Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejah, at Columbia, Parries and Puzzles

Yesterday, there was an article in the New York Times headlined "U.S. Focus on Ahmadinejah Puzzles Iranians," and it was written by Michael Slackman. I was going to blog about that, but then I decided to wait until today's front page news, which is about President Ahmadinejah's speech at Columbia. However, yesterday's article was interesting in that it basically said that Iranians do not understand why Americans wish to focus on Ahmadinejah when it is not he who has the final say on many of the political and social issues in the country; it is the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is considered the commander-in-chief. However, the article admits that Ahmadinejah's actions and provocative speeches are probably the reason why he is the first thing we Americans think of when the topic of Iran comes up.

Another interesting thing that I read about yesterday actually discounted the parallels being made between Hitler and Ahmadinejah. I believe it was on Slate.com, and it said that the comparisons between Ahmadinejah and Hitler was inaccurate because Hitler did not care about what other people other than the German thought about him. Every single appearance he made was carefully staged and prepared so that there was always a sense of power associated with everything he said. However, for Ahmadinejah to thrust himself into an environment where the critics are violently opposed to him would be, in fact, stupid of him, and his image.

Which brings me to the front page of today's New York TImes. Before I read this article, the only thing I heard about his speech was that "There are no gays in Iran. That phenomenon does not exist in our country." It seemed that the constant repetition of just that one quote of his enforces our belief that he is ignorant or in denial.

Anyway, according to the article, which is by Helene Cooper, the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, opened the event with a "10-minute verbal assualt." Bollinger had been receiving an immense amount of pressure from the academic and public community about his invitation to Ahmadinejah, and I guess he felt the need to wave his flag patriotically to prove to his detractors that he was not, in fact, supporting the President.

I thought it was apt for Ahmadinejah to respond the way he did: "In Iran, tradition requires when you invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students enough to allow them to make their own judgment, and don't think it's necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of complaints to provide vaccination to the students and faculty." That was definitely a zap at Bollinger's armor.

One thing that Cooper seemed to illustrate in the article, which I thought was fantastic, was how Columbia was pushing Ahmadinejah to answer questions about Israel's sovereignty, and Ahmadinejah was responding by switching the side of the arguments over to the Palestinians' point of view. He is right; it is a major contradictation that I feel that the public sometimes forgets to explore. We focus on the Jewish plight, and their return to their homeland. But we forget that by displacing a major ethnic group, Israel has come about in the same way that Hitler once envisioned his new Germany. Just that whole thing has always made me very uneasy, and I know this opinion is not particularly popular, especially in the very fraught relations between the Islamic and international community.

Ahmadinejah said, "I ask you, is the Palestinians issue not a question of international importance? Please tell me yes or no." This was in response to the question about Iran seeking the destruction of the state of Israel, and the moderator had wished for a yes or no answer. This is a loaded question and it does not serve to illustrated the complicated nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict!

At the end, Cooper wrote about how the event at Columbia is about academic freedom, and how in some ways, we are fortunate to be able to even have that choice available to us. Such a notion would not even entertain Ahmadinejah for his country.

Just an ending note: I guess Bollinger got what he wanted, because the American Israel Public Affairs Committee indirectly praised him for his attacks in the beginning of the event by sending out his speech and calling it a "Must-Read." I guess it's appropriate that the committee would forget to also include everything that the president said. It is this sort of one-sided information that could really affect people's point of views, allowing them to form opinions that are not as fair as they could be.

Link to yesterday's article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/24/world/middleeast/24iran.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin
Link to Slate article: http://www.slate.com/id/2174602/nav/tap2/

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Voices Rise in Egypt to Shield Girls from an Old Tradition

It has been a while since my reaction to an article has been as visceral as to this story that appeared in the New York Times today. The lede was certainly eye-catching and compelling. "A 13-year-old girl was brought to a doctor's office to have her clitoris removed, a surgery considered necessary here to preserve chastity and honor."

"Here" referred to Egypt, which I have always thought was very modern and urban when it came to their living situation and habits. Unfortunately, according to Michael Slackman, despite the modernization of Egypt, this surgery has been performed on girls between the ages seven and thirteen for many centuries. Even though Egypt had issued a nationwide ban in 1996, it allowed a loophole that have caused critics to believe that it countered the ban, allowing for this practice to nevertheless continue.

However, it is only recently that the voices against genital mutilation have risen to a necessary roar. Slackman credits it to the country's growing ability to talk frankly about sex. The issue is now receiving attention at a national level through television advertisements, news shows, and newspaper coverage. Religious leaders are also stepping forward to say that the Koran (as the majority in Egypt is Islamic) does not condone this act. The government also shut down a clinic that performed this "circumcision," as many of the men of older generations called it, after the 13-year-old girl died from the complications of the surgery. It is a rare moment when the government, media, and religious advocates are all trying to promote the same message.

The statistics for the wide-spread acceptance of genital mutilation in Egypt is astounding. In 2005, a health survey showed that 96 percent of married, divorced, or widowed women have gone through the surgery. In the article, Slackman had obtained quotes from some men that are extremely against the eradication of this surgery. Their words expressed so much anger- which I can understand since it is their values that are being challenged. Yet I wish they could see that sometimes, people get their values wrong. One clear, go-to example is the slavery of African-Americans that existed in American society for so long.

An obstacle to stopping the surgeries permanently in Egyptian society, that Slackman very astutely raised in the article, was the fear that women who do not undergo the surgery will not be able to find a man to marry, and that because of the circumcision and their landing of a husband, their family's honor will be preserved. I feel that these two factors may prove to be the most challenging to widespread social change. It is easy to abhor the action, the cutting, that is performed, but it is hard to discount the belief that men and women have held for so long. What if the men decide that they don't want to marry a women who hasn't had her clitoris cut off? Then I'm afraid that the practice might be done secretly and worse, in unsanitary conditions.

It is fantastic, though, that they have been able to get the message out, since the first step to acknowledgment is knowledge. The first pop culture reference that came to my mind was an Angel episode where Bai Ling played a female in a species where when the females came of age, they had little spikes that jutted out from their backs. These spikes gave the females their emotions and their powers, and it frightened the males, so they always cut it off just as the females hit puberty. Also, as Buffy said in the fourth comic book of the Season Eight BtVS installment, it's not about the power, or the demons; it's about women. And I feel that the angered reactions of the patriarchal society of Egypt is not about traditions, but about losing their hold over the women.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/20/world/africa/20girls.html?_r=1&hp=&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1190301778-luALifvQfKXEI7Ai62+ELA