Sunday, May 14, 2006

Domain Analysis & Orientalism

Reading the Spradley article in detail after skimming through it the first time made a huge difference in the way I understand and relate to what seems to be a simple social situation. Learning how to look for cultural patterns and how to arrive at them through analyzing cultural domains was enlighting to say the least. I went through the exact experience of step understanding/analyzing when I watched Orientalism. The first time I had no background for what cultural domains were, I watched the movie based on general interest and a keen curiosity about the roots for orientalism. Impressed as I was with Said's smooth analysis for the need of orientalism as a context through which the West sees the east, I decided to use the movie, its terminology and images to be the medium for my domain analysis.

I continue to be disturbed by the depiction of Arabs, Muslims, and the Middleeast in the media, you can say it's become the norm to relate negativity in all its forms with the Arab/Muslim world. This fact, and the way Professor Speed explained his word archeology, directed me to the idea of interpreting word associations when it comes to the Arab/Muslim world. Orientalism was a great medium for analyzing such word associations. I started to list terms, phrases, and interpretations of images throughout the movie specifically those related to Muslims, Middleeast, and Arabs appearing in news reports and movies. Here's the frightening yet normalized list:
  1. threatening, enemy,different
  2. cowardly Arab, can't fight
  3. not modern, backward, stagnant, placid
  4. monstrous, irrational, violent
  5. fanatic, extreme, Islamic terrorist, frightening, kill
  6. Jihad, militant, holy war, black banners, masses of people, violence, fist waving
  7. danger, foreign demon, villain, barbaric
  8. conspiracy, Islamic empire, made in Mecca
  9. lesser breed, subordinate, wacko, stamp out
  10. inflict, deadly, Arabic speaker, MiddleEastern dissent
  11. force, attack, MiddleEastern terrorist, Islamic radical

Following Spradley's steps of domain analysis, I looked at the above list of field notes, and realized I was facing a definite folk domain (terms come from the language used by people in a social situation). I then tried to select the semantic relationship. In the case of orientalism; it was an obvious Means-end Relationship, where negative terms were a way to define a race. Choosing cover terms was easy:

  • Arab
  • Muslim/Islam
  • MiddleEastern

As for included terms for Spradley's equation, the above list of terms all fit the same relation ship. For example, we can start by 1 through 11 and say:

threatening, enemy, different (included terms) are ways to define (semantic relationship)Arab/Muslim/MiddleEastern (cover terms)

According to Said, this is the way the West has codified Muslims/Arabs for the sake of creating this preconceived notion to influence people's perceptions of the MiddleEast. Sad as it is, this lens of looking at Islam and Arab not only affects those who haven't experienced living in the MiddleEast, but also those who have, or are from the MiddleEast. As a way of trying to remind myself with the true meaning of Arab/MiddleEastern/Muslim, I decided to come up with my own list of words or field notes based on social situations associated with my experience as an Arab and a human (the aspect that was totally vacuumed from peoples conceptions of Arabs)

Social Situation: Dinner party with family members

List of words associated:

  1. fun, lots of food, loud, children running, busy
  2. family atmosphere, love, grandparents, kisses, hugs, aunts, uncles, cousins
  3. passion, emotion, zeal, talking politics
  4. silly jokes, political jokes, loud laughs
  5. TV, soccer game, loud cheers (swears :-)), rows of people on couches, and on floor
  6. tea, coffee, fresh mint, dessert, baklava, konafa, cake, cookies, nuts, more dessert
  7. call for prayer (azan), prayer time, rows of men, women and children
  8. back to soccer, TV, talk, fun
  9. more appetizers, snacks, tea, coffee
  10. granparents playing cards, backgammon, and chess
  11. children watching movies, playing board games
  12. parents relaxing, chatting, reading papers
  13. three generations always together on week ends

This is not just a memory from previous dinner parties in Egypt, it is present daily living fact. I don't think anyone can depict a MiddleEastern dinner party to be this way unless they do actually know or have met someone from the MiddleEast. It is a very disturbing fact, but truly I can't blame anyone who doesn't.

As an American Arab going to Amsterdam, I feel I've fallen prey for the same codification ideology. I have never met Arabs and Muslims in Amsterdam, and so far all I read about them is how different, radical, secluded, intolerant, backward, extreme, and trouble making race they are. I honestly don't know what to expect, have Muslims in Amsterdam evolved to be that threatening and burdensome? Has the media changed or modified my definition of a part of my identity as being an Arab? Will I realize that most Arabs in Amsterdam are victims of orientalism, again? Has Amsterdam, (the most tolerant city) acquired the American orientalism theory? Questions, questions....looking for answers in Amsterdam.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Urban Studies Methods Assignment

For this urban experience, I chose the Central Library. It was really just a great excuse to take the whole family there, I love it and have had the opportunity to tour it with the Reference Interest Group through the ischool. This time though it was a totally different experience. After listening to professor Ryan's lecture, I took his word and looked around through a different eye. a more urban aware eye. I also realized that Chendan's defamiliarizing is actually a great first step for looking around, exploring, slowing down, and observing the world around us in a way that will redefine the way we once saw it.

What I learned from an urban setting:
Being in downtown this time was strange, I was intentionally looking for differences between the city and the village according to Hannerz way of looking at cultures. I found a lot of diverse mosaic pieces around me. White, African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Homeless suddenly appeared to me as the mosaic pieces. The tempo of life in the city is definitely faster than it is in the suburbs. People were coming and going in all directions and I found myself wondering what they were all up to.... One thing I noticed was the individuality of our culture. The majority of people were by themselves, not a lot of couples and definitely no groups of people.

Once at the library, I was struck by the enormity and radiance of the building itself, the idea of windows, mirrors and the "nothing to hide" concept jumped in my mind. You can see the city from inside, and the city can see you too!! I was so glad to learn that the master Architect Rem Koolhaas is Dutch. Now I know I'm starting to absorb the Dutch concepts, and also recognize it in different settings. A 363,000 square foot eleven story building, what a big window!! It houses more than 1.4 million books, provides 400 computers with wireless internet access in an environment of striking colors, contemporary furniture, and a lot of imaginative spaces and room for imagination.

The feeling inside....still huge, but very quiet and relatively empty. Was it really empty, or was it the effect of the incredible space that made it look so? I don't know. Homeless people were definitely visible inside the library, I learned later that the library was built with the homeless concept integrated through its design...How tolerant!! Does Amsterdam have a lot of homeless people? Was that another Koolhaas touch? And what about those deserted spirals of stacks that seemed to have no end...Throughout the whole library I would say I maybe saw ten people with books in their hands. I just felt so sad for the books, just standing alone yet squished with other books waiting for someone to set them free...

What were the people doing then? All in the Mixing Chamber (computer/internet floor). The biggest crowd I've seen, every single computer had a human glued infront of its screen. It felt a little cold and stiff in the chamber, again, minimal human interaction, everyone in his/her own world of indidviduality. Will I have the same observation in the library at Amsterdam? Is it a global divorce of print resources, or is it a cultural phenomenon?

The children's section was the only place that gave me a glimpse of warmth, although still sadly empty given the square footage. It was beautifully designed with children in mind; stacks were 3 shelves high for all the picture books for ease of use. It had a huge play/read area in the middle for kids and toddlers to explore and cuddle with a big stuffed Arthur or Madeline. I sat there and observed the people around me, it felt against my nature to be actually observing someone else's actions. I felt I was in a way invading their privacy...will I feel the same in Amsterdam, or will I feel that people there are invading MY privacy? I can only wait and see.

How will I approach urban places in Amsterdam?
I guess with an eye for human interaction, how the buildings define the city, the people, and the spaces in between. I will be looking for mosaic pieces and their role within the bigger piece of art. Does the city define its people, or is it the other way around? How will the style of buildings affect my mood and feel for the city? I think I just want to absorb the whole experience without speculating a lot so I don't ruin it for myself.

Thinking about Cultures in Cities

Reading Ulf Hannerz essay was perfect for summing up the week's experience of urban settings, their effect, and how we translate/relate them to city culture. His main question was: what difference has urban anthropology made (or can make) to more general anthropological habits of thought? How has the city changed our own anthropological theories and default conceptions about culture?

To answer this question, he had to loosely define culture, what is culture anyways? According to Hannerz, it is meaning and meaningful forms developed and acquired through social life interactions. In other words, it is the ongoing process of social organization of meaning. How does that social organization work? It works seamlessly in our lives in what he states as four major organizational frameworks; form of life, state, market, and movement frameworks. In a nut shell, we live our everyday life under a state form, buy and sell goods while moving from one place to another, hence creating culture.

When it comes to city culture, a lot of things change. I very much liked Hannerz metaphor about the mosaic; a pattern of pieces (city of people) more or less of the same kind and size, each of a single color, hard edged, and distinctly bound towards one another. The city is no more than a big wall of mosaic constructed of smaller universes (family, households, neighborhoods, churches, etc.) that together build the diverse whole of a city. With people coming from diverse backgrounds and traditions, they generate change inside the city, partly through the division of labor, roles and class. In conclusion, the city is simply an organization of diversity (mosaic) giving rise to culture.

It seems that Amsterdam would be the perfect city for applying Hannerz framework concept. Given its history, diversity and tolerance, I am already visualizing the mosaic metaphor. My question is though, does the Muslim community belong in this beautiful mosaic? And if they do, how big a role do they play in the final construct?

One very fascinating remark about Amsterdam is the openness of its culture through windows. They have nothing to hide, and windows seem to be a major architectural/cultural construct of the city. They offer a sensation of transparency; culture flows through these windows to the outsiders on the street, and vise versa. This is very different from the U.S, we cherish our privacies and personal spaces; how will I react to this concept? Will I feel a sense of intrusion from outsiders? Will I like the closeness of people, and almost disappearance of personal space? I guess I just have to try for myself to know for sure. In a way, this is how I'm going to experience the effect of urban cities on my self definition of what I really like versus what I thought I liked!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Walk Around The Block

I started reading the article with not much enthusiasm, and wondering how related it would be to my research topic. To my surprise, the more I read the more I felt comfortable with the concept of humanities research. I considered most questions to interviewees to be non verifiable; all based on opinions, likes, feelings, and individual perceptions. Yet it was interesting to see that at the end we could still come up with some conclusions about the general norm. Regardless of background, everyone preferred uniformity. Buildings having the same look, height and characteristics seemed to comfort and please the eye.

I also liked how interviews were held at two different times to give interviewees time to reflect and visualize their feel of spatial form. It was very interesting though that it didn't matter how long it was between the walk and post-walk interview, their feelings and perceptions were almost exactly the same. It seems that someone can forget words, phrases, dates, history, and pretty much everything, except the way we once felt about a place or a certain scene. It's even funny how sometimes a certain smell can take you miles away to an incident that maybe happened years before. I really wish I'll take all the sights, sounds, smells, impressions, alleys and streets of Amsterdam as a part of the whole experience, and eventually be able to strike the relation with the bigger picture....

I do believe that spaces and surrounding environment have a huge impact on our lives, likes and emotions. The fact that residents to an area see it from a totally different perception made absolute sense, the feeling of relation to a whole, or the continuity of a certain neighborhood to the city as a whole can only be built over a period of time.

I am now wondering, will I feel that part to whole relation in Amsterdam?
Will I have enough time to start perceiving my environment as an ordered pattern?
Do Muslims in Amsterdam relate to the city as a whole, or do they only relate to their neighborhoods?
Do they actually live in certain areas, or are they all around the city?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Humanities Research Methods

Before I start asking or answering any questions I might have, I felt the need to read a little more about Islam in Europe in general. The first article that widened my scope of questions was from the Muslim World Journal of Human Rights vol.2 [2005] Issue1 article 2. by Abdullahi An Naim. One of his projects was about:
"How to develop and sustain a valid and effective relationship between scholarship and Muslim social transformation"

Given the fact that the 21st century has been marked by a rise in Anti-Muslim sentiment; specifically the growing human rights concerns for Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries, An-Naim chose to promote the idea of "agents of social change". They are people who are both trusted by their local communities, and are also open and well educated about human rights in relation to the social justice agenda for the external communities (Europe) they live in.
This idea made me think of the role I will be playing through my research project in Amsterdam. In terms of studying the effect of the movie "submission" on local Muslim communities in Amsterdam, I couldn't help but strike the comparison.
Will I be considered "an agent of social change"?
Will I gain the trust of the Muslim community, even though I might not speak their same language, and I'm coming from a totally different country?
Will they be willing to share their feelings with me?

This is where I think I have to defamiliarize myself. I cannot even predict what their reaction might be towards myself, or my research topic. Non verifiable questions might be:

How did the movie make them feel after they first viewed it? Rage? Disappointment? Frustration? Helplessness? or all of the above?
Did they feel any negativity towards the actress and director? Did they feel this movie would alienate them more and put them in danger of more discrimination and hate crimes?
Did they expect a gruesome murder?
Answers to all these questions would be somewhat expected, yet I have a feeling I might be totally surprised with some answers. I believe for humanities, it would be all about reading this story in a reflective mode, given all the probably diverse feelings or reactions, one would always keep putting himself/herself in the Muslims' position and trying to wonder how it felt for them.

As for a social scientist, one would probably want to ask the same exact questions, but after the fact. After the murder, after the local reaction, and after some new considerations for legislation and immigration laws based on current news.

Some verifiable questions would be:
How has the Muslim minority's life changed after "Submission"?
Are they now more willing to assimilate, or are they more willing to embrace Islam as their only identity?

In answer to that question,I found it very interesting to contrast the current Muslim minority issue, with the Jewish identity in the star of David. What used to identify them in a most humiliating way, became their most treasured badge of honor and identity. Are the Hijab, burqa, and beards nothing more than a political statement of complaint? Are they a reaction to discrimination? or are they a way of protection, seclusion, and a disconnect from their external communities? All these questions and more can only be answered in Amsterdam.

In an article called Europe and Islam: Crescent Waxing, Cultures Clashing, by Timothy m. Savage; the historical background of how Islam miraculously ( I still can't figure out how) became Europe's common enemy, was clearly outlined. It is honestly a scary concept originated by NATO secretary Willy Claes who stated that the real threat to the Alliance was Islam.

I am looking forward to more research, more ideas, opinions, and hopefully transformations at least on my part to be able to have a better understanding of the whole situation, and ideally start finding solutions.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Traveler's Literary Companion

This was such an enjoyable read compared to all the internet research I 'm going through for information about the Muslim community in Amsterdam. I felt all the excitement and fun I initially had for the city and its people, everything seems to blend nicely inspite of all the individual diversities. I can't wait to start walking (reading) the city the way it was meant to be.

Amsterdam: City and People
This precisely painted picture of the city was a great review of all the previous readings about the history and background of the people, their common enemy, and the evolution of their tolerance. I particularly liked how the author resembles the city and its body of water to Chinese calligraphy with the land as paper, and water as ink. It is a binding force between the people and the sea, demonstrating the dependence and instrumental relation that was created for life. This everlasting love/hate relationship between Amsterdammers and the sea seems to me to be the premise upon which they acquired, practiced, and honed their tolerance.

People, walls, paintings, bridges, canals, rivers, and houses blend together in this beautiful composition by the author: "A city of all times, and a city in time. A city of stone, wood, water and glass, and also of something that cannot be named in words."

I felt a little envious though when he stated that the city will never reveal her secrets to outsiders who don't know the language or the culture. On the other hand, the author will never experience the feeling of a complete outsider to the beauty and thrill of all its hidden secrets. There's a certain lust and appeal about the unknown, that I can't wait to experience for myself.

Sunday Morning
This really short story was just enough to give me the sense of peaceful Sunday mornings around Amsterdam. Everyone chooses however way to spend their time in harmony with their surroundings and company. The diversities of human nature was so spelled out in such a short piece; from beards, half closed eyes, and pregnant women, to playful children, a digging dog and a peacefully singing congregation. It was the normality of diversity that hit me the most in this piece, again manifesting the idea of eternal tolerance.

Chicken & Cafe Walem
City life with its apartment buildings, close neighbors and busy cafes are part and parcel of Amsterdam. Different as the city may be, the people residing in it are very similar to us in a lot of ways. I could definitely relate to the mother's lack of attention to her husband compared to her attraction( partly guilt) towards her born baby with the sitter. Yet the whole point I believe was how the story was unfolding to the whole cafe, and that neighbors were informed of all the details. I think it's the real flavor of living in close proximity to many people, and almost having no privacy. This can be very disturbing for a lot of us who are used to their personal space and privacy, yet it seems to be the perfect norm for city people. In fact, some people just have to live in busy, noisy areas for them to feel comfortable and alive. Just like Lucy when she moved to the suburbs of New York and started complaining she can't sleep because the "quiet" was so noisy!!

Monday, April 17, 2006


As sad and humiliating as it was watching this terrible, ignorant, and slandering movie, I'm extremely happy to have watched it, and would be more than willing to try and cure everyone's intolerance of Islam! ( with movies like that I can't blame anyone for deeming Islam the worst religion ever). Before I start, I have to now agree with Aouragh (The New Yorker article)
when she said "If you are a Muslim, and want to be a star, say terrible things about Islam."

The fact is, everything that is terrible about Ayaan's experience has nothing to do with Islam, in fact Islam came to correct those very atrocious acts against women. What she is describing is the terrible and abominable acts of sexual abuse happening all over the world, and in all cultures. Believe me when I tell you that exactly a week ago on NPR, was the first time I even heard about the suffering of Eve Ensler's (Vagina Monologues) from her abusive father, and her mother's tolerance for such behavior under her own eyes. I honestly felt sick to my stomach, and never thought an act like that was even possible. Watching "Submission" reminded me of the same situation, Ali (if truthful) has definitely suffered a lot, but for her to translate God's sayings as allowing such atrocities is just unacceptable. If she even listened to God's first word in the Quoran " Read" she would've been able to actually understand the very same verse she was describing. She could've spared Islam all the intolerance we now feel against it as a religion, and against all who believe in it. There is a HUGE difference between culture, and religion. Unfortunately, and because of a lot of ignorance on the part of Muslims and non Muslims alike, a lot of people blame Islam for stupid cultural intolerant behavior. Generalizations are terrible, believing whatever you hear or see without critical thinking and deeper investigation to come at a logical result is definitely a mistake we all commit, but to always judge on face value and according to other people's points of views, with a very clear intention to degrade a specific religion is honestly an intolerant behavior. On the other hand, killing people with intolerant behavior is still not the solution, we can't solve intolerance by more intolerance. We can only discuss, understand, "READ", communicate, acknowledge, respect, and tolerate, if we ever want to live in peace.

I can go on and on explaining each scene and debunking the false accusations about Islam, but I believe it would be best to discuss such issues while in class. Please, please, feel free to ask me any questions about Islam, and I will answer to the best of my knowledge, and if I couldn't, I'll ask and get you the best answer based on fact and nothing else.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Pragmatic Tolerance

I have to say the reading about moral consensus, moral dissent, and the logic behind pragmatic tolerance was extremely intriguing. Learning about the history and roots of tolerance in the Netherlands was very enlightening. The tension between commerce and Calavanism made absolute sense, and demonstrated that regardless of the culture, time, and circumstances; tensions between moral views always existed and will continue to exist as long as humans still populate the earth. The brilliant idea of keeping both opposing parties happy, has to be given due credit and respect. Maintaining illegal status for all morally controversial acts in the Netherlands keeps Calvinists and conservatives confident in just regulations and penalties on the one hand, while liberals and supporters of moral dissent are also confident knowing the conditions on how to evade criminal persecution.

As much as pragmatic tolerance appears to be a wonderful brilliant solution to all tensions, the author still agrees that it's much easier said than done. I also enjoyed very much the idea that there are situations in which it is necessary to stand up for what one thinks is morally right regardless of the consequences. As hard as it seems now to stand up for ones own moral values, and also have respect for the idea of pragmatic tolerance ( it sure has a lot of pros), I can't help but think about the questions :
How intolerant can we be to over abused tolerant behavior?
How far can we go in pretending/or turning our heads from indecent behavior like prostitution, drugs, and domestic abuse for example?
I just can't help but remember one of the best pieces of advice from my dad: " No matter the circumstances, stick to what you believe is morally correct." The definition of morally correct can of course be interpreted in so many ways, and can come from different views, cultures and religions. Yet, diverse as we all may be, we can't deny the fact that all instincts are quite the same; our balance of what is morally correct or in correct is still very strong, and most of us still depend (and will never let go) of that gut feeling of whether to go, right, left, or simply just straight!!

Another very interesting idea was the different ways in bringing about moral consensus. The contrast between an absolute tyranny and an open democracy was very logical, but can we really draw a line between both approaches? Can we have absolute democracy in real life? The answer is obviously no. But, we can at least try to move towards open democracy based on critical debate, respect, and mutual understanding. Paying extra attention to the subjects of moral consensus is key for achieving success; in other words we have to set our expectations right based on each societal unit.

The evolution of pragmatic tolerence with regard to Euthanasia in the Netherlands was a great example of successful tolerance for a strongly debated issue. I couldn't help but remeber the wonderful movie " The Sea Inside" or "Mar a Dentro" that took the Oscar for best international movie last year. It is one of the best movies ever to really dive deep into the definition of life, death, and the reason behind both. Watch it, you'll never regret it!!