Oct 6, 2015

In Egypt: Freedom of Expression is Under Military Attack

The 'Egyptian Shakira (Suha Mohammed Ali) and her recent album is call "al-Kamoun"
In Egypt, freedom of speech has been worsening since the military has taken over control of the country after it ousted President Morsi, in 2013. Recently, an Egyptian court sentenced two women to six months in prison. The two performers are famous belly dancers and known as Bardis and Egyptian Shakira (Suha Mohammed Ali and Dalia Kamal). Their charges are committing debauchery and promotion of immorality through their videos. If carefully watched, neither of the two videos contains nudity or promotes immorality. So, why the court has charged the two singers into six months prison? What is in the video that could be assumed offensive to Egyptians?

For Egyptian Shakira, the video clips starts with a scene where a dancer swings her hip while clinging to the wall. Then, the scene leads to a decorated room, more looks like a bar, or a nightclub, than a studio. The main character of the video is the singer who emerges with extravagant makeup. A few scenes later, the singer and dancers appear in school uniform. Thus far, everything looks normal, but what come next could be provocative parts for some religious viewers in Egypt, which could be one of the reasons that the court might based on its charges against the dancer. At one point, the singer appears in bare shoulders, while dancing in a close-up view for the camera, she bites and sucks her lips, which could be interpreted as deliberately and sexually enticing. In many Muslim countries, singing, dancing and demonstrating any sign of explicit sensual acts are forbidden and the consequences might be dire.

Another controversial part is when the singer holds a hot red pepper (felfel), which is among aphrodisiac spices in Arab culture and traditionally, it is considered one of the spices that men need for awakening sexual desire. This scene is aggravated towards the end of the clip where the singer closes her eyes, and acts in an orgasmic manner by adding a groaning sound affect towards the end of a verse and then lands on the floor, next to a white scooter. Though all these gestures seem childish and insecure, zooming in on red lips, moving hip in short skirts that reveal dancers thighs could be provocative to religious viewers, but again, it all indicate that the singers use them tongue-in-cheek.

By looking at some traditional belly dancers videos from the 1980s and 90s, in which the dancers appear in a more inadequately clothed, Suha Mohammed Ali and Dalia Kamal Youssef are very modestly looking. Suha and Dalia are not the first to be prisoned. In July, another woman, Reda el-Fouly and her boy friend, who made a homemade video, was convicted of similar charge.

Similarly, in March, a well-known dancer - Safinaz - was sentenced to six months in prison. But what is different between these dancers and those dancers from twenty, or thirty years ago, is not how decent, or indecent they appear in their videos, rather it is the relative freedom of speech that once existed under the Hosni Mubarak role, which is now has gone.

While suppressing freedom of speech, in the time of Mubarak had been systematically motivated by political intentions, during the current regime - which leads by the military commander, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – suppression of freedom of speech is motivated by fear. The military ruling government which demonstrates itself as a savior of the “January 25, 2011 Revolution” is now cracking down not only on Muslim Brotherhood, human rights activist, secular and leftist elites, but also going after artists who even do not seem to be threats at all. The current military regime in Egypt carries out all these crackdowns and violence against its own citizens in order to establish itself an indisputable authority and as the only liberator and guardian of the Egyptian people since 2011. What is now happening in Egypt makes people nostalgic of the Mubarak era and according to what is coming out of Egypt and what analysts believe is as long as the country is being governed by the military and the clamp down is continued to such a horrific level, the prospect of freedom of expression will be grim and gloomy.

I wrote this post in the beginning of September, but for some reason it was lost among other files.  

Sep 18, 2015

Karzai! No One Cares What You Think

Who cares what Karzai thinks, today? No one, really. In a recent interview with the BBC, Hamid Karzai said, Americans have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars without any useful or beneficial purposes. Well, Karzai might be right on this partially, but it was his family members who benefited the most from American money than anyone else. Among members of his family, the one who directly received American money was Hamid Karzai's controversial half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai. (Wali was assassinated in 2011, and later, it was speculated that he was shot by one of his family members.) Ahmad Wali used American money for various purposes, one of which made him well-known and rich was illegal land grabbing, in Kandahar. While Wali was engaged in illegal land acquisition by using Karzai's influence, who also tried to cultivate power and buy support of Polpalzai tribesmen; others were engaged with Americans as private security contractors and they also owned several construction companies.

According to news sources, Major projects in Afghanistan had been first contracted to companies owned by Karzai's brothers, and then were subcontracted to other companies, but again, it was Karzai's family who collected major profits out American money which was supposed to be spent on construction.

When it comes to refugee crisis, Karzai appears utterly oblivious to the fact that it is his legacy and due his support of the Taliban insurgency throughout his term that has turned the country a dangerous place for all Afghans and particularly for the Hazaras who are being mercilessly targeted by the Taliban on daily basis. The majority of Afghan refugees who are now crossing the borders alongside Syrian refugees are the Hazara people. Karzai knows it, but he is afraid to pronounce it.

Charging and blaming Americans for wrongdoing is Karzai's favorite way for not only trying to dodge public disapproval and loathing, but also trying to win hearts and minds among the Taliban members whom he calls them his brothers. Like his successor, Ashraf Ghani - whose government is about to fall apart - Karzai is not a reliable person, at all. He says, he is not a coup maker, but he now is actively attempting to undermine the current government.

It is astonishing how Karzai relentlessly appears to be the number one enemy of the United States. He calls al-Qaede a myth and rejects that 9/11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan. His schizophrenic behavior is not new, in fact, his erratic temperament began in 2009, when Obama took office. At any rate, whatever Karzai believes or says today is not really important. He does not have anything new to offer for improvement of the current situation of Afghanistan, and its government, which is teetering on the brink of collapse.

Sep 10, 2015

What an Ignoble World we Live in

Lets imagine ourselves living in a boundary where lines have divided us from each other based on our colors, ethnicity and language. Imagine that we are being told throughout our lives that it is our noble duty to protect our national values from others; others who are different from us in many ways, and there might not be even a single sign of commonality between us and others. What would happen hereafter?

It is encountering others that sometimes ignites our sense of ignobleness, and it projects fanaticism, which then let us discharge hatred towards others. The sense of otherness that infuses with ire and then invades our conscience; and eventually replace our morality and ethics with zealotry. That is when humanity disappears.

Zealotry is a threat to human civilization; Petra Laszlo is a small example of what could happen if we let our conscious be governed by zealotry that is often reinforced by political entities. It might recur in the future. We are definitely experiencing a moral problem, not only that it reflects badly on journalism ethics, its mirrors dispassion and lack of consciousness that could be embedded not in an individual, but in a greater number.

As a final note, we should not forget that what Petra did was an insult to herself first, then to her profession, and most importantly it reflects badly on Hungary, and its people. If Franz Liszt would be alive, he would certainly be ashamed of his countrywoman's detestable manner towards vulnerable refugees who are escaping war in their countries.

Sep 7, 2015

What do we know about the word ‘Afghan’ and who is called Afghan?

On Sept 5, 2015, a group of Pashtun protested against non-Pashtuns who don't want the word 'Afghan' to be printed in their new IDs. This banner in Pashto says: "If you are not Afghan, go out of my country."

The distribution of biometric ID card which was planned to be occurred this month is delayed again. The initial plan for issuing new IDs was set for 2014, but for some reasons, Ashraf Ghani’s government decided to postpone it again.

One of the most debated issues among Afghans has been the usage of the word ‘Afghan.' Non-Pashtuns have bitterly reacted towards government's decision for printing the word ‘Afghan’ next to their names. Not all people in Afghanistan are Afghans, and it is not this fact per se that is problematic, there are some other issues involved as well.

Before highlighting those issues, lets find out what do we know about the word ‘Afghan’ and who is called an Afghan? I tried to fine a clear and concise definition of the word but nowhere else explains it more accurate than the Encyclopedia Iranica does:

From a more limited, ethnological point of view, “Afḡān” is the term by which the Persian-speakers of Afghanistan (and the non-Paṧtō-speaking ethnic groups generally) designate the Paṧtūn. The equation Afghans = Paṧtūn has been propagated all the more, both in and beyond Afghanistan, because the Paṧtūn tribal confederation is by far the most important in the country, numerically and politically.
Therefore, whenever we hear that some ethnic groups in Afghanistan have problem to be labeled as Afghan, it should not surprise us. In Farsi language, the word 'Afghan' literally means whining, wailing, and bawling. The word also carries some negative connotations among non-Pashtuns. For instance, among Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzebks, the word ‘Afghan’ is metaphorically used to denote backwardness. Among ethnic Hazara, 'Afghan' attains its meaning through a semantic shift, as 'Awgho' and its often used in the households to scare the children for obedience. Historically, Hazaras have suffered at the hands of Pashtuns, and in their literature, Pashtuns are psychologically portrayed as evil, terror, savage, oppressor, and uncivilized people. This kind of portrayal has also shared among Uzbeks, Tajiks and Turkmen.

Similarly, in northern Afghanistan among non-Pashtuns, the word 'Afghan' has also experienced a semantic change, which is 'Awghan,' and both metonymically and metaphorically used as a swear word to shame someone for wrong doing and in contemptuous way it means representing someone as an object of ridicule.

While all citizens of Afghanistan are identified as Afghan outside the country, inside, they go by their ethnicity as Afghans (Pashtun), Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. During his presidential campaign, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi, deliberately and repeatedly used 'Afghan' in order to unite all people under one identity: Afghan. Many people gratified his efforts, however, non-Pashtuns became skeptic and alerted for losing their ethnic identity by simply being called Afghans. The skepticism towards Ashraf Ghani's intention further aggravated when he refrained calling ethnicities' names during his campaign among non-Pashtuns.

No matter how great the idea was but the plan of issuing new ID and calling all citizens as Afghan seems to be failed now. Ghani's ambitious program for nationalization and brining unity is turning into an illusion. Nowadays, Ghani is limping on his right foot (his left foot is broken), it can be metaphorically exemplify his failure for not being able to fulfill his promises. Just for a final note, Ghani's failure could be also seen from a recent pool that shows his performance has plummeted and his popularity has dropped to less than 20 percent.

To understand how much the word 'Afghan' has been controversial and has affected the current political climate of Afghanistan, read this article.

Aug 26, 2015

The Hazaras who Create Afghanistan's Arts

While other ethnic groups in Afghanistan are trying to stay busy fighting and killing each other, the Hazaras of Afghanistan are doing something different, the art. Here is an example, Anahita Ulftat is a Hazara girl who last year participated in Afghan Star - Afghan idol - has just released a new video clip, which is astonishingly beautiful and artistic in post-modern context.

By Afghan standard, this kind of art is astoundingly rare and new. This is an example of how freedom, education, and liberalism benefit the very people who Ms. Ulfat belongs to, have been excluded from all basic rights. It has been only a decade since the Hazaras have been through a period of relatively peacefulness, which bestowed freedom under the protection of the U.S. and the international community. Hazaras are proud of their identity and country. In sport, Hazaras have often took their country's flag to the international stage and garnered gold medals for their country.

Last year, in February, I published a blog post about Anahita Ulfat and her talents. Here's that blog post:
Anahita Ulfat, Sings Songs of the Oppressed

Aug 20, 2015

I Swear by Mustache

I swear by my mustache and my love of it that I will not surrender to Jeff’s (Jeff is a real person who lives on this planet) request to shave my mustache, nor ask any man on earth to shave for me. I swear by my mustache and the love of its amusement in which my fingers twirl it every second, that I behold and hold this truth to be self-evident that every mustache is being grown free and independent with inherent natural rights that cannot be, by persuasion and lure, deprived or interrupted its spread and domination over the lips.