Friday, January 19, 2007

Materialism vs. Spirituality

Human beings are often described as having two opposing (and complementing as well) elements: flesh and soul. We all strive, to a certain extent and according to everybody's ability, to reach a level where we are satisfied with both elements. This satisfaction is actually an ideal one, and seldom do we find people who reached that level. But, how does the environment and the societies in which we live affect our strife towards this goal? Are there more tendencies towards reaching spirituality vs. materialism?

Well, what might be strange is that we often categorize the East as the starting place for acquiring spirituality, whereas the West is the place where materialism is dominating and there is no place for any spiritual lifting whatsoever. This categorization stems partly from reality, partly from our imagination, and in more cases from our involvement in the world of Hollywood and its depiction of both cultures and how these cultures are affecting us as human beings.

As a person who has had the privilege of living in both the East and the West (though this geographical categorization owes greatly to the colonial influence, I will still stick to it just for the sake of being consistent for the time being) I am more inclined to say that this materialism vs. spirituality thing in the East and the West are, to a great extent, true. I know that a lot of people would definitlely disagree with me, and some of them might even criticize me for living in a spiritually-decadent society, but this time i tend to be subjective on this matter and try to avoid being objective (with all the hazards that "objective" carries).

Two years of living in the West and I have probably missed the basic and the core elements of lifting my spiritual being. If you go to New York for example, all you see is the tremendously-tall buildings, with a wide array of people from all ethnicities and backgrounds. The thing about such a metropolis is that you feel it deep within yourself that something essential is missing, something that might even drive you crazy. All they say about civilized and modernized countries applies to New York (I am just using this city as an example), but what lacks is what I believe to be a very important part of our lives, the soul.

The other example which I am using on the opposing side is my city, Aleppo (again I am using it as an example because I know how it feels in there). It might be very naive to compare both New York and Aleppo because there is no comparison in terms of the level of technology and civilization that New York has got as opposed to my city. Again this fact might be a minor one to me because i tend to value spirituality a great deal. It is true that Aleppo, which is an Arab city of a long history and civilization, has got many bad things in our present time. Corruption, ignorance, dirty streets, cheating, dishonesty...etc, are spreading so rapidly that people have gotten sick of it. What is interesting about this city though is that its people are still very generous, very nice to others, very social, and they like having fun. If you walk down the streets of Aleppo, you will smell the fragrance of history in every single corner of it. You will feel like your heart is jumping with happiness and satisfaction because you know deep in your heart that you are spending wonderful moments in this lovely city. Everywhere you go, you find people greet you and welcome you to their shops and houses. Probably I am being too nationalistic, or even too proud of my home city, but this is the truth and this is how i feel now after two years of living in the West.

So, why am i writing this? In fact, it is very important to always remind ourselves that we cannot ignore this essential element in us, THE SOUL. A balance between flesh and soul is required provided that no one part dominates that other, and this is what Islam teaches us: Be balanced and fair to your body and to your soul, and do not torture any of these elements because you will be torturing your being.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nuckin' Futs (Are you a JibJaber)?

Take a look at this very interesting video on JibJab. If you like funny political satire, then this is the place to be! It is soo cool and really satirical, so you gotta watch it...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Article on New York Times coverage of Israel/ Palestine

From: PLO Mission – Washington, DC

Blind New York Times Continues Attacks on Jimmy Carter. EXCELLENT!

by Patrick O’Connor; January 08, 2007

The assault on Jimmy Carter and his new book which criticizes Israeli policy, Palestine Peace not Apartheid, has been led by many of the usual, uncritical, knee-jerk Israel supporters - Alan Dershowitz, Martin Peretz and Abraham Foxman. However, the campaign to discredit Carter among more thoughtful, less partisan Americans is led by powerful, mainstream institutions like The New York Times, that are respected for their seeming objectivity and balance.

In the January 7, 2007 Sunday Book Review, after the dust settled from weeks of frenzied coverage by other major media outlets, the Times made its bid to pronounce the “final word” on Carter’s book. In the review Jews, Arabs and Jimmy Carter,[i][1]Times Deputy Foreign Editor Ethan Bronner rejected the more! hysterical claims that Carter is anti-Semitic, but simultaneously dismissed Carter’s book as “strange” and “a distortion,” and described Carter, the only US President to have successfully mediated an Arab-Israeli peace agreement, as suffering from “tone deafness about Israel and Jews”.

If Carter is “tone deaf,” Bronner’s review provides yet more evidence that The New York Times is willfully blind to Palestinians. New research detailed below shows that Times’ news reports from Israel/Palestine, which Bronner supervises, privilege the Israeli narrative of terrorism, while marginalizing the Palestinian narratives of occupation and denial of rights. Bronner himself has quoted eight times more words from Israelis than from Palestinians in 18 articles he wrote for the Times since mid-2000.

The Times paved the way for Bronner’s review with two news articles[ii][2]and a blog posting.[iii][3]While allowing Carter space to defend himself, the articles and blog posting focused on attacks on Carter by eight public figures, and included defenses by just two people. As usual, no Palestinians were permitted to comment. The Times’ blog posting noted that the controversy was unfolding during a holocaust denial conference in Iran, hinting at an unspecified link with Carter’s book.

In his review, Bronner constructs a deceptive sense of balance by rejecting both sides’ more controversial positions. He writes that Carter’s use of “apartheid with its false echo of the racist policies of the old South Africa” constitutes “overstatement” that “hardly adds up to anti-Semitism.”

Bronner derides Carter’s book as characterized by “misrepresentations”, and having “a Rip Van Winkle feel to it”, while simultaneously acknowledging that “Carter rightly accuses Menachem Begin … of deception regarding” settlement expansion, and that “his chapter on the endless humiliation of daily life for the Palestinians under Israeli occupation paints a devastating and largely accurate picture.”

Yet Bronner still minimizes Palestinians’ “endless humiliations” by devoting just two sentences to them, and he writes, with no sign of irony, “that Carter is right that insufficient attention is being paid, but perhaps that is because his picture feels like yesterday's story, especially since Israel's departures from southern Lebanon and Gaza have not stopped anti-Israel violence from those areas.”

Most of the world recognized that Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza did not end Israel’s occupation or control of Palestinian lives there, nor significantly lessen daily hardships. Bronner avoids addressing Carter’s central argument, that Israel's refusal to fully withdraw from the Occupied Territories is the main obstacle to a negotiated settlement.

Palestinians would be justifiably outraged to learn that their continued daily hardships are “yesterday’s story.” Mirroring elements of the arguments of Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League,[iv][4]Bronner seems to see “today’s story” as radical Islam and terrorism, as he laments that Carter’s book on Israel/Palestine fails to also cover the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghani! stan, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban’s rise, Al Qaeda and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

One can only imagine the hysterics that would have arisen at the Times had Carter not ignored the right of return of Palestinian refugees and Israel's discrimination against its Palestinian citizens.

Bronner has written 18 articles on Israel and Palestine for the Times since July 30, 2000. In them he quoted 1226 words from Israelis, and just 145 words from Palestinians.[v][5]For example, in the Week! in Review on July 30, 2000, after the failure of Camp David, and two months before the outbreak of the 2nd Palestinian intifada which has continued for the last six and half years, Bronner counseled that “no explosion… occurred, nor is chaos expected any time soon.” The peace process’ “positive direction in the long term is clear.”[vi][6] Bronner quoted 228 words from Israelis and 67 words fr om a Palestinian in that less than prescient analysis.

During the same period, Amira Hass, an Israeli reporter for Ha’aretz Daily living in Ramallah, was comparing the situation to that before the outbreak of the first intifada, warning against the assumption that “confrontation is not feasible”, and arguing that “Rebellion is not planned from above, and the moment could come when the people who were not afraid of IDF rifles will not be put off by those wielded by Palestinian police.”[vii][7]!

In 2003, Bronner wrote a glowing review of The Case for Israel by pro-Israel hatchetman Alan Dershowitz.[viii][8]Assessing Dershowitz’s book, alongside a book by Yaacov Lozowick, Bronner called them “intelligent polemics.” He offered not a single criticism of Dershowitz, saying his book made many “well-argued points,” and Dershowitz “knows how to construct an argument.” He described Dershowitz! as a “liberal” “on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” In contrast, Professor Norman Finkelstein devoted an entire book, Beyond Chutzpah, to documenting the errors, fabrications and outright plagiarism in The Case for Israel. “Liberal” Dershowitz defends torture, and suggested Israel destroy entire Palestinian villages in retaliation for suicide bombings.

It’s no surprise then that the news reporting Bronner oversees leans heavily on the Israeli narrative. Searches with Lexis-Nexis Academic identify 935 articles published between December 1, 2004 and November 30, 2006 by the Times correspondents based in Israel/Palestine, Bronner’s area of oversight.[ix][9]Of those, 341 articles (37%) mentioned the word terrorism, 259 (28%) mentioned terrorist, 183 mentioned suicide bombing (20%), and 359 (38%) mentioned Palestinian attack(s).[x][10]In contrast, only 156 of the 935 articles (17%) included the dominant Palestinian experience of occupation, and 115 articles (12%) mentioned the word occupied. This overwhelming focus on terrorism, Palestinian attacks and su icide bombings occurred during a two-year period when Israel tightened its siege on Palestinians, sinking Palestinians further into poverty, and Israelis killed 903 Palestinians, approximately half civilians, while Palestinians killed 81 Israelis, 60 of whom were civilians, according to the Israeli human right organization B’Tselem.[xi][11]Palestinians committed eight suicide attacks that resulted in 34 of the 81 Israeli fatalities.[xii][12]

Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights are even harder to find than Israeli occupation in New York Times news reports. Over two years, the Times used the word illegal (as defined by international law or Israeli law) in just 55 articles to describe Israeli offenses against Palestinians[xiii][13](5.9%). International law relating to Isr! ael/Palestine was mentioned in only 14[xiv][14]of 935 articles (1.5%),[xv][15]the Geneva Conventions in one article (0.1%),[xvi][16]collective punishment in 12 articles (1.3%), right of return for Palestinian refugees in 14 articles (1.5%), discrimination against Palestinians in four articles[xvii][17](0.4%), and apartheid in three articles (0.4%). Though settlement(s) were mentioned in 318 articles (34%), as noted above, they were infrequently described as “illegal.” Settlement expansion and settlement growth appeared in just six articles each[xviii][18]! (0.6%). Even Palestinian poverty and unemployment were mentioned in only 13 and 18 articles respectively.[xix][19]

In short, the entire Palestinian experience is marginalized in New York Times news reports from Israel/Palestine. The words and concepts that Palestinians continually invoke to describe their lives, including apartheid, are almost never found in the Times. Jimmy Carter claims that Americans are poorly informed about Israel/Palestine in part because “the major newspapers and magazines” exercise “self-restraint” in their reporting. Therefore, anything other than denial of Carter’s thesis by the Times would constitute an admission of its own failure.

Despite a facade of balance and moderate positions, Ethan Bonner’s review of Jimmy Carter’s book represents yet another example of the mainstream US media’s willful blindness on Israel/Palestine. Bronner wields the Times’ power in a bid to restrict acceptable discourse on Israel/Palestine by hiding the Palestinian experience from the American public.

Fortunately, the US public seems not to be buying it. Instead, they’re buying Carter’s “strange” book, now number five on the Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction.

Patrick O’Connor is a New York City-based activist with Palestine Media Watch ( and the International Solidarity Movement (

Days go by...

One country music song says: Days go by... and indeed they do. Two years of studying in the US are almost on the edge of being finished, and going back home is something that i have to think seriously about in the next four months or so. These two years are probably the most beneficial and rewarding experiences I have ever had, especially regarding education, meeting new and very interesting people from whom I have learned a lot, and also acquiring a new set of hand-on experiences. Nevertheless, i still have tons of things to learn after going back home, especially learning how to cope with the monotonous way of life in there and the killing routine of paper work, which absolutely drive me crazy.

On the other hand, living away from home taught me zillions of important things. Probably the most important of them is that the word HOME has become the dearest word to me because I realize now why home is such a big issue to all of us. HOME means everything: it means spirituality; it means living with your dear family and friends: it means the basic elements of our live with which we were born and which we value as the "sources of our being" as the linguist and the philosopher Kenneth Burke said.

Indeed, I have come to realize that Syria, my best and dearest home ever, will remain the only place that i am obligated to serve and work for its benefit. You might say that this is mere chauvinistic and knightly approach that drives us to become ideal and not practical. Reading the daily news about what is happening in Syria is in fact very discouraging, especially for people who always dream about a civilized and advanced Syria. Corruption, routine, backwardness, ignorance, economic disorder, the continuously expensive living... etc, are all understandable causes to hate the situation in its entirety. Well yes that is true, but we should not forget that civilizations rise to power and fall and then rise as a natural cause and effect cycle. So I really believe that we Syrians have an enormous capability to begin change withing ourselves, and then begin changing our societies to the better, and by change i mean investing time to our best and benefiting from the huge resources that we as a country have.

Anyways, in order not to get off track, which is becoming my unpleasant habit whenever I write about something, I can say proudly that my days in the US have taught me a great deal, both in the positive and negative sense of the word, and that I am sincerely hoping that i will be able to learn more when i get back home, especially that now there is a big demand on those who have acquired skills that are not usually available in the Syrian society.

On the execution of Saddam...

Ok here we go: Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator for nearly 35 years of the life of Iraq and its people, has been executed. Well, this is nothing new, especially that most people by now know that it finally happened. But, what is the significance of it? Why did it draw such a huge worldly attention?

First of all, the execution of Saddam happened on the first day of Eid Al-Adha; the thing which was not liked at all by a big majority of Arabs and Muslims, including some of Saddam's opponents and sworn enemies. Apart from this fact, it is important, and also weird at the same time, to notice that a lot of Arabs and Iraqis were extremely angry at the death of a dictator who slaughtered thousands of Iraqis and was the direct cause for the current misfortunes of the Iraqi people. Nevertheless, you find people whose blind and extreme passion for Arab nationalism and tribal loyalties have drawn them to believe that Saddam is indeed a hero for the Arabs and the Muslims!!

What is even stranger that this is what i saw on the famous and the notorious Al-Jazeera Program: The Opposite Direction lately. This recent episode, which discussed the consequences of the execution of Saddam, was probably the most violent and heated debate I have ever seen on air (I have not seen this on any western TV channel so far). Here is the link for the episode (it is only in Arabic) :

Regardless of the absolutely uncivilized manner that the discussion between the two guests went, we can see how blind loyalty can bring us to our own annihilation, even when injustice was directly done to us by such dictators as Saddam. What I find strange is that thousands of Arabs love Saddam now just for the mere fact that he "supposedly stood against the Americans and the invaders," forgetting 35 years of bloody history, including three or more wars that he brought to the nation, causing the slow death in resources and otherwise. All I am hoping is that we wake up and see the truth with our own eyes and hearts, regardless of any external forces that might affect our seeing...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Unexpected Killers in the Arab World??

In our Arab world, we often view nationalism, triablism, and other similar forms that connect us to our identities as Arabs as being benevolent sources of our beings which drive us to be proud of them. But have we ever thought of the unintended (or even unexpected) consequences of these -isms?? Imagine this very familiar scene with me in one of the Arab countries:

A: I am escaping from someone and i seek God's protection and your protection as well, from him... (in Arabic: داخل على الله و عليك )
B: You have come to the right place, and I will sacrifice my neck and my blood for your sake, just because you sought my protection...

and the protection goes on, and wars and stories of vengeance and revenge emerge because all of these nonsensical, blind affection for protection... but have we ever thought of the consequences... have we ever thought that this guy might be a murderer seeking protection from a tribal leader??

Now, this little story, which is very familiar in our Arab societies, might not have anything to do with what I have previously said about the -isms, especially on a larger scale as regards the Arab identity and the Arab nationality. On the other hand, I see this story as one of the murderous -isms of our modern time. Why is that, you might wonder? because it is another starting point towards more sectarianism and more bloodshed and murders, including innocent people...

Our dilemma as Arabs is that we are emotional people who are constantly driven by what directly steps on our nerves. You might say this is a shocking generalization... well, hell it is... and i have seen it and lived it and was a part of it... and i am not even sure if I will still be a part of it.. hopefully not for a long time!!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

why dispatches from the present??

This is my first attempt to blog on the net. After spending some pretty considerable time checking out some very interesting blogs online, i have decided to have my own sphere of "free expression" of my mind and my soul. I have probably used CNN's Cooper book's title "Dispatches from the Edge" (although i have not had the chance to read it, but i like the title), but with a little modification with "Dispatches from the Present." Hopefully this title will help me express myself more freely about current issues that concern me and the world.