Friday, March 31, 2006
Thursday, March 30, 2006
AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) - A jobless alcoholic burned himself to death after his wife refused to serve him meat for dinner, Indian police said Sunday. Sixty-year-old Mithailal Ram Sanjivan doused his body with an inflammable liquid and set himself ablaze outside his one-room house in Ahmedabad, the main city of western Gujarat state. Police said the victim, who had been without a job for years, and his wife, Geeta Sanjivan, 54, had a scuffle over the dinner menu. The wife refused to cook meat as they could not afford it. Irritated by this, Sanjivan locked her in the house before setting himself on fire outside.
How to respond? Do I express horror and outrage, try to crawl inside the head of one driven to such excesses of violence? Or should I state the obvious and express relief that he didn't kill his wife as well - and hope to Agni (Hindu god of fire) that she doesn't respond by performing suttee in what would have been a double weenie roast. I could anticipate Brother of Cat in Rabat's response to this posting and, paraphrasing Dickens, say that if he were to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Perhaps the world is no worse off without him.
Too bad Geeta hadn't tossed Mithailal on the barbie years ago, but kudos to her for having the moral fibre (lots of fibre in lentils) to stand up to this fuckwit. At the risk of sounding insensitive (there's a reason why I'm not a social worker), I suspect that ol' Mithailal wasn't a whole barrel of laughs to have moping around the house. Hope she remembered to bring the marshmallows.
Addendum: My husband has reminded me that marshmallows aren't vegetarian - although clearly, the Sanjivans weren't vegetarian as Mithailal was hankering for some sirloin. So don't forget kids: there are meat byproducts in marshmallows. Marshmallows therefore are bad, unless you get the veggie kind.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
So, I decide to go to the doctor - which for anyone who knows me will attest that this, in itself, is nothing short of a miracle because I hate going to doctors. I thank my parents for this personality quirk: my brother & I had to have an eyeball hanging out of a socket by a muscousy sinew before we could trouble him. But I bump into a pharmicist I know en route to the doctor's, and he comments on my pretty 3-D spots and suggests what medication I should buy. At this point, my spots have migrated to my forearms and hands, and I make a mental note to change into long sleeves. I accept his advice.
I ask him what may have caused my metamorphosis. He believes that it's something that I have eaten - probably a reaction to oil from a tin. This is apparently common in Morocco. Have you eaten sardines? he asks. Nope, I'm a vegetarian, I say rather too smugly. The only thing that I have eaten which I did not prepare myself was an order of spring rolls from the "Chinese" restaurant down the street. When I asked, they assured me that they were 100% vegetarian. My pharmacist friend laughs, Vegetarian spring rolls! Ha! Ha! ho! Ho! Hee! Hee! I am annoyed and confess that they tasted awful (like fish oil?) and that I couldn't even finish them. They are still in my fridge and once I don a HAZmat suit, will remove them from my premises.
This is what I don't like about Morocco: shellfish and fish are considered vegetarian. Where I come from, if a central nervous system has replaced a root somewhere in a lifeform's evolution, it's probably not vegetarian.
But, this is what I like about Morocco: I don't have to go to a doctor or have a prescription to buy medication. I have saved 100 dirhams (for the doctor's visit) and 45 minutes of my time, and I now own some questionable pills that may or may not heal me. I may develop chest hair, grow an extra nipple, or be dead in 3 days but it was cheap.
Will Cat in Rabat-cum-Leopard change her spots? We shall see.
Monday, March 27, 2006
1) It is leaked to the press that the charges against Abdul Rahman will be dropped (although this is still not confirmed). Mr. Rahman isn't innocent of course, only that "the case against Rahman had been thrown out on technical grounds and sent back to prosecutors to gather more evidence." Apparently the defendant's ready admission of his conversion, his professed willingness to die for his adopted faith, and his repeated requests for a Bible didn't provide the terra firma on which the prosecution could tread with confidence. It would seem that the prosecution thought that this legal mumbo jumbo would placate the country's hard-liners. Or if it didn't, they would see it as it is: a buckling to their western/infidel detractor which would result in a renewed need to make Islam more rigid than ever & to mount a counter-crusade against the Infidels. So it comes as no surprise to hear that "Death to Bush" is Number 1 with a bullet in the Top 10 chants screeched by some 700 protesters in
2) Reading Condoleeza Rice's responses to this incident has me scratching my head in puzzlement. When asked if American Christian missionaries should be encouraged to save souls in
On second thought, my cockles aren't as toasty as I had first thought, maybe just room temperature. What a better world we would live in if the Afghan authorities had released Abdul after much soul-searching, deep introspection, open dialogue - culminating with a universally-embraced consensus to not kill people because of their chosen god, goddess, or Coke bottle from the sky. He's being released for all the wrong reasons: it's a sweet victory for Mr. Rahman but a pyrrhic victory for Islam. And *sigh*, Condoleeza has apparently ruled out her move from the Big Leagues to the - uh, Big Leagues. Damn - and I was feeling so good there for a while.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Now a few months ago, Afghani President Hamid Karzai signed the new Constitution into law which included these 2 gems:
*Article Two Ch. 1, Art. 2 The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam. Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law
*Article Three Ch. 1, Art. 3 In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."
Any sentient creature can see that Article Three clearly abrogates any perceived suggestion of religious liberty in Article Two. But there are concerns that he may be "forgiven" because he may be insane and therefore, unfit to stand trial. Prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari admits, "we think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person."
Now how does an abnormal Afghani speak? Has Mr. Rahman been articulating a hankering for Danish blue? Has he espoused the concepts of religious tolerance? Has he torn the veil off of his wife's head. In an interview he says, "They want to sentence me to death and I accept it, but I am not a deserter and not an infidel. I am a Christian, which means I believe in the Trinity." Oooooooh, crazy talk there Abdul - clearly he isn't playing with a full deck. Then again, Mr. Rahman is refusing to recant - perhaps that's why the prosecution thinks he's as crazy as a loon.
Perhaps it's the prosecution who's crazy - but crazy as a fox (sorry, no more 'crazy' similes). It seems likely that they are willing to play the wingnut card in an effort to save face, although they'll have to offer something a bit more damning than the above example - although I could never get my head wrapped around the concept of the trinity. The president's religious advisor elaborates, "If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped." Wow, Islam is a religion of compassion!
There are pressures mounting from those countries who have troops stationed in Afghanistan. Franklin Pyles, president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada sums it up best, "If we are not going to fight for all freedoms, then what are we doing (in Afghanistan)?" But there are also pressures mounting from locals who want to crucify (bad pun - maybe he'd get stoned) Mr. Rahman. His neighbour (a poster child for good fences make good neighbours) argues, "For 30 years, we have fought religious wars in this country and there is no way we are going to allow an Afghan to insult us by becoming Christian. This has brought so much shame."
Cat in Rabat hits her head over and over again on the table.
Why is it always shame? - why is it never about conscience??
Man, this makes Catholic guilt look good and my feelings about Catholicism aren't warm and fuzzy either. Tempted to convert to Islam? - bear in mind what Anh Nga Longva, a Kuwaiti jurist, once warned, "We always remind those who want to convert to Islam that they enter through a door but there is no way out". Kind of like a roach motel.
I wonder if tomorrow I'll read about a witch burning ...
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms.
Let me be frank about this: if a woman chooses to wear a veil - on her own volition - for motives that are not dictated by family, community or religious pressures - then who am I to say anything? She can wear an aluminum tiara with purple pompoms on her head for all I care. If a woman truly believes that Allah wants her to cover her head, then that is an 'informed' decision and I have no right to rebuke her. In the privacy of my cerebral musings, I will consider the wisdom of her choice, perhaps even question her ability to interpret her own traditions, but I'll more or less keep mum. I know that there are so-called Muslim feminists who espouse the veil and find it liberating. But I choose not to believe them, or rather, doubt that they fully believe this malarkey themselves. Why - because it's my blog and I can do & say as I want. I cannot understand how self-abnegating your identity can give you equality. And yes, like most westerners, in my eyes the hijab is a symbol of oppression and servitude so naturally, I take exception its imposement when the choice isn't voluntary. I take further exception when I see girls who are clearly premenstrual concealing their girlhood. Veils sexualize women - they in fact do what they intended not to. And just so everyone can plainly see my perspective (in case I've been a little obtuse here), I just can't accept that it is ever truly voluntary.
But allow me a short digression before I blow the dust off of my soapbox:
In Canada, I was friends with a young Egyptian woman who covered her hair in a series of rather stylish headscarves. On one occasion, in the privacy of my mother's home, she removed her scarf and the effect was electrifying. Friends aficiandos may well recall the Denise Richards episode (The One with Ross and Monica's Cousin) which featured the actress' luxuriant tresses cascading and choreographed to the groans & moans of Barry White. Well, Denise Richards has nothing on Nesreen. Nesreen's hair was a thing of wonder. I couldn't take my eyes of it and, as I was staring rather impolitely at her (she claimed it didn't look as good as it should since it had been under a scarf all day), I thought why? Why would Allah want to cover what "he" created? If Allah went to such pains as to create a thing of such ineffable beauty, why hide it - why make it a thing of shame?
With this is mind, consider this little nugget from the UN Office Integration Regional Information Networks recently sent to me by a friend; namely that in Iraq:
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in early 2003, the number of women attacked for choosing not to wear head scarves and veils has more than tripled, according to the Women’s Rights Association (WRA), a local NGO in the capital, Baghdad.“Women are being killed because they don’t wear headscarves and veils,” said WRA spokeswoman Mayada Zuhair. “A life is being taken because of a simple piece of cloth, and someone should prevent more women from being killed by these ignorant people who that believe honour depends on what you’re wearing.” According to WRA, there have been 80 attacks to date against women and reports of four women being killed by their families in 2005. This is compared too 22 attacks between 1999 and March 2003 and one death.
Interestingly, of those killed this year, 2 were married women who "abandoned their scarves and veils after marriage at the request of their husbands". Uncovered women often receive threats from their parents and family but are too fearful to seek help and will ask friends or more liberal husbands to intercede on their behalf. Many will live in self-imposed exile from the outside world, prisoners in their own homes. The police are hesitant to get involved, to "interfere" in what is essentially a family matter (a woman is, after all, her husband's chattel), to walk the razor's edge of a patriarchal society, traditional values, and the power of Islam. “We’re in a Muslim country… if you interfere in family cases concerning veils, you’re considered a betrayer of Islam,” explained police officer Ali Zacarias.
The Iraqi Penal Code, for example, states that "the penalty for killing a woman should be reduced if a crime was committed for reasons of honour". A so-called “honour killing” is where a woman’s relative kills her for what is described as an act which brings dishonour to the family. Not covering up, according to Zuhair, can be perceived as such an act. Yehia Abdul Salam, 37, says his wife was strangled by her father in Baquba, some 70 km north of the capital. “My wife, Leila, was killed by her father because she went to visit him without her veil, which I asked her to take off after our marriage,” said Salam. “They [the parents] thought she had destroyed the honour of her family, and death was her penalty.” Leila’s father has never been investigated for the crime, Salam added.
Perhaps someone needs to toss these women a copy of Sami Yusuf's Free? That if they don the scarf, they too can experience the sweet fruits of liberty, equality and freedom. Or better yet, they can grind up the cd's and add the shards to the kebab. Maybe someone will choke to death and be spared their womenfolk's shame.
I grieve for these women - not only the dead and injured but those walking the earth, covering themselves in modesty (or shame), concealing their identity, beauty, and sexuality, and ultimately abrogating control of their own lives, because of what others insist upon, because of the mutterings of one man many many centuries ago as he wandered about the desert. As a woman, I shake my (uncovered) head in lack of understanding, in profound sadness, in anger. As a non-Muslim, I shake my (non believer's) head in lack of understanding, in profound sadness, in anger. I think unveiled (and unveiled) women have more to fear from their menfolk than they do from their god.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Friday, March 10, 2006
So with those words in mind, I find it a little perplexing that one should marry the concepts of fire and employment in such a literal fashion, and yet last week, here in Rabat, 10 individuals did just that. In what may be becoming a Rabatian tradition, they conducted a public demonstration, culminating in the swallowing of poison and then - the pièce de resistance - setting fire to themselves. Sometimes poison just isn't enough. Their reason for committing communal suttee? - they are unemployed. This isn't the first time (hence my use of the word 'tradition'): 3 months ago, 20 Moroccans torched themselves for the same reason. Now I have strong sympathesies for the unemployed - most of us (at least of a certain age) have faced the challenges of looking for a job, of dealing with the attendant feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing. But to burn yourself alive? Either these individuals are counting on the fact that they will be saved (after all, they did light up in front of the Ministry of Health) or are clearly psychotic. Would you hire Charcoal Man from Chefchaouan? I know I wouldn't. Imagine the job interview:
Interviewer: Tell me Mr. Choukri, how did you sustain burns to 90 per cent of your body?
Mr. Choukir: I was frustrated because nobody was listening to me, so I set myself ablaze.
Interviewer: I see. Such zeal! (to himself): Gotta remember to call my brother-in-law later. He's a lazy son of a bitch but at least I can trust him around matches.
Granted, the guy may be a sure thing when you need volunteers for overtime, but how will he react if you change the bottled-water supplier or switch the printer cartridges from colour to black & white?
In 2005, the unemployment rate in Morocco was 10.8 %, but among younger graduates the figure is more than double that. So when the official response last summer was to offer half of the protesters government jobs (the good news-bad news speech), one might suggest that there was a definite lack of long-range thinking on the part of the government - in essence, the proverbial band-aid solution (although I don't know of any proverbs which figure the word 'band-aid').
But to set yourself alight? Come on guys, get a grip! The only thing that you'll accomplish (other than possibly getting jobs for 20 of the country's 3,000,000 unemployed) is to incur some nasty burns or die. If you survive, that's a whole lot of aloe vera which you can ill-afford, and of course, if you're dead, then you won't need a job - and you've just played into the government's evil hands. And by the way, self-immolation isn't terribly effective if no one outside your little group is paying any attention. Frankly, no one really cares. Besides, if every unemployed Moroccan becomes a fiery accessory for the Kon Tiki room, then there will be no unemployment. It's all so logical. Demonstrate all you want, but leave your Bic lighters at home.
Thursday, March 9, 2006
It is a fact of life that Moroccans pretty much make up road rules as its suits them: they view traffic lights as suggestions, consider speed limits discretionary, invent multiple lanes where one exists, make left turns from the farthest right lane, careen around corners with complete disregard for the bipedal variety of soon-to-be roadkill (those of us foolish enough to leave the safety of the sidewalks), and drive onto the sidewalks (to mock the rest of us) looking for a primo parking spot - but this is small beer. I have had near misses pretty much every other day since I've been here. My hide has become thick - or at least thicker.
But everything has changed.
This morning as I was walking to my French tutor's apartment, I was in a decidedly bad humour. Halfway to his home, I had already received 3 lewd comments, 2 wolf whistles, and watched in disgust as a driver nearly plowed into a parked vehicle while rubbernecking at me. On good days, this puerile behaviour rankles, on bad days it infuriates me. As I debated introducing a vivid discussion in class on the vagaries of Moroccan men (specificially why their disrespect towards women and rampant lasciviousness remains unchecked), I made a near fatal error. I elected to cross a street. Stupid stupid stupid Cat in Rabat!
This two-lane street was rather wide, and because of the time of day, nearly deserted; in fact, there was only 1 car on the far side of the nearest intersection. Even walking kitty-corner, I had more than enough time to cross safely. As I stepped into the street, I heard the car accelerate. I looked up in time to see the car bearing down on me. I began to run and as I did so, I realised that the car was not just speeding but speeding towards me: it had changed lanes. The driver of the vehicle actually steered into what would be the lane for oncoming traffic. Panicking, I lunged for the sidewalk and as I did, I fell - not unlike a 3rd base runner diving for home base. As I hit the sidewalk, the car swooshed by, taking with it the umbrella which I had been holding for a few meters - he was that close to me. The car stopped. I looked at it in disbelief, swearing a colourful streak of azure blue.
The driver looked out of his window and laughed at me.
Shaken, I continued to my French class where I cried like an imbecile. My colleagues would later ask why I didn't go to the police, but I hadn't had the wherewithal to note down the licence plate number. Perhaps that's why the driver stuck his head out of the window - not to just to ridicule me or to see if I was alive but to ensure that I wasn't going to report him. If I had, perhaps he would have shifted into reverse and pummelled me into luncheon meat. My boss opined that even if I had reported the fuckhead, nothing would have been done about it - at best, I may have received lip service to placate me. I fear he is correct.
What has shaken me the most from this experience, besides envisioning a lengthy stay in Avicenne Hospital (somewhat reminiscent of a Stalin-era KGB headquarters) or a lengthy stay in another astral dimension, was the complete absence of a motive. Why did the driver bear down on me? - for kicks? I guess so. Playing chicken with higher stakes? Maybe. The odd thing is that I could've accepted it if he had "just" been a typical reckless driver, if he hadn't seen me, if he hadn't been paying attention. But this was deliberate. And to suggest that this hasn't coloured how I feel about Morocco would be the mother of all lies. Not surprisingly, my decidedly bad humour of 11 hours ago continues unabated. But I will correct a comment I made earlier: today I wasn't nearly killed by a car, I was nearly killed by a driver.
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Hmmmmm, the best way (in mind) to ensure that there isn't another c-word incident is to round up every proponent of freedom of expression and shoot him/her at the base of the skull.
All those talking heads ... someone please, make it go away!
What goes through your mind? As you sit there looking at me
Well I can tell from your looks
That you think I’m so oppressed
But I don’t need for you to liberate me
My head is not bare
And you can’t see my covered hair
So you sit there and you stare
And you judge me with your glare
You’re sure I’m in despair
But are you not aware
Under this scarf that I wear I have feelings, and I do care
CHORUS: So don’t you see?
That I’m truly free
This piece of scarf on me I wear so proudly
To preserve my dignity...
Open your eyes and see...
“Why can’t you just accept me?” she says
“Why can’t I just be me?” she says
Time and time again
You speak of democracy
Yet you rob me of my liberty
And all I want is equality
Why can’t you just let me be free?
For you I sing this song
My sister, may you always be strong
From you I’ve learnt so much
How you suffer so much
Yet you forgive those who laugh at you
You walk with no fear
Through the insults you hear
Your wish so sincere
That they’d understand you
But before you walk away
This time you turn and say:
But don’t you see? That I’m truly free
This piece of scarf on me I wear so proudly
To preserve my dignity
So let me be
She says with a smile I’m the one who’s free
Wow, I want to get me a veil now - I want to be free too! I can only hope that he'll pen a little ditty about the burqa next. Hope I can watch the video for it next time I'm at Pizza Hut in Agdal, where I go to watch scantily-clad Lebanese babes gyrate in a frenzy of oppression and indignity.
Sorry Sami, but until you can ovulate, I don't give a rat's ass what you think.
Saturday, March 4, 2006
For some time now, I've been wondering why I haven't heard from Salman Rushdie. Surely he could have offered a scathing indictment of these religious pinheads as well as a few Fatwa Survival Tips to the cartoonists now living under a death sentence. To be fair, there has been some condemnation of the hysteria brought on by the c-toons, but mostly from the intelligensia in the West, the most recent of which can be found in this manifesto - penned by intellectuals, journalists and writers (including Rushdie).
But frankly, I don't want to hear only from the intellectuals, I want to hear from imams, shopkeepers, students and housewives. Then two days ago, a kidnapping attempt was made on a daughter of one of the c-toonists. Not the reaction I was looking for.
With these thoughts coursing through my febrile mind, I look at the calendar and realize that in one week the Muslim world will (or may or should) mark the 4-year anniversary of the deaths of the 15 girls in Mecca who died in a school blaze, because religious police would not allow them to leave the building or be saved by firefighters. Their crime? - they were not wearing "correct" Islamic dress: no headscarves, no abbayas (black robes).
"The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them". The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out."
So as I've been pondering this, I receive a forwarded e-mail from my mother which, not unfamiliar to me, has been 'making the rounds' on various blogs and websites. With the timeliness of the anniversary of the schoolgirls' death and the dead horse of a cartoon that continues to be beaten (but not to death - it now as a permanent Wikipedia entry), I've decided, after much debate (not least because it was forwarded to Mom by an ultraconservative & racist member of the family) to post it here. I don't deny that it's simplistic, but there is much truth in it. If anything, it is food for thought.
- Muslims fly commercial airliners into buildings in New York City. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslim officials block the exit where school girls are trying to escape a burning building because their faces were exposed. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims cut off the heads of three teenaged girls on their way to school in Indonesia. A Christian school. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims murder teachers trying to teach Muslim children in Iraq. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims murder over 80 tourists with car bombs outside cafes and hotels in Egypt. No Muslim outrage.
- A Muslim attacks a missionary children's school in India. Kills six. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims slaughter hundreds of children and teachers in Beslan, Russia. Muslims shoot children in the back. No Muslim outrage.
- Let's go way back. Muslims kidnap and kill athletes at the Munich Summer Olympics. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims fire rocket-propelled grenades into schools full of children in Israel. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims murder more than 50 commuters in attacks on London subways and busses. Over 700 are injured. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims massacre dozens of innocents at a Passover Seder. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims murder innocent vacationers in Bali. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslim newspapers publish anti-Semitic cartoons. No Muslim outrage
- Muslims are involved, on one side or the other, in almost every one of the 125+ shooting wars around the world. No Muslim outrage.
- Muslims beat the charred bodies of Western civilians with their shoes, then hang them from a bridge. No Muslim outrage.
- Newspapers in Denmark and Norway publish cartoons depicting Mohammed. Muslims are outraged.
Dead children. Dead tourists. Dead teachers. Dead doctors and nurses. Death, destruction and mayhem around the world at the hands of Muslims ... no Muslim outrage ... but publish a cartoon depicting Mohammed with a bomb in his turban and all hell breaks loose.
There are so many ugly & politically-charged c-words: cartoon, conservatism, complacency, chauvetism. In their ugliness, they have the power to rally a people to effect positive change. That is their strength.
Postscript: apologies to those of you whose name begins with "C". I include myself and my husband in this at group - and of course, Cathy.