Response to Jadaliyya’s “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine,” article re: DAM’s new video

Tonight, I came across this article by Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi on Jadaliyya. It is entitled, “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine: DAM Seduced by the ‘Honor Crime.'” The article expresses disappointment with DAM’s latest video condemning honor killings. I would advise the reader to read the Jadaliyya article and watch the video prior to reading my response.

I was excited to read an article from two of my favorite Arab scholars. Yet, slowly – I couldn’t help but disagree with almost every claim made in the article, and reject nearly all premises that their arguments were founded upon. Below is a point by point summary of my thoughts. Excuse the poor grammar and writing style, I really was writing in a hurry.

…not freedom from the state or from the violence of settler colonialism that shape her community, but freedom from her family’s decisions about her marriage.

Yes. Freedom from her family’s decisions – true, real freedom starts in the household. If we cannot achieve that first, what makes us think that we can attain freedom from anything else? We live in ecosystems, and the ecosystem closest to us is that of the household. It affects us in the most direct manner. Yes, she protests and fights this type of ignorance first – it is only then that she can partake in broader struggles healthily and fully.

…Young Palestinian women do all of these, every day, in particular places, under specific historical conditions.

In producing this video, I don’t think DAM’s goal is to highlight (the very admirable, strong) women of Palestine. Rather, they were shedding light on a very important issue that some women suffer. Further – the video is about violence against women, not settler colonialism. You can only address so much in 4 minutes.

…What solution is this?

The scene represented a “heaven” of sorts where women who suffered domestic violence, or who died because of an honor killing, go. Not a solution. I think the purpose of this scene is to bring some sort of comfort to the woman who was killed. As in – “Many women suffered your fate.” This is what these women would have liked to be, see, or do in their living days. But instead, they all ended up dying because their father/brother/uncle/cousin killed them.

DAM ignores the committed Palestinian feminist activists who have been working for decades on the various forms of violence Palestinian women suffer.

Dude, really? How? How can the (+) positive addition of one video condemning violence to a wealth of activist expressions against violence insinuate an ignorance of all other efforts? This statement is so unfair.

They have been analyzing what comes together to produce familial violence: economic strangulation; the frustration of occupation and unemployment; the militarization of society; the physical barriers that disrupt movement and police life; the lack of legitimacy of laws and authorities.

Sure. But have all those things ALWAYS existed? Honor killings have been happening for quite some time all over the world. I think of all the factors listed above, the following holds the most merit: lack of legitimate laws and authorities. This factor holds true across several generations and political atmospheres.

Continue reading

How Gaza is putting the “Arab Spring” to the test

20121116-103619.jpg

Many in the Arab world argued that the power transitions taking place within the framework of the so-called Arab Spring will only help Palestinian efforts of self-determination. The logic is as follows: former authoritarian regime protected US and Israeli interests by suppressing the will of the people. By robbing the people of personal freedoms, human rights, and economic flexibility, these regimes have effectively diminished any chance the people had to act in defense of Palestine. Today, citizens can follow through with their own initiatives – to raise awareness or campaign for the Palestinian cause or otherwise.

More importantly, it is argued, the countries that have disposed of their former dictators (notably Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt) have elected representatives that are a genuine sample of the the people’s will and desires. While this is far from being a fully accurate statement, one cannot deny that these new governments are a drastic improvement from those that preceded them.

The latest escalation of violence in Gaza has undoubtedly created outrage within the Arab world. According to the Palestinian ministry of health in Gaza, 24 Palestinians have been killed so far, including 8 children, 4 women, 3 elderly. Over 280 Palestinians have been injured. Demonstrations have been held all across MENA in protest of Israel’s attacks.

A Tunisian delegation, including Tunisia’s foreign minister Rafik Abdessalem and the director of President Marzouki’s cabinet, will visit Gaza on Saturday to offer “all political support” to Hamas and increase Arab pressure on Israel.

Egypt also made an appearance – prime minister Hisham Kandil visited Gaza earlier today to show support for the Palestinian people as well.

What do these visits mean – and what real impact, if any, do they have on stopping Israeli airstrikes?

Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, are mired in tricky and messy transition periods. The real question that should be asked is whether these countries have the institutional and political capacity to leverage influence on the situation.

The Arab League announced that it would be holding an “emergency meeting” for Gaza… on Saturday. This of course, is days after the aggression first begun. Today, the Iraqi representative to the League denied the existence of an Iraqi proposal to “look into” the aggressions. Best case scenario, the league will decide to simply denounce the attacks on a piece of paper. Few take the League seriously anymore, and its reputation has eroded decades ago. This leaves willing countries to take matters into their own hands and bypass the League altogether. But what can they do?

While Tunisia and Egypt’s efforts are certainly noncommittal, they demonstrate a goodwill attempt to do something. However, to actually have any sort of impact, greater coordination and strategy is necessary.

I leave this article open-ended for one reason: I want to hear back from any readers who may have thoughts on this. I have yet to articulate a clear vision as to what the next steps should be for Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya on this issue – and I will surely be writing on this once again in the very near future. Stay tuned.

Arabs Barack-ing the Vote Next Week

According to the Arab-American Institute, there are now nearly 3.5 million Arab-Americans in the United States – up from a total of 1.5 million in 2000, and around 1 per cent of the US population. A whopping 94 per cent reside in metropolitan areas of major cities, while 48 per cent reside in California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Florida. The Arab vote has largely gone unnoticed in US elections due to its heavy concentration in mostly Democratic cities and due to their tendency to lean democrat. However, this has not always been the case. For example in 1996, exit polls reported 54 per cent of Arab-Americans voting for Bill Clinton, 38 per cent for Bob Dole and 7.7 per cent for independent candidate H. Ross Perot.

Since the 1996 elections though, Arab-Americans have become more prominent and homogeneous of a voting block. In a close election such as this year’s, Arab-Americans may just tip the balance – especially in contentious states like Virginia and Michigan, and of course Ohio. According to Zogby, there are 135,000 and 185,000 Arab-Americans in Virginia and Ohio alone, respectively. Maximizing Arab-American turn-out becomes increasingly important, particularly for Democrats working on critical swing states.

The think-tank TUNESS conducted a survey between October 20 and October 26 examining the opinion of the Arab community in the US towards the 2012 elections. The survey included 222 respondents from 26 states, and representing 15 Arab countries. The sample was evenly divided amongst US citizens and those who are not eligible to vote (permanent residents or on visa).  75 per cent of sample’s respondents were of North African descent, and 70 per cent resided in the North East. Weights were applied to map back to the distribution of Arab-Americans by state, as per the 2009 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau.

The survey revealed overwhelming support for Democratic candidate Barack Obama, with 84 per cent saying they would vote for him, and only 5 per cent voting for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The remaining 11 per cent is undecided or would vote for another party. Similar to other voting groups, the majority of women intend to vote for Obama (87 per cent women said they would vote for him, as opposed to 82 per cent of men).

Demographic divides also echo the views of the rest of the population. Respondents over the age of forty are less likely to vote or choose Obama (82 per cent vs. 87 per cent). Responders who are eligible to vote show lower support for Obama (90 per cent vs 79 per cent), while there is a larger proportion of undecided voters amongst responders who do not follow the elections closely. We observe similar trends when we look at the favorability of the candidates.

Why Do Arabs Like Obama?

The key factors influencing Arab-American voters are, in descending order of importance, foreign policy (24 per cent), the economy (19 per cent), and political program (16 per cent). Surprisingly, only 6 per cent listed the candidate’s likability or affiliation with a political party as key factors in choosing a candidate.

Rating President Obama’s Performance 

61 per cent of respondents rated Obama’s performance as either “good” or “excellent” during his presidency. Obama received the best marks on health care (73 per cent) and education. However, Obama scored low amongst the Arab-American population in regards to Middle East policies, US national debt and immigration. More importantly, only 43 per cent of respondents viewed Obama’s performance on the economy – a key issue in the elections – as good or excellent.

The Arab Spring 

Although Obama is the overwhelming favorite in the Arab community, the response to his performance with respect to the Arab spring is a mixed bag. Obama gets good marks for his intervention and response in Tunisia and Egypt, and to a lesser extent Libya. Yet, he scores very poorly in regards to his response in Bahrain and Yemen. Some respondents feel that, “A tougher hand on the Syrian regime is evidently needed. In Bahrain, some more democracy won’t hurt.” Another comment was that “Obama’s trademark ‘Wait and See’ when it comes to foreign policy. He has failed miserably when it comes to tectonic changes such as those in the Middle East.”

Respondents were also asked which candidate would be more likely to bring a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. About 45 per cent of the sample said that neither candidate is likely to succeed and another 38 per cent said that Obama is more likely to succeed. An Obama presidency is also considered to be a better for the Arab world for the majority of the sample (72 per cent, as opposed to Mitt Romney, receiving only 2 per cent). A significant 17 per cent of the sample feels that neither presidency would be good for the Arab-World.

Implications 

The Arab community believes that Obama’s strengths lie in healthcare and education, while his handling of the Arab Spring, the economy, immigration, and the US national debt are highly criticized. Yet, 82 per cent intend to or would vote for him, and his favorability rating exceeds 80 per cent. As such, despite a mixed bag review with respect to his performance in the office and his handling of the Arab revolutions, Obama enjoys the overwhelming support of the Arab population residing in the United States. This seems tied to the antagonism between the Arabs in the US and the republican party which kept growing since 9/11. A recent survey by the American Arab Institute revealed that 57 per cent of republicans had unfavorable views about Arabs.

Obama and the Democratic Party seem thus to dominate this electoral segment without really having worked hard for it as the Republican party seem to have ceded totally ceded the ‘Arab’ and ‘the muslim’ vote. It would seem a rather risky bet especially in an election that will be decided on the margins.

Survey Methodology

Results for this TUNESS poll were collected on-line and through live in-person  interviews conducted Oct. 20-26, 2012, with a random sample of 220 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in the United States. For results based on the total sample of Individual of Arab descent, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ± 6.58% percentage points.

Samples are weighted by country of origin and state of residence mapping back to the 2009 US Census data and the JZ Analytics estimates for the population of Arab-Americans

For more details on the polling methodology, please contact: moez_hababou@yahoo.com

Some Snapshots from Latest Trip to Lebanon

I recently came back from Lebanon, where I presented at SHARE Beirut. The conference was one of the most laid back (yet organized), chill, and diverse gatherings I have ever attended. I could go on and on about the conference, the people I met, and Lebanon in general – especially since this time, the country has entered my heart for good (they say third time’s the charm). Yet, a picture is worth a thousand words –  and I believe I could write something more substantive later on.

Most photos were taken in Beirut (Jemmaizeh, Hamra, and Mar Mikhael), Shouf, and the National Arz Forest Reserve.

The Media and US Embassy in Tunis Fiasco: Force Fitting a Square into a Circle

Ever since the attacks against the US Embassy and American school in Tunis, the world’s attention has been refocused on Tunisia. I have been holding my breath – and biting my tongue – since the events took place. I have read plenty of analyses about the situation in the meantime. Some blame the attacks on the spread of hate filled ideologies. Others blame it on armchair theories that begin with neo– or end with –ism. Others point the finger at the Islamist ruling party, Ennahda, and some others blame it on the governments general failure in instituting a genuine sense of security.

However, there could not be a simpler explanation for what happened last week. While the country set off global alarm bells, it is Tunisia’s internal sociopolitical landscape that points to only one thing: the country is recovering – not from zero but from subzero. It is recovering, not from nothingness, but from the complete and utter chaos that comes with the territory of going through a revolution. And it is recovering against enormous odds.

There exist two angles from which to analyze the embassy protests in Tunisia. The first is an institutional angle: what have governmental institutions been doing to secure a better future for the country? The second angle is a developmental one: how do young teenagers get sucked into joining movements that breed hate and intolerance? Who are these teenagers and what can the neighborhoods they hail from tell us about them? Have terrorist networks (such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, aka AQIM) begun opening operative cells in the country? Will a movement gain ground?

The Ministry of the Interior, which is the premier and sole entity responsible for the country’s general security, has not been maintaining any sense of order. It has failed to perform its prescribed duties and adequately supply security forces with the materials needed for them to do their job. It has also failed to reform the ministry from within: it is no secret that the ministry is ridden with corrupt vestigial remains of the former regime.

Yesterday, September 19, the Minister of the Interior, Ali Laarayedh, spoke before the Constituent Assembly. Laarayedh claimed that there are “organized militias” who are behind the attacks. Laarayedh has presented this excuse several times in the past in explaining similarly chaotic incidents. Yet the Tunisian people has yet to receive any answers in regards to these allegations. Under whose orders are these militias supposedly working, and with whose funding? The ministry has not specified a timetable, has not presented any viable agenda, and has not engaged in any organized efforts to “cleanse” the ministry from within.

It is also the fault of the Ministry of Religious Affairs: who are these imams and what are they preaching in these mosques? Do they have the proper education and expertise in Islamic jurisprudence before they begin to give their sermons every Friday? Before they speak to a youth that is (justly so) thirsty for meaning?

Developmentally, we need to recall what breeds terrorism. History tells us that what typically leads to terrorist acts is socioeconomic desperation. Empirical data through examples from all over the world point to one thing: it is macroeconomic failures that translate into the starvation of a people. Tunisia’s fat unemployment rate and its contribution to the ever widening gap between the rich and poor cannot be ignored. Whereas Tunisia used to have a relatively large middle-class, today, that middle socio-economic bracket is narrowing. Desperation also stems from the lack of proper education. In Tunisia’s case, the Ministry of Education’s has proven unable to solve the nation’s archaic, deteriorating schooling system by executing reforms from within.

It’s that prototypical 19-year-old boy who wakes up in the morning with nothing to do. He has no job and his classes seem absolutely pointless to him in the hopes of attaining employment. It is the young adult who feels that he simply has no agency over his very own life. It is that young man who is deftly recruited by gangs and terrorist networks.

What happened in Tunisia last week is a developmental issue that makes perfect chronological sense: following the euphoria of ousting a dictator, Tunisian society is now feeling the birth pangs of democracy.

Certainly what is most striking about the past week, however, are all the analyses gracing the Internet – particularly those written by authors hailing from the United States and Canada, where there is little understanding of North African politics due to an unfortunate language barrier. Due to the region’s colonial history, most of the current research published on North Africa is in French.

Said authors seem to take any event in Tunisia (or Libya) as evidence of some sort of grandiose neocolonialist, neoimperialist American scheme. What is even more behooving is when an article attributes events such as last week’s to some sort of invisible hand that orchestrates everything from behind a shroud of mystery. Admittedly, some of analyses do raise several points to consider in assessing United States foreign policy in the region – its global military apparatus, executing decades of occupation and political meddling, should not go unaccounted for. Yet, it is irresponsible to overlook the very real and concrete domestic factors that lead to this violence. By doing so, such analyses desperately try to fit what took place in Tunisia and Libya into a persistently simplistic, reductionist narrative. Two main world views are equally culpable in perpetuating this endless cycle of misattribution, too – those that fundamentally reduce the dynamics of Maghrebi politics to playing a peripheral role on the greater East vs. West battlefield, and those that reduce any violence that takes place in the MENA region to “Muslim rage”.*

Contrastingly on Tunisian TV, prime time political shows discuss the happenings through a highly political, highly domestic lens. The discussions center around deadlines, such the Constitution’s completion and ratification and the next elections. Show participants – politicians and members of civil society – are very much attempting to articulate a viable national identity. There is a much larger emphasis on the role of religion in government and society, freedom of expression, and institution-building. This is because the country’s political landscape inherently encompasses issues that are much more complex and far-reaching than an attack on an embassy.

Unfortunately, by reading the international headlines, global readers would never know that Tunisia is undergoing a process of rebirth – which nobody said was easy.

*The phrase used on NEWSWEEK’s Monday 17 September 2012 front page.

 Article originally posted on Nawaat.

Ghar el-Melah on a cruel (but kind) August afternoon.

Sufi Shrine
Ghar el-Melah, Tunisia

There was an inexplicable unity in all things I breathed, all things I saw. My eyes were hungry. My soul, thirsty. Climbing the hill as I fought the rays of the sun (which felt like invisible swords cutting through my body), I knew it would be worth it. From fire, to cool breeze. I would find it. I have to.

The weeds were long and the thorns poked at my legs, threatening greater action if I stepped any harder on the Earth. I complied and stepped lightly. Up, up. Beads of sweat formed on my neck, my forehead. A mini river was in the process of formation down the topography of my back. I was almost there.

Whenever I turned my head around, the sea greeted me with a gentle breeze. Go on, it seemed to say. Go on, perhaps you will find what you have been searching for. I doubted what the sea was telling me. As if Sea heard my thoughts, it gently echoed: Don’t worry. I will be here for you once you return. Go on.

I decided to trust the Sea’s words, and my leap of faith was rewarded in more ways than one.

I breathed in a sigh of relief. Slowly and tenderly stepping onto the first stone step, I looked up to marvel at what my eyes beheld. A large, white building, cool with the feeling of purity. So many rooms to explore, and an infinity of emotions to appreciate. I could hear some voices from inside, and the sound of water splashing onto soft pavement. I stepped in from heat, sun, torture. Dry, barren, cruel. I entered coolness, water, relief.

Walking ahead, I entered a dark room. The wrought iron windows allowed in the more benign of the sun’s rays. The nour created beautiful patterns that reflected on the water on the ground. Perched from the wall’s perimeters, a line of copper faucets. One woman was busy washing her face and arms as she muttered the name of the divine underneath her breath. She was cleansing her body before she engaged in prayer.

The voice of an older man was gracing the air as he read from the Qur’an in a room to my right. He was reading the words slowly, pronouncing each syllable delicately and carefully. He paused in between ayahs, or verses. In the silence between the verses, I listened intently to the sound of the breeze, which caressed each wall, each corner, as a whispered dedication caressing a lover. You could actually hear the gentleness and kindness that the breeze inflicted on the hearts of those present. Maybe it was the white walls – roughly cemented, the white paint the walls were drowned in reflected All. They reflected the intentions of those present.

They reflected tranquility and calm and in the midst of collective soul searching. My heart felt like a mess. Each heartbeat felt like a battle. Yet that day, I discovered that nirvana could only be found in those spaces in between each heartbeat. Between each verse. Between each battle.

Glancing ahead, I saw a young boy sitting on a step, underneath a wide arch, contemplating the encompassing sea. I felt like him and the Sea were one.

Perhaps the Sea thought of him, too.

As for me, I was just lost in the embrace of Ghar el-Melah.

From dancing a night away… To pillaging and burning.

Sometimes, issues hit closer to the heart not when you identify with a nationality, know a neighborhood, or speak a language. None of those abstract ideas that we go through pains to describe properly. Sometimes, things hit closer to the heart because of sheer silliness. Acts of sheer abandon that remain stuck in your memory forever. The acts of simply sharing good moments with good people – those are the acts leave an echo in your heart.

Seeing pictures of the “Marine House,” in the US Embassy in Tunis, burned and pillaged, afforded me this closer experience. It was only months ago that I attended a party in that very same building, and played pool on that very same table, which has been turned upside down in the video below (@ min 5:00).

It was on that very same terrace (@ min 5:36) that we enjoyed a nice burger with Heinz ketchup and classic yellow mustard (the things you pine for as an expat…). The same one that we merrily sang along to the Black Eyed Peas’ “Tonight’s gonna be a good night.” Carefree.

To see photos of that same area burned, pillaged, and looted somehow made it all the more real for me. I still have the phone number of the guard who helped my friends and I find a cab after the party – his watch area was burned down. That Tunisian employee, who had a family to feed, probably lost his job. This is more of a personal entry, yes –  and I want to so badly write out my more analytical thoughts about what’s happening. Perhaps I will tomorrow.

But Tunisia is not well. Not well at all. That’s all I will say for now.

My Trials and Tribulations with Civil Procedure

(No pun intended, of course.)

How do most ugly conglomerate corporations legally get off the hook? How do they get away with engaging in irresponsible behavior that negatively impacts neighborhoods and communities? With polluting, ransacking, and abusing? We’re not even talking MNCs here – we’re talking state-to-state, nation-bound corporations.

They use the law to their advantage. Read: their legal counsels cleverly find loopholes in state statutory law and federal law. Sometimes, they even find policy loopholes. They locate headquarters in tax-lax states such as Delaware, for instance. They find the secrets to absolve guilt through procedure – not through substance.

They master the art of civil procedure. They master the body of law that nobody (in his or her right mind) would like to hear about. What, you’re not turned on by Federal Rule 4(k)(2)(b)? They just do it. And then, they win (i.e. screw people over).

This is what I tell myself every time I open my civil procedure text book. Yet, every time I do so, my biology also seems to react – and I begin to partake in a yawning Olympics. It is as if I have quickly (in a matter of mere weeks!) developed an allergic reaction to the subject. I have never been allergic to anything. No food or material can throw my ever fabulously healthy immune system off balance. OK that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Somehow, still, civil procedure is my caveat.

I just cannot keep my eyelids open. One sentence would have the same 5 words repeated two to three times just in a different order. Take this: “Pendant personal jurisdiction is possible as a basis for personal jurisdiction for claims that derive from a common set of facts as claims for which the defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction.”

What?! 

I drink 3 cups of coffee then I finally start to read quickly and efficiently without falling asleep. But… How far can coffee go? Believe it or not, I do have a personally-set ceiling for the level caffeine allowed per day. And I cannot keep upping that ceiling. My body can only handle so much before I go insane. So what do I do?

For now, I have coined a mantra that I simply repeat to myself time and time again as I do my readings. “For Justice, know CivPro.” Not sure how accurate it is, but I do know that it’s keeping me going. One day, I would like to use the subject to fight for a Good case. Until then… I will keep calm and litigate on.

Belonging Fully

When you have so many identities, sometimes you feel like you don’t belong fully to any of them. You just exist in a vacuum of bits and pieces of cultures, languages, customs, perspectives.

All my third culture folks (or fourth or fifth): you know what I mean, I’m sure. A minority within a minority, always. I am a woman, Tunisian, American, Mediterranean, African, Arab, Maghrebi, Muslim… The list goes on. I sometimes feel more Coloradan, other days more Arab. Some days I feel closer to the Palestinians, others to the Greeks. Other times to the Ghanaians. Depends on time and place – but I feel it all.

It has its pros and cons but the cons sting…

PS: third culture awesome people – where are you in my life?!

20120821-082034.jpg

Proving the Crime

In my criminal law textbook today, I read this… how shall I say it.

I read this cute excerpt:

Persons accused of crime in Anglo-American legal systems are presumed to be innocent, which means that the prosecution must prove every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

How well is our American judicial system adhering to this principle?

I immediately thought of one of the more recent cases: Troy Davis. Davis was executed after being charged as guilty for the murder of a police officer. Thing is, no physical evidence was brought forth, and 7 out of the 9 jury members backpeddled and took back their stories. The court refused (on several occasions) to rehear the case, or to overturn jury verdicts. Davis had to essentially prove his innocence with stronger evidence than that which was used to charge him as guilty.

Countless other examples abound – especially in cases where an additional charge would simply add severity to the defendant’s punishment. The charge of armed robbery, for instance, is notorious for being handed despite the real and actual lack of possession of a weapon. Yet, the courts assume, based on some evidence or another, that the defendant had a weapon. So, even though it could be later determined that the defendant did not actually possess a weapon, the defendant is charged with an armed robbery (as opposed to only being charged with a robbery). This charge, as you can guess, carries a more severe punishment.

The defendant would be burdened with proving innocence, as opposed to being charged with guilt that is proven ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’

What I doubt is that our courts are making sure evidence and elements are indeed proven beyond a ‘reasonable doubt.’

Would love to hear feedback in the comments section.