Thursday, September 20, 2007

Every Country Has Its Issue

Living in America where the fight for equality between men and women has reached the "repercussions stage", it is easy to forget how terribly women are oppressed in other nations. Some of these women try to fight back, but the battle is slow and taxing. Fortunately, that hasn't stopped the women in Egypt who have currently gained a upper hand in the battle against female circumcision, or female genital mutilation as it is called by its opponents. As terrifying as this practice sounds, it still remains a common occurrence despite its being banned in 1996. Michael Slackman explains why in his article for the New York Times "Voice Rise in Egypt to Sheild Girls From an Old Tradition" (September 20, 2007):

"Though Egypt’s Health Ministry ordered an end to the practice in 1996, it allowed exceptions in cases of emergency, a loophole critics describe as so wide that it effectively rendered the ban meaningless. But now the government is trying to force a comprehensive ban."

While it is wonderful for the government to recognize the need to force a comprehensive ban, why were "cases of emergency" ever allowed to begin with? What kind of emergencies could there have been where the solution was circumcision? The reasons behind the practice are founded so heavily on tradition that the only "emergency" would be fear of falling of judgement from a neighbor. Slackman present a very realistic of the state in which Egypt finds itself.

"The challenge, however, rests in persuading people that their grandparents, parents and they themselves have harmed their daughters. Moreover, advocates must convince a skeptical public that men will marry a woman who has not undergone the procedure and that circumcision is not necessary to preserve family honor. It is a challenge to get men to give up some of their control over women."

The idea of Egyptian women going to an array of people to have this procedure done (from doctors to barbers) is distressing enough, but the reason for the sudden surge in voices crying out for change is the saddest of all: death. A thirteen year old girl died after having the procedure done (which isn't too uncommon) and the Egyptian government responded by shutting down the health clinic. Considering the practice is banned (though not strictly enforced), the actions taken by the government may have been unpredicted but are not uncalled for. What seems like it would be the most unpredicted were the villager's reaction to the government's choice:

"The men in this poor farming community were seething [...] 'They will not stop us,' shouted Saad Yehia, a tea shop owner along the main street. 'We support circumcision!' he shouted over and over."

A young girl died from a practice that mutilates a women's body, and the men are ready to fight for the practice. Mind-boggling.

A custom so steeped in tradition would appear to be a part of the religion of Egypt (that being Islam, which is widely practiced among Egyptians). But "the Ministry of Religious Affairs also issued a booklet explaining why the practice was not called for in Islam; Egypt’s grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, declared it haram, or prohibited by Islam; Egypt’s highest religious official, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, called it harmful." So why continue to harm women, especially when it has been prohibited by Islam? The main reason and response from the people is that their mother and grandmother did it and they turned out fine. But there is hope in this form of reasoning because there comes a point when people stop doing harm to their daughters just because their mother did it to them and their grandmother had it done to their mother. There comes a point when the women are asked the question, "Should this really be done?" and their answer is an astonished but scared "No."

The battle is slow in Egypt, as people like Maria Assad (who has been fighting against female circumcision since the 1950's) would know. But thank God that people are starting to question a tradition that has led to deaths and emotional damage. The memory of circumcision haunts Fatma Ibrahim:

"When Ms. Ibrahim was 11 years old, she said, her parents told her she was going for a blood test. The doctor, a relative, put her to sleep and when she woke, she said she could not walk."

In a country that is "is conservative, religious and, for many, guided largely by traditions, even when those traditions," women speaking passionately about this subject is frightening for them and for the "conservative" families of Egypt. But these brave women are what have helped their cause to be "one of the most powerful social movements in Egypt in decades." Hopefully it will be enough. For Maria Assad, it is more than she could have ever dreamed for in her lifetime:

"'I never thought I would live to see the day,' said Ms. Assad."

I hope she lives to see much more happen. I hope this for the sake of the young girls in Egypt.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Buildings with No People

How can an eagle fly with only one wing? The answer is that it cannot, and neither will the eagle-styled court building be able fulfill its purpose as it sits unfinished and one-winged on the South Dakota Indian Reservation. Monica Davey of the New York Times reports in the article "Earmark Gone, Indian Project Is One-Winged" that the $18 million dollar cultural facility and judical center has lost its funding and any practical purpose:

"[...]this eagle has only one wing. Federal money for the other has run dry. And even the one eagle wing, all 30,000 square feet of it, is mainly just a shell, ceilings unfinished and rooms empty, silent but for the buzz of black flies that bite." (September 12, 2007).

When first being created, the building's purpose was to "lure outside investment to impoverished Indian reservations across the region by creating a court system where outsiders could recoup losses if a business deal went bad." Such high goals that could indeed help the people of the reservation. A piece of architectural creativity that could benefit both the reservation and American businessmen. But with Tom Daschle (former Senator of South Dakota and main champion of the eagle-building) out of office, the construction of the building stopped as funding dwindled down to nothing. Now the Indian reservation has an empty eye-sore to look at while South Dakota tax-payers are wondering what in the world their money went towards.

The funny thing is, this isn't the first time a pet project of a congressman has gone ary. Who can forget the $200 million "bridge to nowhere" up in Alaska? The situation with unfinished projects has gone to such an extreme level that Washington has begun passing laws ordering congressmen who begin pet projects to sign their name to them so that, if voted out of office, they will be held responsible for the project's completion. My inquiry, however, is not as to why the projects are being finished, but rather why are they being built when that money could be placed in areaas with greater need? Obviously, the projects are not being started without some grand reason, but why does it seem better to half-build a cultural and judicial building when the "impoverished" American Indian children are struggling without adequate health facilities and schools? Yes, the Indian reservations are their own sovereign nations, but if they would have accepted a building to promote economical growth, would they have not accepted improvements on their schools? It appears better to improve the schools and the supplies within the classrooms in order to raise up a generation of smarter and more prepared American Indians who will be able to help the reservation from within rather than constructing a building to bring in outside business. Outside business wouldn't hurt, but improvements to buildings/funding better education already existing would not have resulted in an $18 million dollar home to horse flies.

These types of projects are filled with good intentions and the potential to create wonderful improvements, but the congressmen who start them are failing to see that the need does not lay with new buildings but with the actual people. Once the people are taken care of, they will need building projects to construct and use, and these projects will no longer go unfinished because they will be needed. The buildings then will fulfill their purpose to bring education, economical growth, and culture to their cities instead of being eagles with only one wing.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Insensitivity to Tragedy

The top news article "Planes collide at air show in Poland, killing both pilots" covered's main webpage today and would normally (so I thought) evoke feelings of saddness for the pilots and their families (September 1, 2007). American Online also advertised a link to their news webpage on the main sign-in screen. I can easily suspect--with a news report range from CNN to AOL-- that this story is large enough and tragic enough to have at least been mentioned on other news stations. Undoubtedly, the newscasters did not mock the dead pilots they spoke of, nor would they have trailed into a tangent concerning the meaning of life with a "just grab a beer" message. Many average American "commentors" on American Online, however, felt it was necessary to not only mock Polish people but also to state their view on this world and heaven. Whatever happened to the feelings of remorse for an obviously painful circumstance? Considering that nearly half of the article comments were negative and unsupportive in nature, does that mean sympathy and sensitivity is being pushed out of the way by cynicism and cold-heartedness? If so, how did so many Americans come to this state of being?

The most racially insulting comment, in my opinion (especially considering my Polish heritage), was posted by screenname wils6gr at 6:46pm on September 2:

"Once a Pollock! Always a Pollock! Now there are two less Pollocks!!!!"

At what point in plane crash history did tragic crashes become something only Polish people dealt with? Having lived in Arizona where the airforce base has many airshows, I have heard of my fair share of tragedies. None were ever attributed to nationality, and no one ever made comments about "Once an American, always an American". It would have seemed ignorant and it would have been ignorant. Not to mention, the horrific nature in rejoicing that there are "two less Pollocks!!!!" is quite disturbing.

Some people felt that this tragedy, which happened in Poland, was a great opportunity to comment about American political parties:

"The same thing happens whenever you have two or more Republicans at a four-way stop sign. Their brains are somehow incapable of handling the concept." (blamethechimp, 6:33pm September 2, 2007)

I believe this comment should not be dignified with a response.

The worst comment, above all, almost seems as if it was posted to get a rise out of people. At least, that is what I hope since I can only pray this person does not actually harbor such anger and hate:

"I'm glad they were killed, they deserved it...good riddance" (trinagurl28, 6:54pm September 2, 2007).

The list of hate comments, random "who-wants-a-beer" type comments, and political comments overwhelm the respectful blessings that some people posted on the AOL wall. I hope the families of the dead pilots never see or hear about comment walls like the one I read tonight. The nonchalant attitudes towards death and pain project an extreme insensitivity towards other people, an insensitivity that coul lead to a nation's interior breakdown from selfishness.

Being the average American, I did not believe that the average American could be so thoughtless with their words; I did not believe the average American could be so unconcerned for families in pain. Tonight was the first time I doubted the average American's level of sensitivity. I pray that when most people watched the footage of the two planes crashing into one another they cringed and felt sorrow. The commentors on AOL push me to think that Americans didn't feel anything at all. I hope I'm wrong.