Saturday, 27 June 2009

Michael Jackson

My oldest friend in the world texted me yesterday at midnight: "Can't believe Michael Jackson is dead."

That's how I found out.

Our flat went into an hour of shock; I broke the news to them. A Dutch woman of 24, a Portugese of 28, and I, all united in our shock and love of this icon.

The thing that most strikes you now that he is gone, is his incredible output. A
treasure trove of amazing songs. A track record that goes back to when he was 11.

As avantcaire says, our generation loved MJ. We associate childhood memories with him.

His music had ability to stir into action, to make you dance, to make you feel good, and also to make you contemplative, sweetly so. I always had a soft spot for his sentimental songs.

Here is a song that was one of my favourite since I was 13: Human Nature.

This too, used to be one of my favourites when I was a teenager: The Girl is Mine.

Gotta be startin somethin' - my Nigerian classmates loved that song!

'Off the wall' - this phrase entered the vocabulary in my Nigerian school because of Mr Michael Jackson.


And I will never forget the excitement that overcame me when I learned, at age 15, now in Cairo, that Mr Michael Jackson is back with I just can't stop loving you.

Why do we wait until someone dies to appreciate them? Imagine all MJ's contemporaries and competing artists, how they probably never called him, and how they probably want to do so now. They never celebrated his success, yet now they do.

The legacy is clear: volumes of music, a great voice, great dance moves, excitement, novelty, and sometimes, message as well.

You want to be remembered? Produce!

Sure, the guy had lost his way by the end. But boy did he produce!

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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Niqab equals ...

I'm posting on the niqab subject in a new post because I want to clarify a few things.

What Sarkozy is doing is saying: "You're in our country, you abide by our norms, and if not, we may take things into our hands." He wants to change the law.

And you know what, on reflection, that's probably a more honest approach than pretending to be tolerant when you can't stand the sight of niqab.

Meg asked what niqab equals?

Niqab equals devoutness.
Niqab equals piety.
Niqab equals a visible display of religiousness.
Niqab equals a statement of virtue and decency.

As far as we know, niqabs existed before Islam, and not just within Arabia. But it became part of Muslim culture when the Prophet Mohammed's wives were named "the mothers of the muslims", told not to marry after his death and to wear niqab. Even though this was directed to the wives of the Prophet, many women followed their lead. The niqab became a symbol for maximum decency, propriety, virtue, etc.

It is absolutely not "required"; but for some reason women have been held captive by its strong statement of "rising above" the standard hijab.

You know how nuns wear a particular uniform to indicate their choice to rise above, get themselves out the equation of, the sexual, the material? The niqab is the same - max strength.

It seems that its wearing came and went with fashion and place. I'm not sure that in Egypt, for example, women always wore niqab. But certainly in the 1920s, middle class Cairenes would put on something to cover their face on top of what they were wearing.

My late grandmother told me about the time when - as a result of a campaign by a man called Qasem Amin - women stopped doing that and started wearing European-style clothes. I got a sense that it was a weight off her young shoulders.

Today, women who wear niqab in Egypt do so by choice. Their life is not easy. Some hijab-wearing women see niqab as affront; as if the niqab wearer is saying I'm holier than thou.

In parts of Afghanistan, and the tribal regions of north Pakistan, I understand that niqab is widely spread, and "comes as standard". A girl grows up with all her female relatives in niqab, she knows that's what she'll wear when she grows up.

Sarkozy was addressing niqab wearers in France. These women chose.

There is little evidence - in my opinion - for the "causality" argument: that women wear niqab because their men would kill/intimidate them otherwise. Such a link would not hold up under scrutiny.

I recently received a call from a Saudi PhD student at another university in the UK. She wears the niqab (not all Saudi women wear niqab). She'd met me a year ago at a seminar at her university. She is finding some difficulty in making progress in her studies and was panicking a little. Let me say that I found a strong, clear-thinking woman on the other end of the phone. I felt a lot for her.

I know her supervisors (Englishmen), and the rest of her faculty (mostly Englishmen), and I can imagine what is going on in their minds while dealing with her. In fact, I advised her to seek a Muslim supervisor (not me) - because she might contend with less with him/her. But then she told me that one of her PhD colleagues is a non-hijab-wearing Muslim woman who absolutely, studiously distanced herself from her. Talk about isolation!

Having been a foreign PhD struggling with a different educational system, on my own, with no close family or genuine friends, I knew her situation. She not only has to deal with all that, but also the unremitting prejudice that no doubt exists in the minds of all who deal with her. All they can see is "slave", "prisoner of male domination", etc.

I am going to say something slightly controversial, and it may disappoint you, but I think the feminist story is simply that. It's a story. It has a bad guy (manhood) and a hero (womanhood) and it's about the hero's struggle with the bad guy. I'm not sure it's true.

Throughout history, smart men have known that women are an asset best at their sides. The Prophet Mohammed said “God enjoins you to treat women well, for they are your mothers, daughters, aunts.” "Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith."

I'm not evil for being a man. Yes, I may inherited a baggage of male domination issues. But women have also to realise that the genders have different strengths. Under pressure, under stress, some women are not effective. Many women yearn for male leadership: they look for a strong, visionary man; they want to be in the company of an expert; they want a teacher; etc. Again, I'm going on personal observation and hunch.

The genders have different qualities - let's just accept that. And no one's perfect.

The strongest women I have met have been the ones most wanting to be _dominated_ (their word) by strong men. I've heard it from impressive, independent, high-achieving women that I'm sure it says something.

The women most sensitive about how men deal with them, I found, are the ones who have a deep, dark backstory involving their father or an old ex. Again, it's a hunch I have based on a small sample.

The niqab issue for me is a matter of practicality. I wouldn't want my wife and daughters to wear niqab, but that's mainly for social reasons. I recognise that they would become outcasts or ill-advantaged (even in Egypt). But do I approve of this outcasting business? No way.

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Monday, 22 June 2009

Deprived of identity?

Sarkozy, the vain attention-seeking cuckoo from France, is now saying that niqab (the burka) is not welcome in France.

What is it his business to intrude on someone's personal choice of attire?

Niqab is not equal to terrorism.

Niqab is not equal to wife-beating.

Niqab is not equal to male domination.

Niqab is not equal to "servitude".

Niqab is not equal to "undermining of dignity".

"Prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity."

Wow. Are they really?

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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Sunday, 14 June 2009

1979-2009: Iran's Islamic Republic

The guys who run Iran have seriously miscalculated. The results are implausible. There's no way Ahmedinejad won two-thirds of the vote. This result puts into disarray the 1979 Republic and may well turn out to be a historical blunder by the grand clerics. Not only will the youth of Iran feel that the 1979 Republic no longer represents their values, but they will also resent it. The revolutionary constitution of 1979 will cease to have serious moral value.

Up until now - say what you want about the 1979 constitution - elections in Iran were fair. The candidates may have been vetted, but the voting process was transparent. I always felt that Iran's regular, free and fair elections were an example for many Muslim countries. But this falsification is a turning point. In 2009, 30 years after 1979, the Velayat-e Faqih - "Rule by the Supreme Jurist" - is failing spectacularly. If rumours are to be believed, Ayatollah Khameni's long dispute with Mousavi, Ahmedinejad's main rival, led to the fixing of the outcome of the election.

The 1979 constitution stipulates that the people are the source of power. The rigging of the election puts Khameni in direct conflict with the people of Iran.

Update 14/06/09

It's just not credible that Ahmedinejad would win in Mousavi's home province. It is not credible that the other candidates would gather only two percentage points between them. Given the extremely high turnout, Mousavi was supposed to benefit. Instead, according to the official results, it seems that even those who voted for a reform candidate four years ago, plopped for Ahmedinejad this time - not credible. Ayatollah Khameni was supposed to verify the result after three days. He signed them off right away.

See NYT columnist in Tehran.

Update 16/06/09

Interestingly, an Iranian colleague of mine believes that Ahmedinejad DID win - but perhaps with not as wide a margin as the official result. He believes Ahmedinejad has genuine popularity amongst the poor, and they see him as one of them - on their side. This echoes Robert Fisk's anonymous trusted friend:

"The election figures are correct, Robert. Whatever you saw in Tehran, in the cities and in thousands of towns outside, they voted overwhelmingly for Ahmadinejad. Tabriz voted 80 per cent for Ahmadinejad. It was he who opened university courses there for the Azeri people to learn and win degrees in Azeri. In Mashad, the second city of Iran, there was a huge majority for Ahmadinejad after the imam of the great mosque attacked Rafsanjani of the Expediency Council who had started to ally himself with Mousavi. They knew what that meant: they had to vote for Ahmadinejad."

"You know why so many poorer women voted for Ahmadinejad? There are three million of them who make carpets in their homes. They had no insurance. When Ahmadinejad realised this, he immediately brought in a law to give them full insurance.

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Thursday, 4 June 2009

Obama speech in Cairo

This is my placeholder post for reactions and commentary on the Cairo speech, earlier today.

I'm not a fan of Egyptian blogger sandmonkey at all, but he was invited to Cairo University to attend the speech and his report is very good.

What I think in a nutshell:

Obama needs partners and supporters in the US to help him deliver on his paradigm-changing words.

In the Arab/Muslim world, with the exception of Iran and a few Islamist movements, most of the regimes are pro-US and will happily support him. It will be Israel's government that will most likely hold things up.

Obama's speech has won him extra affection at the street level; it will probably stem the drip-drip leak of angry men to jihadi-type activities. But decisions and actions by the Obama administration, to back up the words, are crucial.

More links and comments to follow ...

Obama would win presidency of Egypt easily.

British-educated, Harlem-based Egyptian Mona El-tahawy always has a different take.

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