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It’s the go-to plot-line for some of the most popular stories of all time: fiercely feuding families, each raging with bitterness towards their enemies; each fueled by a relentless pursuit for power; each harboring an unwavering stubbornness.

But this isn’t some fairy tale. Not some CGI-filled summer blockbuster. Not a set of novels-turned-HBO-series.

This is really happening. Everyday. Right now.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ablaze for decades, and arguably – depending on which history books you’re reading, what channel you’re watching, or what sites you follow – for much longer than that. Each side sharing startling similarities: compelling arguments against the other; claims to land considered holy; fervor for being recognized as ‘legitimate.’ Impassioned with rich and hallowed religions, Israelis and Palestinians similarly use their faiths to validate claims over the region. As the years have passed, both camps have made their mistakes; both have reneged on promises; both have backed out on peace talks.  There are two points, however, that don’t exactly straddle both sides as equally: the deaths of those caught in the carnage, and the media’s reporting of it.

As of this writing, there have been 28 Israeli casualties confirmed – two civilians and 26 soldiers killed in combat. However, Israeli strikes on Gaza have resulted in over 560 deaths, mostly civilian, along with the immeasurable destruction of Palestinian communities (well, what was left of them). We are learning more and more everyday about Palestinian children being caught in the crossfire; how the Israeli people now have an app to warn them of any potential missile strikes from Hamas (because that seems fair); and of journalists who are criticized (and/or fired) for reporting on what’s really happening in the region.

Are people just now awakening to the horrors that have been going on for what seems like ages? It’s a real-life ‘game of thrones’ that is eerily mirroring the acclaimed TV series (spoiler alert): everyone is getting killed off. Both sides undoubtedly have blood on their hands; but anyone who honestly reports on it, or dares to criticize Israel’s role in this on-going debacle, is quickly dubbed by American mainstream media (along with any U.S. officials who go on record) as “anti-Semite.” Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the word “terrorist” or “terrorist sympathizer” gets thrown around either. You know, when they need a good sound bite.

Still, there are those who buck the system:

And social media has undeniably made exposing truth about this (and countless other under- and mis-reported issues) much more accessible to a wider audience; an audience that is starting to question the motives and political agendas of their own governments. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration has done what every American government has done since the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israel War: confirmed its unwavering alliance (and continued arms funding) of the brash little country in the midst of one of the most turbulent regions in the world. Social media be damned.

A more startling example of how twisted the story can get via traditional media is this one, where an American Jew – yes, you read that correctly – is voicing concern over Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories during the annual Jerusalem parade (in Israel). He doesn’t exactly get the star treatment:

Now, his explanation of what happened after his [peaceful/non-violent] demonstration:

What’s not clear (and for a very good reason) is where exactly this young man’s “court appointed attorney” came from. Without direct involvement – which would’ve undoubtedly made inconvenient headlines – is it not within the realm of possibility that the appointed attorney along with the reigning judge who over saw the case were “directed” to make this go away (i.e. dismiss the case and free the ‘suspect’) by order (i.e. pressure) of the U.S.? Not because they actually care about this kid; hell no. But because the minute he went viral with his message – a powerful and articulately stated one at that – he became a liability; a smoking gun. He’s an American and more importantly (and dangerously), a Jew. And we simply can’t have someone like him say anything that may call to question the U.S.’s position within this gaza of thrones.

It’s bad enough that the video of the incident and the subsequent explanation by the young man was shared so quickly and by so many; the U.S. certainly could’ve executed damage control in an effort to avoid any obvious and potentially media-susceptible intervention. Even with Obama’s recent claims to be “seriously concerned,” he still affirms Israel’s “right to defend itself” amid the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians.
The aftermath of an airstrike on a beach in Gaza City last Wednesday. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The aftermath of an airstrike on a beach in Gaza City last Wednesday. Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Another story was recently posted about the cease-fire/non-cease-fire back-and-forth that took place under President Sisi’s and Egypt’s “counseling.” Egypt? Really? So, instead of tapping into a stable country that might actually have some political pull with one or both sides of this conflict, we’re going with Egypt? Sigh.
Although a five-hour ceasefire did in fact occur to allow for humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip, most U.S. media reported that an extended ceasefire was accepted by Israel, the Arab League and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas but was rejected by the military wing of Hamas, the group that controls Gaza. What is not being reported as accurately (and as loudly) is the reasoning for the rejection.
Egypt’s reluctance to give up its mediator position, even though Hamas – with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood – can’t stand Sisi (a staunch anti-M.B.er), doesn’t help either.

The rest of the world is finally starting to really speak out against Israel and its dealings with Palestinians, yet Israel is getting more and more belligerent with an arrogance matched only by its ‘big brother’ – the U.S. Frustrating = a severe understatement. Even Sec. of State John Kerry was recently caught with his foot in his mouth and then reverted back to singing the tried-and-true tune that goes something like this: “America and Israel, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

The minute we (America) actually start to take a stance that’s more aligned with the rest of the world, more aligned with human decency and more aligned with common sense, is the same minute progress may actually be made on this long, drawn-out subject. Slowly but surely others within the global community have been embracing this “radical” mantra, although it’s the U.S. that can actually do something about it. The “right of Israel to defend itself” is long overused. America should refuse to continue funding and arming a country that continuously (and unabashedly) denies that right to others. The right of Palestinians to live should be given the same weight and attention. This simply is not a fair fight.

This isn’t an Israel-bashing tirade mind you; the Israeli people are not the issue whatsoever. This is simply a call for justification and clarification of our continued support of a country that doesn’t do anything for us but bring misery. Our direct involvement and unwavering defense of Israel is the primary reason why this region is so unstable: other countries see Israel’s continual mistreatment of Palestinians and blame the U.S. for its refusal to remove itself from the situation. The Israeli people deserve better than to have their government continuously wage war in their name (sound familiar?), making violence and bloodshed a daily occurrence. 

Ethical reporting on what’s really going on, the outright questioning of U.S. involvement in the region and an international call – and persistent insistence on a realistic two-state solution are what need to happen for there to be any hope for this deteriorating saga. Unlike the show, this is a new kind of game; one where the thrones aren’t just made of ancient swords and the battles won with dragons, magic and unsullied soldiers. In fact, this isn’t a game at all.

 

Read more on this:

Hello everyone! I know it’s been while since I’ve cast one eye on two worlds and shared my findings with you, but believe me, I’ve been a very busy bee this past year:

I’ve been working on my Masters in Journalism and Digital Media and will – with any luck – finish this May (which I think is quite apropos).

At any rate, I figured the start of the new year would be a perfect time to delve back into my beloved world o’ blogging, and because so much has happened since we last cyber-spoke, a quick run-down on the hip-happenin’s that made 2013 so…well, 2013-ish, might be in order:

There was:

  • A “do-nothing” Congress (we’re still waiting for them to “work” on something of substance instead of arguing every single hour of all 11 days they’re actually in session).

The Worst Congress In Our Lifetime

  • A new progressive Pope (he’s shaking some things up – let’s see if he makes it into Dan Brown’s next novel)Pope_Francis_at_Vargihna

(photo credit: The Daily Aztec)

  • Edward Snowden (the NSA debacle, monitoring of Americans and a crap-ton of other countries and so far, no repercussions for the masterminds that orchestrated all this -AND THEN, VERY PUBLICLY, LIED ABOUT IT).

  • Healthcare.gov (and the love/hate/hate relationship between members the aisle (leaving the American people to shake their heads in disgust / frustration– how are other countries pulling this whole “Universal health care” thingy off??) P.S. And from the looks of it, the site’s homepage still has some kinks to work out, like overlapping and confusing text, and where’s that lovely young woman everyone was at some point screaming about?

Healthcare.gov

  • Syrian bombings – then the Syrian “We’re givin’ it all up” chemical weapon relinquishment campaign about a whole minute later.

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(photo credit: STR/AP)

  • Egypt’s military “coup,” which has apparently now been deemed “crimes against humanity”- and its declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood’s as “terrorists” (They’re the bad guys, folks, listen to us, we’ve got machine guns) **although full disclaimer: I happen to think that a lot of ‘em are actually on Santa’s “not-so-nice” list).

Egypt Protests Intensify As Army Deadline Approaches

(photo credit: Ed Giles/Getty Images)

  • New York City’s first democratic mayor in decades (and yes, he’s married to a black woman and has bi-racial kids, what’s the biggie?)

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(photo credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

  • The Boston Bombings, the city-wide chase afterwards and the hoopla over a RollingStone Magazine Cover:

Five Revelations From Rolling Stone’s Boston Bomber Cover Story

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(photo credit: Rolling Stone, illustration by Sean McCabe)

  • Kim Jon Un’s questionably brutal execution of his uncle (was there or wasn’t there 120 dogs involved? why are we talking about dogs?!)

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(photo credit: YONHAP/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The legalization of marijuana in Colorado (new vacay spot!)

Colorado Lawmakers to Feds: Let marijuana businesses bank

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(photo credit: Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

  • The purchase of The Washington Post by Amazon’s Jeff Besos (okay media industry, now let’s see what happens).

  • Wendy Davis, a pair of pink sneakers, and an honest discussion about abortion in America.

ap449714672600-d4567101a2d5fdbdd20fa0a98c2a7c97c1221711-s4-c85

(photo credit: Eric Gay/AP)

  • A sequester, a government shutdown, Nelson Mandela’s death and a schizophrenic sign-language interpreter.

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(photo credits for images on this row: Win McNamee/Getty Images; AP)

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(photo credits for images on this row: GlobalNews; PressTV)

  • The re-opening of dialogue between the US and Iran (and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeting no less! holla!)

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  • A super typhoon hits the Philippines, India has a rape epidemic, and Miley Cyrus’s twerking makes international headlines (subsequently, for longer than either of those other two stories).

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(photo credits: Reuters; Hindustan Times)

Miley-Cyrus-Tongue(photo credit: Liberty Voice)

  • And most recently, an ancient Egyptian brewer’s tomb is discovered (looks like what made for a good time then and now aren’t so far off).

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(photo credit: Supreme Council of Antiquities/AP)

Whew! That was a lot. And those were just a few of the tid-bits that fueled a year where some of the media touched on a few significant issues, though most really seemed to concentrate more on what racist ramblings members of the Duck Dynasty are mumbling and what gaudy new outfit Kim & Kanye’s new baby is donning. You know, the important stuff.

Still, there’s that whole world out there, with all its craziness and all its wonder. And I plan on sharing my opinions on the things I find that make the West and the Middle East more similar than maybe a lot of people might want to imagine. We are, after all, one big ole’ group of people that have to share the same ride through time; so instead of asking “Are we there yet?” maybe we should start asking, “Where’s the nearest Mickey D’s and/or Hummus Shack?” and enjoy the ride.

This is indeed a very interesting time in Egypt’s – and arguably, the entire Middle East’s – history. The notion that citizens are even ABLE to publicly voice opinion about their political, economic and social future is a significant step toward a progressive, modern democracy…one that we, my family, Middle Eastern friends and those who share in knowledge and experience within the cultures of this region, feel is worth noting (and quite frankly, worth celebrating).

The real challenge, however, is how to integrate that pro-democratic ideology into a society that has historically been sculpted by religious and military influence. The Mubarak regime was a corrupt and unproductive one, yet the Morsi regime (yes, it is a regime, once Morsi – a seemingly democratically elected President – declared his position to be unchallengable) has become a suffocating front for the Muslim Brotherhood agenda. At the very least, and for all its shortcomings and downfalls, the Mubarak regime kept the Brotherhood at bay, and religious fundamentalists were relatively kept in check. The Islamists sadly found their vocal platform in Morsi, and quickly established their newly found megaphone to impose a constrictive, oppressive zeitgeist over a people that want, by all accounts, to be free of any rule which dictates degrees of freedoms.

While by many accounts the protests were largely meant to be peaceful, former militants (mostly Morsi supporters and members of the Brotherhood) have helped escalate the violence. Granted, some protesters have perpetuated that violence as well, but that is precisely why the military (with many members reported to be largely in support of the protests) have insisted on participating in maintaining order while some sort of agreement is made between Morsi and his opposition. The line in the sand appears to have been identified as Morsi stepping down, which he’s so far refused to do.

We’re all watching to see how this plays out, but word on the street is several other candidates are already poised to fill his seat; some that had previously run against him in initial elections but lost. The argument I’m hearing from some Egyptians is, why even bother with yet another remnant of the past (these men are arguably related to the Mubarak administration)? Why not aim for a totally new (read: unaffiliated), progressive president? One who truly represents the “new” Egypt; an Egypt that values freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and a true societal movement forward?

There are still a ton of questions, and with baited breath, we’re all waiting to see what happens next for our beloved Egypt. The military indeed holds sway, but primarily due to its lack of complete dependence on religion, economics or international influence.

And so, I say this: my sincerest hope is that a genuine, long-term parliamentary democracy can be forged (and more importantly, maintained), but there has to be more than just a people who call for it; there has to be a fundamental shift in the way the entire region understands its changing role, globally and internally. Also, it would help immensely if, once a dude you don’t like is kicked out, you actually implement a plan that not only works to establish an actual, functioning democracy, but that also starts with putting a dude in office that you DO like. But alas, that part we haven’t quite managed to get right either.

Click here for continually refreshed live, up-to-date coverage.

What the next 24 hours will bring = unknown. But sadly, the likely outcome = mish quayiss, “not good” in Arabic.

Okay, so it’s been awhile since I last doused some multi-perspective jive talkin’ on this blog, so apologies for the ridiculous delay. But I’ve been busy honing in my digi-techie media skills at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg’s Journalism & Media Studies graduate program, so it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my bum, eating Cheetos and counting how many times Maury Povich tells some poor schmuck with a disoriented look on his face “you are not the father.”*

*Full disclosure: I am currently on my bum writing this and I just ate some Cheetos. Povich is married to Connie Chung, who was a journalist, so technically if I were to hypothetically watch his show, I’m sure I could make an argument somewhere in there.

In any case, as I delve back into a more regular posting schedule of all things dual-worlded (that’s a real word, right?), I figured I’d start with something that’s near and dear to my heart: the arts.

The ‘New’ Egypt and its art (or what’s left of it)

It’s no secret that since the 2012 election, President Mohammed Morsi and Egypt’s primary legislative entity, the Muslim Brotherhood, have not exactly been fitting like snug gloves on the hands of the Egyptian people. What’s been remarkable to me, however, is the drastic blows being dealt to the essence of what makes Egypt a historically rich place of wonder. We built the pyramids for crying out loud! (see what I did there? The “we” implying some sort of personal participation. I like to just call it ‘cultural pride,’ but, whatever, tomato, tamato).

I started reading about it here and there, at first from people I know who were artists, musicians. Then, it sprung up on social media. Next thing I knew, the cries and outrage went viral, sparking conversations and heated debates calling to “save the ballet!” (I wonder if we’d hear that expression yelled with such gusto and passion in the U.S., but I digress).

The Egypt of now doesn’t seem to be the place I remember visiting as a child; a place of awe and beauty, and where the imagination and wonder of what human beings are creatively capable of infiltrated my senses with an effortlessness I could never quite describe. I just couldn’t believe the things that were happening to culture and the arts in a land that’s so long been associated with cultivating great artistic expression, so, as a journalist, an artist, and an Egyptian, I had to write about it. (click on the link below to view full story)

Fighting for art’s survival in a new – not improved – Egypt

In this Storify article, I responded to Egyptian musician, Osman El Mahdy’s eloquent call to [metaphorical] arms by stressing how essential it is to preserve the arts, even amid a turbulent period of uncertainty and governmental corruption:

“This post articulates precisely how essential the arts are to the identity of a people. Egyptians have been recognized the world over for maintaining a long, rich history of cherishing and cultivating the very spirit of what makes humanity grow, prosper and achieve greatness: art, music, architecture – among countless other influential contributions. The corrupt regime (and yes, it IS a regime) that now strangles this once triumphant nation should be challenged by all Egyptians – artists and otherwise – to relinquish this charade of religious righteousness and be stripped of all the power that attempts to siphon what’s at the core of Egypt (and all great civilizations): the free-flow of artistic expression. It’s what has – and what ALWAYS will – make us HUMAN.”

We have GOT to save art, in Egypt and beyond. The first step: awareness. Please pass this along and let’s start talking about it, to save not just Egyptian art forms, culture and national identity, but humanity’s. We simply can’t be left with Maury Povich re-runs.

Sample of a Book of the Dead of the scribe Neb...

Sample of a Book of the Dead of the scribe Nebqed, c. 1300 BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some are slow and steady; like that of a sleepy caterpillar, leisurely morphing into its glorious butterfly alter ego.  Some are swift and unstable; like an unsuspecting packet of slicked seeds suddenly bursting into a bag of buttery popcorn. Some are simply unpredictable; like adjusting to life in a wheelchair after a paralyzing car accident, or finding out that dollar lottery ticket just made you a millionaire overnight.

There are all types of transformations. The first story I ever produced in my fledgling journalism career went through its own, with – as I look back upon it – a little bit of each of those transformational qualities. And through its painstaking (and oftentimes frustrating) process, it made me realize that the desire to do good reporting and the compromise required to see that reporting go to air demanded a universal acceptance of one thing: its transformation.

Washington Week with Gwen Ifill, a highly respected PBS publication, announced its “Voice of the Voters” feature, and I excitedly submitted a pitch. I figured, why not take a stab at producing a high-quality piece of journalism and jump-start my resume with a renowned entity like PBS? I thought the “Voice of the Voters” project was a perfect way for me to do both, while investigating a subject that was near and dear to my heart: specific issues that are important to women.

As a first-year graduate student, I didn’t really expect to be chosen to move on to final production; I was, after all, competing with students across the country, most in their final semester of their graduate programs. But upon my selection by PBS (and my initial, personalized version of “shock and awe”), I went right to work on the logistics and mapped out the entire production process for my piece. I had a vision: lend a virtual megaphone to those young women (on my USFSP campus) who had stories to share about where they stood on women’s issues in the 2012 presidential election. This group, as far as I could tell, had not been adequately covered in the local media, and for that matter [it appeared to me] the entire subject of “women’s issues” was generally glossed over on the national stage as well. My aim was to do something different; something that would elevate a set of voices and allow those voices to uninhibitedly express their concerns as they cast their ballot for the next president. The feature, after all, was called, “Voice of the Voters.”

My original pitch to PBS, I felt, accurately reflected this vision. It outlined the history of Florida’s swing-state status in determining presidents, as well as its divided and varied voting demographics. I placed an emphasis upon candidly asking how local USFSP female voters felt toward issues they believed would have a direct effect on them. PBS producers explained that while that strategy was acceptable, I should also be sure to include some statistical information in order to set up a context in which to frame the piece. I agreed, since data establishing female voting trends and figures would only strengthen my story’s authority. Still, I didn’t want the piece to be about the numbers; viewers can go to a plethora of other media sources for that. I wanted my piece to be about the people.

I wanted to explore what young, college female voters thought of the older, male candidates who were vying for their presidential vote. What mattered to them? What didn’t? Did they relate to what the nominees (Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) were saying, and more importantly, did they believe them? Did they agree with them? Did they feel adequately represented or did they feel the system had let them down? To boot, I wondered what influence the media had in shaping the political ideologies of these young women. Essentially, I just wanted to produce a piece of investigative journalism that asked those questions and relayed the blunt, genuine answers I got in return. Nothing more, nothing less.

I found the interviewees all around campus. I made sure to seek out a varied assortment of ethnicity, ages (the best I could, given the college-student environment) and political party alignments. I managed to pluck five incredibly fascinating women – all with very different opinions and positions – and have these women open up to me about a variety of political and social issues that sincerely mattered to them. Some were more vocal than others, but all were passionate about one particular issue or another (and a few were more than passionate about more than one issue). Some felt strongly about a specific candidate, others were frustrated with both. All had something important to say.

With the raw footage from all the interviews, I began compiling the first draft script and rough cut of the piece. I found that some of the women used phrases like, “We are not walking vaginas,” and “The government needs to stay the hell out of women’s bodies.” I delighted in knowing that I was giving these women a platform to vocalize what mattered to them most in the election process. I had no reservations about turning in the first rough cut to PBS, since I figured they would appreciate that kind of refreshing frankness as much as I did.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

I was told immediately by PBS producers that the word “vagina” was not appropriate for national television. Additionally, the tone of some of the interviewees was deemed “combative” or that they didn’t seem well-versed enough on particular political issues to be discussing them. One critique after another was hurled by the network, though most were curt evaluations of an interviewee. I was also told by producers that more numbers were needed in order to visually support my talking points. I was baffled. Does the audience really need to see the figure “52%” on their screen in order for them to understand that 52 percent of Florida’s voting population were women? I was already saying it (in a voice-over), what more was necessary?

Apparently, a lot more. The producers emphasized the need for graphics – whether charts, graphs, even the simple numerical figures themselves just popping on screen in as large of a font as possible – was paramount in making sure the audience understood what I was saying. I felt that the information was delivered with great transparency and simplicity; there was really no need for additional facts and figures. I wanted the voters (i.e. the women) to tell the story, not the boring data.

Still, there was push-back from the network. Draft after draft, edited cut after edited cut, the piece began to take a new shape; one that was losing my fingerprint and showing signs of a new owner. One by one, the interviews got cut, with producers reducing the explanations to simply, “She didn’t translate well on screen.” Whether or not my translation was accurate, it sounded to me more like “she wasn’t attractive enough to air.”

What is worth noting is that, with every transformation, the original becomes more and more a distant memory as each iteration is born. As a frequent and frustrating tug-of-war ensued, I found myself wrestling with the gutsy position of sticking to my original vision, or compromising that vision in order to have the piece garner PBS’s stamp of approval to air. All the incredibly hard work I had already put into it sprung into my head, and I quickly realized that the project now had taken on a life of its own; one that I could either chase down the street or one I could let wander and ultimately become lost. I was getting my first lesson in professional journalism: transformation is – for the most part – inevitable.

It occurred to me that the voices that amplified a blatant or unflinching or even remotely unconventional stance were the voices that became the most [seemingly] stifled by PBS. To me – and perhaps only me – the piece shifted from being about the voice of the voter to the voice of the network. It was whittled down to only two interviewees, along with an additional expert interview that PBS producers explained would be a way to assign yet another level of authority to the narrative. I found that out of the two female USFSP students left on the piece, both were attractive, Caucasian brunettes, and – with their edited and re-edited footage – neither was expressing the combative tone that was included in the original piece. Just an observation.

What I was ultimately satisfied with turned out not to be my original vision. It was, however, still clearly traceable back to what I had originally sought to explore: how women felt about what mattered to them. I wasn’t able to include all the voices I wanted, but the voices I was able to capture each emanated a distinct individual presence. One voice surprised me, and delved into the social implications of women’s equality in the workplace; a lesser discussed issue that most female voters her age never mention. Another voice began convinced of a particular stance on women’s health and abortion, then – right before my eyes and thankfully on camera – transformed [herself] from conviction to uncertainty.

I had presented a glimpse into a world that wasn’t being seen nearly enough: the young Florida female voter. The process was long. It was full of edits and re-edits, tossing in numbers, taking out footage, framing the interviews to reflect a certain middle-of-the-road, let’s-not-rock-the-boat-too much flavor. Each critique from PBS producers was accompanied by an explanation of how that particular item or quote or image had to be modified, moved or eliminated. The transformation was slow. It was sudden. It was painful. It was enlightening. And it was what the network wanted in order to fit within a certain branding that was in line with the publication’s other content. And it was what needed to happen to have my very first piece air on the national media stage.

***

Four days before Election Day, I received a congratulatory email from PBS producers in thanks for the successful submission and for the diligent reporting and production efforts that were put forth in such an abridged amount of time. The piece was publicized by PBS just in time to air for Election Day. The link to the published segment on the Washington Week site can be found on directly this blog or here.

Selected to produce a piece for PBS’s Washington Week, I was honored to have been featured on the site’s “Voice of the Voters” segment, where I explored the battleground state of Florida; a state for most candidates to gain serious ground in electoral numbers. No time was this more obvious than in the race for the White House.

With the latest discourse on what have been dubbed as “women’s issues” surging through the national, state and local levels, questions arose as to what mantras women voters were taking into the booths with them, and in particular, what young women were thinking prior to casting their ballots for the next President.

In the piece, I take a look into how female students at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg were considering “women’s issues” – health (birth control, abortion, rape) and social (education, workplace opportunity,  equal pay),  and how these issues were influencing their vote in the presidential election.

Hello Peoples,

Apologies for the hiatus – I’ve delved back into graduate school and have been writing like a maniac, albeit covering issues that pertain strictly to the crazy world I’ve courageously entered: multimedia journalism.

Still, I had to include a snip-it of the solid articles that I’m finding which have helped to inform me on what kind of various types of crazy that’s happening on the other side of the pond. Egypt’s debacle of an elections process. Syria’s general ridiculousness. Iran and Iraq’s new romance.

And of course, what would this blog be if I those articles didn’t include info on the West’s (particularly the US) hand in it all…So here’s a taste of what’s shakin’ –>

Happy reading! (well, “happy” probably won’t be the exact emotion that these articles will elicit, but at least you’ll be informed)

 

Let’s be clear, even with our withdrawal “strategy” from Afghanistan and Iraq, we are still very much in the middle of a war. The attackers: righteous conservatives. The weapons: misguided legislation. The victims: everyone with a set of boobies.

Back in elementary school, I remember playing a curious computer game where a player’s wits were challenged against those of an international woman of intrigue – a woman who by all accounts, outsmarted every law man, every godfather don, and every thieving foe she came across. And in doing so, she garnered a notable (albeit reluctant) respect from all of them. As fantastical as it was within the scheming [not so] make-believe world of global espionage, Carmen Sandiego helped set the bar for what women can do on a planet where men rule. At least she did that for me.

It seems that most recently, with all the political limelight on women’s health issues like banning contraception (since population control is of course no longer a problem) and requiring pre-abortion vaginal probes (which sounds eerily like what aliens impose on the abducted citizens of the mid-west), it’s no wonder that the role of women in the 21st century should also be examined with the same gusto. Sadly, this subject is usually viewed in one of the limiting two ways:

1) through the biased and often ignorant eyes of a male dominated society (ex. all-male panel testifies before a congressional hearing on the right to allow employers to deny insurance coverage of contraception for their female employees – which clearly makes total sense); or

2) through what would be construed as the ultra-feminist perspective – where the pro-woman/anti-man sentiment gets inevitably plastered on a bumper sticker and chants of “I am woman, hear me roar!” get hurled left and right. Who are we kidding; it’s mostly left.

Still, amid the penis-enthusiasts’ attempts to take our nation’s progress back a century, there are strides being made to bring the message of women’s issues to the fore-front of social discussion without being so callously tied to either of the above mantras. Though I’m still anxiously waiting for the next true Million-Woman March to plow through Washington (or perhaps ‘The W.O.W. Walk’ is more catchy?) I realize that this war is more global and far-reaching than just our apple pie-loving shores. While female ethical leaders like Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi are fighting for women’s rights – and the rights of ALL her people for that matter – it’s a wonder that there are others, like former First Lady of Egypt Suzanne Mubarek [dubbed the 'Mean Queen'] who are using their powerful positions to maintain corruption within their failing existing systems. Even Asma al-Assad, the wife of [who is now considered] Syria’s ruthless President Bashar al-Assad, has taken a back-seat role; setting aside her initial portrayal of a strong-willed, Western-loved democratic female mind, and replacing it with that of the ever-obedient Middle Eastern wife. As a woman in a position of power – a position to make a difference in the lives (and well-being) of her people – al-Assad is an example of one who has chosen to recede into the shadows and turn her cheek as Syrian civilians, including women and children, mercilessly suffer.

And so, the remarkable women who are leading the world in advancing justice for the female are fighting an uphill battle for sure: against men of power that wish to hold the heads of women submerged beneath the freezing water of inequality, and against the women who are not only content in their subordinate positions, but who desperately desire to maintain it as a sense of security.

Just yesterday, April 28th, UniteWomen.org,  supported by non-profit organizations, rallied a series of marches throughout the country and garnered some much-needed grassroots media momentum for this War on Women. A focused, energized base of those who oppose the retractive direction women’s liberties are heading spoke loud and very clear. With a collectively vocalized power, it made a good-sized dent into the broken-down Vega that the GOP are haphazardly clucking down the road to gain the women’s vote. So there’s at least that.

Other campaigns like the annual 3-day Women In The World Summit, an international conference hosted by Newsweek & The Daily Beast, also serve as a beacon of hope within this frustrating crusade. It has emerged as a potent assembly focusing on women who live in between the news; ones who are taking extremely productive initiatives to make changes in the lives of women everywhere — and oftentimes under peril circumstances. This summit celebrates 150 specific global leaders who have proven unflinching in their pursuit of gender equality, and offers a platform to voice their stories and solutions to the public. Commencing each year on March 8th, International Women’s Day, the worldwide televised event (on TheDailyBeast.com) has become an avenue for riding the wave that attempts to maneuver between those two presentation perspectives I spoke on earlier. Though certainly a valiant effort, it begs the question: what exactly – or who – are we fighting? And what are we trying to ultimately and specifically accomplish?

With the advent of the Arab Spring and other uprisings occurring around the world, voices of the oppressed are collectively gaining amplification. What other countries are struggling with in the vein of not just women’s rights but the basic rights of all human beings, we as Americans sadly take for granted – which is precisely why we can not revert back to the bridled suffocation the current neo-conservative movement is trying to place upon us. Newsweek’s Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown thoughtfully wrote:

“It is ironic that American women now need to be fortified by the inspiration of the women of the Arab Spring, who risked so much to win basic human rights.”

There is no doubt that the efforts of women in US history have been wrought with suffering and pain as our freedoms have come at an incredibly dear price. As women are fighting for their rights and aim for their voices to be heard in countries abroad – countries with no where near the sophisticated system of pseudo-democracy in place as we enjoy here – our fight is seemingly weakening; turning its cheek to take another hearty slap and claim “we fell down the stairs”.

If women aren’t in positions to make policy changes and influence legislature, there is no wonder the gender gap is not closing nearly as fast as it should be. A rather harrowing statistic comes again from Newsweek, who have found that America ranks 71st behind Bangladesh, Sudan and United Arab Emirates in female legislative representation worldwide. Additionally, according to Ranking America, the US ranks 60th in women’s participation in the workplace. (Burandi ranks #1. How many people in the US would even know where Burandi was on the map is another sad statistic, but I digress.) Even though young women now earn more college and graduate degrees than men do, they soon fall behind professionally, especially when vying for positions within management. One of my journalistic idols, Rachel Maddow, recently spoke on this particular issue on Meet The Press (watch the interview here). Explaining – and being constantly interrupted while doing so – that presently, American women working full time earn 77% of what men do, Maddow boldly combated [what appears to be] the Republican notion that women simply are not equal to men, in capacity, performance or intellect. What’s discouraging is with all the statistics, all the stories of trials and triumphs in the lives of women around the world – again, for even the most basic of women’s rights – Americans are still gluttons for taking advantage of our current freedoms. So much so, that those very freedoms are at risk of being snagged out from under us faster than we’d even know it.

My questions are simple: Where are our internationally influential women? Angelina Jolie? Who are our powerful female leaders? Oprah? What forceful representatives do American women have on their side? Elizabeth Warren*? (*Although I do commend her efforts on many social philosophical fronts) Come on, people. Compared to the unbelievable display of strength and perseverance put forth by other women of the world (the 150 honored by the WIW Summit for example) our ‘leaders’ don’t even come close.

To explain this seemingly harsh statement further: Although females who’ve led the way in the War on Women within other countries have had to struggle within systems that are fatally unfair, I’m certainly not saying that their strength and efforts are of a higher value than that of the women in our own country. Or that simply because the political and social corruption of the infrastructure within which they must operate makes the pain endured by them for the sake of women’s rights more precious than that of US women. What I am saying is that we [fortunately] have a system in place where compared to other countries, the status quo can much more easily be challenged – without the real threat of being gunned down for voicing opposition. [not counting the South's backwoods. Kidding! Kind of.] That threat indeed exists elsewhere, and so that fact alone should shed a bit of clarity upon our present WOW. (As the 2nd time I’ve dropped this, I can only imagine the multiple uses for that acronym if it were actually introduced. I take full responsibility). This clarity should invariably produce more effectively potent women leaders; leaders who can truly pave the way for actual change to occur.

Since 50.8% of the US population is female (2010 US Census Bureau finding), there really is no valid reason why women shouldn’t make up 1/2 the Supreme Court, 1/2 of the House and Senate and 1/2 of basically everything else. What we need are leaders; ones who will actually play the kind of hard ball that the fearless women of other, much more oppressed countries are courageously becoming star-hitters at. For example, while the fight by the GOP right against Planned Parenthood has produced some notable leaders, stepping out to support and keep alive the almost 50-year old program, I still believe that 2 more things are needed:

1) more aggressive women in positions of higher government to make a real legislative difference, and 2) the united voice of all American women, heard as that of the new age female leader.

We need the kind of leadership that unites; it’s the only way to make tangible change – which, let’s face it, is still quite a ways away at this rate, even for a supposed ‘advanced’ country/society as ourselves. Hawkish politics has always worked for men, why not utilize that same methodology for our female government? Steering through the male mist of policy-making will take a special set of goggles, but I believe Google is working on those. Until then, using the currently available technological resources to socially unify, instantaneously organize and most importantly focus on navigating through the present system, we can actually challenge it – and transform average citizens’ demands into true manifested action. The War On Women is simultaneously the newest craze in political crusades and one of the oldest battles still being fought, but Carmen Sandiego is still running around in this world. As a child, I enjoyed trying to find her amid a sea of powerful men; as a young woman, I realize finding her is the only way my own kids will truly know equality.

With so much talk lately about the rioting and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa – myself doing some of this talking – it occurred to me that something was missing from the discussion: what the impact of the fashion world had on this turbulent area. I know what you’re thinking: sounds a little out of place in the serious shroud that usually accompanies political and social upheaval – kind of like that dirty blue blanket Charlie Brown‘s pal Linus is always clutching. But in truth, it’s a cultural element that can arguably be one of the most telling of its surroundings, and should be rightly explored as a contributor in reshaping this troubled region. After all, without fashion wouldn’t we just be sporting our birthday suits and fig leaves?

The Arab Spring‘s springboard (pardon the pun, I just had to) originated in Tunisia; so when the 3rd annual Tunis Fashion Week was scheduled to take place, to the surprise of many – and to play into my use of the cliché – the show actually did go on. Even in the midst of democratic protests and tons of governmental red tape, it was a chance for designers, consumers and admirers to celebrate their culture’s rich history in textiles and reinvigorate its next chapter, as the Arab Spring seemed to be doing for the people.

It was a risky move; because as the uprisings were [and still are] reshaping the political and social landscape of the Mid-East and Africa, the fashion world is struggling to tell its own story: one of reclamation and resurgence.

It might seem like colorful garments and shiny accessories would be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind during such a time of distress [unless you count fashion therapy as a legitimate treatment, which I personally do]. But it does stand to reason that this particular art form has uniquely weaved itself into the very fabric of the culture; enveloping its people both figuratively and literally with an identity that undeniably distinguishes itself from the rest of the world.  And in times like these, a unifying identity is a necessity. Not unlike the oversized team jerseys, #1 foam fingers or cheese-wedge hats that magically unite thousands of total strangers in American sports arenas. Ok, maybe just a little different.

The Artsy Side:

The Tunis Fashion Week was an opportunity to honor a society that’s been creatively restrained for much of its history. At the dawn of the Arab Spring, an era of expressive personal suppression – mostly from religious fundamentalists – was showing signs of coming to an end, and the Fashion World was vying for its turn to rediscover itself. Designers came correct; presenting innovative ways to intermarry modernity with a traditional streak tying back to the roots of the people. ABCB, a line by Amine Bendriouich, a Berlin-based Moroccan designer, referenced the religious element in its inception, providing commentary on the conservative essence that had so far reigned all of Tunisia. Fares Cherait, Salah Barka and Baligh Mecky were among many budding designers that graced the runway with frocks that spoke to a newfound artistry. It is this artistry that’s promising to emerge full-force: as an opportunity for self-expression and women’s empowerment to take hold within the generally suppressed culture. The freshness is catching on, not just with the young progressives, but with older generations that are surfacing from the traditional shadows and – slowly but surely – embracing a more liberated face of change. The real miracle is how fashion isn’t just surviving, but somehow actually flourishing in Tunisia (and other Middle Eastern areas); owing much to the onset of luxury lines’ accessibility to the average consumer. To many people in the region, the sophistication of brand names and fine apparel has become more about the sheer pleasure of donning such refined garments rather than just a mere symbol of status. “Feeling like a million bucks” is not just something Westerners could say anymore.

Through some kind of social osmosis, the people’s hope appears to have seeped into the psyche of fashion designers, whose general sentiment is that of optimism. Dina Said, 30, considers herself one of the first designers to present a fully Egyptian-made ready-to-wear line at London Fashion Week. In an interview with Egyptian blogger Nadine Sabry, Said says, “In the forties and fifties, fashion used to come out of here. It was a center of high fashion, with beautiful things being made here. I hope we get back to a time like that.” And it certainly seems like the Arab Spring has awakened that yearning: the “Ana Masry” (“I am Egyptian”) movement has already spawn bracelets, t-shirts and a plethora of various apparel and paraphernalia calling on people to unite under their Egyptian nationality – buying Egyptian products and clothing while they were at it. We in the US call that a two-fer.

Designer: Salah Barka

Designer: Baligh Mecky

Designer: Fares Cherait

 

 

The Not-So-Artsy Side:

Of course with the pros, there must be the cons. The appearance of celebrated artistic freedom is being countered by the [continued] persecution of designers that go against the grain in some of the stricter nations. This past November, 70 fashion designers were arrested in Iran for organizing shows. In Saudi Arabia, where the king just recently permitted women to vote, they still face restrictions on what they can wear, and when. What’s more, as the suppressed people are chanting for reform and liberation, the capitalist mantra that so many have been programmed to resist as infidelian methodology (just made that up), is vibrantly emerging. Despite the Anti-West ideology that the extreme Islamic right clutches onto, gigantic super malls are sprouting up among the societal discord. Chains of clothing stores and hoards of international companies are profiting from this dynamic anarchy. The Chalhoub Group, partners with brands like Fendi, Chanel and Saks Fifth Avenue, is just one of many luxury brands’ marketer that plans to expand past its 115 stores in the UAE. Expected to grow 10% next year, the Middle East’s luxury fashion industry – an estimated $5.7 billion in 2010 – is predicted to double in some Mid-East markets over the course of five years. While more of these brands are becoming increasingly attainable by greater numbers of the public, the elite still weilds the power to maintain a class divide; one of the things that the Arab Spring’s original platform strove to breakdown. However, with so many people still out of work, the region’s economy in disorder, and the future of living standards for many uncertain, growth of the fashion industry could very well be a potent injection in the arm of the region. Jobs stemming from the capitalist initiative of America-sized malls and mass produced clothing could possibly help cast a non-oil based surge into the economy.

So as the Middle East and North Africa navigate through the uncertain times ahead, the fashion world seems to be part of this new story-telling; where cultures’ identities are being simultaneously remembered and created – and in both instances, celebrated. A look ahead – with fresh takes on progressive, modern expressions – is being explored by looking back – at tradition, history and heritage; and fashion takes on the critical role it should be honored for: the people’s mirror.

                                                            

Related Articles:

As an avid reader of the New York Times (especially the Opinion section – surprise, surprise), I came across this article and couldn’t help but re-post it here:

Limbaugh and One-Way Wantonness – NYTimes.com.

Frank Bruni eloquently delivers an in-your-face retaliation to Rush Limbaugh‘s uninventively low-brow assailment on not just Sandra Fluke, but women in general. And in doing so, brings to light a great disparity to how men are bashed in the media versus how it’s done to those with boobs.

Suffice to say that as a proponent and advocate of all forms of free speech, I found this particular take on Loathsome Limbaugh’s comments an enlightening one. Enjoy ~

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