Muslims In The Iraq War: A Cinematic Perspective

On Wednesday, November 1 I attended the lecture with Dr. Kristian Peterson entitled “Muslims In The Iraq War: A Cinematic Perspective”. I’m taking a class in Arabic called “Media and Politics” and the professor decided to replace our usual class with this lecture. I’m not sure what I expected from the talk; however, i have to admit that I was a little let down. I am not interested in film at all and I the only movies that I watch are the occasional documentary. Dr. Peterson talked about a set of war films that I had obviously never seen. I think that the talk might have been more interesting if I had seen the films that he based his lecture on.

Dr. Peterson’s position was that Muslims in the Iraq war were portrayed unfairly in film, thus making the intended audience of these films more likely to view Arab Muslims unfavorably. While I agree with his point, I think that his lecture was a little one-sided. I think that he did a good job of proving how these movies portrayed Arab Muslims in a negative light; although, I think he failed to provide enough evidence to show a link between these films and public perception of Arab Muslims. I would have liked to see Dr. Peterson spend more time developing the second part of his position.

Overall I think that talk was mediocre. I think that for someone who is interested in film this lecture might have been more interesting.

2hwa Culture in Cairo

The 2hwa (pronounced aah-wuh is such a beautiful thing.

2hwa (or قهوة) can mean coffee or coffee shop.

There are different kinds of 2hwas and they’re made for different kinds of people.

Some 2hwas are only for old men. They don’t have a sign that says “OLD MEN ONLY” but any woman approaching can clearly see that she’s not welcome there. These are usually “neighborhood” 2hwas where men go to watch sports, play a board game, drink coffee, and smoke unflavored معسل tobacco from a hookah pipe.

Some neighborhood 2hwas are welcoming to women and families; Our local 2hwa had reserved the inside tables for women and families. (this ensured that the women wouldn’t be harassed or bothered from male patrons and/or passing onlookers) More and more women are smoking shisha (hookah) in Egypt and it is slowly becoming a more accepted practice but it is by no means a “normal” thing for women or teenagers to do.

There are fancy 2hwas (i visited one in the souq or market) and there are cafés like Costa Coffee or Starbucks. The owner of the 2hwa is called the ma3lim and if he’s not present his second in command becomes the ma3lim. It’s his job to ensure the customers are comfortable, nothing sketchy occurs, and people feel like coming back.

Arabic Flagship Talent Show

On Friday, December 1st I attended the Arabic Flagship Talent Show. Each club and Arabic class (except for the 4000 level courses) is expected to produce a video, sing a song, or display a talent for the talent show at the end of the semester. Since I coordinate Egyptian club, i was involved in creating a video for the talent show. We coordinated with Darija Club (Darija is the dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco) and produced a video together. Our video was composed of skits poking fun at the difference between Morocco and Egypt in terms of language and culture. Every year the talent show is catered by a Moroccan family from Edmond and the food is always amazing! There was chicken, kebab, bread, rice, tabbouleh, hummus, and salad. The show began with a performance by the belly dancing club. I enjoyed their performance because they danced to one of my favorite songs in Arabic. I was really happy to see the video produced by the class that I TA. Most of the students in Beginning Arabic really pushed themselves to demonstrate their language skills. I like to go to the talent show because it is an opportunity for students to show off their abilities in Arabic. The talent show is an opportunity for people to come together and appreciate Arab culture and the Arabic language.

Egyptian Club

I’m still involved in the Arabic Flagship as student, a tutor, and a TA. Through Flagship I founded the Egyptian club last year with my friends Lamis and Youssef. We try to offer a wide variety of perspectives relating to Egypt in order to give students the most accurate and complete information. Egyptian club met weekly on Fridays to discuss political, cultural, and linguistic elements of Egypt and Egyptian Arabic. I visited Egypt last December and I’ll be visiting again this December. I have been studying Arabic for the past 3 ½ years and I have chosen to focus of the Egyptian dialect. Through my travel and studies, I have grown to understand and appreciate complex political and social elements of Egyptian society. In Egyptian Club, I gave a presentation on Sha’abi music and the different iterations of Sha’bi both past and present. I really enjoy sharing my knowledge with other Flagship students and I hope that in doing so, I can help to shed light on a country that is often misunderstood. I love discussing cultural and linguistic differences between Egypt and other Arab countries so that I am able to better understand the Middle East. I plan to continue my involvement in Egyptian Club until I graduate in May. After I graduate I hope that Youssef will continue to hold club meetings and keep the club alive.

International Studies

My classes this semester were awesome. I had some of my favorite professors, i’ve written papers on some of my favorite topics, and i’ve spent quality time with my best friends. I’m incredibly happy with my choice of majors and if you’re considering pursuing a degree in International Studies I highly recommend it! Here’s a brief overview of the classes I took this semester.

 

Survey of French Literature Since 1800

FR4163 — Dr. Logan Whalen

This course treated french-language texts from French authors from 1768 to 2005. I am extremely happy that I took this course. Dr. Whalen was very personable and the course expectations were clearly outlined from day 1. Some of the texts were rather long; however, the readings were generally spaced out and it was always very manageable. My favorite texts from the class were Rene (Chateaubriand) and Magnus (Sylvie Germain).

 

Arabic Literature and Culture

MLLL-3413 — Dr. Waleed Mahdi

This class used film and literature to gain a sampling of popular themes discussed in media from the Arab world. I’m not a fan of movies so I thought the course was a little movie-heavy for my taste. One book, The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, was particularly fun to read.

 

US-Arab Cultural Encounters

IAS-3783 — Dr. Waleed Mahdi

The readings for this class were mainly focused on presenting the main theories one comes across when studying the Middle East (Orientalism, Occidentalism, post-Orientalism, Class of Civilizations, etc). I found this ideological overview to be helpful in my other classes.

** I wrote a combined final paper for both of Dr. Mahdi’s classes comparing Kanye West and Shaaban Abd Al-Rahim and their representation of marginalized communities

Advanced Arabic

ARAB-3223 — Dr. Hossam Barakat

The vocab we learned in this class has already proved to be useful. I think this class gave me a great base to work with when I take Media and Politics next semester. I appreciated the mix of grammar, culture, and vocabulary.

Arab Spring

HON-3993 — Dr. Joshua Landis

Another wonderfully informative class from Dr. Landis. I am never disappointed with his courses. The assigned readings are perfect for gaining insight into the political landscape of the Middle East. I wrote 3 papers for this class: a paper on the Egyptian Revolution, a paper on ISIS and Syria, and a paper on US-Saudi relations. Overall, I would highly recommend this course to IS students who are interested in geopolitics, the Middle East, and International Relations.

The Yemeni Conundrum

Tuesday, February 28 at 4pm I attended the lecture with Mustafa Bahran titled “The Yemeni Conundrum”. Bahran is a visiting professor from the University of Sana’a in Yemen. He began by presenting a general overview of the country, citing facts about Yemen’s physical size, population statistics, and religious composition. He showed photos from various regions of Yemen such as Hadramut, Aden, and Sana’a in order to display the diversity of flora, fauna, architecture, and customs that exists in Yemen. The first twenty minutes of the lecture could be described as aggressively nostalgic.

After the introduction to Yemen, Bahran described the political history of the country. He talked about the unification in 1990, the civil war between the north and south in 1994, and the southern movement of 2007. I enjoyed the way he presented the conflict in Yemen because he refrained from making overly positive or derogatory comments about any of the actors currently involved. He explained how former president Saleh introduced democratization efforts, how the Houthis had legitimate concerns, and how Hadi had been the last democratically elected president and therefore had a serious claim to power.

I appreciated the unique perspective he offered having served as the Minister of Electricity and Energy and as a cabinet member. He analyzed the various actors involved in the conflict as being at fault in some way. The most interesting part for me was when he discussed how local warlords and low-level criminals are fighting for both Hadi’s side and the Houthis’ side and are focused only on making money at the detriment of the Yemeni people.

Imperfect Strangers

On Monday, March 20 I attended the lecture entitled “Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s” presented by Dr. Salim Yaqub, a guest lecturer from University of California at Santa Barbara. The lecture focused on the diplomatic strategies and challenges that shaped the 1970s in terms of US-Arab relations. Yaqub’s book, Imperfect Strangers, argues that the 1970s are the most important years to consider when analyzing the politics of the Middle East in terms of American involvement.

This lecture provided insight into how American diplomatic strategies influenced the outcomes of Middle Eastern regional conflicts. He provided examples of American policy-makers and state department officials and how their communication styles affected their ability to form personal relationships with world leaders. He spent a lot of time developing a clear picture of Henry Kissinger and his two-faced diplomacy as revealed by the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict where he was able to help neutralize Egypt, thus preventing a more serious conflict on a pan-Arab scale.

This class aims to explore cultural encounters between the United States and Arab countries. Perhaps the most relatable part of Yaqub’s lecture was his explanation of the significance of physical contact between males in the Middle East as a way to show closeness and sincerity. This, Yaqub argued, allowed Kissinger to develop better relations with Egyptian, Jordanian, and Saudi leaders. This was an interesting way to understand international relations on a micro scale through the lens of cultural mores. In the United States it is abnormal for men to show such affection; however, Kissinger leveraged his understanding of this cultural difference and he influenced the outcomes of major international conflicts because of this.

Forum on Democracy

On Thursday, February 23 I attended the event Forum on Democracy hosted in the Meacham Auditorium of the Oklahoma Memorial Union. I missed the presentations for Panel 1; however, I was present for the question and answer period of Panel 1, as well as the presentations of two speakers on Panel 2. The second presentation I listened to entitled “Identities Under Surveillance” was given by Mirelsi Velasquez, a graduate student at OU.

She began by displaying images of Japanese children accompanied by letters written by Japanese-American elementary school students who were forced into internment camps in California in 1942. She also discussed the issue of Mexican repatriation in the 1930s. Her intent was to show the way that minority communities in the United States have historically lived in fear as a way to show that we cannot hope to live democratically while we continue to oppress religious and ethnic minorities. These examples of past oppression were paralleled by examples of fear imposed on minorities happening today such as legal residents of the US being detained at airports, Mexican-American families ripped apart by deportation, and anti-Muslim rhetoric permeating the political atmosphere.

This lecture relates to a course i’m taking called US-Arab cultural encounters because the speaker discussed cultural encounters between the United States and minority/immigrant communities and the oppressive nature of these interactions. While the speaker did not explicitly discuss US interactions with Arab countries, she shed light on the hypocrisy of US democracy promotion while it simultaneously engages in the systematic oppression of religious and ethnic minority communities.

Caroline in Cairo: Observations

Over winter break I traveled to Cairo, Egypt where I spent a month with Lamis and her family. I had an amazing time, learned a lot of Arabic, saw some crazy stuff, and returned with a lot of stories! Here are some observations I made while in Egypt.

 

TRANSPORTATION

I’ve taken all forms of transportation available in Cairo.
Train- pretty cool. average train ride. my ticket from Cairo to Alexandria and back was 90 Egp.
Bus- no. never again.
Minibus- so so so crowded. also scary.
Microbus- super cheap and generally pretty trustworthy. Most tickets were 4 Egp.
TukTuk- So much fun! They’re usually decorated with feathers, lights, or stickers. The only downside is how slow they are.
Boxtruck- Yikes. Crammed with people, nails sticking out of the sides, guys hanging on the back, and a very bumpy ride.
Taxi- some drivers have timers that determine the fare. These drivers are suuuuper slow. Downside of taxi is that sometimes the drivers try to be funny.

1st Microbus ride! In a boxtruck with Salwa (Lamis's friend) before it filled with people! a camel counts as transportation, right?! a mean taxi driver In Lamis's father's car on the way to her mother's village! a man in a village outside of Tanta driving his cart a donkey with a job I rode a donkey sans saddle. it was scarier than the camel.  Lamis's cousin was very patient and only laughed at me a little bit. the train to Alexandria. round trip= 90 egp a boat we rode in Alexandria

There are no rules for driving. At all.

Cars will try to run you over. Especially female drivers.

Crosswalks either don’t exist or they’re not visible. Crossing the street basically just means jumping in front of cars and looking mean enough to hopefully make them stop for you.

Sidewalks are where stores conduct business, the street is shared by pedestrians and cars.

Traffic lights and stop signs are suggestions.

Animal-drawn carts aren’t the weirdest thing. If you leave the house you’re most likely going to see at least one donkey pulling an orange cart

 

FOOD

While in Egypt i ate pigeon, rabbit, quail, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, ful, t3mayya, kufta, koshary, mulukhayya, and just about every other thing you could think of. The food was always so good. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent host mother (my friend’s mom) who was continuously cooking for us.

1st meal in Egypt! kufta from down the street 1st breakfast! (Lamis's mom said "Don't port this picture! they'll think i'm starving you!") cotton candy at the souq! I wanted the heart and i didn't even ask, the guy just knew. snacks and drinks by the Nile (Lamis and her dad got a hummus drink) Lemonade with mint and pomegranate juice with seeds eating Libyan food with Lamis's old neighbors posing with a dead pigeon Lamis's aunt cleaning the rice for our lunch Lamis's aunt baking the rice a delicious home cooked meal in a village outside of Tanta creeper shot of the meal Koshary (not at Abu Tarek's place) Egypt has Chili's and Johnny Carino's ??? cotton candy by the sea (not pictured: the sea) a very popular seafood restaurant in Alexandria my plate of seafood

Nescafé is love. Nescafé is life.

Guests are served coffee, tea, juice, or Nescafé made to their specifications on a silver tray.

Every meal must have side dishes. Grape leaves, stuffed vegetables, other meats.

Black tea usually follows a meal.

There are endless types of cheeses and everyone has a different favorite. *Cue weird looks if you eat the wrong cheese with the wrong meat.*

You can get a sandwich for 2 Egp (shoutout to Shabrawwi) that tastes amazing.

Falafel is called T3mayya is Cairo. Just go with it.

Abu Tarek has the best koshary and that’s final.

Lemonade will probably never be the same for me. I drank a lot of Lemonade with mint, 2hwa mazboot (sweetened Turkish coffee), and tea with mint. I also tried fresh mango, strawberry, and guava juice!

 

 

SOCIETY

There is a song for everything. Everything has a movie or TV show reference, a little chant, a song, or some connection to pop culture. 

Key gestures and phrases made my life 1000x easier.

ex: there’s a gesture to show someone you’re actually full and not just being nice.

there’s a phrase to tell the person asking for money that you don’t have any but you hope their life gets easier.

*sidenote* sometimes shopkeepers will tell you that your items are free and you don’t have to pay. they’re just being nice %99 of the time and you really do need to pay

I’m creating a second post dedicated solely to shisha and coffee shops.

The Quran is absolutely EVERYWHERE. This might’ve been the biggest shock for me when I got to Egypt. Almost every car has بسم الله, ما شاء الله, الله اكبر or some other religious phrase written in sharpie, painted, or (the most common) attached as a sticker. Taxis, buses, microbuses, and minibuses are especially decked out in written prayers asking for God’s protection. Quranic recitation is unbelievably prevalent. I heard recordings of the Quran being played in: taxis, microbuses, grocery stores, on the street, shops, etc. I was touring the Citadel in Alexandria and i even heard one of the cleaning men reciting the Quran.

*sidenote* One of the mechanics across the street from Lamis’s house blared the Quran non-stop 24/7 the only exception being during soccer games.

Idle chitchat is mandatory when a guest comes over. I really value alone time so i occasionally struggled to keep up with the Egyptian social life.

People stare. A lot. Some people make weird comments. No one ever touched me or was hostile. 

Personal space doesn’t exist outside of the house. There are a ton of people in Cairo and it’s very apparent when there’s a big event or holiday. (like New Year’s Eve)

Foreign brands are everywhere (they have cheetos).

People yell in the streets at all hours of the night. It’s fine. Most people are awake anyway. 

Being late is normal. Meeting times are just general suggestions, give or take a couple hours.

Men will invoke the name of God while catcalling you because that makes it fine???

 MONEY

Haggling is a must. Speaking Arabic helps. Being Egyptian helps even more.

The conversion rate during my time in Egypt was about 18-20 Egp/ 1 USD.

Egypt was very affordable for me but worsening economic woes have exacerbated class tensions as purchasing power decreases and prices of basic goods continue to rise.

I gave my dollars to Lamis’s dad to convert for me at the bank. I didn’t mess with conversion companies but I did see some around.

I bought lots of gifts and spent rather freely and i ended up spending ~1100 Egp / Week. (including a train to Alexandria and frequent trips to coffee shops)

 

I know that generalizations aren’t the best way to obtain a nuanced perspective of a country or a culture; however, the aim of this post is to provide a fun and funny glimpse into Egypt as I saw it.

Arabic Flagship

This semester I participated in the Drama club and the Poetry club through the Arabic Flagship. I also worked as an Arabic tutor and a TA for the Beginning Arabic continued class. The Arabic Flagship helps students studying Arabic achieve a greater level of proficiency in a shorter amount of time. The Flagship hosts weekly meetings in Arabic to discuss cultural and linguistic topics. This semester OU hosted several guest speakers through the Flagship program. The topics ranged from Political Cartoons, to Study Abroad opportunities, to Music.

The poetry club was hosted by my friend Sophie and Ustaaz Hossam Barakat. I thoroughly enjoyed this club because I was introduced to a wide variety of poetry from all across the Arab world. I discovered a wonderful Egyptian poet named Ahmed Fouad Negm and I performed one of his poems at the annual Arabic Flagship Talent Show. My favorite poem that we studied in poetry club was probably Kalaam by Mashroa Leila. This song was written as a response to the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting.

The summer after my freshman year I studied at the University of Texas and participated in the Arabic Summer Intensive program and I’ve just applied to study next summer in Oman. I’m so thankful for the opportunities afforded to me through the flagship program. The people that I’ve met and the connections that i’ve made have helped me to continuously challenge myself on my Arabic learning journey.

I would encourage any Freshman who are considering applying to the Flagship to contact me with questions. I truly believe that Flagship helps students who are serious about Arabic reach their full potential.