Friday, June 30, 2006


A quick note on the superheroine issue. When Abdelrahman Mohamed gave his covered character, Jana, telekinetic powers, he said is was because "she couldn't run around, jumping and fighting is she was wearing an abaya". Well, look at all the long-caped or mysterious hooded characters in comics. They're covered and they seem to do just fine. Not to mention manga's kimono-clad heroes and villains. And just because a girl is covered doesn't mean she has to wear an abaya. I mean, i'm always going out in jeans and still adhering to the hijabi code of modesty. And look at all those female athletes in Iran. Politics aside, those Iranian girls just wear baggy pants with a long shirt and dive into the game. Hijab doesn't stop them from doing that.

Mohamed is trying to connect to all of his audience, as his creation of Jana shows. And that's great. But not all girls are forced to wear the scarf, Mohamed. In his interview, he divided the girls in today's society into two groups: those "who come from open-minded families who don't have to cover up, who go out and have fun", and those who come from conservative families and "have to cover up and don't do the same things as the other girls". That's a bit too black and white. Lots of girls who are hijabis come from open-minded families. They themselves choose to wear the scarf. (And yes, they still have fun.) There are plenty of instances in which the mother in a certain family is not a hijabi, but the daughter is. Or two sisters from the same family (even twins), one wearing the scarf and the other not. So it really is a matter of choice. Or at least, that's the way it should be. There are girls out there, especially in the Gulf, that are forced to cover, and that's a pity. So thanks is due to Mohamed for addressing their issue.

Oh, one last thing. Mohamed said that he wanted to inspire hijabi girls, so that they could think, "Although I am in the abaya and the shaila, in my mind I can be a superheroine". That's sweet man, but.. "in my mind"? I'm planning to be a lot of things, and not just in my mind. And so are thousands of other hijabi girls. Let's not forget to keep that in mind.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

More Than Just Comics

Okay, so Abdelrahman Mohamed's comic, "The Petronians", seems pretty interesting. Innovative even, at first glance. And in many ways, it is. The only thing that's been bothering me about it is that it lacks... originality.

I know, i know, that paragraph totally contradicts itself and the enthusiasm in my last post. I still am enthusiastic about this comic, but... how can i explain this?

Okay, you know when you see a reproduction of a famous painting? Let's take the Mona Lisa as an example here. You still enjoy it and admire it. But the fact that it's a reproduction, a copy of someone else's work, makes it loose some of its value. (Or, in the case of the Mona Lisa, a lot of its value.) Let's say the artist painted a picture of a different woman, like the "Angelina" or something. It would be a different picture, but if he did it with the same talent that Leonardo did his work, it would become a classic in its own right. Both paintings would be a picture of a woman, but each one would be valued for its own reasons.

With this example in mind, wouldn't it be interesting to see something completely different come out of "the UAE's first homegrown superheros"? I mean, do all comics have to rest on the prototypes of Superman and the Fantastic Four? Take Japan as an example: they've got their whole manga thing going on. Manga is, when it boils down to it, a form of what Americans call "the comic book". But at the same time, it's very unique from the traditional American comic. Manga has its own styles, rules, forms, and customs. That's what makes it special. Its originality gives it appeal. And manga, being a Japanese form, is the best medium to present Japanese culture. The same goes for American comics. Since they're created by American minds, they best transmit American culture.

Every artist knows that the detail of each brush stroke, sentence, and note makes a huge impact on a piece of art. What is art, after all, other than an accumulation of details brought into one "entity"? Art lives when created properly. Sentimental, but true. It speaks for its creator, its environment, its circumstances, its culture. Do Arabs need that today or what? Imagine, an Arab form of the comic book to explicitly capture Arab culture. No need to try to squeeze in bits that don't fit or cut loose ends.

"But they're just comics, for heaven's sake!"

Yeah, but look what manga did for Japan. It's a whole industry! Money and national pride. What more could a country want?

And plus, this is just an example of a greater idea, or principle. It's the tip of a philosophical iceberg. I could go on and on... but i'll probably end up making myself dizzy. So enough for now. There's plenty of time to come.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Dubai - The New Gotham?

Over the past year, i've been reading interesting little tidbits about a new comic that's soon to hit the streets. Today's issue of EmiratesToday has finally shed some light on this innovative project.

"The Petronians", created by Abdelrahman Mohamed, are your average UAE residents. They are highschool and university students, busy with studies, friends, and family. But after realizing that they've been biologically modified by a rare form of petroleum, they come together to fight the baddies of the comic, "The Revolutionaries". And this all takes place in "Pearl City" - an alias of Dubai 10 years from now. By that time, all of the projects in the city (like Burj Dubai and the Palm Islands) will have been completed, making it the perfect backdrop for the comic. Interesting, no?

In creating his comic, 21 year old Mohamed was faced with the "problem" of creating heroines that would appeal to all factions of his audience. He first created what he called a "new age" Emirati girl, who wore a tank top instead of the traditional black abaya. In response to feedback from his more conservative audience, he created Jana, a covered Saudi superheroine with telekinetic powers. Doing so allows both sides of his female audience to relate to the comic.

There's more to the whole superheroine issue. Actually, to this whole topic! But i'm too tired to get into that tonight. I'll keep that for the next post. Can't wait to see how this little experiment is gonna turn out.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Saudi Arabia - Waiting for the Kickoff

Saudi Arabia has an inferiority complex. The football team, that is.

After yesterday's embarrassing defeat of 0-4 by Ukraine, it became blindingly clear that the Saudi team just isn't ready for the World Cup. The Saudis manage to play beautifully amongst their Arab and Asian "brethren". But the moment they step out of Asian borders, things just tend to go wrong. Yes, i know, it has to do with experience and talent and all that stuff, but i'm not a sports fanatic, and this is no sport blog. This blog tends to deal more with culture. Something the Saudis seem to have a problem with.

Unlike (for example) their Korean and Japanese counterparts, the Saudis have a rather low level of confidence in themselves when they're outside of their comfort zone. The Koreans and Japanese are proud of their culture and comfortable with their identity. They know who they are, and therefore what they can become. The Saudis, on the other hand, are a bit confused when it comes to cultural identity. Their country is now gradually opening up to the world, and so their values and defining cultural traits are undergoing significant changes. This shifting cultural identity doesn't make the greatest of foundations, but despite its negative aspects, it's part of what all developing nations have to go through.

On top of all that, East Asian culture is more accepted and respected in the West, partly due to the fact that it's more assimilated into Western culture. Saudi Arabian culture (and Arab culture in general) doesn't exactly have that big of a fan base in the international arena. And it's quite obvious what a lack of acceptance and respect (no matter how subtle) can do to a person, much less a nation.

No wonder the Saudi team sucks when they leave Asia. Out there, they're playing with the big boys, which would be wonderful if they didn't feel like they were no more than the big boys' squirmy little brother. Lack of confidence can work wonders.

No, Saudi Arabia won't do well in the World Cup until they figure out just who they are and where they stand in the world. And no international team or fan base will give them the acceptance and respect they're looking for until they're confident enough to win it. (The respect, not the Cup... but hey, i guess if you dream, dream big.) Perhaps some of the changes that'll happen over the next four years'll be big enough to change the "rankings" in not just the world, but also in football.

Lol, small wonder people love this game. It's connected to everything. Freakishly so.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Random Bit of News

Today, i've thrown together a mini-smorgasbord of a post for you guys to check out. Bon appétit!
  • Finished reading "Cloud Atlas". Now that was a good read. All about human nature and what civilization can lead us to. Yummy. Now, (as you can see from my "Current Literary Escapade" section in the sidebar) i'm reading Gabriel García Márquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude". I've had my eye on that book for a while. We'll see how it goes.

  • From the BBC: "Palestinian views on travel curbs"
    This here's an article on how Israeli travel restrictions affect the daily lives of Palestinians, particularly in the West bank. Its always interesting to see how large scale politics affect the average joe on the street. Plus, after finally getting my driver's license last week (woohoo!), i can empathize with their complaints (not woohoo).

    Watch those American kids as they take a stand against military recruiters for the war in Iraq. And some Arabs call America the devil. Pshshshshsh! Lets see how far we can get the average Arab youth away from their "Superstar" shows, let alone start a movement of some social/political worth, before we judge, eh?

Monday, June 12, 2006

My Origins

After my last post, i thought it would be appropriate to mention where i myself am from. After checking around online, i realized that people think that i'm Arab; a slight misconception. This post here is to clear things up.

Since my background is a bit complicated, i've developed two answers to the "origin question". The short version is, plainly: I'm American/Circassian/Syrian. (In no particular order here other than alphabetical.) The long version, is... Well, you might wanna get comfy. This may make an interesting read, especially for history-lovers like me.

Here in Dubai, my mom is what we call a "mix". Her father (my grandpa) is from a little village in Syria, and her mother (my grandma) is a white American (of European descent). They met while my grandpa was studying in the U.S., got married, then moved to Syria, where my mom was born. Since she grew up in Syria, my mom identifies a lot more with Syrian culture, and considers herself Syrian.

My dad is a different story. He's from a rather fascinating people known as the "Circassians" in the West. They're from the Caucasus region in what is now south-western Russia, and the name they give themselves is Adyghe. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Circassians began migrating from their homeland into various parts of the world due to war and persecution by the Russians. With a return to Russia a difficult and unlikely route, much of the Circassian diaspora remains scattered all over the world. My father is from the Circassians of Syria. Culturally, he is more Arab than Circassian, having lived amongst Arabs all his life.

Now, about little old me? I was born in, of all places, Saudi Arabia. After a few years there, i was whisked off to America and the American dream. After a brief spell in Chicago, i finally landed in Los Angeles, the place i now consider my childhood home. There, i became an American, legally and culturally. Those years in LA bound me to America in more ways than most people know.

So now, after years of my parents' hoping and planning, i'm back in the Arab World. The good ol' UAE, to be exact. Around the world in 18 years, eh? I guess all this moving around is what created my love for culture, language, history, and travel. If i follow family tradition, i wonder where my kids are gonna end up? China? Venezuela? You never know. It is, to quote a famous Disneyland ride, "a small world after all".

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Obsessing Over Origin

In Arabville (as my friend's American grandparents call the Middle East) nearly every conversation between newly acquainted people starts with "Where are you from?” Arabs take lots of pride in their cultural and familial background, and discussing these issues is a given, especially amongst themselves.

This might look like a weird obsession to an outsider, but to Arabs, it's as natural as eating cheese is to the French. The reason for this is that the Arab World is spread out over a nice little stretch of land, spanning Western Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa. Naturally, the distinctness of "Arab" culture varies throughout the region; each area has its unique traditional dress, cuisine, music, and dialect (let alone political, social, and economic systems). So you see, Arabs have a lot to discuss when it comes to their origins.

To add to this already extensive list of variables, there is the whole issue of living outside the Arab World. What are you exactly when you come from Morocco but have a British passport? You've lived in Britain all your life, and only step foot inside your "home country" during two or three month-long vacations at most. The British would (legally, at least) consider you British. Arabs would immediately classify you as Arab, regardless of how well immersed you are in Arab language or culture. Actually, Arabs get offended if someone clearly of Arab heritage claims to be of any other nationality. "What, we're not good enough for you?" is the general reaction that seems to generate.

An example: At a wedding yesterday (my friends' older sister's) my friends and i were in the elevator with the bride's (Arab) hairdressers. Of course, we were asked where we were from. Although we had all lived in "the West" and had Western nationalities, we replied with straightforward, Arab answers. All except one girl, who said she was from New Zealand. The hairdressers looked at her strangely.

"You don't look like you're from there..."

"Yeah, my parents are from Jordan, but i was born and brought up in New Zealand."

"Oh, so you're Jordanian. How can you be from New Zealand if your parents are from Jordan?" They looked at her, eyebrows raised, before leaving the elevator.

A bit of an unpleasant situation for most Arab kids. On one hand, they don't want to reject the country that gave them sanctuary, an education, and a way of life. On the other, they don't want to betray the culture they've been brought up to think of as "home". Where exactly do we, as both Arabs and Westerners, draw the line?

Or should we even be drawing a line? Maybe blurring the line holds the answer? Having straddled both worlds, we can't be just Arab or Western. We'd be incomplete if we adopted only one culture. Perhaps it's about time that we created our own culture: a mixture of the best of both worlds.

This new culture can be what today's international community really needs. A bridge between East and West, a vantage point all can relate to, a platform for civilizational dialog and understanding.

Hey, not too bad an idea. I'm all for it. Anyone wanna come along for the ride?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Starting Summer

After a week of post-exam relaxation, i'm back to work on my writing. I started dabbling with some poetry a couple days ago, and it's about time i put a fresh post up here. So, for my first "Summer Post"... Here goes nothing!

I know this happened a while ago, but i have to put up the results for the priest-imam friendly match. This picture was posted online, with the following excerpt from Reuters:

"Protestant pastor Roland Herpich (R) and imam Taha hold a trophy after a soccer match to promote friendship and understanding of the religions in Berlin May 6, 2006. A team of Christian priests thrashed a group of imams 12-1 to win Germany's first soccer cup between religious leaders on Saturday, but it was all hugs and smiles after the match to promote tolerance."

According to this article, the players, along with the 100 or so spectators, said "they just wanted to get to know their neighbours without emotionally-charged debates about religious issues or international conflict". Rabbi Walter Rothschild summarized the crowd's outlook on the event, saying that it was "very different, very refreshing and just a very normal way of spending a day".

I mean, how much more normal can a day in which there was were "plenty of goals, unholy swearing and a jersey swap" be for such a religiously and culturally diverse event?

It's things like this that'll end up bringing people of all backgrounds together. Good thing this game is going to become an annual event! So for now, good game priests! And imams, better luck next year!