13 February 2007

between the raindrops.

It finally stopped raining after two false alarms. Yippee hooray.

[edit: make that three false alarms and no sign of stopping anytime soon.]

During our two weeks of colloquial classes (i.e. thirty hours of my life that I can never get back again), we also spent our afternoons sitting through a series of generally excruciating lectures, with one notable exception. A woman with a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Jordan and another one in English Literature from Manchester (UK) who also studied in the States spoke on Islam and its role in Jordanian society. She was a devout Muslim who wore hijab, so I was initially skeptical of her objectivity, but she acknowledged her biases up front and actually proved quite realistic in her interpretations of her faith. Someone challenged her to justify Islam's prominent place in the politics of the Middle East, given the growing problems in the region. She described an ideal system where the people chose those most qualified to represent them, had the freedom to question and criticize said leaders, and the ability to replace corrupt or inefficient leaders (hmmm, that sounds vaguely familiar). As a follow up, we asked her if there were any Islamic states that currently met that standard. "If I were to be completely honest, I would say that there is Islam in the West but no Muslims (read: American democracy is a good idea), and Muslims but not Islam in the Middle East." I almost fell off my chair. Perhaps I don't represent the root of ALL things evil, after all.

Although our democracy is apparently quite desirable, it seems our culture is still "a boil on the butt of humanity." (not her quote, someone else's). She railed against the immorality of western culture as seen on satellite television and its influence on Jordanian youth. Girls contemplating buying bikinis and such after what they've seen on American TV shows. God forbid! I know I'm supposed to respect cultural differences and all, (and I'm trying!) but the manner in which women are treated (and treat themselves) here is more than I can handle (more on that at a later date, I'm trying to keep my idealism relatively intact for a bit longer).

Say what you want about American culture, god knows I have my own personal issues with many aspects of it, but last I checked no one is forcing anyone to pay for satellite television and then also watch the western shows syndicated by Arabic channels. I think the blame is being seriously mislaid here - if you don't like my culture, then don't watch it and don't emulate it. Someone brought up a brilliant point here - if American democracy is what an Islamic state should be, then how do you fit a conformist, collectivist culture into that model? A fundamental principle of our democracy is individual choice, and it is inherently undemocratic to call for the banning of that which a particular individual or sector of society finds offensive. The American President said it best:


"You've got to want it bad, because it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the 'land of the free'? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that. Then you can stand up and sing about the 'land of the free.'"

In a similar vein, I'm beginning to tire of the assumption that because I am an American woman, I am also inherently immoral. Because I don't cover myself and wear makeup, I am asking to be harassed by men on the street. Because I believe that sexuality is an individual choice and not a uniform cultural mandate, it must follow that I've chosen a life of wanton debauchery. For all the time I've spent criticizing others for their sweeping generalizations about Arabs and defending this region I love dearly, I'd appreciate some reciprocation. If Americans are racist for assuming all Arabs are terrorists who hate freedom, shouldn't it follow that it is equally ignorant to assume that Americans are immoral sex-crazed violent lunatics?

I finally posted pictures! We went to the Citadel, the (alleged) site of Jesus' baptism, Mt. Nebo, where God showed Moses the Holy Land, and Madaba, site of the oldest mosaic map of the Holy Land, last weekend. I saw Nebo and Madaba last summer, so here are those pictures (along with many others).

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