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Random Comments

April 3, 2008

-The traffic in Bahrain is becoming more and more unbearable. It’s starting to resemble Tehran and Beirut. In the last two weeks I’ve had to twice get out of the car and spar with a couple of bozos for blocking the road because they were too lazy to park half a minute away and walk; instead deciding to park in the middle of the road to order their shawarmas and in the process making me and the rest of the commuters’ wait for their highnesses to fill their guts. Mark my words, road rage will become a regular scene in Bahrain. I suggest you keep a 2×4 handy in the car for protection.

-If Inflation in housing is 29.2% and is 38.4% in food goods, and if these are the two biggest components in inflation, how is overall inflation only 3.5%?

-It’s hard for me to quantify or express the magnitude of anger I have towards the French embassy visa section and whoever is in charge of that hellhole (although the Arabic lady who meets the applicants was nice enough). They are sadists who get off on power trips and their pathetic regulations that make people’s life miserable. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be one of the first to express sorrow if that place was to be knocked down. In a perfect world Bahrain would follow Brazil and implement reciprocity in visa regulations to these countries. Unfortunately, we need their visas more than they care about ours and they know it.

-I was really impressed by the Bahrain book fair and the considerable attendance there. It was heaving on both occasions that I went. However, taking a closer look I found out that most of interest was in the religious book stalls. I wonder what does it signify that most of the buzzing stalls sold books with titles like “عذاب القبر” and “الدرك الاسفل من النار”. Other, in my opinion publishing houses worthy of more attention like وحدة الدراسات العربية barely had anyone and were sometimes left unattended. I had a chat with the guy sitting in the دار رياض الريس book stall, one of the best Arabic ones out there, and he kept complaining about the very weak interest shown. I asked him where was the biggest attendance to their stalls and without hesitation he stated Saudi Arabia. He commented that their books disappear like hotcakes there (well the ones that do not get banned). Go figure.

I was interested to see if they had a copy of their النصوص المحرمة by ابو نواس but unfortunately and as expected it was banned by the ministry of information. Abu Nawwas is recognised as one of the foremost Abassid poets and is known for his religious and ghazal poetry, but what many forget is that before his religious transformation he was a big drinker and a sexoholic who’d fornicate with anyone who has a heartbeat, including concubines and young boys. Not only that, he also wrote very graphic classical Arabic poetry about his escapades, and I mean really graphic. Remember this was in the second hejri century, i.e. the 700s A.D. (more than 1200 years ago). And just like nowadays people have that favourite past time of “الحط على بعض”, where they’d indulge in making fun of each other and their moms, sisters and fathers (for nidoers, this would be similar to “your momma is so fat” exchanges, except much more profane), Abu Nawwas and his Shilla would engage in dirty هجاء about each other and their family relations, except that this was done in pure classical Arabic. It is amazing the amount of swear and dirty words that are in use nowadays that are classical Arabic in origin and which were used back then. Obviously this blog is no place to list or repeat them. If you are interested in this sort of thing then I’d recommend this book. You’ll amaze your friends to no end if you can recite some of these line in your next حط session (however you should keep in mind the danger of receiving a punch in the face).

-That’s it.ِِِِ

Marriage

March 9, 2008

So a friend of mine decides to get married. So another friend, fascinated by the whole process and expecting to eventually go through it as well ventures to ask him: If you don’t already have someone, how does the process work in Bahrain? how do you go about finding the right person? How do you meet them to begin with? Sounds like a serious headache and a complete mystery!

So the first friend replies back, “Man you are making too much of a meal out of it! Actually in bahrain it’s not that hard at all! It’s much harder if you’re a girl. The odds in terms of finding someone for marriage are heavily skewed towards men in Bahrain. You won’t believe how many twenty and thirty year old women there are whose main goal is to get married as soon as possible. It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. The demand is high for eligible men and the supply is high of eligible women. There is a shortage of decent bachelors and an oversupply of wannabe fiances. You’re a decent looking nidoer with a decent job who’s not too boring. Trust me man you’ll have no problem. If worse comes to worst ask your mom. She’ll put something together in no time.”

Now this sounded extremely far fetched to me. The number of Bahraini guys and girls are pretty much equal, so it doesn’t make sense for this to happen. However immediately all the rest of the group rushed to reaffirm to me that although he was exaggerating he was right and I was wrong.

Me: Alright, well if this is true why is that?

Friend A: Nowadays everything happens at a later age. You have to go university, get a decent job, and then gather enough money to get married. Same for girls. They go to uni, get a couple of years of experience and before you know it they’re 25 or older. It’s pretty much impossible to get married before that.

Me: So? How does that make it much harder for women than guys?

Friend B: Well first you have nature. Women feel the biological clock ticking by the time they’re in their late twenties/ early thirties. And then there is social and family pressure. Everyone is expecting them to get married or they keep getting looks and questions. The time window is small and the pressure is huge. Not so for guys.

Friend C: No man, it’s because more and more guys are getting married to foreigners.

The Cynic: Who can blame them? Bahraini women demand too much and nag too much. Multi-thousand dinar weddings, brand spanking new car, honeymoon in the Bahamas. And then you have to deal with her long tongue and her mother’s and Dad as well. And she can’t even cook or clean or help in anyway. All they do is sit around nagging and putting on weight. I swear I don’t know a single nidoer at our age who can cook a machboos. Better get a foreigner. Less expenses, less maintenance, less headache.

Friend D: It’s because meeting possible partners is done in an outdated way. You can’t meet or get to know someone properly before marriage. There is no clear and practical way of doing this. And it’s such a big once in a life time decision with so much risk involved in the choice. Just look at the divorce rate.

The Cynic: You’re all off target. It’s because of this silly idea girls create in their head of meeting the perfect guy who’ll sweep them of their feet to live happily ever after in Neverland. They’re yet to realize that he doesn’t exist. This coupled with this crazy idea of being a virgin until marriage. This makes for a lethal cocktail. Sexual frustration combined with impossible dreams. Too much pressure in the end. I suggest they bring their dreams back to reality and get laid. Will solve a few mental cases and relieve us of this societal marriage hysteria.The ministry of health should organize an annual “get real and get laid” day. It will really benefit the country.

The rest: Man just shut up.

Now it goes without saying that all of the friends were guys, so please excuse the chauvinism as well as the fact that we really don’t know what we are talking about. I was wondering what do you think? Do you think this phenomenon exists? And if so why?

Choices of the day:

Random

March 7, 2008

A bit dry. You have been warned.

So the other day I wanted to change some Dinars into euros. I nearly got a heart attack.

Seriously, can anyone familiar with economics give me one good reason why the Dinar is yet to be revaluated against the dollar? Why don’t they up that damned fixed exchange rate?

We are in an unprecedented boom. The economy is flush with oil money going crazy bouncing up and down not knowing where to put itself. The economy is overheating. Prices have reached ridiculous proportions.

Now basic first year undergraduate economics would tell you that when your economy is overheating you as a government want to put up your interest rates. Make money and loans dearer and scarcer. That way some of that money flying around like a madman gets put and saved away while people stop taking out loans at ridiculously low rates.

Now because of that damned fixed exchange rate we basically have no control over interest rates. We have to take whatever is set in the U.S. But guess what? The U.S. has its own problems to deal with that are completely different than ours. The economy there is coughing and teetering on recession because of the credit (subprime) crisis. Defaults on mortgages are soaring, banks no longer want to give loans, new houses being built have dried up and people are poorer since house prices are not as valuable as before. For them (or so the Fed thinks), the best thing is to keep cutting interest rates so that credit doesn’t dry up and hence the economy is reinvigorated. They couldn’t give a damn that Bahrain would rather have higher interest rates.

At the same time the bloody dollar keeps sliding against every currency worth noting (except the yen). The bloody American trade deficit keeps widening and the dollar keeps sliding. What does this mean? Basically Americans are consuming way more than what they are producing. All those cheap chinese imports (among others) being gobbled up are way more than what America is selling to the rest of the world. So what can America do? It basically has to borrow to finance this over-consuming. How? By issueing government bonds with low interest rates that basically get bought up by China, Japan, the Far East and us gulf countries. Basically, we are financing the out of proportion consumerism of America by lending to them at ridiculously low interest rates.

And the dollar keeps sliding. Because interest rates are so low putting your money in America is not as attractive as it used to be. Why put your money in America and get 3% while you could put it in the UK and get 5.5%? This with the large trade deficit, which means America is borrowing more and more, makes the dollar unattractive and it keeps sliding.

But why should America care about the low dollar? Short of a massive run on the dollar (i.e. a crash in its value, which is probably unlikely), lower exchange rate makes American goods cheaper and increases their exports to the world. It helps offset that massive trade deficit. I remember when I was in the States I could not believe how cheap things were compared to Europe. It was ridiculous. Food was less than half price. This makes American goods attractive and more of them get sold abroad. That trade deficit would be much worse if the dollar was not so low.

And we in Bahrain get shafted in the process. No one needs to be told that Bahrain is completely dependent on imports. From our cars to our ACs to our labour (more on that in a bit), we import everything. Now given the Dinar is tied to the dollar, we cannot benefit from cheaper American imports due to the lower dollar as other countries do. We are fixed against it! No lower dollar for us! We cannot benefit from our exports increasing either due to the cheaper dollar (and by default the cheaper dinar), since we do not really have exports to speak off except oil and aluminum. Both of those are commodities controlled by world market prices. We do not make any cars or fridges to speak off so that we can export them.

At the same time, we keep suffering from more expensive imports from other countries. As the dollar falls agains the euro and the pounds, everything coming from Europe becomes more expensive. Just compare the price of an BMW M3 back when the euro was first launched and its price now.

Then we come to the most important import to Bahrain: Labour. We are completely dependant on expat Labour, particularly from the Indian subcontinent. They make 2/3 of our labour force. Now the Indian rupee has appreciated against the dollar by more than 20% this year alone. Guess what? That makes labour from abroad more expensive. When an expat last year could send 100 rupees back home, the same amount of dinars nowadays only lets him send 80 rupees. What they send back home have basically been cut by 20% in one year. Who wouldn’t get pissed off if their salary was cut by 20%, especially if you’ve been paid peanuts already and live in a country with rising prices? This is the immediate cause of the expat labour revolts that have happened recently (more on that later).

So imports have become more expensive due to the damned dollar falling. So has labour. Prices have soared. But this is not the whole story about prices.

Before we go into this prices story, let’s get one thing clear. This whole talk about how inflation in Bahrain is 4% is rubbish. It is a mistake at best, or a lie at worst. Only someone as naive, or beink bankrolled as Oxford Business Group (I’m not sure which one of the previous it is) would dare boast about how low inflation is in Bahrain. Every single evidence points otherwise. Use your informal judgement to begin with. House prices have sky rocketed over the last few years. So has food prices. In a country where food and accommodation spending make up so much how can we have 4% inflation? Add to this the rise in wages of both the locals in government jobs and the expat sector, and then as Ibrahim Sharif has rightly pointed out the increase in Broad Money (M2 and above) and there is no way in hell that the inflation is 4%. The fact that the government is fretting and has allocated 80 million dinars for spending on goods whose prices have soared just shows how ridiculous this number is.

So what caused these massive price hikes witnessed right throughout the gulf? Well, as we mentioned there is the lower exchange rates which made imports and expat labour more expensive. This is not all. There are some global causes which we cannot do much about. Import prices, particularly of food, have jumped up significantly due to higher fuel prices, the switch to biofuels and countries like India and China consuming more meat. What does this mean? Let’s start with biofuels. They are made out of maize (corn), so maize that was before used for food is now spent on biofuels. Less food is around so the prices go up. Then there is the fact that China and India have become richer, and hence eat more meat. Meat needs more input to produce (think of grass, water etc to feed the chicken and cows) and hence because of the extra resources going into this the price of the rest of food go up. So we end up with more expensive food.

Then there is the fact that our economy is booming and heating up. Demand and wages are pushed up and hence prices go up as well.

So there you have it, lower exchange rate, more expensive imports, pricier labour, food price jumps and an economy going overboard because of an oil boom has pushed our prices up.

Now in a modern capitalist society, what can you as a policy maker do to help control this price spike? Well, the obvious candidate is monetary policy. i.e. as we said before, increase the bloody interest rate. Now in Bahrain we can’t do that since we are tied to the dollar and we basically have to take American monetary policy. This, as we said, is doing the exact opposite and cutting interest rates. Crap.

Alright, well another indirect way is to increase our exchange rate against the U.S. dollar. Put the dinar up! This makes imports from the U.S. and also from other countries much cheaper, and so should help keep inflation down. No one is asking here that you completely break the link with the dollar, that is crazy talk of course. Just put the bloody exchange rate up! Instead we have our Central Bank Governor complaining that foreign exchange dealers are doing what any sane person does, which is buy dinars since they know at one point or another they will have to revalue the dinar (buy dinar is their message, you may stand to make a nice profit if it’s revalued against the dollar).

One of the last thing you want to do is throw even more money at the economy. This is unfortunately what the government is doing. It’s solution is to increase expenditure, commiting itself to more and more spending. More money gets spent, there is more money circulating in the economy, and guess what, that causes prices to soar. Other than the price hike, it also commits the government to the same level of spending in the future. It’ll be very hard politically to then cut down the spending. What will they do if the oil prices drop and they don’t have the revenues anymore to sustain their current expenditure?

This is all the more stark given that these price hikes bite the poor and middle class much more than the upper class. Most of the benefits of growth in the economy has been confined to the rich. The poor and the middle class, with their wages no where increasing as much as prices, have seen their purchasing power steadily get eroded. The basked they could buy 5 years ago is no longer affordable at current prices (just think of how pricy it’s now to buy a house).

So the economy is expanding, but most of this is confined to a small elite. At the same time prices have shot up. People can no longer afford stuff they used to buy. The government would ideally raise interest rates but it can’t since it’s tied to America, where the government has actually been cutting interest rates. At the same time it stubbornly refuses to revalue the exchange rate. Can someone tell me, for the sake and health of my accounts, why is this so?

……..

Talking about subprime crises, here is some comedy from the brilliant bird and fortune:

and how brilliant is this (but that is not how the arab mind works!):

Some Random (Non-Nidoey) Rants

May 28, 2007

I’m (hopefully) back to blogging again. The last few weeks have been eventful to say the least, but hopefully I’m over that and can blog for a bit. There’s a lot swarming around in my head and I don’t even know where to start (the hanger series I started in the last post has about another nine posts that I’m planning to include, but it’ll be impressive if I can actually put them all on paper). For this post I’ll just limit myself to ranting about some current developments (which is not what I like to write about usually).

On the local scene the most striking event in my opinion has been the fiasco surrounding the alleged sale of fasht el jarem. What is most striking about this is not the temerity or absolute disregard shown by our government. We are used to that. After all they have already destroyed Tubli Bay, Dohat Arad, the surrounding coasts and seas of Muharraq, confiscated most of Bahrain’s coast to private elite hands, etc etc. What is surprising and actually encouraging is that people seem to have had enough and have decided to make some sort of stance against it, even if they are only shy and symbolic steps and even if the anger has been vented out at the wrong parties (parliament, irrelevant ministers, etc, your usual fall guys). It reminds me of an old post on a now defunct bahraini blog about glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in Bahrain. If you allow relative freedom of speech and openness to take place in a corrupt and archaic political situation like ours, and if you don’t couple this with reforms in the country, then people will start talking about the corruption, they will notice what is going around them, and they will start to demand change, whether you want it or not.

Protection of our sea resources, not to mention other natural resources such as agricultural land and the atmosphere, even if it magically happens overnight tomorrow, is obviously unfortunately too little too late. A lot of the coasts and the coral reefs have already been destroyed, and once these resources are destroyed it is pretty much impossible to recover them. However, trying to salvage what remains is better than nothing. This is especially crucial in a small island that has for all its history depended on the sea as its primary source of income. Building up investment banks and misguided grand tourist projects (such as the grotesque riffa views and amwaj islands) is all good and dandy, but you better make sure beforehand you have the necessities of life adequately supplied. Grand islands and buildings are useless if you have no water or food to keep yourself alive in order to benefit from these projects. At this rate there will be no chanad, safi, and hamour, let alone the already dead agricultural local products left for us. We’ll be completely dependant on outside countries for food. That is not a situation we should be in. Let us hope the government heeds the call of the people. I’m not holding my breath.

We all know the source of this problem. Even a ten year old kid does not need to be told who is behind this theft and destruction of resources that should be owned collectively by all the country and its people. I’ll give you a hint. It is not the esteemed ministers of the cabinet. The honourable Fahmi Al Jowdar did not wake up one day and decide, “Hey, I have a great idea. I will sell more than 200 squared kilometers of Bahrain’s maritime resources to some foreigners under the pretext of developing the country!” (less than 1 billion dollars for more than 200 km squared of land? I haven’t heard of a worse deal since Russia sold Alaska off to America for $7.2 million dollars. One wonders if this deal is true how much has actually been undeclared, stolen and siphoned off to some offshore banks. I wouldn’t be surprised if it runs into several billion dollars). Neither did the honourable Minister bin Rajab suddenly get a Eureka moment and decree, “I will sell off a massive chunk of the coasts of Muharraq! And not a single drop of the money will enter into the coffers of the state! And I won’t tell or give a sod about anyone! After all who dares point a finger at me?” No, ministers cannot even sell their shoes without prior approval. They do not make these sorts of decisions. I think we all know who are behind this. You can count the individuals on the (three) fingers of one hand. One of the concerned individuals has even been affectionately nicknamed “eflan ba7ar”, translated as “eflan of the sea” (replace eflan with a name that rhymes with that word); not because of his affection for all things maritime, but because of his affection for selling huge chunks of Muharraqi sea (allegedly the sale of 49 km squared went to him and a similar plot to one of the other individuals concerned here). This problem will unfortunately not be solved unless we can hold these individuals accountable for their rampage and theft. Maybe, just maybe, that will happen in our lifetime and before everything is sold off and destroyed for a petty few american dollars.

On the regional level, one cannot but feel distraught, angry, and ashamed at what is being done to the Palestinian refugees in Naher el Bared camp in Lebanon. It seems all the political parties in Lebanon have decided to cynically gang up on the helpless 40,000 refugees living in squalid conditions in 1km squared of land and to blame all the ills of the country on them. The government, the army, the Harriri camp, the Lebanese forces, 3awn and astonishingly even Hizballah officials and the communist party have all decided to gang up and support the arbitrary destruction of the camp on the pretext of routing out roughly 200 (yes, you read that right, 200) militants who are not even Palestinians. I’m sorry to say but even the speech of Hassan Nasrallah (whom I respect very much and is my favourite current Arabic leader) is not worth much when every single other Hizballah official is cheering on the destruction of the camp. On a side note, you have to admire Nasralleh, regardless of whether you support him or not. My favourite part of his speech was when he sarcastically mocked certain groups by criticizing the government for: 1. not consulting others before deciding to launch the attack (on the camp). and for 2. ruining the summer tourism season in Lebanon. Guess who used the exact same arguments last summer to criticize Hizballah when Israel decided to ruthlessly bombard lebanon using the pretext of Hizballah seizing two of its soldiers? I’ll give you a hint: It was not Hizballah.

So what is exactly going on there at the moment and who are these fat7 al-islam and who backs them (or used to back them before turning on them)? The truth of the matter is no one really knows, well none of us who are not directly involved in it anyway. However, the infamous (for his scoops and insider stories that usually turn out to be true) and respected reporter Seymour Hersh alleges in a now famous article from last March and in a recent CNN interview that it is the Harriri group, Saudi Arabia, and Washington that have created and funded it before turning on it currently. And when Seymour Hersh writes people listen and usually believe him because he more often than not turns out to be correct. I seriously recommend reading the article linked to above, as it is quite revealing, particularly when one considers it was written two months ago.

What is beyond doubt is that both Syria (and by extension Hizballah) and the Harriri crew have financially backed and armed extremist sunni groups in Palestinian camps all over Lebanon. There are widespread allegations that Syria and Hizballah are behind certain groups in some camps (my own reliable Palestinian sources). There are also widespread allegations that the Harriri crew have also backed, financed and armed other militant groups in Palestinian camps such as 3usbat al Ansar (for one source on this, see Angry Arab). What is beyond doubt is that these groups have nothing to do with the Palestinian cause (being situated in the north of Lebanon and hundreds of kilometers away from the border is not exactly conducive to launching attacks on Israel, particularly when you consider that they don’t have any planes or helicopters and they only number 200). What is also beyond doubt is that these groups are absolutely hated by residents of the camps (if you ever get the chance ask any of the residents), and that they have nothing to do with them but have been forced upon them. You only have to look at the dead of fat7 al-islam to realize this. None of the dead are Palestinians, but they come from diverse countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan (the military commander is actually Lebanese (Source: Angry Arab)).

Now the internal politics of Lebanon are none of my business, and of course I have no right lecturing Lebanese on their own country which they know better than anyone else. But when it comes to helpless Palestinian refugees who are densely packed in a run down camp and are being made scapegoats for the ills of the country and are indiscriminately bombed, with several mosques, hospitals, houses, and market places being destroyed (source: Angry Arab), then it is our duty to stand up and condemn this. We are all supposed to give support and solidarity to the Palestinians, not bomb them, just like we all gave support and solidarity to Lebanon when Israel bombarded it. Writing a post about this is the least one can do. I urge you to do the same.

Also on the regional level, the latest news from Iraq is that Khalil Al-Zahawi, arguably the most respected and most talented calligraphist of modern times, has been killed. ًWelcome to the new, modern Iraq-American style. The citadel of Arab democracy and a beacon of light and hope for all the region. Welcome to a country where hundreds of professors and academics have been killed, where thousands of doctors have been maimed or fled the country, where the historic Al-Mutannabi street, long reverred as the heart of Arab intellectual, literary and artistic activity has been bombed to smithereens. Welcome to the modern Iraq, traditionally reputed as having one of the best health, educational, and academic systems in the Arab world, and long renknowned as having the highest readership and best schools of music in the Arab world (with such greats as Naseer Shamma hailing from there), where now even its museums and archaelogical sites, a symbol a country’s civilization and heritage, have been looted and reduced to rubble. Welcome to the new Iraq, long regarded as a model of Shia-Sunni harmony in the region, where it was normal for people across the Sunni-Shi3i divide to intermarry (and I have many friends who are children of those marriages), where now having a certain name gets you shot on the street with no questions asked. Welcome to the new Iraq, long held as a symbol of female empowerment in the region, where now you can get raped and shot for not wearing a daffa. Welcome to the new iraq, where armed gangs (with American and British troops at the top of this list) supported and financed by regional and international superpowers run amok in a country sent back to the middle ages and on the verge of being divided up into small, sectarian pieces.

Where now are all those bloggers, journalists, academics and individuals, particularly the Arab ones, who supported and cheered on the invasion under the pretext of liberating and bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq? Where are all those who despicably believed and propagated all the American grandiose lies about turning iraq into a model for the region? I hope you one day get to answer and pay for all the falsities and extravagant claims you helped to propagate. You are complicit in this despicable situation. Why have you suddenly hushed down on the subject when four or three years ago you were eagerly churning out post after post and article after article about how great the American invasion will be for us? You are despicable. The least you can do is come out and admit your mistakes and apologize to your readers and the rest of us for the hell you have gleefully cheered on.

Shame, Shame on you.

Today’s music choice is the awesome hip-hop song with in-your-face lyrics “The Poverty of Philosophy” by Immortal Technique. (Warning: the song contains some explicit language.)

Immortal Technique – The Poverty of Philosophy

hanger #1: Parliament MPs

April 22, 2007

شماعة:

literally: a hanger.

used as a metaphor, referring to someone who is blamed for misfortunes, generally as a way of distracting attention from the real causes. false pretext, scapegoat, fall guy.

We in this part of the world face a lot of problems. This is not controversial, but it is extremely worrying. Even more worrying however, is how many refuse to deal with these fundamental problems. Not only that, they in fact refuse to recognize them. Instead, they set up scapegoats that have very little to do with the real issues and decide they are to blame. The deeper causes are ignored; they are barely even mentioned. Meanwhile we are distracted by demonizing, ridiculing and making fun of scapegoats that bare little to the crux of our mess, in the course distracting attention from what we should be focused on. This is an attempt to deconstruct this phenomenon.

For the first post I choose one of the more obvious cases of this scapegoating: MPs in Parliament.

No one needs to be told that parliament MPs have become the new fall guy in Bahrain, particularly in nido circles. They have been demonized and turned into the bogey man. Businessmen, journalists, newspapers and blogs have made a career of criticizing, ridiculing, mocking and blaming all our problems on them.

It is also true that our two most recent parliaments have been pretty much useless. This is an understatement. They have in fact been harmful to society. They have occupied themselves with tangential and ridiculous issues like gender segregation in universities, a witch-hunt of the spring of culture, and securing themselves fat pension plans. They are little more than a burden on the economy, costing millions of dinars. They barely amount to anything more than a vehicle for sectarian and political strife, holding punch-ups and swearing contests over tragic and serious issues like that of the massacre in Falluja.

But are they really one of the fundamental problems facing Bahrain? Are they the root cause of the mess we find ourselves in? Will our problems be that much solved if they are suddenly replaced? If they started behaving themselves and started discussing more important and serious issues?

To answer this question we need to look at the corollary of this viewpoint. This argument is premised on the idea that if somehow the current parliament is replaced by better MPs, then the problem, if not completely erased, will be greatly solved. For if the current MPs are the problem, then replacing them with better MPs will solve the problem! Let’s fill parliament with lawyers, economicsts, accountants and hey presto! Problem solved! Makes sense no? If the problem is current MPs, then simply take out the problem and replace it with something better. That should solve it. This is the logical deduction you reach from this line of argument.

It is also complete rubbish.

Stocking parliament chocful of nice, liberal professionals, economists, accountants and lawyers won’t cause the massive earthquake you are hoping for. Even if, for the sake of the argument, Wa’ad wins every single seat in parliament, not much will change in terms of what it can achieve. I won’t go into the arguments of why this parliament is uselessin detail, you can find a good summary of them here (look at section No. 2). The ridiculous voting constituencies, the shura parliament, the outrageous time-lag rules for passing any sort of laws, the absence of proper financial supervision, and the inability to question or criticize any of the top echelons of government make a mockery of even calling this deformity a parliament. Everyone knows this. Ibrahim Sharif, before he decided to participate in this shenanigan, described it best:

هو شكل فقط من غير مضمون، الإصلاحات التي قدمت يمكن تسميتها «قشرة هوليوود»..كما في أفلام الكاوبوي حينما ترى بيوتا، لكنها فعليا ليست سوى حائط كارتوني من الديكور لا شيء خلفها، والنظام أعطانا الحائط الكارتوني..انتخابات والمرأة تصوت ودوائر انتخابية وحملات وقوانين ودستور، لكن عندما تنظر خلف هذا الحائط تجد خواء وحسب..!

This Hollywood parliament is nothing but that: a big extravagant expensive Hollywood production. So how can you expect anything but Hollywood fireworks? How can you expect anything but posturing on Big Brother and Nancy Arjam, Spring of Sex, and sectarianism? They cannot criticize any influential person in the government, they cannot even have a good look at the government budget let alone set it, and they definitely cannot pass any useful laws. What much extra will we gain if we had “better, more enlightened” people in parliament? Sure, they’ll be able to raise more important issues, but then what? What more than hot air? Can they pass anything? Can they change anything? The only positive thing that can come out of such a utopian parliament is a massive clash with the government, deadlock, and finally being dissolved, a la 1975. The best thing that can come out of this parliament is its death.

This, remember, is IF all of those elected are “qualified” and suitable. This is assuming they can get through the voting irregularities and warped constituency setups. And this is assuming that the people vote them in.

What astonishes me the most is how can so many people vote for this thing. More than 50% in the first spectacle (although that figure is highly dubious), and an excess of 70% in the latest shenanigan. Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t it obvious that this is just one big hullabiloo? Isn’t it obvious that this is a mockery of the concept of democracy? Isn’t it obvious that this parliament is a joke, a prank, and not a funny one at that? Starting from voting-manipulation right down to its actual set up? You get what you vote for: one big over-hyped scam.

It’s high time we recognized what this thing is: a diversion. One big massive diversion. A scam, a scapegoat, a fall guy, a hanger. So much ink, time, money, and energy that could have been implemented in much more useful ventures has been wasted analyzing and sensationalizing this farce. Look how many articles, blog pieces, seminars and talks were wasted on this thing? How many times has parliament and its members’ antics taken up the first pages of newspapers? Compare this with how many times the problems of our health services , water, electricity and education infrastructure has taken centre stage? How about serious criticism of the higher echelons of government?

But MPs are after all an easy scapegoat. They are easy to criticize. They are one of the few things that you can criticize and mock in our country. Many of them even look scary. They are there. They are in the spotlight. Why don’t we just throw our problems and blame on them? Here are people who have actually performed badly, they are always occupying the news, and it is so easy and tempting to just place all our rage on them. Ater all, we often need something clear, someone definite that we can point to as the cause of all our problems. Someone to point to and put all the blame on. Someone that has to be the fall guy for the problems. Someone to demonize. And what easier target than MPs?

We waste our time sensationalizing and analyzing the antics of our esteemed MPs, and in the meantime we ignore more important issues. We get engrossed in squabbling over a red herring, an institution so feeble and so inconsequential that we lose sight of more pressing issues. And guess who’s laughing all the way to the bank? Guess what has escaped from the spotlight of criticism that deservedly should’ve been focused on it? Guess what has in fact been projected as a positive force, some sort of regularing authority that can keep a lid on the antics and extremes of parliament? While in fact it is the architecht and cause of this shenanigan and much more serious problems in the country?

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not defending the actions of the members of parliament. Neither am I saying that they should be immune from criticism. My point is that the members of this ineffectual parliament are the least of our worries. For example, the structure and setup of parliament itself is much more of a problem than the MPs themselves (and even this can pale into comparison with some of the other messes we face). Instead, this fetishization of MPs has been used as a distraction and a diversion from more important and pressing issues, and people have fallen for it. We have become preoccupied with their every single move while the real problems have remained and in fact have become even more entrenched. This energy would’ve been much better used if placed on the more important problems that face us. Water and electricity shortages, unemployment, sectarianism, corruption, lack of democracy and accountability, lack of sustainable industry, mediocre education and research facilities have existed way before this parliament and its MPs came into being. They are not the real cause of these problems and neither are they the solution. They in fact distract us from them.

It is high time we stopped fighting over what M.P. flan ben faltan said in parliament, ate for lunch, or listens to for enjoyment. They are a symptom of the problem, not the major cause.

To be continued……..

Clip choices of the day:

مسلسل درب الزلق – ابيها

مطعم باكه ( باجه

Time is Ticking……

April 19, 2007

Time is ticking…..

Are you still sleeping……..?

Praising the Benefits of Nido

April 15, 2007

So I’ve been getting quite a few comments lately that this blog is too negative. That it criticizes nidoers too much. I’ve also been asked by Gardens of Sand for a positive post about nido.

To begin with I have to admit that praise when discussing the political sphere does not come naturally to me. Over countless years of my life and ever since my birth, I have witnessed so much grovelling and toe-kissing done in such a bad manner and in such low quality to the point where I have vomitted frequently:

صاحب السمو معالي الابهام العظيم, ان برثن* فخامتك العزيز لتعجز عن مجده الامم. ما من مصاعب يخشى قهرها ظفرك الوسيم, لا قاع البحار ولا اعالي القمم. ان لئيم غلط على شعرات ابهيهيمك** الكريم,اخبطه بساقك خبطا حتى واساه الندم.

*برثن = ظفر, مخلب

**تعبير دلع للابهام

I think I have been affected beyond repair. Anyway, I believe shock therapy can be good to overcome this problem, and so outward and full brown praise of nido might be good in this respect. So here it goes:

Nidoers, nido, nidoism, the nido generation, and the nido culture generally has some positives. Let’s start with superficialities. On the surface , nidoers can be quite attractive. All that tanning, whitening creams, waxing materials, vitamin tablets, body building supplements, expensive gym memberships, herbal teas, gucci handbags, bally shoes, armani suits, italian designed bikinis, fancy night dresses, bassam ghetras, revlon eyeliners, christian dior foundation, carreti sandals, nose jobs, teeth braces, Toni and Guy Hair cuts, De Beers Diamonds, Rolex watches, ck underwear, victoria secrets bras and thongs, hair straigtening products, hair dyeing products, hair plucking apparatus, liposuction, teeth whitening products… I could go on… The marvels of the modern world can have some amazing results. It makes for some serious eye candy. Come on, let’s be honest. We all sometimes go to nido functions and restaurants just to marvel at the “beautiful people.”

More substantively, one of the main strengths of nidoism is the education system. Schools such as Bayan School, Ibn Khuldoon, Saint Chrisophers, Sacred Heart, the Indian School and Bahrain school are quite good when compared with others in the region, and have a decent shout at claiming to be the best private education system in the gulf. Particularly worth noting are the “national” schools such as Bayan and Ibn Khuldoon, which unlike e.g.Saint Christopers and Bahrain school did not depend completely on expat and foreign expertise to set up. For example, their board of directors and trusties are made up predominantly of Bahrainis. The infrastructure and resources are quite impressive, with good sports fields, music facilities, art centres, and libraries. The subjects taught and quality of teaching is quite high compared to state schools and is of comparable international standards. You get to do subjects such as French and pottery that you would be hard pressed to find in other places. Sure, the arts and social sciences (discounting business and economics) are put on the backburner, and the standard of Arabic can be quite pitiful in some of these schools, but at least they’re quite good in other subjects.

This links to another positive in nidoers: They generally have a high level of skills and qualifications. Many of them are professionals. The country can now claim to have a considerable number of doctors, lawyer, accountants, engineers, It specialists, etc. Obviously not all of these are nidoers, but a good chunk of nidoers fall into these qualifications. This is a good thing. You can’t really complain about having too many professionals. In fact we probably need more of them.

The comparably high level of nido professionals and education, by GCC standards is praise-worthy. You can see this also in the amount of qualifications nioders have from “prestigious universities”. American, British, French, you name it. You could probably find a nidoer with a qualification from any of their posh universities. Bahrain can also claim to have the highest level of English in the Gulf and even has a shot at being top of the Arab world. Hell, many a nidoers only speak English, with a spattering of “Arabic” such as Shakbar interjected in the middle for good measure.

But this is where it turns sour. Yes nidoers have decent English, but at what expense? Look at the pitiful Arabic that many of them claim to have. These are people who were born and raised in Bahrain, with Arabic being the main or only language of many of their parents. Yet they cannot mutter one full sentence in Arabic without interjecting in it some sort of “I don’t know”, “cool”, or some other silly English phrase in the middle.In fact, you can’t really say these nidoers speak Arabic, not Fus7a anyway. At most you can say they have a weak grasp of Bahraini Arabic, not Modern Standard Arabic. Have you ever tried testing a nidoers qawa3ed or grammar? Have you ever tried asking him to speak intelligebly in fus7a, let alone making him read it or write it? Many a nidoers I know have the Arabic writing skills of a ten year old, with the construction of any sentence going beyond:

الولد يلعب في الساحة

causing serious difficulties.

Seriously, isn’t it disgraceful? That many a nidoers get a headache reading three sentences in an Arabic newspaper let alone any sort of Arabic book? This in a country that claims to have Arabic as its first language, and where they were able to get the best education and schools the country has to offer? If this is their standard of Arabic, what will that of their kids be like? Does having competent English mean abandoning your mother language, let alone a language as important, rich, beautiful, ancient, holy, and dynamic as the Arabic language? Does modernity and advancement mean foresaking Arabic and replacing it wholeheartedly with English?

Really? Then how come the most advanced non-English speaking countries in the world hold on ferociously to their language. How come even the most nidoey people in those countries always use their mother tongue as the first language of speech, communication, and thought? Look at Germany, France, Spain, Japan and Italy, to name a few. Have you ever heard of a French person born and raised in France that does not speak French? In fact it is a ridiculous concept to start with. Try asking a German person “Do you speak German?” He’ll look at you quizzically and think you’re a moron. It does not even make sense. “A German who doesn’t speak German? Speak intelligibly boy!” Compare this to Bahrain. How many nidoers, if being honest, would answer “Do you speak fus7a Arabic” with “No”, “Not really” or “Huh?”? On the flip side, have you ever checked out how amazing the Germans speak English? Their level of English competency would destroy that of most nidoers. Then look at how dynamic these countries are, producing movies, songs, books, research, journals, and high quality professionals that enhance and develop their languages. Compare this to many of our nidoers, who don’t even know how to type in Arabic. Doesn’t the decline of an ancient and rooted language in the most educated and richest circles of a society show a comparatively weak society, one that is unstable, static, unsure of itself, in an identity crisis and unable to cope with modernity and advancement? Isn’t this the antithesis of being modern and advanced?

Same thing goes for education. It’s all good and well that nidoers, the richest in society, can afford these decent schools. But is this really all that great? Nigeria has private schools. So does Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa, etc. In fact I am finding it hard to even come up with a list of countries that Bahraini Nido schools would compare favourably with. The former Soviet block traditionally has good schooling even in the state sector. China and India, although the situation is very disparate, also have very good schools and universities. This is the rub. Pretty much every country in the world now has good private schools that cater to the rich. The rich can pay, and if you pay enough, you can get pretty much get whatever you want. If you’ve got the millions, you can setup home in the deep Jungles of the Congo and still get to have a decent education, if you’re willing to pay that is. There is nothing stellar in this. The more important thing is to take the big picture. Does Bahrain have a great education system on a global level? What’s the point if only the rich get to have the best education and to go to the best universities (the ten-odd people they send every year on the Crown-Prince scholarship notwithstanding)? I doubt many people can argue Bahrain has a great education system. Let’s look at schools first. Our state schools, although not extremely bad, are nothing to write home about. They lack the adequate infrastructure, resources, and training. Our universities, well let us not start (maybe that’s for another post). How about those universities? Well, there are only two establishments that can be really called universities: Bahrain Uniersity and The Arabian Gulf University (and the latter one is highly specialized and it is more accurate to call it a college). And we all know about the problems inherent in these two universities. Just look at how most nido parents decide to send their kids abroad. Is this a good reflection on our university sector? And the sad indictment is that many Bahrainis send their children to study in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon (in fact some of these universities are setting up shop in Bahrain!), countries with much more limited resources than ours, but you don’t see a flood of Lebanese, Jordanian and Egyptian residents coming to universities in Bahrain. Then we have the research facilities, an essential part of any advanced educational system. Oh, our world class research facilities. Their output of new technologies, inventions, and academic papers is a non-stop stream. In fact it’s an avalanche. Countries all over the world cannot stop raving about and envying the embarassment of riches we have produced in research. Academics are falling over each other trying to be the first to come to Bahrain. Ivy League schools have been complaining that Bahrain has stolen their best professors.

The same can be said about the health sector, the industrial sector, the electricity sector (How crazy is it that we have electricity blackouts in a country with gas and oil?), water sector, and the housing sector. In essence, all the vital sectors of a modern life.

Why is it that only nidoers, a small fraction of the population, are the only ones that have comparable standards in these things to advanced countries? Why is it that the rest of the country, the vast majority of the population, have to be content with third-rate resources? Why can’t the majority of this tiny country be provided with schools, hospitals, and facilities of a decent standards, comparable to those in the developed countries?

And the sad thing about it all is we are an oil region. A region where literally a massive hoard of cash lies below the ground. All you have to do is shovel it out. Whereas other poor countries have to fret about where to get the resources to fund these things, our problem is we choose to waste it on other “advancements”. Somehow the Formula 1, with all its difficulties and the risks involved, deserves $500 million dollars, while the Arabian Gulf University had to give up its main campus, shut up shop and stop teaching the majority of its subjects because of lack of resources. Somehow, in a country that does not stand a cat’s chance in hell if it enters a war, 1 billion dollars are spent on military equipment (from the U.S. only) in the last 5 years. This while the country does not even have enough electricity supply. The list can go and on and on. It is seriously depressing.

And I wonder why most of my posts are critical.

Why is it that we cannot learn and adopt from the advanced countries? Why is it that we are industrially, educationally, and technologically so far behind countries like Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, countries that until very recently were not all that developed? Did you know that Korea and Egypt had similar levels of GDP 50 years ago? Look at the where Korea is now and how Egypt is languishing. Why can’t we have similar levels of schools, universities, hospitals, industries? And the unfathomable part is that it should be so much easier for us! For one, we have their experiences and strategies to learn from, so we don’t have to “re-invent the wheel” again. Secondly, the population of the gulf is miniscule by world standards (not more thant 20 million nationals in the whole GCC, and even that is probably exaggerated), and so we don’t have the problem of e.g. China’s of how to educate, industrially and materially advance more than a billion people. Thirdly, and most importantly, we have oil! These countries did not have any notable natural resources to depend on! They had to work their socks off, with so much misery created in the process, in order to reach the stage they are in! We have oil to pay for the roads, the building, the schools, the hospitals, and the universities. And yet we choose to spend the biggest chunk of it on fake islands, big Hummers, useless F-16s, and fountains. Why is it that the main things we have imported and learned from these countries is where to buy the best bikinis, the best hair styles, the hippest movies and sitcoms, the latest fashion accessories, and the best guns? Where are the producers of Harvards, Nissans, Panasonics, and Nobel Laureates in the gulf? As they say, a Hummer lasts ten years; An education lasts a lifetime.

Alright, I think that shock therapy has worked pretty well. Enough optimism and praise for one post, back to criticism and ranting.

Any other benefits of nido some of you out there can think of?

ِAnyway, in the interest of “looking on the bright side”, from now on I’ve decided to post a clip or song with each post. Today’s choice is “khalah shakou” (Auntie What’s Wrong).

خاله شكو – مكادي النحاس

ِA faster version:

خاله شكو – حميد منصور

ُAnd this is the Abdel 7sain Abdel Redha version from Saif el 3arab:

عبدالحسين عبدالرضا – سيف العرب – خاله شكو

Enjoy!

Nidorino and Nidoking – any good sketch artists/cartoonists out there?

April 10, 2007

NIDORAN (female):

nidoran_f.png

“Although small, their sharp barbs render them dangerous. The female has smaller horns than the male. They are mild-mannered, but secrete venom from their small horns when they feel threatened. Although not very combative, it will torment its foes with its spikes if threatened in any way.”

And:

NIDORAN (male):

032nidoran_m.png

Next up in the ladder chain we have:

NIDORINO:

nidorino.png

“It is a fearsome Pokémon with vicious attacks…Nidorino is an aggressive Pokémon that is always quick to attack when it notices an attacker: its large ears are always on the lookout. The horn on its head secretes a powerful venom and on impact with an enemy, poison leaks out. This horn is harder than diamond and can easily punch through it simply by swinging. If it senses a hostile presence, all the barbs on its back bristle up at once and it challenges the foe with all its might.”

and:

NIDORINA:

nidorina.png

But the macdaddy that you seriously don’t want to mess with is:

NIDOKING:

nidoking.png

“Nidoking is a large, powerful (like a large purple tank) creature armed for battle. Its horn, hard enough to pierce a diamond, contains secreted venom, making it a deadly stabbing tool upon prey and Pokémon battle opponents, and its thick tail packs enormously destructive power capable of toppling a metal transmission tower.”
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I wish I was a decent sketch artist or cartoonist. Then I’d be able to draw decent caricatures of different nido characters. e.g. gangsta nido (decked out in full fubu gear making the west side gesture), feudal lord nido (with an army of expat labourers toiling under him), stoner nido, investment banker nido, cool nido (see cartoon below), fashion guru nido, etc. Each with a corresponding description/explanation underneath him. Something along the likes of this:

nido.jpg
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(CLICK TO ENLARGE)
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Are there any good cartoonists/sketch artists out there??

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Facebook and Nido Part 3: “Nido Liberal”

April 7, 2007

So back to Facebook. So other than “moderate” and “apathetic” the most common viewpoint put down is “liberal.”

In fact, many nidoers opt for “very liberal”, just to make the point that much clearer. So apparently nido is a liberal, sometimes very liberal. As usual, let us take a closer look at this, since things aren’t always what they seem.

How did this liberalism come along? Did he learn it at school? Did he adopt it in his eight and a half years in the U.S. trying to finish his undergraduate degree? Did he sit around reading J. S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin or Rawls? Maybe it’s from watching all those liberal hollywood movies and shows? Maybe he inherited it from his parents? Did he sit at home one day and deduce that he is one? Maybe from Facebook itself? No matter. It is not our concern here how he became a liberal. We are more interested in what this liberalism means.

Now what is usually meant by liberal? Obviously there are as many definitions as there are nidoers, and I’m not going to sit around here now defining stuff. I’ll pick, however, two features that are usually attached with liberalism. One is that a liberal believes that people can do whatever they want, as long as what they do does not cause direct harm to others. In more pedantic terms, each person has the liberty to do as he pleases as long as he does not infringe on the rights of others. Be and let be. You want to walk around in a bikini. Fine. It doesn’t hurt anyone directly (unless you want to argue in a convuluted way that it hurts the morality of society, but that doesn’t count for a liberal). It doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. Wear a wzar. Go naked. Go nuts. I’m a liberal and it doesn’t bother me. Actually, it might bother me, but I’m a liberal, and a liberal knows enough to let people do what they want.

This is usually associated with being “socially” liberal. People can say whatever they want, they can sleep with who(what)ever they want, they can do whatever they want. Just don’t violate my rights. More substantially, it would mean defending and advocating for the rights of those marginalized or oppressed in society. Expat labourers, minorities, women etc. They should at least have the same rights as others in society.

Then we have the “economic” or “welfare” side associated with liberalism. Liberal here means being pro the free market, private property, free competition, etc. This is not all however. There is another side. Let’s call it side B. Liberalism nowadays has come to stand for being pro the government having an active role in the welfare of people in society. The government should actively fund the “basics” or the most important things. They should spend on education, on health, on housing, and should try to have some sort of help for the poor. It isn’t enough to let people just do whatever the hell they want economically. You need to help those that are worse off. It isn’t fair that the rich get the best education, the best health system, the best roads. How are the poor going to get anywhere (and how is it fair to compare them to the rich) if they never have an education, a health system, decent places to live in? Aren’t these their basic rights? Wouldn’t it be a violation of their rights (and thus be very illiberal) if they couldn’t even have these basic things?

Of course this doesn’t mean that everything should be equalized, or that the state should subsidize caviar and champagne for the poor. Like what was mentioned previously, free market and competition is at the core of liberalism. All it means is that the state has a duty to provide its citizens with the basics for a decent life.

Now it is obvious that nido is not a liberal in the “B part” of the economic sense. Nido has no interest whatsoever in funding the poor. As argued before (so I won’t repeat the arguments here), nido sees the poor as lazy, uneducated, dumb individuals who breed like rats and deserve all the misery they are in. They don’t deserve to be funded. And who exactly is going to fund them? That would mean taxes, and nido, being the richest in society, obviously has nothing but to lose with taxes. Thank god the country here has oil, or else nido would be asked to fund this stuff. Imagine the gall! Nido having to give up some of his hard earned income to fund these poor fellas! If you want to see nido get really excited about something, mention something like this to him: “How about we tax anyone with income above 1500 dinars at, lets, say, 20% (pretty low by world standards)?” I recommend that you duck, because you are in serious danger of being punched or spat at by nido.

Alright, so nido is not liberal in the egalitarian economic sense (what we called the B side). How about the A side, that of free competition and private property? Surely nido is liberal in this sense. After all, nido loves the idea of private property. He owns a considerable chunk of the island. Surely nido is for liberalism in this sense? Nido owns most of the companies in Bahrain, so surely he loves everything that capitalism has to offer?

Again, things aren’t always what they seem. The fact that nido owns most of the companies shows how much nido likes to pick and choose what he likes in liberalism. For nido, or more precisely nido’s family, has a monopoly over pretty much anything worthwhile in Bahrain. Car dealerships, equipments, sale of alcohol, land, you name it. Nido’s fortune has been built on the ability to monopolize certain parts of the market and exploit it to the maximum. This has nothing to do with free competition. In fact it is the complete opposite! Just watch how nido and his family fight tooth and nail to keep and mantain the monopolies (or as they are more fondly called, “dealerships”) that rake in so much money for him. Once again, if you want to give nido a heart attack just casually mention that monopolies are to be abolished in bahrain and see his reaction. The threat anti-monopolistic legal action in Bahrain and of others from Bahrain being on the same footing as him entails a serious loss of money. Even more seriously, imagine what would happen if the Bahraini market is opened up to more serious hamours from the Gulf. Can you imagine nido competing with the Al Rajihis, F6aims, and Habtours in Bahrain? Nido would suddenly be a small Hamour!

Alright, so nido, shall we say, is “eclectic” (more accurately read as hypocritical) in choosing his liberal values in the economic sense. How about in the social sphere mentioned above? The ” people have a right to do what they want as long as it does not directly harm others?” Surely there is no argument here. Nido is a liberal. He has no problem with people drinking, sleeping with whoever they want, wearing whatever they want etc?

Again, superficially this is true. Let us also give nido credit in some of the issues dealing with minorities and the marginalized in society. For example, nido is much better than some of the other forces in society (e.g. some Islamists) when dealing with women’s rights. After all, many a nidoers are female (in fact roughly half). So it is settled then. Nido is at least liberal in the social sense.

But what about other questions that “socially liberal” entails being committed to? Let us take the issue of the exploitation of expat labour and their rights in Bahrain. Here it is very hard to argue that nido is liberal. In fact nido is the antithesis of liberal. He or daddy owns companies that employ thousands of expat workers that work in appaling conditions and for awful pay. They work more than 70 hours a week, live five or more in a room, toil away in the middle of the sun under awful conditions, and in the end they are lucky if they receive 80 BD as a wage. In fact, nido here is more like a feudal lord than a liberal. Bahrainis working for nido, although better off than their expat counterparts, also suffer. Because nido is used to cheap foreign labour breaking their backs working for him for minimal pay he expects Bahrainis in one way or another to compete with them. Or else why would he ever employ a Bahrain except because the government is perstering him with “Bahranization” quotas? Thus, nido grudgingly pays the Bahrainis more but not by much.

And you expect nido to be a defender of these expats rights? Can you imagine nido actively advocating for their rights? Of course not. He is the one that benefits the most from the conditions they are in. Can you imagine nido actively encouraging the idea of labour unions to help these workers? How about regulations that guarantee these workers a minimally decent working conditions, living environment, etc? Fat chance. He’ll give you something along the excuse, ” They should be grateful. They are much better off than in their home country.” Your generosity is marvellous, nido.

It is apparent that nido’s social liberalism is of the superficial kind. It is of the kind of “I have every right to wear my bikini, to drink, to sleep with who I want, to watch and dance to Nancy Ajram.” More seriously than that, it is a selective, contradictory liberalism. Nido chooses what he likes in liberalism and discards the rest. Instead of liberalism standing for “the right for everyone to do what they like as long as it does not directly hurt others”, it stands for “the right for nido to do whatever he likes even if it hurts others, and the right for the rest to do what they like as long as it does not hurt nido,” even if nido in the process is hurting others. He is for private property because it protects his land and businesses. He is for capitalism because it gives him the money that sponsors his lifestyle. He is for the right to do what you want when it allows him to copulate, drink, and go clubbing with other nidoers. He is against rights for expat workers becaues it could seriously harm him. Similarly, the idea of discarding monopolies does not appeal to him because daddy’s company stands to lose from this. This is “nido liberalilsm” for you.

This contradictory, selective nature of nido liberalism makes much more sense when we realize the underlying theme behind it: selfishness. Nido is a liberal as long as this liberalism benefits him, and he discards what other traits in liberalism he does not like. It is self-centered. It is all about me and what is to nido’s benefits.

Let us take one final example, one where you find many a nidoers nowadays ranting about: democracy (which is obviously a core element of most definitions of liberalism). You hear many a nidoers paying homage and glorifying democracy, and talking about how “backwards” our region is because of a lack of democracy. Lo and behold, however, you find many a nidoers actually glad that democracy doesn’t exist in Bahrain. “Those Islamists. Those shias, those muslim brotherhoods (notice, as mentioned before, it could be anything, Nasserists, socialists, whatever poses a danger to nido). Thank god they don’t have more say in the country. We’d be screwed! This country does not deserve democracy.” It is a democracy of flagrant self-interest. If the country was populated with nice “nido liberals” that do nido’s bidding, then all hail democracy. If it is anything else, even if the majority of the country wants it, then no thank you.

Indeed, the only time nido deviates from his self-interest to do something that benefits groups other than him is when he comes under serious social pressure and risks losing even more by not giving in to some of these demands. Thus, let them have their fake democracy if this will quiet social unrest and stave off more serious revolts. Let them have their watered down unions in government companies if that will deflect them from proper restructuring. Even here, whatever social reform nido gives into is because he thinks it is in his own benefit, since it will stave off further opposition and losses of interest.

Even more blatant, a nidoer would often use the term “liberal” in order to score brownie points and court the other “liberals” in the west. After, all, “liberalism” as a commodity sells pretty well nowadays in the western media and world. And if one looks superficially at nido, as mentioned before, he will appear to westerners as “liberal”. A nidoer is drinking johnny walker, wearing a low cut cleavage dress, and talking about the dangers of Islamists. Indeed, the nidoer would strike one from the west as being “quite like us.” They are like us in looks, in mentality, and even in talking about “liberalism” and “moderate”ness. Indeed if one does not dig further he would fall into the trap of thinking nido is actually liberal.

There is a running theme here. Whether nido describes himself as moderate, apathetic, or liberal. In “moderateness” we saw it means a commitment to the status quo, a commitment to keeping things as they are since they are to nido’s benefits. In liberal it means selectively choosing from “liberalism” whatever benefits nido and violating the rest. There is a common thread here: self-centered selfishness. Nido cares only about what benefits him and actively goes against everything that does not benefit him. It does not matter who gets hurt or the amount of harm created, as long as the harm does not involve nido. Even the term “liberal” and “moderate” are often cynically abused for self-interest in order to look good in the eyes of the west.

Still not convinced? Find yourself a nidoer (it might be you). Ask him what his stand is on any political issue of relevance to him. Expat workers, Islamists, sale of alcohol, the status of monopolies in Bahrain, labour unions. etc. Watch his answers. He will either be “apathetic” and won’t care, or they will be those which maximizes his self interest, regardless of others. Sure, he might give you other excuses for why he supports these issues, but the pattern of selfishness in his answers will be unmistakeable.

If we want to be honest with ourselves we should admit that this is the main trait, characteristic, or in facebook speak, “political views” of nido: nido-centered selfishness.

Nido, there is not much that is liberal about you, your johnnywalker, bikini accessories and clubbing hangouts not with-standing. There is not much here other than egoistic selfishness.

The movie 300: Orientalism, alive and well

March 29, 2007

A break from the facebook parts for a bit (will come back to them).

So I finally saw the movie 300 the other day. You know, the movie everyone has been talking about.

The graphics, shot sequences and animation were amazing. They’re probably the best thing out there so far. Every head chop, sword clash, and facial expression is captured in a way you’d be hard pressed to find in another movie already out there.

That said, there are some serious problems with the movie. The script, acting, and dialogue weren’t exactly stellar, but that’s only the beginning.

The main problem is the unbelievable Orientalism running throughout the whole movie. I mean my god, talk about Bernard Lewis or Thomas Friedman being orientalist, but this movie takes it to a whole different level.

Spartans are white, good-looking, muscular, strong, noble, manly, and fearsome warriors. They are also British (which is bizarre, considering that Spartans back in the day would’ve never heard of of the place) and Western. Each of them has a well defined personality and is given a human dimension. The Persian hordes (another orientalist stereotype with a long history) are ugly, sissies, faggots, lesbians (which is ironic, considering how homoerotic the Spartans are depicted as, with buffed up totally waxed and tanned guys strutting around in little more than thongs flexing their muscles. They are however of the “manly” type, and if we want to use local Bahraini metaphors they would definitely not be “takers”, where they even at one point refer to Athenians (known for their “taking” and “giving”) as something along the line of “boy lovers”), disrespectful of women, and evil. Most of them (the Persians) are faceless (literally), lack independent personalities or free will, are pretty much machines that follow orders, and are dehumanized to a point where you cannot really say they are people. Their sole goal in life is to wreak havoc and destruction. They are the inferior, unattractive, immmoral and deluded “other”, the complete opposite and mirror image of spartans. Spartans love to rant on about defending freedom, justice and that sort of banter (with their king sounding in the process like a hyper coked-up George W. Bush). In fact, their whole objective in the movie is to defend their civilization, freedom, justice, etc. from the invading barbarians from the east. In contrast the Persians are ruled by a highly authoritarian king who is the antithesis of all of that. Sounds familiar ?

Basically, the Persians are all the bad stereotypes you can think of and more rolled into one. They are evil incarnate. The Spartans, although with fault, defend many of the honourable things in life. The two sides stand in stark contrast to each other and each is used to highlight and accentuate the characteristics of the other side (the evil persians serve to emphasize how good the spartans are, and the noble spartans serve to emphasize how evil the Persians are). And just to throw a spanner into the works, the movie uses the age-old tactic of conflating different vulnerable groups together as well as throwing in a few horrible traits in the mix just to play one group against the other. Thus, to take one example, Persians are often Black or of dark-skin colour. This, when combined with the undesirable traits listed above (being evil, devoid of free will,etc), creates a jumbled up picture of the different groups in which each can percieve a fault in and a reason to hate the other. Thus those who identify more with persians might feel agrieved that they have been likened to blacks or blacks might feel agrieved that they have been likened to persians, and this grievance stems mainly from being associated with the bad characteristics (evil, no free will) that are identified with the other group in the movie, and not from being associated with the other group itself. IN OTHER WORDS (and to simplify this convoluted argument), in the movie blacks might be associated with persians (or vice versa), and this might piss off some people that identify themselves as black (or persian) because in the process the bad traits of being evil hoards, etc that are identified with persians translate over to their group. Unfortunately some Iranian bloggers have fallen into this trap and have started voicing objections to Persians being depicted as “black” or of “African origin.” This is unfortunate as this makes them vulnerable to the accusation of being racist, although it is fundamentally the movie that shows strong overtones of racism.

This is of course to say nothing of historical factual (in)accuracies (which I will not go into since I have no expertise whatsoever on the subject. Pretty much the only thing I’ve ever read that focuses mainly on this is Persian Fire by Tom Holland, from which I take any information mentioned about the battle here). Technically, it is concievable that someone could make an argument that the film is broadly true in terms of historical events, with certain events that did happen (e.g. a battle in a narrow passing) being highlighted in the movie. That’s not the point, however. The point is in the way these events were depicted and how one side was demonized while the other elevated to hero-like status. I could just as well make a movie about the American civil war that is broadly accurate in terms of the events’ time line but that depicts Yankees or Southerners as effeminate, ugly, evil, bloodsucking monsters who like to eat babies for breakfast and unborn feotesus for dinner while drinking fermented vaginal blood as wine.

One person told me, “but in the beginning of the movie it is obvious that the narrator is Spartan, and so this movie is told from point of the view of the ancient Greeks (which historical records show was in the main (obviously) very anti-persian) and this excuses the depicition and the viewer knows that.” I sincerely doubt that 95% of those who watched it realized that. I’ve had more than one person tell me this is based on true events, and the movie leaves beyond doubt as to whose side your affections should lie and who you should be cheering. Some people excuse it by saying it is a ficitional story albeit loosely based on true events and hence should not be taken seriously (which is an argument the producers and the company that made the movie used). This does not wash either. As mentioned before, many people failed to realize that the movie is a pure work of fiction (beyond realizing that monsters are fictitious). For many people this is the first time that they ever hear about this battle or event in history, and if I am to make a rash statement I bet most people will come out from that movie actually believing that the Spartans were indeed in the right, that they were the good guys while the Persians were the evil and bad guys. i.e. they will come out believing that the spartans really were the goodies and the Persians really were the baddies. The movie obviously also tries to make a strong connection to the actual historical events, or why would so many historical occurences be reproduced in the movie? If the whole point was a fictional story loosely based on the original events, then it would make much more sense just to make up events as one goes along and not relate it so much to the actual historical events. The fact that there has been such a great effort to stick to the broad historical timeline of events suggests strongly that there was a concerted effort to try to present the movie as broadly “historically accurate”, if one disregards the fantasy-novels features in it (e.g. monsters), and indeed this is what many people have argued about it!

If one does believe this, and he/she does swallow the movie’s take on historical events (while disregarding the fantasy noverl parts) then one most probably will also gullibly swallow the ideas in the movie of the Persians being the baddies, ugly, devoid of free will, effeminate, etc (for these themes are not logically related in anyway to the fantasy parts of the movie). Unfortunately this I fear is what many people will come out of the movie believing.

One person has argued to me that the movie is so bombastic, so in-your-face, so crassly racist that in fact it is just one big irony. In reality, the makers were depicting the American government as the Persians and the local populations defending against invasion (e.g. Iran, Iraq) as the Spartans. After all, it is the Persians (in the movie) who similar to the American government are invading other territories and are made up of an array of armies from all around the world , and it is the Spartans like Iran or Iraq who are defending their countries. This, although a nice thought, is completely dillusional. To believe this you would have to assume that everything in the movie is supposed to stand for the opposite of what it stands for. The Spartans, who are white, talk about democracy and justice, very independent-minded, etc, should instead stand for people who are invariably depicted in the Western media as the complete opposite of these traits. That just sounds utterly ridiculous to me. Indeed, since time immemorial the battle of Thermopylae specifically and the war(s) between the ancient Greeks and Persians generally have often been held as a defining moment of the “west and “western civilization” in contrast to “the east”, “the orient”, etc. Montaigne, Byron, John Stuart Mill, and Hegel, to name but a few, all commented on this.

It is hard not to conclude that this movie is a racist propaganda piece of the most in-your-face and no-subtlety-whatsoever type. It is not the first (“Rambo 3” versus. the soviets comes to mind, although this pales in comparison and looks like a model of sensitivity/evenhandedness when compared to 300) nor is it the last. It also takes on a heightened dimension when one takes into account that the U.S./U.K vs. Iran governments are in an adversarial standoff at the moment in real life, with the former constantly using arguments about democracy, freedom, lack of self expression etc to discredit the latter (not to mention the fact that many people are talking about a “clash of civilization” now between “muslims” and the “west” with the west being the “superior civilization” that should be defended, and this movie will only serve to fuel such talk). And indeed many people have not failed to take notice of this. Just look at some of the comments being written about 300 on the internet. Many liken the Spartans’ experience to the American government and America’s war on terror. Others explicitly identify Spartans with Israel (which is not a new idea. Israel, described as a small, paranoid and highly militarized nation that seeks to dominate and exploit its neighbours by force has often been compared to Sparta).

The apologist for the movie try to defend it by using a banal “it is a fictional story” excuse. One could easily imagine a movie about the Crusades or a battle between the Byzantines and the Arabs which also depicts Arabs and muslims in an equally bombastic and horrendous manner.

To take an extreme example, Leni Riefenstahl’s (of the Nazi propaganda movie “Triumph of the Will” fame) experience show that masterpieces of art can unfortunately be used to produce questionable propaganda (it is interesting that Hitler himself explicitly compared the German 6th army to the Spartan 300. In fact, the battle of Thermopylae has been often used in Nazi propaganda). It is a shame that such amazing use of graphics and technology was used to produce a shamelessly Orientalist piece of propaganda as 300.

Orientalism, nearly 30 years after the publication of Said’s groundbreaking book with the same name, is still unfortunately alive and well.