Friday, March 31, 2006

Land Day

Yesterday i attended an event at the American University of Sharjah commemorating the Palestinian "Land Day". Having lived in America most of my life, i'd never heard of this so-called Day, so out of curiosity i went to AUS with a bunch of Palestinian friends to see what it was all about.

The hall was packed when we entered; the buzz of chatter pulsed in the room as people waited for the next speaker to come up. Due to the huge turn out, we ended up sitting on the stairs. I was all attention, ready to take in whatever would materialize on the stage below. A white-robed man came onstage, and the noise level in the room dwindled to a hush. The man began speaking (in Arabic) about the Palestinian people, and how they are stranded in the world, alienated by even their fellow Arab countries. In true Arab style, there was lots of whistling and applause from the audience after every few sentences. The same scenario was repeated with each new speaker that came up.

Basically, what i understood about Land Day is summarized in the following paragraph:

Land Day, known as ‘Youm al-Ard’ in Arabic, commemorates the bloody killing of six Palestinians in the Galilee on March 30, 1976 by Israeli troops during peaceful protests over the confiscation of Palestinian lands. It has since become a painful reminder of Israeli injustice and oppression against the Palestinian people, and a day for demonstration linking all Palestinians in their struggle against occupation, self determination and national liberation. (1)
Let me tell you something, the whole "linking all Palestinians" part of that definition is true, to put it lightly. Arabs are generally very nationalistic, but in nationalism, Palestinians can beat all the other Arab countries combined. After the speakers finished, a folklore musical group comprised of the university's Palestinian Cultural Club sang and danced us through the next hour. And that's when the people started really getting crazy. In a good sense though. There was clapping and chanting and jumping in the hall, especially from the shabab (young men). Everyone was genuinely having a good time. By the end of the event, we were exhausted, but ready to keep going if the band started up again.

Land Day was a very interesting experience for me. Although i'm not Palestinian, my Arabness gives me just as much of a right to love that plot of land. Arabs everywhere cry for and dream of Palestine. After all, the "nations" we've adopted are just lines drawn by imperialistic hands a few decades back.

Despite the general success of the event, there's a comment that i heard someone say that disturbed me. My friend's friend came up to us while the band onstage was singing, asking when we'd arrived. We replied that we came a bit late, just before the singing and dancing. The girl laughed, saying, "Oh that's good. Better than sitting through all those speeches."

And we all agreed.

Hmmmm... that's not too good of a sign for the upcoming generation of Arabs. Lets hope it's just a phase that we'll get over soon.

(1) Fact Sheets;

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Internet: Our Printing Press

"What effect did the printing press have on Europe? How?"

This was one of the questions i had on last year's history final. I remember sitting in the examination room, racking my brain for an answer. I found an answer all right, but got a little more than i bargained for in the process.

The invention of the printing press led to the Reformation. Printing gave all people access to the Bible and other books; access to information. Printing also allowed people to record their own thoughts and send them out for the rest of the masses to read and discuss. People within these masses could in turn write their own views or comments, and print them. Here we had the exchange of ideas. This allowed reformers like Martin Luther have their voices heard, leading directly to the Reformation.

Writing that answer got me thinking. Before the printing press, Europe was rotting its way through the Dark Ages, a period where life is best described as “nasty, brutish, and short”. Power lay in the hands of corrupt and often cruel leaders, who cared nothing for the masses' situation and used the masses' ignorance to their own advantage. Then this printing press came out of nowhere, and through it the course of history was altered.

Sound familiar?

For the past two centuries, the Arab and Muslim world was living its own Dark Ages. With the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the once blooming culture of the Middle East was reduced to mere ignorance. Then came a period of Western colonialism that lasted until the first half of the 20th century. Independence, though, did not save the Middle East from the clutches of its Dark Age. Cruel, corrupt leaders took the place of the colonial powers, and thrust the people even further into the well of ignorance.

The few who had escaped the grasp of ignorance in their newly formed countries could do little to better the situation of their societies. They were scattered in different parts of the world, and any type of communication that threatened those in power meant permanent exile or even death.

So what's our way out of this Dark Age? Europe got the printing press. What about 21st century Middle East? What do we get?

And that's when it dawned on me. The internet.

This new technology, barely a decade old, was the answer. With the internet, people on all sides of the world could communicate quickly and efficiently. Once an idea got out there, no group could attempt to shut it down, because it was part of the intangible world called cyberspace. These groups could stop people from physically meeting and discussing new, “dangerous” thoughts, but they could do nothing about the millions of emails sent and articles written and websites posted everyday. It was out of their hands. The exchange of ideas could occur, leading to a major change in society. People could read about things they didn’t have access to previously, discuss them, then write their own ideas for the rest of the cyber-world to see. It was unstoppable. And I realized with another shock, it was already beginning.

Emails, forums, blogs, and websites touching all aspects of Arab and Muslim life are sprouting all over the internet. Sites like Muslim Heritage and blogs like Saudi Jeans are just two examples of the wealth of information and ideas out there. Better yet, the freedom of speech on the internet has leaked into mainstream media outlets. It’s contagious!

A Revolution is bubbling underneath the shrouds of ignorance. It will not happen overnight, but everyday is a step closer to it. I recently discovered an Arab blog network called Toot, yet another step towards our "Revolution". This network is a window into the new world of Arab blogging, in which Arabs from all over the world can interact, reading each other's blogs and publishing their own. (Ah, the power of globalization.) And not only does the site have great packaging, but, can you believe it, substance! Its stuff like this that the Arab and Muslim world needs to move forward in today's world.

For future notice, when i say "Revolution", i don't necessarily mean overthrow-the-government-in-a-bloody-coup type of revolution. I mean an intellectual revolution, a social revolution, a religious revolution, a cultural revolution. Preferably, a peaceful revolution. The world's already lost too much blood. We've got to save whatever we can of it.

So, on that note, out of the Dark Ages we go!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Desert Storms

When i woke up this morning i found my mom staring outside my bedroom window. There was a flash of light, followed by a deep, rolling sound; like an avalanche of rock that stopped just above the clouds.

It took me a while to recognize the noise as thunder. Living in the desert makes you forget the whole concept of storms. While putting on my school uniform for the first day of my last term, i heard a soft "pluck" on my window, followed by a series of tiny thuds. I tried to look outside, but water on the window's glass smeared my vision. Rain!

For the past three days, the weather here in the UAE has been... odd. Friday and yesterday were my first experiences with sand storms. We were going to Dubai with some family friends for dinner at Applebee's. The wind had been blowing all day, raising with it the Emirati sand. While in the car, i didn't realize sand was what fogged up my vision. I assumed it was, well, fog. My misguided assumptions were immediately corrected though, when i stepped out of the car. Fog doesn't attack you with sticky little grains of "stuff" every time the wind blows.

The sand stuck on my face got me thinking. There i was, on Sheikh Zayed Road, between high rise buildings, in the middle of a desert. A generation ago, the pavement i was standing on didn't exist. There was just sand. Dunes and dunes of it. Bedouins walked here, with their camels, customs, and folded up tents. Maybe they unfolded them, set up camp here to hide from sand storms similar to the one i was in.

Wow, Outlandish wasn't wrong. Life really is a loom.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Weddings and Babies - I'm All Grown Up!

Last week i got all dressed up to go to a wedding. My friend Zahra and i were getting ready together, and we were endlessly picky about everything from shoes to makeup. It took us about an hour and a half to get completely ready, with lots of pouting and complaining about our makeup skills along the way. Before rushing off to the car, we checked ourselves in the mirror one last time to make sure we looked perfect. Why so fussy? Well, this wasn't just any wedding. It was our friend's.

It's weird to think that i'm finally part of the "marriable" generation. 18 was always my "marriage number". I remember always dreaming about it when i was younger. I thought that the second i turned 18, i would get myself married to some Prince Charming and go off into the sunset. (A French sunset, if you please.) The funny thing is, the closer i got to 18, the further back i pushed my "marriage number". At the moment, the label is stamped on 22, a snug 4 years away. You never know what'll happen, but that's how i'd plan it if it were in my hands.

Despite my thoughts on marriage numbers, there is an obvious consensus among the mothers of the Arab world on the number 18. Every Arab girl my age has experienced the extra-wide smiles and bubbly conversations with Arab mothers on the prowl for potential wives for their sons. Not that these women are evil or anything, they're sweet! A little too sweet, maybe. Saying "No" takes some effort. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Despite the stickiness of these situations, it's always fun to talk about them later. Exchanging "khtoobeh" (engagement - or in this sense, potential engagement) stories is a favorite pastime of Arab girls. We tend to get a kick outta them. The stickier the story, the more it gets retold in times of boredom. Way to keep our ancestors' oral tradition of storytelling going.

But no, seriously. I realized that i'm getting old! Or at least older. All the guys i used to think were cute on the Disney Channel are suddenly too young for me. And about two weeks ago, my friend had a baby! Okay, she's 5 years older than me (putting her at around 23, i think), but still! I'm part of her generation! Ai. Where does the time go? I flashed through high school so fast...will college be like that? Weird to think.

Even with it's quirks, growing up is exciting. New places, new people, new experiences. New is good. But i can't let my childhood get too far away from me. Apparently, it's essential for an artist. Part of the Muse's balanced breakfast, i take it. And i didn't make that up. An old person told me.

“Arguably, no artist grows up: If he sheds the perceptions of childhood, he ceases being an artist.”
- Ned Rorem