A tale of two cultures


This or that?

Differences in east vs west were highlighted by two different stories about the actions and beliefs of people different from the indigenous people of the society where they lived. First off there is the story of Faiza M. a Moroccan woman who is married to a French citizen and has three children, all of them born in France with him, but who is herself not a French citizen yet. She wears the abaya and niqaab and claims to be a salafi which means, according to French press, she

showed up with the robes of a woman from the Arabian peninsula, with a veil covering her face and leaving only a slit for her eyes.

The couple had admitted that they are Salafi, a movement of Islam which advocates a literal and rigorous reading of the Koran, following the lifestyle of Mohammed’s original followers.

Faiza M. had confirmed that she was not veiled when she lived in Morocco and that she had adopted the dress after arriving in France at the request of her husband, and that she does so more out of habit than conviction.

The government commissioner says that her statement show that she leads leads a secluded life, cut off from French society. She does not know about laïcité or the right to vote and she lives in total submission to the men in her family. Faiza M. appears to think that this [is] normal and doesn’t think of contesting this submission. Prada-Bordenave says this is indicative of the lack of adherence to the basic values of French society.

At the same time, Faiza M. speaks French, which is a criteria for citizenship, and during her pregnancy was checked by a male gynecologist.

On the basis of that she was denied her request for appeal to the original court order which denied her immigration status. The denial was based on the principle of gender equality which it’s claimed she had not internalized nor practiced. It was the first time in France the Council of State took into account the level of religious practice to determine a foreigner’s ability to integrate.

I don’t understand why the signs of this weren’t seen years earlier when France banned the hijab in public schools for young Muslim women. If the alternative of private schools is available to Muslims then the public school ban is not insurmountable, but there is no alternative to belief. You either have one and practice it or you don’t. I think the logical extension of what’s going on in France is people will not be allowed to pray in houses of worship not sanctioned by the Government of France, nor will people be allowed to give their children names they feel are indicative of their culture. Most likely I’m being alarmist but the Islamophobia that reigns in western Europe and the US has unlimited potential, and this recent decision shows that. Until now the Muslim response to this has been muted.

Contrast that with what took place in Dubai, UAE recently.  Michelle Palmer is facing six years in prison and expulsion from the UAE for being found having sex on a public beach, public intoxication and assaulting a police officer.  Ms. Palmer had been living in the UAE for three years before her run in with the law, working and living large like most other British expats in that country.  One of the manifestations of that is they get together for brunches which include alcohol, socializing with one another according to their customs in the UK.  However, not all of those customs fly in the UAE so when Ms. Palmer,  who had been drinking all day long,and her suitor were caught once in a rather intimate position by a member of the local constabulary and warned and caught a second time she was taken to police headquarters where she became belligerent and found to be under the influence of alcohol.  Dubai is pretty lenient when it comes to excesses of the flesh….as long as they don’t become an embarrassment to the establishment, and most expats there know that.

As well as attracting lurid headlines, Miss Palmer’s case has focused attention on the fast-paced lifestyles of Dubai’s young British expats who are arriving in ever-increasing numbers seeking tax-free wealth and good times.

‘It is the new land of opportunity,’ said commercial property lawyer Nick Armitage, who has been based in Dubai for two years. We live in a bubble, a kind of fantasy world of luxury living and, if you want it, endless partying.’

*snip*

In Dubai, Friday brunch has grown into an institution and offers an ideal opportunity to witness the British expats at play. The parties are held at hotels and range from the sedate to the raucous – and none is more raucous than brunch at the Meridien.

For about £70 a head the guests – lawyers, property developers, airline crew, building workers, architects, but few, if any, tourists – are given unlimited Bollinger champagne and a buffet meal.

‘It all starts off quite sophisticated,’ said property consultant John Burdon, 31, originally from Weston-super-Mare. ‘But when it gets going that wears off and the spirit of Magaluf takes hold. People just want to have fun and get absolutely smashed.

‘I was thinking of going back to England because I do miss it,’ said Mr Burdon. ‘But we are all earning much more than we did back home and life here is good. You can fill up your car with petrol for six quid. So with the fuel crisis and the credit crunch I’m staying here.

‘I’d miss these brunches if I left – there is nothing like them in Britain. I love them.’

Life is good in the UAE for expats, and especially those who are prudent.  If Ms. Palmer wanted a tryst with her lover I would suggest either a hotel room or the residence where either of them lived, but if that’s not available and you happen to find yourself on the beach, heed the first warning given to you by the police and cease and desist from lascivious behavior.

So here are two stories where cultures collide.  In one a person is denied participation in a society because of religious beliefs that are interpreted as being against the values of a country and in the other a person is found to have broken the law because of actions that are clearly stated as illegal, recognized as such by most governments of the world and well known  by the offender.

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Is the Fourth Estate a Fifth Column


I have had my ups and downs with American media since 911.  In some ways it has given us great human interest stories that deal with the heroism of everyday people who felt a duty to their fellow man and rose to the heights of human potential, but American media has done all that while keeping us in the dark about what our government is doing in our name, what it plans to do, and in many ways complicit in government’s illegality.  Robert Scheer of The Los Angeles Times, once said, “This has been the most shameful era of American media. The media has been sucker-punched completely by this administration.”  While the analogy is a good one, it’s incomplete:  The media was sucker punched because it led with its chin.  The media hasn’t resisted attempts to be a mouthpiece for the Administration, rather it has been a willing accomplice, and the message that compliance was absolutely necessary, was delivered by a military government that made it perfectly clear, especially during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that dissent from media would not be tolerated.  Bullying outlets with “access” or allowing climates where media outlet representatives were in seriously jeopardy of death, government has made it clear it wants absolute power to control the message passed on to its citizens. We blogged about one such example here, where people who wanted the public to see the true casualties of war were denied oand  fired from their jobs.

I have always felt media’s role in promulgating, cheerleading, and supporting the Iraq war bordered on criminality, despite their cries of self-cleansing to absolve themselves of that image and while not saying that Bill Moyers has spoken in a piece that I liked very much and which I want to excerpt here.

Our media institutions, deeply embedded in the power structures of society, are not providing the information that we need to make our democracy work. To put it another way, corporate media consolidation is a corrosive social force. It robs people of their voice in public affairs and pollutes the political culture. And it turns the debates about profound issues into a shouting match of polarized views promulgated by partisan apologists who trivialize democracy while refusing to speak the truth about how our country is being plundered.

*snip*

These organizations’ self-styled mandate is not to hold public and private power accountable, but to aggregate their interlocking interests. Their reward is not to help fulfill the social compact embodied in the notion of “We, the people,” but to manufacture news and information as profitable consumer commodities.

Democracy without honest information creates the illusion of popular consent at the same time that it enhances the power of the state and the privileged interests that the state protects. And nothing characterizes corporate media today more than its disdain toward the fragile nature of modern life and its indifference toward the complex social debate required of a free and self-governing people.

*snip*

Across the media landscape, the health of our democracy is imperiled. Buffeted by gale force winds of technological, political and demographic forces, without a truly free and independent press, this 250-year-old experiment in self-government will not make it. As journalism goes, so goes democracy.

Mergers and buyouts change both old and new media. They bring a frenzied focus on cost-cutting, while fattening the pockets of the new owners and their investors. The result: journalism is degraded through the layoffs and buyouts of legions of reporters and editors.

*snip*

…we needed to know the truth about Iraq. The truth could have spared that country from rack and ruin, saved thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and freed hundreds of billions of dollars for investment in the American economy and infrastructure.

But as reporters at Knight Ridder – one of the few organizations that systematically and independently set out to challenge the claims of the administration – told us at the time, and as my colleagues and I reported in our PBS documentary Buying the War, and as Scott McClellan has now confessed, and as the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed in June, the Bush administration deceived Americans into supporting an unprovoked war on another country. And it did so using erroneous and misleading intelligence – and with the complicity of the dominant media. It has led to a conflict that, instead of being over quickly and bloodlessly as predicted, continues to this day into its sixth year.

We now know that a neoconservative is an arsonist who sets a house on fire and six years later boasts that no one can put it out. You couldn’t find a more revealing measure of the state of the dominant media today than the continuing ubiquitous presence on the air and in print of the very pundits and experts, self-selected message multipliers of a disastrous foreign policy, who got it all wrong in the first place. It just goes to show, when the bar is low enough, you can never be too wrong.

The dominant media remains in denial about their role in passing on the government’s unverified claims as facts. That’s the great danger. It’s not simply that they dominate the story we tell ourselves publicly every day. It’s that they don’t allow other alternative competing narratives to emerge, against which the people could measure the veracity of all the claims.

Back in the day, our parents would gather the morning paper, sit down for breakfast, read and discuss what they found in that one publication.  Now, that simply isn’t enough.  Because the media no longer feels the responsibility to inform the public in the true sense of the word inform, it is up to each person to get the information they need from as many sources as possible in order to make knowledgeable opinions about what is going on in the world around them.