Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Haykal's Monolgogues- Boring and Wrong

I am not one of those who listen to Mohamed Hasanyn Haykal's monologues on al Jazeera as if it is revealed truth of the sage of sages. I tried to listen for more than ten painful minutes and failed miserably. My graduate education had me sit through many many lectures- some quite boring. Haykal gets the cake with his boring run on sentences and monotnous monologues.

The man, however, is considered one of the best analysts in the Middle East. This is understandable if his competition is the Baath and Thawra newspapers- papers that are only good to wrap street vendors goods.

I think this reputation is a legacy of the dismal history of Arab media. However, the internet and satellite tv changed the rules of the game creating what one scholar called Arab Public Space. The quantity and quality available now makes Haykal's analysis pale in comparison.

The worst analysis he provided- according to Hassan Sabra of Lebanese weekly Al Shiraa- is on the May 2008 conflict in Lebanon. It's amazing how much Haykal does not know and his bigoted and ignorant view of MP Walid Jumblatt. He had the gall, without citing any logic or sense, to defend the Hizbullah attack on the defenseless Beirutis and the Druze of theMountain.

One conclusion from reading Sabra's column is Haykal is another reason to ditch al Jazeera for the Al Arabiya TV.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lebanon's Divided Public Opinion

Pew Global Attitudes Project titles its report on Lebanon "Lebanon's Precarious Politics
Many of the Country's Sectarian Differences Do Not Run along a Straight Muslim-Christian Fault Line" -November 15, 2007.

The Precarious Republic is a title of a book by Michael Hudson that was written before the breakout of the civil war in Lebanon. The book pointed out the weaknesses of the Lebanese consociational political system and its increasing stresses, due to internal and external pressures, that made him call Lebanon a "precarious republic."

Today Lebanon is divided on issues of importance- perceptions of itself and regional and international powers.

On favorable views of foreign powers, PEW reports:

Christians: 82 % favorable views of the US- 14% favorable views of Iran

Sunnis 52%- 8%

Shia- 7%-86%

The most remarkable of these are the favorable views of the US held by Lebanese Sunnis- 52%. The Iraq war, the Palestine conflict and the war on terrorism made the US have a dismal record of approval in the Muslim world. It seems for the majority of Lebanese Sunnis, the US policies toward Lebanon trump all these other concerns. As to Iran, all the talk of pro-Iran Sunnis, all the money and effort exerted led to a dismal record of support- less than 10%.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sex, the City and Dearborn Arab Women

I went to the movies with my wife. I wanted to see "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," my wife wanted to watch Sex and the City.

Sex and the City turned out to be as good as she expected. My wife and I spent three of our precious free time to watch this movie. Once you have children, their needs make it almost impossible to have free time.

One scene in the movie reminded me of Dearborn Arab women.

Carrie was about to move in with her boyfriend. She expressed anxiety that the place she would call home, in the event of a falling out she would have no legal rights to.

Then they decide to get married.

As an attorney who practices family law, I have come across a number of Arab Muslim women who put themselves in a situation that Carrie wanted to avoid.

A number of local couples opt to have a religious marriage but not a civil marriage. (This is a phenomenon worthy of a systematic study).

They go to an Imam who marries them, does Katb al Kitab for them.

Imams, as well as other clergy, have the legal authority to marry couples provided the couple has a marriage certificate issued by the county clerk. Without a marriage license, any document issued by the Imam does not make a legal marriage.

This legal document protects women in the case of a falling out.

Michigan, with few narrow exceptions, does not recognize common law marriages. However, I heard a judge say once that she would be willing to recognize as a legal marriage a religious marriage that extends over a number of years and results in children- it would be an issue of equity.

But this would be an uphill battle and a bad situation that could easily be avoided by getting a marriage license.

The unfortunate reality is that without a civil marriage, I have seen and heard a number of women end up with nothing. The women that have put themselves in this bad situation have included first as well as second generation Arab Americans; women with little education and women with graduate degrees.

The Islamic "marriage contract" stipulates an amount of money or other thing of value to be given to the woman in the event of a divorce. However, the women are unable to get that since the agreement is usually not properly executed to survive a challenge by the putative husband.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Advice for Muslim Women: The Maid or the Partner?

Today three entries in the Islamist website Islam Memo in the "Happy home" section show why the Islamists raise serious concerns about gender equity and gender equality.

The three entries are:

"If you do not take care of your husband, he will find someone else who will"

"clean house= happy home"

"obedience and marital happiness."

Sounds like a wife is considered a maid and not a partner.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Imam, the Danish Cartoons and Piss Christ

In today's Al Arabiya website there is a news item on the suicide bombing against the Danish embassy in Islamabad.

The PM of Denmark called it an "unjustified attack."

The Danish Deputy PM called it "an attack on Denmark and the values it defends."

The Muslim League denounced it as an act of "violence and terrorism."

The Aljazeera Arabic news channel reported on this issue interviewing Pakistanis on the subject. The interviewees basically said that "Denmark is to blame for publishing the insulting cartoons and then for not apologizing for them."

Going over the comments' section in Al Arabiya website, a number of commenters said that the Danish deserve it for "insulting the prophet," others said that it is wrong to use violence. Some blamed Israel and the US for the bombing. One commenters accused Denmark of bombing its own embassy so that the Muslims are placed in the position of apologizing to Denmark instead of the opposite.

Most voices disapproved the deed but asserted that "Denmark is wrong" and should be boycotted or their embassies shut down for insulting Muslims with the cartoons.

The Danish are defining this matter as an attack on freedom of expression. Many Muslims see the cartoons as an attack on their faith and its symbols.

Both are inaccurate positions.

The Danish are wrong because the Muslims feeling insulted do not care what freedoms the Danish have. The issue is that they perceive the cartoons as "Christian Denmark" and not one individual or a groups of individuals "attacking their faith."

The Danish government is painting the attackers as haters of the freedom of expression and other Western values.

But anyone who peruses a Western cultural product will not fail to note that the sacred is not sacred. How many times you see God's name taken in vain, you hear "holy shit," "Jesus f--ng Christ" among other choice terms. An African American actor, Morgan freeman, played God in Bruce Almighty and Jim Carrey having the powers of God for some time used the powers to make Jennifer Aniston's breasts bigger and to have his dog use the toilet.

I am not a religion scholar but for Muslims and other followers of Monotheistic faiths insulting God is a bigger offense than insulting the Prophet.

But we have not seen demonstrations and violence in response to Bruce Almighty?

The Pakistanis who bombed the embassy probably haven't heard of Piss Christ- the award- winning "Piss Christ" controversial picture by photographer Andres Serrano. Mr. Serrano won an award for that picture- an award partially supported by the US government agency, the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mr. Serrano took a picture of a Crucifix submerged in a cup full of his yellowish urine. The artistic community thought it great art, many Christians felt insulted.

It was not an attack on Christianity not by the artist, not by the US government nor by the arts' community.

By asking the Danish government to apologize and blaming the controversy on Denmark the government and people many Muslims show an acute lack of understanding of Western society and government- that is the respect or lack thereof to the sacred in the public space and the role of the government.

Muslims who live in the West know better than those in Karachi and Khan Yunis. However, unfortunately, this issue is not explained to the Muslim world. Understanding and having an explanation does not mean excusing or justifying. But some voices actually add fuel to the fire. After the film Fitna came out, a local Imam in Dearborn told a newspaper reporter that Fitna is part of a Western Crusade against Islam while other Imams had no comment.

Muslims deserve better.