Bloggin’ Banat

two arab-american chicks takin’ over the blogosphere

Tradition Isn’t Always Right May 15, 2009

The other day I came across an article in the Christian Science Monitor about one of the two first female Islamic judges in the Middle East.  The article focused on Khouloud el-Faqeeh who is Palestinian. She is described as not only being exceptional in her knowledge (top in her class at Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University and one of the highest scorers out of 45 people in the qualifying sharia judge exam) but she’s also a straight arrow; she won’t bend the rules for anyone.  Pretty fantastic.

But there was one thing in the article that annoyed me.  It was the view that women are ‘too emotional’ to take on such a position.

Sheikh Hamed Bitawi, who’s the head of the Association of Islamic Scholars and Scientists,  said that there are two schools of thought on the issue: that every position but that of a caliph is open to women, and that women are too emotional to make legal decisions – as judges or as witnesses.

“I am of the second view because I consider women to be gentle human beings who should not be subjected to difficult situations or difficult decisions,” Mr. Bitawi says. “They cry easily, and hence their judgment is tainted with emotions. Moreover, lawyers are difficult to deal with and people who come to courts are angry and violent.”

Give me a break.  I’ve heard this perspective before and for the life of me I still can’t believe why people continue to buy into this archaic and stereotypical argument.  As if men aren’t emotional?  Men indeed are emotional. One could also make the stereotypical argument that men tend to have a short fuse and they consequently yell, scream or react violently.  Therefore, they too are ‘tainted with emotions.’  Would that make them a better judge?  Of course not.  That’s why one’s qualification shouldn’t be based on gender but by their individual abilities.

El-Faqeeh explained that “In Islam, it says a sharia judge has to be a Muslim, rational adult” – not necessarily a man.  Whenever I would discuss this with the chief judge, he would say, ‘This is tradition.’ ”

I’m all about tradition. But when it comes to professional matters, sometimes tradition counters common sense and what’s right and that needs to be corrected.  As el-Faqeeh said “I’m a legal person, and, to me, legal issues are stronger than tradition.” Case closed.

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Thanks Ron Paul! April 21, 2009

ron_paul_posterThis is just a shout out to the Bay Area Ron Paul Campaign for Liberty for their awesome tea-bagging poster. With conservatives organizing tea-bagging parties across the country, the Ron Paul campaign thought they’d join in too. But their poster conveys a message that I truly stand behind and actually makes sense.  Of course, some republicans aren’t too happy about it; as if that’s a surprise.  California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring put out a statement today in which he said:

“The leaders of the taxpayer movement in California are good, solid people with whom I’ve worked for years. Their work is incredibly important and should not be tainted by the anti-Semitic views of a few who wish to use the growing taxpayer movement for their own, fringe purposes. Such attempts must be roundly condemned across the board.”

Sorry, but criticizing Israel’s policies (occupation, war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc.) that are supported by our government and funded with our taxpayer money isn’t anti-Semitic. And, by the way, Palestinians are Semitic too.

But back to the awesome poster.  It’s image couldn’t be more vivid and the text is so on point.  The text reads “Uncle Sam Reminds You: KEEP PAYING TAXES. The ongoing extermination of Palestinian Children Can’t be Done Without Your Help.”  There you go.  Plain, simple, to the point and pure awesome.

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New Film In The Works Has Interesting Components March 24, 2009

julian_schnabel1Julian Schnabel,who directed the wonderful Oscar nominated film “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” will be directing a new film called “Miral”. What’s interesting is that “Miral” is based on a book of the same name written by Palestinian-Italian Rula Jebreal who also co-wrote the script.  Apparently, Jebreal, who lives in Italy, is a hugely popular broadcaster there and is outspoken on immigration and foreign affairs. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of her. The book is about Hind Husseini who attempts to open an orphanage (Dar El-Tifl), and eventually does, in Jerusalem after the war in 1948 and the struggles thereafter.

While I commend Schnabel for making this film ” to fix things over there . . . and make things better over there”, I think it’ll take a lot more than a film to do that.  However,  it’ll be nice to see a film about a Palestinian woman who took matters into her own hands to help orphaned children.  I hope that Schnabel won’t oversimplify the conflict in the process.

I do think this will be a promising movie.  Not only is it directed by Schnabel but it will also star the incomparable Hiam Abbas (“The Visitor”, “Pomegranates and Myrrh”) who makes any movie she’s in better.  Also starring in the film, and an interesting choice, is Freida Pinto.  She’s become the new “it” girl after the success of “Slumdog Millionaire” (great movie, btw).  I wish Pinto the best of luck because I don’t think she’ll be able to hold her own next to Abbass.  Casting hasn’t been completed yet but I’m sure “Miral” will get a wide release due to who’s directing it and starring in it.  Shooting for the film will begin next month in Israel and is scheduled to be released in 2010.

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Family Reunification Isn’t So Easy For Palestinians March 3, 2009

palestinian-idWeddings, funerals, the birth of a relative, etc. are all events when family and friends from near and far come together. Unfortunately, for many Palestinians that’s not an option.  Why?  Because they don’t have a Palestinian ID card.  Without one, Palestinians can’t travel in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.  The only way to get one is through a family reunification process that must be approved by Israel. It can be a very long, tedious and discriminating process.  It’s an aspect of the Israeli occupation that rarely gets much attention.

Palestinians without a Palestinian ID card can be basically put into two categories; those that live in the Palestinian Territories and those who do not. For those Palestinians without ID’s who live in the West Bank and Gaza, their situation can be summed up like this:  they came to Palestine via Israel with their US passport or passport of their country of residence, they decided they wanted to stay beyond their 3 month visa, tried to renew their visa and were denied but chose to stay anyway.  As a consequence, they’re classified by the Israeli government as illegal residents, even if they were born and raised there.  Therefore, if they decide to leave the Territories for any reason, they wouldn’t be allowed back.  For those who live outside of the Palestinian Territories and don’t have ID’s, most likely they have spouses and immediate family members that have Palestinian ID’s that either live in the Territories, and therefore cannot spend time with them beyond the 3 month visa allowance, or they would like to go back and live “legally” in Palestine.  I happen to have relatives who belong to both categories.

Just yesterday, Israel approved over 3,400 family reunification applications and, fortunately, a couple of my relatives happened to be on the list.  For some people, the process has taken years.  However, just because the applications were approved doesn’t mean that the applicants automatically get their ID’s.  Once the applications are approved, the applicants must go to the Palestinian Department of Civil Affairs to fill out more paperwork and then wait weeks, if not months, for their ID’s to be issued to them.  For those Palestinians who live outside of the West Bank and Gaza and had their applications approved, they must come back to the Territories and cannot leave until their ID’s are issued to them.  That means these people will be away from their family and jobs for an unknown period of time.  Of course there are problems that arise from those circumstances. If you’re the breadwinner in the family, then you need to make sure that the family you leave behind is taken care of financially.  Not only that, but you might not have a job when you do eventually get back. Because honestly, what boss would keep your job for you if they didn’t know when you were coming back?

According to Maan News Agency, there have been over 20,000 family reunification applications approved by Israel over the past year.  I’m sure President Abbas would love to take the credit for that. But the fact is, the Palestinian Authority simply provides the names of the Palestinian applicants to the Israeli authorities.  It’s the Israeli authorities that decide who gets approved, how many get approved at any given time and when the names of the approved applicants are released.  The PA is just the messenger between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the process. That also pretty much sums up the role of the PA in general.  So while Husein Ash-Sheikh, the head of Palestinian Civil Affairs, would like us to believe that the approvals came about out of the “hard work on this initiative upon the instructions of President Abbas”, in reality it wasn’t even his decision to make.  However, Husein Ash-Sheikh is right when he says family reunification “is of national importance, since citizenship is a right for each Palestinian.”  Which is why this should be a Palestinian process through and through and Israel should have no say in the matter.  The “authority” in the PA is a joke.

It’s such a shame that in addition to all of the isolation, deprivation and humiliation that the illegal Israeli occupation places upon Palestinians that they can’t even share time and be with their immediate family and loved ones. It’s just wrong.  And Israelis wonder why Palestinians are pissed?  The next time you get together with your loved ones, please remember the thousands of Palestinians who can’t be with theirs as a result of the Israeli occupation. Let’s hope they all get that opportunity and soon.

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Valentine’s Day Arab Style February 11, 2009

Valentine’s Day is only a few days away and millions of Americans will undoubtedly be buying tons of flowers and chocolates to give to their loved ones.  But how do Arab countries celebrate the holiday?  Here’s a breakdown of Valentine’s Day Arab

First, all Arab countries celebrate Valentine’s Day even if it is on the down low.  In Saudi Arabia, for example, the holiday is prohibited.  Therefore, any gifts related to V-Day, including red roses, are banned.  But that’s not a problem. Saudi Arabians determined to celebrate get their V-Day loot on the black market or they just trek out to the nearest country to buy it.  Florists even deliver flowers early in the morning or late at night to avoid suspicion.

Second, lingerie is a popular item to buy on Valentine’s Day.  And if you thought that was something that wasn’t popular in Arab/Muslim countries, you’re sadly mistaken.  Syria, for example, has a very, shall I say, adventurous lingerie industry. You can find anything from musical underwear to remote controlled bras.  This kinky stuff is popular too because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting your freak on as long as you’re married.

And while I’m on the subject, here’s an encounter of what I saw last summer on the streets of Ramallah that truly shocked me.  While I was walking around, I passed by a lingerie shop.  There was nothing special about it, but it’s what was outside of the shop that stopped me in my tracks.  On the sidewalk, right there out in the open, was a mannequin dressed in a very skimpy nurse’s outfit.  I couldn’t believe it. I mean, these types of things are kept hidden behind tinted windows in seedy looking shops here in the States.  But not in Ramallah. I guess there’s no shame in purchasing something that satisfies your fetish there.

Finally, all of the candy, flowers and lingerie bought on Valentine’s day inevitably leads to one thing-sex. That’s right. And even though that’s not a topic spoken about widely and openly in the Arab world as it is in the States, there’s no doubt that a lot of sex is going on.  There’s no better example of that than in Palestine. Palestinians are at the forefront of this and Gazans in particular who live in the most densely populated place on earth.  Let’s face it, with being locked up in a virtual prison with barely little or no electricity, what better way to spend their time?  Gazans certainly don’t need a holiday to spur them into action.  They get it on 24/7.  In just several years time, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and inside Israel will outnumber Israelis.  At that rate, Avigdor Lieberman and his racist Yisrael Beiteinu party followers won’t be able to keep up with their desired transfer of Palestinians.

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Glamour at the Grammys: Finding the Next Fairuz of Fashion February 10, 2009

photo by Steve Granitz/ - February 8, 2009

photo by Steve Granitz/ - February 8, 2009

photo by Kevin Mazur/ - February 8, 2009

photo by Kevin Mazur/ - February 8, 2009

photo by Kevin Mazur/ - February 8, 2009

photo by Kevin Mazur/ - February 8, 2009

photo by Lester Cohen/ - February 8, 2009

photo by Lester Cohen/ - February 8, 2009

In the world of fashion, “one day you’re in, and the next, you’re out,” according to Project Runway host Heidi Klum.

Want to know who’s in? Just check out some of those who-wore-what pics from the Grammys. You’ll see designs by Reem Acra, Basil Soda, and Zuhair Murad gracing the runway.

With all of these Middle Eastern designers popping up and becoming more prominent, I’m beginning to think LBC should air its own version of Project Runway to find the next big designer. Heck, maybe Project Runway’s season 4 runner up, Rami Kashou, could be the contestants’ mentor – I could so see him being a Palestinian Tim Gunn 😛 He could make it work, indeed!

Of course, some Middle Eastern designers have already made names for themselves, such as Reem Acra, Norma Kamali (although she’s actually Arab- and Spanish-American), and Elie Saab. I mean, who can forget Saab’s real debut on the scene when Halle Berry donned his dress at the 2002 Oscars? Soda, former workshop head and assistant to Saab, appropriately credits  Saab with creating the image of Lebanese fashion to the western world:

Soda talks about him with great respect and admiration. When told Elie Saab represents the image of the Lebanese Couture worldwide, he showed no single jealousy or irritation. However, he replied that “yes, it is a very good image, isn’t it? He’s more like Fairuz in the music scene. This is very positive for the country”. He adds “in fact, there won’t be any fashion history in Beirut without Elie Saab. He has always been very high ranked. In my opinion, his success is a result of his hefty talent, but also to his businessman skills. He knew how to work out his image abroad. He is the first to know how to represent a certain Mediterranean image of fashion this way”

Although Elie Saab is now established and well known in the West, new Middle Eastern designers such as Soda have recently caught the eye of the fashion blogosphere. For instance, Nana at writes:

Katy Perry and Paula Abdul both hit the Grammy carpet in statement gowns encrusted with oversized jewels from the Spring/Summer ’09 collection of Lebanese designer, Basil Soda. Initially, I thought the gowns were a little busy, but after googling Basil’s site and checking out his full collection, the blinging bonanza of gowns and skirt suits with details of origami proportions has started to grow on me. Soda’s designer bio explains, “Form, symmetry, shape and the relationship between points, curves, lines and angles all come together to climax in a melange of feminine allure.” I think it’s one part Versace, one part Jerrell (from Project Runway).

Now what’s drawing the fashion world to Lebanese and Middle Eastern designers? According to Soda:

What makes Lebanese creators different from many western designers is “that Lebanese sketch dresses that women can wear. Over the whole set creations of a western fashion show, only three or four dresses can be worn…!

Dresses that women can actually wear? Well, I’m definitely a fan of that! 🙂

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Optimistic About Obama January 21, 2009

obamaI’m happy that Barack Obama is president.  I, like the millions, if not billions of people around the world, watched Barack Obama’s inauguration.  It was a historic moment and one that can not be interpreted as anything but positive.  Having an intelligent, capable son of an immigrant become president of the United States is a good thing.  Many people believe, as I do, that at the very least Obama will bring positive change to America.  I know a lot of Arabs and Palestinians are skeptical, even pessimistic that he’ll bring welcomed change to American foreign policy towards the Middle East, particularly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Many, including myself, were dismayed at his silence during the Israeli assault on Gaza.  While Obama’s policy towards the conflict may not change that much from his predecessors (we don’t know yet), we can’t blame foreign leaders for not helping us out when Palestinian and Arab leaders aren’t helping their own people.

There’s no doubt that if there is ever to be a just solution to the conflict, the United States must play an integral role;  being that Israel is the recipient of more military and financial aid from the United States than anyone else in the world.  But I’m fed up with a lot of Arabs being so negative about Obama’s presidency. If we are to be skeptical and  negative about anything it is the Palestinian and Arab leadership.  We can’t blame the United States for continuing to support Israel when, in light of the Israeli assault on Gaza, Arab leaders like Abdullah and Mubarak continue to have normal relations with Israel. When other Arab countries continue to have trade relations with Israel.  When Abbas continues to follow Israel’s lead.  It’s just hypocritical to blame others when Arab leaders are doing nothing.  Even when they meet, Arab leaders can’t agree on putting out a measly statement.  It’s pathetic.

With Palestinians divided between Hamas and Fatah loyalties and with having an incompetent president in Abbas, we need our own Obama.  There’s never been a more appropriate time.  Palestinians need someone who can unite them and inspire them.  We haven’t had a leader like that.  Many believe that Arafat was a great leader but he was no doubt a terrible politician.  We need someone who is youthful, intelligent, cunning and who understands the changing ways of the world.  We need someone who is not willing ot succumb to outside pressure and knows what is best for Palestinians as a whole.  I have to believe that a future leader like that exists somewhere out there in Palestine.

I may be naive, but I am optimistic about the next four years with Obama as president.  For one thing, things can’t get any worse as they have been under eight years of Bush.  While that is certainly setting the bar pretty low, at least Obama has made an effort to reach out to the Muslim world and has conveyed the message that diplomacy, not military action, should be the way to towards ending conflicts.  We shall see in the next few weeks and months what the Obama administration will do regarding the Middle East. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for the Palestinian Obama.

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