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Artificial Pluralism in American Society

America is a nation of immigrants. Since its inception and formation of the republic America has attracted various peoples. They learned that pluralism is essential to forge a civil society. America has been struggling since to create a pluralist, accepting social order that is torn between race, gender, and hyphenated identity. Americans of Arab descent live in a pluralist society in spite of growing, institutionalized, anti-Arab sentiments. Film industry has historically used Arab-Americans to convey ideas of anger, violence, and death. Movies such as Crash, Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and Amreeka project a false image of Arab-Americans as foreigners, inexperienced people with an extravagant worldview that clashes with European-American culture.

In order to understand how artificially pluralist American society is, one ought to examine sincere social pluralism. Pluralism is a guiding principle which states that different views, groups coexist equally. Coming from a not-so-pluralist society, I have a trained eye that recognizes injustice and misrepresentation. I recently immigrated to this country and was given an alien number, not so long ago became a permanent resident, and soon I will become a US citizen. Although I have not spent long enough time to understand the culture per se, I think I know quite a lot. I consider myself part of this society. People like to think of themselves as accepting and tolerant, but in reality they seclude “the other” and hyphenate them, at best. I think that Paul Haggis, the director of Crash, does a good job addressing issues of racism and stereotypes for they communicates to the viewer how intolerant, or ignorant really, we are towards those who are different. This is evident through depicting blacks as thugs, Mexicans as locksmiths, Arabs as terrorists, and whites as influential.[1] By casting everybody as different, one effectively fails to make a pluralist society. Nationally, America is a very diverse country where people form and debate various ideas and beliefs to govern their lives and suit their social structure. Internationally, however, America is far from diverse. In fact, I would argue that the United States has an exclusivist, somewhat distrustful, worldview towards the world. Perfect example of this is exporting “democracy” and civilizing people abroad.

Arab-Americans are not only vilified in visual media and culture, but also portrayed as naïve, ignorant, and alien. Don’t Mess with the Zohan is filled with such notions.[2] Zohan, the protagonist and counter-terrorism Israeli soldier, played by Adam Sandler, seemed to be troubled by how uncivilized and quarrelsome the terrorists he fights are, namely Arabs. The movie not only portrays Arabs as barbaric, but also implies that Israel has the right to demilitarize and kill off Palestinians. This one-sided message echoes many sentiments championed by either AIPAC or policy makers in Washington DC. When I arrived the US I noticed that a considerable number of “educated” people base their opinion off of media and film industry, especially those who have not been to the Middle East or Israel.

Zohan moves to America in order to start a new life where he finds comfort and peace of mind. He meets a nice girl who happens to be Palestinian with whom he wants to settle. The only problem I have with this is that Zohan does not try to address problems in his home country. Rather, he leaves for the US, a more advanced, accepting country, to get a job and better his standards of living. While in the US, Zohan comes in contact with Arab-Americans. The movie here restates how backward and quarrelsome Arabs are indicating that our stereotypes of Arabs in the Middle East can be applied to those in the US. The Director of the movie goes as far as to show a Palestinian cab driver trying to bomb the shop where Zohan worked. The proess of acquiring the bomb wrongly shows that every Arab has easy access to bombs and to Hezbollah – anti-Israel organization that is viewed by both the United States State Department and the movie director as a terrorist group. While I’m not defending terrorists or Hezbollah, I think juxtaposing these images together is lethal to public opinion and those unfamiliar with the culture and people. If anything I believe that the movie augments people’s biases towards Arabs post 9/11.

The story of Arab-Americans is seldom told by mainstream media. Americans of Arab descent are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and entrepreneurs who enrich their society and improve the quality of life as much as those of European descent. Misrepresentation of Arab-Americans saturates U.S. popular culture starting with Disney’s Arabian Nights. Aside from glorifying Aladdin and Jasmine – who are conveniently light-skinned – and vilifying dark-skinned characters, the opening song describes home as “barbaric” where people “cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.”[3] It is not a surprise, then, for children to grow up having an inaccurate image of Arabs that persists through their life.

This “barbaric” notion was especially cemented after events of 9/11 and emergence of radical, militant Islam. Very few Muslim Arab-Americans endorse Al-Qaeda and fewer than one in ten Americans think suicide bombing is justified – that is less that 1% of Muslim Arab-Americans.[4] Dismissing all Arab-Americans as Muslim terrorists is preposterous. Neither all Arabs are Muslims, nor are all Muslims Arabs. Arabs, speak Arabic and share a common ethnic heritage, originated from the Arabian Peninsula before migrating north and westward. Muslims, however, represent a religious group that is not necessarily linked to an ethnic heritage. Arabs, Persians, Asians and so on can be Muslims; Arabs can be Christians, Jews, or non-religious.[5] The reason, I think, why it is assumed that all Arabs are Muslims is because Islam was founded in the Arabian Peninsula and the Quran is written in Arabic. But regardless, violence and terrorism is discordant with the core values and worldviews of Arab-Americans who immigrated to this country to better their standards of living.

Discrimination against Arab immigrants was noted in American society since the beginning of the twentieth century.  Arabs were perceived as parasites because they shipped money back to their home countries. Assimilation of Arab immigrants to the new culture meant learning new language, shedding old loyalties, and actively participating in society. Cherien Dabis is a perfect example of a first generation Arab-American who was “neither fully American nor fully Arab.”[6] She directed Amreeka which tells the story of a Palestinian immigrant who struggles to fit in a pluralist society.[7] I generally enjoyed the movie and thought it portrayed relatively accurately some of what immigrants – like myself – go through in the process of leaving their homeland and assimilating to a new culture. For example, I could relate almost vividly to the scene where Muna, the Palestinian protagonist, was saying goodbye to her mom and brother. I felt, however, that Dabis herself makes assumptions similar to those found in Crash and Don’t Mess with the Zohan in that Arabs are lost, naïve, and simply awkward to fit in the new culture. While there was not much of a language barrier, Dabis stressed the cultural barrier between Muna and her new society. It seemed as if clumsy Muna who lost her savings at the airport and advertised weight loss cream at a fast food restaurant was not fit for an American society.

Furthermore, I could not relate very much to the movie as I thought I would, especially given my own personal experience as an immigrant. Overall, I found her depiction of anti-Arab racism is a bit exaggerated. Although anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments were used in the movie to picture the sort of racism Arabs go through, I believe that it had a reverse effect. Using too much racist remarks and comments to illustrate intolerance is in and of itself wrong. Dabis fell in the trap of perpetuating the same stereotypes film industry sells to people.

Pluralism is an idea similar to ecumenism and the notion of unity in a society comprised of different groups. America as a nation is extremely diverse and, paradoxically, greatly segregated. People are split into different groups according to their race, beliefs, and other factors, or have their identities hyphenated such as Arab-Americans. I believe that American society is saturated with explicit anti-Arab sentiments championed by the film industry. Intolerance stems from ignorance which is perpetuated by media. In order to have a pluralist society, we need to challenge our beliefs, avoid generalizations, and accept others for who they are regardless of their affiliations and physical characteristics.


[1] Crash. Dir. Paul Haggis. Perf. Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton. Lionsgate, 2004. Film.
[2] Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Dir. Dennis Dugan. Perf. Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Lainie Kazan, Rob Schneider, Ido Mosseri. Columbia Pictures, 2008. Film.
[3] Wingfield M, Bushra K. Arab Stereotypes and American Educators. Social Studies and the Young Learner. V7 N4 p7-10 Mar-Apr 1995. [web]. Retrieved March 15, 2013. http://www.adc.org/index.php?id=283
[4] Richard W., Greg S. Little Support for Terrorism Among Muslim Americans. Pew Global Attitudes Project and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Pew Research Center. December 2009. [web]. Retrieved March 14, 2013.  http://www.pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/Little-Support-for-Terrorism-Among-Muslim-Americans.aspx
[5] The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010. Pew Research Center. December 12. [web]. Retrieved March 14, 2013. http://www.pewforum.org/global-religious-landscape-exec.aspx
[6] Director Cherien Dabis straddles two worlds. Reed Johnson. Los Angeles Times. 09 04, 2009. [web]. Retrieved March 28, 2013. http://articles.latimes.com/2009/sep/04/entertainment/et-dabis4
[7] Amreeka. Dir. Cherien Dabis. Perf. Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbass, Alia Shawkat, Yussuf Abu-Warda, Joseph Ziegler, Miriam Smith. National Geographic, 2009. Film.

Religious Traditions in the Pre-Modern World

Please note: Everything addressed in this paper represent my personal views and interpretations of “facts.” Similar to all historical narratives my essay is, by default, biased. Should you wish to discuss it further, object, correct some of the information presented, feel free to contact me.

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History has proven that religion is inseparable from man’s development. The notion of a higher being is consistent throughout cultures in the pre-modern world. By examining the world starting from 2000th BCE until 8th CE, one gains a better understanding of the conception, nature and evolution of a higher being in Indian, Chinese and Western religious traditions. Indian Hinduism of 5th century CE had its roots in the Vedic Tradition that dates back to second millennia BCE. Mahayana Buddhism of China had its roots in a strictly polytheistic tradition; whereas Christianity of Western Europe had evolved from an early Jewish tradition. Those religious traditions were evolved to contextualize societal developments in political and social spheres.

People in the ancient world were fascinated with the question of origins. They sought to explain the unknown using supernatural beings. This is especially apparent in ancient Vedic Tradition of India that was prevalent in the 2nd millennia BCE. According to Rig Veda – sacred Vedic Sanskrit hymns – the world was created from a “Primal Man.”[1] They demonstrated their understanding of the vastness of the world by the size of the Man. This being was big, had numerous feet, arms and eyes that encompassed the earth. In addition to that, the primordial man laid the foundation for many ideas that persisted in the society and were later adapted by future reformists, such as the infamous caste system, notion of sacrifice and Dharma, and afterlife.

The Vedic Tradition is a heaven-based tradition in which people pray for the male gods for material things and protection. Vardhamarma Mahavira of the 5th century BCE rebelled against this after he was enlightened. He dismissed the personification of a higher being. Rather, “God” is everywhere within the environment, nature and us. People should seek salvation by taking the ‘right path’ that is practicing non-violence against all creatures, meditating to gain knowledge and awareness, fasting to limit body’s demands and giving up entirely on worldly things.[2]  He created the Jain order. Jainism was a bit radical in rejecting material and worldly things. It was not appealing to a large number of people for its extreme ideas.

Siddhartha Gautama, Mahavira contemporary, also known as The Buddha, sought to reform and build on the Jain ideas. Upon enlightenment, the Buddha advocated the middle path for salvation.[3] That is neither the Jainist way of living nor extreme indulgences in worldly things. He postulated the so-called Four Noble Truths: life is suffering, it originates from desires, its destructive nature, and how to overcome it. Although this may seem similar Jainism, it, nonetheless, advocates for the Middle Path in going about salvation and it does not regard any soul-like component in salvation.[4] It is very critical to note that Mahavira and Buddha were enlightened by a higher being. The idea of the higher being who intervenes in the earthly world to help the people prevailed from the Vedic Tradition. It is equally important to note that the Buddha did not develop an idea of afterlife, because the religion’s focus is the individual. He was more concerned with rejecting worldly attachments than to have an elaborate idea of afterlife. These two religions might be a social response to the Vedic Tradition’s caste system and hierarchy. The system was notorious, therefore the Buddha and Mahavira rebelled.

By the 4th century CE, the three main religious traditions were synthesized into one religion known as Hinduism. Although it might seem at first as a Vedic religion at first, theological components were added to it from the ideas of Jainism and Buddhism. This new religious tradition synthesized ideas from the previous orders such as reincarnation, following the right path, desire to escape worldly suffering, the notion of one supreme creator, being with multiple manifestations.[5] Furthermore, the relationship between Gods and humans were altered due to Jainist and Buddhist influence. Hinduism came to reinforce the notion of a divine being supervising the workings of the universe.

Religious traditions of ancient Chinese were polytheistic and varied in nature due to the size of what later would be China. Although early Chinese people had slightly different cultures, dialects and religious traditions, they shared similar conception of supernatural forces governing  the world.[6] The Shujing describes the life of the early Zhou Dynasty, and specifically the Mandate of Heaven. This is important because it demonstrates the relationship between power, influence and the notion of higher beings in heavens. The mandate ensures the legitimacy of monarchies on religious basis.[7] This is critical to understand future developments in political and cultural spheres that had their impact in creating modern day China. The Zhou Dynasty suffered from political fragmentation and long periods of warfare. This prompted the development of philosophical ideas about morality, ethics and ‘the proper way’ to run a government in response to the political distress.[8] These philosophical ideas were mainstreamed, championed by Confucius during the 6th BCE; they later became collectively known as: Confucianism. This was not a religious order, rather, strictly ethical and legal teachings stressed the importance of family ties, conduct in presence of authority, hierarchy, education and proper behavior.[9] This stirred a fierce discussion about human nature and its tendencies.

By the 5th BCE, Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher who founded Daoism, contested the pragmatism of Confucianism and stated that practical matters do not matter as much. His ideas were more theological than political. He dismissed the need for scholars and a hierarchical system to govern the state because those distract people from understanding the true nature of the Dao. In fact, he preached for as little government interference as possible.[10] His major ideas were about living in harmony with nature and that humans are not as important as nature itself. Nature, which is perceived as a higher being or a form of divinity, expresses itself in a profound way that is beyond human conception and knowledge. Thus, human should follow the right path, the Dao this is.[11] This tradition might have arisen due to the nature of the warring periods. People sought comfort and protection in nature; they might have distrusted scholars and hierarchy, and thought that living according to the Dao is what the mandate of heaven favored. Intertwined theological and philosophical ideas of a higher being formed the Chinese society at the time.

By the first century CE Buddhism trickled into China due to trading in the Silk Road. While some Buddhist teachings fit into the Chinese culture, such as detachment of material and worldly things, Buddhism did not appeal to the Chinese population due to other radical teachings such as living in monasteries away from their families and abstention from sex and procreation.[12] It was during the 3rd century CE that Buddhism took a turn to fit the Chinese tradition. This new sect was called Chan Buddhism, or commonly known as Mahayana Buddhism. Synthesis of different philosophical ideas from Xunzi, Confucious, Buddhism and Daoism gave rise to this theological take on Buddhism. Why this had arisen at this time is probably because of political turmoil – people usually turn to religion in tough times. Mahayana Buddhism perceives The Buddha as a higher, divine being who should be worshipped.[13] Theravada, or old, Buddhism does not address higher beings, soul-components to humans and definitely not worshipping the Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, teaches that the Buddha never died; rather he is going to be always there to inspire, teach and help people.[14] This religious order is very interesting because it synthesis ideas from different traditions in the Chinese society: ethical, moral way of living, the mysterious nature of the Buddha, private worship and non-violence.

Christianity in Europe has evolved from an ancient monolatric tradition in ancient Judea. This earliest forms of Judaism had originated in the Canaan region when a tribe of Hebrews settled there during the 2nd millennia BCE. In the 5th century BCE, while captives in Babylon, they adapted some of the religious ideas prominent in Mesopotamia at the time: Zoroastrianism. Following their release they brought back to Judea a synthesized version of early Judaism mixed with Zoroastrianism.[15] The Hebrews later have become known as the Jewish people. Injections in the Jewish theology such as the notion of the Messiah and afterlife helped the Jews shaping their religious beliefs, while still worshipping in one God: Yahweh.[16] The idea, image of higher being who was protective and caring was very important because Jews were prosecuted many times throughout their history.

In the 1st century CE, people in Judea were angry at the policies Roman imposed on them. Jesus Christ, who was enlightened, attempted to reform the political and social spheres of Judea under the Roman Empire. Jesus did not come to ‘abolish’ Judaism, but sought to ‘fulfill’ and reinforce its teachings.[17] He came with five main values: forgiveness, salvation, anti-materialism, egalitarianism and passive resistance. These values had political and social messages embedded in them. Seeing charismatic Jesus influencing people, the Roman occupiers felt threatened so they executed him.[18] Following the death of Jesus, two of his Jewish apostles, Peter and Paul, spread what became known as Christian values. Peter sought to reform Judaism and teach Christianity for Jews. He thought of Christianity as an extension to Judaism. Paul, on the other hand, wanted to spread and extend Christianity to the gentiles. To do so, he defined Christian ideas and noted what distinguish them from the Jewish ideas. It is believed that Paul injected theological doctrines to Christianity – that is why it stood out as a separate religion. He built on the Jewish idea of afterlife, explained resurrection, talked about God’s spirit that dwells in Christians and defined what it means to be a Christian.[19] He also set the cornerstone for the idea of atonement, the original sin of Adam and Eve and that Jesus is the Messiah, son of God and Savior.

In 3rd century BCE, the Council of Nicaea – a council of bishops – developed the idea of Trinity. It came to the conclusion that God has three images: the father, who is the creator of the universe, the son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the trinity.[20] This idea was needed to unite people under one Christian faith. It ensured political and social stability within the Christian Roman Empire. Augustine’s City of God laid the foundation for development and strengthening of the Church. He argued that there are two kingdoms: heaven and earth. To be in the heaven city, one had to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ; that was what the Roman emperor and the Church endorsed.[21] It was not until the 8th century that Christianity became the prominent religion in Western Europe. The Capitulary of Saxony made it clear that if one opposed Christians, he/she were to be put to death.[22] Thus, if one was living in Christian territories he or she in a way or another had to convert to Christianity. He also supported the Church and clergy and expanded their authorities, wealth and influence. This gave rise to the all-powerful Church and papacy that characterize modern-day Western Europe.

From India to China to West Europe, peoples over two millennia have developed complex set of beliefs to explain their worldviews and conception of world at the time. Although the religious traditions of these regions might be different, they stand on similar grounds of a higher being protective of us. The idea of a divine being governing workings of the universe transcends political, social and cultural differences among peoples of the pre-modern world. Could certain injustices in our modern day world prompt the development of a new religious tradition?


[1] “The Sacrifice of Primal Man,” Rig Veda: http://www.mountainman.com.au/rig_veda.html

[2] Vardhamarma Mahavira, ‘Arkarnga-sutra,’ I, 8, 1-3-IV-8: http://www.mircea-eliade.com/from-primitives-to-zen/221.html

[3] The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), The Sermon at Benares: http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/bud-ser.html

[4] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.185

[5] Brhadaranyaka Upaniad, 1:1-1:2: http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/brhad_00.html

[7] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.59

[8] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.61

[9] Confucius, Analects: (Xue Er: http://ctext.org/analects/xue-er) (Shu Er: http://ctext.org/analects/shu-er)

[10] Laozi (Lao Tzu), The Classic of the Way and Virtue (Daodejing or Tao te ching): (On the way: http://www.yellowbridge.com/onlinelit/daodejing01.php) (On governance: http://www.yellowbridge.com/onlinelit/daodejing03.php)

[11] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.64

[12] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boton, 2011), p.172

[13] Fa Xian, A Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms: (chapter XII, XIII and XIV http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/rbddh10.pdf)

[14] “The True Nature of the Buddha,” The Lotus Sutra: http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/lotus0.html

[15] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.96-99

[17] “The Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5:1 to 7:29, the New Testament: http://bible.oremus.org/

[18] Bulliet, The Earth and Its Peoples (Boston, 2011), p.160

[19] Paul of Tarsus, “Life Through the Spirit,” Romans 7:22 to 8:17, the New Testament: http://bible.oremus.org/

[20] “Creed of the Council of Nicaea,”: http://www.fourthcentury.com/old/index.htm?http&&&www.fourthcentury.com/old/Urkunden/trans24.htm

[21] Augustine of Hippo, City of God: http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/aug-city2.asp

[22] Charlemagne, Capitulary for Saxony: http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/carol-saxony.asp

HIV/AIDS Prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa

This paper is slightly outdated. I wrote it two years ago! However, one thing hasn’t changed: HIV is on the rise in the Middle East and North Afria- so as everywhere else for that matter.

HIV Prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa 

When I used to hear the word AIDS, a slight shiver used to run through my body. Now that I learned a lot and gained valuable insights about the virus, how it is transmitted and ways in which it can be prevented from spreading, I feel more comfortable in discussing the topic. From sexual contact, to the use of dirty needles to HIV-borne-blood transfusions, HIV has found its way into our population and it is indiscriminately infecting people at staggering rates.

Middle Eastern and North African countries have not escaped the epidemic. Statistics indicate low prevalence of the virus in the region. In a 2007 survey, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported that 380,000 adults and children were living with HIV/AIDS across the

North African and Middle Eastern countries, in comparison with the Sub-Saharan African region that suffered from approximately 25 million cases of the disease[1]. South and Southeast Asia had approximately 6.5 million cases. Data collected from these countries outnumbered that of the Middle Eastern and African regions that represents roughly 1% of the world’s HIV/AIDS caseload[2].

However, new infections indicate a serious, saddening fact that the AIDS virus is spreading fast in the aforementioned countries. At the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) meeting held on March 29, 2007, it was reported that HIV/AIDS cases have increased 300% in the Arab world over the past three years[3]. “This is against an annual rate of increase of 20 percent in the United States, Japan, Europe, and Australia,” a UNDP analyst and HIV/AIDS program coordinator, stated at the meeting that had more than 40 Muslim and Christian leaders gathered to discuss faith-based strategies to combat the virus.

It is estimated that more than 36,000 deaths occurred in 2006 in the Arab region alone because of HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS recorded 75,000 new infections in the region; an alarming message about the rising epidemic to the countries of the region2. Moreover, available data is not so reliable because not a single country in the Middle East or North Africa conducts a systematic survey of groups at high risk of infection. Consequently, UNAIDS ranges total number of HIV/AIDS cases in the region from 200,000 to 1.4 million people. This broad classification compromises the population and leaves it prone to the virus and higher rates of infections because no concrete data can justify, support the need of organized effort, funding, for instance, to provide antivirals and other care-related expenses.

The Middle East and North Africa regions roughly correspond to the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) of the World Health Organization (WHO). The EMR includes North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti. Middle Eastern countries include Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and the Arab Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar[4]. From statistical and data-report standpoint, other countries are designated as Middle Eastern by the WHO, but are not actually in the region: Afghanistan, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Chad, and Israel.

Arabic is the most widely spoken language in the Arab states of the region. Islam is the predominant religion among its inhabitants; Christianity and Judaism come next, respectively. EMR countries share common culture, traditions, and beliefs and are generally prone to conservatism across their nations and religions. Culture influences certain practices against HIV/AIDS patients because of lack of HIV education and other sexually transmitted diseases. As a result, those groups are hard to reach which consequently result in poor data and bad execution of intervention measures – should these be implemented.

HIV was introduced into the EMR countries during the mid-1980s mainly through imported blood products. Annual number of HIV/AIDS cases has increased steadily from 71 in 1987 to 974 in 1996; total number of reported cases was about 4,800[5]. Furthermore, it is believed that in case of collecting HIV data that true number of reported cases is usually three to four times higher. Among the AIDS community it is known as the tip of the iceberg and it reflects HIV occurrences that happened 5 to 20 years ago. Therefore, special care should be paid to those numbers as they indicate alarming data about the spread of HIV among EMR communities. It was recorded that most of the 4,800 AIDS cases were reported from Sudan (32.6%), Djibouti (25.9%), Morocco (7.8%), Tunisia (6.7%), Saudi Arabia (5.0%), and Iran and Egypt (3.0%) each5. Sudan and Djibouti represent the highest levels of AIDS cases, whereas Iran and Egypt the lowest. However, this data was collected 14 years ago. In 2008, UNAIDS and WHO released a report on the global AIDS epidemic which alarmingly indicated that number of HIV prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa region had almost doubled. At the end of 2007 there were 720,000 people living with HIV – adults and children[6].

In 2007 world report, so as in previous reports, low rates of infections – in comparison with other regions – have led EMR governments to dismiss AIDS cases as insignificant and to show complacency in taking actions. Crises such as housing, education and economy have taken governments’ attention and had HIV/AIDS labeled as a low priority. Some of EMA countries think conservatism will heal off the epidemic. It is true EMA countries are conservative, however, HIV infects people indiscriminately. Even though complex sets of religion and culture might influence the way HIV/AIDS epidemic is handled, one cannot dismiss it as simply irreligious or culturally taboo to talk about.

Credible and reliable data on HIV epidemiology and preventive measures are limited in Islamic countries. Islam prohibits non-martial sex, homosexuality and intravenous drug use. This, to some extent, explains the relatively low HIV cases – in comparison with international data. In 2004, BioMed Central (BMC) for Infectious Diseases published an eighteen-year surveillance study in Saudi Arabia (SA) focused on collecting data on HIV epidemiology, HIV prevention and care measures6. Sex and sexual practices are considered taboo in the conservative SA society. Those who are publicly chosen to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases are doomed to stigma. There are other detrimental penalties for those who are believed to have the virus. The study has been underway since 1984, conducted by healthcare facilities. Data was collected through screening of individuals who showed “clinical suspicion”6,[7]. It was conducted by various governmental and non-governmental institutions, to facilitate the access to those who already have the virus, and those who are most susceptible of receiving the virus, with maintaining complete confidentiality and autonomy from factors affecting the results.

Results will be reported to the Ministry of Health (MOH) using unique identifying codes. Those groups, who have undergone routine testing, included HIV-infected patients, blood and organ donors, prisoners, intravenous drug users (IDUs), and those who have sexually transmitted diseases – HSV, etc. HIV testing is a compulsory, pre-requisite for employment in the SA. As for expatriates, they are tested upon their arrival and once more after two years, as they file their residency applications. Saudi patients who test positive will be referred to tertiary care HIV-specialized governmental clinics where highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) medications, in addition to further important laboratory tests such as the CD+8/CD+4 counts.

As a result, more than 6000 HIV/AIDS cases were recorded. More than half of which were non-Saudis. The study showed increase in numbers as it progressed. Although data was collected in 2001, it sends alarming indications that HIV is spreading throughout the population. Factors that could be put into consideration, such as the world recession and moving from centrally planned economy to a more capitalist economy, have been driving HIV-infections high. Consequently, big influx of expatriates from various countries have come to work in Saudi Arabia, which some of them may be carrying the virus. Moreover, socio-economic status of Saudis and wealth distribution have changed dramatically. It is scientifically proven that whenever a nation interacts more with other nations, it will eventually result in increased levels of HIV prevalence.

Prevention, treatment and care interventions have failed internationally to control the epidemic. They might have worked effectively in developing countries, but the limitation of resources along with the described complacency made the HIV prevail in the Arab region. Moreover, even if the medications are readily available, good slice of the population will not be able to afford them. This is a huge issue that some are working on solving it by introducing free medications7 and/or subsidize them for those who are in need. This will, ultimately, reduce the HIV levels and help those who have AIDS to receive the meds required to prolong their life expectancy.

Furthermore, stigma plays major role in combating the virus. More than hundred Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been active in a number of prevention efforts in the EMR region to reach out for stigmatized patients and those of high risk5. These particular groups might be hesitant or reluctant to seek a conventional governmental help since their behavioral is not accepted in the society, and the virus is highly stigmatized in the region. These groups include prostitutes, IDUs, and homosexual males. All previously noted indications have funneled in the creation of a new policy that advocates for the universal access of treatment for HIV, malaria and other diseases[8]. The program is introduced by United Nations Developing Group (UNDG) to help introduce the HIV/AIDS topic and break the stigma associated with it – in addition to providing key medications needed – in the Arab region. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) office in Beirut, Lebanon has mobilized several financial and human resources to work on the issue. These resources will also be working on the UN initiative Focusing Resources for Effective School Health (FRESH)9 to utilize the public and empower local NGOs to effectively addressing the key health issues afflicting their country. In addition to that, the initiative acknowledges the lack of awareness and education about HIV/AIDS and pledges that more openness should be applied to topics such as sex, sexual diseases, and blood-borne diseases.

Because NGOs are grassroots organizations that operate locally, they tend to understand their community and have a better understanding about its needs. They understand the sensitiveness of the cultural as well as speak the language of people. Those organizations have proven themselves reliable and instrumental in tackling the HIV epidemic.  Those organizations include the Arab Scouts Movement, the Somalian AIDS Protection Group, the Egyptian AIDS Society, the Syrian Women Union, the Health-Environment Club of Djibouti, and the National Society Facing AIDS – Egypt, among other Moroccan, Sudanese, and Lebanese and Iranian societies. Those societies were instrumental in organizing a World AIDS Day in the EMR, and organizing educational activities such as that of the Health-Environment Club – Djibouti – that incorporated HIV education in an environmental protection program. These programs, among numerous others, raised awareness and broke some of the chains that were locking HIV/AIDS patients.

As noted earlier, it may seem that EMR is not as important region as others are with a high HIV prevalence, nevertheless, I believe that a region with a steady increasing rate is far more important and risky that a regular region with steady HIV rates. In addition to that, I chose this region because it pertains to me personally since I was exposed to overwhelming HIV/AIDS data and research points, in the class, that made me think about my original region – the Middle East. Another reason why this region was chosen is that there is no reliable data that can prove what the HIV-prevalence rates are like there. That subsequently drives people off researching the region to solidify the data.

Apart from that, since the actions of high-risk groups are highly intolerant and unacceptable by the people of the EMR countries, it was hard to focus on one group and talk extensively about. In addition, because simply there was no credible data to draw conclusions from and to draw lines as to which group is mostly at risk. However, it is universally known that the members of high-groups are injection drug users, prostitutes, homosexuality and men who have sex with men10. Therefore, factors such as religion and conservatism sometimes have a say in this, and might determine the future of those individuals.

Moreover, religions and conservatism among EMR communities not only combat HIV/AIDS in their own classical ways – intolerance and stigma, but also they were proved instrumental as they can alter preconceived notions concerning HIV-related issues. Patients will suffer detrimental effects if they were to be neglected. Proper care and treatment interventions are yet to be provided. Basic medical needs hard to be provided if the international committee and HIV-organizations are not able to acknowledge the need  of this small number  of people. If those HIV-carriers could not get a proper education about their virus, or did not get their medicine, that will result in devastating events that have multilateral affects among the EMR region. My goal is to draw attention to the dangerous region in hoping for people to acknowledge its importance in terms of HIV-prevalence. And since various groups and regions were mentioned throughout the quarter, EMR was not one of them. Hopefully by writing this paper, I’m contributing to help the EMR countries by spreading the word about them. This is one of the lessons that I learned in the Discover Chicago AIDS class – speaking out and letting people know about HIV-related issues.

Those all noted reasons were driven from the fact that I gained so much knowledge, and learned a lot about HIV/AIDS throughout the Immersion Week and the Fall Quarter that made me think about my original region. This concern, empathy, and determination are important things that I believe I will walk out of the class with. I not only learned about the politics surrounding the epidemic and legality issues, but also learned about different levels of discrimination among homosexuals and other members of the high-risk group. In addition to that, the class drew to my attention the facts and statistics of the Chicago HIV/AIDS community in particular and the United States’ in general. I also learned about the various services and intervention measures applied by a number of community-based and not-for-profit or corporate setting organizations, which ultimately lead to the process of decision-making.

To conclude, I’m planning on doing several things in the course of near future. First thing is to speak out and let people know that HIV/AIDS is a serious epidemic and we should join efforts in combating it by simply being opened up to HIV/AIDS education. I believe that being open about the epidemic and accept those who have the virus is as crucial as administering medications that prolong life because if those individuals were not accepted and embraced by their loved ones, devastating psychological and epidemiological effects might happen. I remember visiting the Broadway Youth Center – a non-for-profit organization – and seeing a wall of sticky notes in which some of their clients wrote things. One of the notes that grabbed my attention was a one that said ‘I want to be loved and embraced’!

Second thing I want to do is that I will volunteer to an organization called Project VIDA – a non-for-profit community-based organization. Since they are community based, they know exactly what their community needs and what things have to be done to combat the virus. Their services range from food catering and free testing, to case management, free condoms, and others. Some of their services grabbed my attention – massaging and acupuncture. Among the things I learned there, I learned that providing services such as massaging and acupuncture are crucial to those who live with HIV/AIDS. I previously thought that services like that were not to be offered for the fear of contracting the disease.

The third thing, I will try to talk about the Needle Exchange Programs and write about them in the DePaulia newspaper. My story was previously rejected; however, I will keep on pushing the story on them and see what happens. The fourth thing I want to do is talk to my friends back home and explain to them what HIV really is. There is huge misconception about HIV/AIDS among my friends. This is definitely an area I have not tackled before, but thanks to discover class, now I am. In addition to that, the International Fund activity that Andrew conducted with the class has drawn a better picture of the logistics of the combating HIV/AIDS and that tied some loose ends I had. Therefore, I have recently made a contributed to the Chicago AIDS Foundation, and will send them an email asking about a monthly program, similar to Children International and Doctors Without Borders, that I can enroll in and make my monthly contributions for a great cause.

Finally yet importantly, I’m planning on distributing condoms to the Lincoln Park campus by dressing up as a big condom.  I have previously distributed condoms to my floor mates without their knowing. They woke up in the morning with a condom and a sticky note that says ‘be safe’! A big number of college students engage in sexual intercourses throughout their college life. Drawing from the Discover Class experiences, such as Chicago Women’s AIDS Project (CWAP), safer sex practices are highly recommended since college campuses have a mixture of students from virtually everywhere.


[1] The Joint United Nations Program (UNAIDS) “Insight into AIDS responses in Middle East and North Africa

[2] Sandy, Sufian. “HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa: A Primer.” Middle East Report.

[3] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, . “HIV/AIDS in Arab World Up 300 Percent.”

2 Sandy, Sufian. “HIV/AIDS in the Middle East and North Africa: A Primer.” Middle East Report.

[4] “Middle East.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica 2009 Student and Home Edition.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009

[5] A., Raymond. Encyclopedia of AIDS: a social, political, cultural, and scientific record of the HIV epidemic. Ill. Routledge, 1998. p355-58

[6] BioMed Central . “Epidemiology of the human immunodeficiency virus in Saudi Arabia; 18-year surveillance results and prevention from an Islamic perspective.

[7] Draper, Robert Franklin. “Antiretroviral drugs help HIV patients, specialists say.” Yemen Times

6 BioMed Central . “Epidemiology of the human immunodeficiency virus in Saudi Arabia; 18-year surveillance results and prevention from an Islamic perspective.

 

[8] UNDG, “MDG-6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases.” UNDG/Middle East 1-2.

7 Draper, Robert Franklin. “Antiretroviral drugs help HIV patients, specialists say.” Yemen Times

5 A., Raymond. Encyclopedia of AIDS: a social, political, cultural, and scientific record of the HIV epidemic. Ill. Routledge, 1998. p355-58

 

Iraqi Youth, Whereto?

Iraqi Boys

“Our history, our memory, our perceptions of the future, are all built and held within stories,” Dahir Jamail, Beyond the Green Zone. Since the extensive abrupt change that happened to many Iraqis generally and the young ones particularly, especially in 2003, many social and mental disciplines had been changing. Some of them started to expose to public, for instance, from expatriation, emigration, being far from one’s own country, to the mental and psychic disorder. Some of these issues started to vanish or disappear, commitment and patriotism for instance. Iraqis adapted the Idea of traveling and abandoning their houses, friends and country, simply because Iraqis wanted to get rid of all the confusion and disorientation that Iraq had been facing the past few years. Those poor years in numbers, are rich in incidents. Those incidents had their negative affect on people on different perspectives. The ones who really were injured because of these horrible incidents, were the young Iraqis! They had to face many responsibilities that they didn’t have to face before. Some of those young Iraqis went to find a job to further their life-class, while others found their way to European countries seeking re-settlement or fleeing from religion sectarian conflicts! Many causes and our youth is paying the price.

Traveling and Knocking on Emigration Doors

People at their early life with their early stages suffered a lot because of IraqAn Iraqi refugee hold his national flag ready to board on buses in Sit Zainab, a southern suburb in Damascus, in November 27’s wounds. Some of them carried out these sufferings inside their country, while others add additional weight to their chests – mourning and enduring on their beloved occupied country – by tolerating these sufferings outside their country. Recent  conditions separated between friends, lovers, relatives and even between east and west. There are many opinions, someone supports leaving country, while some other oppose it.

I had the chance to meet a student at the Technology University, Baghdad. Mohamed Saleh, 21 years old, rejects the idea of leaving the country for foreigners “Why do we run away from our own reality. That’s what meant for us to live, and thanks God I live in my country,” he said “I haven’t lost my dignity, dislike many others I know outside Iraq,” he adds. This young man has an interesting way of thinking. Saleh thinks that leaving the country is hard, and he has his reasonable reasons, “I have no intentions to be in the middle of this scary adventure, emigrating is a hard experience that I don’t want to try, and hopefully, I will not be forced to try it. It is exhausting, physically and mentally,” he explains.

On the other side of this equation, Ali Mahmoud, a 23-year-old refugee, Damascus, Syria, disagrees with Saleh “living in my country became desperate and unbearable.” Mahmoud faced many difficulties in his life. He was threatened by an unknown militia. “If I want to improve myself and develop my skills, I have to go to Europe. I’m aware of the difficulties I might face there, and I’m capable to deal with them. Simply because, I have nothing to do other than that,” he says, explaining his future plans.

The negative pattern of emigration will, surely, reduce and may be eliminate one’s skills and capabilities. Indeed, their passion for participating, creativity, originality, and planning for their big picture – future will be injured.

The Positives and Negatives of Emigrating, and Its Impact

Emigrating is like a funnel where positives and negatives are pouring through. Positive – negative, two intuitive concepts that we’re familiar with in every single experience in life. What if this experience was migrating? What if emigrating meant separating from your beloved belongings and people. Many opinions and points of view regarding these questions!

Through my involvement in working things out for refugees, I met an incredible personality. Mohamed Faleh, a 20-year-old student, living in Damascus, Syria, talked to me about his opinion “Emigration has a direct impact on one’s life psychologically. They used to live with their families and friends; doing activities that they can’t engage in them only in their home country.” Leaving country is harsh in Faleh’s perspective “When I was compelled to leave my country, I felt different kinds of negative feelings, depression and frustration for instance. It is very normal that people grief and sorrow, it’s like a big mountain lay upon my chest,” he explains. He thinks that migrating sufferance vary from one country to another. Living in an Arabic world is different from European side of world, for instance, “Although I live in an Arab-Islamic world, where people nearly have the same nationality and speak my language, still, I miss my school and neighborhood.” In addition, he said that “on the one hand, here in Syria, as a refugee, I had the chance to learn more about Syrian culture and accent, and their way of living, on the other hand, daily, you have to worry about work, food, education and money.”

Arej Emad, 21 years old college-student in Arbid University, Jordan. She finds that negatives of emigration are far more than positives, “I don’t think that there are positives in migration,” she said. She thinks that the moment a one leaves their country and becomes a refugee, they will worry about things they didn’t worry about before. “Most refugees have psychological issue that they have to live with, because of bad news about Iraq, the separation from their beloved ones, redundancy and managing to live for a next day in the host country,” she adds. Emad agreed with me about the sad fact of education fees. They are so high that some of families cannot afford them because of redundancy and prohibiting working in host countries.

Education, Standards and Curriculum Changes

Curriculum, teaching styles and methods, class standards and accent change are the biggest problems that Iraqi students are complaining about. While some of them cannot study due to those factors, other managed to cope with them to complete or continue their education.

The Iraqi Cultural Council (ICC) in Syria is offering an exceptional chance to do the Iraqi version of baccalaureate – in Iraqi curriculum. I was there; I saw a face with an optimistic look full with hope, prospect and confidence, Ahmed Ismail. This 20-year-old student, who likes to be called as a man instead of a student, lost faith in himself when he failed two times in his last year of high school. Ismail faced hard times back in Baghdad. He received many kinds of threats from unknown militias “I came to Syria running away from killings in streets.” He did his transcripts and carried them out to The Syrian Ministry of Education, to be part of the Syrian baccalaureate. Problems in specific fields of study were faced by Ismail; as a result, he failed in his first year of baccalaureate and the year after, “Physics and Math were the hardest rivals in my two baccalaureate years. Symbols and names were different than the ones I’m familiar with. I was confused, my head kept swirling, I have names and symbols from the eight years of my study in Iraq, and now I have names and symbols from my six months of study!” He explains. Ismail tried the Iraqi version of baccalaureate. At that time, in front of the ICC, Ismail was waiting for his marks. Therefore, I waited with him; the results came and Ismail passed that vexing term of his study.

 

On contrary, I met Maryam Al Rubaie, a 19-year-old high-scholer. Changing curriculums and teaching styles are the advantages of being a refugee in host country, as she noted, “all the manners are poured in one funnel.” Another advantage, students will have the chance to access different kinds of syllabus. As a matter of fact, it’s good to educate in different environment, Syria, than the one you were familiar with, Iraq “I can see no wrong in learning Syrian curriculum. Teachers, students speak my language. I can know more about Syria’s culture and traditions.” She mentioned that we, Iraqi students, are an ambition and well-known with our intelligence, intellectual capacity, smartness and talent.

Customs, Traditions, Folklores and Rituals

Tradition is a strict and complicated concept in our, unfortunately, closed-society. Those rituals manipulating human-communities, and this manipulation will end up in the creation of one’s personality. That’s why we notice stereotypes in Chinese, Western and Middle Eastern personalities. It will be an understatement to say that this is who we are, a bunch of traditions. Unquestionably, when two cultures are mixed, we will have a unique culture that breaks stereotypes’ cultures.

Through the internet, which brings people closely than they are, I interviewed a young woman, who lived nearly thirteen years in Netherlands. A 22-year-old Zahra Ali is studying medicine in one of Netherlands universities. She clarifies the differences in the cultures, Dutch and Arabs’, but that didn’t stop her from continuing her life though. “There is a huge gap between the Iraqi’s and the European countries in every aspect of life. It’s hard to live here, because I have two cultures and one identity – Arabic,” she said. The young Dutch have their way of living, which varies from the Arabic way of living. Dutch do things that Arab can’t do, as a result, Arabs got rejected because of their beliefs. They feel that Arabs are crazy; they don’t respect Arabs’ beliefs, “I know how to deal with such discriminate people, I’ve been here for thirteen years.” What comes in parents’ mind is that how they going to control their children behavior in such communities where everything is allowed under many justifications. Western communities have a completely different way of living; it’s not just about accent. Indeed, those non-Arab people have different way of dealing with things; this kind of actions is not acceptable in Eastern communities, “Now I’m living my life as an Arab, because that’s who I’m. A party will not change my identity, trust me!”

Totally the opposite – in other side of the world I met a person. An Iraqi-Syrian, Karar Abbas 24 years old, live in Humus, has another look to the Syrian culture “In my humble opinion, I think that there is no such thing called – Iraqi and Syrian culture – I remember that my father usually said “The Iraqi say ‘where you want to go? Syria,’ and the Syrian say ‘where you want to go? Iraq.’ That’s because the two countries are not too far from each other.” In addition to that, Iraqi people marry Syrians and Syrians marry Iraqis.

The Freedom That was Obtained Throughout Loneliness and Being Lost in the Exile

Diverse and democratic societies enable young people to think freely. A person usually reflects the values of an era or time that he/she lives in. However, there is an exception to that rule, when someone comes up with new ideas that don’t fit their period of time.

A twenty-year-old network engineer student in Damascus, Ahmed Samir, explained that the concept of freedom was misunderstood by some parts of society, “Freedom, democracy and transparency issues, those appealing words that have been introduced lately to the Iraqi scene were understood and applied in a wrong and uncivilized way.” Unfortunately, this misunderstood freedom was used by some young men to break the law. In my personal perspective, I believe that establishing the freedom of a person on someone else’s is a savage and disturbed way of using freedom. I also believe that we are not actually living in the freedom time while there are still some restrictions on freedom. On the other side of this picture, Omar Mohamed, 18 years old, illustrate his opinion in quite few words “When a man leaves his country, the dignity and freedom concepts will be vanish. I don’t believe that there is freedom in an exile because no freedom for people without home!

One day I went to a café where Iraqis used to hang out. As usual, I saw a bunch of Iraqis who used to play cards, backgammon or domino. When I started to talk to them, they took a deep breath, I sensed the rage and depression inside this breath, and they said, “We are young men living alone here in Syria because of the grave conditions in Iraq. We often come to this café, so that we kill our free time and the feelings of failure. We couldn’t find anything else other than playing cards to fill up this huge space inside us.”

Iraqi Youth’s Big Picture – Their Future

Future has a unique definition for Iraqis, it might be different for other nationalities. Regarding those mischievous actions of killings and discomforts, Iraqis’ future definition had been changed, as a result, the combination of migration and loneliness had a direct impact on their life in the exile. As noted before, there are positives and negatives. Refugees should think positively in order that positive things will come to them. I have faith and positive hoping in those young Iraqis. We hope much in the coming generation of young Iraqis, whose life is full with experiences. They will re-build our country, get it out from dark and put the cornerstone for a new community full with gratitude and determination to their life.

Who Should I Worship!

I grew up and I knew one religion, my parents raised me as a Muslim, they taught me what Islam is, what it means to be a Muslim and what we believe in. I acknowledge that in my life, I’ve seen a lot of people from different backgrounds, I’ve known Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Hindus. One day I had a class with my teacher and this class was about new people who made a creed for themselves. In fact, They called themselves Rastafarian.

I sat in front of my computer; I couldn’t stop my fingers from figuring out what Rasta is on the internet! I’ve found some unbelievable facts and information about these people. First, only a few people know the true story of this religion.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., National Hero of Jamaica, he was founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., National Hero of Jamaica. He was founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

Rastafari has its roots by the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, he believed that all black people should be proud of their race. He became an inspiration to black people especially after organizing the Black Nationalist movement in America in 1920. The next year, he had almost a million followers. More people believed and supported him after his speech in 1920, “look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand.” That speech came true when Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned as Ethiopia’s king, who became known as Emperor Haile Selassi, the one who everybody considers as the Rastafarian movement’s founder. After his crowning, the movement officially began. Rastafarians settled in the small southern Ethiopian towns of Shashamene. Haile Selassi, who considered the God incarnate, gave them 500 hectors of land on which to settle; they started migrating to Ethiopia 38 years ago.

Rastafarianism is a mixture of politics and religion for many reasons. One of them is that they believed that Haile is their king because he is black and he will put them on the freedom ship and free them from slavery.

Selassi I, was Ethiopias regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history.

Selassi I, was Ethiopia's regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history.

Rastafarians support and empower the black race and they consider Haile as an incarnation of God, and he is seen as part of the holy trinity, and as the returned Messiah that was promised in the bible. Furthermore, they believe in Christian doctrine that says God came onto earth in the form of Jesus Christ, to give instructions to humanity. That is true but they do not agree on this version of story. They believe that these instructions were corrupted by western societies, for instance, white people (called “Babylon.”). Moreover, they believed that God appeared again as the Ethiopian Emperor to adjust and fix the instructions to black people.

You can recognize Rastas by their colors, they wear red, yellow and green that came from the Ethiopian flag, their dreadlocks, and the reggae music, particularly they listen to Bob Marley. The reason they listen to that kind of music is that there is no bad language that outs women down or violent language or even gun talk like most Rap music. Also, they smoke Ganja.

The Rastafarian religion has interesting and unique beliefs. For instance, they cherish certain herbs that are mentioned in the holy Bible. Ganja is a primary element of their religion and they smoke it to reach the highest levels of spirituality. Another interesting belief, Rastafarians are too into any sharp implements to be used on man. For example, no trimming or shaving no tattooing on the skin or cutting in the flesh, as was said in Leviticus 21:5: “They shall not make baldness upon their heads, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” Rastas are more likely to be vegetarians. They eat as little animal flesh as possible; they do not like the idea of eating pig flesh, shellfish, etc. Rastafarians worship Haile Selassi and consider him a model and they recognize no other God than him. They reject pagan beliefs, without disrespecting the believers. Rastas agree to live in a world of one brotherhood and a sign of that is they condemn jealousy, hate, deceit and humiliation. They believe in love to all mankind. An interesting fact is that they do not accept the aid, possessions or any help given by the enemy that may impart upon them, in fear. For that, their main purpose is to uphold Rastafari. Furthermore, they are opposed to the luxury and pleasure of modern city society.

I had the chance to meet a wonderful Rastafarian Jamaican man, Jason Janis, 45 year old. The meeting was as simple as you can imagine, firstly I asked him about their beliefs, “The basic beliefs of Rastas is to uphold the truth and defend good over evil, to do will of god here on earth to keep the 10 commandments.” He said. Actually, I was a bit curious about their religion, Muslims pray and fast to God, but as for the Rastas they fast in remembrance of past prophets and saints and holy men of times passed by, “we fast for our men who suffered a lot during the past 100 years.” Dreadlocks are something that identifying Rastas from non-Rastas. I considered it something to put onto your hair, but I was shocked when I knew it’s for religion purposes. “The origin of dreadlock comes from the times of Moses when there was a tribe called the Nazarenes (Bible, Ch.6) who wore dreadlocks, as did Samson as a sign of their covenant to the almighty God.” He explains this matter. Another thing I wanted to ask in order to satisfy my curiosity, Ganja, the holy herb, what is good in it and why Rastas smoke it to reach the highest levels of spirituality, “Ganja goes with the territory, it opens the mind, It’s good for meditation.” I had to ask him about its history “It was found on Selamon’s grave and the Bible says (all herbs are for the healing of the nation).” The meeting was great. I loved it; it was full of good information. Now, I know what Rasta really is. I asked him to talk to me about their social life and he said “We go to Rastafarian church dance, we listen to reggae music, I listen to it because of it has uplifting lyrics, not bringing down woman, the race and no gun talk.” He adds, “We don’t believe in homosexuality and abortion.”

During my usual morning walk. People were coming across me, I thought about talking to someone about Rastafarian to see if he has any idea. John T, a 22-year-old British man, was the one I ran into during my walk. He was polite and he accepted to do this interview. I asked him about Rastafarian, what he thinks of them and what their beliefs are, “I think Rastafarianism is a movement more than a religion, in other words it is a way of life, they do not have church or a central worship place, they just gather in a place and do whatever they do.” I asked him about their stereotype “Well, I’m not sure but most Rastas I’d known they’re Black Caribbean with dreadlocks in their hair and multicolor hats and most of the time a laid back attitude.” He said.

Sarah Shourd, an English teacher, welcomed the idea of Rastafarians. She had been to Ethiopia in the core of Rastafarianism. She thinks it’s a religion, it’s a way to direct people to the right path, “It’s a Bible based religion, it gives guides and clues to ‘reach the God’s rope’ to people who do not know the way. I’ve been in Ethiopia it’s amazing. The people there were just kind and simple. I saw no signs of an aggressive attitude.” She said. About their stereotype “well… smoking marijuana, the dreadlocks (their hair must be natural), they’re close to nature – away from modern society’s needs, they reject western traditions, and listen reggae music especially Bob Marley – one love,” she said. Sarah showed acceptance of to be a Rastafarianism and welcomed this idea, “yes, I would like to be Rasta, I agree with some of their beliefs, like they love each other (as obvious in Bob Marley song – one love), the rejection of and resistance against of western policy and imperialism. Also, I believe in black power and they should be freed from racial discrimination,” she adds.

Today there are an increasing number of White people. For Rastafarians, this period will mark the beginning of a new world, in which Blacks are respected. Many Rastafarians believe this is how the world would have been, but for the behaviour of corrupt whites, they will fix themselves by themselves.

My Best Friend, Jasmine

W. B. Yeats, an Irish poet, once said, “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.” And I say, my glory began when I met Jasmine. She is a 19-year-old neat, outgoing, funny and very kind person. Above all that, she is my best friend. I had the chance to know her two years ago. The moment we met, we became friends. She got her baccalaureate degree from Syria in 2007. A year later, she went back to Baghdad and started to study computer communications in Al-Mansour College.

I have been through a lot of difficulties in my last two years. Indeed, she was the only one who shared my hardships. She helped me to survive my baccalaureate year when I failed, and to get my baccalaureate the year after.

I gained a lot of study skills and effective strategies for my study. Moreover, she taught me how to change sad and upset moments into happy and joyful ones through doing what I’m good at, for instance playing guitar. “Do not be upset if you don’t understand something. You and I will figure it out. Every problem has its own solution,” she said in one of her teaching sessions.

Apart from that, my family and I had many discomforts. The first one occurred when my father had a financial problem. As a result, we sold our house in Baghdad. “Mustafa you cannot afford to live another month here if the house will not be sold,” Jasmine said. The second problem happened when my grandfather passed away. I was depressed and frustrated. Everything in my life at that time turned gloomy. She helped me to get through this, and told me that I should stand next to my father and help him to get over his father’s death. Furthermore, frequently, she stood next to me in my family problems last year. She helped me to control my temper and to be cool through anger and tense times. I have become a nice person who cheers up the home and decreases the tension.

For all those reasons, I cherish her friendship because Jasmine is the one who was with me in my hard times. She helped me to search for my skills and use them in the right places, like swimming and playing guitar, because I usually said that I’m not good in either swimming or guitar.

In short, she encourages me and supports me in every step in my life. She wants all good for me. I think that’s a hard thing to find in a friendship. Thanks to her I’ve become more ambitious and hardworking. Thanks, Jasmine.

The Procession of Reading Children’s and Classic’s Books

Every phase of life has its own readings that enrich this phase. When I was a child, I liked reading a lot, particularly the ones who communicate with me, which build up my mind and plant morals and ethics. Children’s books like scientific or fiction has a simple language that strengthens the reading passion in me. Now, as a grown up, I love to read a lot, but the only difference is that I read some classic books. I have to admit that in classic books, I found the pleasure of reading, I’m impressed by how clear, serene, and solid the words are, my brain imaginatively recreate what the words just implies. “When I had read this story to the end, I was filled with awe. I could not remain in my room and went out of doors. I felt as if I were locked up in a ward too,” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin once said. The classis books paint me a picture of what life at that time look like. The classic books writings have been developed during the past 100 years.

 

Naguib Mahfouz, one of the best-known Arabic novelists of the 20th century, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988, has incredible books. For instance “Bayn Al Qasrain,” is one of the most encyclopedic books. It’s like moving diagrams of how the Egyptian community was looked like. This particular book picturing the Egyptian collapsed society. Mahfouz usually talked about controversial subjects, for example, the British occupation. Moreover, he mentioned Egyptians daily life and how they suffered, during the occupation. Mahfouz supported his piece by examples and facts derived from Egyptians social life. “When disasters come at the same time, they compete with each other,” Mahfouz said. I believe that this book is an immortal book, that Egyptians take it as a reference of their life at that time.

 

The second impressible author I admire, Charles Dickens. Through his fiction, Dickens did much to highlight the worst abuse in 19th century society. He was influenced by his youth readings and even by the childhood stories. In spite of all his life discomforts, he was more like Shakespeare, touched a range of readers, which was perhaps his greatest talent.

 

Just on his second novel, Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens describes characters from many different social and economic levels. The novel is set against the background of the New Poor Law of 1834, which established a system of workhouses for those who, because of poverty, sickness, mental disorder, or age, could not provide themselves. Young Oliver Twist, an orphan, spends his first nine years in a “baby farm,” a workhouse for children in which only the hardiest survive. Then he goes to London, and falls in with a gang of youthful thieves. Dickens renders a powerful and generally realistic description of this criminal.  Later, he contrasted the squalor and cruelty of the workhouse and the evilness city with the peace and love Oliver found in the country at the Maylies’ home.

 

As a result, I cannot cut off that a one should read only either children’s or classic books, but I can say that a one should read whatever book that satisfy his interest. Robertson Davies, a Canadian novelist and critic, said, “A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.” That kind of books is what I call an immortal book.