Arabic Talent Show 2k17!

This years Arabic Talent Show was a great display of talent amongst all of the students in OU’s Arabic Program. I really enjoyed the various videos that represented different classes and levels of Arabic. Humor was apart of nearly every video and the audience certainly reflected that with the roaring laughter that filled the room. My personal favorite was skit titled The New Student by the Arabic Drama Club. It featured the famous Moha from Al-kitaab and brought in mixture of Oklahoman and Egyptian Humor. What was particularly satisfying was the food at the event. The chicken and rice filled my stomach allowing me sit perfectly stuffed throughout the night. I finished off the evening with some baklawa and tea that was a flavor I had never experienced before. I hope to be apart of next year’s talent show. I will be continuing my Arabic studies this summer and hopefully will return to campus with fresh and new skills that will contribute to the success of the Arabic department!!

Panel Discussion on Environmental Inequality

The panel discussion on, “Food and Water Activism in Global Asia,” brought together activists of various disciplines to weave together their approach towards solving inequality. Despite the diverse interests of the panels members, they shared agreement on how to increase environmental equality. The general consensus involved increasing education about environmental issues so that ordinary people can help start grassroots efforts to promote positive change.

Environmental policy will not come from the top echelons of society, but require mass social change from the common folk. In order to achieve this, the process of approving policy must include the people it will receive the bulk of the impact. One panelists from China highlighted how groups of ordinary Chinese have been effective at organizing and having their demands met. Re-asserting, and sometimes inventing, their right to participate in the decision making process, these groups have been able to avoid being subjected to dangerous ecological outcomes. Also, large companies such as Apple that patronize polluting factories have been held accountable by Chinese environmental groups. Apple was sent several letters informing the Cupertino Headquarters that its factories were major sources of pollution. At first, the tech company thought the letters coming from these organizations was a hoax, and refused to recognize the claims. Apple asked itself “How could China have active environmental groups?” The letters were eventually authenticated and Apple took steps to correct its pollutive policies. Other panelists admired the activism of the Chinese and suggested that Americans need to become more sensitive to environmental issues. Using the Chinese as an example, a cultural transformation, where citizens en masse demand environmental accountability, would be the ideal state for America.

Indigenous tribes can be seen as model for long term social change. American’s tribal communities have viewed the destruction of the environment as a part of their tribal history. Tribes, thinking in generations, want options that will protect their land currently and also for the future. The harmful impact that extractive industries have had on indigenous life culturally, politically, and environmentally, has greatly inhibited their upward mobility. Therefore, they are particularly keen at revealing the harmful aspects of profit seeking environmental policies.

Sandy Nguyen, a Vietnamese fisherman advocate from Louisiana, described her experience educating fisherman about benefits that they would normally not known about. After the BP oil spill, itinerant fisherman communities were left devastated. Uninsured, poor, and lacking basic english skills, they had little opportunity to restore their primary source of income. She acted as a liaison between the state and the fisherman. Through Nguyen’s work, fishermen were able to gain access to benefits that restored their lifestyle. Without her contribution, BP would not have felt pressured to compensate the fishing communities for their losses. Nguyen, Making decisions based on “being there” experiences was advocated by each member. Inviting politicians to the fishing communities, humanized the result of lackluster environmental policy.

The structures that promote inequality include the unfair distribution of resources. Whether it be land, water, or fossil fuels, there is a selfish protection of theses resources. Often times, according to Canadian filmmaker Gary Marcuse, “the profits are privatized and the problems are socialized.” The benefits received by natural resources are not spread about fairly, and the negative byproducts are spread throughout masses. They argue that people benefitting from unjust environmental policy are the very people who play a major role in its development.

Ultimately, I agreed with much of what the panel discussed. Inspiring grass roots efforts to bring about change is necessary. This is achieved through educating the masses of the problems, but more importantly, the rights they have to correct it. A cultural transformation of environmental awareness will help etch away at the massive structures that perpetuate environmental inequality.

Journey to Europe: Experts Reflection on the Refugee Crisis

The event opened up with an oscar nominated short film about the tumultuous 4.1 mile journey that 600,000 refugees made in 2015-1016 from Turkey to Lesbos. The Greek coastguard captain heroically rescued refugees stranded in the violent sea. The documentary let the scenes speak. It was powerful and especially taxing when small children were seen dead from having drowned. After the film, there was a presentation and discussion.

Germany has learned from its Turkish population that came to the country largely in the 1970’s as guest workers. The lackluster of adequate integration policy made it incredibly difficult for Turks to become full members of German society. There are second and third generation Turks who still struggle with the German Language. In order to prevent what happened then, the German government now funds an extensive array of language, professional, and culture courses with the goal of developing productive refugee/ citizens who can contribute to German society.

Interestingly, refugee crime rates do not exceed that of native Germans. If and when a crime is committed by an asylum seeker, it is sensationalized and this fuels the rhetoric from people opposed to Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy. Politically motivated attacks on refugees are far higher. Revisiting integration, the speaker found that integration is paramount to avoid crime/radicalization. When people (refugee or not) do not feel like full members of society they become marginalized and eventually parallel societies sprout. Some of the countries with the largest refugee populations in the world are often deprived of the resources to take care of them. Also, they are not always politically stable and with a large refugee population. These countries include, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. This is why other western countries need to take a stand and look at Germany as an example.

This was a great program and the discussion was particularly revealing. I hope more events like this are held next year.

The Rise of Populism in Europe

Dr. Reinhard Heinisch’s lecture on the rise of populism in Europe, highlighted the sources of populists movements and how it they differed from country to country. Conventional thought would have never predicted populist movements in prosperous western European countries such as Britain and Germany. Many scholars thought that populism was a rare phenomena that was evident in France and a few other eastern European countries. The recent wave of populism can be attributed to several issues, including Globalism. Especially in western Europe, citizens have not been able to feel the fruits of a global economy which in turn intensifies their resentment towards the current economic system.

Heinisch also described the common characteristics of populist movements which include appeals to the “common sense”, nativists movements, and a call for political and social reform. The refugee crisis that has become a continent wide issue, has helped fuel populist parties and their goals of reducing immigration. In France, a country that contains Europe’s largest muslim population, Marie Le Pen has gained remarkable momentum. Her success it reflected at many a French who believe that french culture and life is threatened by such an influx of foreigners.

The campaign techniques of these movements have been able to recruit followers. Heinisch displayed political ads/posters that attempt to send a message about social decay due to foreigners or national sovereignty due to globalization. These campaigns dog-whistle especially to young men who also make up these movements most staunch supporters. Regardless, of the sustainability of these movements, they will remain a political force to reckon with for the near future.

Randy Goodman: The Eyes for America in Iran

For Randy Goodman, photography has provided more than photo shoots. Armed with her camera she has dedicated her professional life to documenting revolutionary movements. During her remarkable career she has been the eyes for America in some of the world’s most sensitive conflicts. In college, she was invited to Iran with an American delegation to photograph. She fell in love with Iran and its people. Little did she know that she would soon be on center stage of world politics.

In 1979, she was at the heart Iranian hostage crisis. At the height of the crisis she was re-invited back to Iran, along with one other american reporter, because the Iranian student group trusted that their work accurately depicted them. She went along with with a delegation of 50 American students of diverse backgrounds requested specifically by the Iranian student group. The idea was that they would be able to inform their respective communities of the true nature of Iranians. Both the Americans and the Iranians found common ground and understood each other. Randy Goodman saw this as the special aspect of the crisis.

Interestingly, some of the documents that were shredded by the embassy staff during the takeover, were reassembled by the Iranians and distributed to showcase the true-face of American policy towards Iran. Mrs. Goodman had kept some of the publications and when she tried to bring them back into the United States they were confiscated. Fascinatingly, she successfully sued the CIA and was able to get the books back along with some of her photos.

Randy Goodman’s ultimate goal was to portray Iranians the way she saw them. Friends, students, and just people wanting to be recognized. She was often frustrated at the media blackout back in the states and the stereotypes it perpetuated. Her work is a testament to seeking the truth and how hard it can be to tell it.

Paris Climate Agreements

Recently the Trump administration has been under a lot of scrutiny for discrediting the increasing environmental problems all over the world. The president-elect has done everything from calling global warming a hoax to blaming the Chinese for making the whole thing up. Despite meeting with various environmental organizations, President-elect Donald J. Trump has refused to continue the progress of the Obama administration. Instead, he has nominated cabinet members who are pro-fossil fuel and do not believe in human caused climate change. For example, Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt was put in charge of the EPA. He is known for being extra cozy with the oil industry and will most certainly refuse to implement environmentally sound policy. The EPA will probably have to be renamed more appropriately the “Environmental Destruction Agency.” Obama’s key Paris Climate Agreement (and several other of his presidency’s successes) may be abandoned due to the fact that many of these were achieved through executive agreements. Climate change is real and not avoidable by the continuing to support the status quo. The Paris Climate agreements are not only a major step of progress in for the environment but for the international community as well. This diplomatic success has countries coming together comprising towards a common goal. Under the administration, we may likely enter diplomatic isolationism that will have no regard for peaceful agreements.


The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States has been somewhat of a perpetual hangover for the america and the world. Ever since he announced his campaign by gliding down the escalator in Trump Tower, I, like many others, did not take him seriously. To my surprise and dismay, he glided into the Republican nomination with ease. The correctly labeled “basket of deplorables” and disgruntled whites elevated Donald Trump to a status that far exceeded that of any celebrity. His words no longer mattered; It was Hillary who was the corrupt liar that needed to be barred from the white house. yeah right… Anyways I digress. The election of Donald Trump has brought about fear that before seems artificial or at least distant. His cabinet picks and his onslaught of tweets have confirmed the horror for many. Seriously!.. Rick Perry for the Department of Energy? What’s next? David Duke for head of task force on race relations. We have compromised a lot in American politics by electing Donald Trump. When we view politics as a competition then we have extracted the humanity out of it. That is why the next four years will be much longer than I certainly want to experience… if we are around that long. Hopefully the other branches of government will balance out the horror of the executive branch that will begin past noon on Jan. 20th. Until then and through the end, I will try my best to remain in formed and look beyond what has become American politics and try my best to further improve the condition of American’s outside of the normal workings… the normal workings seemed to have failed.

OU Drama Club: Films and Fun

The Arabic Drama Club at OU is facilitated by the much admired Ustaatha Noha Ghali. The club meets weekly on Friday afternoon to watch and discuss Arabic films. So far, the films have ranged from Drama to Comedy. I personally like comedies because the expression is often exaggerated and the acting allows me to more closely follow the plot without relying heavily on cultural knowledge and of course the english subtitles. Recently, we created one of the Egyptian movies into our own adaptation for the Arabic Talent Show. Tourism and Kebab depicts the notorious bureaucratic frustration found in Egypt’s Mogamma Building. A structure located in downtown Cairo that “accommodates” up to 100,000 frustrated visitors a day. Our skit portrayed the frustration with OU’s parking situation. One student after another has a parking ticket that needs to payed, and collectively, we shuffle in anger to office after office to try and resolve the situation. Unhappy with transfer after transfer by indifferent employees, we finally get in contact with President David Boren who relieves the tension by ordering kebab from sisters. It was certainly fun creating and filming this video. It added a light element to what is often a difficult language to learn. I’m looking forward towards future projects with OU’s Drama Club.



A Dinner with Finery and of Course Questions from the Audience.

Dr. Joshua Landis recently gave a lecture at the President’s Associates dinner held in October. Upon receiving an invitation, I quickly reserved a seat for this highly anticipated talk. As an arabic major, topics regarding the Middle East naturally draw my attention. Arriving at the dinner I was able to spot other students amongst the finery of the older people. They came dressed in suits and fine dresses. Despite being seated near the back of the room (perhaps I should start writing bigger checks to the University’s capital campaign :)), I was seated by a research scholar from China. We discussed her experience so far at OU and she was genuinely satisfied with the University. A aspiring law student sat to my other side and I was able to confirm the myths and truths of law school. Interestingly, across the table I met a senior who had completed a year abroad in Germany as I had. It was comforting speaking with someone who could relate to such a experience that is not shared by everyone and can be difficult to bring up without coming off as a snob. All these encounters happened as I tired to eat the delicious food in the most manner cautious way possible. The drone of the crows slowly became silent when President Boren tapped the microphone at the podium and gave his pep talk speech for the University. From National Merit Scholars to our ranking in college campus beauty, he always convinces me that OU is the best fit for me. Finally finishing with his appeal for state question 779, Boren introduced Landis. His lecture drew fascinating parallels between the “great sorting out of Europe” and the present day sorting of ethnic groups in the Middle East. When the Q&A session began, I was hopeful for thought provoking questions, but was ultimately let down. Some people seemed interested in giving speeches than asking question while others left me baffled and wondering if they bothered to ever open a book. A little harsh on that assessment, but I know it was shared by the stares and shaking of the head from the others. I will certainly try and attend the next dinner and try and keep up with Landis’s Blog. These lectures do indeed bring prestige to the University Community.

My view! Unfortunately located in the back, but totally worth the experience!!
My view! Unfortunately located in the back, but totally worth the experience!!

A Musicical Journey: Syria and Beyond

Recently I attended a music workshop titled “Music from Syria and Beyond.” The two performers were Kenan Adnawi from Syria and Tareq Rantisi from Palestine. Both currently living in the Northeastern United States, they travel the country together hosting workshops over middle eastern music.

The two performers of the workshop. Percussionists pictured right and guitarist left.
The two performers of the workshop. Percussionists pictured right and guitarist left.

The first 30 minutes of the workshop was exclusively held in arabic as the event was cosponsored by the Arabic Flagship program. After the musicians introduced themselves, we went down the rows of the auditorium introducing the audience. When it was my turn, I managed to say the few phrases of arabic I’ve learned thus far semi-confidently. The workshop progressed into the structure of middle eastern music. Essentially, there are three scales. Two of them parallel with western music’s major and minor scales and the third is uniquely eastern. Rhythm was also discussed. We clapped and tapped the emphasized and deemphasized beats, respectively. I enjoyed sitting close to the world music professor. She was able to maintain the rhythm of the musicians as the rest of us struggled to clap and tap in unison.

The ongoing conflict in Syria started a conversation about the current state of music in Syria and the condition of artist. Adnawi came to the U.S. in 2013 as a musician fleeing the country and he said that music is critical towards preserving culture and moral in Syria. It has provided an escape for the remaining musicians and their audiences from the ongoing terrors of the conflict. In Germany, a refugee orchestra has developed and tours the country serving as an ambassador for refugees. As a universal language, music humanizes the plight and condition of refugees.

Me with a Syrian refugee in Germany.
Me with a Syrian refugee in Germany.

In addition to learning about the different percussion instruments used. We were given a lively performance from a guitar like instrument. Coupled with the percussion accompaniment, the musical product was marvelous.