Category: Life: One Foot in Each Door


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.

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(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.

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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.

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 ~

Be sure to check out the following piece just posted on Newsweek’s online portal, The Daily Beast (thedailybeast.com) – it outlines what artists are grappling with in terms of censorship [and therefore, an uncertainty about creative right to expression] in a post-Mubarak Egypt:

Egypt’s Artists Fear Censorship by Islamists

Also be sure to follow me on Twitter to catch all my latest findings on things Mid-East, Far-East and how the West Is Winning: @2worlds1eye

As I flip through the over-glossed pages of my magazines, shuffle the varied tunes on my iPod and scroll through the list of my DVR‘d shows (admittedly, most of them are guilty pleasures), it hits me like an excessively violent stroke of Picasso‘s brush: Art is a curious and glorious thing. It can be used to make a statement, raise awareness, spark conversation or controversy. It’s universally regarded in every culture and community as a means for expression – and whether it’s suppressed or encouraged, it always exists in some form or another. Hell, there’s even those who will argue that Mike Tyson‘s inked face constitutes a fine and classy example of it.

In the US, art doesn’t necessarily have to be associated with the surrounding political, social or religious atmosphere; and while there are plenty of expressions that align with and demonstrate a particular stance on the related culture, it still generally finds itself independent of such constraints. Which definitely explains how “Drunk Girls In Da Club” became a number one hit.

Egypt’s art, however – from films to music, books to television- has always managed to precisely reflect the pulse of its people. Up until the January 25th revolution, that pulse was more like a series of heart attacks; lending itself to songs, films and books that were plugged directly into the Egyptian psyche like Dr. Frankenstein’s lobotomy prep. The momentum of the uprising was immeasurable, but Egypt’s art world was doing it’s damnedest to capture it, and more importantly, to promptly deliver it to the people with the excited rush that comes with such revolutionary change.

Before Spring, Must Come … Answers?

Before the Arab Spring, movies, music and magazines became intimately intertwined into the Egyptian sub-culture, even going so far as being referenced in daily speech. The popular 1997 song “Kamanana” by Mohamed Fouad became so successful that the word – which literally means nothing – somehow became synonymous with the word “everything” (Egyptians now use the word often in daily slang). There’s even a cosmetic store in a Cairo mall actually called Kamanana – I’m guessing since Cleo’s MakeUp Shack was probably already taken. So, even amidst the turmoil and strife of the corrupt Mubarak regime, artists still found themselves able to connect with the people, and create relatable, palpable material for Egyptian society to enjoy.

In this way, the pre-revolutionary expression of Egyptian art was one of answers, where a beginning, middle and end was established in films, books and songs that lucidly revealed the people’s mindset of the moment. Now, there is such an uncertainty to where the country is going, artists are finding the inspiration isn’t flowing so freely. A writer’s block of sorts is surfacing amongst artists, where once easily emerging creativity isn’t being produced with the same fervor as it once was.

Finding An Open Chair Once the Music Stops

As opposed to the US and the West in general, where confusion and uncertainty themselves can be potent catalysts found within the heart of the art*, Egypt is now struggling to find its artistic identity post-Mubarak era. It seems that the “magic” of the revolution has dispelled – and what’s left behind is a list of unsavory words that Egypt’s artists are straining to incorporate into their creations. Turmoil, bloodshed, unrest, the compromising of women’s safety and general miscommunication are all found on that list, replacing words like change, hope and progress as inspirations to create fresh forms of expression. Even established artists and performers who participated in creating art pre-revolution (and during for that matter) are finding themselves challenged to grasp the elusive “pulse” that once pounded so steadily and clearly within Egyptian culture.

It appears that for Egyptian artists right now, the concepts of change, of hope and of progress are easier to use as muses than are those of unpredictability, disquiet and turbulence. Before and during the uprising, there was a clamor from all artistic realms to support the protests and excite the popular mindset into a frenzied mutiny for change. Street graffiti showcased statements of rebellion, while gallery exhibits in museums displayed past revolutionary art. It seemed everyone was riding the fantastical wave of dissent, and the tides were heartily flowing with plenty of inspiration to help plug art into Egyptian life and Egyptian life into its art.

The critically acclaimed short film Interior/Exterior by Tamer Habib, starring the celebrated Egyptian actress Yousra explores a middle-aged couple’s participation with the Tahir Square crowds – but that was before the revolution ended and the dust settled. Both Habib and Yousra claim to now be taking a break from any projects having to do with the revolution, and have reportedly distanced themselves from any works involving the subject matter.

The protest movement’s most popular song was written by the little known guitarist Ramy Essam, who also composed a series of chants and lines for the crowds to wail in the middle of the square. Now, with the unified assembly of men and women dissipating, the square is becoming a place of violence and hostility, and those chants are no longer the people’s calls to arms.

Published on January 17th, 2011, immediately before the start of the Tahir Square rebellion, Revolution 2.0, by Wael Ghonim chronicles the memoirs of the then-unknown Google geek who’s Facebook page helped energize the Jan. 25th protests and who was released from 11 days of interrogation by the secret police thanks to a public outcry for his freedom. That public’s adoration was due to Ghonim’s invigorating revolutionary charisma. With no clear leader to coalesce the masses in transition from upheaval to peaceful order, it seems – at the moment – like Revolution 3.0 doesn’t stand much of a chance to be pitched as a sequel.

Even dissident veteran singer Mohamed Mounir, considered by many to be the “Voice of Egypt”, is having trouble with the composition of his upcoming album. The songs don’t seem to come easily, he claims, as each day brings with it another point of view of what should be done, and another question about what lays ahead for Egypt. “How can we in the middle of the revolution sing and dance?” Mounir poses, revealing further how engrained and in tune many Egyptian artists seem to be with their people. “The true artist is the one who sees further than the people see,” he also claims – but it is precisely this philosophy that most artists are grappling with, and what could essentially be the only way to emerge from the uncertain storm that has strangled Egypt’s artistic life-force.

What Will Egypt Paint On Its Newly Blank Canvas?

Despite the [hopefully] temporary choke-hold on Egypt’s artistic realm, there are still those who are determined to trudge through the uncertain times ahead – even through experimental measures – and emerge creatively triumphant for it. Yousry Nasrallah, easily regarded as one of the country’s most revered directors, is countering the confusion by happily tapping directly into it. He’s shooting his next fictional film project and centralizing it around the revolution. But what makes this a unique venture in Egyptian filmmaking is that he’s doing it without a script; basically recording footage as he writes, and writing as he’s recording. The method sounds similar to shooting a documentary – which is a genre that’s creating international appeal – but what Nasrallah is proposing seems to be a fused creation that would be a new art form for a new Egypt. And what better way to rise from the ashes, then to allow the phoenix to fly, uninhibited.

If the West can offer anything to the uncertain course of re-birth that has enveloped Egypt, it should be that of the emergence of a reinvigorated artistic movement; one that values and capitalizes on the strength (and potency) of rebellion. It is precisely this energy that initially gathered the masses under the flag of change, and – if thoughtfully re-imagined and re-invented – can be exactly what unifies the people to transform hope for change into attainment of change.

*Recent US examples of both fiction and non-fiction works on film where political or social uncertainty are the underlying elements of the art:
Films: V for Vendetta; Fahrenheit 9/11; An Inconvenient Truth; Avatar; Inside Job; Waiting For Superman; Wall Street
Music: ‘Meglomanic’, by Incubus; ‘Do The Revolution’, by Pearl Jam; ‘Union’ by Black Eyed Peas; ‘Information’ by Dredg
Books: ‘Revolution and Revolutionary Moments’ by James Defranzo; ‘Waking Up Strange: Let’s Start A Revolution!’ by Christopher Rothlem
 

STREET ART: Graffiti on Cairo's walls (Getty Images)

Returning from a brief hiatus filled with desserts galore, serious jet-lag and tinsel still being found in the darndest places – and on the heels of the GOP’s gag-reel of exemplary family standards – I give you the first post of the year:

I don’t know how they do it, but – in addition to convincing us to buy Kindles because actual books are so 2010 – I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the holidays don’t also cleverly manage to evoke an endearing common theme: the importance of family.

As the season recently graced us with its jingle-belled presence, accompanied by rowdy shindigs and visits from rarely seen relatives whose side of the family no one can quite pin-point, I found myself continually contemplating the familial structure; struggling to reconcile its composition here [in most US homes] to how numerous families are setup throughout the Mid-East.

On the surface, it seemed to be a rather mundane concept to devote so much thought to. I blamed it on the eggnog. But still, I couldn’t shake the need to outline what the essential difference was between the ‘spirit of family’ in the East versus the West. Of course families differ according to environment, history and – as evidenced byJon & Kate Plus 8 – chromosomes. But this holiday season, something in particular kept punching me in the face, forcing me to acknowledge it and commanding me to dig deeper for a comprehensive understanding of what made our worlds so distinct. It was the simple, blatant (and from the throbbing pain on my face, apparently violent) fact: this is the worst economic time the US has known in its last 80 years.* With all the Occupy Movements that took place throughout the country in 2011, coupled with countless lay-offs of skilled workers (including many of my college-educated colleagues), I could not shake the disheartening perception that my generation is the first in a long, rich American history that is collectively doing worse than its predecessor. I wondered if this was a global phenomenon, and if this sad reality actually brought to light how the notion of family was yet another stark difference between two worlds.

As I observed how my family (here and out East) consisted of my parents, several levels of aunts, uncles, cousins and all the once-removed, second-tier variations that couldn’t quite be categorized, I compared it to the family anatomies that exist most commonly throughout the West. The structures themselves don’t vary all that much; as divorce and remarriage have become so prevalent in America and abroad. Even in many conservative Islamic and Arab countries, where divorce was once [only barely] socially acceptable in extreme cases of domestic violence, it’s now occurring more frequently and without the kind of public disgrace that formerly accompanied it. I think I speak for us all when I offer up a hearty “Thanks” to Kim Kardashian and ‘The Housewives of (Fill-In-The-Blank-With-Any-Major-US-City)’ for contributing to that trend.

Since the fundamental composition in family structures wasn’t all that different, what was it that was sparking my interest? Then it hit me. Kind of like that punch in the face I spoke about earlier..which explains my other black eye. I tell people I was in a bar brawl to make it sound cool, but admittedly it was this: the idea that so many American young adults in my generation were raised – and therefore expected – to immediately leave home upon turning the ripe old age of 18. This methodology in child-rearing simply doesn’t exist in the common Middle Eastern family mentality. Children there are conversely expected to stay with their parents until marriage (in most cases) or a significant promotion upwards in their career status. Many times even after one or both of those events occur, the choice to stay with their parents does not get passed up without serious thought as to economic and logistic plausibility. It seems that parents in the US – in this case, the current babyboomer-esque population – are in quite the hurry to scoot their kids along to adulthood, ill-prepared or not, and regardless of the the surrounding fiscal atmosphere, so that they may regain the critically lost 18 years that their Harley-Davidson dreams had to be put on hold.

I know that sounds harsh, but I realized that this was the case almost without exception for most of my friends. The topic of living at home was always greeted with such predictable disdain whenever it was brought up in conversation. “Live at home? Are you crazy?!” was the common line likely delivered by anyone who didn’t want to be subjected to the reputational torment that accompanied living with your parents. But as I pondered this notion, and the swelling in my face went down, the sad truth inched its way into my psyche: it may not be so much the children that don’t want this kind of continued familial support throughout their young adulthood – it may be more so the parents who don’t want to give it.

In these times of economic uncertainty and serious instability, I spoke with many people my age who found themselves unemployed and struggling. Many of them had to find ways to survive that were barely legal (thankfully, no one was out on a street corner in fish nets…yet.) Some were able to head back home, finding support among their families, but they were very few and far between. Those that could were almost all second generation immigrants, whose parents came to the US as adults from other countries with similar family mentalities as those in the East. It appeared that indeed, so many American families were apparently set up for an assembly line-like processing; where children were exited from the household to acclimate within a society soon after turning 18 (and in some cases, even earlier).

For these parents, their mentality of a ‘reclamation of youth’ appears to be directly related with the actuality of two things: a longer life span and the opportunity for an active lifestyle well into the latter half of that life span. Does the West talk itself into thinking that it’s “good for the children” to get out in the world and stay out in that world – no matter what it deals them – in order to rationalize a selfish mindset of wanting more out of its own later adulthood? And really, is that so bad?

In examining Eastern families – and Mid-East in particular – the familial philosophy that continues to emerge as the common thread is that physical bonds translate into emotional and spiritual ones. The longer the children (and other family members) can stay close [physically] the stronger the entire familial unit becomes. And in societies where communities are made up of family infrastructures that establish direct ties to culture and religion, the importance of a stable family setup is critical in establishing a respect within that community. To boot, young adults in these Eastern familial structures are expected to contribute to the household; again effectively helping make it economically and logistically stronger. In many Middle-Eastern societies, there’s an inherent draw to the inter-connectivity generated by maintaining a family that encompasses and offers support to its grown children in their early adult lives. Such interaction and participation within each others lives, for these parents, seems to be a critical component in achieving a feeling of satisfaction in the way they’ve reared their child. Of course, for many, this also means replacing their individual goals, wants and dreams with the needs of the family. The pursuit of opportunities that positively, but selfishly affect their own lives is not one that most Mid-Eastern parents are eager to partake in, once children and family are in place. In this way, it seems the common Eastern familial thinking may veer into the realm of ‘sacrifice for the greater good of the family unit’, inadvertently setting up a cycle where personal ambitions are forfeited, by every subsequent generation.

So what can be learned by juxtaposing these two mentalities? Or perhaps even, reciprocating them; kind of like an episode of Wife Swap, but without the annoying wife, husband or whiny kids? Can we truly learn from each other: the West adopting the idea of familial support for children beyond the mere brink of adulthood in order to strengthen the family as a whole; and the East learning to allow room for growth, both for the young adults and that of the parents, as they continue to the next chapter of their lives?

What if the US would’ve embraced this Eastern mindset about family earlier in our history? Would it have helped during times like these, where so many young adults are out of work and finding no place to go? Or is the burden too great on parents – who might also be economically strangled themselves? Would it be better to consolidate resources, both financial and logistical – or is “fend for yourself” the way of the West, with no hope for change?

**A few notes: to be fair, I should add that of course not all Western or American families operate under the ‘out by 18’ governance. Again, economics plays a crucial part, whereby many children – in the West and the East – have to work elsewhere in order to help support a struggling family or parents that are elderly, ill or incapable of working. Also, this is by no means a commentary on what constitutes a family (ie. a mom and dad, two dads, two moms, an aunt and uncle, a single parent, etc). A family is a family is a family – in my mind – and again the actual composition of the people who make it up is certainly not in question. So as I make these observations of two worlds, both of which I know so intimately, I stress that generalizations are therefore, just that: general. Exceptions happily exist on both sides, and the beauty is in finding them.

So what did the crazy holidays help reveal to me? The value of a family structure that embraces the idea of taking care of your loved ones for as long as it is viably possible; not just monetarily, but establishing an infrastructure of support and maintaining the family unit within it – all without giving up personal goals and dreams, no matter what age – is immeasurable. Yet another difference between these remarkable two worlds that this eye is hoping can be bridged, and a balance struck through understanding, exchange and a little more eggnog.

*Reference: Economic History of the United States, History of US Economic Recessions

The Weasley Family At Egypt. Sort of. (I have no clue who the Weasleys are but they look like a fun bunch)

Coolio and his twiggy braids would be proud. Real proud.

Now there’s a new place being dubbed the “concrete jungle”. And you’ll never guess where it is. Well, you might guess if you actually read the title of this article. So much for surprises. But for those of you who like to implement the whole “skimming-as-reading” method, it’s none other than the next “lil’ America” itself: good ole’ Iraq.

Not where you were thinking? Don’t feel too bad – you’re not alone. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting either, but – as it turns out – the US has left its mark in a big way, and the break dancing youth in Baghdad are living proof. That is, if you consider skull tattoos, body piercings and iPods playing 50-Cent the marks of the American Beast.

As December 31st draws nearer, so does President Obama’s order to withdrawal most of the troop forces stationed in Iraq; and one can’t help but wonder what the last 8 years of US presence has done to bridge the gap between the two cultures. It appears that the impression bestowed upon the nation’s young public is a boisterous mixture of an abundance of camouflage fashion (hot pink fatigues are the top choice for “blending in” to the desert surroundings), misspelled body art (Gangsta = GangStar, as the tattoo artist accidentally adds an “s” to one poor kid’s arm, no doubt forever-tarnishing his street cred), and – let’s not forget – the maniacal ‘Twilight‘ Edward vs. Jacob craze (that I should add, is about 2 installments behind). Is this sounding pretty American yet? It should.

“Punky” is what the Iraqi teens and 20-somethings are calling their newly adopted cultural movement, according to “Lil Czar” Mohammed, a 22-year-old rapper, and part-time teacher at a primary school in Baghdad. Mohammed was interviewed by the Associated Press, and along with other Iraqi young “hustlers” as they are calling themselves, was featured in the November 27th issue of the St. Petersburg Times. His baggy jeans (yes, they are indeed camouflage-print), NY cap (turned backwards of course) and nimbly-shaved head (with a $ etched into it) are all signs o’ the funky-fresh times that now reside in the midst of a country where almost half of the population is under the age of 19, according to former Senior Advisor to the US Embassy in Baghdad, Brett McGurk. And remember that tattoo I mentioned that was misspelled to read “GangStar“? That was Mohammed’s.

So it looks as though after all those years of observing US soldiers patrolling in their country, Iraqis are clinging to the machismo stylings of what they’ve come to consider “American”, including a pension for Ed Hardy-like hoodies, hip-hop & rap tracks and English slangy speech. Throw in Rollerblading stunts through hectic town traffic and heated breakdancing competitions in the parks, and you’ve got a virtual Little Brooklyn.

And even better, they’ve become rappers themselves; many of them incorporating lyrics that speak to their war-torn upbringing and hope for a better future. The “Iraq Rap” page on Facebook has almost 1500 fans.

Granted, none of this is sitting quite right with the parents and elders of these young Iraqis, but much like their American counterparts, the youth aren’t really letting that bother them.

According to Fawzia A. al-Attia, a sociologist at Baghdad University: “Teenagers, especially in poor areas where parents are of humble origin and humble education, started to adopt the negative aspects of the American society because they think that by imitating the Americans, they obtain a higher status in society.”

Al-Attia also claims that due to the unexpectedness of the young people’s openness, the country’s adults are not familiar with any sort of real strategy in which to handle the youth’s new-found rebellious voice. The rejection of school uniforms, forbidden love relationships and disrespect for elders has Iraqi parents, teachers and officials at a loss for control – and understanding – of this vital part of their society.

But oftentimes with the expression of something new, comes the edginess of defiance.

Another example of a feisty youth: tattoos and piercings. The tattoo industry is surprisingly booming now in Iraq; mostly due to young customers requesting coffins, skulls, snakes and dragons on various parts of their bodies – attempting to mimic the designs that they observed on US soldiers’. Even young women are donning butterflies and flowers on their shoulders as symbols of their adopted pro-Western philosophies. To boot, the tattoo parlors themselves now openly display advertisements of half-naked models on their storefronts baring examples of the body art available within. I can almost picture the jaws of the conservative older Muslim Iraqis as they scrap the floor in disgust and awe. The thought that’s no doubt running through their heads = “What the…?”. Ironically, it’s what a lot of American parents are also thinking about their own children. [ We’re not so different now, are we? ]

And as for the young ladies of Iraqi, they’re apparently taking ‘hijab-chic’ to a whole new level, rocking tighter tops, form-fitting jeans and accessorizing with the all-too-popular American-girl must-have: a small dog in an oversized purse. (Paris Hilton, your influence is far more reaching than could have ever been imagined.)

Still, under the reign of Saddam Hussein (remember him?), where satellite television, the internet and cell phones were strictly monitored – and in many cases banned outright – these same young people were denied the exposure of such western cultural nuances, so it’s no wonder that the bottleneck buildup of defiance burst out to this inevitable result. Unfortunately, other more positive aspects of the American culture are not nearly as present within Iraq’s younger demographic.

High school student Maytham Karim is interested in learning English. Sadly, the only English he presently knows are the “F-words” and all related derivatives. (And as we habitual cursers know, there are quite a lot of ’em). For these kids, most lessons in English end up coming from American music, specifically rap, which in most instances employs the more ‘colorful’ parts of our language, to say the least. Nonetheless, at most schools the lists to get into English classes are hefty with eager students and can be a months-long wait. The desire to be “more like Americans” is what fuels these young Iraqis to take what they see and hear in movies, music and online and translate it into a form of insurrection from their conservative, restrictive surroundings; which – let’s face it – isn’t such a bad thing.

Sound familiar? (wink, wink fellow Americans)

The take-away: American influence has seeped into the youth of a country whose next generation is still grappling with its identity. As much as the need for more positive aspects of US life is necessary to balance their understanding of what it is to be American, Young Iraq is still making a sort of headway into a new and unexplored frontier for their next step: life without US occupation. Here’s wishing them luck.

Reality TV, meet your newest Snooky.

Well, not exactly.

This week, TLC launched a very interesting look into a minority that – up until now – has not been truly explored on American television: the American Muslim. So it’s only appropriate that the name of the show is … wait for it … “All-American Muslim”. (That’s right: leave it to the creative geniuses at TLC to come up with that brilliantly ambiguous title. Who would’ve thunk.)

The show follows the lives of 5 Arab-American families, revealing their daily encounters within their environment, and their role as a minority struggling to strike the balance between maintaining its identity and meshing with the surrounding American culture.

In theory, I’m all for it. What better way for the US to learn more about this greatly misunderstood group of their own citizens than to thrust them in all their hijab-covered glory right into American’s living rooms? It’s the MTV generation afterall, and everyone knows that the best way to teach people about a different culture is to pump their cable-crazed looky holes up with candid images of “them” being just like “us”.

Right? Well, maybe.

I have to admit, I’m thrilled that there is an interest in the media to cover this area of our demographic; in fact I’m all for it. It’s a portion of our society that hasn’t quite gotten a spotlight where it can be on stage, to be prodded and poked by the American audience like every other group. I’m fairly certain there’s a passage in the Constitution that says something about how each ethnic group is entitled to their 15 minutes. I’m almost positive it’s there, but someone should probably look that up.

My concern is that using reality television as the medium to depict the typical picture of the American Muslim isn’t without its drawbacks. Specifically, as it’s developed, this particular televised mechanism has become synonymous with staged, artfully edited scenarios; commonly picturing set-ups that are contrived and – for the lack of a better word – fake.

While the families featured in the show have varying lifestyles (there’s a conservative, covered woman, a hippie, liberal non-conformist and a converted Irish-Catholic), they do manage to touch upon the issues that most Americans can at least on some level relate to: suspicious looks, odd behavior by others, and outright discrimination. To boot, there are everyday, common practices that also take place; easily identifiable by the American mainstream public. A smart move on the part of the show’s creators, but again, I wonder how sincere those scenarios will be interpreted by the viewing audience. Even though the ratings for reality shows like ‘Jersey Shore’ or ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta‘ are through the roof, it is with the understanding that what we are watching is pure entertainment, not in any way an informative revelation about that group of people.
What’s more: the show is filmed in Dearborn, Michigan – where the nation’s highest population of Muslims resides. To say that the show is slanted (and consequently affected) by this environment, where the surroundings are more apt to receive and interact with this ethnic group positively, would be an understatement. There is no real way to accurately portray the day-to-day lives of American Arabs and Muslims without taking into account where they live within the country. The preferable move: follow the lives of families that live in different states. Voila! Simple fix, and one that already lends itself to a more built-in credibility. For crying out loud, it’s not brain surgery.

We won’t be able to measure the full effect of ‘All-American Muslim’ until well into this first season, but in all sincerity, I do hope it will translate into a successful revelation of one of America’s most misunderstood group of citizens. However, if the first episode is any indication, it will have an uphill battle. The feedback is already a-buzz with critics hailing the show as slightly contrived, the main characters even boring at times and the stories edited at an almost hurried pace (one of the women’s fiancé, Jeff McDermott, converts to Islam in a seemingly rushed, casual way). But the ratings were solid: 1.7 million viewers tuned in for the series opener, making it the number 2 show in its time period with 1.5 and 1.8 ratings for women aged 18-49 and 18-34, respectively.

One thing’s clear: at least now there’s an opportunity for conversation to take place about what it means to be American and Muslim in 21st Century USA. And that’s progress.

‘All-American Muslim’ airs on TLC on Sundays at 10pm EST.

Although we have a ways to go before November, I wanted to take a brief moment to address the recent allegations that GOP Presidential candidate, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and Haagan-Daz Chocolate Walnut Flavor Herman Cain has found himself answering for as of late.

The fact that multiple women have come forward accusing Cain of sexual harassment is not surprising. Nor is his blubbering, tangled [and sadly predictable] denials. What intrigues me more than anything is our obsession with politicians’ sex lives, scandals and extracurricular activities rather than with their ability to function as leaders. While in the US, the word “character” keeps getting thrown around as a term used to deem one’s appropriateness to hold/not hold office, in many (and most) other places in the world, it really doesn’t take precedence over one’s ability to function as a leader. And in most other Western as well as Eastern nations, men are generally assumed – whether correctly so or not – to have these “happenings” going on anyway. The discussion, therefore, about the subject is usually shelved right from the get-go; allowing us all to just get down to business.

Before I come off as heartlessly dismissive of the merit of these weighty allegations, let me be clear: I do not agree with any of this kind of misconduct by anyone, politician or garbage collector, teacher or pastor, dentist or WalMart greeter. It’s never ok to treat anyone with any less respect than you’d want for yourself or for your loved ones. What I’m focusing on here is the harnessing of these “character flaws” as blatant distractions from the real issues – and from the actually relevant discussion of how this person can serve the greater good of the people who would elect him/her as their legislator. Period.

After witnessing the latest round of Republican debates – or as I like to call them, after-school specials – I noticed the incessant “boos” at any line of questioning that addressed Cain’s alleged indiscretions. These audience outbursts were followed by a solid round of applause after Chocolate Walnut’s obvious dodging attempts. It became abundantly clear how far off our pulse is on the importance of what actually constitutes a candidate’s merit for holding public office. The mentality isn’t, is this person able to address our concerns, propose valid, thoughtful plans to reach workable [and realistic] resolutions and otherwise serve to defend the greater well-being of the people. Rather, it’s all about what the latest post is on their Facebook page. I mean, come on; our society deserves better than to be constantly and systematically distracted from the real matters at hand – and both Dems and Reps are wholly guilty of it. Even in the Middle East and Asia, where very strong arguments can be made for the existence of historically corrupt governments [oftentimes not running in any sort of ideally ethical way] the personal lives of the candidates for positions within those governments are almost never brought into question. And for good reason: They.Just.Don’t.Matter.

Cain is incompetent. He does not have the cognitive capacity to run the faucet, let alone America. He has no business whatsoever being on stage debating [and I use that word loosely] about a government he doesn’t have a chance in all hell to ever run. But the judgment of his worth as a legislator should be solely based on his professional resumé, his ability to troubleshoot complex problems efficiently and thoughtfully, his comprehension of our governmental systems and their intricacies, and his past related experience. No personal issues – religion, marital status, iPod playlist, boxers or briefs, sexual history, sexual preference, or even professed misconduct should be part of the dialogue for what one can do as a leader.

Allow me to be even more transparent [and I’m talking Windex-kind-of-clean here]: If questionable activities like money laundering, misuse of campaign funds or extortion are part of allegations against a candidate, then by all means these issues are crucial components that should be instantly investigated and scrutinized. These kinds of points are what truly make up the “character” of a potential job-applicant for one of our most treasured places in society: that of a leader.

I’ve never really considered myself a feminist, in the traditional sense. I believe in equal rights across all spectra: gender, race, religion, hair type, skin tone, you name it. But I’d also like to think I live in a time [and place for that matter] where being a woman doesn’t translate into a constant struggle for that equality. But alas, (that word isn’t used enough – it’s got a dramatic yet poignant effect), we simply do not live under the utopian conditions that most of us naively assumed the 21st century was to deliver. Hell, I’m still waiting for my electro-laced pair of Nike’s and hover-converted DeLorean.

In a rather revealing Newsweek article published last month, the best – and worst – places to be a woman were outlined; where a rather thorough compilation of data was collected that spanned from how well women were treated within their justice systems to their participation in government. Five major factors were used when categorizing which countries in the world were optimal for women’s prosperity, and which were lacking: Justice, Health, Education, Economics and Politics. Each of these factors were graded on a scale of 1-100, and were evaluated  according to how well women fared when it came to these basic fundamental issues. Not surprising, primarily Westernized, progressive nations made it in the Top 20 where overall scores ranged from 100-85.

What was surprising, however, was The United States’ ranking: 8th overall in the world – something that most Americans might very well scoff at in disbelief. After all, this is the nation where the invention of the phrase “stay-at-home-dad” is considered a benchmark for judging how far the working mom has truly risen the corporate ladder. Sigh.

On the forefront of women’s prosperity in the international community with an outstanding overall rating of 100, was actually just a little fellow: Iceland. Piloted by a female president, this tiny nation leads all others in women’s rights, health, education, financial well-being and political clout. The US’s score is a good deal lower: 89.8 overall. Ouch. Our poorest grade was in women’s participation in government; arguably the foundation for which any improvement – and success – can be given a chance to be implemented into society.

As Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General once said, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” So it seems that without this incorporation and participation of 50% of the world’s population, any growth – economic, societal or otherwise – is bound to be stunted.

I began to then take a look into where the worst places to be a woman were and again, sadly I wasn’t too surprised by what I found: the poorest, most democratically lacking countries took the top ranks. Chad climbed to the No. 1 podium position with an overall score of 0. Yes, you read that correctly. Zero. Health and education were rated as non-existent, as women have basically no legal rights. And this wasn’t the only place with remarkably dismal scores. Countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sudan where honor killings and arranged marriages are not only legal, but oftentimes condoned by the male-dominated governments filled the top 10 spots. At least they’re winning at something.

It seemed like the more I read about this, the more frustrating it was to realize that the underlying reasoning behind much of the world’s difficulties was the lack of vital, unobstructed female participation in absolutely every aspect of life: from active roles in passing legislation to the incorporation of women in the labor force as equal contenders for jobs, salaries, and the ability to climb the industry ladder. Without establishing the root for which fundamental change may have a chance to grow, no hope can be realistically garnered for any sort of development for women’s rights – in this country or any other.

We [The US] like to think we have it made over so many other places and admittedly, we certainly do have a lot to be proud of. There are private and governmental programs in place that support female-owned businesses, more women with college degrees than almost all other nations, and increased advancements in early breast cancer detection with new 3-D mammogram technology. But the US is still lacking severely in reproductive-health services, maternity-leave policies and the number of women holding political office (thanks Hillary, but we’re going to need a whole lot more assertive pant-suits to counteract the Sarah Palins/Michelle Bachmans that have effectively set back our gender another 30 years).

Still, women in other countries, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, have it a lot worse. While Egypt didn’t make the top 20 for worst places to live as a female, it certainly didn’t make any where near the top 20 best places either. With its growing political uncertainly – also echoed by many other Arab countries now in critical civil turmoil – there’s no telling where the future of women’s lib is heading. If Sharia law becomes incorporated more stringently into the daily lives of Egyptian citizens, (or any other Arab/Islamic country) this could substantially thwart any progress for women to make their mark in the growth of developing countries. As much as the US would like to believe that Egypt is the Mid-East pillar for democracy, its immensely flawed model obviously revealed an intensely corrupted system as evidenced by the ousted former President Mubarak. Amidst the already mighty reign of men in this and other Arab/Islamic societies, women oftentimes struggle to survive, let alone be heard – or even better: be participant.

Some people would argue that there are many things being done to promote the empowerment of women in business via microfinance programs: lending services that assist natives of impoverished countries. These programs claim to empower indigenous workers to grow their businesses usually based on the capitalist model, and many times use a particular emphasis on aiding women as their common-place tagline. Nevertheless, the impact that these programs have on women – or whole communities in general – have not been accurately measured, and therefore no concrete conclusions can be drawn regarding their effectiveness. It can be assumed however, that if women’s presence is not established in the governmental strata for which these programs are even permitted to be employed, any help derived from them would therefore have no fighting chance to exist.

This may sound bleak. And it is. Understanding where we are as a country, (and where everyone else is), is key in grasping how far we still have to go in the pursuit of women’s equality. But the answer is unquestionably clear: the establishment of women in government is the first and most critical step in moving forward toward progress in absolutely every way. While it is still very much a ‘boy’s club’, for any sort of international evolution to take place the female population must construct an assertive voice at the very base of our society – not just for the well-being of the gender, but for the overall advancement of our civilization.

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