October 19, 2008

Body of Lies is simply a big lie

As you might guess from the title, I was not a big fan of the film Body of Lies and I regret watching it on our fifth wedding anniversary, of all times! The reason I wanted to see it was because of its depiction of the Jordanian intelligence services as well as the fact that it takes place in Jordan.

What really annoyed me about the whole charade was the director's decision to film in Morocco and pretend it is Jordan. Who did Ridley Scott think he was fooling when he made the decision to film in Morocco and digitally insert the King Abdallah mosque in a number of shots in an attempt to make it look like Jordan? Did he expect Jordanians or people that visited the country not to notice? Or did he just not care? In addition to the fake scenery, all the extras in the movie looked North African rather than Jordanian. And in more than one instance I noticed Saudi car tags in the streets of "Jordan."

Then there was the scene where Russell Crowe is surprised that DiCaprio wants to stay in Jordan. He asks him something along the lines of "Why? Do you want to eat couscous all day?" I mean, give me a break! Jordanians don't eat couscous. He should have said Mansaf if anything. Anyway, I'm surprised a movie so centered on Jordan with such a big budget did not employ some cultural consultants or film there. The actor who played the head of Jordanian intelligence was okay but I got irritated by his fake accent. As for the Arabic spoken during the movie, please don't get me started. It was a mélange of North African, Egyptian, Palestinian and I don't know what.

In a nutshell, the movie was not worth my money, especially in economic times like these. My advice: Don't watch it.

October 02, 2008

Censoring the Queen

Petra News Agency, Jordan's state news agency, decided to play the role of ultimate censor by altering a photo of Her Majesty Queen Rania of all people. Jordanian blogger Arab Observer exposed Petra's manipulation of the photo! When will Petra News Agency realize that they can't get away with this anymore?

Manipulating photos to make them more culturally acceptable should be a thing of the past because nothing can be hidden or altered these days thanks to an army of citizen journalists that has its eyes open all the time. The Slate original picture is on the left. The Slate original picture is on the right:

Can you spot the difference? I have to admit, this post made my day. It is really beyond hilarious.

September 09, 2008

What I learned during lunch

During my lunch break yesterday, I decided to take a walk about in Lafayette Park, next to the White House, to get away from my computer screen. As usual, there was a demonstration; same old, same old. However, this time the demonstration was organized by the People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) and it was about Camp Ashraf. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Camp Ashraf so when I saw the demonstrators I was intrigued. I stood with them and listened to their protest.

It turns out that Camp Ashraf is a famous political prisoner camp from the time of the Shah. According to Wikipedia, Camp Ashraf is currently an Iranian refugee camp in Iraq guarded by the United States military. Here is a bit more:

Ashraf is the seat of Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK) or People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), PMOI members in Iraq. It was in 1986 that the PMOI came to Iraq. The camp houses members of the PMOI who are regarded by coalition forces as protected people under the Geneva Conventions. This recognition was due to the neutrality and co-operation of the residents of Ashraf, before, during and after the war. The US General and commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Ray Odierno, referred specifically to this positive cooperation from the residents of Camp Ashraf.

Putting my interest in the demonstration aside, the demonstrators were noisy, I have to admit. They had speakers, drums, and played loud Iranian music. After I had learned enough about their story I decided to walk back to the office. On my way back, I saw other Washingtonians on their lunch breaks. Some were eating sandwiches, others reading magazines, and some played chess in the park. Life in the park seemed normal as could be despite the intensity of the demonstration just steps away. I shouldn't have been surprised. Life continues in Washington as normally as can be, despite the intense politics that keeps this city ticking.

August 14, 2008

Freecycle: The American art of giving

My very good friend Jessica (a.k.a. "the yoga master") started a neat blog entitled Responsible Frugality. The concept of this blog is to document Jessica's attempts at living a frugal yet sustainable and responsible lifestyle. She uses a bike as her only form of transportation and She uses a bike as her only form of transportation. She also makes her own meals and lives green.

When she first told me about her blog, the first thought that came to my mind was Freecycle. "Do you use Freecycle?" I asked her. "I should," she answered

The Freecycle slogan is simple: "Changing the world one gift at a time." It is a concept that revolves around what I like to call the 'American art of giving.' Freecycle is a place where people simply give stuff away for free. Most of them are trying to "de-clutter" their lives by putting stuff they accumulated over the years to good use.

When I first heard the idea, I thought "Really, who wants to give stuff away for free?" Well, it turns out that the are many of those givers out there. All you have to do is go to the site, find a local group where you live, and then join their listserve and enjoy.

So far we've accumulated a very nice ping-pong table, a wheelbarrow, and a nearly new bike pump -- and yes, all for free. This is how it works: You see the item listed, then you send the owner an email to see if they will give you the green light to go pick it up. Many owners leave their giveaways in their front or backyards so you just stop by and grab it; no muss, no fuss, easy and simple.

I'm not really sure if this idea exists in other parts of the world, but it somehow struck me as very American. Giving to charity and donating is something that is very deep-rooted here. Charity work and giving donations are things that many of my friends here are involved in -- whether donating to political campaigns, religious institutions or animal shelters. When I hear about this art of giving I get this warm feeling, a feeling that reassures me that there is still hope in this nasty, nasty world we are living in.

Now, enough of the chatter, go check out Freecycle.

July 17, 2008

Musicians attacked in Amman: The sister is “okay”

The news about the shooting of musicians in downtown Amman (in Arabic) was disturbing to me on so many levels, but mostly because it hit close to home. My sister was one of the musicians who took part in the concert last night. Luckily she did not witness the carnage as she decided not to take the bus home, but instead she left the concert with her friends “to get something to eat”. Her colleagues on the other hand took the bus designated to take the musicians back home and saw an enraged man shoot four Lebanese musicians who were playing alongside the musicians of the orchestra of the National Music Conservatory (NMC).

I read about the news online while I was in my office in Washington, DC a bit after 6:00 PM. My heart sank when I read that the attack targeted the NMC musicians and I called my parents immediately. My sister picked up the phone saying “I’m okay.” She explained that not only she took part in the event but that my parents were among the audience.

What a shameful act, really. Why would anyone attack musicians of all people?

According to Reuters:

A third security source said he thought the attacker had suspected the Lebanese musicians were Israelis. Israel's treatment of Palestinians has traditionally angered some in Jordan, where anti-Israeli feelings run high.

What a shame and how idiotic? As if killing innocent civilians can ever be justified!  Pathetic!  I’m really tired of this constant mayhem. My heart goes to those who were affected by this horrendous act and I pray for a speedy recovery for the injured. 

July 03, 2008

Salman Rushdie, up close and personal

During my teenage years in Amman in the late 80's the name Salman Rushdie was the talk of the town. Shortly after the release of his book, Satanic Verses, Rushdie was portrayed in the local media as the devil incarnate and his book was banned in Jordan (and the rest of the Arab world if I'm not mistaken). Since then I have always been intrigued by Rushdie. What prompted him to write this very controversial book, I wondered. How can he lead a normal life after Khomeini issued a fatwa that legitimized his murder? Since then, I've followed his news with great interest. I read about the various awards he's won, his knighthood by the Queen of England and his brief marriage to a supermodel.

So, when I read the news about his appearance in DC I quickly snapped up tickets to see him read from his latest book, The Enchantress of Florence, at an event organized by Politics and Prose. I expected to see a bitter, cantankerous man with nothing to offer but hate speech. I was mistaken. What I saw was a happy, highly likable man with a marvelous sense of humor. He was extremely down to earth and even made jokes that were self-deprecating. I made a quick comment when my turn came for him to sign my book. "You must be tired by now," I said pointing at the crowd of people waiting for his signature. He said no, he was not tired, then pointing to his pen he explained it was an "Olympic pen" that can sign in a very speedy manner.

I was also surprised by the lack of security guards around such a controversial figure. Somehow I thought he would be surrounded by an entourage of bodyguards. I was mistaken.I really did not notice any security personnel. Maybe they were undercover. Who knows!

I have to admit, though, I have never read any of his books. I started reading The Ground Beneath Her Feet and thought it was the best writing I had ever read. Unfortunately, I could not finish it because I had to return the book to my friend before I headed to London to pursue a post-graduate degree. Now, after attending his reading I feel I need to get this book soon.

Another reason I expected Rushdie to be aloof and stone-faced was a book reading (Unaccustomed Earth) by Jhumpa Lahiri that I attended last month. I was surprised by how distant and detached Lahiri seemed during her reading. It must be a writer thing, I thought to myself. Rushdie proved me wrong.

I have to admit that I'm a bit uncomfortable about writing about Rushdie on this blog because I know some readers will be very quick to attack me and accuse me of endorsing his controversial views. However, attending this reading left such an impression on me that I believe it deserves a whole post regardless of the consequences.

July 01, 2008

Thoughts on the Stimulus Check

Last night after attending a book reading by Salman Rushdie, we got back home to find a nice surprise in the mail: A stimulus check from the US Government for $1200. For those that have been living under a rock for the past six months, the stimulus check was approved by Congress earlier this year in response to the sub-prime mortgage debacle. It is being paid to U.S. taxpayers in 2008 to stimulate "purchasing", and thus improve the economy that is heading towards recession. Here is what Wikipedia says about it:

Most taxpayers below the income limit will receive a rebate of at least $300 per person ($600 for married couples filing jointly). Eligible taxpayers will receive, along with their individual payment, $300 per dependent child under the age of 17. The payment will be equal to the payer's net income tax liability, but will not exceed $600 (for a single person) or $1200 (married couple filing jointly).

We have been waiting for this check for months and it is finally here. Part of me did not want to believe it. The idea of a government paying you that much money in exchange for nothing seemed, well, too good to be true. This was definitely a first for me and I loved it. So, what are we going to do with the money now? Spend it wisely!

June 07, 2008

Obama's Middle East: 'Change we can believe in'?

The Washington Post ran an editorial today entitled "Mr. Obama's Middle East" in which they opined that Obama "doesn't see the region much differently than President Bush does."

This editorial comes right after Obama's speech to the Jewish lobbyist group AIPAC earlier in the week during which he said, "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided." His speech also revealed him to be hawkish about Iran.

For those that have not been following the latest developments, Obama's speech angered many in the Arab world, especially Palestinians. After the interview, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera Thursday: "This is the worst thing to happen to us since 1967 ... he has given ammunition to extremists across the region. What really disappoints me is that someone like Barack Obama, who runs a campaign on the theme of change -- when it comes to AIPAC and what's needed to be said differently about the Palestinian state -- he fails.”

The Post argues:

Mr. Obama opened his general election campaign this week with a major speech on Middle East policy, the substantive strategy he outlined was, in many respects, not very much different from that of the Bush administration -- or that of Republican Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). That's not a bad thing; rather, it's a demonstration that there is a strong bipartisan consensus about America's vital interests in the Middle East and that the sensible options for defending them are relatively limited.”

As I said before on this blog, I think Obama is charismatic but I never completely bought his message of "change." At least when it comes to the Middle East, it doesn't seem he will bring any tangible change. When I endorsed Clinton, my friends and readers of this blog were unimpressed. A comment from reader Arabi put it like this:

Actually to put it differently, its not Hillary that is hated in the Arab world, its Hillary that hates the Arab world. Hillary was viewed positively for a long time until she made her choice and instead of trying to be an honest broker (as possible as that is given the influence of the Jewish community) like Bill did, she chose to [alienate] herself from many including the Palestinians. It does not surprise me though that you would support her. At the end of the day, the Jewish community will buy Obama as well (already started to).

I'm currently halfway through Obama's biography Dreams from My Father, and I'm enjoying it. If my citizenship application is finalized before November, I would vote for him over McCain. However, I do not foresee any radical change if he becomes president, especially when it comes to the Middle East. Actually, I still believe Hillary would have been a better choice. But ah well, the people chose and they chose Obama. I need to get over it and move on. Anyway, let's see what the future holds. Meanwhile, my friend Dan is ecstatic.

June 03, 2008

Rachel Ray and Dunkin Donuts: My thoughts

Reader 'Dunkin' asked me my thoughts on the Rachel Ray - Dunkin Donuts controversy. I have been talking about this issue extensively with my coworkers lately, so I'll just reiterate myself here. I'm extremely disappointed that Dunkin Donuts backed down and listen to a misguided blogger, who is obviously oblivious to Arab and Muslim culture and diversity.

My grandfather, Saliba (whose name means 'cross' in Arabic), wore his Kuffayeh almost his entire life. He never took it off. When he used to go to church, he used to take off the rope circlet, which is placed atop the Kuffayeh (iqal), as a sign of respect.

The Kuffayeh is part of the national dress of a whole nation. It is a shame that it is portrayed in this light by a misguided and (I hate to say it) bigoted blogger who referred to the Kuffayeh as "the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad." It is unfortunately true that the Kuffayeh was worn by extremists during some of their actions but the acts of a minority should not stain the rich and diverse culture of an entire population.

Ms Malkin, my grandfather, Saliba, along with my uncles and cousins have nothing to do with what you referred to as "murderous Palestinian jihad," so you are way off base here. And it is a shame that Dunkin Donuts complied to these bigoted remarks by an ignorant yet influential blogger.

May 25, 2008

Thoughts on nasty comments

When I first started this blog, I was very passionate about my opinions. I talked candidly about how I felt about certain topics especially the politics of the Middle East. Of course, the outcome of this was nasty comments posted on this blog mostly by anonymous readers. I was called many names and I was attacked personally. In one instance I was called a "Christian bitch." I deleted improper comments and banned users, but that never stopped the flow of nasty comments. At first, these comments used to get to me and I even lost some sleep just thinking about some of them.

Now, since my blogging is becoming less and less, the number of comments in general (along with the improper ones) are decreasing to almost zero.

However, the other day I got one of those comments. It was in reaction to a post that I wrote years ago about statements made by a Jordanian member of parliament. Here is the post. And here is the comment that I received last week from someone with the alias "me you us."

Middle eastern tyran in a bloggers outfit. Same old tyranny but new style of wording. Why are you so upset about what she says; right or wrong. Has none to do with you. STOP MEDDLING WITH OTHER'S BUSINESS. SHAME ON YOU!

I'm not sure what's happening to me, but frankly, I did not lose sleep over this or get upset and bite my nails. I just brushed it off and even laughed. Am I becoming less passionate? Or is it because I have been away from the Middle East for almost three years now? Or is this is one of the hallmarks of being thirty and jaded?

I'm not sure. But I will continue to blog. Things are settling down now in my life now and I have time to jot down my thoughts like I always did. Blogging for me is therapeutic and I do not think I should give it up. However, with blogging comes mean comments like the one above. I'm ready for them, and no, I will not lose sleep over them.

May 23, 2008

Finally, I see 'Captain Abu Raed'

It was three years ago when I was introduced to the work of Amin Matalqa. It happened when I found a couple of his short movies on the web. I then posted them on my blog. He contacted me and thanked me for highlighting his movies on my site. We have remained in touch since then. A year or so later, he shared with me the first draft of his screenplay for the movie Captain Abu Raed. I felt so privileged because I knew Amin was headed for success. I was not mistaken. His movie has won a number of international awards so far, including one from the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

A few days ago, I finally got a chance to see Captain Abu Raed at a special screening in DC. The movie was beautiful, managing to portray Jordan in a wonderful light. I especially loved how clearly the movie showed the divide between West Amman and East Amman. I also enjoyed seeing familiar sights in Jordan, like downtown and Queen Alia airport. Nadim Sawalha, who played the role of Abu Raed, was phenomenal. Watching him interact with others on the screen I got this feeling of déjà vu, like I knew him in a previous life. Perhaps it was because his is acting was very real, very Jordanian. The young boy who played Murad also gave a stellar performance. I highly recommend this movie, especially for those who are not familiar with Jordan.

Bravo Amin! We are all so proud of you. The movie will be playing in the US, Europe and the Middle East. There are more details on the movie's website. I also really enjoyed meeting the film's producer, Emmy-award winner David Pritchard. He was extremely down to earth and very supportive of Amin and his work. During the Q & A that followed the movie, Pritchard told the audience he was sure that the film would receive either an Academy Award nomination or one for a Golden Globe or both. Why not?

Here, in this picture of Amin and I that Jeff took using his cellphone, there is a firetruck, which arrived at the venue (the movie's website) in response to a fire alarm before the screening. The audience stayed outside for a bit before the movie started until that situation cleared. The wait was a great way to catch up with Amin after all these years and congratulate him in person.

May 19, 2008

From the archive: With Prince Felipe of Spain

Someone just put up this picture up on Facebook. I'm the one who is standing right next to Prince Felipe of Spain. I think this was taken in 1995 in Amman, Jordan at  Instituto Cervantes. I look so young and somehow so naive. As for el principe, you can tell from this picture that he is extremely tall! I miss the Instituto Cervantes. I spent a number of years there, studying Spanish and taking part in their various cultural activities.

April 17, 2008

'Where is equality?'

Freedom House is running a new nationwide advertising campaign in Jordan that asks "Where is equality?"

The campaign, featured in popular magazines and television commercials, uses a long blue bar and a short pink bar to represent the rights afforded to men and women. Badges featuring the campaign's logo encourage people to ask about the meaning.

The year-long campaign is part of Freedom House's "Together Achieving Women's Advancement in Services, Opportunities and Legal Rights" program.

Source: [Freedom House]

This is a highly needed initiative since, sadly enough, Jordanian women are still not treated equally when it comes to issues of inheritance, citizenship, and others. I admire the work of Freedom House, especially when it comes to highlighting the issue of press freedom violations around the world. However, I wish this campaign had been initiated on a local level, as I believe local campaigns have a higher impact on the general population.

March 29, 2008

Morcheeba Live: As good as ever

Since moving to the US nearly three years ago, I have not had a chance to see many live concerts. I saw The Gypsy Kings live on my 30th birthday at Wolf Trap and really enjoyed it. Back then, I made it a point to see more concerts, but we got busy and did not have the time or energy to commit to attending major events.

However, things are getting less chaotic here at the Tynes House. We are slowly settling into our new home and Spring is almost here, which means time for some fun. So last week, we made our way to the 9:30 Club in DC to see Morcheeba, a band I discovered through Pandora, live.

I have been listening to Morcheeba for a year now and they have made their way to the top of the list of my favorite bands. I can listen to their album Big Calm over and over again and it always makes me smile. My favorite songs: The Sea, Friction and Blindfold. Played live, the band sounded fantastic. They were as good as the recording. The performance of the lead guitarist was impressive, as was the performance of the fairly new lead singer.

The only disappointment was the audience. Few of them seemed fully engaged, which I attribute to the uptight nature of DC in general. I felt I stood out somehow because I was among the few that knew all the lyrics and swayed constantly to the music. Although the concert was sold out and people seemed happy when they left, I wondered if the crowd uptightness was a DC thing or it was because it was a Monday. Regardless, we had a great time. I will definitely keep my eyes open for upcoming live concerts. The picture here was from the hubby's mobile phone from our balcony seat.

Meanwhile, I continue listening to Pandora. I recently discovered a band called Bitter:Sweet, which plays chilled out trip-hop tunes that appeal to me. The advent of online customized radio stations such as Pandora and last.fm is making my life more enjoyable, that's for sure!

March 22, 2008

Good Friday or Sad Friday?

While I was having a discussion with Jeff about Good Friday this morning, I realized that Good Friday (which I believe is the Western term) is called "Sad Friday" or Aljoumaa Al Hazeeneh (الجمعة الحزينة) in Arabic. I have never noticed this before.

I guess Sad Friday makes more sense (to me at least), as it is the day of the crucifixion. But then again in the Christian faith it is the start of good things to come. This difference in cultural perspective is really intriguing, no?

Anyway, be it Good Friday or Sad Friday, Happy Easter everyone.

March 18, 2008

The slow demise of press freedom in Jordan

I lost hope in freedom of the press in Jordan a long time ago. I can't remember exactly when but I think it goes back to my early twenties when I first joined the ranks of repressed Jordanian journalists. I have written about violations of press freedom on this blog many times, then I got tired of it. Until when, really? Things seem to be going from bad to worse.

From the whole fiasco of ATV to suing AmmanNet, I do not see any bright future for the press in Jordan. I decided to write about the most recent press violation, the sentencing of four journalists to prison, for two reasons.

  1. I find it ironic that after Jordan proudly announced that journalists would not be sent to jail, the trend continues using other legal artillery, the Penal Code rather than the Press and Publications Law.
  2. One of the journalists sentenced, Osama El Sherif, was my boss for my many years and was the one who trained me and taught me the tricks of the trade. What's baffling in this case is that the journalists' crime is publishing a news item "about a citizen who filed a motion with the Higher Judicial Council against the judges of the Higher Court of Justice, who had upheld a decision by the Civil Status and Passport Department depriving the plaintiff from his citizenship." Since when is reporting on a court case a crime in Jordan? I'm baffled. 

Anyway, enough about this. Talking about press freedom in Jordan is simply pointless. There's more on Lina's blog.