More American Jewish Students Take Up Study of the Arab World

October 18, 2013

 

Miriam Berger studied Arabic at Wesleyan University, lived twice as a student in Jordan, did thesis research in the West Bank and, after graduation, worked in Cairo. And like many of the Americans she has met each step of the way, she is Jewish.

“I don’t see it as a contradiction at all,” said Ms. Berger, 23, who grew up near Philadelphia where she attended a Jewish day school. “I grew up hearing so much about the Middle East, how it was this dangerous place we can’t understand, but as I learned more, every day it felt like old ideas were being challenged, and I wanted to contribute to better understanding.”

In the United States, colleges and universities are riding a two-decade surge in Middle East studies, reflecting that region’s consistent pull on American economics and security. And while there are no definitive demographic data, students and professors say that in classrooms, or in undergraduate study-abroad and postgraduate fellowship programs in the Middle East and in Arabic, it is not unusual for one-quarter or more of the students to be Jewish.

These students say their interest grew because of their heritage, not in spite of it. They feel a desire, even a duty, to understand a region where Israel and the United States are enmeshed in longstanding conflicts, and to act as bridges between cultures — explaining the Arab world to Americans, and America (and sometimes Jews) to Arabs.

 

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/us/more-american-jewish-students-take-up-study-of-arabic.html

Muslims of Cagliari Stand Together through Fasting and Prayers against War, After a Call made by Pope Francis

From Cagliari, an appeal for peace: The Muslim community of the Sardinian capital reacts to the appeal of the Pope. September 7th will be a day of fasting and prayer against war in the Middle East. This was announced by the spokesman of the Muslim community of Cagliari, Sulaiman Hijazi, and the president of the Province of Cagliari, Angela Quaquero.

“In Cagliari, after the appeal that Pope Francis addressed to all people of good will against war in the Middle East, the Muslim Community of Cagliari decided to join with a day of fasting to be held on September 7” says Sulaiman Hijazi. This is a concrete step showing intercultural goodwill.

 

German ‘Desert Flower’ centre to help circumcised women

Haunted by experience of genital mutilation at four, Somali former supermodel Waris Dirie opens Berlin centre that offers remonstrative surgery to circumcised women and girls

Somali-born activist and former supermodel Waris Dirie on Wednesday opens a centre in Germany to treat victims of female genital mutilation, which she was subjected to as a child.

About 8,000 young girls are circumcised every day in Africa and the Middle East, and the Desert Flower Medical Center, located in a Berlin hospital, will offer reconstructive surgery and psychological help to those among the 50,000 girls and women in Germany who need it.

 

Another citizen of Ceuta recruited by Jihadist networks dies in Syria

07 July 2013

 

Mohamed H., 27, is the latest casualty in the list of Ceuta’s citizens that participated and died in the Syrian war. The Spanish authorities do not know exactly how many Muslims have gone to the Middle East or how many, for sure, have died since April 2012. According to the estimates of the government delegation, between five and eight of the ten individuals who were recruited by jihadi groups and went to to Syria, half have died in the last year.

 

Al-Jazeera America faces steep climb among U.S. viewers

RNS) Al-Jazeera and America, two name brands often at odds since 9/11, were wed as one on Tuesday (Aug. 20) when the Qatar-based media network began broadcasting its U.S. news channel Al-Jazeera America from New York.

 

This is not the first time Al-Jazeera has tried to find a home on American TV. Al-Jazeera English debuted with an international focus in 2006 but was never picked up in major media markets outside the Northeast.

 

From CNN to MSNBC to Fox, the leading cable and satellite news channels all struggled to gain and hold viewers, credibility and profit for years after their launch. But for Al-Jazeera America, deep-seated prejudices among some U.S. audiences are likely to make this uphill slog even steeper.

 

With some 800 journalists and staff and bureaus in 12 U.S. cities, Al-Jazeera America bills itself as a network committed to “rebalancing global media by respecting the diversity and humanity of the world” and “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

Although once ranked among Apple, Google, Ikea and Starbucks as one of the world’s most influential brands, many Americans still view Al-Jazeera with suspicion — in part because of  Al-Jazeera’s decision to air messages it received from Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.

The take-away for many viewers was that Al-Jazeera was nothing more than a mouthpiece for terrorists.

Some influential commentators continue to label Al-Jazeera anti-American or to imply the network is somehow a front for terrorism. For many Americans, perceptions of the network are tied up with negative feelings toward the Middle East, Arabs and Islam.

“I’m afraid the terms Middle East, Arab and Muslim are all often lumped together under Muslim,” said Roger Owen, professor of Middle East history at Harvard University.

John Esposito, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understandingand the author of several books on contemporary Islam, said Al-Jazeera America will have to deal with a segment of the population that is biased against Islam.

The Tampa-based Florida Family Association, which opposes what it perceives to be the “Islamization” of America, recently launched a campaign demanding major companies stop advertising on the channel.

How Reliable is the information about the al Bustanji Controversy?

August 12, 2013

Posted on the web is a video of an interview of a Jordanian Imam named Riyadh Al Bustanji, in Arabic. The interview took place on 22 June 2012 on Al-Aqsa TV, the official television station of Hamas.  The video, subtitled in English, was posted and translated by MEMRI Tv, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4PfzUZzoRs)

MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) is a non-profit organization co-founded by a former Mossad officer, Yigal Carmon, which translates articles from Arabic into English.

The impartiality of MEMRI has been doubted and questions have been raised by Brian Whitaker of the British newspaper The Guardian, in an article from 2012, the organization’s impartiality has also been questioned by the political leader Beppe Grillo.

Ben and Izzy: Middle East and Islam in the Cartoon on Planet Kids

July 7, 2013

 

The series Ben & Izzy produced by the Jordanian production company Rubicon enlivens the summer schedules dedicated to children. The channel launches on Planet Kids starting July 22. The cartoon in CGI, was produced in 2006 in English language with the purpose of being distributed internationally, in 2008 it was dubbed in Arabic.

The cartoon is aimed at children aged 6 to 11 years old. Viewers follow the adventures of the American Ben, and the Arab Izzy, two boys of different cultures who find themselves in the same place due to the work of their archaeologist grandparents. Initially wary of their difference they begin to learn and to appreciate their differences.

In the desert, they discover a tomb where they let the genie Yasmine escape, a lively girl who helps them on their travels.

Through the powers of Yasmine and her determination to save the precious heritage of the world, the boys find themselves traveling back in time. One adventure takes them to Petra in 1867, the year of the first visit made ​​at what is now considered one of the seven wonders of the world. The protagonists, sort of two “Raiders of the Lost Ark” characters, learn the pasts value together, and mature to the point to appreciate all that there is to learn about each other’s culture.

The fun and educational series will be broadcast in their original language with audio in Italian.

Georgia Newspaper Column Calls On U.S. To Send Muslims ‘Back To Their Native Land’

A local newspaper in Georgia recently published a column ostensibly about U.S. Middle East policy but which took a hard right turn into birtherism and racism, highlighting the Islamophobia problem at the local-level.

In its June 19 edition, the Advance — local newspaper for Vidalia, GA — published a “Plain Talk” column from author Gerry Allen on the current atmosphere of turbulence in the Middle East. The full article, titled “An Arab Spring or an Arab Fall,” can be read in full here.

Allen opens the piece claiming that Rudyard Kipling — author of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” essentially justifying Western imperialism — is one of his favorite authors, quoting the British writer as once saying, “East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet.” Allen then immediately calls up some of the most repugnant stereotypes of Islam, saying that while denying women and girls educations, Muslims “really don’t favor educating anybody in anything but mayhem.”

From there, the column becomes a tour de force of racism and Islamophobia masquerading as a critique of U.S. foreign policy. On Iraq, Allen notes the folly of attempting to impose democracy on a “truly backward people who had been ruled by tyrants and the Koran for thousands of years.” He criticizes President Obama — whom he frequently refers to as “Obumer” — for wavering on Syria, claiming that the President lacks the “backbone” to impose a no-fly zone. The reason for this lack of decisiveness? “He is a Muslim himself or at least a Muslim sympathizer,” Allen claims of Obama, repeating claims that birthers have made for years.

The localized nature of Islamophobia in the United States lends itself to problems both on the policy front and in terms of hindering efforts to end discrimination. CAP expert Matt Duss recently co-authored a report in which the effect of laws seeking to ban “Sharia law” within states often have unintended legal consequences. “Although packaged as an effort to protect American values and democracy, the bans spring from a movement whose goal is the demonization of the Islamic faith,” Duss wrote, along with the Brennan Center’s Fazia Patel and Amos Toh. “Beyond that, however, many foreign law bans are so broadly phrased as to cast doubt on the validity of a whole host of personal and business arrangements.”

Attempts to correct the many misperceptions of Muslims at the state and local-level often finds itself in conflict with those who would prefer to continue to spread hatred. Just last month, protesters shouted down calls for tolerance at a Tennessee meeting, instead cheering references to an area mosque being set on fire during its construction.

 

Arab Spring Adds to Global Restrictions on Religion

pew restrictionsIVAt the onset of the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011, many world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, expressed hope that the political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa would lead to greater freedoms for the people of the region, including fewer restrictions on religious beliefs and practices. But a new study by the Pew Research Center finds that the region’s already high overall level of restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government policies or from social hostilities – continued to increase in 2011.

 

Before the Arab Spring, government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion were higher in the Middle East and North Africa than in any other region of the world.1 Government restrictions in the region remained high in 2011, while social hostilities markedly increased. For instance, the number of countries in the region experiencing sectarian or communal violence between religious groups doubled from five to 10. (See sidebar on the Middle East-North Africa region.)

The Americas, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region all had increases in overall restrictions on religion in 2011. Government restrictions declined slightly in Europe, but social hostilities increased. Asia and the Pacific had the sharpest increase in government restrictions, though the level of social hostilities remained roughly the same. By contrast, social hostilities edged up in sub-Saharan Africa, but government restrictions stayed about the same. Both government restrictions and social hostilities increased slightly in the Americas.

The new study also finds that reports of harassment or intimidation of Muslims increased worldwide during 2011. Muslims were harassed by national, provincial or local governments or by individuals or groups in society in 101 countries, up from 90 countries the year before. Christians continued to be harassed in the largest number of countries (105), although this represented a decrease from the previous year (111 countries). Jews were harassed in 69 countries, about the same as the year before (68). (For details, see Number of Countries Where Religious Groups Were Harassed, by Year chart.)

The number of countries with overall increases in restrictions compared with the previous year outnumbered those with decreases. However, a larger share of countries (35%) had a decrease in at least one of the 20 types of government restrictions or 13 types of social hostilities measured by the study compared with the previous year (28%). Examples include a relaxation of registration requirements for religious groups in Austria; efforts to overturn a centuries-old law barring the British monarch from marrying a Catholic; and elimination of a requirement in Jordan that groups, including religious groups, obtain prior permission from the government before holding public meetings or demonstrations.6 (See sidebar on initiatives aimed at reducing religious restrictions.)

In the four countries with decreases of 1.0 to 1.9 points (Bangladesh, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the United States), some hostilities that occurred in the year ending in mid-2010 did not reoccur in 2011. In the United States, for instance, multiple religion-related terrorist attacks occurred in the year ending in mid-2010, but none occurred in 2011.15

Among countries with small changes on the Social Hostilities Index (less than 1.0 point), 69 had increases (35%) and 59 had decreases (30%).

Considering all changes in social hostilities from mid-2010 to the end of 2011, regardless of magnitude, 49% of countries had increases and 32% of countries had decreases. The level of increase in social hostilities during the latest year studied remained unchanged from the previous year (from mid-2009 to mid-2010).

RestrictionsIV-web