Climate Change

This year I applied to be on the OU Green Week Exec committee again, and I was thrilled to find out I will get to help make Green Week happen in 2018. While Green Week is not technically an international group, I like to post updates here about Green Week because climate change is the ultimate international issue. The challenge of confronting this devastating problem of our own creation has the potential to be an invaluable equalizer and unifier between people of all nations. We all belong to the earth and we all will suffer if climate change is not addressed very very quickly. Like yesterday.

Green Week is not going to stop the tides of climate change, obviously, but it is important for everyone to do something. In a state like Oklahoma, universities are the only place that a completely honest conversation about sustainability and climate change can happen, because of how environmentalism has gotten so foolishly wrapped up in politics. I hope that as people learn more and more about climate change (and they are going to have to, if recent weather projections are to be believed) our politicians will learn to grow and represent the growing number of people who are starting to think globally in terms of sustainability. I am really looking forward to planning some great events for 2018 and trying to make the next Green Week the best yet.


Cholera in Yemen

I have not been able to stop thinking about the ongoing cholera outbreak in Yemen. Cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, and yet there have been close to one million cases in Yemen in the past year. As a global community, it should not be difficult to prevent a catastrophe like this, but it is still happening. We are choosing to let this happen. It’s not something that any of us do consciously… or is it?

The outbreak also demonstrates the necessity to maintain social and political stability. It is absolutely necessary for societies across the world to move progressively towards a more equitable world, but outbreaks such as this show how important it is to safeguard the stability of basic services that any political regime should provide.

My thought here a bit of a jumbled mess but it is hard to put together rational thoughts about something that has no reason to be happening.


International Bazaar

This year, for the first time I attended the International Bazaar on the South Oval. I actually just kind of wandered into it, I didn’t even know it was going on, but it was really cool! The International Bazaar is a day when the International Advisory Committee has their organizations set up booths on the South Oval, up near the Bizzell statue and set up activities for students walking by. Some groups were selling shirts or bracelets. There were face-painting stations and henna tattoos. It was really cool. The idea is to attract more people to our school’s international groups. It reminded me of the Social Responsibility Fair that Green Week sets up on the Oval every year.

They definitely succeeded in grabbing my attention.

I loved seeing the diverse group of international organizations our campus is home to. I am definitely happy I had the time to stop by and learn what all the booths were about, because some days I just don’t have time to talk to the various booths that pop up on the oval. But these booths at the bazaar just radiated a fun atmosphere that I wanted to explore. That’s definitely a sign of a great event. The IAC did an excellent job.


Italy Week

When I started the fall semester, I found myself missing Italy quite a bit. I was only there for a month, but I really had gotten into the groove of what life was like in Arezzo over the last two weeks or so. I had been so nervous about going on a long trip and not knowing anyone, but by the end I had made great friends and I genuinely got along with everyone in my Journey to Italy group. So in September, despite being happy to see my roommates and friends from classes, part of me really wanted to go back. I remember that it was Italy Week on campus, which is when the College of International Studies and the Study Abroad office hosts events to encourage students to take advantage of the OU Arezzo program.

No event can even come close to replicating what it’s like to be in Italy, but I decided to go anyway because I hoped I would see some friends from my trip. (It is a little surreal that all of my friends from OUA also go to OU in Norman with me, because they seem so separate in my head). I went to the event on Tuesday night in the CIS building and sure enough I ran into some friends from my trip. It was really fun to catch up even though our trip was only a little over a month earlier. Long distances make things feel so long ago. We also talked with some prospective students who want to go to OUA soon and absolutely encouraged them to do so.

The next day I even ran into Kirk Duclaux, the OUA director, on the South Oval. He was here for Italy Week. It was a surreal moment, but we had a great, quick conversation and he encouraged me to come back to Arezzo if I ever got the opportunity. I would definitely love to.


The Neustadt Festival

The Neustadt Festival of International Literature and Culture is one of the coolest events at OU. The festival is sponsored by World Literature Today, OU’s famous magazine, and it centers around the awarding of the Neustadt Prize. The prize is an international award for literature and it is available to poets, prose writers, and playwrights. I was not aware that OU hosted such a unique festival until last year after it occurred, so this year I decided to look into it. The Neustadt Prize is given out by a panel of jurors chosen by World Literature Today. Those jurors then each nominate one writer from anywhere in the world based on their literary merit. Amazingly, 31 people involved with the prize (i.e. jurors, nominees, and prize recipients) have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature since 1970. THE Nobel Prize. How did I not know about this? Why isn’t every student at OU so proud of this festival that his or her heart might just burst?

This year, I couldn’t make it to the presentation of the prize, which was a disappointment, but I was determined to get a taste of the Neustadt Festival, so I attended a poetry reading held on the first day. This reading was by the Neustadt jurors who write poetry. As I sat in my chair in the fanciest room of the Union, ready to listen, I didn’t know what to expect. I was unfamiliar with all four of the poets. However, once the reading began, I was amazed by the amount of literary talent I was sharing a room with. I was particularly enamored with Major Jackson’s work and that of Ladan Osman, a Somali-American poet.

I wish I could have made it to the presentation of the big award, which went to Edwidge Danticat. Next year I will make an effort to attend the NSK award (it alternates with the Neustadt prize every other year). The part of the Festival I was able attend was enough to make me very, very proud of my school.


International Topic: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is undergoing a fascinating consolidation of power led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, son of the current king. Mohammad bin Salman is looking to earn support for when he eventually ascends to the throne by rooting out corruption and modernizing the country.

Recently, this means that he has placed members of the royal family and other wealthy businessmen under what is essentially house arrest in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. They have been under arrest in the 5-star hotel since late October/early November while corruption investigations are pending. This shakedown is a bold display to earn support from Saudi citizens who disparage the corruption in the country, but this shakedown by bin Salman is itself a kind of facade — a display of power in the name of justice.

Mohammad bin Salman’s actions as of late have been incredibly bold, perhaps because he is trying to establish himself as a strong leader following the controversial way that he came to be the crown prince. Originally, bin Salman was not next in line for the crown. King Salman first named his brother Prince Muqrin crown prince in early 2015. A few months later, King Salman instead named his nephew Muhammad bin Nayef as crown prince and his son Mohammad bin Salman as deputy crown prince. In 2017, King Salman once again caused a shakeup and named his own son as crown prince. All the kings of Saudi Arabia have been sons of Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, save for Ibn Saud himself who was the first king. Therefore, Mohammad bin Salman’s succession to the throne would be a major shift in tradition in Saudi Arabia, and it indicates that King Salman is looking to establish a hereditary line of succession in Saudi Arabia.

I, for one, am very interested in seeing how this consolidation of power plays out since it has such large implications for the future of the country and of the region.


Further reading on the subject:


International Group: Egyptian Club pt. 2

Like last semester, my international group this semester was the Egyptian Club, which met every Friday from 1:30 to 2:30. Once again, the Egyptian Club was led by two Egyptian students and their close American friend who taught us about Egyptian culture, including underground music, children’s television programs, the Coptic religion, and the LGBTQ community. The Egyptian Club was always a great way to end my week on Fridays because the moderators are so knowledgeable and friendly and funny. Even though I was in the club last year, I continued to learn even more this semester.

My favorite presentation was on the LGBTQ community in Egypt. During the presentation, we learned important vocabulary for describing the LGBTQ community as well as organizations that support LGBTQ rights in Egypt. We discussed important figures who identify as LGBTQ in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as some common perceptions of the LGBTQ community in society at large. I really like this club because of the way it supplements my Arabic learning outside of the classroom. This presentation gave me tons of information that I later used in my own presentation on gender that I gave in my Arabic language class.

The Egyptian Club partnered with the Moroccan Darija Club to produce a video for the end-of-year Arabic Talent Show sponsored by the Arabic Flagship Program. The video played off the pretend rivalry that exists between the two clubs by humorously highlighting the differences in the two cultures in terms of hand gestures, language, and musical tastes. I think it was a fun way to conclude the talent show, and I would like to do a collaboration with the Darija Club again next semester.

In what is becoming something of a trend, I will be joining the Egyptian Club once again next semester. I look forward to covering new and different topics and revisiting old favorites like the important slang that I need in my attempt to talk like an Egyptian.

International Event: “It’s Good to Be the King, or Is It?” Lecture

It's Good to Be the King Lecture On Friday, November 3, the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies welcomed Dr. Mohamed Daadaoui as part of the Brown Bag Lecture Series. Dr. Daadaoui’s lecture “It’s Good to Be the King, or Is It?” discussed the three main challenges facing the Moroccan monarchy, the monarchy’s responses, and what these challenges mean for the future of the monarchy. Dr. Daadaoui concluded that it is no longer good to be the king in Morocco because the monarchy has opened itself up to criticism by delving into the political fray. Dr. Daadaoui predicted that it will take reinvention to lift the monarchy back into its place of irreproachability.

After an introduction by Dr. Samer Shehata, Dr. Daadaoui launched right into his lecture. After differentiating the types of monarchies and management techniques they employ, Dr. Daadaoui presented the three challenges to the monarchy. The most effective example was the challenge presented by the popularity of the Party for Justice and Development under the leadership of Abdelilah Benkirane, and the monarchy’s response of sacking him. This example best demonstrated how the monarchy had lowered itself into the political scene. Dr. Daadaoui convincingly demonstrates that doing so has shifted the monarchy’s iconography from one of order and stability to one of a political institution capable of being criticized, and it will therefore require rebranding to succeed in the long run.

Dr. Daadaoui was careful not to portend the death of the monarchy, which makes his argument more credible because it is clear from the 2011 uprisings that there is no predicting the future of the region’s regimes. The lecture was very substantial and provided solid evidence for its claims, without going too extreme in its conclusions.

International Event: A is For Arab Traveling Exhibit

A is for Arab Exhibit          On the lower level of the Bizzell Memorial Library is the A is for Arab traveling exhibit, which comes from the Jack G. Shaheen Archive from New York University. The exhibit seeks to depict and subvert the stereotypical portrayals of Arabs in American pop culture. The exhibit is composed of eight large panels — front and back — six of which introduce the exhibit and the stereotypical portrayals of Arabs and two of which challenge the prevalent stereotypes. The exhibit is on loan through October 27. Although a compact exhibit, A is for Arab successfully introduces viewers to the topic and makes them confront some of their own prejudices and assumptions that are perpetuated by U.S. pop culture.

The exhibit is limited because it is a traveling exhibit, so there is not a lot of material to read or view; however, the exhibit makes good use of what space it has by showing many different representations of Arabs over the last 100 years, all of which center on Arabs being “other” and therefore inherently different than the white Western consumer. I think the exhibit highlights the most damaging realizations of Arabs in American media — that Arab women are oppressed and sexualized and Arab men are terrorists out to destroy the West. Although the exhibit does not delve deeply into the consequences of these representations, the images do speak for themselves, and they tell a story of a country with a white-savior complex and a mission to vilify a region in order to justify its own behavior.

The best panel of the exhibit is the V is for Villain panel because it reflects what I consider to be the biggest prejudice Americans have toward Arabs. This panel does an excellent job connecting the dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims to the violence committed against them. Of course, a single film or comic book is not going to drive someone to commit a hate crime, and the panel does not argue this. Rather, the exhibit as a whole and this panel in particular show how an upbringing raised on such images truly does have an impact in the way people view each other. After the attacks on 9/11, Americans were desperate to view all Arabs as terrorists out to destroy their way of life, and pop culture fed them the narrative they wanted to hear. The panel points out how Hollywood does not distinguish one nationality from another and therefore portrays the region monolithically, which only makes it easier to dehumanize all people from the Middle East (and even beyond since Americans often do not distinguish Arabs from South Asians).

Although I understand the constraints, I wish the exhibit included more current examples of depictions of Arabs in pop culture. While I understood the message of the exhibit, I could not fully appreciate many of the examples because they were from so long ago. Since this is an exhibit traveling around colleges, I think the exhibit could stand to benefit by including more recent examples so college students would have to confront how the media they grew up with perpetuates the same stereotypes that have been around for decades.

The exhibit is a valid condemnation of the way Americans have portrayed Arabs in their media. The stereotypes on display are ones that surround me every day in headlines, in Hollywood, in conversations. The message in the exhibit is one that needs to be said more often and more loudly if we ever want to see American culture change to truly be more tolerant and welcoming like we often pride ourselves on being.

International Event: “Producing Healthy Citizens” Lecture

Producing Healthy Citizens: The Politics of Women's Outdoor Exercise in IranOn Friday, October 6, guest lecturer Dr. Nazanin Shahrokni, an assistant professor from Syracuse University, presented a lecture entitled “Producing Healthy Citizens: The Politics of Women’s Outdoor Exercise in Iran” as part of the Iranian Studies Lecture Series. After a brief introduction by Dr. Manata Hashemi, an assistant professor in the Farzaneh Family Center, Dr. Shahrokni began her lecture, in which she demonstrated how the Iranian state has pivoted its discourse on women from objects of Islamic morality that the state must protect to citizens whose health is vital for the well-being of the nation. The lecture was engaging and informative throughout, although there were a few areas that I hope are further addressed in her upcoming book tentatively titled For Women Only: The State and Politics of Gender Segregation in Iran. 

Dr. Shahrokni began the lecture with an anecdote from 2010 when she met with a director from the Tehran municipality office, who lamented that the women-only parks designed to foster healthier women (and therefore better wives and mothers) became spaces that created feminists who nagged their husbands. The anecdote was attention-grabbing and introduced the topic of the lecture: the development and politics of gender-segregation in Iran. Honestly, I feel that the lecture should have had a title more along the lines of “Producing Healthy Citizens: The Shifting Politics of Gender-Segregation in Iran” because the lecture was on more than just women’s outdoor exercise and it might have attracted a bigger audience.

With the help of a PowerPoint and key graphics, Dr. Shahrokni presented her evidence chronologically, which was an effective way of presenting her position because it clearly demonstrated the shifting dialogue from the Iranian state regarding gender-segregation as well as women’s reactions to these women-only spaces. After a brief historical background of the Pahlavi Dynasty and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Shahrokni then compared in more detail the 1980s in Iran versus the 2000s. The graphic for this information was very strong because it showed how gender-segregation was originally framed in a narrative of Islamic morality and only later became framed in a narrative that women’s health is important because of their role as citizens of the state. Later in the lecture, there was another strong visual that showed the transition from the 1980s when women’s exercise was viewed as a problem to the 1990s when women were allowed to exercise in public but largely remained inside and up to the 2000s with the emergence of women-only parks as popular spaces for women of all ages to not only exercise outdoors but also organize politically and form bonds across class and social divides.

While the lecture convincingly demonstrated the implications of gender segregated spaces for women, it did not fully answer what the shifting gender segregation practices reflect about the Iranian state — which was one of the guiding questions of Dr. Shahrokni’s research. I believe that this question could have been more fully answered by discussing the future of women-only spaces as well as a more in-depth discussion about the consequences of the Ministry of Education’s report that directly linked wearing the veil with a decline in school girls’ health. Additionally, a discussion about similar segregation elsewhere in the region might have provided more context for the Iranian state’s decision and its implications.