Belfast (Dir Kenneth Branagh, 2021)
Today English is undoubtedly the language of communication and international exchange. The following might, for most, be taken for granted. It is about the Language of Communication and International Exchange of a maximum of people around the world today.
The above-featured image is for illustration and is of the English Channel / credit Journals of India.
It is an undeniable reality. The phenomenon is due to three essential factors: first, the relative simplicity of its grammar and spelling; second, the extent of its application corresponding to the immensity of the former British Empire and third, the US economic and military supremacy.
The English lingua took off after the Second World War with the American technological boom and its impact on aeronautics, automobiles, machinery, etc.
The American way of life was well exported and brought in a lot, and almost everyone wanted to adopt it. Add to all this the soft power, i.e. Hollywood cinema, the music of Elvis Presley and other amenities made in the USA, and you will understand the cause of the vertiginous expansion of William Chikh Zoubir’s alias Shakespeare language.
Each civilization at its peak had radiated on the world and transmitted its values to it. In Caesarean Numidia, the Berber princes sent their sons to Italy to immerse themselves in Roman culture. That said, French is still the most learned language in the world after English.
First, Locke, Newton and then Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu, these actors of the Age of Enlightenment, were translated and read worldwide as avant-garde philosophers conveying the ideas of freedom and equality of peoples. These values made it possible to define new natural rights in England, France and the US.
In the eighteenth century, speaking the language of Molière in the royal or princely courts of Europe gave these monarchical circles a vernissage of distinction like Versailles of the Sun King. French also remains the reference in classical literature, poetry and belles lettres. English is a popular and straightforward language; French is academic and complicated. In the end, borrowing from the French half of its vocabulary, English now gives him a middle finger as a thank you and snubs him from the top of his globalized linguistic pedestal.
The quality of a language would be its ability to convey thoughts, ideas, and data, by voice or writing, as clearly and faithfully as possible. In short, it is the art of communicating with one’s neighbour. In light of these opinions, French has therefore sinned by its propensity to complicate grammar and spelling rules, making them almost inaccessible to the layman.
On the other hand, by its simplicity and widespread nature, English has found itself within everyone’s reach with the mini of means and time. Moreover, there are two types of language in this world, the beautiful and the good. (The bad ones are more a matter of psychology).
The beautiful ones are spoken around the big blue on the Mediterranean north shore with Spanish, French, Italian, and Greek. As for the good ones, the rest of the world speaks them, following the example of Chinese, Indo-European (except Greco-Latin) and African idioms. Nevertheless, we must mention the two major and mythical languages that have modified the history of humanity to close this paragraph. I am thinking of Hebrew and Arabic.
Jordan Times post by AFP – Oct 16, 2022, on how Iraq unveiling archaeological park with ancient carvings might not be a first in the Middle East but quite something.
The image above is titled Walk around the park: Attendees listen to information as they stand by an ancient irrigation canal dating back to Assyrian times, in the archaeological site of Faydeh (Faida), Iraq, on Sunday, during the opening of the first phase of a planned archaeological park in Iraqi Kurdistan. (AFP/Ismael Adnan)
FAIDA, Iraq — Authorities in northern Iraq on Sunday unveiled an “archaeological park” of 2,700-year-old carvings from the rule of the Assyrians, including showing kings praying to the gods.
The 13 stunning monumental rock-carved bas-reliefs were cut into the walls of an irrigation canal that stretches for some 10 kilometres at Faida in northern Iraq.
The panels, measuring five metres wide and two metres tall, date from the reigns of Sargon II (721-705 BC) and his son Sennacherib.
“Perhaps in the future others will be discovered”, said Bekas Brefkany, from the department of antiquities in Dohuk, in Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdistan region.
Faida is the first of five parks the regional authorities hope to create, part of a project aimed to be “a tourist attraction and a source of income”, Brefkany added.
The carvings were unearthed during several digs over recent years, by archaeologists from Kurdistan and Italy’s University of Udine.
Last year, Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the university, said that while there were other rock reliefs in Iraq, none were so “huge and monumental” as these.
Iraq was the birthplace of some of the world’s earliest cities.
As well as Assyrians it was once home to Sumerians and Babylonians, and to among humankind’s first examples of writing.
But in recent years it has suffered as a location for smugglers of ancient artifacts.
Looters decimated the country’s ancient past, including after the 2003 US-led invasion.
Then, from 2014 and 2017, the Daesh group demolished dozens of pre-Islamic treasures with bulldozers, pickaxes and explosives. They also used smuggling to finance their operations.
Some countries are slowly returning stolen items.
Last year, the United States returned about 17,000 artifacts to Iraq, pieces that mostly dated from the Sumerian period around 4,000 years ago.
From Morocco to Oman, apart from the obvious official language and religion, there is history. In effect, it is the movement of people from the outer edges of the MENA that was always throughout millennia a common carrier upon which carriages would transport migrants away from danger and bad life. So, what is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?
Recent examples of mass movements of Syrians into Jordan, Turkey, and the European Union would be the most edifying sample. More recently, Yemen despite its status as a poorer country compared to other Gulf ones went nevertheless through conflict with its neighbours and its populations had to flee away to its immediate adjacent countries. Before that, there was the Libyan case where a large desert country with a small population did produce as it were some migrants mostly to Europe for the well offs and the neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt for the masses.
After more than half a century of migratory movements between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the North African migration system was definitively “formatted” as it still stands today: organically linked to France first, and then to Western Europe.
The Levant conflict and civil wars, and finally the crises and successive wars here and there since the 80s, have consequently forced the exodus of millions. North African countries have in turn been affected, directly or indirectly, by these Middle Eastern crises.
But geopolitical issues are also not the only differentiator of these countries and apart from armed conflicts and/or civil unrest, oil and conflict are felt like the main drivers of migration to and from or within the MENA.
Climate change and its subsequent life deregulations are affecting its inhabitants. Would this, despite all the goodwill of all the COPs and SDGs, affect the numbers and the flows?
Would all countries be subject to this culturally well-established custom since the Exodus from Egypt, to run away to search for better climes?
The above-featured image is of Wilson Center.
The above-featured image is that of Damascus by France 24.
The Syrian architect and writer on the idea of home in Branagh’s Belfast, smart Arab horses in Homs and the joy of lentils in Damascus
Belfast (Dir Kenneth Branagh, 2021)
I watched this at home recently – there are no cinemas in Homs. It’s a film about war and love and friendship, about difficult decisions in a time of crisis. I liked the story and how real the actors made it, but also the way it handled the theme of home, which I very much related to – how the family was torn between staying and leaving. The whole dilemma of what to do, and how different people deal with similar questions and end up with different answers, was explored so well. It’s a great movie.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is a story set in a fictional version of England many centuries ago. It’s about grudges, and Ishiguro writes about this without naming the feeling, creating a fictional creature – the buried giant – for it as a reference. It’s also about a family’s journey to discover this feeling, and to find a way towards forgiveness. What I loved about this story is the indirect and imaginative way it has of dealing with hidden feelings that we bury deep down in our psyche, and how to access them.
I don’t go out much to busy places, and because of the war we don’t have many places to go. But I do go and ride every day at the equestrian club in Homs. My horse is called Salah al-Din. He’s a very strong horse from a special breed – Syrian Arab horses are among the best in the world for strength, endurance and performance. They are really smart animals and very independent and spirited, which is a humbling experience on a daily basis. The social aspect of the club is disastrous; it’s all about the horses.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Apple TV+)
Samuel L Jackson gives a phenomenal performance in this TV series. He plays an old man suffering from dementia who takes an experimental medicine that gains him a few days of lucidity. He uses those precious moments to access his memories and explain to himself the nightmares he had, which are related to racism. The show deals with different questions with great sensitivity, and in the end it’s about true friendship and genuine feelings. For me, it’s the story of the human mind and how precious this gift is.
Georges Wassouf is from a rural area near Homs, but his career took off from Beirut. I just love his music – he has a poignant way of speaking about love and a fantastic way of bending the lyrics to express the music. It’s also lovely how his artistic character is so closely related to his real-life character. He’s a very accessible figure who lives among his people, and he didn’t change his lifestyle in a way that would separate him from his own small village. Ahla Ayam El Omr, which translates as Life’s Most Beautiful Days, is one of my favourite of his songs.
Homs restaurants are rubbish, but there are plenty of good ones in Damascus. The one that I really like is Naranj, in the old part of the city where the Muslim and the Christian quarters merge. The food is great and the menu is very much based on what’s in season. The breads come right out of the oven, hot and delicious, and I would recommend the lentil dish harrak isbao, which means “the one that burns your fingers” because it’s so delicious that you will dive straight in.
Today, 8 March and the same day every year, International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world, to commemorate those advances towards a gender-equal world – “free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination and one that is diverse, equitable, inclusive while differences are valued and celebrated.” How the same is celebrated in the MENA region is reviewed by Farah Daibes. It is about how women in the Global South reclaim their understanding of feminism in every corner of the region.
In an apparent win for feminists from the Global South, the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action set a roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls globally. At the time, ‘empowerment’ was not the buzzword it is today, but a new concept brought forth by Indian feminist Gita Sen and a group of other feminist activists and scholars.
Sen and her colleagues stressed the importance of empowerment through a bottom-up approach that centres the voices of women from the Global South. When they advocated for the adoption of their definition of empowerment by the UN – and later on through the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing –, however, they were unaware that the definition would be remodelled and blurred over time: it was transformed from its original political understanding based on collective action, solidarity, agency, and decolonial development models into an individualised, depoliticised, and westernised concept.
The region (MENA) still suffers an 87.4 per cent gender gap in the political empowerment index and a 60 per cent gender gap in the economic empowerment index.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, this shift in understanding – which was championed by neoliberal aid and development programmes – had serious impacts on the shaping of women’s rights agendas and on the pace of advancement towards gender justice. But in recent years, more and more women across the MENA region are defying the mainstream empowerment narratives and are reclaiming the original understanding of what it means to be empowered.
White-centred feminism has greatly influenced the development agendas of the international donor community, resulting in a context-blind and depoliticised approach to the empowerment of women and girls – one that conveniently ignores the role of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and racism in shaping the lives of black, brown, and Asian women across the Global South. This approach was supported by states in the MENA region that also aimed to build an understanding of empowerment that does not question current power relations, an empowerment that aligns with states’ interest in fostering politically passive populations who are driven by capitalist fantasies.
An ‘empowerment-lite’ was thus imposed in the MENA region under two distinct and docile categories. The first, ‘political empowerment’, was mostly limited to increasing the numbers of female voters and women in parliaments, with a disregard for many of the actual challenges that hinder women parliamentarians or voters’ meaningful engagement in the political process. The second, ‘economic empowerment’, was mostly related to increasing women’s formal participation in the labour market without truly addressing any structural barriers facing women when entering or staying in the market. For instance, this approach supported providing micro-funding for women to start their own businesses – placing risks on the shoulders of women rather than markets or states; and attaining gender parity within the (capitalist) workplace where many men already experience exploitative working conditions.
After decades of programmes and initiatives, even these inadequate empowerment goals are far from being achieved. The region still suffers an 87.4 per cent gender gap in the political empowerment index and a 60 per cent gender gap in the economic empowerment index according to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021.
A decade of political and socio-economic instability has pushed women and feminists across the region to re-centre the redistribution of power within the empowerment conversation. Through reclaiming the feminist understanding of empowerment, they are actively and collectively fighting against the systems that have reduced their role in public life to the mere support of capitalist and authoritarian projects. These are the same systems that have allowed for the quality of education, health, social protection, and public services – which are essential components for truly empowering women and girls – to be diminished.
Woman from various backgrounds have been, and still are, on the frontlines of protests demanding gender and social justice in many countries in the region. In the past few months alone, Sudanese women have fiercely stood up against militarisation and sexual violence, holding tightly to the political gains they have so difficultly achieved alongside their fellow Sudanese citizens. In a smaller, but equally empowered, example, young Lebanese students in Tripoli defied the patriarchal system that silenced their attempts to call out a harassing teacher. They held protests and promised to press charges against him.
The white-centred, depoliticised, and capitalist image of an empowered woman is not accepted anymore as the only version of an unoppressed woman.
Tokenism in both the economic and political spheres is no longer enough to maintain the illusion that there is serious political will to empower women. When the first female prime minister in the region was appointed in September 2021 in Tunisia for instance, feminist activists and groups were hesitant to celebrate. They criticised the Tunisian President for using ‘the women’s card’ to advance his own agenda and to gain positive publicity and support from the West in a politically questionable situation.
The white-centred, depoliticised, and capitalist image of an empowered woman – one who is westernised, high-paid, fashionable, and independent – is not accepted anymore as the only version of an unoppressed woman. Women in the region are celebrating their uniqueness, differences, their cultural roots, and their sense of community and passion.
Feminist activists in particular are defying the white-centred feminism that have dominated the global feminist scene. They are changing the funding ecosystem that has limited their scope of work and are showcasing how feminists from the region are in fact equal partners in the quest for gender justice globally. This might be best illustrated through feminist author and activist Mona Eltahawy’s enraged refusal of the labelling of Egyptian feminist pioneer Nawal El Saadawi upon her death as ‘the Simone de Beauvoir of the Arab world’ by western media.
Power over our futures, our lives, and our bodies. This is the empowerment that women in the MENA region are striving for. They are demanding the serious support needed to truly empower all women and girls. But they are also finding their own forms of resistance and roads to empowerment with or without that support.
Farah Daibes is a Senior Programme Manager at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s Political Feminism programme in the MENA region.
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