Germany Department’s Grillfest Spring 2018

Last weekend I attended OU’s Grillfest event hosted by the German department. I was able to see teachers and colleagues from my German courses and also get to meet some of their dogs. I particularly liked Jedi, Frau Chilson’s puppy. Although I don’t really eat red meat, I was able to enjoy the Sauerkraut and the bread! The mustard also made a nice pairing with the bread. It was nice to see everyone in a relaxed environment without the pressure of a class or upcoming assignment. Sarah Hobson made it into the honor society along with a couple of students I have meet through Stammtisch sessions. I met a German family who also had a nice dog named Tommy. That dog and Jedi didn’t really get along. I also got to experience the Danglish I am particularly well versed in. I could mingle between groups of experienced speakers and beginners who preferred to converse in English. Frau Chilson used the opportunity to practice the subjunctive for our Oral exam which was the following Friday. I ended up doing well on that exam! I look forward to OU’s next German Fest event and will try to be a recipient of the fancy Honor Society Certificate.

Deal or No Deal?

Iran’s increasingly assertive behavior must not be coupled with an ability to acquire a nuclear weapon. The preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is of vital interest to national security. As well as being a diplomatic achievement, it has done its job of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Perceived flaws within the JCPOA should be addressed by building upon what already exists. This, however, should not distract from the fact that the Iran nuclear deal has been successful. The Obama Administration did not enter into the JCPOA because it liked Iran, but rather because it did not trust the country’s ambitions. The U.S. should be more concerned about what the JCPOA has achieved, rather than what it has not. Iran’s behavior, especially as a patron of the Assad regime, is deplorable. Yet, the Iran nuclear deal was never meant to curtail objectionable behavior outside of obtaining a nuclear weapon, which it does very well. Again, it is preventing the Iranians from becoming a nuclear power. According to Harvard Professor Stephen M. Walt, through the JCPOA “Iran gave up enriched uranium, destroyed 13,000 centrifuges, dismantled the Arak reactor, let the U.N. install monitoring devices, implemented NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] Additional Protocol, and a host of other measures— all before anyone or anyone else began lifting sanctions.” Essentially, Iran’s program has been halted, reversed, frozen in time, and heavily monitored. One of the greatest complaints of the JCPOA is the 24-day notice inspectors must wait in order to access an undeclared site. This is not totally irrational because Iran is an experienced cheater and will interpret the deal to its benefit. Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, is able to counter opposition to the inspection delay by commenting that the 24-day notice “is one of the most innovative mechanisms ever put into place within a nuclear agreement.” Indeed, it is an “innovative mechanism” because undeclared sites are conventionally extremely difficult to access by both foreign and independent inspectors.

The projected exit of the JCPOA by the United States compromises American security interests in the region. If the deal fails, there is no guarantee that Iran will not resume its nuclear program. In fact, even with the prospect of replaced sanctions, Iran would most likely begin restoring its nuclear program. A nuclear capable Iran would not occur within a vacuum. The Saudis and Israelis, with their mutually shared hatred of Iran, would react in full force. Although Saudi Arabia currently does not have nuclear weapons, it would hesitate little to obtain them. The Israelis have existing nuclear capabilities (although this has never been officially denied or confirmed) and would delite in adjusting their arms to compete with a new nuclear Iran. This hypothetical arms race within the Middle East could have disastrous consequences and lead to undesired proliferation to other countries. If the U.S. truly supports the NPT, then it should steadfastly pursue policy that prevents the spread of nuclear weapons.

Arabic Flagship Talent Show Spring 2018

Last Friday I attended the talent show hosted by OU’s Flagship program. I arrived early in order to get a good seat and be first in line. I’ve attended the past three talent shows in the Jim Thorpe complex, but this year it was held in Zarrow Hall. Each year, my fellow Arabic colleagues and I look forward to the food options and of course the various talents on display. This year planning the video was a bit of a challenge. Essentially, we had the idea but not the time or the actors willing to act. With the encouragement of extra credit from Dr. Al-Masri, the Arabic 2223 class was able to pull together a great video with some help from a couple of advanced students. I played Waleed Mahdi, in what were several impersonations of faculty, staff, and students associated with the Flagship program. It was a nice and humorous send off to many of the seniors who will be graduating this Spring. The editing quality was fantastic. Wesley Zhang is very skilled in his ability to make a amatuer skit appear to be a professional produced production. In addition to our video, there were many other standouts. The video produced by the class without a professor and class next fall was hilarious and creative. Not only did their work provide laughter, it also offered a scenario that could be understood through the expressions and acting alone. This is hard to achieve but they nailed it with their video skit. The poem entitled “Kindness” piqued my interest because it was written by the same author, Naomi Shihab Nye, as my final project source. It was recited beautifully in both Arabic and English. The talent show also serves as a reminder of where I was a year ago with my arabic skills. From watching the first year students’ videos and live performances to the advanced students, there is a much admired growth curve that showcases the quality of teaching and work ethic by the students. Ultimately, I look forward towards next Fall’s talent shows and the student’s ability to create fresh (and funny) productions.

ASA Fashion Show

OU’s Arab Student Association (ASA) recently hosted a cultural night that displayed the various forms of dress found throughout the Arab World. From North Africa to the Gulf, there were garments that showcased the diverse cultures of the Middle East. There was both traditional and modern clothing that highlighted all aspects of culture instead of just idyllic pieces. I particularly liked the clothes from Palestine. These clothes were able to send a message about the country with their vibrant symbolism. From the colors to the stich work, there was meaning in the designs. One piece, which was modeled by Sophie Richardson, was a modern twist of an older style. The stitchwork was intricate yet wasn’t distracting and could easily be worn as everyday attire. There was also a men’s piece modeled by Sammy Najib which incorporated with entire flag of Palestine in its design. Essentially, these pieces represented a nationalism that is all too seen as non-existent in regard to Palestine. The audience’s response to the different counties represented was worth observing as well. With each introduction of a country there was an a roar of applause and in some cases a singing and clapping. The highlight of the evening was the dabke performance. At first, only Arab students performed a routine that was set to a catchy tune. As time went on, guests from the audience joined in on the performance and it served as a great closure for an event that took a lot of planning.

Lastly, I was a part of the planning committee and organized the catering for the event. I had never had a $900 budget to spend on food all at once so I felt a lot pressure to make sure that I did everything correctly. Fortunately, I was able to find a catering option within our budget and they kindly assisted me throughout the process. The night was an ultimate success despite the unexpected number of people that far exceeded or predictions. I have already volunteered for next year’s event which will build upon the success of this year’s.

Viewing of 8 Borders 8 Days

Amanda Bailly’s 8 Borders 8 Days, follows the journey of a single-mother, Sham, and her two children, LuLu and Yaman, as they make their way from Turkey to Germany.

After experiencing two years of the war in Syria, Sham decided to move to Lebanon with her two children, Lulu and Yaman. She talked about how at first she felt welcomed in Lebanon, but after the influx of refugees ballooned the welcoming atmosphere began to deteriorate. The situation took a turn for the worse when refugees were required to have a sponsor in order to remain in the country. At the mercy of a threatening sponsor, Sham set her sites for Turkey with the long term goal of reaching mainland Europe.

The filmmaker focused intermittently on Sham’s two children throughout the film. They offered a comedic relief to the dire situation. I particularly enjoyed their narrative of the raft ride from Turkey to Greece (Lesbos). Lulu described how people used plastic grocery bags to help remove the rising water within the raft. Yaman described with laughter how the water began to rise past their chests. The children were able to recall the potentially deadly experience with the innocence that only a child could muster. The children offered an unfiltered reaction to the reality of their surroundings.
Once they arrived in Europe, train stations were the main hub of refugee activity. For instance, in Budapest, many of them made haphazard encampments in order to wait for the next opportunity to travel further into western Europe. In some cases, there were many volunteers who held concerts and rallies in support of the migrants. Eventually, Sham, LuLu, and Yaman arrived in Germany via Plane. The film ends with them in their small housing quarters that the German government had provided. Also, Sham became pregnant with her fiancé, Marwan.

Ultimately, Sham and her children traveled from Damascus, Beirut, Istanbul, Izmir, Lesbos, Athens, Pesevo, Belgrade, Roske, Budapest, and then finally settled in Berlin. Each destination offered a different degree of acceptance for the migrants. Passing through each land, Sham encountered different spaces of language, culture, and politics. The film documented their journey through their eyes. This often evoked a sense of disorientation and wandering. “Where are they?” “Who is that official?” “What does that order mean?” were just a few questions that left me imagining the plight that refugees face when trying to understand and cope with new identities.
Although the film provided a raw portrayal of the plight of refugees, it still offered a narrowed experience of refugees in general. During the post-film discussion with Eva Rusho, a Syrian refugee living in Belgium, she highlighted the reality that a significant number of the refugees payed large sums of money in order to reach mainland Europe. In other words, a higher portion of wealthy people were able to pay their way to safety while poorer victims of conflict had little to no financial means to escape the violence.
The film caused me to reflect on America’s role in the refugee crisis. I thought to myself, “What actions by the U.S. contributed to this global crisis?” Answers filled my mind that stirred emotions of frustration and hopelessness about positive U.S. engagement throughout the world.
In terms of refugees, the U.S. has not taken on the same number as its European counterparts. Yet, one could argue that the U.S. has contributed to a greater amount of instability in the region where most of the refugees have come from. Altogether, the film demonstrates the reality of a single story that encompasses the struggles that refugees encounter.

Are we back to political-religious fanaticism?

President Trump is not shy when resorting to big talk. In fact, his presidency has been marked by countless points of hyperbolic rhetoric that have far outreached any other president in modern history. Has his far reaching rhetoric been normalized in the American psyche? Let’s look at where we’ve been before…

After September 11th, presidential rhetoric became more potent because the attacks were a mythic moment for the United States. French philosopher René Girard described myths as “the retrospective transfiguration of sacrificial crises, the reinterpretation of these crises in the light of the cultural order that has arisen from them”. Indeed, the mythic nature of 9/11 brought to the fore the importance of American culture and patriotism. It came just after the fall of the Soviet Union and the economic boom of the 1990’s, where America felt invulnerable as the world’s lone superpower. The symbolic impact was particularly jolting because, not only were two of America’s most prominent cities targeted, but also its renowned institutions that represented the military and economic hegemony of the United States. American civil religion is stooped in the notion that “American is a virginal land protected by two oceans, innocent of the corruptions of the Old World, and blessed with a new mission for the world” The collapsing of the Twin Towers violated the myth of America’s divine .destiny, sanctuary, and Reagan’s “tall proud city.” A sense of vulnerability tainted the comfort of being protected from sea to shining sea. The mythic qualities of 9/11 gave context to the disproportional reaction the United States had to the actual physical damage and loss of life. René Girard also summarized a key element of myth to including “the founding of culture or creation.” The natural tendency to look back at the origins of the violated country, revived a sense of national unity. Old terms such as “manifest destiny” took on a modern meaning, to where the American values of freedom and liberty needed to be spread throughout the globe. The renewed interest in promoting America as the beacon of light for the world, the post 9/11 era ushered in sweeping changes to both America’s domestic and foreign policy. The wave of hyper-patriotism immediately after 9/11 conformed public opinion allowing policymakers to pursue options that threatened civil liberties to little opposition. The Patriot Act of 2001 and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security are just two examples of how the government expanded its surveillance structures, at the expense of personal rights, for the sake of combating terrorism. Author Daniel Lieberfeld wrote that “exceptionalism is committed to a particular political agenda that ultimately supports American hegemony or, at least fails to be sufficiently critical of pre-9/11 American belligerence or post-9/11 American military actions.” Essentially, measures intended to “restore” America were steeped in patriotism and prevented a critical self-examination of American will. Again, Stirling describes myth as maintaining “the border between the sacred and the profane.”. Hyper-patriotism streamlined public opinion after 9/11— Bush attained the highest approval rating in modern presidential history and flag sales skyrocketed— that clouded perspective and masked “the profane.”

Yes… I think we can connect the dots.

A is for Arab

A is for Arab was a cultural dialogue event sponsored by the college of international studies. It’s main goal was to address the most common stereotypes regarding Arab Americans and Arabs in general. From how they are portrayed in media to terrorism, this event helped humanize the experience of Arabs throughout the world for people who may not be as familiar with their culture. Several students took interest in supporting the event by being a representative for the display or being a participant. Located on L1 of the Bizzell Library, it was hard to miss as students searched for an ideal study space. Professor Whalid of the Arabic department, created the idea for the exhibition. Ultimately, with his talents, it was a success and remains in the library for curious students to view. Ideally, common stereotypes have been addressed and reversed through efforts of the exhibition.

 

Arabic Cultural Event

The Arabic Talent Show is a biannual event that showcases the semester’s work of the Arabic Flagship Program’s students. This semester I was involved with the poetry club and the colloquial class’s video project. I selected the Poem “Balloons” by Mostafa Ibrahim for my friend Adam to recite. Below you can find the poetry selection (it’s a brief piece that makes for an enjoyable read) and the link to the skit.

Original Poem

Balloons

To know the strength of things, sometimes we need to break them.
To know we want some things, sometimes we need to lose them.
Craving certainty, how many friends did you call liars?
Attaining certainty, you lost your friends.
How many balloons did you burst inflating them beyond their limit?
Discovering that limit, you found regret.

I now know why I burst balloons:
I longed for something never-ending –
or with an end I’d never reach.
Walls that have my back.
Walls that will stay standing, even when I knock them down.
Something certain that, when tested, will not break.

2017 Germany Federal Elections

Germany held its federal elections with the eyes on the election for Germany’s chancellor. Angela Merkel retained her position despite an increase in anti-establishment sentiment. Chancellor Merkel, often viewed as a mainstay in fractured global ordered, was reelected to be Germany’s leader within a surprisingly safe margin. With Brexit, the migrant crisis and rise in populism throughout Europe, Germany too has fallen to its influences. AFD, originally perceived as a far right fringe party was able to gain seats. This alone has brought an uneasy tone to Germany’s political climate. Germany, a country that is still coming to terms with its past, had always resisted extremists movements while other country’s such as France brought them to the fore. German like stability and security and perhaps a vote for Merkel was once again an attempt to provide stability in a jostled order. The United States with Trump and Russia with Putin have once again polarized east-west relations. Perhaps Merkel can provide some certainty.

German Cultural Event

Throughout this semester, I have attended several stammtisch meetings. It has turned out to be an excellent opportunity to practice my speaking and listening skills in a low pressure environment with other students. Located at the Meatball House off of Boyd Street, it makes for a nice walk on Friday afternoons after a long week. Occasionally I order a beer or two, but regardless, I am relaxed amongst the regular attendees. Stammtisch allows me to answer questions that may or may not pertain to what I learned in class, but didn’t have a chance to get answered. I will continue to make to as many Stammtische that I can because I feel that my german improves each time that I attend one of the meetings.