Archive for June, 2012

The Moroccan Veil

June 8, 2012

ImageWhen looking on to another country from afar it is hard to grasp what that culture is really about and the feel of everyday life. When looking on to a different culture we rely heavily on the media and the way that culture is portrayed through the eyes of our own culture. However more often than not the media is telling a story and trying to get across certain ideas about a culture and show only part of the story.  The Middle East has long been seen as an exotic land full of snake charmers and half naked women. Muslim women are often depicted as victimized and given no history. When we think of Muslim women we may think of Aish, the girl that appeared on the cover of Time magazine with no nose, or Fadoha the girl that set herself on fire. We allow these few images that the media feeds us to define what we think of the culture as a whole.

Throughout our orientation class I have learned more and more about the complexities of the Muslim culture and the women’s rights and beliefs in particular. Through watching films such as The Wedding Song, and a number of documentaries I have come to realize that veiling is much more complex than the media makes it out to be. Veiling is a sign of faith and respect, many older generations chose to veil because it gives them a sense of power and honor. Through veiling you can also clearly see a generational gap between mother and daughter. Often younger generations choose not to veil or they will partially veil with a head scarf and blue jeans. This class has really taught me not to judge a culture or a people group before doing research and learning more about their history and their everyday life.

I look forward to going to Morocco and being able to experience the culture first hand. I believe that the orientation class has prepared me well to go study abroad in Spain and Morocco. I am looking forward to experiencing and living in a new culture for a month.

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Casablanca and its Portrayal of Race

June 8, 2012

When one considers Casablanca, one immediately recalls memories of the film with Humphry Bogart and Ingrid Bergman; a film that gives an idyllic portrayal of Americans in the exotic land of Morocco. What is not shown in the film is the building racial tensions stemming from years of unrest. The history of the nation is a tumultuous amalgam of rich culture and religious history. In the film, Casablanca shows nothing to signify the true racial politics that are present in this time. There is no mention of Abd el-Krim, nor the violence that escalated between the Spanish and the Moroccans; there is only the picturesque Cafe Americain.

Cafe Americain is a clear example of a crossing-place in Casablanca. It represents not only the physical waiting to cross to other nations, but it represents the crossing of cultures as well; Americans and Europeans alike are the westerners that occupy this land. There is little to no reference or acknowledgement of other races in the film besides the few scenes involving “Play it again Sam.” The few scenes in which he is shown essentially show him as “property” of someone in that he is sold along with the Blue Parrot. Sam is the only character that receives attention in the film; there is no mention of Moroccans at any point.

As Brian T. Edwards states in his article, Morocco Bound, “the complex yet readily apparent ways in which Casablanca brackets or suppresses concerns fo gender and race … are a way of distracting viewers from a more potent possibility repressed by the film: that Sam … might enter into a conversation with the colonized Moroccan subjects who are relegated to the film’s background.” (Edwards 67).This analysis of a film that attempts to avoid addressing race and identity forces one to consider the fact that the colonized American is not allowed to communicate with the colonized Moroccan.

Another example in which the film fails to accurately represent the city of Casablanca is in the brief exchange between Rick and Claude regarding the ‘waters.’ The film successfully “figures the United States as both the end and center of the world” (Edwards 68). The fact that there is a severe suppression of other cultures only furthers this idea that this film refuses to acknowledge any other cultures in a positive light, besides Western Culture. The racial politics of Casablanca are teeming with countless nuances woven between the main plot of this love story. The film, as Edwards argues, “is the paradigmatic example of ‘American Orientalism'” (Edwards 71). This phrase and its description of this film force viewers to no longer acknowledge the Moroccans, and to view Rick and the Americans as central figures in the film. This suppression of racial identities is just another example of the overall suppression of the Moroccan people throughout time.

Wedding Song and the Marriage of Culture

June 8, 2012

Before I became involved in the Morocco program, the subject of women in Islamic culture held little importance in my life. Personally, what affect did it have on me with my ridiculous “first world problems” and the freedom that I inherited from birth? To be honest, I was merely looking forward to the travel experience and subsequent riding of camels in the Moroccan desert. Yet somehow, my process of thinking has changed immensely over this quarter with Dr. Segall alone, not to mention how I will continue to change with our journey into the midst of Islamic culture.

From what I DID know about the gender issues within Islamic culture, I was being fed by American press and sources which I now know are severely biased and ill-informed. The women that I believed Islam consisted of were oppressed and misused. The media allowed us to become misled in viewing Islamic women as powerless and victimized in both our culture and in their own. Time magazine’s gruesome portrayal of the young girl with a hole in her face, causes the misperception that all women within the Islamic community are mistreated, thus becoming a catalyst to false generalization. On the other hand, WE as Americans are highlighted as saviors of the weak, both over exalting our role and again ignoring the fact that women in Islam are not what we perceive them to be.

Women within Islam are strong, proud, devout, and NOT helpless.

This cultural imagination that we have been fed by false accounts has led us to believe in the disembodied image of a veiled woman. The true image is that of a women who can raise a family, vend spices and scarves in open market places, and be held as a powerful image of grace and community power.

In the film The Wedding Song, the typical role of a young Islamic female is challenged in all aspects of life. While the West has portrayed the submissive figure of a veiled woman in Islam, the stereotype is averted in that it is Nour, the Muslim girl, who sneaks out to see her fiancé while her Jewish friend, Myriam, lies in her bed hiding from impending oppression. The film tracks the relationship of the two young girls, the Muslim living in freedom while the Western girl is forced to marry a stranger and submit to the German military. Furthermore, in a scene in the women’s bath house, the director shatters the stereotype of powerless Islamic women when the Germans invade the privacy of the baths, and collect all the women without scarves. In an act of love for her Jewish sister, Nour stands up for her friend, throwing a scarf to her and demanding power over the Western force; a power which reflects the true identity of Islamic women.

Historically, oppression of Islamic culture has occurred for centuries, and with the way the West portrays Islamic women, the chance of this changing seems dim. Yet, there has always been a powerful representative women in the culture like Nour, who challenge what Western ideas have developed in regards to Muslim women. Khadija, the wife and mentor to the founder of Islam and the legendary Scheherazade, a woman who ends political unrest in Islamic stories stand as examples of women who lend power to the female identity in Islam. What we don’t see in the Western world about women in Islam is that not all wear their veils not because they are forced to, but instead because it represents a powerful and political symbol against the backlash of violence against their culture. They embrace the power that they possess as women and differentiate themselves from the masses, choosing to wear a veil even when Western cultures look down upon it.

See, this is where my classmates and I come in again. Before studying women in Islam, I thought that there was nothing I could ever do to change the fact that the Muslim stereotype existed. But now I know that this is not true. Not only will this Study Abroad opportunity in an Islamic culture be an adventure and a learning experience, but it will also be an opportunity to challenge the views that we have been fed by the media in the Western world. Then with this knowledge, we will be prepared to challenge the false perceptions and speak for what we have witnessed first hand. Though oppression exists in the world, perhaps falsifying the exaggerated ideas of it in Islam will help us understand how we are affected by it and a marriage will occur between Islam and the West, just as in The Wedding Song.

Ideas From Across the Globe

June 7, 2012

I don’t think I really realized what this class was going to consist of; read some, write some, learn some, and then what? My mind was more focused on learning about the logistics and details of our trip rather on the culture we’ll soon be immersed in. Little did I realize, I’d be jumping into a classroom of what were mostly new ideas, and foreign ideas at that. I’ve had my share of Islamic education through the Christian school I attended high school at, but there was never a focus on the depth and passion in the people of the religion. I guess I never pictured people having the same drive and enthusiasm for a foreign religion like Islam, as I have seen a lot of people in the States have for their Christian faith. Being able to witness the Islamic women not only speak about their beliefs, but also express their passion for Islam and their heart for Allah’s followers has been incredibly eye opening. Yet while I find myself receptive to learning their views, I also find weariness in the Christian lifestyle. How can people who believe in such a merciless god be so much more enthusiastic and joyful over their lives than a lot of Christians I see? While I probably won’t ever know the reasons behind my question from their standpoint, it drives me to strive to live a more joyful life because of what God has done and has in store for me. 

Being able to learn a bit more about Islam’s religious history has been intriguing just as much. I’ve heard Muhammad’s general story quite a few times, but hearing some various extra details is always interesting. I’m sure I learned that he was orphaned at a young age, but it was something I had forgotten. It’s crazy to think that the leading figure of Islam grew up as an orphaned boy, but at the same time it seems to say a lot about their views too. There’s a sense of having an open mind, but also continuing to stick to what you know and believe and stand upon as an individual, particularly as a follower of Allah. I don’t remember ever learning about Muhammad’s life as a merchant or that his wife was also a very well-off merchant herself. Nomads have always been people groups that have been interesting to learn about, but it’s so foreign to think there were tribes and people groups that lived in and traveled the desert. But this is what an entire culture is built around; surviving and working together to build an ongoing and successful tribe. 

While Islam and the lifestyles of the people of the desert were so interesting to learn about, I also learned so much through the film Ali Zoua: Prince of the Streets. For some reason I get so caught up in what my life has looked like growing up and even observing the culture around me, that I continually forget what a life for someone thousands of miles away might look like. I’ve been to downtown Seattle and seen the homeless, living on little and often in pain. I’ve been to Skid Row in Los Angeles and seen an entire community living on the streets; hungry, broken, and yet surviving. But when I have ever thought about Morocco, I can honestly say it has never crossed my mind that there might be pain, hunger, or violence just the same. It might be easy to understand the general ‘middle east’ as having these troubles within their communities, but Morocco was one place it never crossed my mind for. Ali Zoua was a beautiful film, but a heartbreaking one even more. It pains me to think of what the youngest of children have to struggle with on a daily basis, and often not by choice. But even more so realizing that there is entire community from, say the United States, that views Morocco strictly as a vacation destination rather than an actual living, existing, breathing community with struggles of their own. I’m sure countless visitors and tourists have easily passed by an ‘ali zoua’ and never taken a second thought as to where they were heading, what they were doing, or what their life might be filled with. I pray that as a group we will in some way be able to make a positive, godly, lasting impression on the individuals we come in contact with in Morocco. There’s a brokenness that may not ever be entirely mended, but no brokenness is too scattered for love to pull together. 

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Uneducated. Uninformed. Unculterd.

June 7, 2012

Walking into Seattle Pacific University two years ago, I could not have predicted who I was going to become or all the knowledge I was going to gain. Although it may seem harsh I would describe myself being uneducated, uninformed and uncultured. I believed what I was told and accepted what the media had feed me. I never second guessed or looked or researched deeper into a topic. Growing up in a post 911 era I unfortunately received the Nationalistic American warped radical view of Islam. Fortunately however I am receiving my higher education at an institution that is committed to “Engaging the Culture and Changing the World.” Getting prepared to embark on this trans-national journey through the Morocco orientation course has not been the only thing educating and increasing my passion for discovering the world of Islam.

One point that I thought was so interesting and unfortunately true is how we have erased the Arabs Era of legacy. It seems to me that our history books are chalked full of what the West did and how powerful they were/are. It was so refreshing learning about the huge impact intellectually that Islam has had on society as a whole. I have come to the conclusion that we have and are creating are own versions of history. This creation of history is done through the act of omission and not recognizing the accomplishments of Islam, we take away their worth and value in one steady swoop.

A subject that we learned about in orientation that brought a bit of redemption to my American omitted history was learning about medieval Spain. This was a community in which Muslims, Christians and Jews alike inhabited the same corner of Western Europe. Here the three religious groups worked together collectively and built a lasting society that was both Christian European and Muslim Middle East. Learning about the abundant impact that Islamic civilizations have had and the community of medieval Spain I received a new perspective of Islam. I feel like I have always heard and learned how Christianity and Islam are pitted against each other, it was so refreshing to hear of this community of peace and progress.

Along with this new knowledge of a peaceful community of Muslims, Christians and Jews I also received a new perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was birthed out of WW2. My perspectives changed through this orientation course and UCOR-the West and the World. Once again before this conflict the Jews and the Muslims lived as neighbors peacefully. It seems that we never hear that part of the story, another history book omission. For my UCOR class we read the Lemon Tree, which is a story of an Arab, a Jew, and the heart of the Middle East. I learned exponentially more about Islam through these two courses.

Finally a section of Islam that I have had misconceptions about is the veil. Luckily through this course I have learned that even though some countries do force woman to veil as political control, a majority choose to veil themselves. This veiling is not always a sign of oppression like it is usually portrayed in America, but a sign of honor and freedom. I am so grateful to attend a University that has Professors who are committed to breaking down the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Islam. I am ready to go to Morocco and learn even more and hopefully spread a more fitting and accurate picture of Islam to friends and family.

Breaking American-Made Stereotypes of Muslim Men and Women

June 7, 2012

Before this class and my previous UCORE class with Dr. Segall, I’ll admit that I had my stereotypes of men women from the Middle East built up and influenced by the American media. Unfortunately many Americans have negative views of Muslim people post-9/11, so I have grown up in an age of racism and inequality. When I used to see a veiled Muslim woman, I would automatically feel sympathy for her because I assumed that they are oppressed and don’t have a voice in their families and communities. When I would see a Muslim man, I would have negative thoughts cross my mind, which I am now ashamed by.

I have learned throughout the entirety of my freshman year that it is unfair to make assumptions about others based on superficial things like religion or race. Yes, they are important, but not when it comes to judging their character. While watching films like The Wedding Song, I was thrown off by the fact that the Jewish girl was the one who was being forced into a marriage that she didn’t want because I automatically assumed that it would be the “oppressed” Muslim girl. I have learned that the veil can serve as a sign of strength and respect towards a woman’s family. While in my UCORE class, we watched a documentary about a community whose only means of life, their crops, were being threatened. The main person being interviewed was a middle-aged man who was so incredibly sweet and passionate about those around him that I actually teared up when he talked about emotional situations. He automatically broke all stereotypes that I had built up about Muslim men.

While learning more about the Middle East, I have learned that it is my duty as a Christian to love everyone in this world, regardless of our differences. It was completely unfair of me to look at someone and automatically have negative thoughts go through my head. Ever since I have let go of those negative thoughts, I have actually been able to get to know some amazing people by letting my guard down and treating them the same way that I would treat others that I have more “in common” with. I believe that Americans and Christians who have stereotypes about Muslims built up need to let go of those thoughts and feelings and become more educated about the facts regarding the culture in the Middle East. Not every Muslim living in the Middle East is part of the Taliban and many disagree with violence. I strongly believe that if Americans actually open their minds to facts and real stories, many unfair assumptions and racist feelings will finally be put to rest.

Cross-generational Conversations and Head-coverings

June 2, 2012

At my core, I believe most people have basic similarities that connect us–similarities rooted in our shared Creator. I’ve thought for a long time that many people struggle with the same issues, and I believe culture is beautiful because it shows the ways that groups of people with shared histories make sense of the world in community. Even with these beliefs though, I was surprised when we watched the video of different generations of Muslims wrestling with questions of faith, politics, and the relationship between the past and modernity. Watching parents and their children get heated as they discussed the relationship between Islam and politics, I remembered similar conversations around the dinner table and home about Christianity and politics. For different generations, different symbols mean different things. Much of the conversation was rooted in discovering what it meant to take part in the story of their faith in a specific context. That conversations runs deep in the souls of many generations struggling with issues of life and faith. Through watching that conversation play out among Muslims living in Seattle, it helped me see how similar human beings truly are.

That conversation about the implications of a multi-generational household on faith quickly turned to the role of the headscarf, another area that I learned a lot about from this orientation. Through a scattered assortment of news media, magazine covers, and action films, I’d subconsciously formed a connection between the head covering and suppression. I have been thinking of it as a sign of male dominance and limited rights for women. On watching the films in this class, however, I began to see how many Muslims today conceive of the headscarf: as a symbol of faith. I saw that many see the head scarf as a way to show their devotion to God, displaying that they care more for their position before God than they care for their physical appearance. In a culture that begs us to think of women as objects, this was refreshing to see.

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Both of these ways of growing opened me up to a new way of seeing the world. I feel that it is easier to look at Muslim women across the world not only through the eyes of distinction, but also the eyes of empathy.

The Transformation of Trans-Generational Identities to Trans-National

June 2, 2012

Trans-generational identity is the story of how our place in life affects the perception of who we are. What we have experienced throughout our lifetime and how we view the world and those in it also contribute to this dynamic sense of self. This idea is seen in Le Grand Voyage, a film about a father and son who travel to Mecca from France. The son, Réda, reluctantly agrees to drive his father to Mecca for his pilgrimage that is a pillar of the Islamic faith.

Réda and his father in Le Grand Voyage

Throughout their journey, you can see the strain and tension between these two men as they realize there is so much that sets them apart, and a large portion of it is trans-generational. As the film progresses, the juxtaposition of Réda’s generation and his father’s becomes more apparent, and the generational gap seems to create a greater divide between the two. With time, however, the father and son begin reconciling their broken relationship and Réda learns the values of Islam from his father before it is too late. This process of relational reconciliation is one concept that is central to Islam.

While trans-generational identities greatly affect who we are, they are not a static state of being. I have learned in this class that every interaction we have and place we travel is yet another thread woven into the fabric of our being. We are constantly weaving our trans-generational identity, and when interacting with other cultures, we are indeed weaving our trans-national identity as well. These two identities are intertwined, and there is a relationship seen between them in Le Grande Voyage. I argue that the trans-generational gap between Réda and his father is so severe that it surpasses generations and begins to morph into a trans-national divide. There is such a disconnect between Réda and his father that it appears they have different national identities. This is the most profound idea I have learned in the class: our trans-national identities are always subject to change; everything around us and everything that we experience contributes to our trans-national identity, and this is a thing of beauty.

The Importance of Islam and Trans-nationalism in Regards to Moroccan Culture

June 1, 2012

I learned many new fascinating things about Moroccan culture and identity through the Orientation class and the films shown this quarter. One of the historical concepts I found most interesting concerned the history of Islam through the film Faith of Islam and the lectures Dr. Segall gave about this religion and it’s influence in Morocco. My previous studies emphasized learning about the history of Christianity, but I lacked any substantial knowledge about other prominent religions. This film revealed that one forth of the world respond to the call of Islam. The religion stresses the importance of tolerance—for a substantial amount of time Christians, Jews, and Islamic people co-existed quite harmoniously. This was surprising to me because Western culture often projects the idea that Islam, particularly in the Middle East, is violent and hateful. This film demonstrated how this is a false illustration of Islam. Western culture also teaches that modern thinking stems mostly from Europe, when in fact Christians were learning Arabic because that is where the knowledge was found and learning was prosperous. Islam places high importance on taking care of the orphans and the widows. This is partially interesting because Muhammad himself was an orphan. I was captivated by how the film revealed that the Islamic people took in children without parents, creating a strong and stable community with love and support for the disadvantaged. Despite the fact that Muhammad was an orphan, he was obviously able to not only survive, but also succeed in life because the society taught that it was the responsibility of others to step up and care for the helpless. Contrary to what Western culture might say, Islam values and respects the women in their society. In fact, Muhammad’s wife, Khadija, proposed to him. She had an extensive impact on his success, as well as being highly successful all on her own. She was a mentor to him, partially because she was older and wiser, and she was a prosperous businesswoman. Khadija is now known as the “mother of Islam,” and undoubtedly respected, strong, and valuable woman. The veiling of women can be very misleading to Westerners because the true meaning is not explained in Western society.  The forced veiling of women is actually due to backlash against Western culture, not out of hatred or disrespect towards women in Islamic culture. Islam is overflowing with wonderful values and ideas such as the importance of social justice and reconciliation. Through the film Faith of Islam I discovered that everyone, regardless of religious beliefs or geographical location, could learn and benefit from the philosophies that Islam teaches and practices.

 

 

Another new idea that I discovered due to this course was the concept of trans-nationalism, in this case pertaining to the connections between Morocco and Spain. Laila Lalami’s novel Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits demonstrated this through numerous characters that were trying to illegally leave Morocco and go to Spain for various reasons. Each one of the characters was changed by their trans-national journey, whether they successfully crossed into Spain or not. This change is drastically revealed particularly through Faten and Halima, whose identities are entirely altered by their journey. Before the journey Faten is a highly religious woman who wears a headscarf by choice despite what society tells her to do. Her strong opinions have great influence on her friend, Noura, who follows Fatan’s example closely. This angers Noura’s powerful father, who had different expectations for Noura’s future. Therefore, he proceeds to have Fatan fail her final exams, leaving her with few options outside of attempting to make a life for herself elsewhere. Fatan is successful in illegally immigrating to Spain. But the economy in Spain proves to be no better for Fatan; she abandons her beliefs and turns to prostitution. Another character, Halima, risks her life and the lives of her three children to escape her abusive husband. They are caught immediately after they cross and returned to Morocco. Interestingly enough, Halima refuses to let this hold her down. Her husband finally grants her a divorce and the right to keep her children. Through this trans-national journey Halima is made stronger, and proves that she is willing to stop at nothing to gain her freedom. Lalami’s novel emphasizes the influence that this journey has on each individual character, and how trans-nationalism goes both ways, affecting Spain and Morocco both.

Had Anyone Else Not Heard of This?

June 1, 2012

I’ll be honest, I grew up watching the History Channel, and continuing the honesty, I still do. I love it. I love learning about war, and I always have. Even though there has never been a good war, it’s through the darkest acts of humanity where humanity’s resilience, strength, and goodness shine the most clearly. But, from the French-Indo China War to international civil wars, and from the World Wars to the Crusades to the Boer War and down to exploits of ancient civilizations, if I didn’t know about it, chances are it at least rang some small synaptic bell somewhere in the dusty archives of my mind – at least, until the Rif War.

 

I’d never heard of it, and worse yet, it was so recent. Somehow, through all of the books and countless summertime days (and school days for that matter) spent watching shows documenting specific wars, battles, weapons, and war heroes, the Rif War never showed up. Not even a blip. Nothing so much as a small buzzer buried somewhere in my mind went off. I was completely in the dark.

 

I learned of yet another facet of imperialism and colonization that tarnished the façade of Western Europe. I learned of the horrific use of poison gas, the massacres on both sides, and of the sheer ignorance of the Spanish and French, and the steadfastness of the Moroccans, even against such great odds. I learned that there was a man who rose from this conflict to not only lead a rebellion, but also create an identity that would become engrained in the people of Morocco until the current time.

 

Although it is on the darkest side of trans-nationalism, the Rif War is a scar that should neither be hidden nor worn with pride. It marks a clash of ego and victimization that changed the world.  Through this horrific trans-national display, the pitfalls of the extreme arrogance of the West can be blatantly seen. However, through this travesty, Abd el Krim rose to become a symbol of hope and defiance for the people of Morocco, and an example to the world of just how superior something “uncivilized” can be.

 

Abd el Krim represented all that is good about conserving the Moroccan way of life. His quiet strength, intellect, determination, and organizational skills gave Rifians something to believe in, and something to which they still cling today. From the old, decrepit men to the young boys in the film about the Rif War (and the subsequent mistreatment of Moroccans for three generations), a sense of awe and admiration toward Abd el Krim was and is still felt by the broken nation of Morocco. Without him, it’s impossible to say where Moroccans would be today, or would have gone during the war. It’s bad enough that with him, Franco still managed to entrap Moroccans to fighting for his side of the Spanish Civil War and did little, if anything, to pay them for fighting his cause.

 

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This is the Abd el Krim Impearialism Stare-Down

However, despite the scars and the horrific atrocities, Abd el Krim remains a symbol of defiance, strength, and honor to the Moroccan people.  He was a simple, almost generic men, who stared the narcissism of imperialism in the face and, for a few glorious years, made it think twice about how superior its legacy actually was, and although the war wasn’t his, the honor clearly was.