Thursday, August 30, 2012

In the Name of Identity

In case you are wondering if you can beat the record of longest sexual intercourse ever, I can assure you that you can't. This is because the one I am going to write about here is longer than you can ever imagine. It started centuries before we were born, and it is lasting forever. And for sure you've witnessed parts of it, the two bastards involved here are shamelessly fucking each other on TV screens, on your twitter timeline, and in public locations such as churches, mosques, synagogues, parliaments and presidential palaces. Those two shameless bastards are called Politics and Religion.

Today, the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was in Tehran attending the Non-Aligned Movement summit. I haven't listened to a recording of his speech there yet, but from what I've heard, it seems to have been a good one, and he said it was an "ethical duty" to support the Syrian people against the "oppressive regime" in Damascus.

What really alerts me is the reactions I've seen here during and after the speech. From, so-called, activists calling for receiving Morsi in the airport, to others writing poems praising Morsi. All of this is not because of some political actions he have done, or for any tangible advances in the Egyptian economy, education or healthcare. All this is because of that victorious moment when a Sunni politician goes to Iran, slap them in the face by praising some historic figures they - supposedly - cannot tolerate seeing them be praised. He opened his speech by praising God and some men who died centuries ago, wheres the Sunni Muslims in Egypt and in the Gulf States admire, and they believe that the Shia Muslims in Iran hate them like hell, and this was more than enough to create a Golden Calf out of Morsi for us to receive in the airport, and worship later on.

Photo taken by Sonny Abesamis under CC-BY license.

In his book "In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong", Amin Maalouf wrote how we are obsessed with categorizing people according to their identities, "Since I left Lebanon in 1976 to establish myself in France, I have been asked many times, with the best intentions in the world, if I felt more French or more Lebanese". He then added, "When I am asked who I am deep inside of myself, it means there is, deep inside each one of us, one belonging that matters". And for many here, that one belonging is their religion, or even sect.

They define themselves according to that one identity. It is the castle they get into when fighting with others who belong to other identities. And it is the only way they seek personal victory through. Those who support Bashar when he oppresses the Sunnis in Syria and those who support the regime in Bahrain when it oppress the Shia there, both are obsessed with defending their belonging regardless of any morals. And those who support the oppressed party in one case, and turn a blind eye to the other are not much more ethical than the first group. Morsi, by the way, attacked the butchers in Syria and turned a blind eye to the ones in Bahrain today, let alone the Bahraini human rights activist whose was denied entry to Egypt a couple of days ago.

Aren't people sick of religious wars yet!? Aren't they sick already of those dictators who oppress their people in the name of religion, and fight their neighbors in the neme of it too?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Egypt: Back to the IMF Loan

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde arrived in Cairo. She has meetings with Egyptian officials including the president, Mohamed Morsi. Egypt has formally requested to increase the value of the loan to $4.8 billion, after the initial request made last year for a $3.2 billion.

Today the deal’s chances of being sealed are even greater, so you might like to read the article I wrote  about the loan that has been published in openDemocracy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tarek's Dictionary - Volume I

I still have no idea how this post is going to be useful to anyone other than its own writer, but anyway.

It all started a month ago, when I was thinking that whenever I read a book, an articles online or a friend's blog post, I usually stumble upon English words that I do not know their meanings. I used to just ignore them, thinking that I'd learn their meaning from the context, which rarely happens by the way. So, I decided last month to start taking notes with words I don't know, write down their meaning, and publish them later on in what I call, Tarek's Dictionary. And here are the words collected so far:

  • Persona non grata (Latin): Literally meaning "an unwelcome person". You might be wondering why do they write such Latin sentence in news websites instead of its English alternative. Well, I have no idea. May be to look intellectual or something.
  • Patronizing: Treat someone with an *apparent* kindness that transmits a feeling of superiority. Talking to people as if they are ignorant or stupid. If you speak Arabic, then this looks so much like "Yalla ya shater" or the ironic "Bravo" we say all the time. Sometimes, it also means becoming a regular customer, "Lots of people patronize Starbucks for their daily caffeine fix".
  • Nurture: To support and encourage, as during the period of training or development, or to feed and protect.
  • Cynical: Skeptical to someone's good intentions. It originates from an ancient school of Greek philosophers known as the Cynics, whose philosophy was that the purpose of life was to live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, sex, and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions. I have no idea how this ended up to become pessimistic or distrusting the motives of others. Seems that the emphasis on the negative aspects of Cynic philosophy by the 19th century is what altered its meaning this way. In brief, I used to thing Cynicism and Sarcasm are the same thing, but they are not, yet they meet sometimes. The keywords here are doubt, pessimism and distrust to people's intention and/or future.
  • Delirious: While delirium is neuropsychiatric syndrome whose symptoms are sudden severe confusion and rapid changes in brain function. Delirious - most of the time - is used to express one being wildly excited, esp with joy or enthusiasm. It still is a negative term, which mostly refers to ill or uncontrolled excitement or emotion.
  • Anxiety: Being anxious! Yeah, I knew anxious but didn't know that one!
  • Apprehensive: Anxious or fearful that something bad or unpleasant will happen
  • Agony: Extreme physical or mental suffering or the struggle that precedes death
  • Wrath: Anger, rage or divine punishment or retribution for sin. Wrath is one of Morgan Freeman's, ehmm Christian ethics', Seven Deadly Sins, and it may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger.
  • Misogynistic: Hating women in particular. It comes from the Ancient Greek μισογυνία (misogunia) and μισογύνης (misogunēs, “woman hater”), from μισέω (miseō, “I hate”) + γυνή (gynē, “woman”). It's funny to that J.W. Roberts argues that older than tragedy and comedy was a misogynistic tradition in Greek literature.
  • Corny: Trying to be cool, but ultimately very uncool indeed, and often even extremely embarrassing
  • Disgruntled: Dissatisfied or Angry.
  • Dire straits: Other than the "Money for Nothing" band, it also means a state of extreme distress, anxiety, or suffering. Dire on its own means alarming or desperately urgent. It has it roots back to the Latin word "dīrus" which means fearful.
  • To keep mum means to keep silent or refuse to talk.
  • Peril: It has nothing to do with Pril, the dishwashing detergent. Peril stands for something that endangers or involves risk.
  • Stern: Serious and unrelenting, esp. in the assertion of authority and exercise of discipline. "The Manager sent me a stern email". It also means the rearmost part of a ship or boat.
  • Prevail is to be greater in strength or influence; and be victorious: "Prevailed against the enemy". Also can refer to becoming predominant: "A region where snow and ice prevail".
  • Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. And since this is my favorite term in this issue. Its roots come from the Greek word ῥήτωρ (rhḗtōr), "public speaker". I will elaborate more on Rhetoric later on.
  • A Hobson's choice is a free choice in which only one option is offered. As a person may refuse to take that option, the choice is therefore between taking the option or not; "take it or leave it".
  • Nuance: A subtle difference or distinction in expression, meaning, response, etc. A very slight difference or variation in color or tone.
  • Pedantic: Punctilious, overly concerned with minute details or formalisms especially in education.
  • Docile: It comes from Latin root for teaching, docere, so someone docile is easy to teach. A docile student is willing to be taught. A docile animal is easy to handle. If you behave well and do what people tell you to do, you're a docile person. Docile might be a word of praise, but it can also be a criticism of someone for being overly submissive. 
  • Monocle: A monocle is a type of corrective lens used to correct or enhance the vision in only one eye. You can have a look at the logo of Egyptian Monocle to know what I mean.
  • Phosphenes is the lights you see when you close your eyes and press your hands to them.
  • A facade or façade is generally one exterior side of a building, usually, but not always, the front.
  • Consensus: Majority of opinion. General agreement or concord.
  • Impartiality: The principle of justice holding that decisions should be based on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons.

Now back to Rhetoric

Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western tradition.[2] Its best known definition comes from Aristotle, who considers it a counterpart of both logic and politics, and calls it "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion." Rhetorics typically provide heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals, logos, pathos, and ethos.
  • Ethos: The character or disposition of a community, group, person, etc. The moral element in dramatic literature that determines a character's action rather than his or her thought or emotion, as opposed to Pathos and Logos.
  • Pathos: The quality or power in an actual life experience or in literature, music, speech, or other forms of expression, of evoking a feeling of pity or compassion. The deeply felt domestic pathos raises the movie above the average thriller. Such detailed description of their relationship underscores the pathos of its end.
  • Logos: Philosophy reason or the rational principle expressed in words and things, argument, or justification
A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point and without the expectation of a reply.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

10 Educational Resources Online

More than decade ago, my friends and I were obsessed with HowStuffWorks that is meant to explain complex concepts and technologies in an easy way. That was probably before Wikipedia was launched, or at least when we were not aware of it yet. Later on, YouTube videos and Wikipedia became our source of knowledge. Now, there are new websites out there that took online education to the next level:

Before the internet there was...reading
Before the internet there was ... reading!
Photo taken by Photocapy under Creative Commons license.

  1. Khan Academy: With over 3,300 videos on everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and hundreds of skills to practice, they want to give you a way to learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace.
  2. Coursera partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. The offered courses varies from Computer Sciences to Mathematics to Biology to Economics to Statistics and more.
  3. Udacity also stated that their goal is to democratize education. The offered courses are more into Computer Science, as well as Physics and Statistics.
  4. OpenCourseWare, is a term applied to course materials created by universities and shared freely with the world via the Internet. And MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. Like other online education resources mentioned here, it is not a degree-granting or credit-bearing initiative. However, you should work through the materials at your own pace, and in whatever manner you desire.
  5. Just like MIT, Yale University has its Open Yale Courses project where they share full video and course materials from its undergraduate courses.
  6. If you want to learn computer programming, one of the available services for you is Codecademy. It offers free coding classes in programming languages like HTML, CSS, Python, and Javascript.
  7. Nalandau is an Indian website that aggregates educational content from other places including Open Courseware and YouTube.
  8. Gresham College provides free public talks within the City of London. Some of their lectures have video, audio and/or transcript.
  9. Babbel: A platform for learning languages online. Yet, it's not free.
  10. TED: Not really educational, but TED videos are interesting.