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Alright folks, I normally abhor, loathe, and utterly detest any form of social conformity (tis the artist talking who prefers the margins versus the social center). I will make an exception though and jump on the bandwagon for one and only one notable reason:

2009 royally sucked. I MEAN IT REALLY TRULY DEEPLY UTTERLY AND PROFOUNDLY SUCKED! *Phew* there got that one out. So, I will join the plethora of individuals cheering and rejoicing as 2010 springs forth.
In celebration of the new year, I hereby present my top New Year’s resolutions:

1) Splurge on books! After I submit my last four *&^%$$ applications to UK MA programs, I fully intend to visit every half-priced old bookstore in this town and load up on more books than one could possibly fathom. My target: the remaining literary classics I haven’t read, works in social theory and philosophy (recommendations are of course welcome and I will likely write another post/facebook note to that effect), and of course other miscellaneous titles I’ve always wanted to read but never found the time. In other words, I’ve been intellectually deprived and crave a lengthy journey of good-reads, must-reads, and titles that are most importantly dubbed, who the fuck cares? It’s non-academic reading!

2) The all time New Year’s classic: lose fifteen pounds or drop 1-2 dress sizes. A short story about the bane of my existence: the freshman fifteen ended up turning into the sophomore twenty and finally concluded with the whopping resounding undergraduate 30. My response: Oh shit. I have now become fucking Bridget Jones. Can’t live up to the title without blogging about a necessary weight loss regimen right? Now I have to find a preferred form of exercise: jogging (dull), speed walking (expected), weight lifting at the gym (seriously?)  So, I settled on either ice skating, dance, and/or aerobics. I have to preserve some form of creativity here folks….

3) Write a novel that is inspired by true stories but is spinned into a grand work of fiction. Let’s face it, some of my life experiences are, as one anonymous friend put it, “Damn that’s shit you just can’t make up.” I wholeheartedly agree. Life’s a bitch folks, might as well have the last laugh if you can.

4) Achieve greater balance in all matters. This past year, my work/home/social life balance is illustrated (and brilliantly captured I might add) by the following mathematic depiction of inequalities:

Work   (greater than and most certainly not equal to)  >    social life (indicated by number of happy hour events attended)    >   home life

Oh…wait a minute. Scratch that. Here’s the more accurate formula:

[Work + grad school apps (squared)] (cubed) >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> social life > home life.

Yep, that’s about right.

5) Attack the GRE next year with a fucking vengeance. ETS I’m going Russell Crowe on your ass.

6) Perform a certain number of completely random, neurotic, and utterly absurd acts. For those of you who requested I dance on tables (yes you know who you are), that’s a definite no. On that note, what the hell were ya’all thinking? You’re pretty disturbed if you ask me. Anyhoo, perhaps cartwheels on the national mall are in order, cartwheels in front of the Lincoln Memorial, perhaps even cartwheels from one quadrant in DC in a diametric fashion to another…. Ok, I’m running out of ideas. Feel free to email me with some.

7) Blog more, yes definitely blog more 🙂

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It has been ages since I dared write anything for this blog (I use the term “dare” since it is a time consuming activity, and heaven knows anything that consumes time away from our daily tasks is quite daring). As always, I love to occasionally pen my thoughts down; otherwise my head may explode from recurrent reflections and informal observations. A year ago, I proudly donned my cap and gown and felt ready to embrace the so-called real world. After all, I felt I’ve seen it, lived it, been through it. In my view, we are all somewhat cocky when it comes to learning–humans love to believe that we’ve learned all we need to know. Or, we love to convince ourselves that we are fearless and ready to tackle any problem that comes our way.

I convinced myself a year ago that as an ethnic and religious minority, I’ve experienced it all: I’ve witnessed people wrestle with their collective identity, with the notion of being at odds with society and the mainstream culture, and of course with their past struggles in this turbulent world of ours. I have relatives who changed their names on their resumes to sound more “American” just to secure jobs (so your Palestinian Salams become Sams, your Mohammeds transform into the more acceptable Mo or Maddi, and so forth). Let’s face it, the very term “Palestinian” evokes a myriad of responses. I notice that Palestinians tend to embrace their diaspora identity as ardent nationalists (oh we know who we are and it is our duty to make the world aware of it!), or, they hesitate to answer the question, “Where exactly are you from?” I am still borderline amused when I hear a friend respond, “The holy land” just to evoke that “Aaaaah I see” reaction. Of course, that term seems more user-friendly than the seemingly hostile name “Ramallah” or “Khaleel” which may produce a few raised brows. Either way, Arab-Americans are still attempting to secure their place in America alongside other racial and ethnic groups. One demonstration of our social standing is illustrated by your typical job application. Notice that there is no separate category for people from the Middle East, yet Pacific Islanders, African Americans, and Latinos are usually represented in demographic questions. Arabs are treated as invisible, a category of people that do not deserve separate and distinctive representation in paper form. Apparently, we all hail from the Caucasus? Uhmmm no.

So here I am, a person who believed I am tough as nails, a person who defined myself in terms of my struggle to find my place in this country’s culture and institutions. I never identified myself strongly in terms of class status, but increasingly find that a redefinition may be required. Class is one key issue this country is hesitant to address. I wonder if one asks Americans which class they belong to, how many would answer, “The middle class of course!” What would happen if I told people that my freshman year in college, my father was laid off, unemployed for a few years, and my family hit the poverty line in terms of income? What if I told people I knew what it was like years ago to worry if groceries would make it to the table, or that we might lose the house? No, of course I shouldn’t share that information because when it comes to class, we are encouraged to toughen up and face the facts. After all, if people are in a lower rung on the class ladder, it is their fault right?

I am not writing this to obtain sympathy for my past–there were several times in college I refrained from sharing the above information since I despised the idea of being singled out, or buying a pity vote, or of being treated differently than my peers. In retrospect, I wish I would have discussed my experiences in greater detail for the sake of active reflection and life learning. I never realized how much class status influences a person’s perspectives until this past year. I was always very self-conscious of my ethnic and religious background since people tend to respond to those identities first (after all, how often do people ask, “So, what do you think about this issue as an Arab or Muslim?” I have never been asked the question, “What is your viewpoint as someone who comes from a lower-income family?”).

Looking back at my undergraduate experience, I often wondered why I sometimes struggled as a student. I would not classify it as an academic struggle as much as a deeply personal one. Coming from a lower class, I constantly felt like I existed in a parallel universe at my undergraduate institution. American University is by and large, a very affluent campus filled with students who come from middle and upper class families. It is fairly common for parents to pay for a significant portion of the tuition costs. I recall my friends were quite shocked to hear that I was bearing my full education costs by myself (grants certainly helped). I remember I frequently ran on 2-3 hours of sleep to prop up a perfect GPA when possible. “Why?” my peers often asked. My response, “No safety net, no bails out here. I am in this alone. I can’t afford attending parties like you can and I certainly can’t afford to fail.” The detrimental consequence was that I turned into an avid perfectionist, a person so utterly concentrated on success and achievement that I forgot to truly breathe, live, and take in the moment. I was even hesitant to ask for advice from faculty and others in general; my mode of thought: I am self-sufficient, fiercely independent, and can do this by myself as I always have.

The sharp effect (among many) of this country’s culture towards class (ignore class tensions exist and pretend that everyone can overcome adversity of any form at any time), is that it is easy for any individual to ignore their class identity and the struggles associated with it. I often wished away my past and pretended as if that economic struggle never occurred. I silently prayed to be like my peers: carefree, youthful, and truly living life as a 22 year old rather than packing 10 additional years of life experience in a young adult’s frame.

Granted, I still possess high expectations of myself and am still determined to overcome my past. The difference this time is that I accept that past exists. I embrace my class identity and hope this country will move closer to acknowledging the class divisions and struggles which persist…

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For the past few days, I have watched the tragic events unfold in Gaza and have tried to make sense of the unfolding situation. I realize that as an American Palestinian who has friends in Gaza, I could write a very frustrated personal rant which cries out for social justice, peace, change and the like. Instead, I would actually like to take this post in a different direction for various reasons. I wish to first, share some self-conscious reflections based upon my personal experiences and secondly, shift the latter part of this post into the analytical realm.

For starters, my family is admittedly pretty distant from the events in Gaza and I will not in any way suggest that I can truly understand, grasp, or even imagine the human horror of the situation, or for that matter other humanitarian crises worldwide. During my visit to south Lebanon in January 2007 (a few months after the summer war), I still felt distant even as I gazed at the glass bits that cluttered the streets, the exposed sewage, the main roads lined with armed soldiers, the barbed wire, the UN convoys, and the children playing in bombed ruins. I recall staring up at signs which in Arabic warned Tyre’s worn residents to not venture off the streets due to the presence of cluster bombs in the area. I just remember silently asking, “Why? Why? Why? Is it all really worth it? Is it?”

Even then as I tried desperately to understand the human face behind conflicts in the Middle East, I still could not possibly say that I was able to empathize with people or share their experiences. The reality of the situation was and still is I am an American citizen who lives a relatively comfortable life a world away from the world’s conflicts and human tragedies. My family may consist mainly of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, but we are still very fortunate–my relatives have created a comfortable middle class life for themselves in neighboring Arab countries.

What we Palestinians abroad and elsewhere then collectively share is a feeling of loss and grief–a lack of national actualization. We shed tears and grieve not because we can necessarily come to grips with the death and destruction occurring in the remains of Palestine–though many can. We distant travelers and wanderers cry for the remains of our beloved country, our homeland, and our very national identity because it has not been defined by peace or prosperity–such entities have been torn apart as they were defined by perpetual pain and loss. Perhaps this is a reason Palestinians have learned to journey through this world as permanent travelers; we are wanderers who collectively reminisce over our shared memories and experiences, yet never fit into any part of this world including a part we label ours.

I do not pretend to be an effective poet or artist who can capture our collective human spirit through creative expression. This task should be left to others who will likely perform it better than I possibly could. Instead, I would like to venture beyond self-conscious reflections to ask larger questions. Amidst inaction at the international level, individuals at a person-to-person level can try to learn from such experiences. I will thus use the remainder of this post to address the following questions: Have the parties to the conflict ignored their lessons from history? Are there parallels between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at this stage compared to other aspects of this conflict in previous times (perhaps at the regional level)? If so, how can we analyze and address such comparisons? Furthermore, what dynamics of this conflict can we elucidate through historical analysis?

Given that this is already a lengthy blog post, I also do not pretend to offer concrete or sufficient answers to the above questions. I only ask that we consider them to reflect upon this complex situation. Consider this a basic start.

My first impression after hearing the news from Gaza is that there are quite a few parallels between this recent set of airstrikes and those which occurred during the 2006 summer war between Hizbullah and Israel. There are a few key points here to consider: Hizbullah arguably triggered the war initially through capturing two Israeli soldiers at the border, killing others, and constantly launching rockets into northern Israel. (Amnesty International’s 2006 report documented the details of the war and can be viewed here). In response, Israel launched a 34 day war of airstrikes by land, sea, and air which resulted in an estimated 1,183 casualties of which a third were children, 4,054 people injured, and 970,000 Lebanese and Palestinian people displaced. Hizbullah in turn launched rockets into northern Israel which killed 40 civilians including both Israelis and Israeli Arabs.

The Amnesty Report also provided the following insights based upon interviews with both Israeli and Lebanese officials:

“According to the New York Times, the IDF Chief of Staff said the air strikes were aimed at keeping pressure on Lebanese officials, and delivering a message to the Lebanese government that they must take responsibility for Hizbullah’s actions. He called Hizbullah “a cancer” that Lebanon must get rid of, “because if they don’t their country will pay a very high price.”

The widespread destruction of apartments, houses, electricity and water services, roads, bridges, factories and ports, in addition to several statements by Israeli officials, suggests a policy of punishing both the Lebanese government and the civilian population in an effort to get them to turn against Hizbullah. Israeli attacks did not diminish, nor did their pattern appear to change, even when it became clear that the victims of the bombardment were predominantly civilians, which was the case from the first days of the conflict.”

There are two interesting developments here to consider: 1) based upon the above report, a few parallels exist between Gaza’s present situation and that of Lebanon’s in 2006 which merit attention, and 2) there are a few lessons that can be learned from the war in Lebanon that can be applied elsewhere. After all, Israel is not the only state that has launched airstrikes in an attempt to weaken militant or insurgent movements.

South Lebanon, like Gaza, is not only a politically volatile region, but is also extremely difficult to govern given previous humanitarian crises, frequent wars and violent skirmishes across the border, and the lack of a strong central government which enjoys full sovereignty (sounds strikingly similar to Pakistan and Afghanistan at times doesn’t it?). The end result is that non-state actors (in this case, political Islamist movements like Hizbullah and Hamas) are able to enjoy free reign in a politically unstable environment that is ripe for mobilization of new recruits.

All such movements need is a worthy cause and an extra reason to adopt politically violent resistance in the name of God and country. Israel’s fundamental error in Lebanon was not merely tactical–in my view, it would not matter whether or not they restricted their attacks to the air or pursued an actual ground raid. Likewise, in Gaza, it will not matter if they shift tactics and try to ‘learn’ from their encounter with Hizbullah. They committed the same mistake in 1982 that they did in 2006 and arguably will in 2008 in Gaza: by assuming that national security can be increased solely through military means, that an influential social movement can be defeated through sheer force or weakened, and by assuming that the local population will turn against such movements under extreme duress, Israel’s actions in Lebanon and Gaza have and will likely undermine its security and its political position in the Middle East. These airstrikes have already angered both Arabs and Muslims across the region–moderates and extremists included.

Hamas, like Hizbullah, will likely end up the unintended victor of this scenario since even moderate Gazans, other Palestinians, other Arabs, and quite possibly other Muslims elsewhere will likely support the political actor they believe opposes the state that is responsible for killing 300 civilians. I would argue the historical lesson to be learned from Lebanon is that airstrikes and sheer force will not necessarily lead to greater national security, but will instead produce the opposite result. The attacks in Gaza will not win the hearts and minds of moderates throughout the region, but will instead harden them, embolden them, and intensify their polarization at a time when negotiations are desperately needed and a comprehensive peace process is sorely absent.

In environments where central governments (or in Gaza, the inherent lack thereof) do not enjoy full sovereignty, the military intervention or attack by another state or political actor ultimately undermines any remaining sovereignty, power, and influence the central government previously enjoyed. The end result of the recent attacks in Gaza may very well be a further fractured Palestinian government, increased support for Hamas over other Palestinian political actors that embrace negotiations, and a further shift in the regional balance of power towards militant movements that have no desire to sit down at the negotiation table.

If Israel truly wanted to increase its security or to progress in the steps of restarting the peace process, its political and military establishment would rethink the lessons learned from Lebanon and pursue ‘solutions’ beyond simple tactical changes. Likewise, if Hamas truly cared about Palestinian civilians, they would not commit the same mistake as Hizbullah and provoke violent responses across the border that usually result in the loss of human life.

The tragedy inherent in this situation is that both sides lack the politically courageous leadership needed to resolve conflicts and pursue tough negotiation. The Palestinian and Israeli leadership is weak, fractured, and all too willing to pursue temporary solutions that will likely fail and set us back further than initially imagined.

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Dear God,

I have a simple and petty question plus a kind request–I’m sure you get these all the time. I was considering leaving a sticky note, but wasn’t sure where to place it…and I imagine your email inbox is full.

So, I hereby present my question via my blog and facebook:
Why on earth did you create a 24 hour day?

Can you extend it to, say, 30, or maybe 56 hours without severely realigning the planets or causing a wholesale global armageddon? That, or grant me superhuman powers to complete my to-do list?

Sincerely,

An ungrateful soul/workaholic/caffeine addict who would love to complete her to-do list.

P.S. Tell Ibn Khaldun, Socrates, and Vincent van Gogh I say hi.

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Hear ye hear ye! I have a new blog! That’s right, to the skeptics who didn’t believe in my capacity to create blogs, I have news for you: change has come to the blogopshere!

Ok, it’s 10am on a friggin Sunday morning…I needed some type of cliche hook-in.

Ah, but for those wondering, why the crazy name Sayida Siyasa of Arabia?Well, what blog is a blog without a fun origins-of-the-name story? Here goes: twas a late Saturday night (more like 2am) and amidst my caffeine-powered brainstorming for my PhD programs personal statement, the following idea came to mind: why not set aside time for a weekly blog? Excuses immediately came to mind: I have no time for it! It’s a conformist thing to do! (and facebook isn’t?). I’ll get seriously distracted from my grad-school applications!

A few seconds later, being the spontaneous spirit that I am, I made every practical excuse to start one: I spend just as much time on facebook and could link the two…..hmmmmm……..ok….I can have fun with GRE vocab prep and write blog posts about my academic readings if need be……hmmmmm……ok, and….and….I can post Arabic translation exercises of BBC news items–People will still look at my blog just because they think it’s cool to see anything with Arabic writing on it even if it makes no damn sense.This is sounding more appealing as the caffeine wears off and my head fills with crazy ambitious schemes….oh what the hell! I’m in!

As the wee hours of the morning began to set in and I ventured into a euphoric realm of caffeine deprivation, I decided it was high time to create a blog name. A short summary of the process occurred as follows:

2am: I initially thought: how about something snarky and witty?

I know! The Angry Arab!…..oh wait, that one’s taken. Damnit.

3am: With a cup of tea, I continued with my noble task. Ah, I’ve got it! How about taking some haphazard miscombobulation of English words, translate them into Arabic, and produce some outrageous title that sounds 10x cooler? Since people in the Middle East refer to people as either Umm (mother) or Abu (father) of something, let’s try Bait Al-Afkar Umm Al Siyasa…or, roughly translated, Mother of Politics House of Ideas!Wow, I just seriously mistranslated that and misused the idafa structure. Damnit squared!

4am: Ok ok, gettin serious here…let me think….once upon a time when I did a blog a few years back, I used the term LadyPolitik because I thought it was a clever feminist spin on the IR term realpolitik. In retrospect, it was horribly cheesy, but seemed to make a great AIM Id. So, how about I take that word, try to translate that into Arabic, make it sound 20x cooler, and then tell an absolute fabricated lie of a story in the morning to entertain my would-be readers?

Alright, I’ll take it.

Voila! Sayida Siyasa was born! Sayida means ‘lady’ and Siyasa of course means ‘politics’. I don’t believe the term ‘politik’ has an equivalent translation in Arabic, so I adopted the word closest to it.Take that Lawrence of Arabia–here comes another East-meets-West force to reckon with! …..just not in the deserts of Wadi Rum, but instead in the blogosphere!

**Caveat disclaimer: To my geeky Arabic speaking friends, no I did not adhere to perfect formal Arabic grammar since Al-Siyasa is the proper word which means politics (yes, I dropped the definite article to make my blog name sound less awkward.) Secondly, sayida is used in colloquial, not formal Arabic, for both single and married women. The formal Arabic word ‘anisa’ (for Ms.) would have also sounded awkward. Just run with my crazy imaginative blog name will ya? :-)**

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