite a bit of time about the psychological profiles of some of the members of ISIS. One of the aspects of the profile is a feeling of isolation amongst these radicals. They feel a sense of detachment from their community. They often have a history of delinquency and have gone to prison, as well as participating in drugs. There is also a large number of them that are recent converts. They do not join for religious reasons, but because they are looking for direction, and these groups provide a purpose and a community where they can belong. These new converts then commit acts of terrorism after merely a few months.

I learned a great deal from this lecture, and hope to continue to learn more about these complex issues.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Reflection 3: Drumming Session

Photo courtesy of
Although I had the misfortune to have had an excused previous commitment during the concert, I thoroughly enjoyed when the group visited the class today. The music was so alive and energetic, that though I was very tired it caused me to feel slightly more awake.

I was very interested in learning about the group had to say about the tradition of music from their cultures. I loved the story of the how the man who plays the talking drum  would show up at 6 in the morning at the house of someone who has just been married. He plays to let everyone know that the person has been married and then everyone shows up at 8 for breakfast at the house.

They also talked the tradition of Massamba’s family, and how his family know the history of all of the different families in the area. I do think it is sad that this is being lost with the later generation. Massamba’s sons are not learning the talking drum, and the stories of the past are being lost. Massamba explained that though there will be videos of him on YouTube for years of him playing the talking drum, it will not be the same as others learning to play too. They also talked about technology, and how now when we need to contact someone we use a phone, in the past they would use drums to communicate with those from other villages.

The instruments that they used were very interesting. I loved that the stringed instrument, though when played by itself could be very calming, when paired with the drums was just as lively. Some of the dances and songs seemed to have been played before, but others seemed spontaneous as Massamba went around the room drumming in front of people. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to listen to them explain their music and the importance it holds in their culture.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Weekly Report 3: Musicians of the Arab World-Fairuz

When doing a simple search for “Musicians from the Arab World” one name that came up many times was that of the singer Fairuz. It seems that this Lebanese born musician is considered to be a singing legend by many. She was born in November 1935 as Nouhad Haddad to a poor Maronite and Syriac Orthodox Christian family, but Fairuz describes her childhood as happy, and while in high school she sang in the choir. Her father was reluctant to let her to to the Lebanese music conservatory as Mohammed Fleyfel, a teacher and musician at the conservatory who was impressed by Nouhad’s voice, suggested. Her father eventually allowed her to go, and Nouhad adopted the stage name Fairuz.

She later married Assi Rahbani who, along with his brother Mansour, were noted musicians. Assi composed many songs for Fairuz, which then launched her into fame. The two had four children together. Of the children, one died, one is paralyzed, Ziad followed his mother into music, Rima works in the film industry. Her son Ziad later composed music for her as well. Fairuz also acted in the theater and on television.

During Lebanon’s civil war, Fairuz chose not to take sides. Instead, she firmly stayed out of the conflict and used her music as a way to make a point as she toured internationally. One of her songs, “I Love You Lebanon” was very important to the Lebanese people during this time. Her political views also caused her songs to be prohibited from playing on the radio for sixth months due to her refusal to sing to the Lebanese president, as she did not want to sing for an individual person, but just for the public in general around the world. This further cemented her popularity, and she has come to be known as the First Lady of Lebanese Singing.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reflection 2: Dr. Deveny's lecture

Image courtesy of
Dr. Deveny’s lecture over the Islamic roots in Spain was very interesting. I had previously known that there was a Muslim population in Spain during the Middle Ages, but had not realized the enormous impact that it had on the country. The country was invaded and conquered in 711, and though the Christians gradually took back the country by fighting from the north, the Islamic rule of the country proved to be a time of prolific advancements in culture and learning for Spain. During this time period (from the 8th-11th century) Cordoba was considered to be the most important city in the world.

Something that struck me was the fact that Al-Andalus (or the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula) took place during what was known as the Dark Ages of Europe, and yet culture was flourishing in Spain. Incredible architecture, literature, and innovations were taking place. For instance, under Muslim rule came what was called the “Green Revolution” in which great strides in the science of agriculture took place, as well as the introduction of many new types of food for that region, including rice, wheat, sugar, pomegranates, lemons, oranges, and more.
Image courtesy of

Though much of Spain was under the rule of the Muslim Umayyad Emirate and later a caliphate, there were three main religions being practiced during this time. Christians, Muslims, and Jews all lived together in these cities. One of the most interesting parts of Dr. Deveny’s lecture for me was when he talked about how Muslims, Christians, and Jews all translated different important works into the common language between them all: Spanish. I thoroughly enjoy the study of language myself, and to me this shows how language can sometimes bring people together, even those with differing worldviews or religions.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Weekly Report 2: Arab and Muslim Contributions to World Civilization, Tawakkol Karman

Tawakkol Karman is the first Arab women to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and the second Muslim woman to receive the prize, as well as the first Yemeni to do so. She was born on February 7, 1979 in Yemen. Karman is a journalist and political activist, as well as a wife and mother to three children. In 2008, she set up the organization “Women Journalists Without Chains” and with this group she held weekly protests the brought such things as political prisoners and drone strikes to the attention of the general public. She carried these protests out for three years.

She is most well known for the role she played in the “Arab Spring” uprising in 2011, specifically in Yemen, where she and many others called for the removal of the then current president Saleh from office. During that time, Karman was arrested by the police and held in prison for several days. This only fueled the protests further, and she was then released. The protests continued until it resulted the president resigned. Karman campaigned for Saleh to be put on trial for his crimes and not be given immunity, but this did not happen.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
In 2011, Karman was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee for her work for peace and for women’s rights. At that time, she was the youngest person to receive the prize until Malala Yousafzi received it in 2014. When Karman received the award, it was seen as a reward for all Yemenis for their determined struggle for freedom and and equality.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Weekly Report 1: Syria

Photo courtesy of
The Syrian army is focusing its attack on Aleppo as refugees flee from the city to the Bab al- Salam border in attempts to escape the heavy Russian bombing of their city. The government forces are beginning to surround the city, capturing smaller villages. The supply line to the rebels from Turkey has been cut off, and some are saying that if the rebels lose this battle it would be a significant defeat for the rebels as well as a triumph for President Assad. There are many problems surrounding the fight in and around Aleppo. Firstly, it is causing even more refugees to flee the country. Many of them are waiting by the Turkish border to see if they will be allowed into that country. Though there are refugee camps set up for them there, it is not yet clear if these 20,000 people will be allowed into the country. Additionally, because the government forces are attacking the smaller villages surrounding Aleppo, humanitarian groups are unable to provide aid in that area. 

Another issue concerns the fact the Russians are bombing the city of Aleppo. Other countries such as the US and France are criticizing the decision to bomb the area, as it is a mostly civilian area and will not help to resolve the conflict. A result of the increased fighting in Aleppo even caused a cessation of peace talks in Geneva until February 25th. Russia has been urged by US state department spokesperson John Kirby to focus on fighting Isis, instead of bombing the moderate rebels. This is not helping to restore peace to this area, and instead is thought to stem from the government focusing on achieving a victory rather than striving to achieve peace for the country.

It is terrible that so many refugees are forced to flee from their homes, but still worse that they might not be able to actually leave their war torn country, but instead must stay in the refugee camps for an indefinite period of time. The fact that Russia is bombing the civilian populace instead of carrying out their purported mission of stopping Isis is extremely troubling. I do not think that they are helping the situation whatsoever.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reflection 1: Why did you choose to take this class?

Besides what I have read about that region of the world in the news, I have read some books that take place in the Arab World and the descriptions of the culture and life there always fascinated me. Granted, many of these were fiction and do not always necessarily represent life accurately, but I did wonder how much of the culture depicted within those books might be similar to that in the countries described. Partially because of this, I was glad to have the opportunity to learn more and separate the facts from the fiction. I do not know very much about that area other than what I have read, and so look forward to learning more. I have never been to the Arab World, but someday if I ever have enough money to travel it is one of the areas that I am certainly interested in visiting. 

Prior to 9/11, I really had no views on the Arab World, as I was only around 5 at the time and cannot remember much of the events of that day. I was homeschooled at the time, and all I can remember is sneaking into the room where my mother was watching the TV and being horrified as I watched the towers fall. However, my views concerning the Arab World and the people from there did not change much as a consequence of that day, as I was not told anything other than that bad people had done it. I had noticed changes in the attitudes of the adults around me at that time, as the topic of Muslims came up more frequently and were discussed in more of a negative and suspicious light. However, I disagreed with those that said that all Muslims wanted 9/11 to happen as I grew older and still believe that. I look forward to the discussions that we will be having this semester.