An Observer from Without

I think that I am lucky to be on this part of the world at the time of presidential elections. There is so much to learn about the mixing pot that is called America. Such diversity in opinion coupled with respect to each and every thought. Whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians are all engaged in heated conversations to elect the one who speaks their needs, regardless of the color or the ethnic background. And the efforts that the candidates have to exert to win the presidency is overwhelming, nothing different from where I come from, I guess! (just kidding)
When I was in LA, about a week ago, my host and I went shopping at one of the malls when we got interrupted by a young man at the door. He had some forms in his hands and asked us to register for the elections. How convenient, I thought. In my country, we had to go to a designated place, on a certain time period to register. And whoever missed the registration period, would loose his/her right to vote.
While my friend was filling her registration form, I had a little chat with the young man who seemed very intelligent about the world around him. Unlike the seventies, young people today are much more interested in politics, and are more knowledgeable about America’s foreign policies. We talked about the situation in Kuwait after the invasion, and discussed the general direction of the country, rich and small, being trapped in what I name the “Gulf triangle”; Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. I remember in the seventies whenever I mentioned that I was from Kuwait, people would ask me if Kuwait was located in Mexico!
But the thing that astounded me the most was people’s reasons for selecting a candidate over the other. This young man, for example, was going to vote for McCain. When I asked; why? He said, for his Christian values! And when I asked what does that mean and how would this factor make any difference, he was lost for words. Now, honestly; what does a statement like “Christian values” mean? Such a vague and general statement is misleading when the country’s constitution is secular. Gay marriages and abortions, for example, should not be taken as benchmarks since they are issues of much debate and controversy, even among Christians themselves. What about “evolution”? Are Christian values above science? Give me a good reason, caucus me, as Bill Maher said in one of his shows (btw; I love this guy). Convince me. Did anyone notice McCain’s teeth? Now honestly, a man running for presidency, and on the spotlights 24/7 should have better teeth. If anything distinguishable about American celebrities, it’s their beautiful, white teeth. OK, this was beyond my point.
Another person I met at my host’s resident, a well-known writer, said that she’s voting for McCain because he has much more experience than the rest. OK, this sounds convincing, experience is an asset. But being in the trade longer than the others does not guarantee that this person is a better decision maker. And announcing that he’s willing to stay in Iraq a hundred more years does not sound to me as a man of much experience, especially in foreign policy. Does this person realize that being in Iraq for long means more casualties? How would he explain that to the families of those solders sent to face their fate in a mine-land ? Doesn’t he realize that America can’t play the role of God and that it’s time to leave the Iraqis to settle their own internal affairs? I would understand it if he had said that he has a set schedule for withdrawal, based on his experience, but to say what he said, sounds too arrogant to my ears. Besides; being in Iraq is an excuse for more radical insurgents. Not to mention how costly this whole endeavor was, paid from the taxes that could be used to better the internal situation. Every once and a while we hear of an old bridge collapsing down because of poor maintenance, isn’t it a shame that a country that is considered to be leading the world policy can’t ensure its own people’s safety with such deteriorating infrastructure?
My host’s daughter, who’s in her early twenties, said that she’s undecided, yet. When someone mentioned Obama, she said that she could not imagine the president of the United State having a middle name of “Hussein”! And that was the main reason why she wasn’t going to vote for him! A very intelligent young woman, in her late years of college, and I loved her. But this statement sounded eerie, and definitely unintelligent. Another lady l met said that she’s not voting for Clinton because she is an opportunist; she did not react to her husband’s scandal with Monica Lewinsky when he (her husband) was in power, she said, because she had her own political agenda. Am I the only one who doesn’t see anything wrong with that? And besides; who isn’t an opportunist when it comes the land of opportunities?
Being a woman who was betrayed by my husband, I do realize how painful this experience must have been. Not to mention the stress she was under, being the first lady and not enjoying a private life like others. And I do admire the fact that she strived to keep this matter to herself. If anything, this shows the power of her will and determinacy. Life had taught me never to underestimate the power of a woman in pain. And a big part of the president’s trait should be his ability to be diplomatic in worst circumstances. And Hillary has sure proved that. And I do not see any difference between her and Obama when it comes to internal affairs, except for her ability to reach people, to speak their language, with their mentality, and not the mentality of a poor rich girl, in an imaginary high castle.
And as of yet, I have not run into someone who would be willing to vote for Huckabee. May be because I live in California and not the south, which is more conservative. But I truly like this person. He’s very funny, in a naïve way. I like to listen to him when he gives his speeches. And when he said that he’s willing to change the constitution to be in accordance with the bible, I was really amazed. Is this guy for real? He reminded me of Altabtubai, one of the hard-liner MPs in Kuwait’s pathetic parliament. But to give such a statement in a country like the United States, was shocking. I do realize that he was trying to lure conservative, evangelical votes, but I think this is going too far. How could someone defy the values on which Americans fought for all their lives? But nevertheless, he is amusing.
Now going to the last candidate, Obama. At first, I was skeptic about him. After all, he was born to a Muslim father, and there is a big risk that this may affect his policies, especially when dealing with Moslem leaders. But the more I got to know him, the more I was amazed by his personality. This person was born to a Moslem father. And according to Islamic law he is a Moslem unless he denounces his religion. And when he announce it publicly, according to Shareea law, his blood becomes halal. Which means that he is an infidel who deserves the penalty of death. About few moths ago an Afghani student wrote about discriminatory acts of Islamic Shareea on Moslem women. And the Afghani courts accused him of apostasy and issued a death penalty. Now notice the difference between this person and a person who announces his rejection to the religion of his birth to the world. In other words, Obama committed the biggest sin. And I wonder, where are the fatwas of religious leaders of the world. Why are they so deadly quite when it comes to such a prominent figure? I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what’s cooking, if Obama wins the presidency.
I do admire this person greatly; he has guts. He is a true phenomenon, being born to a Kenyan foreign student, got some Islamic education in his early age, having “Hussein” as his middle name, and above all, he’s black. Race is still an issue when it comes to the United States. And still, being able to reach the level he has reached in this race is a real miracle. I do realize that this country is the country of opportunity. And without this system, neither Clinton, nor Obama could have had a chance. But still, what Obama has reached is beyond comprehension. He changed much of my old beliefs about America and the American people.
As an outsider, I would care more about his foreign policy, especially in his quest to fight terrorism. This person understands the Islamic mentality, and therefore, he’s more equipped to talk their language. And by no means I meant being lenient as Jimmy Carter. On the contrary, he is more equipped to give them what they deserve, to fight them with their own language, and in their right places. And to feel for the innocent people who are trapped between politicians. I could foresee in him a better potential for foreign affairs amongst all the other candidates. He is also one of the middle class people who lived the misfortunes of the system, and his experience might not much rely on his years in the senate, but he has it on life in the United States. He’s just too close to people to be rejected on all the other bases. And he had made history, regardless of the outcome of the elections. Just one surf on the Net, and you can see that some people, who are supporting him, even financially, are the common people and the youth. And as I said before; this is the time for the young generation. I would not expect drastic changes in his foreign policy though, don’t take me wrong, the American system was built on solid bases, and it was never a “one man show”, as we have in the third-world countries. But nevertheless, there will be a change. And it only takes the youth to take this risk. I don’t remember who it was who said, “the biggest risk in life is not to take one at all”. Risk is essential at times to make a difference. And I can see how this person can slowly change the direction with more diplomacy and less wars.
And as I mentioned before; the white house has been too white for too long, it needs a little tint.
I wish I was an American, not only to give you my vote Obama, but also to campaign for you. You sure deserve it.

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The Power of Language

I spent a lovely week with a friend at her hospitable house in Riverside California. Second day while I was sipping coffee at her backyard, under a shed that hardly shaded the lively rays of California sun, appreciating the beauty of nature, I realized that I could go on for long without the Internet, how could I do that and love it! That was the mystery.
In solitude, I was listening to some birds chirpy-chirping on the west, as if calling someone. And some other birds in the east echoing. And wondered how that resembled us, people. Can one survive without communicating for long!
One day before Valentine, Delilah, the lady of the house, was cooking rice mixed with milk and love, and smeared in Rosewater in her lovely kitchen. She didn’t care much for Valentine, she said. To them, everyday was Valentine ever since they were coupled in the holly matrimony, and they both worked hard to keep it that way. She has been happily married for a long time. Their kids have grown and each has gone his/her own way in life. Only their memories remained in the empty-nest they outgrew. Yet, the nest was not exactly empty, everything around them spoke of true love, mature love. That true love that the lovely couple convinced me that it could still exist, and their secret was communication.
That day I felt my eyes shining green with the reflection of the earthy colors of nature. I felt closer to my origin; everything seemed to be clustered into one being.
I went close to a tree to have a better look at a black bird reflecting shades of blue, which was drinking water from the container the lady provided. I tiptoed closed and it flew away, scared. There was some type of exchanged body language between that bird and me. When I got closer, it realized that I have gotten into its comfort zone, and as a reflex, it flew away, annoyed by my intrusion. At that instance my mind wondered; did people coexist with dinosaurs? And who was the first to frighten the other? And where there any exchanged communication between them as we have today with other creatures in nature?
Now the dog next door was barking, or was it calling! Another one far away answering, and still a further one appeared to be interested and wanted to share the conversation.
Spirituality, which I define as the ultimate human emotions to reach the utmost level of the process that transcends the mind to a peaceful state, was felt all around. The mystery of language, in all its forms, that keeps us ticking with life. What a world would be to live in without language and communication. Or rather, would it be possible to live and survive in such a world?
The power of language mixed different ethnic groups in human history, like a “ball of soup” and brought them closer at times, it also caused wars at other times. Most holy books were either misinterpreted or mix-interpreted and caused disastrous wars in human history. Understanding and feeling the language was always a source of either happiness, or despair.
The Abbasid epoch of the Islamic history marked the beginning of the Islamic civilization when Muslims appreciated the power of the communicated word. Al-Ma’mun, the first son of Haroon Al Rasheed (Aaron the Upright), was said to have paid for each translated book, its weight in Gold. Competition led to enhanced quality, and abundance in quantity. It also encouraged the translation of books from three continents; Persian, Indian books as well as the most creative ones of the time Like “Kalila wa Dumna” and “One Thousand and One Nights” appeared. And needless to say that translating Greek and Syriac books marked the zenith of that period. Fiction, religion, arts, science and philosophy were adapted and eventually enhanced. And because Islamic preaching instituted the reciting of Koran in its original language, it was essential for the new, none-Arabic speaking converts and inhabitants of those lands to learn the language. In Andalusia, Jewish philosophers like Moses Maimonides and others, even translated their own ancient religious book from Arabic back to Hebrew and later to Latin. Arabic added the missing romance to the rigid poetry of Latin, and brought life to Christianity of the middle Ages. Can this process be reversed? Can we take this sentiment out of our language and start inserting some logic instead? Can our empty nest be filled with mature love, instead of empty sentences that do not have any base?
I remember when I was in grade school we used to have a class where we had to copy an Arabic proverb that says,” لسانك حصانك، إن صنته صانك، و إن خنته خانك (your tongue is your horse, if you maintain it properly, it will maintain you. And if you betray it, it will betray you)”. My grandmother also used to say that humans are nothing but a piece of meat, and she pointed to her tongue”. It is really amazing how language affects our everyday life. And it’s more amazing how it developed as we evolved and new vocabularies emerged, while other vocabularies we outgrew with each new generation. The more cultures mixed, the more new languages emerged. And the more we got educated, the wealthier our source of communication became. Our vocabulary became essential for communicating exactly what we mean; a tool to avoid misunderstandings and emotional consequences.
And what can stir our emotions more than the word “God” and it’s derivatives? The only language that we humans never outgrew!
God has been with us, for such a long time that it had invaded the most romantic part of our language. Even when our beliefs change with time, we find it difficult to get rid of our “Godly” language. When someone sneezes, we automatically say,” يرحمك الله”. When someone travels we say,” الله يحفظك”. And whenever I said to my grandmother something that she did not like to hear, she’d reply, “ الله يهديك”.
When those Arabic sentences are literally translated to English, they become; “may God have mercy on you”, “may God save you” and “may God direct you to the path of correct.” English-speaking people have already outgrown such vocabulary. It perfectly has the same impact if in the same above situations these sentences were used instead, “ Bless you”, “have a safe trip” or “ I do not agree.”
Now imagine if someone says to us, “ may Ahura Mazda be with you”, how would that sound to our ears? And would that make us emotionally engaged?
For someone who doesn’t believe in God, that should sound exactly the same, yet it doesn’t. When we say those words, we don’t really think of the actual meaning they embed. It is the romantic impression imposed on us in this language that we absorb, the general meaning of well wishing with a hint of emotion is much more appreciated when “God”، “heaven”, “angels” or even “eternity” are inserted in our language. Arabic language is much richer with this romance than Latin.
For a very long time I have denounced my religion. Yet, it was hard for me to give up “God”. When God had intruded in every aspect of our lives, how could I let go of it? It was not an easy task, nor I was ever ready for it. Even at the time when I was convinced that it was just a word invented by humans, not different than any other word. To me, God was not only a mystery; it was practically the essence of everything that I grew up to believed. Whenever I felt frightened I called on Him. Whenever I needed help, I, absent-mindedly, prayed to him.
This morning my mom called from Kuwait, she asked how the boys and I were doing, when I told her that I’m OK and everything is fine, she said “thank God, I pray every night for you”. And I told her, courteously, that it must be your prayer that’s keeping me well. She needed to hear that, and I couldn’t do anything but to say what she wanted to hear.
When Dan Dennett, the great contemporary philosopher, was sick and in critical condition, his friends and relatives gathered around him praying and reading the Bible for his safety, just like we Muslims do with our loved ones when they are not well. And when he recovered they asked him what he thought about the “near death experience” and whether or not he should be thankful to God for saving his life, and this is what he said, “To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth.” And he added “These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea, India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other’s work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others.” In other words; Dennett was thankful to science, and physicians, as well as other people who worked hard to save his life, not to an imaginary God who had nothing to do with it, and took all the blessings and the praise .
But can we ever reach to that level where we can tell our loved ones, that all their previous beliefs were built on sand castles? And if we take God out of our vocabulary, what would we replace Him with? Or do we need to replace Him?
My friend Delilah said that God is an essential need for most people, not only religious ones, even if He did not exist. So long that He exists in the mind; then he’s real. But I say, if we want to get God out of our lives, we must first kick Him out of our language, and that may take generations. But then again, there is no guarantee that God will ever leave us, no matter how much science advances to assure that He doesn’t exist, and no matter what we believe in.

Fight for Your Right

It really pisses me off when some quasi-Liberal MPs in a country as rich per capita as Kuwait, announces his disdain about the gender-segregation law by projecting it’s financial implication on the country. Is this the best that he could come up with? Is this the only consequence for such an irresponsible law, that shouldn’t have been passed in the first place?
Where are the social and psychological studies that show it’s real danger on the society, especially now that we have gone through this experience for at least a decade? Where is the data? Where are the comparative studies, concerning education products of the eighties and that of the second millennia? Where are the social implications and its affect on divorce rates between the two periods? And where are the studies that rate Kuwait University before-and-after this law?
Mixing gender in the society is the norm, we all mix in our homes, offices, shopping malls, hospitals, even in our circumambulation around the Ka’ba, the most sacred place for Muslims, but segregation isn’t. And it should not be treated as a norm.
How do we expect a woman and a man to deal with each other in real life, when we did not prepare them to do so, in the first place? And why should anyone allow himself to be our guardian, directing our lives according to his sick beliefs? And on what bases was this law imposed?

University experience is not just another educational level, sought to get a certificate for earning bread. University experience embeds the essence of education on life.

It’s been more than a year since my sons came here to study in the States, and up to now; they both find it difficult to deal with their female college mates. And whoever knows my children, know that mixing with other girls is not something new to them, especially that I have always encouraged that in our social settings. But the environment and their previous segregated schools had such an impact on them that it would take a long time for them to adjust. My older son is really suffering from this. He is still very shy to deal with girls. He tells me that he tries as much as he can to avoid them, but he’s not happy with himself.
Schools, in general, should not be segregated. But I do understand the concerns of the conservative families, especially for their teenage children. But parents should have a choice. Private mixed-schools should not be tampered and controlled by theologians.

For years, I worked for a government agency that deals with construction enterprise. Every year I got a list of women engineer graduates from Kuwait University, with the highest degrees, in all engineering fields. Most of those women, when appointed, refuse to go to sites that are predominated by men. And it used to baffle me; why did they pick such a profession, if they can’t work in a predominated male environment? And I know some great women engineers that ended up as science teachers, because they could not cope with mixed environment, although most did office work and did not have to go to sites.
Segregating gender doesn’t guarantee virtue in a society, but it sure can produce sick minds, and dysfunctional societies.

Announcement:

The Kuwaiti Social and Cultural Society of Women, located in Khaldiya is preparing a gathering to contest this unjust law on Tuesday, Feb.12th, at 6 PM.

It is everyone’s duty to join and fight for their rights. This issue does not only concern University students and their patents. Nor only women. It is the responsibility of every citizen and also every expatriate (Arabs and none-Arabs), not just to attend, but also to fight. Conservatives had reached the root of our public education and ruined it, don’t let the same fate reach private schools. And don’t wait for a miracle to happen. Make it happen.
At this time, I really wish I was in Kuwait

It’s Your Time

I have a hunch that Barack Hussein Obama will win the democratic election of Super Tusedy. May be not with substancial difference to Hillary Clinton, but regardless. You know Why?
Because this is the time of the new generation, the youth to take over.
Let’s see if I’m wrong or …

On a related note:
Best news I received today was that the MP Ali Al-Rashid submitted a legislation that cancels the previous legislation of gender-segregation at university level.

النائب علي الراشد يقدم قانون لالغاء قانون منع الاختلاط بالجامعه

A hard punch to the nose of the conservatives, ha?

Have a great day.

An update:

مجهول يهدد النائب الراشد بقتله بسبع طلقات ان لم يسحب قانونه بمنع الاختلاط

An anonymous threatens MP Al-Rashid that he would kill him with seven shots if the MP did not withdraw his legislation concerning gender-segregation.

نواب اسلاميون: سنسقط قانون الغاء قانون منع الاختلاط في الجامعات

Islamist MP’s: we will dismantle the legislation given by MP Al-Rashid.

See guys, I told you, it’s a fight. And the Islamists are sharpening the blades of their swords.

For more details, check

Moarith

The Critical Mind(Con.)

Now let’s leave our schools aside for a while, after all, we need to be realistic, schools are governed by forces not in parent’s hands. But it is the grave responsibility of the parents, even more than schools to enhance critical thinking. No one says it’s easy, but it’s not impossible. Critical thinking technique should start at home from the first day the child utters the word “Why?”.
Doubt is a propensity in humans. It is mandatory for survival. It’s part of the child’s innate cognitive abilities to understand life as he grows. Doubt should be encouraged and not destroyed; there is no way to attempt to destroy doubt. Even hermits have doubts.
Fear, on the other hand, is a mechanism to stop the process of the active mind to doubt. Fear hinders the inherent doubt in our children and malfunctions their capabilities to have a critical mind. The child who does not get the satisfactory answer to the simple question “Why?” out of fear, will end up not questioning…period.
On Children, Kahlil Gibran wrote in “The Prophet”:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
It would be foolish to posses our children as if we own them, because we don’t. And they are not the exact copies of us, no matter how much we influence their thoughts.
What Khalil Gibran is prophesying to me is that we should be honest with our children and not treat them like aliens from another world. We should answer all their questions honestly. Naturally. And when we get trapped with questions to which our parents did not give a satisfactory answer, let’s be brave and say, we don’t know, we’d leave that for life to teach you. Encourage their own searching abilities. Gibran tells me; The first seeds are always implanted at home. And the children of today are the men and women of tomorrow. It is our responsibility, as parents, to help them find a direction, but not draw that direction, let them choose for themselves their own paths in life, by encouraging their natural critical minds.
On the first or second day of Muharam (not sure exactly when), the month of the holy occasion of the massacre of Imam Husain, the grandson of the prophet, whose linage the Shiite consider to be the rightful heirs of the prophet’s throne. On that day, my daughter came in the house carrying a piece of paper in her hand. Usually, I’m not nosy with people’s business, not even with my own kids’. But the gestures on her face raised my curiosity, she was blabbering something at the paper in her hand. When I asked her about it, she said “ some idiot left a chain-letter on your (my) car!”.
It was a handwritten letter on an A4 page. Written “supposedly” by an 18 year old girl and this is what it said:

In the name of God the most merciful.

I am an 18-year-old girl. Physicians did not find a cure to my ailment. After that I made a pilgrimage to her highness the lady Zainab, may peace be upon her, the sister of our Imam Husain, peace be upon him. And in a dream she poured water down my throat, peace be upon her, and she told me “wake up, you are cured with God’s permission”. And she summoned me to write and copy this event 12 times and distribute it on people.
1- I handed one copy to a poor man, he made 12 copies and distributed them. And after (12) days he became rich.
2- And I handed another to an employer. But he ignored it, and after (12) days he lost his job.
3- Another old man who got a copy, ignored it and after (12) days he was imprisoned.
4- Some other wealthy man also got a copy and ignored it, and after (12) days he lost his fortune.

Note:
All who have laid a hand on this story should write it down and make (12) copies and distribute them to get whatever they desire after (12) days, with God’s permission, and the blessedness of the lady Zainab, peace be upon her. And that who does not abide (to these instructions) will be in for a disaster after (12) days.

My believer brethrens: beware of “doubt”, do not question the capabilities of the most merciful.

Now regardless of the purpose of this letter, which is a subject I do not want to go into, since it’s irrelevant to the main thesis I’m hoping to be able to present correctly, without any apparent prejudice. And by no means I meant to present this letter for the purpose of sectarian analogy. But only to show an example of religion’s (any religion) tactics to deal with a complex trait as “doubt”, the tactic is always inducement of fear.

The question now is:

Are we willing to take this path?
Critical thinking methods open minds. Do we want open-minded generation?

Or are we just satisfied with zombies?

If we are satisfied, then we should settle with what we have, and not complain about our backwardness and weakness, compared to other much scientifically advanced nations that sought unlimited skies. We should clap our hands for those award winning foreign scientists while indulging in our consumerism of their goods.
An update
Mahmoud Karam, a Kuwaiti writer recently wrote an article concerning “critical thinking”, with mastery in Arabic language that I would never dream to acquire. So to those Arabic speaking individuals who care about this subject and had difficulty grasping the essence of this post, I refer you to his article. It’s worth reading, and mind provoking. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
This is the link