June 14, 2009

That Train!

A month ago I went to Assuit to attend my cousin’s wedding. Assuit is a beautiful city in Upper Egypt; it takes almost a 6 hours train trip to get there. The wedding was nice, I didn’t stay long enough to enjoy the city but what I have seen was enough to make me want to get back sometime.

And as all the good things in life, the nice trip to Assuit has to come to an end. When we arrived to the train station we found our train moving. It wasn’t supposed to depart until another 30 minutes, but people started saying that there was an unannounced change in the train schedule. And that was when my uncle, my dad and my brother started running to get aboard the moving train.

My brother jumped into the train, my uncle followed and my decision was “I am not going to jump in”. The train was accelerating; I didn’t find the circumstances suitable. But here came the father who started yelling at me to jump aboard. He actually kept running holding the train as if he would magically stop it while yelling at me to jump.
The image of my father ran over by the train was the only thing that made me take that step. He wasn’t going to jump in without me and he wanted to get into that train by any means. So, I jumped aboard an accelerating train. I took an unnecessary risk because my father wanted me to do.

I did the thing he believed is right, though I still believe that it is wrong. I did the thing he thought is for my benefit just because I was too scared he would kill himself trying to put me on that train.

Ironically after we jumped aboard the train stopped. It was a sort of silly joke.

But the point is my father didn’t want me to miss the train, as if that train is my only ride to paradise. In the time there was going to be no harm to leave me behind. I had enough money, I had my cell-phone and I wasn’t in a strange city. My aunt lives there, actually 15 minutes away from the station and another uncle was staying the night there and was heading back to Cairo next morning. There was no harm leaving me behind and the destination of that train wasn’t paradise.

Yet my dad, yelled at me to jump aboard an accelerating train. He made me take a risk that I wouldn’t take just because he believed my benefit is to be on that train.

I don’t know why this train incident would sum up how “parents” in this part of the world affect their children’s lives. That train represents the opportunity. My decision to pass and my dad’s decision to jump in represent the conflict of interest between the best our parents want for us and the best we believe in. I believe that missing that train would have been an exciting experience. I would have seen new things. I would have had a mini-adventure. The risk wasn’t high and I am not a school girl who won’t know how to get back home. Actually the risk of falling off the moving train was higher than the risks borne to staying the night in a strange city.

My point is, missing an opportunity might be an opportunity. It is not the end of the world. And no one should know what’s best for you but yourself. No one has the right to corner anyone into doing anything because they believe it is the right thing to be done. There is nothing “right” in this world. And if there is anything that has to be right, it will always be the things your parents taught you while not influenced by adrenaline!
Later, he admitted it was wrong to push me to jump aboard that train. It just seems that he was the one who couldn’t take the risk of leaving me behind. But this is the point. He spent all his life preparing me for the moment he will leave me behind. He spent all his life teaching me the risks of trying to catch a departing train. He was the one who taught me to see the opportunity in missing the train. He brought me up on appreciating what I have in hand. But in a glance, he lost faith in me.
A thing that makes me wonder if that faith was ever there. Or if love would make us unintentionally hurt our loved ones.
Or do we intentionally hurt them to push them to do what we believe is right?!

June 05, 2009

A lesson in Flirting

Assume you are a bitter single. You have been in a long abusing relation that ended magically but you are still suffering from the consequences. Assume you are sitting alone in your regular place sipping your own misery with your drink. Assume that you were too traumatized to even look around for potential candidates. Then out of the blue someone came smiling.

What if this someone took the step and came to where you were silently sat for maybe years. What if this someone started saying the things you have wanted to hear? What if this someone started doing the unexpected “expected”. Praising what you know he would be praising, promising things without really promising and finally concluded the grand gesture with offering to buy you a drink.

Would you turn this offer down?

That was exactly what president Obama did in his speech addressing the Muslim world. He gave a lesson on how to flirt without selling yourself short.
The speech came with the Obama guarantee. It was as enjoyable as any of his speeches. It came as everyone secretly expected. Because no one wanted to place high hopes on an American president.

It was tricky advancing the highly diversified Muslim world. But the speech actually had something for everyone. It was promising yet disappointing. It promised everyone what he secretly wished for but without granting this wish.
It was a very well balanced speech that addressed the major areas of conflict. It was a very smart speech because it focused on the commonalities. It was very wise because it asserted that it is not a commitment it is just to show good will.

The speech is a grand gesture that means a lot regardless the vague promises. (Personally I don’t see them as vague. He just promised the things he can do but promised to try with the things he can try. He also stated it is a cooperation not a one sided relation)
It was a grand gesture choosing “
Cairo”. It was really a smart choice. It is one of the oldest Islamic Capitals. It played one of the biggest roles in the Islamic history especially in critical times. Actually few Islamic Capitals could compete with Cairo in that field. Medina the prophet’s capital comes first in importance but unfortunately non-Muslims aren’t allowed in (though there is no religious reason to do). Next come Baghdad & Damascus. Both were the capitals of the great Islamic Empire. But because of the wisdom of Mr. W, Baghdad is temporarily out of service and addressing anything from Damascus isn’t an option. Istanbul would have made a perfect choice too but unfortunately Ataturk decided to take it out of competition. Plus Cairo has Al Azhar with everything that it represents.
Cairo was grand gesture not only for the historical value but also to imply the importance of Egypt in the region. Again, the US-Islam problem is mainly Arabic. And to tackle an Arabic problem there is no better place than Egypt.

So, why make history? Some said that the economical crisis has pushed him towards the Arab money. But in my humble believe if he was after the Arab money he would have given the speech in Riyadah, Kuwait, or even Doha. If he was after the money he would have gone to it. But he came to where there is no money. He came to where politics is made. Which will leave the question unanswered, why approaching the Muslim world?
Simply he is doing it for the same reasons Bush started his crusade.

Before the visit,
Mohaly posted a video that I personally found offensive. In that video someone was warning the west from the Islamic danger. According to the video in few years the majority of the world will be Muslims. And this according to the video is catastrophic.

I found the video offensive because I live in a world with a majority of Christians yet I don’t feel compromised. I found the video offensive because I couldn’t see how terrorism means Islam in the time others excelled at it. The Muslim victims of Islamic terrorism are more than victims from other religions. Through history we will find that the number of non-Muslim terrorist out numbers the number of Muslim ones. So, why Islam is viewed a religion of terror?!

The answer is simple. A majority of Muslims means a change in how things are being done in the world. Not only because majority will elect people who will impose laws representing their interests. Because even if the majority didn’t change the law, the change in the personal choice of persons will change how a community function.
So, imagine Amsterdam, for example, in few years with no beer, no red street and no pot smoking in the streets! Some will think this will be a better Amsterdam and some are convinced that this is a loss of culture.

So, it is a cultural fight! It is what we may call the Islamic conservatism that scares the world. But is it really only culture?! Europe has gone through a massive cultural change to become the Europe we know now. They became the Europe they are now when they managed to lock God back in the Church. They locked the God the Catholic Church represented. They locked the limitations on innovations in the name of God. They locked the forces that tried to keep Europe in the dark along with God in the church.

So, the idea of getting God back out of the safe locked place should sound scary. And fighting change is instinct. And as Arabs and Muslims all over the world are fighting the change happening in their cultures, it is the west’s right to defend its cultural heritage. They have the right to defend the openness that will be compromised if Islamic conservatism was introduced. This very same conservatism worries many Muslims about the ability of the Islamic world to follow the world progress.

Through history there is only one lesson people keep forgetting. A war with a different cultural doesn’t preserve yours. In many cases wars were the way cultural change was introduced. So the previous American administration wasn’t really that wise putting the USA in war with Islam.

That war gave Islam an unintended exposure, the exposure that increased the risk of the cultural change the west dreaded.
So, if Islam is really inevitable. There should be a way to soften the change, hence the speech.

Now back to where we started, the nice someone making a grand gesture at us has his own issues too. We are sitting sipping our misery. And then we have this chance for a drink and a nice company. Nothing promised. Commitment is far beyond imagination. But there is potential if both parties worked hard enough. Would you smile back and accept the drink or would you just keep slowly sipping the bitterness of the past?!

Personally, I will go for the drink. As long as I am not selling myself short or putting high hopes. As long as I know that if a relation is to come it is a two parties’ work. I guess the drink will be perfect.

Mr. President, thanks for the lesson.

For everyone who said that these are just words and we want action isn’t it a bit early for action? and even if these were just words at least he showed respect and this is rare. I know Egyptians who won’t even say they are pleased to be in Cairo. The guy said he was honored. He could have used many other words to describe happiness but he was honored to be in the city disrespected by its own inhabitants.
The guy showed understanding for Islam that some Muslims don’t show. He didn’t only address the Muslims he actually addressed people around the world. People around the world know now that Islam has another side. People around the world now know that Muslims has the right to practice their religion and Islamic prayer isn’t a ritual done before bombing a plane.
Which part of this speech can’t eradicate decades of conflict didn’t you get?!