Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hey Mr. Tambourine Man ....

Imagine being jarred out of a deliciously deep sleep. Imagine being jarred out of a deliciously deep sleep at 2:21 a.m.. Imagine being jarred out of a deliciously deep sleep by some moron banging a drum. Imagine being jarred out of a deliciously deep sleep by some moron banging a drum incessantly. Imagine being jarred out of a deliciously deep sleep by some moron banging a drum incessantly walking up and down the streets of your neighbourhood so that sometimes the sound begins to fade but then - oh! he's back! - it's louder than ever.

Now imagine that it happened to me, not you. You have probably ceased caring at this point and I wouldn't blame you save for the fact that it happened to me and I am nothing if not self-centred. Already deprived of sleep thanks to the plaintiff whinings of our neighbourhood muezzin (at 4:20 a.m.), hearing Mr. Tambourine Man banging his gong 2 full hours before I was (almost) prepared to be woken up was the last straw.

Oh - did I ask you to imagine being jarred out of a deliciously deep sleep by some moron banging a drum which also succeeded in waking up every dog in the neighbourhood? Bang bang bang. Woof woof woof. Oh sweet mother of god. Bang bang bang. Woof woof woof.

So why was Mr. Tambourine Man meandering through our neighbourhood effectively waking up the dead? - to rouse them to eat. Only a few hours left to chow down before sunrise. Get up! Eat! Eat! Eat! - which to me negates the spirit of Ramadan. Eating at sunset, eating throughout the night, and then getting up once or twice before dawn to put on the feedbag somehow diminishes the "sacrifice" of not eating for 12 hours during the day. In my mind, that's just reversing your inner clock. Maybe I'm a purist.

But one thing I am is getting the hell out of Dodge: one week in glorious Spain. Sangria, sun, sand, and - no less important - pubs bursting with people imbibing & consuming during daylight hours. No social vampires here. One less week of Ramadan and perhaps one week of uninterrupted sleep.

Adiós amigos ~ hasta luego!

p.s. Hey Mr. Tambourine Man ....#@%&($">* off!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Moroccan Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young girl - we'll call her Cinderella - who was enslaved by her fiendish stepmother and stepsisters shortly after the death of her father. While she was forced to endure endless hours of arduous labour, these crones luxuriated on soft cushions passing the hours by concocting novel ways to humiliate the girl and new tasks to assign to her. One day it came to pass that the King and Queen of the land decided to hold a ball in the hopes of finding a suitable match for their son the Prince. ...

Hold on. Wrong story. Let's start again.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young Moroccan girl - we'll call her Lamia - who was enslaved by her fiendish aunt and uncle shortly after her parents had sent her to the U.S. to live with them. It had been decided that this most fortunate of daughters would receive the boon of all boons - an American education - in exchange for watching her young cousin and doing some light housework. In reality, she was forced to endure endless hours of arduous labour, which included working at her aunt and uncle's espresso stand, during which time our villains neglected to pay her a fair wage for her employment. Little did Lamia know that it was illegal in the United States for 12-year old girls to be thus spending their time but, when her visitor's visa expired, her uncle had threatened to have her deported and she had felt compelled to comply with his threats requests to work beyond her means.

One day it came to pass that Federal Prosecutors in the land discovered the nefarious activities of the aunt and uncle and opened an investigation. In no time at all, charges were filed against Uncle Abdenasser "Sammy" Ennassime and Aunt Tonya who eventually pleaded guilty to enslaving their niece. These fairy godmothers now anticipate that the pair will receive a sentence of six months' house arrest, three years of probation, and will also have to pay Lamia more than US $65,000 in back wages. That should buy Lamia a lot of frappuccinos.

Hopefully, Lamia will live happily ever after.

Sentencing is set for December 1st, 2006.

Wishing Sammy and Tonya a Ramadan karim (hope they choke on their harira).

Monday, September 25, 2006


So, just in case Muslims worldwide don't have something to feel offended about, we have this little nugget of news out of the U.S.:

A car commercial proclaiming a jihad on the U.S. auto market and offering "Fatwa Fridays" with free swords for the kids is offensive and should not be aired, Muslim leaders said on Sunday.

Offensive? - you think?

The radio advertisement for the Dennis Mitsubishi car dealership in Columbus, Ohio, has "a whole jihad theme," said Adnan Mirza, director of the Columbus office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

I hope they have a segment on burkas ... oh wait! They will!

"They are planning on launching a jihad on the automotive market and their representatives would be wearing burqas ..." Mirza said. "They mentioned the pope in there and also about giving rubber swords out to the kiddies - really just reprehensible-type comments."

This is all so tiresome. Why must we resort to name-calling and mudslinging? Can't we just play nicely? - maybe start small and try not to do something nasty for 2 days in a row. Then graduate to performing non-negative acts for a whole week. And if all goes well, try to do something nice for a day or two. Take it slowly, see how it goes. Honestly, I mourn for a species that is so goddamn stupid. Why we're not still dragging our knuckles on the ground and picking nits out of our fur is beyond me.

*thank God it's Fatwa Friday

A Muezzin Compels Me to Cheat

Dawn broke on Day 2 of Ramadan - actually it had yet to dawn, it was 4:21 a.m. - and Mr. Cat in Rabat & I were gently woken from our slumbers by the hyper-decibel eardrum-piercing strains of a muezzin urging all good Muslims in Rabat to haul their asses out of bed and pray. Being Ramadan, the volume of the speakers is adjusted from the normal "did I just hear something" range to a headache-inducing "omigod make it stop". Consequently, I (and most of my co-workers) are all tired and a tad cranky today. So because my brain resembles a jello fruit salad that has been run over repeatedly by a school bus, I am going to cheat a little. Cheating during Ramadan ... hee hee hee ... once an infidel, always an infidel.

At the behest of one of my readers, I am reproducing in its entirety a commentary by Rex Murphy from last week's Globe & Mail, Canada's national newspaper. I don't always agree with Rex and I don't always particularly like Rex, but I like to read Rex.

With no further ado, here's Rex....

Tolerance must flow two ways

It is not often that lectures on the finer points of theology and philosophy, delivered from so retired a venue as the University of Regensburg, turn the world, or at least a good part of it, on its ear. But it must be said as well that not every lecturer is the Bishop of Rome.

In Pope Benedict XIV's lecture, one that may be fairly characterized as both subtle and erudite, we have a talk whose explosiveness was almost entirely determined by a few words in it, and the fact it was the Pope who gave it.

Most of the Pope's address was a nuanced exploration of the relations between reason and faith. A good sense of the tone and nature of his talk, which is readily available in full on the Internet, may be taken from this sentence, which contains, as I see it, its central thesis: "Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?"
Hardly a red-flag item, even for the most excitable bull.

It was a few words of that address, which were cited by His Holiness to assist in the illustration of an elegant argument, a quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, that ignited, or at least has been the occasion for igniting, a great storm across parts of the Muslim world. The quotation and the words leading to it are these: ". . . he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

That one-sentence quotation of an ancient emperor, from an otherwise quiescent address, has set off a fury of anger and outrage. Churches were attacked in the West Bank, there have been demonstrations, and the Pope reviled as another Hitler or Mussolini.

Pope Benedict has invited Muslim envoys for talks, and has twice expressed his regret for the reaction to his lecture, but -- and this is not the same thing -- he has not apologized for his talk. Nor should he.
The fury in the Muslim world following the Pope's talk seems similar in two respects to the greater fury that followed the publication of those now famous Danish cartoons. The first similarity is that the volume and spread of outraged response gives every evidence of having been mobilized or concerted. That there is here, in other words, a "determination" to display outrage, less as evidence of profoundly wounded religious sensibility, than as political leverage against the West.

Not that I question some Muslims may well have taken deep offence in both instances, but that the offence taken has been magnified, and perhaps manipulated, for secondary motives.

The second point uniting these episodes, the point that I think the more consequential, is the expectation from some Muslim authorities that their sensibilities and beliefs are owed, as of right, a singular respect and immunity from all negative comment and remark. It is more than curious that those who don't believe in Islam should be expected to uphold the same codes of respect as those who do.

There attends this expectation, sometimes phrased as a demand, a further one: that should "offence" be taken, then whatever violence should ensue -- be it rioting, the burning of churches, or death threats -- must be laid at the door of the parties who "insult" Islam, not those who undertake violence in response.

These considerations are troubling. First, because the respect and privilege claimed by some Muslims is not afforded religions other than their own in their societies. There is a magnificent mosque in Rome close to the Vatican. Do I need to say there is no basilica in Mecca? One religion should not claim rights it will not afford to all others. In too many Muslim countries, Christianity is institutionally -- and this is a kind word -- disadvantaged.

Secondly, the rhetorical violence visited on Christianity and Judaism ("apes," "pigs," "crusaders," "infidels") by various Muslim spokespeople is both fervid and frequent, and in some of its expression, utterly eclipses in its ferocity and deliberateness either the bywords of the Pope here, or the famous cartoons.

Tolerance, like its elder, respect, is very much an equal current that flows between two parties. I cannot see how burning churches -- as happened in the West Bank -- or crude attacks upon, and threats against, the Pope, provide a foundation to calls for "greater sensitivity toward Islam."

There are precious things in the West, too, two of which are freedom of speech and critical analysis. Storms of outrage, and almost predictable violence after every perceived slight, leaves me feeling that the cardinal values of the West will wait a long time for a portion of that respect that parts of the Muslim world insist upon, immediately and in full, as their due.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Bogus Buddhist is Bereft of Her Books

As I approach my first anniversary here in Morocco (I'd crack open the champagne but it'll be during Ramadan & I wouldn't want to offend ...), I congratulate myself for surviving the year without the company of my 2 mainstays: my husband (who arrives tomorrow - for good), and my books.

I hope everyone noted that I mentioned my husband first. That was awfully nice of me, wasn't it?

But I do have a lot of books. I don't hoard them - I lend them out, let them circulate, allow them some fresh air, and then apologise profusely to them when they return
invariably far worse for the wear - but since I read a lot, I have a lot. It is - or should be - a law of physics that what you buy things and don't consume them, stuff piles up through no fault of the individual. And what book am I hankering for now: Lebanese novelist & journalist Amin Maalouf's The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, probably the best and refreshing scholarly revisiting of the crusades in print. I wish I had it in hand because I would respond to the whole PopeGate debacle with such eye-raisingly salient points (Maalouf's) and profound insights (Maalouf's), that you would all think me awfully clever. But I don't, so there.

So yes, when I first heard Pope Benedict's rather spine-shuddering comments about Islam, my first thought was what a nob (I calmly await my excommunication). Even if his comments or rather those of his mental & theological contemporary, the 14th century emperor Theodore Khoury - assuming that one can decipher them - are in the least way accurate, why would he give voice to them? I could've understood it if our Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ had wheeled around, redfaced, and said to his cardinal-cohorts, "Omigod, did I just say that? Out loud?" His cardinal-cohorts would then reply, "Yes your Holiness, it would appear that you did." That I'd get. But did it never occur to the Pontiff that employing words like "evil, inhuman and violent" to describe Islam might be inflammatory? Might offend? Apparently not. Infallible but not omniscient. And not very swift.

But Malouf's book wouldn't be the only one I'd reach for. Not only would there be my books on the Crusades, but there would also be (
in no particular order) my books on the burning of the Library at Alexandria, the Gnostic et al. persecutions, the Church's deep-rooted anti-semitism & rousing attempts at Jewish genocide throughout Europe, the religious genocide of the Cathars and other Catholic "heresies"(ironically from the Greek hairesis or "choice"), the Inquisitions, their bloody dealings with the Huguenots and other Protestant groups, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (the List of Prohibited Books" whose inductees have included the likes of Galileo, Swift, Hugo and Sartre), the Vatican's dubious scorecard during WWII, "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, systemic sexual abuse against children, Papal bastard children, Renaissance poisonings & power struggles ... should I continue?

Taking a closer look at Vatican City, I now realise that its walls and bricks are made of glass.

Last year (my thoughts are drifting back to my aforementioned anniversary), I was filling out my application for a residency card here, I was angered at having to declare my religion. I stared at that taunting line and considered my options. A baptised papist, I ran walked away from Catholicism around the same time I left the Catholic High School I had attended (coincidence?). A priest might consider me lapsed ("one baptism for the forgiveness of sins", blah blah blah), but I consider myself cheerfully emancipated. So what to write? I had once entered "atheist" on a similar document in Egypt and quickly learned to regret it, so I opted for Buddhist. Buddhism is mainstream enough to be a recognizable faith to the Moroccan bureaucrat/lackey who'd approve or disapprove my application, while being gentle and nonviolent and, hopefully, inoffensive to assuage my sensibilities. I've never heard the Dalai Lama make any disparaging remarks about Muslims or anyone for the matter - not even the People's Republic of China who has branded him a "terrorist". But I'd like to apologise to Buddhists everywhere. As a Canadian, it irks me when non-Canadians abroad claim to be Canucks to avoid any retaliation (perceived or real) that they may receive from others. But do I really want to be associated with the likes of Emperor Theodosius who, a few centuries before the advent of Islam, declared:

We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace t
he name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retributions of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment

Not very Christian of him, was it?

(I calmly await my excommunication. It's always nice to receive something in the mail.)

In Cold Blood (Re-Screened & Revisited)

The story unfolds:

Moroccan security services announced Tuesday in Rabat the arrest of the alleged murderer of an Italian diplomat and his Belgian wife, who were found dead in their villa on Monday morning.

The 34-year-old suspect killer, Karim Zimach, was arrested aboard a car belonging to the European Union Commission in Rabat, MAP news agency reported. Police had found out that the car and other personal belongings were missing on the day of the crime.

Investigations revealed that the victims, Alessandro Messir Dulisianio, an official attached to the Commission's delegation in Rabat, and his Belgian wife Arianne Lagasse de Locht, were stabbed to death by the criminal who had entered the house for robbery.

Police said that Zimach admitted the double homicide.

Dulisianio, 33, had come to Morocco only three weeks ago with his wife and their four children. He was supposed to officially take up his new post on Monday.

“They had moved to that villa only two weeks ago. Nothing could have foretold such a massacre,” said a source from the EU Commission. The four children (a 9-year old boy, a 8-year old girl, and 4 year-old twins), who are still under the shock, are currently receiving psychological support. One of their father's colleagues is looking after them until their relatives take over. Dulisianio started working for the European Commission in 1991. Before coming to Morocco, he had served in Turkey since 2001.

Arrested driving the stolen car ....Cat in Rabat shakes her head incredulously. I guess that Darwin's 'Survival of the Fittest' theory makes no allowances for intelligence (or the lack thereof).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In Cold Blood (Re-Screened)

Some 47 years ago, on November 15th (which is, in fact, my birthday although I hadn't yet been born), an entire family in Holcomb, Kansas was executed by 2 paroled petty criminals searching for a (non-existent) safe of cash. The horrific slaying of the 4 members of the Clutter family gripped the nation, galvanized a community with fear, and inspired reporters and journalists - among whom was Truman Capote - to descend on the quiet farmlands of America's midwest to seek their story. In Cold Blood, the product of Capote's (and friend Harper Lee's) meticulous research, instant recall (self-tested at 94%), fruitful imagination and/or personal prejudices (you choose), was an instant success (he earned some $2 million in the first year alone); in fact, it was a runaway hit before it was even published. It is not an exaggeration to say that Capote was the most famous man in the world after the publication of his "nonfiction novel".

I am mindful of the murders for several reasons:

1) Anything that happens on one's birthday is noteworthy. November 15th - write it down. In conjunction with the Clutter murders, this auspicious day oversaw the election of Canada's first separatist government, and the dissolution of my brother's marriage - the latter event should by rights be fêted with champagne;
2) Although I haven't seen the film In Cold Blood in years, I just watched the film Capote for the second time;
3) I finished reading In Cold Blood a week or so ago, and more importantly;
4) The flags at the Italian Embassy (my backyard neighbour) are flying at half-mast.

Why are the flags at half-mast? Because two nights ago in Rabat, an individual (a suspect is now in custody) entered the middle-class neighbourhood home of Italian national A. Alessandro Messir Dulisianio and his wife La Gasse Delos Ariena, and killed them, sparing - fortunately - their four children. Little information has been disclosed about the double-murder, save that Mr. Dulisianio and Ms. Ariena worked at the Delegation of the European Union in Rabat. The victims' car and other personal effects are missing.

If you took the time to check the above link, you will have seen that it was a major waste of time: there is scant information given. Nor is there any information about the suspect or his arrest. But it's remarkable that the murder was given any press at all, given the tendency to keep this sort of thing hush-hush. To compensate for the lack of hard facts, there has been much chin-wagging about the brutal killings around Rabat's nonexistent watercoolers, with many a theory posited. Some suggest that it was inside job, or the result of chatty concierges. The family only moved to Rabat a fortnight before Pope Benedict started pontificating about Islam so, it has been conjectured, the presence of an Italian national and his family may have been a thorn in someone's side. Perhaps, like the Clutter murders, it was a robbery gone wrong, a desperate attempt to leave no witnesses. Was the theft of the car a red herring. Who knows?

The only thing that is certain is that, like the Holcomb murders in 1959, another victim of both crimes was trust. Trust in your neighbours, trust in your community, trust in the goodness of others.

But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them [the gunshot blasts] over and over again - those sombre explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbours viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.
(In Cold Blood)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Remember When ...

... religion was just an opiate for the masses?

(a CinR original design)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Doing It Doggie Saudi Style

I realised last night that the incessant barking of the neighbourhood dogs (which serenades me most evenings) isn't exactly incessant. Sometimes it stops. Now, this can be a good thing but ofttimes it isn't. You see, when the barking stops, my ears are beseiged by the pitiful mewing of newborn kittens, little bundles of calicoed cuteness crying, presumably, from hunger. This is not a happy sound. In fact, it makes me want to stop my ears with candle wax and hide in a closet for the remainder of the evening singing the alphabet song until I lose consciousness.

In Agdal, cats & dogs come in 2 basic guises: the housepet and the generally reviled. In my neighbourhood it is rare to see a feral dog (although I can certainly hear them) while wild cats pretty much run amok around town. I have only seen one bonafide housecat (its thick shiny coat gives it away) out-of-doors. Presumably Rabatians keep their cats indoors - a wise move since most would probably become road paste in no time. Pet dogs can be seen about town - little frou frou beribboned things that should, by rights, dispense tissues rather than the little turds that their owners are loath to pick up.

This bit of mental meandering got me wondering about the status of Fluffy and Spot in other countries - and it didn't take me long to find that the Muttawa (Saudi's Religious Police whose long reach extends to pretty much anything that upholds the social order), no longer satisfied with harassing women and corralling call-to-prayer-deaf men into mosques, have now set their sights on a new affront to Islam - an import that can be traced directly from the Infidel West - yes, the insidious housepet. And by housepet, I don't mean their wives & daughters but rather their cats & dogs.

"The police have issued a decree banning the sale of the pets, seen as a sign of Western influence. The prohibition on dogs may be less of a surprise, since conservative Muslims despise dogs as unclean. But the cat ban befuddled many, since Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet Muhammad loved cats — and even let a cat drink from his ablutions water before washing himself for prayers."

There is no word on the fate of budgies & goldfish but I suspect the worse. I fear that there will be much flushing. This is Saudi after all.

Now, in what can only be described as a slap in the face of Peace, Public Decorum and Religious Observance, several de facto apostate youth have not only bought dogs from licensed pet shop owners but have been seen "parading them in public". I believe, we infidels (and many Rabatians) would call that "walking the dog". And the official response to that? -"what's the point of dragging a dog behind you? This is blind emulation of the infidels." That would be, in a word, the blind leading the blind (5 words). And as for Saudi cats - well, one need only to look at the above photo to see how they feel (note the extension of the middle toe).

"Conservatives decry the trend [of owning & caring for animals] as a Western influence, just like the fast food, shorts, jeans and pop music that have become more common in the kingdom, which is ruled by the puritanical Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. They say it should be fought because it is threatening the fabric of Gulf nations."

You know, first you buy a puppy and the next thing you know, you're cutting your beard, becoming a Seventh-Day Adventist, allowing women to vote, to drive, to leave home, enrol in university, seek medical attention, and open bank accounts without the permission of a male guardian? The horror! Nope, there's no Hello Kitty in Saudi - it's Goodbye Kitty and good riddance.

Sometimes I lay awake at night and wonder: which would suck more, living in Saudi, Iran (the only other Muslim country to restrict pet ownership) or China? And just when I think that one country has broken free from the pack because of some innovative method of mass-execution, or for subjugating a hitherto unsubjugated segment of its population, or perhaps developing a novel way to torment an endangered species, poof! the scales tip in another direction. Go figure.

As one Saudi pet owner said, "I tell them this is not a Western innovation. Our religion says we should take care of animals." Tell that to the religious police, pal.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Culinary Lamentations of a Travelling Untouchable

Boy: "I didn't eat what they gave me."

Hannibal Lector: "Nor should you have. It's not even food, as I understand the definition. Which is why I always travel with my own."

Let me perfectly clear about this: I have never flown anything but economy class in my entire life. Yes, I have phantasies of being upgraded to Business or First Class - and I sometimes go one step further and dream about being able to actually afford a first-class ticket outright - but my regular place on any airplane is among the Great Unwashed. Usually in front of a screaming infant or directly behind someone for whom the simplest of directives, like "place your seat in an upright position", has no meaning. Especially while I try to eat. In fact, among the castes of air travellers who dart about this planet, it would be safe to say that I am an Untouchable so, not surprisingly, most of the meals that I have been served on said planet's airlines have reflected my lowly karmic station. In a word, dreck. Yes, I have eaten lots of dreck and paid lots of money for the privilege.

Now I have had a few decent (dare I say 'tasty'?) meals during my travels - Alitalia and British Airways quickly come to mind - but there have been some real dogs in the mix, with Sudan Airways and Egypt Air vying for the dubious award of Worst Airline Swill. Both previously tied for the Most Creative Misrepresentation Presentation of Mystery Meat Award.

Now, with Mr. Cat in Rabat joining me in one week, it behooved me to offer him a culinary warning as he too is flying Royal Air Maroc who (good news) offers a vegetarian meal. But then I thought, "the lucky bastard is flying out of Montreal not Casa", so what's there to warn him about? Now regular readers of this humble blog know that Mr. Cat & I are both vegetarians and we therefore have to order special meals when we travel. Generally our meals suck. Suck more than regular meals, if possible. It is indeed a curious thing that the absence of meat as a main ingredient should confound all but the most clever of chefs - none of whom work for the airline catering industry.

Consider the actual (bad news) vegetarian meal I received on the Casa-Montreal leg of my return flight, a flight, I might add, which cost 10,313 dirhams (or approximately $1,325.00 Canadian):

Salad: half a cucumber slice & 1 tomato wedge served on a bed of cold and overcooked green beans, carrots & peas,
Vegetable side dish: overcooked peas,
Entrée: 1 braised mushroom (whole), I carrot stick, 1 yet-to-be-identified white vegetable stick (with the texture of sugar cane) on a bed of overcooked peas.

A ton of protein in that, eh? Did I also mention that I hate peas? - well, that's not the airline's fault but still, it was pea-overkill.

On my return flight, out of Montreal, I received:

Salad: boiled baby potatoes dressed in a vinaigrette dressing,
Vegetable Side Dish: Steamed green beans,
Entrée: broiled teriyaki tofu on a bed of jasmine rice and steamed green beans.

Yes, I know that generally an airline's "cuisine" is only as good as the airport (or more accurately its catering company) out of which it flies but it annoys me that there can be such an appreciative difference between airports. Of course, what really annoys me is that Mr. Cat in Rabat will be spared the pea-a-palooza which I had to suffer though. I am decidedly a bad wife.

There is an urban myth that ordering a special meal (vegetarian, low cholesterol, gluten-free, or religious/ethnic) will guarantee you a decent feed. Not so! This myth, I believe, is based on the assumption that the meal will be fresher and not mass-produced like the other 218 dishes on board. Not so I say again! In my mind, the only advantage of ordering a special meal is that you'll be served first, which leads to a bit of an inflight-etiquette-dilemma: do you wait until everyone is served before you eat or do you dig right in? (I dug right in. I am not Emily Post. I am an Untouchable.) In fact, I was finished both of my meals before my neighbours were served their chicken "curries" and lasagnas. Being served an unpalatable meal first is rather like winning the coin toss at a joint-execution. Yeah, you don't have to wait as long, but you get to be dead first.

If you're curious what to expect on your next flight, take a shufti at (from which I shamelessly stole the above photo of a rather questionable and sadly typical Royal Air Maroc breakfast. Can you correctly identify the food groups?). But if you think we have it bad, check out the inflight crew's meals. Yummy. Truth be told, if we had one iota of common sense we'd use this site as a tool to plan our next trips. But we probably won't. At least I won't: it's pretty much impossible to rise above your caste - a caste I married within, as custom dictates. Maybe the next incarnation ...

... but seriously, I am pleased that Mr. Cat in Rabat will be spared my pea-fest, that he'll be served a pretty decent meal when he flies out of Montreal next week. I'm really not so evil of a wife. But wait! - he'll be flying during Ramadan which means that there'll be no booze on board! Bwhahahahahahaha!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hazmat or Hysterectomy?

Just when you thought that it couldn't get much sillier than the "Modesty Maillots", in which perfectly normal Muslim women look like perfectly normal Smurfs, we now have the "Inter-Faith Gown" in which perfectly normal Muslim women look like perfectly normal members of a Hazmat team. But you don't wear this cheeky little cocoon to dispose of biohazardous substances but rather to have that boil on your bum lanced during your next hospital visit. And yes, although I did make up the name for the Smurfette swimsuit, the shroud that you see on the left is actually called an Inter-Faith Gown. One glance at it and I'm thinking that not too many Buddhists or Rastafarians will be queuing up at the hospital gift shop for one. So perhaps we can refrain from being ingenuous and call a spade a spade - it's yet another cloaking device for Muslim women.

Developed by a British woman whose name is suspiciously non-Muslim (I shouldn't make generalizations but I know of no "Jacobs" who have performed the Haj), I can't help but think that she should be hermetically sealed inside a thick black burka and made to walk the streets of Tehran for a month in August for her contribution to Crimes Against Women.

Ms Jacob said: "I noticed a gap in the market and thought that it would be great if there was a gown that helped to preserve a patient's modesty."

Now, I don't necessarily fault Ms. Jacobs' desire to become fabulously wealthy (I too share this phantasy) but this takes the cake. Modesty? During surgery? Fortunately, I have had only one operation in my life and I freely admit that once I was blessedly floating away on the waves of my anaesthetic, my teams of surgeons and nurses could have poked and peeked and had a good laugh at whatever Allah has endowed me with - I wouldn't have given a rat's ass. Operating tables aren't really the domain of modesty. Hospital corridors should be populated with bare ass patients.

Trials of the gown have already been carried out at Royal Preston Hospital and the response has been overwhelming.

I bet. Now I ask you, what's worse: the shame of showing your body in front of a professional medical staff or an institutionalised response to justify and perpetuate a negative body image outside of Saudi or Iran? ... I swear that every day I can hear the hands of time reversing another decade.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Number 2 (With a Bullet)

Bloggers are creatures of habit, and what with travelling and readjusting to life back in Rabat, I am just now playing catch-up with many of my regular cyber-haunts. I confess that it was with not a little reluctance that I clicked onto a human rights site from Iran (a tautology of sorts) because it had been a number of days since I had taken a peek and a number of days (to my knowledge) since anyone had been executed in Iran.

Iran is estimated to be second only to China in terms of the number of people it executes but there is good news: Amnesty International believes that Iran is the only country that still executes child offenders. Even China isn't guilty of that dubious honour - as far as we know. Yes, Iran is # 2 but with a bullet, steadily climbing the charts of infamy.

In Iran - the country which declared the human rights group headed by Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi "illegal" - one can be executed for a variety of offences (including anything vaguely sexual) by hanging, firing squad or stoning. Hangings are commonly carried out with a crane, a slow and painful death as the condemned is hoisted (not dropped from a height) so that his or her neck does not break, or a low platform (again ensuring an agonisingly slow death); executions can be conducted both behind prison walls (sometimes in secret) or in public squares - depending on what message needs to be sent to the offenders' communities.

Click click .... ahhhh, here we go. Two men were hanged yesterday because they were drug smugglers (which translates directly from the Persian for "political dissidents"), last week the State Security Forces were sent into several districts of Tehran "to crack down on social dissent" (and there was another hanging), while the week before saw 2 additional hangings. During this period, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invoked the judiciary to clamp down on local media which, according to his government, has been "spreading lies". Five weeks ago, Issa Motamedi Mojdehi, an Iranian from Rasht, was hauled off to jail and is now facing prison or execution for converting from Islam to Christianity. Mr. Mojdehi has been officially charged with illegal drug trafficking. My there is a plethora of evil drug dealing in Iran.

An officer identified only as Mr. Baghani warned him that it might take “several executions” before Iranians understand the consequences of apostasy under Islamic law.

Iran's most notorious execution (which officials are still scrambling to cover up) is that of Atefeh Rajabi who was hanged in 2004 for "crimes against chastity". Not only was she 16-years old but she was mentally ill and a serial rape victim herself. Officials apparently had few moral qualms in doctoring her birth certificate to show that she was a 22-year old woman. As a co-signatory of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulates that children, i.e., those under 18, cannot be executed, this administrative prestidigitation was a bit of a no-no. Luckily for Iran, the clerical courts are not answerable to parliament. The judge in her case (who was also the head of the local judiciary) told her that "she would hang for her 'sharp tongue' and that he would put the noose around her neck himself", which he obligingly did. Her immediate family was not advised of her date of execution; her father was at work that morning. The BBC has produced a documentary about Atefeh which can be viewed (in 6 short-ish segments) here.

In January, a 17-year old girl by the name of Nazanin was sentenced to hang for defending herself and her niece against 3 rapists - she fatally stabbed one of her assailants. The following month, a 15-year old boy was sentenced to hang for stabbing a friend to death after a scuffle. The boy was originally sentenced by the Supreme Court to serve 5 years in prison and pay blood-money to the victim's family but, not to be outdone, an appellate court generously raised his sentence to death. In fact, a judge at Tehran’s Appellate Court announced that the Islamic Republic would continue to issue death verdicts for juvenile delinquents “without considering other available options” - this shortly after courts issued execution sentences to 15 & 16 year old children. Apparently incarceration in a juvenile facility isn't an available option. Perhaps it should be.

This past November, two young men in their 20's (identified as Mokhtar N. and Ali) were publically executed for committing lavaat or sodomy and their deaths sparked an outcry of rage around the (enlightened) world. A few months beforehand, Mahmoud Asgari (age 16) and Ayaz Marhoni (age 18) were hanged for an as yet undetermined sexual offence but which critics strongly believe was homosexuality. The "crime" of homosexuality is often thinly disguised as "rape" - Iranian officials appear torn between punishing this sexual "aberration" on face value (de facto admitting its existence among God-fearing Muslims) or - more commonly - tinkering with the charge and saving religious face & "preserving the honour" of the families involved. Rape is the usual substitute which explains the large number of "rapists" executed in Iran - here it is less dishonourable for your son to be hanged for raping a woman than for loving a man. Most of these individuals, living in the mother of all sexually-repressed environments, were likely hanged for homosexual acts. Having said that, Iran's penal laws are eye-raisingly specific when it comes to homosexual acts and it would appear that a great deal of thought went into their formulation:

Sodomy is a crime, for which both partners are punished. The punishment is death if the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the Shari'a judge to decide. A non-adult who engages in consensual sodomy is subject to a punishment of 74 lashes (Articles 108 -113)

"Tafhiz" (the rubbing of the thighs or buttocks) and the like committed by two men is punished by 100 lashes. On the fourth occasion, the punishment is death. (Articles 121 and 122).

If two men "stand naked under one cover without any necessity", both are punished with up to 99 lashes; if a man "kisses another with lust" the punishment is 60 lashes. (Articles 123 and 124).

If you think that getting off with a lashing is much of a blessing, look here. But I digress. On the subject of rape, it should come as no surprise that it's rather difficult to successfully convict a "real" rapist.

In Iran, if a woman is raped, she is considered an adulteress and faces death by stoning. But if a woman fights off a sexual predator and kills him, she can then be tried for murder and face death by hanging. If a man is proven to have raped a woman, his punishment is execution by hanging. But in almost all cases, the man is set free because judges traditionally look for signs in the behavior and clothing of the woman in order to explain away the act of rape. A Persian-language proverb goes like this: "It is the tree that hosts the worm," meaning rape is caused by women and their suggestive behavior.

Should I continue? - I don't think so. Really, it's just more of the same. *Sigh* Maybe it's time that I cull my bookmarks, retaining only the feel-good ones, and confine my attentions to the wonderful world of Brad & Angelina. Perhaps I'll spend more time on my brother's blog. He is exponentially less capable of pissing me off than the Republic of Iran (although I was of a decidedly different opinion when we were kids ). Hopefully he'll see that as the compliment it was meant to be.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

My Bra Is Loaded & I'm Not Afraid To Use It

I don't know if I should be bemused, peeved or concerned that Transport Canada thinks that I may be a security threat to the world. Perhaps they chanced upon my recent posting in which I unwittingly & successfully smuggled a weapon aboard a Royal Air Maroc flight - but I really don't think that I conform to any sort of terrorist profile.

So yes, in spite of the fact that I want our friendly skies to remain friendly, I do take exception to being hauled aside as I passed through the metal detector at Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport day before last. And yes, I know that I set the freaking thing off, but I always set the freaking thing off. In fact, I would hazard a guess and say that I have never not set the machine a-beeping. As did the forty or so people that I watched passing through the gate moments before me. Let me be precise: I don't take exception to the fact that I was asked to step aside; in fact, I had already assumed the crucifixion pose for Mr. Guard and his Magic Wand before he said anything, but when my belt buckle & the rivets on my jeans kept causing said Magic Wand to beep (I think they're made of something called 'metal') as well as the stays on my bra - things, in my mind, got a bit silly. He then instructed me to un-do my belt - which I normally don't like to do in front of a man unless dinner & a movie have preceded the unveiling - but he seemed satisfied (they all do) that nothing there was amiss.

Mr. Guard promptly called over Janice, a female security officer to have a nice little semi-invasive poke & prod on my person. She peered under my top and slipped her hands inside my jeans alongside my externally rivetted hips and confirmed that I was indeed not wearing explosive jeans or a combustible bra. My bullet bra was clearly unloaded. Not only did she confirm this but she did so while everyone watched on. Had this happened to my mother, I'm quite certain that she would have been mortified.

Now I know that bras are a little contentious these days: gel-filled bras rank #4 on the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority's no-no webpage (just after bottles of insulin greater than 148 ml) but at the risk of sounding a tad boastful, I have no need to pad my girls. I mean, digital cameras are allowed but gel-filled bras are verboten? O brave new world!

Mr. Guard courteously thanked Janice for invading my privacy for all to (uncomfortably) gawk at, and said nothing to me. A "thank you for your cooperation and patience" would have gone a long way (although admittedly not long enough) to unruffle my feathers. This whole episode made me rather happy (in a smug sort of way) that I had declined to voluntarily forfeit my new tube of lipgloss (like the 4 dozen or so women before me had) as we were winding our way through the security lines ... and yet, the plane did not explode. Go figure. Guess I'm not a terrorist after all.

p.s. And I'm not so naive to think that this little posting won't plant me firmly on a no-fly/watchlist. My jet-setting days (such as they were) are history.