middle east

  • Breaking Gender Boundaries in the Middle East: It takes Balls, Brains, & Bravery

    The past month in the US has proven big in gender and LGBT issues – Bruce Jenner’s transgender interview changed the way America sees trans individuals, the supreme court makes a decision on proposition 8 regarding same sex marriage, and the nation faces the potential of its first woman president with Hillary’s bid to run.  And though there are still major strides to be made, America seems to be accepting change at an increasingly accelerated pace.

    What do changes in social gender norms mean in nations outside of American boundaries?  Change is in the air in the post-Arab Spring Middle East as well.

    As parts of the MENA region face increasing oppression under fierce dictators and the rule of terror groups like ISIS – there are young people in areas outside of terror control that are breaking the gender boundaries such Islamist groups seek to maintain.

    During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, women were pivotal in leading the cause to advance their rights and place in Egyptian society.  But even as laws change in a few short years, social fabric can often take a generation.  In Egypt, women have been taking this into their own hands. Recently, Egypt awarded a mother, Sisa Abu Daooh, who dressed like a man for more than 40 years in order to provide for her family.  Illiterate and widowed, she was forced to find work to support her children – being a woman in Egypt can be dangerous, being a woman in the work force equally so, but she courageously worked to do so – albeit dressed like a man.

    However, there are women of a younger generation that are trying to break traditional work barriers without the gender-bending cloak and veil.  Mennatullah El-Husseiny sought to break taboos of women’s place in the public social fabric of Egypt by doing jobs considered to be “only for men.”

    Turkish male belly-dancer (zenne) performing. Photo Credit: Al Monitor

    Turkish male belly-dancer (zenne) performing.
    Photo Credit: Al Monitor

    Women are not the only ones who are trying to crack the glass ceiling they face in the Middle East – in Turkey, young men are brining back an age-old art – the Ottoman tradition of male belly dancing.

    Known in Turkish as zennes, rakkas, or koceks, the art died out during the Ataturk era and has only recently resurfaced, but in the current political atmosphere is considered part of a homosexual culture in Turkey – a sentiment that while still considered taboo in many parts of Turkey, is becoming more accepted in its modern and increasingly globalizing society.  And although the zenne scene in Turkey is becoming more accepted, one of the male dancers interviewed in an al-Monitor last December still declines to have his name and photo revealed – cracking the glass ceiling can still come with a price…

  • Time to Change the Digital Dialogue on Religion and Violence

    In preparation for writing this blog I scanned the Internet looking for images – and came across the horrific news of the Ethiopian Christians killed by ISIS in a newly released video.

    Photo Source: Minhaj.org

    Photo Source: Minhaj.org

    As I struggled to digest the recent news from ISIS, I tried to determine what I wanted to emphasize most in this new blog – and although history seems to continue to repeat itself, one thing that is left out is the reality of the situations – religion does not justify the killing of others.Throughout history we have seen the repeated loss of innocent lives in the name of one religion or another – during the crusades, many Muslims lost their lives at the hands of Christians.  Yet at no point in time have these values of death in the name of god held to the true message of religion – peace, alms for the poor, and understanding of the plight of others.

    Photo Source: Women News Network

    Photo Source: Women News Network

    Baghdad was once known as the ‘City of Peace’ (Madinat al-Salam) – but that was in another lifetime. And today, even with the trillions of images that exist online, one would be hard pressed to find any images representing Baghdad and peace.Our media perpetuates so much information about the Islamist terrorists whose campaigns are sweeping the Middle East and North Africa – but what is often left out of the media is the distinction between Islamism and Islam.  One of the first things that is important to understand about the Jihadi Salafist ideology that is sweeping the world today is that this is NOT true Islam.

    In an effort to illustrate that Islam is at its core a religion of peace, I attempted to find images to display this for my blog – I was truly shocked at the dearth of imagery available to illustrate this point.  One of the few stories available in the “recent memory” of the Internet that truly illuminated Islam and the peaceful nature of the religion came out of a period of turmoil – the Arab Spring. During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, while Egyptians rallied together,Muslims stood guard to protect the Coptic Christians from violence during prayer – and the Copts did the same.

     

    Viral Photo Shows Muslims Protecting Church in Egypt as Congregants  Attend Mass Amid Threat of Attack Photo Source: TWITTER/JAMES MARTIN SJ SCREEN  SHOT - CHRISTIAN POST

    Viral Photo Shows Muslims Protecting Church in Egypt as Congregants
    Attend Mass Amid Threat of Attack
    Photo Source: TWITTER/JAMES MARTIN SJ SCREEN
    SHOT – CHRISTIAN POST

    Every time an image of a group like ISIS or Ansar Al Sharia is reproduced, or clicked on, it only feeds the propaganda machine these groups are trying to proliferate.  As they bastardize religion by using it as a justification for violence, they are at the same time killing the true peaceful nature of that religion in the minds of those outside of it – feeding the Islamaphobia beast – and furthering their cause against those for hating Islam.

     

    Let’s stop giving them free propaganda.  Send the ArchaeoVenturers Project your images of how Islam represents peace.  Let’s change the dialogue together.