Archive for May, 2012

The First Steps: Journeys of Movement Between Countries, Identities and Ideas

May 31, 2012

Before our orientation class I knew next to nothing about the Moroccan culture or people. During this last quarter we have already begun our journey. A journey of knowledge and a transition of preconceptions and ideas.

A major part of the Moroccan history is its trans-national identity that connects the Moroccan people, and their historical identities with those in Spain. In a combination of historical videos and lectures of Morocco’s trans-national history, we learned that trans-nationalism started way back before Spain was fully developed and occupied. The Moroccan people developed Spain before the Europeans, which is why there are remnants of Moorish castles in Spain, including the Alhambra in Granada. The Riff War occurred several centuries later after the European occupation. It occurred while Spain tried to keep up with the European colonization. During the Riff War the Spanish Military traveled over to Morocco to occupy and take over the natural resources. During occupation they treated the Moroccans horribly, cutting off their heads, using chemical weapons, and other brutal acts, leaving the country downtrodden and impoverished. Almost ten years later, during the Spanish Civil War, Moroccans were recruited to fight for Spain. After the war the Moroccans were shipped back to Morocco with a scant amount of monetary compensation. Now the generation living in modern-day Morocco are fighting unemployment. Some hope to immigrate to Spain, legally or illegally, in search for a better life. There have been many generations worth of crossing between the two countries. This has intertwined the history and culture of both countries, evolving them into a continuous circle of trans-nationalism.

The idea of transition of identity is exemplified in both Laila Lalami’s novel Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits and a film we watched in class, Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets. In Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits the characters are participating in Morocco’s circulation of trans-national travel between Spain. On their journeys their identities are altered, some for the better, and others for worse. One women, Halima, crosses to Spain with her three children to escape her abusive husband and start a new life. On their arrival to Spain, they are caught, and promptly sent back to Morocco. Once back in Morocco, Halima finds the new life she had hoped to find in Spain, but instead gains from her journey. Her husband grants her a divorce and custody of her children. Halima through her journey found a new identity in a place where she had once felt trapped. Another character that attains a new identity though her trans-national journey is Faten. Faten before her journey to Spain is a prideful young women, who has very religious views and who convinces her friend to wear a head scarf. The young women that Faten becomes in Spain is hardly the same person at all. She becomes a prostitute on the streets, a complete transition from her Moroccan identity. It is interesting to see the two completely different identity shifts from the same journey. The transition of identity seen in  Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets is a different transition of identity than seen in either Halima or Faten. It happens when Ali, a street kid, is killed. The transformation appears in the impact that his death has on his friends. Through his death, his friends are sent on an emotional journey, through grieving and trying to give him a fitting burial. In the process his dreams and hopes are transferred to them. They each find a different part of him to admire and take on as a part of their own individual identities.

As we are taking the first steps of our own trans-national journey through the ideas we have discussed in class, we will also find ourselves changed by knowledge and experience.

~Devon Criswell~


Brandon’s Orientation Reflection: Mixed History and a Head Scarf

May 29, 2012

Throughout this orientation class for our journey to Spain and Morocco, my mind has been opened to a variety of new and challenging aspects of transnational history and the misconstrued western perspectives of Islamic society, especially in regards to women. The first historical idea that grabbed my attention was the idea of trans-nationalism or the idea that multiple peoples that share a common history. Spain and Morocco have had their histories intertwined for several generations and it seems fitting that we will be traveling to both of them. In several of the historical documentaries that I watched in the orientation class for the trip, I have seen that there have been years of pain and division among the Spanish and Moroccan people. The Spanish used cruelty and torture to subdue the Moroccan people into obedience, used chemical weapons to create fear, and when all that was done, had Moroccan civilians join their armies yet denied them Spanish citizenship. One example of the Spanish use of violence that was mentioned in one of the historical films was when Spanish soldiers demanded that the narrator’s father to give them all of his weapons and ammunition. When he had given them all that he had, they ordered him to get more. When he refused, they took him to a public square and publicly whipped him to death. This made a horrific example for the Moroccan people: Obey or suffer the consequences. Though the history between Spain and Morocco has been horrific, there is still a bond between the two nations. Many Moroccans today are crossing the sea to go into Spain in order to find jobs. These two nations on different continents share a past, a past full of violence, destruction, and cruelty, but also a present.

Another prominent idea that we discussed in this class was the way in which Western culture views Islam as a faith, Islam as a culture, and Islam as an identity. One of the aspects of these talks that stood out the most to me was the idea of our view of Muslim Women. We talked about how Muslim women, especially those living in Muslim states, are often seen as oppressed and submissive because of the veil. Western society often views the veil as an object that separates woman from the world; it is viewed as an oppressive piece of cloth that keeps women “in their place”. However, through the book Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami and a video about Muslim women living in the Pacific Northwest, I realized that the veil is not a cloth to hide oneself under, but to purify. It is a choice. It is a choice to humble oneself in the presence of God and in the presence of the world. In Lalami’s book, a liberal, wealthy Moroccan girl becomes friends with a radical Muslim woman. Over the course of their friendship, the liberal girl, against her father’s will decides to veil because she wants to honor God. This narrative showed that veiling is a choice, not a command. It is an article of clothing that symbolizes humility and devotion; it is freeing not captivating.

Caitlin’s Orientation Reflections: Hope & History

May 28, 2012

I’ve learned a lot about hope in this orientation class. I always thought of hope as nothing more than an underlying desire. When hope is all that a person has left, however, it is important to make sure that particular hope is not out of reach. I’m referring to the dichotomy between Slumdog Millionaire and Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets; the latter, we watched in class. In Slumdog Millionaire, a poor Indian man gets the chance to participate on a game show to win a million rupees. He wins. Just like that, hope is created for everyone (not just street dwellers, though they are the focus) that they will win a lottery and get out of their situations. This is not a good hope for people who have nothing because it is simply not plausible. To contrast, the Ali Zaoua film depicted a Moroccan street gang with real street youth as the actors. The director, Ayouch’s, goal in making this film was to be sure that those children did not get their hopes raised. The children had to know that acting in this film would not be an out for them. That’s the dichotomy. On the one hand, there’s an award winning film sending a message that if a poor man can answer a few questions, he can win millions and get off the streets. On the other hand, there’s a lesser-known film that wants nothing more than to tell a story and be sure that the boys in the film knew this was only a temporary activity. Acting in this film would not necessarily get them out of the slum. This orientation class has given me a new view on the importance of having the right kind of hope.

This class not only shed light on new ideas, but also informed me of a past that I did not know existed. Spain and Morocco have a messy history. Between the horrors of colonization, war, and lies, it’s a wonder that the countries still exist at all. The most interesting piece of history that I learned, however, is that of the Islamic Era in Spain, also called the “Golden Era.” We watched a documentary that included a segment about the Alhambra, a Moorish Palace in Granada, Spain. This palace is only a part of the Moroccan influence that affected Spain hundreds of years ago. There’s a lot of architectural design that is owed to Morocco, but also, Spain would not have come to power without their neighbors to the south. It had no power until it became Moorish Spain. The Moroccans brought knowledge of philosophy and math with them to Spain. They were able to translate works in Arabic, and help with prosperous agriculture because of their knowledge of irrigation. All this together is what helped bring Spain to power, something Ferdinand and Isabella did not seem to realize when they ruled the country and forced the Muslims out. Them, as well as most of the rest of the world does not know the affects of the Moors in Spain, and that is simply unfortunate. Spain and Morocco have a long history with each other. They are two beautiful countries with a dark past that must be remembered, especially when we study abroad there.

The Western Lens and Breaking Away From the Stereotypes of Muslim Women

May 28, 2012

It is through an Americanized lens that view of Islamic women is distorted and stereotyped. Common stereotypes fed to the Western Public involve the idea that Muslim females wearing the hijab are oppressed, that these women are without voice and submissive to their husbands (a sign of gender inequality), creating a victimized image of Islamic women in Western eyes.

For the women of Muslim religion and culture, the hijab is not a sign of oppression, but a sign of devotion to God and a sign of power. In the film Nazrah: A Muslim Woman’s Perspective director Farah Nousheen interviews a number of Islamic women living in the northwest on their struggles in America and their views on their religion and culture. One woman, faithful to Islam, explains to the interviewer the importance of the veil in her religion and how the hijab is a way of telling the world that the relationship with and reverence for God is more important than the body, and that covering up keeps men from sinning. That is power right there, the ability to cause or not cause others to stumble by actions. In the Muslim community wearing the hijab garners respect and honor, gives neutrality to gender (most everyone in Islamic cultures are covered), and is a choice. Yes, a choice. A symbol of one’s pride and devotion to their faith. The Way North is a documentary about North African immigrants in France, and in one family trying to make ends meet the choices in wearing the hijab between first and second generation Muslim women can be different. The mother wears the hijab daily, but her daughter, when interviewed, says that only when she is old will she wear the Hijab, illustrating that there is a choice, and the choice can vary generationally. However, the young girl is forced not to wear the hijab in school. The hijab becomes oppressive when choice is taken away, whether it be forced to wear or to not wear.

The hijab as a misrepresentation of Muslim women as oppressed can be most clearly seen in the media, and especially in the example of the Aug 9, 2010 issue of Time Magazine. The magazine depicts a young Afghan whose nose and ears were cut off by her husband:

“Shivering in the cold air and blinded by the flashlights trained on her by her husband’s family, she faced her spouse and accuser. Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn’t run away, she would have died.,9171,2007407,00.html#ixzz1wCU2twfQ

It is through the Western lens that Muslim women (wearing the hijab) are victimized in order to make Americans the heroes that save these poor victims. This image is an example of the American stereotype of Muslim women, that they are helpless and suffering. There are abused women in America, yet we do not say that the identity of the American woman is that of an abused victim, so why are we doing this to Muslim women? Karin Albou, director of the 2008 film The Wedding Song, attempts to frame a new perspective on Islam, one that is not focused on oppression and being saved by men or other countries. In fact, in The Wedding Song best friends, one Jewish and the other Muslim, save each other. The Jewish girl, Myriam, goes to school while Nour, the Muslim girl, stays at home. In one of the scenes filmed in the women’s bathhouse, an intimate and private place for the women in this Tunisian town, guards come in looking to arrest Jews. The Muslim women grab their towels and hijab to cover themselves, but Myriam is a Jew and does not have a hijab. Nour takes off her hijab and gives it to Myriam, risking her life to save her friend, and Nour survives by saying the call to prayer. Friendship between these two girls is the saving factor in this film, not some outside hero like America, and neither girl is victimized through the lens of the camera.

In the wake of Arab Spring, there is another woman who breaks down the Western stereotype of voiceless Islamic women: Fadoua Laroui. A mother of two, Fadoua filed for divorce from her unfit husband and continued life in a small make-shift shack. Life in her home was suddenly cut short when the Moroccan government burned down her house. Fadoua filed for housing, but was denied because she was an unwed mother. Furious at the unfair odds stacked against her, she decided to light herself on fire as a serious protest to the government, to show them the state that they have left people in. Fadoua died on February 23, 2011. Compare Fadoua to the young woman on Time Magazine, Aisha. What has a bigger impact on the community of Muslims? An outside “hero”, America, saving these Islamic women and forever branding them with oppression and victimization? Or, women in this culture protesting for their own people, and maybe saving others through protesting down the line?

Stereotypes from the Western Lens limit Islamic women to voiceless, powerless, and oppressed. Yet, Muslim history tells a different story. Muhammad’s (the founder of Islam) first wife, Khadija, was a powerful and wealthy merchant and a mentor to Muhammad. She was the one that insisted he write down messages from God (later, his messages were compiled into a book, which is the Qu’ran), and is considered the mother of Islam as she was the first to convert to the new religion. Khadija was neither voiceless nor powerless in her marriage of 25 years with Muhammad, and if only the Western perspective could look for these qualities in Islamic women too, in order to break away from the negative and victimized image put on these women by outsiders. Because these women do have voices, do have power, equality, and strength.

-Kim Mapstead

Test Blog

May 20, 2012
The lion cubs from South Africa

Here are the lion cubs that were at the cheetah reserve

This is where you will write your blog. This is a test blog to show you what yours can look like.

Decide what your title will be for your blog entry and type it in the box labeled “Enter title here.”

Also, don’t forget to select a category for your blog. This will be what your blog is about–maybe based on a certain topic Dr. Segall assigned. The categories are on the right hand side labeled “Categories”….it should be easy to identify.

To add a picture to your blog, click on the “Add Media button.” This is the icon that looks like a camera and music note. It is above the “Bold” and “Italics” icons and to the right of where it says “Upload/Insert.” Once you have filled everything in, click on “Insert into Post.”

After you are done writing your blog, hit the “Publish” button. If you don’t want to publish it right away and want to come back to it later to edit, make sure to save your draft (“Save Draft” button underneath “Publish”). You can preview it to see what it looks like–just select the “Preview”  button which is also underneath “Publish.”

You can always go back to your blog and edit it after you publish it.

You might be asked to comment on another classmate’s blog. To do that, just click on their blog and scroll down to the bottom until you see “Leave a Reply.” Then write your comment and select “Post Comment.”

Have fun in Morocco!


Trans-National Travels: A Group Blog

May 7, 2012

This blog provides a chance for students to engage with each other and their experiences in a study abroad program to Morocco.  As a form of travel writing, the blog entries will include students’ reflections from the course and their own journeys.  While our interdisciplinary course will focus on two extraordinary writers Laila Lalami and Fatima Mernissi, the blog is a venue for creative reflections on the process of learning through experiences.