Illegal immigration and the myth of easy life in the West

One hundred sixty-two people lost their lives off the Egyptian coast near the town of Rosetta on Friday. About 150 people are still unaccounted for after a boat carrying hundreds of illegal migrants capsized in the Mediterranean while attempting to head to Europe.

This tragedy, like many others in recent years, has obvious reasons, from apocalyptic wars to dire economics and suffocating political oppression. Tragedies in the midst of a search for a better life outside the Middle East, is not new. In fact, although little known, many victims of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic were Arabs. The difference between the Titanic tragedy and that in Rosetta, however, is not only in the numbers or circumstances, but also in the rationalization and mindsets. While early Arab immigrants calculated risks and tried as best as they could to prepare themselves for a life in the new world, current immigrants are fleeing based on a new level of desperation, such that they are willing to allow traffickers to exploit them.

“A boat that can take 200 had 450 or even 500 on board,” said Sarah Sirgany, in her report for CNN. Egyptians, Syrians, Sudanese and Eritreans joined together for the doomed trip. The Egyptian news portal, Al-Youm al-Sabei, published interviews with several survivors who said that before their journey the migrants had been “stored” for several days in chicken farms by the traffickers to evade police. Some of the interviewees said the traffickers asked for $6,250 per family to be given upon arrival in Italy.

Apart from the hapless political bickering between pro and anti-Egyptian president Sisi on the reasons behind illegal immigration in Egypt, we have to admit that there are also some farcical assumptions and delusions prevalent among many Egyptian youth and people that encourage them to embark on doomed trips toward the unknown.

First, the exotic dream.

Away from the cities, in rural Egypt, where radio and television is the main source of entertainment, fascinated youth watch Egyptian movies that glamorize life in the West. Take for example the film “Hamam in Amsterdam,” which describes a young, unemployed Egyptian who succeeded in building a life in the Netherlands, coming back with money and a blond wife. The film portrayed some struggles, but attributed most of the negative encounters to the “evil Zionists” who hated this Egyptian guy. These types of movies, with unchallenged narratives are enough to embed exotic dreams in youth and make the fantasy plausible in the minds of many.

Second, fatalism.

Calculating risk is generally absent from the Egyptian psyche. Even crossing the road can be an exercise in recklessness. The Arabic proverb, “Sit on a beehive and say this is fate” sums-up the mindset perfectly. Many pundits call this a backgammon mindset. Indeed Egyptians, particularly the many unemployed, do not just love to play backgammon, they have also adopted this game as a way of thinking, assuming that life is just up to one-stroke of luck. Moreover, there is a general unfounded perception among many Egyptians that success in the West can happen at a faster pace than in their native country. It makes many adopt a short-cut escalator-style mentality, wrongly assuming that all what they need is one opportunity to push them up the ladder.

Third, playing down the negative aspects of immigration.

There is a common theme prevalent among the handful of successful immigrants and the wannabe immigrants in Egypt. Both tend to paint rosy pictures about their success in the West. It is convenient and flattering to downplay the negative aspects of living in a new country. This down playing was almost non-existent in the writing of early immigrants such as by the poets Gibran Khalil Gibran and Elia Abu-Madi. Instead, they both wrote eloquently about the demoralizing impacts of immigration, and avoided giving false perceptions of an alleged paradise abroad. This trend has gradually vanished. Now, both legal and illegal immigrants, educated and uneducated tend, consciously or unconsciously, glamorize life in the West to please their own selfish ego.

 

The tragic deaths near the city of Rosetta should be a wake up call to everyone. The Egyptian leadership has the duty to provide youth with an incentive to stay and flourish in their homeland. Moreover, Egyptian society has to shake-up myths and assumptions about life in the Western world. Our youth must understand that handing over the live savings of their families to traffickers is a tragic waste of money and a huge risk to their life. The hope of easy sanctuary in the West is simply a mirage.

 

Posted in Egypt, Short Comments, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

The Washington Post on the murder of Nahed Hattar, quoting my piece

In The Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor wrote an excellent report on the murder of prominent Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar, and quoted my piece on the writer’s murder. In his post, Tharoor highlighted how an Egyptian TV host Hani Nahhas outrageously supported the killing of Hattar.

Here is a link to Washington Post’s report and also a link to the Middle East Media Research Institute MEMRI, which subtitled the Egyptian TV host’s disgraceful comments. I think both worth reading and watching……

Posted in Egypt, Islam, Jordan, Middle East, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Egyptian Aak 2016-Week 38 ( Sept 19-25)

Top Headlines

  • Hundreds feared dead after a migrant boat capsized off the Egyptian coast
  • Egypt’s Sisi meets with Clinton, Trump in New York
  • Egypt cancels zero ergot wheat policy amid mounting pressure

 Main Headlines

 Monday

 

sisi-trump

Photo via AFP

Tuesday

 Wednesday

Thursday

 

migrant-boot

Photo via BBC

Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

Good reports

  • Survivors of Egypt’s migrant boat tragedy tell their tales of heroism and loss. Sarah Sirgany
  • Egypt’s Coptic Church is facing criticism for its role in organizing rallies in support of President Sisi at the U.N. AP

Good Reading

From Twitter

Plus

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

 

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nahed Hattar, Jordan, and the Muslim World

nahad-hattar

Nahed Hattar, a 56-year-old Christian Jordanian writer has been murdered. He was shot three times outside a court in Amman, where he was facing charges of sharing a cartoon deemed to be “offensive” to Islam. Hattar was arrested in August after posting a cartoon that mocked jihadists on his Facebook page. Mr. Hattar was charged with inciting sectarian strife and insulting Islam before being released on bail in early September. According to several reports, Mr. Hattar’s killer was arrested and police are investigating the murder.

The provocative cartoon depicts an Arab man enjoying himself in Paradise with two women and saying to God (who was checking on him): “Yes Lord, get me a glass of wine and tell Angel Gabriel to bring me some cashews. After that, send me an immortal servant to clean the floor and take the empty plates with you.”

Hattar’s murder is yet another tragic event in a long trail of intimidation and oppression against free thinkers in the Arab and Muslim worlds. In 1992, prominent Egyptian writer Farag Fouda was assassinated for daring to challenge the orthodox interpretation of Islam. In 1994, an Islamic extremist attacked the 82-year-old Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, stabbing him in the neck outside his Cairo home. Mahfouz survived, but only just. The list goes on: Nasser Abu-Zeid, Islam Beheiry, and Fatima Naoot were also accused of insulting Islam and have had to face exile, jail, or legal cases against them. However, this is the first case in Jordan and that is alone is unsettling.

It is easy to portray the death of Hattar as the tragic result of the behavior of one radical criminal who decided to take the law into his own hands. In reality, however, Hattar’s murder sums up the sad state of affairs of religion and politics in our decaying region.

First, Jordan:

What struck me when I visited Jordan is the wide gap between the liberal Jordanian elite and the conservative communities mainly outside the capital, Amman. Although the Jordanian Royal Family has campaigned relentlessly for moderate Islam, and allows Jordan to serve as the principal base of operations for the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, their message of tolerance and moderation, however, has not been embraced in some corners of the Kingdom. It is well known that many Jordanians have joined the ranks of various terror groups. David Schenker, of the Washington Institute, wrote how cracks were starting to show in Jordan, and how endemic corruption has been among the ranks of the Jordanian security services over the past year. The murder of Hattar, a conspicuous target for radicals, outside a court in the heart of the capital is embarrassing, to say the least, for the Jordanian intelligence service.

Second, the region

It is well known that Hattar was an outspoken supporter of the Assad regime in Syria. This partly explains his motive behind publishing the provocative cartoon. Hattar wrote on his Facebook page (now shut down) that the God depicted in the cartoon is the ‘God of the Islamic State.” Hattar was right in his interpretation of the radical mindset, but was wrong in using it to justify the ruthless and murderous tactics of the Assad regime. Hattar was intellectually dishonest, but that should not be used as a reason to justify his murder. It is noteworthy that his stance is not an anomaly, and many Jordanians are either indifferent to, or open supporters of, Assad, especially after the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees into their tiny, fragile country.

Now Assad’s pundits are using Hattar’s murder to warn Jordanians about the futility of Jordan’s alliance with the United States and the increasing attacks by ISIS supporters inside the Kingdom. Assad hopes to neutralize Jordan, and to a certain extent, he has already succeeded. The southern Syrian front is almost quiet, unlike the northern one in Aleppo.

Third, and most important, religion:

Undoubtedly, it is easy to attribute Hattar’s murder to political and terror acts, while downplaying the religious aspect of it. That would be a simple act of cowardice. We have to admit that the portrayal of Paradise among Muslims is controversial and problematic.

Personally, I regularly read the Al-Rahman soura of the Quran (The Merciful), and have been doing so every Friday since I was 13. I used to find the description of Paradise unsettling and still do. I have learnt, however, that the literalistic interpretation is the core problem, more than the words themselves. This literalistic approach is prevalent in all mainstream Islamic schools and not just among radicals. Dreaming of an elusive paradise that sanctions sex and alcohol has become an escape route for Arabs and Muslims hoping to evade tough questions about the place of their faith in modern times. The literal interpretation of this Paradise has even prompted some people to kill in its defense.

In short, the murder of Nahed Hattar is a triumph of religious escapism, intellectual cowardice, and political manipulation in a region that has lost its moral compass and descended into a dark space where bad is fighting bad with bad, only to produce more ugliness and despair. We have to have the intellectual courage to admit all the above, and work together to stop more assaults against religious freedom and freedom of speech, otherwise we will be indirectly complicit in the murder of Hattar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Islam, Jordan, Middle East, Politics, Syria, Terrorism, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Turkish journalists now queue for jail: ‘We are not afraid, we will criticize…’

Turkey freed noted editor & novelist Ahmet Altan at dawn after 12 days in jail, only to re-order his arrest before he spends a night at home. Read Yavuz Byadar on the plight of Journalists in Turkey

TEMPORAL

Update:

An arrest order was issued Thursday night on Ahmet Altan, who was released after almost two weeks in police custody.


Another dark page in the post-coup Turkey was unfolded early Thursday morning, with the Kafkaesque trial of two prominent liberal dissidents.

After being held under murky circumstances in police custody for over 12 days, the author and journalist Ahmet Altan and his brother, Mehmet Altan, who is a scholar and a commentator, were under spotlight.

The long night ended with one of them being sent to pretrial detention, while the other released conditionally, with a travel ban.

What we observed after the event was two-fold:

One, given the absurdity of the accusations, nobody any longer will feel safe in Turkey.

Second, there is groiwng belief over something very fishy about the essence of the July 15 coup attempt.

altans

For the monitors of the country, these dark days it is a…

View original post 924 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Egyptian Aak 2016 – Week 37 ( Sept 12-18)

Top headlines

  • Mexico reaches compensation deal for victims of 2015 bombing in Egypt
  • TNT traces on EgyptAir plane debris split investigators
  • US Congressmen call for Aya Hegazy’s release from prison
  • Egypt freezes assets of several human rights advocates
  • Clinton to meet with presidents of Egypt, Ukraine next week
  • Sisi and Trump to meet for first time on the sidelines of his visit to New York

 Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

 Good reports

Good Read

 

From Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

Plus

 

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2016 – Week 36 ( Sept 5-11)

Top Headlines

  • Egyptian police ‘investigated’ Giulio Regeni days before his murder
  • Egypt names six provincial governors, mostly ex-generals
  • A newly-established militant group published a video of footage from a an attack against a security checkpoint in Menoufiya governorate
  • Court orders release of 5 activists accused of attempting to overthrow the state
  • Egyptian lawmaker Elhamy Agina: Female genital mutilation needed because Egyptian men are sexually weak

 Main Headlines

 Monday 

 Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

  • Activist and a legal adviser for the family of murdered Italian student Giulio Regeni Ahmed Abdullah walks free
  • “street children” are released 4 days after court order
  • Online petition supports detained journalist Mahmoud Al-Saqa

 Good Reports

And

 From Twitter

Plus

Photo Gallery

Posted in Diary of Aak, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Muslims, France, and the war on shorts

 

woman-shorts

Photo via UK’s Independent/ Getty Images

In the wake of the Burkini war, a violent skirmish of altogether different proportions has surfaced in France. In the southern French city of Toulon, two women wearing shorts were verbally assaulted as they made their way through an eastern neighborhood. Ten young men — allegedly Muslims — began insulting the women, who were out biking and rollerblading with their families, calling them “whores.” When the women’s spouses confronted the men, fighting broke out and the husbands and a male friend were severely beaten. One of the victims sustained severe facial fractures and another a broken nose.

Although two of the attackers were later sent to jail for their part in the brawl, the incident gained prominence on social media under the hashtag #TousEnShort, suggesting a link between the assault and Islam. Adding fuel to the fire was a statement by Julien Leonardelli, Department Secretary for the far right National Front Party in Haute-Garonne. He wrote on Twitter “Again, our freedoms are being severely attacked. Sharia is already installed.”

In early June, an 18-year-old girl named Maude Vallet said she was insulted, threatened and spat on by a group of girls while on a bus in Toulon. Another report claims a Muslim woman assaulted another young woman for bathing topless in Chateauneuf-sur-Charente on August 25.

Ironically, none of the above incidents triggered the attention and global outrage that greeted the Burkini ban. Supporters of conservative Islamism now rush to praise every hijabi achiever, and stand against injustices inflicted against them, but act with indifference when cultural clashes spin out of control and result in such criminal acts as those described in the above incidents.

The root cause behind such attacks is the self-righteous Islamism that promotes conservatism as a tool to maintain Islamic identity among Muslim communities in Western countries. It is hard to teach Muslim youth to respect others’ dress codes while indoctrinating them with the idea that covering the flesh is morally superior. This is a conundrum that will haunt Muslims, as their second-generation youth grow more defiant and detached from their local Western communities.

Some Muslims might find it unpalatable to admit, but this self-righteous Islamism will bring nothing but trouble to Muslim communities, not just in France, but in the wider Western world. Yes, Muslims have won the Burkini Battle, and got support even from the United Nations, which condemned the Burkini ban for “fuelling religious intolerance and the stigmatization of Muslims in France.”

The deafening silence surrounding attacks against local non-Muslims for their non-conservative attire, however, will equally fuel religious intolerance and the collective stigmatization of all Muslims.

Tension in France is already high, and Muslims bear considerable responsibility in helping diffuse the flames of hate. Muslims should stand for freedom and respect. There should be zero tolerance for any attack on non-Muslim women. If the Burkini has to be accepted in the Western world, then shorts, and even nudity, have to be mutually accepted by Muslims living in non-Muslim societies.

 

Posted in Islam, Short Comments | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2016 – Week 35 ( Aug 29 – Sept 4)

Top Headlines

  • Egyptian parliament passes bill designating FGM a felony imposes stricter penalties
  • Egyptian parliament approves new church building law
  • Administrative Court rejects banning social media
  • Egyptian army to sell baby formula to fight monopoly practices
  • Egypt announces postponement of signing of GERD impact studies contracts of Ethiopian dam due to” unresolved issues”

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Plus

 

 

 

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Essentializing Islam will not stop Islamophobia

Niqab Photo 2

( A woman wearing Niqab in France- Via AFP)

The cynical glee with which the Western media publicly flaunts — and generalizes — the practice of Islamic customs has become a disturbing pattern. The Hijab, Nigab, and Burkini have now become synonymous with Muslims, a perception that not just narrows the much more diverse reality of Muslims in Western countries, but reinforces a dangerous perception that all Muslims are a homogenous community; that they are all conservative; that all of them are Hijabi, Niqabi, or pro-Burkini. Such media misrepresentation is a dangerous farce that will only encourage Islamophobia, not defeat it, in non-Muslim societies.

The toxic debate about the Burkini ban on some French beaches was painful to watch — a zero-sum narrative on an empty stage that served only to deepen the divide between supporters and opponents of the ban.

Meanwhile, as the simmering outrage over France’s Burkini ban continues, history has been made in Denmark, where two female imams, including a non-Hijabi Danish woman, Sherin Khankan, led Friday prayers for the first time recently. This news from Denmark, however, has not attracted much attention, compared to the global fury unleashed by France’s Burkini ban, which the country’s highest administrative court subsequently suspended.

In America, Ibtihaj Muhammad, a Muslim woman from New Jersey, won a bronze Olympic medal in fencing. Ibtihaj was not the only Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal. Another black Muslim American woman, Dalilah Muhammad, won the gold medal in the women’s 400 m hurdles, albeit with a rather muted celebration of her achievement.

Ibitihaj’s achievement was celebrated roundly, and hailed by politicians and commentators globally, not only for the sporting honors she gained for her country, but also because she became the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing an Islamic headscarf (Hijab). Dalilah Muhammad’s gold medal was another superb achievement from a black Muslim woman. However, the media — and some members of the public at large — did not consider her achievement, as newsworthy as that of her Olympic colleague because she is a non-Hijabi woman.

Another sportswoman, Egyptian Doaa Elghobashi, made more headlines than Egypt’s synchronized swimming team by wearing a Hijab during the Olympic beach volleyball contest, while most of the other girls on the team are also Muslims.

One cannot help notice how Muslims have become the frontline for public scrutiny in a subtle, albeit intense fight in an increasingly divided Western world. A closer look at the political landscape in Europe and America makes it easy to spot two major opposite camps: the red and the blue camps. While the red one is raising the alarm about radical Islam and the lack of integration within some in Muslim communities, the blue camp plays the cool progressive by courting conservative Islamist Muslims and portraying them as mainstream Islam. Within this battle, there are other skirmishes: there’s the one mentioned above to ban Burkinis on some French beaches and another to ban the Niqab in a part of Switzerland. And while Olympic bronze medals in general are now a thing of the past, people are still talking about the Hijabi bronze.

Muslims’ attitudes towards divisive trends have also been disturbing. In fact, Muslims are divided between those who immediately adopt a reflexive defensive attitude in justifying practices such as wearing the Niqab, even if they do not agree with it on a personal level. On the other hand, other Muslims quietly agree with the bans on the Niqab and Burkini, but refrain from saying it loudly for fear of looking as if they are betraying their community.

As a result, slowly, but surely, Islam has been essentialized into a religion that is at best benignly conservative, and at worse, rigidly radical. Both the red and blue camp are using the Hijab, Niqab, and Burkini as weapons in their battles, enforcing consciously or sub-consciously the narrative of political Islam, which wrongly portrays itself as the most authentic model of Islam. Yes, the ban on the Burkini has been suspended, but it has left behind an unhealed and divided landscape.

That is neither healthy for the Western world nor for the Muslim communities in the West. In fact, it is profoundly disturbing.

It is indeed great to see Hijabi Muslim women celebrated for their achievements, and Burkini-wearing Muslims defended against an unjust ban, but we should also accept the right of others, including many Muslims, to voice disdain about the Niqab or Burkini. Freedom of expression goes both ways. Expecting that conservative Islam will be loved and embraced by all native Europeans is simply naïve; forcing respect for regressive Islamic patterns on traditional Western communities can be perceived as provocative.

Moreover, while defending freedom, it is crucial not to be an advocate of illiberal multiculturalism, in which Islamist Muslims can demand respect and understanding for their conservative, often illiberal attitudes, while non-Muslims’ illiberalism is damned as sick and unacceptable. It is infantilizing and reductive to portray Muslims as a collective bunch of victims who need more protection and less scrutiny. The notion that Islam is exceptional, and not necessarily liberal, has gained a sympathetic ear from the same people who were outraged at France for its illiberal ban on the Burkini. This hypocritical notion is not just untrue, it will ignite more resentment and anger among many non-Muslims.

The Western world needs a centrist approach to its Muslim communities that acknowledges and highlights their diversity, maintains the rights of conservative Muslims, and addresses the fears (even irrational ones) of local communities. The best way to fight Islamophobia is to show sympathy for local anxieties, celebrate and support Islamic diversity, and encourage liberal Muslims’ voices. Reductive emotional outrage, however, will never be part of the solution.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Islam, Middle East, Politics, women rights | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments