Thursday, September 29, 2011

Of Settlers and Cemeteries

A good friend of mine from my semester in Egypt is currently attending med school in Beer Sheva, Israel. This is good for him, because he is an avid traveler, who documents his travels to many places* on his blog Not Enough Clothes in my Bag. Recently, he posted about his trip to Hebron, the former capital of ancient Israel, home to 400,000 Palestinians, 400 Jews, 2,000 Israeli soldiers and a whole heck of a lot of trouble. His writing is both entertaining and illuminating (and in this age of austerity, I think we can all appreciate the fact that he refuses to capitalize anything). I highly recommend reading this post.

A sample:

"there are all kinds of 'historical' placards in [Hebron] (in english), describing the variety of ways that the arabs have insulted judaism in the city throughout history. one talks about how they disrespected a jewish cemetary by allowing a farm to built beside it. literally across the street, there is an overgrown arab cemetary with an israeli army bunker built in the middle of it, and huge spools of extra barbed wire stacked on top of the graves."

That is all.

I miss you, Jason.

*Like Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kenya, India, Dubai, the UK, Nepal, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Greece, Iceland, Kosovo, Kuwait, Latvia, Montenegro, Oman, Qatar, South Korea, Serbia, Uganda, France, Albania, Italy, Sri Lanka and such.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Phantom Menace

"The tribulation may be upon us," warns Washington State professor Matthew Avery Sutton in the New York Times.

Not the Great Tribulation predicted in the Bible. No, the tribulation that will be shortly ushered in by American evangelicals voting for "anti-statist" candidates, because of their fear that Obama is the Antichrist.

In times of trouble, from World War I to the Great Depression, Professor Sutton tells us, American evangelicals have long sought comfort and explanation in biblical apocalypticism. And these are times of trouble! Sutton concludes, "The sentiment that Mr. Obama is preparing the United States, as Roosevelt did, for the Antichrist’s global coalition is likely to grow. Barring the rapture, Mrs. Bachmann or Mr. Perry could well ride the apocalyptic anti-statism of conservative Christians into the Oval Office."

What evidence does Professor Sutton present to demonstrate this "growing sentiment"?

This three-year-old campaign ad from John McCain.

And that's it.

Sutton's piece was one of the Times's most e-mailed pieces last week.

Over at CNN's BeliefBlog, the editors have written a piece entitled, "A movement to paint Obama as the Antichrist?" They at least quote someone who's called Obama the Antichrist in the past year - a lone protester at a recent dinner where the president was raising money for his re-election campaign.

Based on that incident, Sutton's piece, and, once again, that pre-recession McCain ad, the editors ask, "What do you think? Is there a gathering movement to paint the president as the Antichrist? Are such charges overblown attempt to discredit Obama's critics?"

Do you want me to answer that honestly, BeliefBlog?

I'll be the first to admit it - evangelical politics, by-and-large, is whack. (Although considering the level of affluence we're afflicted by, it could be a lot worse.) But that doesn't mean the millennialists are on the verge of destroying the American system. The left's treatment of evangelicals in politics is starting to resemble the Oklahoma legislature's campaign against Shariah law. (With Oklahoma's Muslims constituting .008% of the population, it was a close call!)

Unemployment in this country has been nearly at 10% for three years, and we're most likely headed into another recession. Health insurance premiums are through the roof, as are insurance deductibles. The wars are going terribly. Social Security is going insolvent, and the immigration, education and environmental crises continue to fester, with scarcely any attention from the national government. 40% of the babies born in this country this year will be born out of wedlock, and a fifth of the pregnancies in this country will end in abortion. Our national debt is skyrocketing, and our federal government has, so far this year, nearly shut down three times.

Maybe that's why reactionary candidates like Bachmann and Perry are doing so well.

Or maybe it's because evangelicals who are scared of the Mark of the Beast are driving national politics.

You never know. As Professor Sutton tells us, "evangelicals have grown ever savvier and now constitute one of the largest interest groups in the Republican Party." And how is it that this ginormous interest group can't find better presidential candidates? "A leadership vacuum exists on the evangelical right that some Republicans — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and even Ron Paul — are exploiting." Ah. A savvy, influential leadership vacuum. How incredibly devious.

Cultures rarely castigate the true sources of their decadence. The amount of abuse that Bachmann and Perry are receiving from the political elites are as sure a sign as any that, whatever their failings, they are the sideshow.

But maybe I'm wrong. Tell me readers - when was the last time you heard someone seriously claim that Obama is the Antichrist? For me, it was November 2008.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The State of Arab Pride

Preface: I wrote this post six months ago, when I was still in Syria. Everyone concerned in the story is now outside the country, so I feel safe posting it. (Yes, I'm still a paranoiac. So sue me.)

March 7, 2011

I recently attended a college fair with one of my Syrian friends, who is trying to go study abroad. The fair hosted booths from colleges in Dubai, Malaysia, England, Turkey and America. Several Syrian universities also made an obligatory appearance: the University of Damascus and Tishreen University in Lattakia among them. The Syrian Ministry of Education also had a booth there. These booths were mostly devoid of activity. They had only a few standard pamphlets and posters, and few Syrians were looking at them. When I tried to ask about Arabic classes at the University of Damascus booth, the men seemed gratified and enthusiastic that an American was interested, but could do nothing more than refer me to the school’s website.

My friend lived for most of his life in America, and as a result did not learn written Arabic (which differs vastly from spoken Arabic) in school. Since all Syrian high schools use written Arabic, he is working towards taking the GED test, so he can go study abroad. At the fair, one of the organizers told him that even if he got an American college degree, he wouldn’t be able to work in Syria without a Syrian high school degree. I’m pretty sure this is crap, but it worried him, so he went to the Ministry of Education booth to clarify the point with the representatives there.

He ended up telling most of his story to a man behind the Ministry table. When he mentioned that he had only recently moved to Syria from America, the representative of the Syrian Arab Republic’s Ministry of Education, whose mission under the Syrian constitution is to create a “socialist nationalist Arab generation which is…attached to its history and land, proud of its heritage…” had this to say:

“Leesh rej3at?” “Why did you return?”

Why indeed? (In point of fact, he had no choice.)

I didn’t understand most of the conversation, but my friend later told me that in the end, the representative insisted that he would have to get a Syrian high school degree, and boasted that Arabic is the hardest language in the world. “No it’s not,” my friend replied. “What about Chinese?” At which point, the representative said, “We will never accept your trash degree here.”

I think my friend will live.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Now our lives are changing fast...

This picture makes me smile. (If you're curious, yes, it really does. Hat-tip to my Iraqi friend Saif, who found this picture and posted it on his Facebook page.)

I post this picture because it portrays two things that, God willing, are about to feature very heavily in my life: Arabic, and Washington DC. This Thursday, I will be leaving to start working for a Christian human rights organization whose American branch is based in Washington.

The office where I'll be working is in sight of the Capitol building. I'll be living...actually, I'm not 100% sure where I'll be living yet. I'll keep you updated though. (I leave on Friday).

I will be joining my friends Adam and Jordan, and I expect eventually to be joined by my friends Alvin and Brian. I am driving, not flying, out there, and I hope to visit some dear friends from Iraq and Syria who are studying at universities between here and there. I am excited to see them, excited to live in a big city again, excited to start working for an organization I believe very strongly in.

How did all this come about, you ask? Good question. The answer's too long and complicated to post here. Short version: very randomly and very providentially. This is not at all what I had planned two months ago. As he is constantly reminding me, God doesn't care about my plans.

Although I'm not returning immediately to the Middle East on a long-term basis, my quixotic quest to learn Arabic continues. Washington DC isn't Damascus, but it does have Arab churches, Arab restaurants, Arabic classes and Arabic-speaking people. I hope to use this to my advantage. Plus, I plan to focus on Modern Standard Arabic, which is used very little in street conversation, making living in an Arabic-speaking environment somewhat moot.

Anyway, that's about it for now. It has been a good summer, a blessed summer. And now, once again, I'm off.

The leaves are falling all around. Time I was on my way.