Monday, June 14, 2004

France 2, England 1

Seriously, I wouldn't have been surprised to hear this soccer score somehow integrated into the call to prayer this morning. Everyone was into it, and at least one cafe set a huge big-screen TV outside where people sat around watching it. Moroccans apparently root for the French soccer team as well as speak the language, so the whole national uprising against the colonial power thing seems to be pretty much gotten over.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Reagan in Morocco

I haven't looked into the Moroccan reaction to Reagan's death because, to be honest, I didn't think there would be one. But today I talked to a middle-aged Moroccan man who said that yesterday thz Arabic newspaper he reads had a lot of Reagan coverage playing off the funeral. A key difference from what I've heard about the American reaction is that many Moroccans know him primarily as an actor, and his movies have enjoyed some popularity here. The man told me people were divided over Reagan as a President. In his opinion, Reagan deserves a lot of credit for the fall of the Soviet Union and a victory over dictatorship. He wouldn't talk about criticisms of Reagan today. Anyway, I'll try to grab a paper and see if I can find more, but since I have a rather busy weekend planned, no promises.

UPDATE: Here is the Al-Ahram Weekly obituary for President Reagan. I couldn't find anything on their Arabic site.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ville Nouvelle, Fez, Morocco

The city of Fez, considered Morocco's spiritual and intellectual capital and founded in the 8th century by Moulay Idris I and Moulay Idris II, is today laid out as a number of different sections separated by patches of countryside with sheep and other livestock grazing in the fields. The three key ones, where we spend almost all out time, are all located within walking distance of each other in a mini-arc from north to south. Furthest north is Fez al-Bali, which is basically the original medina and home to Fez's most famous monuments. Just south and a bit west of that is Fez al-Jedid, the "New City" built in the 13th-15th centuries and consisting mainly of the royal palace and the Jewish Quarter.

Directly south of Fez al-Bali and about half an hour away by foot is the home of the American Language Center, the Ville Nouvelle, built by the French in the 20th century and today housing Morocco's yuppie class of westernized elites. People in the Ville Nouvelle definitely make more than the 3 dollars and 25 cents a day which is Morocco's national average. People who have been here longer than I say they take pride in not going to the medina, just like people in the medina can't afford to do much in the Ville Nouvelle. While you still see some people in traditional dress such as the jalaba, a body-length robe with pointed hood, for the first time in an Arab country I have seen women wearing tank tops, and one cafe owner even wears shorts on hot days.

I live in the small villa of the language center, across the street from the center itself and next to the four-star Hotel Menzeh Zalagh. At the center one finds students studying Arabic at all levels, from people just learning the alphabet to a history professor from Boston learning about medieval Maghrebi handwriting. I've met one other student doing more or less the same thing I am, though she is working on al-Idrisi rather than al-Baladhuri. My own studies are going pretty well - the focus here is less on analyzing a text than simply reading it, which seems to work for me. There are also a number of Moroccans studying English and some Moroccans and others working on French.

French and not English is the primary foreign language in Morocco. Streets usually have names in both French and Arabic, people automatically speak to foreigners in French, and restaurant menus come in those two languages (except for one place where I could only get a French one). Computer keyboards are also in French, which is why I can't type dollar signs. This sometimes makes communication frustrating, and the other major alternative is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, which is different enough from Modern Standard Arabic that I'm not even attempting it much, except for pronounciation - expect me to return to the U.S. with a noticeable Moroccan accent on some things. People's understanding of Modern Standard Arabic is uneven - I've met some people who are fluent in it, while others have no idea what I'm saying at all. Twice I've been in situations where another customer in a business would translate for me - when the person behind the counter looked at them strangely as if to say "What is he speaking?", the helpful translator said "Fus-ha" (MSA).

When the French laid out the Ville Nouvelle, they did what imperial powers have always done and made a city like those in Europe, with broad avenues and buildings set back from the streets with lots of wide open spaces. It doesn't actually work as well here, as you can't get as much vegetation, so when the wind blows you always get these large dust clouds which combine with the pollution to irritate my asthma. That aside the main way you can tell you're in in North Africa and not southern Europe is the tight security all over the place. Depending on the time of day, there are 5-10 police, soldiers, and private security guards posted within a few blocks of the center, all guarding various establishments. This should not be cause for alarm, as the people at the center say they've never had any problems and our guard is just there "to keep order." Security throughout the country has generally stepped up since the 2003 Casablanca bombings and the 3-11 attacks in Madrid, and now we're supposed to carry our passports at all times as we can be randomly stopped and asked to produce them.

Since the Ville Nouvelle Moroccans obviously don't go to the shops in the medina, they have to depatment store/supermarkets - Asima near the center of the Ville Nouvelle, and Marjan near what seems like the edge of town. There are also a sampling of small shops in the Ville Nouvelle - there's one a block away from us run by a father and his approximately 10-year-old son. That son can be happy because he's basically set for life, as he will presumably take over the shop from his father at some point in the future.

Even in the Ville Nouvelle, however, one finds many hidden corners to the Moroccan economy. You still have beggars and kids walking around peddling cigarettes and the like. As part of the class wedge you have the government trying to eliminate these problems, not because they want to help the poor, but because it gives Morocco a bad image. I don't know what their opinion is of the trash collectors who go through garbage for cardboard to sell to hammams as kindling, but since that labor supports the low cost of living for those who can afford it, they probably don't care.

Where Morocco stands in in relative economic terms can perhaps best be seen by taking a jaunt over to the medina during the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, which brings together groups from all over the world, ranging from whirling dervishes to chanting Buddhist monks to a gospel choir from Harlem for nine days of performance and celebration. You don't have to go deep into the medina to find the events, as they're held mainly at the Dar Batha Museum and one of the gates frequented by tourists. Getting in requires purchasing a ticket of between five and twenty dollars and passing through a bit of security.

The concert I went to was by the Sarine Choir from Russia. My friend and I got there early enough we got seats on a little platform directly in front of the stage. From there, you could turn around and see the audience pretty easily, as it really wasn't that big. What's more, it was pretty much all white, composed of people who had come off the tour buses that spent the week parked on side streets all over the Ville Nouvelle. I asked the handler for the group we saw about that, and he said each group gave free performances in addition to the paid one, and that the people of Fez went to that one because they couldn't afford this one. As further explanation, he said: "As with everything, there is one thing for the rich and one for everyone else. You are here because you are one of the rich." This is not something one normally hears as a grad student, but it is definitely true in Moroccan terms. Even in the Ville Nouvelle few Moroccans can afford to eat at the restaurants the prices to which are set in part by the heavy tourist trade.

These boundaries which combine perceptions of class and ethnicity can be difficult to pierce in certain contexts. Like many others in our group, I tried to find the "real festival" where the Moroccans go and which spills out into the streets late at night, and people kept directing me to the paid concerts where the Europeans went. The only people I know who actually encountered one of the Moroccan concerts did so mainly by wandering aimlessly around the medina for an hour. It wasn't some sort of hostile segregation, but simply a perception that we belonged with the rich people - after all, most people in our group eat at the two or three dollar a plate restaurants every day. Why would we possibly be looking for the other festival?

This leads to what is perhaps the hidden secret in the Ville Nouvelle's self-image, as what they call rich here is basically having a car, air conditioning, and prospects of an education. On another level, however, it's the conceptual segregation of living like the unquestionably rich westerners. But then, the process works in reverse, as well, as Americans and others in search of sophistication flock to the medina in the belief it somehow represents the "real Morocco" that we can then claim to have experienced and tell stories about, forgetting the huge shantytowns we will never see. In the end, people can be pretty much the same, bored with their own traditional cultures and out to seek the perceived freedom of something different - if we can afford it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Bubbles

So I take it somebody important died back in the U.S.?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Sacred Music Festival Report

So I went to the choir concert with a girl from Kiev who is fluent in Russian. Afterward, she actually went over and hung around outside their dressing room until they started coming out, and they all talked in Russian for about an hour. There was also a man working on a documentary for an American TV network who wanted to interview some choir people, but didn't know Russian. He got the girl I was with to be his translator, and drafted me to help set stuff up. The choir wanted to get back to their hotel, though, so we all boarded this bus marked "Special" with the festival logo on it and went to their hotel, where the guy interviewed two of the 12 singers. Then we left.

I guess I got to see yet another side of the festival.

Incidentally, the concert was at the museum where the special exhibit was. That was a tad disappointing, as it was just one small room with various henkas, Torah covers, circumcision chairs, and some other stuff from synagogues in Morocco, with captions explaining Jewish holidays like Purim and Hanukkah. They were all nice, though.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Sacred Music Festival

Right now the city of Fez is packed for the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, which brings together people from all over the world performing and listening to everything from Buddhist chants to an American gospel choir. I haven't been around it much yet, but this afternoon will probably go see a Russian choir with a friend. (I couldn't find it listed on the "about the acts" section of the web site.) The Dar Batha Museum also has a special exhibit connection with the festival; this year's is something like "Sacred Objects in Synagogues." I hope to take that in this weekend.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Rabat, Morocco

From my 4-dollar-a-night hotel room in Rabat, one could see on the right one of the great gates to the Rabat medina (old city), a castle-like structure built during the early modern period and inspiring with little imagination images of merchants and other travellers arriving at a guarded walled city on whatever business brought them here. Stepping out onto the terrace and looking left, you could see the huge Hassan Tower, originally begun by the Sultan Yacoub the Victorious in 1195 and intended to be the minaret of a mosque which was never completed. Looking out of the southernmost two streets of the medina you could see Avenue Hassan II, which forms the border between the medina and the villa nouvelle, and across it huge hotels and flashing neon signs with advertisements appealing to Rabat's rather large population of wealthy elites and travellers.

The street below was busy, as in the narrow lanes of the medina one finds all sorts of merchants selling their wares, from clocks to eggs to silver vessels all interspersed with restaurants and hotels, some of which featured interior courtyards with banana trees. Among the flow of pedestrians in the streets were the usual flow of beggars and in this case a small army of battery vendors calling their prices in French and Arabic and being largely ignored by the non-battery-buying Rabati majority.

I did find the medina dirtier than those in Fez, Tangier, or Jordan and Syria, as the patisseries and fruit stands seemed home to a rather large number of insects wandering freely over the food, but still it was an interesting place to stroll through about 9 a.m. in the morning as shopkeepers turned the poles to crank up tentlike awnings and cats sat around licking themselves clean for a good hard day of being catlike. Hanging a left by the old Jewish Quarter, I eventually came to the carpet suq (market), which in days long past was the slave market for captives brought back by the Sallee Rovers, pirates named for Rabat's sister city of Sale across the river to the north.

This lay in the shadow of the kasbah, built in several stages during the first half of the last millennium as a military outpost for campaigns either against tribes to the south or Christian Spanish to the north. Inside it was cool, and the narrow lanes were all blue up to about three or four feet and white above, lines mainly with houses and a few shops along the main alleys. At one point there was a large viewing platform where lots of people were gathered taking in the view of where the river empties into the Atlantic, with views of Sale on the right, and a lighthouse to the left separated from the mouth of the river by some beach cafes and general waterfront stuff.

The kasbah also had a museum, but it was closed, as was the major archaeological museum in the Ville Nouvelle. In fact, the entire city seemed under renovation, as they were working on Boulevard Muhammad V, the great north-south thoroughfare. This made something of an adventure for the pedestrian going to and from the pigeon-beseiged train station and taking notice of the red-and-gold Parliament building, which paled in comparison to the huge white buildings to the south housing the government ministries and certainly the walled-off royal palace of King Muhammad VI, son of Hassan II son of Muhammad V and a descendant of the prophet Muhammad.

It was still clear that the city was nice, as if you went to a place like the Hassan II tower you found a fountain-filled garden near where two soldiers on horseback holding Moroccan flags guarded the entrance to the mausoleum of the previous two monarchs. (I thought of entering, but they required respectful dress, and after noticing everyone around there was wearing a suit, decided I might not qualify after all.) The construction in Rabat is really a good sign, as you see development all over the place, perhaps not countering the country's deeper economic problems, but interesting nonetheless, as Morocco generally gets poor ratings for the quality of its infrastructure. Still, on both intercity trips I've seen road work, with the train ride back featuring the contruction of a completely new highway - I didn't catch where it was going, but as the two men in my train compartment spoke of it approvingly in French-influenced Moroccan dialect I did hear that it was expected to be finished in about two years.

My favorite spot in Rabat, though, it probably south of the walls of the Ville Nouvelle, where John Kennedy Avenue comes up outside of town to a huge traffic circle from which a single lonely lane leads to a fortress-like structure amidst the open countryside. This is the Chellah, which houses both the tombs for some sultans of the late medieval Merenid dynasty and the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Sala Colonia. There I wandered around for a couple of hours, through the Roman ruins and the mosque and madrasa destroyed by an earthquake around 250 years ago, and peered into a small walled pool which on the bottom featured lots of change and not a few pieces of egg peel, presumably confirming the story that women came here to offer eggs to the eels when they wanted to conceive children with the aid of the baraka of the wali buried nearby.

Because it was hot and I was tired, I found a suitable place to sit, and after a few moments realized I was in the graveyard of the mujahadeen who had died fighting the Christians of Spain centuries ago in the wars which left Spain Christian and Morocco Muslim. This seemed really odd, especially considered the ways in which today "mujahadeen" has become a somewhat loaded term. The graves were really not that impressive - the long stones lain in rectangles around the spot of burial were all cracked and in some cases actually missing, and between them grew little besides the occasional weed. Still, it gives one pause to reflect that despite all the strife of the time they lived, today I was still as a Christian able to relax among them, chatting with a Muslim couple from the United States, an area opened to European (and Islamic) influence by the Spanish. In fact, this whole city was in part the product of Christian-Muslim conflict, from its development as a haven for Muslim and Jewish refugees from Spain to the role in played as a base for the Sallee Rovers and the wars against Europe, yet today it is a very open city with a major street named after an American President and a deep French imprint left over from the colonial period but still discernably present. And that perhaps gives hope for the present, when the conflict between those two faiths isn't nearly as bad, and in which the ruined graves of warriors amidst the main attraction of a religious building and learning institution remind us of what people the world over truly value most

Monday, May 31, 2004

Arab Media Watch

For the train back from Rabat, I picked up a copy of al-Ahram Weekly. One thing I got to see was the ads, most of which were related to education, with American-style education being a major selling point. On the front page was an ad for AU-Cairo with five majors singled out, presumably as major sellers: Economics, Political Science, Business, Computer Science, and Engineering. In terms of articles, you might want to check out this media review, in which it seems the Egyptian failure to win the World Cup is giving rise to bits of political protest. Also check out the status of democracy in Pakistan.

That night, we also had al-Arabiya on in the villa. One thing I saw was what looked like a program dedicated to reviewing the American and British media on stories of interest to the Arab world. The papers cited were the Washington Post, New York Times, New York Post, Independent, and Observer. Tom Friedman's column got a special segment of its own, with a political science professor called in to discuss it. I'm not comfortable saying more, but the tone was dispassionate. Arabs apparently pay more serious attention to us than we do to them. It was also interesting how outlets like Le Monde or Xinhua were never used. I'll try to pick up more on this sort of thing as time goes along. Maybe Abu Aardvark knows for sure what I was seeing.

UPDATE: I should also add that the main stories were a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia (lead story), stuff about Iraq, Darfur, and something done by Ariel Sharon.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Politics on the Train

En route from Fex to Rabat, I was in a train compartment with two American Muslims, a professor from Sale, and some miscellaneous Moroccans. The discussion turned to politics, mainly because of the professor, who thought people were blaming so much on President Bush personally they were forgetting all the deeper problems (from the Moroccan perspective, of course) with American foreign policy in general. Anyway, the issue also turned to whether the two American Muslims were oppressed in the U.S. - they didn't seem to really think so, but the professor argued that they were using logic that reminded me a lot of Tacitus's posts on religious minorities in the Islamic world. That struck me as an interesting comparison between commentators =) The next logical step would have been to take his assessment that Morocco didn't have any minorities frowned upon by society in general (something like that anyway...my understanding was vague in places) and relate that to his wondering if Bush's foreign policy had too much Jewish influence.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The Strait of Gibraltar

If it were thousands of years ago, I have little doubt that the people of Gibraltar would worship their rock as a god. Walking around, it is always with you, a looming presence of mostly tree-covered white rock that also makes a good guide if you get lost. The Rock of Gibraltar is what led not only to Gibraltar's current prosperity, but to its very existence as a unique territory in the world, for it is on its account that Britain took the small peninsula from Spain in 1704, giving rise to a distinct cultural identity, British with a Spanish flavor.

Spain, of course, wants Gibraltar back, and the legacy of that dispute is visible today in the travel possibilities around the Strait of Gibraltar. On the north side, you have Gibraltar and the Spanish cities of Algeciras and Tarifa, while on the south you have the Moroccan port of Tangier and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. All of these are thoroughly interconnected except Gibraltar, which is connected only to Tangier by ferry. No ferries ply the waters between Gibraltar and Ceuta, and to go overland to the Spanish town of La Linia you must walk or drive yourself.

The Gibraltarians, however, want no part of Spain, which they derisively refer to as "Tomatoland." And aside from the fact most speak Spanish, there is very little reason why they should, as Britain has been the main cultural influence. Gibraltar's brightly painted churches and cathedrals are mainly Protestant; the only sign of Catholicism I saw was a bar called "The Angry Friar," next to a building called the "Convent Guardhouse" with two cannons outside. Gibraltar is one of those places where the taxi drivers double as tour guides, and the one we had stated firmly that no matter what Britain and Spain agreed on, it wouldn't matter because they would have to listen to the people of Gibraltar who ardently desired to remain British. It's also interesting that the greatest event in Gibraltarian history is apparently the Great Siege of the 1700's, and many are the stories told of the deeds wrought by the Gibraltarian people as they sought to remain free of Spanish control during that deparate time.

The town itself is nice if cramped. Real estate is at a premium, so they brought in Dutch experts to raise the ocean floor and literally build on to the territory to the west. Despite this, there is still space for a large botanical garden patrolled by cats under the protection of a local cat welfare society. The rock itself is also reserved mainly for its scenery. After you pass through the Jews Gate, so named for a recent discovery of a few hidden Jewish graves near it, you find yourself by the Caves of St. Michael, used for military purposes during World War II, and a short distance away from the home of a bunch of small Barbary apes, who climb around near the level where the peak becomes cloud-covered and tend to surprise tourists by climbing onto their shoulders.

Because of Gibraltar's population shortage, they have to import labor. Historically they have brought in Spaniards, but during a time when Spain closed the border, they brought in Moroccans instead, and today many of these remain, serving in restaurants or cleaning hotel rooms in the shadows of society. When you consider the fact that these workers are generally fluent in at least one or two European languages, the inequality of opportunity in the world becomes clear: A bright student in the U.S. always thinks of becoming a college-educated professional of some sort, while in Morocco they might hope for that or they might hope to become a waiter in a Western restaurant.

If the Moroccans in Europe are often invisible, the Europeans in Tangier stick out dramatically, sauntering in tour groups through the old city, dressed in shorts and tank tops in a society known for its reserved dress and making comments at customs like "It's always surprising to see the Arabs in police uniforms inspecting us." Thanks to frequently advertised day trips from Europe, Tangier is the only Moroccan city many Europeans see, and as someone commented to me before I left, this is rather unfortunate.

According to a bit of tourist literature, when Samuel Pepys was governor here, he described it as "the excresence of the earth." It is Morocco's rough edge, and as you arrive at the port, you are met immediately by an army of hustlers, all promising deals on hotels, taxis, and in shops, while in reality the prices will be inflated because they get a commission in addition to whatever they wring out of you. I almost made it out without difficulty, but then a cop started insisting I was going the wrong way, gesturing back into the port. I later deduced he was wrong, but at the time as he kept gesturing wildly felt little choice but to listen to a hustler who took me through another gate, then followed me all the way into a cheap hotel. Financial damage was minimal, as I managed to knock the room price down to what it would have been in Jordan; more annoying was the clamor made outside my room by the hustler and another who had joined us en route as they demanded large (by Moroccan standards) amounts of cash.

This is partly the effects of geography on Tangier, for throughout not only Morocco but all Africa there are poor and desperate people who see a job in Europe as the key to success. Many make it to Tangier but are never able to hop the Strait, becoming even poorer and more desperate as they've whatever savings they had getting here. Tangier was also an international city for a long time, so its cultural notes are about Rolling Stones concerts in the kasbah and the like. As a result you can leave a restaurant where Africans gather at night to talk about Ghana's soccer team and watch James Bond movies to wander over to the Petit Socco, where men sit drinking vast amounts of tea and coffee, while hustlers badger you with offers of marijuana.

If, however, you concluded this was all there was to Tangier, you would be wrong. For lunch Saturday I wandered into a restaurant across from a mosque where I had a good conversation with another customer and the owner, who together had enough understanding of my Arabic/ability to make themselves understood that we could talk. Looking closely at the hustlers, it seems clear that even those who use their services don't care for them. At a place overlooking the port; fro, which you could see ferries coming in, huge ships at anchor, and fishermen out in the distance, a deaf young man started pointing stuff out to me, then gestured for me to follow. I knew he was a hustler but was curious, and noticed him rub his fingers together as we passed an old man, who sighed with a bit of irritation. We got to the old man's shop, the hustler gestured for me to enter, I declined, and shopkeeper actually looked at me with respect. As I was leaving the young man started pestering me for money. I decided to give him 2 dirhams more as charity than anything else, and when the guy turned to the shopkeeper to angrily protest the paltry sum, the shopkeeper shrugged a very clear "not so bad," while looking at me with respect again.

All of that could have been just another routine (Tangier makes you suspicious), but it was a common pattern I noticed in the city, that bystanders would appear concerned/annoyed when hustlers would approach me, then relieved/respectful as I ducked their offers. Their work sucking dry the tourists is not highly regarded in Moroccan society (which of course has many businessmen who would prefer to have the profits from the most gullible customers all to themselves).

But I was still glad to get out of the place where Europe and Morocco meet and reach areas where Morocco is just Morocco. So now I am in Fez, where I am doing a private study in medieval Arabic at the Arabic Language Institute in a part of the Villa Nouvelle overlooking the old city. But more of that later...

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Arrival

Well, I've made it to Fez. I don't have time to say much, but you might be interested in the fact that a lot of the shops in the Tangier medina have in the counter area stickers that feature the Spanish and Moroccan flags, and the words "We are all against terrorism" in Arabic and Spanish. (At least, I assume that's what the Spanish says, to match the Arabic and all.)

Incidentally, port security at the Strait of Gibraltar seems pretty weak. Except for a quick look at some in Moroccan customs, my bags were never searched or screened or anything. Even if they decided I looked honest, how do they know I didn't fall for some con artist and agree to carry something?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Departure

Well, I'm now almost completely packed, which is good considering I leave for the airport in a little over seven hours. I will post again from the other side of the Atlantic. I don't know how often, but at least once a week I will put up a duplicate of an e-mail I send to friends and family who don't read blogs. There may also be special blog bonus content as situations merit. No promises on what I'll wind up talking about - when I went to Irbid, I assumed I would visit one of the Palestinian refugee camps, but it never materialized.

I have no idea what to expect. I'm travelling alone into a very foreign country. Anything could happen. Sometimes that makes me nervous. Other times, it seems exciting.

Incidentally, one book that has greatly influenced my view of travel is Pilgrim, by Leonard Biallas, albeit mainly before it reached book form. I've added it to the featured books on my sidebar - there's no picture, but the cover is a pleasing shade of blue. Here's some of the guts of it:

"In our travels away from home, we are pilgrims...when we are on the lookout for contact with the sacred hidden forces which underlie and shape the destiny of our world and which can transform our lives. We find the sacred present in undramatic incidents, in Pasternak's 'greatness of small actions,' in Blake's 'goodness of minute particulars.' Because we are mindful, experiences of the sacred break through into our lives. When we look steadily and lovingly at any thing - a waterfall, a child, and field of poppies, and really 'see' the whole of it - not merely steal an idea of it, but know it by direct experience, we encounter the sacred. Such moments of small joys and humble experiences are miraculous epiphanies."

Finally, this was my 1000th post. That seems like a lot. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Enterprise Renewed

This and this make me happy. Enterprise was kind of dull for the first two seasons, but the second half of this year has been excellent, and shows a lot of potential for the future. Let's hope the fourth season develops it further. And a new time slow wouldn't bother me at all, as I could just tune in to Smallville on Wednesday.

Saharawis

VOA has a profile of the Saharawis, who are seeking independence for Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. I don't have much to add right now, but may in a few weeks, as I hope to duck across the border to Laayoune at some point in my travels.

Passion of the Iraqis

Juan Cole posts about Iraqi Shi'ites comparing the U.S. to Yazid, the Umayyad caliph implicated in the death of Husayn at Karbala. Al-Jazeera reports on al-Manar's take-off on the Passion trailer to place Iraqis in the position of Jesus and Americans as his tormenters. Neither of these is particularly good. Since Americans are attacking Karbala and torturing people, however, it is inevitable, something I hope the administration is taking into account. They will probably accuse the media of inflaming the situation, and al-Manar is a Hizbullah outlet, but here I suspect they're just saying what's on everyone's mind in the Arab world.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Troy

My classicist friend Rob Groves has posted his thoughts on Troy before seeing the movie. They're not what you might expect.

Scrubs and Language

IWPR has an interesting story shedding light on the linguistic situation in northern Iraq through the experiences of Arab med students in Kurdistan. A core issue seems to be the fact that Kurds have to learn Arabic, but Arabs generally haven't learned Kurdish. I think in the future the Iraqi educational system should require some knowledge of both Kurdish and Arabic, regardless of the primary language of instruction in a given region. It would be interesting to see how this situation compares with that in Quebec, where east of Montreal I ran into a number of people who didn't know English, even if they had had some in school.

Congratulations

Congratulations to my brother, Jason Ulrich, who just graduated from QU with a BS in Chemistry and Biological Sciences. Congratulations also to my parents, who have successfully raised two kids and put them through college. May there be a happy future for all concerned!