Friday, 21 March 2008

On Culture, Stereotypes and Misconceptions.

I've always been fascinated by culture and how it affects people's perceptions of others, the way one perceives their own identity has a great effect on the way they see others, there's a subconscious hierarchy that grows slowly in the collective mindset of people around the world in terms of where they see their culture in the pyramid of world cultures, and almost always people tend to put themselves on top of the pyramid, based on what is perceived to be theirs or their ancestors' greatest achievement whether it's religious, or technological, or any other criteria, and that makes it superior to other cultures, even if this superiority is based on a benign factor, or so we convince ourselves.

I'm drawing a line between the terms culture and tradition, as although they're intertwined to a great deal, tradition usually has more of an ethnic character, whereas culture is usually more of a progressive refinement of people through historical events, conquests, the spread of faiths, commerce. All aspects of human interaction contribute to the creation of culture, and before settling..the storm of culture-building acquires and sheds many aspects of the life of people as it takes the shape of Identity; language, Faith and even tolerance or ethnocentricity.

I'm a great fan of the late Edward Said, and his books on the thought of culture and its effect on people are a great read, one notion in his book "Covering Islam" explains that the way western journalists, who tend not to know the languages, or much about the culture of the places they report from, rely on slanted academic studies for their understanding of the Islamic world, and allow it to color almost everything they write. As a result, reporting from Islamic countries is not only shallow, but often filled with insults and ethnic slurs, Islam is represented by news gatherers, experts, and policy makers. with emphasis on violence, anti-American rhetoric, and resistance to modernization, which really belie the fact that there is not a single monolithic Islam but many Islams and that what news organizations perpetuate is an undifferentiated form of cultural stereotyping - as if it were sufficient to say about the Dutch that they all wear wooden shoes!

Now, I'm again drawing parallels between culture and tradition, Islam in Malaysia is the Islam in Senegal, in the cultural identity meaning of the term, but you will definitely find different traditional practices surrounding religious practice that are completely alien to the core of the faith itself, which only proves the diversity of the believers, the compatibility of the faith with traditions, no matter how diverse, but doesn't necessarily mean the condoning of traditional practices within the faith, one reoccurring example is the practice of female circumcision in Africa, which is not condoned by Islam, and practiced by Muslim and non Muslim populations of sub-Saharan Africa.

Another impressive academic is Azmi Bishara, who in his explanation of the notion of clash of civilizations argues that The issue at hand is not one of dialogue or conflict between Christianity and Islam, since neither religion is uniform and there are many versions of both. Christians in Jordan or Syria are different from those in Poland or Latin America, and both are different from American Protestants. Islam also changes from rural to urban areas, across social classes and over time. which according to these facts voids the inevitability of a clash of civilizations as predicted and even advocated by its main theorists Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, and robs them from their prophecies of an Armageddon, where God stands with the Good against the Evil, which brings to mind the famous statement: "you're either with us, or with the terrorists" in turn based on the teachings of the neo-conservative think tanks, a clear cut black and white world, void from shades and colors. What is most worrying though is that a third color is taking prominence; Red.

One last thought: Both Said and Bishara are Christian Arabs, speaking about Islam in the first person's narrative, which only proves the virtue of the notion of cultural identity, against the notion of religious and ethnic separation advocated by antagonists both in the East and in the West.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

My -very subtle- Jordan..

Today, according to the blogo-calendar, is the Blog about Jordan day, and besides the haphazard celebration on a haphazard date, the thoughts in this post are anything but haphazard, they've been brewing in my mind for a while, and today is certainly an occasion to express them.

I know that we're not perfect, no society is, no nation is completely immune from social injustices or economic hardships, so I won't sing praise in the fashion of festive speech making and the art of celebration. Today I give credit to those who wake up every morning and go make a living, the farmers and the teachers, the simple people who make an honest little as they make, a little girl who wakes up with the sun and combs her hair into pigtails before walking to school, and in the evening, she finishes her homework, recites a short prayer she learned as she surrenders to sleep to dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer, and live in the distant utopia called Amman.

The Jordan I'm proud of transcends the big buildings with glass facades and the Wi-Fi enabled cafés of West Amman, it's the Jordan of people who are patient, content with what they have, the ones who insist on giving their children the good education they deserve, even if that meant taking bread away from their own mouths, the people who have all the hope.. and all the patience in the world, Those are the Jordan of tomorrow, the ones who will bring Jordan forward, ethically..more than anything, as God knows we're in need for a dose of ethics, we seem to think that the dissolving of ethics is a natural result of modernity, when in fact it's a natural cause for our own dissolve..into the unknown.

Today, I'm celebrating the children living on the edges of the Jordanian desert, who probably have internet access in the white washed schools of their remote villages, but have no running water in their homes, the mothers who weave traditional dresses to feed their families, the same dresses the ladies of the velvet society wear at gala dinners at The Dunes. I'm celebrating the waiters who work evenings to pay for their university studies. The Jordan I'm proud of is one hidden in hearts, and the hearts are of people who know what Love truly means, they don't have to express it, as actions speak louder than words, and with every breath they take, their love is proven; to themselves, to each other, and to those who care to look into their eyes, it's a soft determination, coated with hope and content, and the warmth of hearts feeds it as it grows, slowly..but surely.

Painting by Jordanian artist Muhanna Al-Durra.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَا أَحَدٍ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ وَلَكِن رَّسُولَ اللهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ وَكَانَ اللهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا ۞ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اذْكُرُوا
اللهَ ذِكْرًا كَثِيرًا ۞ وَسَبِّحُوهُ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلاً ۞ هُوَ الَّذِي يُصَلِّي عَلَيْكُمْ وَمَلائِكَتُهُ لِيُخْرِجَكُم مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ وَكَانَ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَحِيمًا ۞ تَحِيَّتُهُمْ يَوْمَ يَلْقَوْنَهُ سَلامٌ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ أَجْرًا كَرِيمًا

Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but (he is) the Messenger of God, and the Seal of the Prophets: and God has full knowledge of all things ۞ O ye who believe; Celebrate the praises of God, and do this often ۞ and glorify Him morning and evening ۞ He it is Who sends blessings on you, as do His angels, that He may bring you out from the depths of Darkness into Light: and He is Full of Mercy to the Believers ۞Their salutation on the Day they meet Him will be "Peace"; and He has prepared for them a generous Reward

الأحزاب 40-44

The Allies 40-44.