Sep 26, 2012

All Politics Is Not Local In The Middle East

"All politics is local" is a common phrase in U.S. politics and it only makes sense in the context of the United States and some European countries. When it comes to the Middle Eastern politics, this phrase withers away and becomes meaningless.

Probably, nowhere is more diverse and tourist-centered with restaurants and foods from around the world than New York City, specifically Times Square. People from different part of the world like Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and Europe have their businesses and street markets. They keep the city clean, civilized, and always do their best to please their customers.

Now, imagine New York City in terms of culture, religion and races, but when it comes to voting, and paying taxes, these differences do not matter. What is important to the citizens of New York City is raising taxes, the job market, education, Wall Street, health care, and many other minor issues on an individual level. At this point, candidates knock on the doors of new-yorkers, and where local politics matter more than anything else. At this level, democracy rings true, candidates or leaders begin to know their people, understand their problems, and listen to them, and people also start knowing their leaders. This is how a democratic society should work and it works in the United States very well. There is only one reason that makes people care about politics: their taxes. The politics of U.S. taxes influence local taxes first, then national politics and then international politics.

Now, why are all politics not local in the Middle East and North Africa?
First, most countries in the Middle East are not democratic; leaders do not have a strong connection with their people. Six countries in the Middle East are under absolute monarchy. Those are: the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Kingdom of Jordan, the State of Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In North Africa, Morocco is the only monarchy. The rest of the countries like Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Iran have despotic rulers which if are not worse than monarchy are not better either. In monarchy and despotic systems, people’s voices are not heard and their votes do not matter.

Second, in several countries in the Middle East people do not pay taxes. If citizens of a country do not pay taxes, they feel less responsibility towards their governments. They restrict the freedom of their citizens; they forbid women from driving or appearing in the public without male companions, like in Saudi Arabia. The government instead of collecting taxes gives money to its citizens. This makes the citizens more willing to let their governments do whatever they want to do.

Therefore, all politics is not local in the Middle East because of these disparities among governments and their citizens. Citizens in the Middle East unfortunately live with the absence of democracy and freedom. They are oppressed and suppressed by tyrannical regimes. In conclusion, the Middle East contrast that all politics is not local, yet it matters in the United States.

Sep 23, 2012

Discussing the "Green on Blue" attacks with BBC World News

Here I discussed the impact of the "green on blue" attacks by members of the Afghan police and army against coalition forces in Afghanistan and NATO airstrike which killed 8 women who were out gathering firewood before dawn.

Sep 19, 2012

A de facto partition for Afghanistan

Afghanistan, Pashtunistan
map's source
A de facto partition is not the best idea in Afghanistan but it will finally be the only option for Afghans to live peacefully. During the 20th century many new states were created and still happens and will continue to happen. Afghanistan in U.S. post-withdrawal does not seem to be peaceful, it is very likely for the country to enter into a catastrophic civil war that ethnic-cleansing would likely to be happened. As a result, a de facto partition is very probable to happen and the country would split into Pashtunistan and non-Pashtuns.

Sep 14, 2012

Will Anti-Film Protest Happen in Afghanistan?

As anti-film protests are spreading around the Middle East and North Africa, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has postponed his trip to Norway fearing unrest in the country. At the same time, the Afghan government has ordered an indefinite ban on Youtube to prevent access to an obscure American made film mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Karzai has already condemned the anti-Islam film as “inhuman and insulting” that’s made by extremist Americans. But the question is why Afghans are not yet protesting against the film because in the past they used to be at the forefront of such events?

There could be many reasons for why there is not yet a anti-film protest in Afghanistan. But first, not many Afghans have access to the internet or Youtube either.  This case is not that sensitive to the accidental burning of the Koran at the Bagram air base in northern Kabul for example. The burning of the Koran happened inside the country, Afghans have been very sensitive to cases like this that were and still are considered disrespectful to Islam.

Second, for the past years, any violent protest that took place was instigated by imams and clerics. In February, this year, some parts of the burned Koran was taken by Afghan forces working at Bagram and reported to mullahs in mosques.  The burning pages of the Koran enraged imams called for mass protests and in a span of two days a series of violent protests hit several cities throughout the country. As a result 30 protestors were killed, more than 200 were wounded and two U.S. officers were shot in a heavily guarded Afghan government ministry.

So, where are these Imams now and why have Imams and clerics not yet instigated a mass protest?

In the aftermath of Koran burning protests, the Afghan government has decided to stop clerics and imams from inciting violence or preaching anti-government slogans in mosques. The government warned mullahs to stop inciting violence otherwise they may face dismissal and possibly jail. Since then, mullahs have closely been watched by the government and it is that reason that Afghanistan is still quiet. According to some Afghan local news, mullahs have been condemning the film in their daily sermons but have not been asking people to take the streets and protest.

Sep 9, 2012

Ta’arof as a Denial in Iranian Social Life

Christopher de Bellaigue who is the author of the new book Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup has published an article on the Atlantic, explaining the complexity of ta’arof in Iran. Ta’arof is a borrowed word from Arabic which is simply used for introductions and meeting people.

In Farsi ta’arof is a form of polite behavior shown among Farsi speakers in Iran. It is a delightful and respectful interaction but at the same time it is a form denial and dishonesty. As Bellaigue explains ta’arof is
“symptomatic of a broader Iranian tendency to clothe every­thing in ambiguity—and to spend an inordinate amount of time doing so.”
Bellaigue, whose wife is Iranian, applied for Iranian citizenship eight years ago. Each time he went to the Department of Alien Affairs, he was welcomed warmly and offered tea and then asked to visit again. He says since ta’arof has an open ending, 8 years later, he is still waiting for his citizenship.

Ta’arof as much as it has a positive meaning in social interaction it has also some negative meanings. Basically, ta’arof can be used in a variety of ways, between a wife and a husband, father and son, brother with sisters and so on. It is so rooted in Iranian social life that it is hard to be removed. We Afghans always joke about Iranian ta’arof that how they waste time, instead of displaying their friendship and kindness they exaggerate to a point that ultimately is annoying.

Last week, after I read the Bellaigue’s piece on Iranian ta’arof I forwarded it to one of my friends at school. Since last year, she has tirelessly been working on her Farsi to travel to Iran with her Iranian friend but just recently her Iranian friends uninvited her. She wrote me back and said:

This article is a perfect explanation of how my friends first invited me to go to Iran next summer and then uninvited me. I thought my friends had been in this country enough decades to avoid this kind of thing but I was wrong. I just experienced ta’rof big time.
As Bellaigue says in his article that ta’arof is tricky and confusing. I am not in a position to judge whether Iranian should do their ta’arof outside Iran or not but it is certainly annoying and obnoxious to non-Iranians. Of course, most of Iranians are proud of ta’arof in their social interactions while there are many Iranians who abhor ta’arof. But ta’arof is still part of Iranian culture and identity. That’s how Iranian culture is distinct from cultures of other Farsi spoken countries like Afghanistan and Tajikistan. In these two countries where historically Farsi has deeper roots than Iran, ta’arof has no place in their cultures.

The purpose of writing this short piece is not to criticize Iranians because of their confusing traditional social behavior but to raise this question: to what extent do we know others and how can we avoid being ta’arofed by Iranian friends? Also should we expect them to be aware of our cultures and assimilate into an alien culture or should we learn their cultures accept them as they are?
The answers to these questions depend on individuals, time and location.