Monday, January 31, 2011


First things first – yes, I am perfectly safe. This is primarily because I live in Syria, not Egypt.

Glad we cleared that up. Thanks for your concern, everybody. I truly appreciate it. I know that from the other side of the world, Egypt and Syria seem right next door. But not only are there two huge deserts and a Canaan-sized no-go zone between me and Cairo, but the politics of the region make Damascus and Cairo very far apart indeed. Things are very quiet here in Syria, as always, except for the fact that the TVs in the shops are always tuned to news channels these days. I thank God for the peace that prevails in this country.

(Fun fact: I had originally planned to live in Egypt this year. When I got the job in Syria, I had to persuade my friends and family that it was just as safe as Egypt.)

So what’s going on in Egypt?

As part of my senior project last year, I wrote an essay about the prospects for the Egyptian dictatorship. I’m uploading it today for old times’ sake. If any of you politics junkies have any comments, I’d love to discuss this with you (time and internet access allowing). Here’s my take on the situation right now.

The Mubarak dictatorship isn’t as murderous as Saddam’s or Kim Jong Il’s, but it is amazingly corrupt, random and incompetent. The sheer stupidity of the regime is occasionally breathtaking. This is a government that responded to the swine flu scare two years ago by ordering the killing of every pig in the country. Seriously. It’d be hilarious if it weren’t for the 400,000 Christian farmers who lost their livelihoods in one swift stroke.

Almost half of the Egyptian population lives in poverty. The per capita annual income is $6,000. Among the world’s nations, Egypt ranks 111 out of 180 in terms of government transparency. The education system and healthcare systems are a joke. Unemployment and underemployment, especially among young people, is through the roof. Cairo is literally the most polluted city on earth. Large parts of the Nile River in Egypt are unusable for fishing, swimming or (God forbid) drinking. Military service for young men is mandatory and capricious (except for the well-connected). I have a dear friend in Cairo whose military service was extended over and over again until it swallowed three years of his twenties. I remember a conversation I had two years ago at a café with an upper-middle class Egyptian young man. “Is it hard to leave Egypt?” I asked him when he told me he wanted to go live in America. I was talking about ticket expenses, visa requirements, things like that. “No,” he replied flatly. “It’s easy, because I hate Egypt.” I remember being in my host brother’s car when Cairo’s miserable infrastructure turned what should have been a brief errand on the way to the bowling alley into an hour and a half detour. “Life is very difficult here,” he sighed. Even for the relatively fortunate, the day-in day-out chaos of life in that mismanaged country is hard to take.

All of this is accompanied by an incredibly repressive political system. 16,000 political prisoners, random torture and detention and killings by the police, rigged elections, violence against opposition candidates and their supporters – all this adds up to a system with no hope for change and no outlet for the people’s anger. Mubarak is now 82 years old and in poor health. In the last few years, he has started to groom his son Gamal to take his place, pretty much bringing Egypt around full-circle to the colonial monarchy it had before the 1952 revolution.

Long story short, the Egyptian population has been set to explode for a while now. All it needed was a spark. It appears that the downfall of Tunisia’s president was the needed spark. I’m amazed at what’s happened in Cairo over the past six days. People have seen that it’s possible, and they’re going for it, risking their lives in the streets for a chance at real political change. According to the BBC, a hundred people have already died in the protests, yet the protestors keep coming. There’s a video on YouTube that shows an Egyptian man shouting, “I will die today!” as he runs into the demonstrations. This whole chain of events was started by ordinary, desperate Arabs setting themselves on fire. It’s disturbing, frightening and exhilarating.

Which way will the uprising go? It’s far too early to tell. The key to making a popular revolt translate into real change is getting the army and police to change sides. (See: Romania, the Philippines, Tunisia.) Mubarak’s biggest response so far has been to appoint, for the first time in his 30-year rule, a vice president (and nominal successor) – Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s chief of military intelligence. Most people see this as an attempt to suck up to the military. If Mubarak is now willing to be brutal enough to shoot down the protestors, a la Tiananmen Square, that might be the end of this uprising. Or, it could spark an even bigger revolution.

This situation also puts the U.S. in an awkward position, because we have essentially been paying off the Mubarak regime not to fight with Israel for the past thirty years - $1.3 billion a year in military aid. With peace between Egypt and its only regional enemy, where do you suppose that money’s been spent? On the tanks now patrolling the streets of Cairo. Our government has subsidized the Egyptian government’s oppression for three decades and counting. President Obama has a chance, now, to try to atone for all this by making it clear where the U.S. stands on the issue of democracy in Egypt. It won’t come again.

Here in Syria, there is very little love for Mubarak. The man is seen (pretty much correctly) as an honorless lackey of the United States. One Syrian friend told me that the Syrian president once replied to an accusation from Mubarak by saying, “We don’t respond to attacks from half-men.” “It was so great!” he told me, giddy with national pride. Most of the Syrians I’ve spoken to feel the same way. But some are worried about the fate of Egypt’s Christian minority, especially if this revolt brings the Muslim Brotherhood to power. (Obviously, U.S. policymakers are worried about the same thing about now).

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and predict that the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to come out of this on top. Yes, they are the most organized opposition force in Egypt (because Mubarak crushed everything else), and yes, they will certainly play a role in the new government. But an Islamic theocracy is not what most Egyptians are yearning to replace Mubarak with. And it’s not the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (who even knows his name?) who’s been asked by the leading Egyptian parties to form a transitional government. It’s Mohammad El-Baradei, the secular, liberal opposition figurehead. Only he can attract a base big enough. Even the Brotherhood is standing behind him at this time. This, I think, is a very good sign.

Only God knows, and he knows best. Pray for Egypt. Pray also for my friends who are living in Cairo at this time: Brian, Tamer, Ismail, Samer, Shady, David, Diaa, Ramy, Adrian, Chris, Dena, and others. The Egyptian government has cut off the internet for the time being, so I can’t really contact them at this time. Apparently foreign nationals are being advised to leave, so hopefully I'll hear from the Americans on that list fairly soon.

“Blessed be Egypt my people.” – Isaiah 19:25

Sunday, January 23, 2011


A few months ago, the priest and I were walking to the seminary, and he pointed up at some wispy cirrus clouds in the sky. “Maybe we will finally have rain tomorrow,” he said. “God willing,” I replied.

Winter is usually the rainy season in Syria, but the rains have been very late this year. Farmers are worried about how they will plant their crops in the spring, and ordinary people are worried about what will happen to the price of food. Millions of Syrians have been lifting prayers to God for rain in the past few months.

A few days after my conversation with the priest, it finally happened. It poured all day, turning the uneven pavement into puddles and ponds, and putting everyone into a good mood.

And the day after, we got one better.

I was Skyping with my friend Adam when some of the boys ran into the room and shouted, “Joel, tellaj! Tellaj!” Snow! Yeah, sure, I thought to myself. A few sleet particles, and they throw a fit.

Well, take a look for yourself.

I’m told that Damascus hasn’t gotten this much snow in around a decade. I certainly didn’t expect to see this much. It’s a lot of fun, but Damascus is not a city accustomed to snow. The snow isn’t good for the sketchy architecture of Old Damascus - my friend’s neighbor already had a wall collapse. The giant Christmas tree at the patriarchate where I live snapped in half. School was closed for two days over a few inches. And on a much more trivial note, I’m learning that my shoes don’t keep out slushy water too well.

After three days, the snow was almost all melted, except on the peaks of the nearby mountains. But praise God! It was just what the earth needed, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in Damascus.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ear to the Ground


A few nights ago, I went movie shopping. (For Goodbye, Lenin!, specifically). Movie shops in Syria typically have a TV in them, so that shop owners can play the movie before shoppers buy it, to prove that it works well. (There are no copyright laws in Syria, and as a result, it’s almost impossible to buy anything other than a burned DVD in a plastic bag with a photocopy of the actual movie cover. 50 cents a pop.)

On this night, every shop I went to had their TVs tuned to the same program. No, it wasn’t a soccer game. (Good guess, though.) A pro-God’s Party TV station called New TV was airing a leaked tape of the League of Nations’ secret interview with the Phoenician prime minister. A special League of Nations tribunal is investigating the murder of the Phoenician prime minister’s father in 2005. The prime minister’s father was himself a former prime minister who was running for the office again at the time of his untimely death. The murdered man opposed Aram’s influence in Phoenicia, and his death was widely blamed on Aram and its Phoenician ally, God’s Party. The assassination (carried out with massive car bombs which claimed a score of Phoenician lives on the side) led to huge anti-Aramean street protests in Phoenicia and the withdrawal of the Aramean army from Phoenicia after twenty-five years of occupation.

The five years that followed have not been kind to Phoenicia. In 2006, Canaan launched a massive attack on Phoenicia to try to wipe out God’s Party. They failed, and 1,000 Phoenicians were killed, most of them civilians. In 2007, the Phoenician army clashed with a Muslim militant group and attacked a refugee camp filled with Canaanite refugees, sending 27,000 of them fleeing. In 2008, fighting erupted in Beirut between supporters of the dead prime minister and the supporters of God’s Party. Now, the League of Nations’ tribunal is about to unveil its formal charges. According to published reports, several members of the Aramean government and God’s Party will be charged.

In the leaked tape (recorded in 2007), the prime minister is shown explicitly blaming the assassination on Aram. (Late last year, he publicly denied believing Aram was involved). In the first movie shop I visited, the owner (who spoke pretty good English) kept saying, “Oh my God!” and shaking his head. Understandably, no one I’ve talked to here believes that Aram was involved.

Over the weekend, God’s Party withdrew from the Lebanese coalition government, depriving the prime minister of his majority and causing the collapse of his government. Talks will now begin to try to form a new government, but Phoenicia appears to be headed towards an extended period of political deadlock. When the charges are finally unveiled, Phoenicia will probably not have anything but an interim government available to respond.

Will this interim government try to arrest the charged individuals and bring them to Europe for trial? God’s Party has vowed to resist any such attempt violently. Will the interim government refuse to act on the indictments? How will they maintain their legitimacy in the eyes of their people if they do? Will Canaan decide to try to attack Lebanon and finish off God’s Party once and for all? How would Aram respond to an outbreak of war in Phoenicia?

So many ways things could go wrong. And yet, I have trouble believing that the Phoenician people will put up with yet another civil war. Hopefully the desire to hold their approval will keep the major actors in line. Please keep Phoenicia in your prayers.


While I was traveling last weekend, the TV in the lobby of the hotel where I stayed was tuned to an Arab news channel every night. Nearly all the coverage was devoted to the chaos in Carthage. Since I don’t (really) speak Arabic, I didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t until I got back and got on the internet that I realized that massive street protests in Carthage had driven the Carthagian president, who had ruled unopposed for twenty-three years, into exile.

This is big. Barring Babylonia, I can’t recall a single Ishmaelite ruler who has voluntarily given up power since the region became independent after World War II, and this is the first time popular unrest has forced an Ishmaelite ruler from power. From what I can tell, people here are following the situation closely. “It’s exciting!” one person told me.

The protests that led to the Carthagian leader’s exile started when an unemployed man, in a stunning act of protest, committed suicide by lighting himself on fire in the capital city, Vietnam-war style. Since the Carthagian leader’s flight, two citizens of Mizraim, seven Numidians, and one Hassane have committed or attempted suicide in a similar way. Considering that Islam forbids both suicide and cremation, these attempts are a shocking indicator of just how desperate the situation is in many parts of the Ishmaelite world.

We’ve known for years that the status quo in this region couldn’t last. Is this the tipping point?


After fifty years of more-or-less constant civil war, the southern region of this country – which is largely black and Christian, as opposed to the Arab, Muslim north – has voted to become independent. The vote was fair and largely violence-free, and the government of the north seems set to respect it. That may be because the ruler of Cush is more concerned about his own survival. He recently arrested one of his old political rivals after the rival threatened to start street protests like the ones in Carthage to drive him from power. The street protests have begun nonetheless.

Allah knows best. May he guide this region to peace and freedom.

Linguistic Imperialism

“An American tourist was being heckled by a French anti-war protester when he turned and asked the Frenchman:
‘Excuse me. Do you speak German?’
The Frenchman replied ‘No.’
The American looked him in the eyes and said ‘You're welcome.’”

Picture this scenario, my English-speaking friends.

In the part of town where you live (if you are middle-class), all the signs are in English, except for the numerals, which are Arabic numerals. Once you go to the new, rich part of town, all of the signs are in both English and Arabic. Nearly all shops have signs in English and Arabic over the door, and virtually all the products you buy have the product information written in both languages. The money you buy them with is inscribed with the denomination and the name of your country in Arabic.

Most of your clothes have Arabic writing on them. You think your clothes look nice, but you have no idea what the writing on them says.

All of the good movies are in Arabic. If you want to enjoy them, you have to watch them with English subtitles. Ditto with TV shows. Your favorite singers sing in Arabic. You don’t know what their lyrics mean.

Arabic is a required subject from the first grade onwards, even though you’ll likely never have a native speaker as a teacher, and you’ll rarely have the chance to use it in everyday life, outside the classroom, unless you’re one of the lucky few who gets a visa to the Middle East to work or study. If you want to go to university, you will have to pass an extremely difficult Arabic exam. You’re so eager for a friend who speaks Arabic as a first language that you constantly approach Arab tourists to see if they’d be interested in a language exchange.

When your parents were growing up, Farsi was the dominant world language, so they learned Farsi in school. Farsi is now virtually useless, except for speaking with the throngs of Iranian tourists who visit your country. Your parents probably know the Arabic alphabet and numerals, and will proudly show off this knowledge to anyone who asks, but the language itself is closed off to them. They strongly encourage you to study Arabic as hard as you can in school so you can make something of yourself, but for all you know, by the time you’re their age, Turkish will be the dominant language.

This is basically the situation the average Syrian finds himself in vis-à-vis English (and French).

Both English and French are mandatory in Syrian schools – French, because Syria was occupied by France for twenty years after World War I, and the Syrian bureaucracy is modeled on the French system, and English, because everyone has to learn English these days. It makes me feel lazy.

One of my students asked me the other day, “We study English and French in our schools. Why don’t you study Arabic in America?” I answered as honestly as I could: “Because everyone speaks English. Only Arabs speak Arabic.” I added: “It’s good. You’re smarter than us, because you have to learn three languages.”

Watching my students struggle through English and panic about their English exams, while I take my sweet time learning Arabic, has made the power imbalance between the West and the Arabs much more real to me. Not to belabor the obvious, but English, not Arabic, is the language of power in our time, and that’s not always easy on the ESL countries of the world, like Syria.

Back to the opening “joke”: I’ve used some variation of this theme many times in discussions about history and politics. “If it weren’t for (insert American political figure/event), we’d be speaking German/Russian/French right now!” (Because America would have been conquered by France, Germany or Russia.) The prospect of American schoolchildren learning Russian in school is supposed to be positively chilling.

So what does it mean that not only the French, but our adversaries in the Middle East, teach their kids English?

So what is my role in all this? I do my best to help them, I suppose. There’s nothing wrong or oppressive in learning a new language. It can, and should be, exciting and rewarding. I just wish my students were learning it under better circumstances.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Pick up any of the complimentary guides to Syria at the tourist offices in the Old City, and you will find the following passage:

“The official language is Arabic. Most Syrians also speak another language, which, most often, is French or English.”

This impossibly lame paragraph doesn’t even come close to capturing the true linguistic diversity of Syria. Yes, almost everyone speaks Arabic, and yes, many people speak French and English. But there’s far more to language in Syria than these three, the languages they teach in schools. In recent weeks, I’ve begun to realize that many of the people I take for granted – my students, friends, parents of friends – are, in fact, bilingual geniuses. It’s taken me a while to find this out, because it never comes up in conversation. They don’t see it as a big deal.
Here’s a sampling of the languages I’ve found in Syria.


In many ways, this is the indigenous language of Syria. It far predates the introduction of Arabic (which was basically imported with Islam) and is still spoken in many villages in central Syria. It’s a Semitic language, like Arabic, but it has its own alphabet. It’s also the liturgical language of the Syriac Orthodox Church, one of the biggest Christian denominations here. Like the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, which uses the ancient Egyptian language in its services, the Syriac Orthodox Church holds on to Syriac. It is a intriguing reminder of Syria’s pre-Islamic past. I was at a Christmas party a few weeks ago with two priests from the Syriac Orthodox Church in attendance. The host asked them to bless the food before the dinner was served. Their reply was a stunning, multi-verse, multi-part chant-and-response in Syriac. It was awesome.

Fun fact: Most of the language spoken in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is Syriac.


“Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, ‘Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.’”
- Isaiah 36:11

“Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’)”
- Mark 5:41

Aramaic, or “the language of Christ” as its speakers proudly label it, is spoken as a first language in three villages in Syria, most prominently in Maalula, a Christian holy city about an hour north of Damascus. Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Middle East for several centuries, from at least the time of the Assyrian Empire until the time of Jesus. Chapters 2 through 7 in the book of Daniel – the chapters that deal with the Gentile world, instead of Daniel’s people – are written in Aramaic.

From what I understand, biblical Aramaic is probably as close to Syriac as to the language that Maalulans call “Aramaic.” (Hence Syriac’s use in The Passion of the Christ.) But the Maalulan dialect is unique, and its speakers proudly hold it up as the genuine article. Kids in Maalula grow up speaking Aramaic, and learn Arabic in school. One of the brothers and one of the students at the seminary are from Maalula, and speak Aramaic as a first language. They’re happy to demonstrate the language for me, but neither of them speak very good English, so usually we end up meeting in the middle with Arabic.

I bought an introduction to spoken Aramaic in Maalula on my first visit there. My goal is to have a partial conversation with one of my Maalulan friends in Aramaic before I leave here. (I’m looking at you, Brian Cassels.)


There’s a surprisingly large population of Armenians living in Syria, particularly in Damascus and Aleppo. Most of them came here as refugees after the Ottoman Empire tried to wipe them out in Asia Minor during World War I. The Armenian Orthodox Church is one of seven officially recognized churches in Syria, and it’s not uncommon to see the Armenian flag in decal form on cars in Damascus. Many of these Armenians still speak Armenian in the home, along with Arabic. But some of my Arab Syrian friends speak it to, for a variety of reasons – they went to an Armenian Christian school as a child, their mom spoke it and taught it to them in the home, etc. The picture at the top of this post shows the sign in front of the Armenian Orthodox Patriachate in Damascus. It's written in three languages, from top to bottom: Armenian, Arabic and English.


About 10% of Syrians are Kurdish, meaning they hail from the region where Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria meet, and speak Kurdish, rather than Arabic as their first language. Their very existence in Syria is something of a sensitive subject. But it’s happened several times in Damascus that I’ve introduced myself as an American, and the Syrian I’m speaking with says, “Oh, I’m Kurdish!” (Ever since 1991, we’ve had something of a rapport.)

I have a friend working in Hesseke, a town in northeastern Syria There, almost everyone speaks both Kurdish and Arabic. He’s even started to pick up on the Kurdish, to the delight of the kids he teaches. How sick is that?


You knew this one, right? Maybe not.

When I visited my friend George for Christmas, he and his friends showed me a video of his sister’s wedding. The men from the groom’s family danced into the church, chanting vigorously. I asked George and his friends what the men were chanting. They looked at each other and laughed. “We don’t know,” one of them said. “It’s Horani.” (Horan is the region where George lives.)

“Really? It’s not Arabic?” I asked.

“No, no, it’s Arabic, but it’s Horani Arabic, very Horani.”

Arabic is an extremely complex language. It exists at three levels: classical, which has remained basically unchanged since 700 AD, and which is used in the Qur’an, Islamic prayer, and classical literature; modern standard, which is used in school, books, newspapers, signs, speeches – basically any formal occasion; and spoken, which is far simpler than the first two and vastly different from the first two, in both grammar and vocabulary. Kids learn spoken Arabic in the home, and written Arabic in school. This is by no means as simple a task as learning written English in school. The high schoolers I work with regularly stumble over the rotating after-dinner Bible readings, to the point where the priest has to take the Bible from their hands and finish it for them. On the day when it’s their turn to read, many of them spend dinnertime practicing the passage beforehand at the table instead of eating.

In this sense, educated Syrians are automatically bilingual – they know spoken and written Arabic. (It’s possible to speak and write in both spoken and written Arabic, by the way. "Written" is simply more complicated and formal.) If they’re from Hesseke, Maalula or Armenia, they’re probably trilingual, without ever stepping foot in an English class.

Spoken Arabic also varies widely from region to region. I am only vaguely familiar with two forms of spoken Arabic – the spoken Arabic of Cairo and of Damascus. These two, I know, differ significantly in vocabulary and pronunciation. From what I’ve told, Gulf Arabic and Moroccan Arabic aren’t even mutually intelligible. Within Syria, the dialect changes after about an hour of driving time. Not exaggerating. Horan is forty-five minutes from Damascus, depending on the traffic, and once you get there, you find that the glottal stop is now a “g,” the “z” is now a “th,” “ee” is now “ai,” and “your father” is “abook,” instead of “abak.” On my visits to Horan, I often whip out my Arabic notebook to write down a new word I hear, only to be chided, “No, no, that’s Horani. Don’t write it down.” My old Arabic teacher told me he would have to spend a month living in Lattakia, a city on the coast, before he could understand the speech there. Syria is slightly bigger than Iowa, and there are at least five dialects or sub-dialects of Arabic here.

In short, as my Syrian friend Qosi has told me, “Arabic is an ocean. Not even Arabs know Arabic.”

People here have a hard time understanding why I’m trying to learn spoken Arabic here, instead of written Arabic. In the minds of most Syrians, written Arabic is the real thing, the “correct” way to speak. The fact that no one speaks “correctly” does not deter them from trying to adjust my quest for me. “I want to talk with people,” I say. “Everyone here knows proper Arabic,” the reply comes. A) That’s just not true, especially with children and the less-educated, and B) Nobody speaks it in everyday life, even if they know it. It’d be like quoting Shakespeare over burgers. It’s simply not done. I do want to learn written Arabic someday (God have mercy on me), but I can learn written Arabic from a book. While I’m here, I want to be a part of the life of Syria. That means speaking, for lack of a better term, Syrian.

So. Now you know!

Where is that guy?

He's busy, and depressingly bad at time management! And while hopefully one or both of those things will change soon, they're both true today. But you guys are wonderful readers and friends, and I'd like to take a few minutes to keep you in the loop.

What's been happening lately:
- Trips to Lebanon, the ancient Roman cities of Palmyra and Bosra and the Christian holy city of Maalula.
- A new teaching project with some amazing Iraqi refugees who are preparing for college in the United States.
- Me actually understanding people when they talk in Arabic - a little, anyway.
- Exams, exams, exams - for my students, that is. And I thought they studied all the time before...
- A wonderful, four-day visit from my father, who, I'm pretty sure, loved the Syrian experience. My dad can beat up your dad!
- Attacks on churches in Egypt and Iraq, and an attempted assassination of a congresswoman in Arizona. And you guys are worried about my safety? Thank God for the peace that prevails in Syria. My prayers are with God's church in Iraq and Egypt, and with the families of the victims of the Tuscon shooting.

What will happen soon, by the grace of God:
- A 10-day vacation from school. In the middle of January. No, there's no religious or state holiday, but exams are over, and I guess they thought it would be a good time. Found out about this two days ago.
- Due to the aforementioned, a spontaneous trip to some distant corner of this beautiful country.
- More blogging. My promises are probably empty to you folks at this point, but it is a goal of mine. There are so many stories I want to share with you guys. I also want to start posting my thoughts about a book my dad brought me, at my request, when he came: In Defense of Lost Causes by Slavoj Zizek, a Slovakian Marxist and cultural critic.

Reading Zizek's Living in the End Times last summer was a terrific experience, and I'm eager to get back into this guy's head. I don't understand a lot of his jargon, but he's endlessly fascinating nonetheless. Last summer, I followed up Living in the End Times with Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom. Zakaria is much, much more readable, and probably more basic, but it struck me that both men asked the same question - "How can we reverse the tide of destruction and chaos brought about by the free market and globalization?" - and gave opposite answers. Zizek wants to shed all the ties that bind - culture, capitalism, violent force - in a vaguely-defined "global emancipation project." Zakaria forcefully advocates the ties that bind. He favors limits on democracy and a benign class system. Those of you who know me can probably guess than I'm with Zakaria on this one, but my political beliefs are probably more ambiguous at this stage in my life than at any point before. Praise God, who makes fools of wise men, and gives his love and truth to little children.

Hope to write to you again soon. Until then, الله معكن. God be with you all.