Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Weekly Report 8: Naomi Shihab Nye

“I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.” - Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American. Throughout her early years and in high school, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas. She ended up receiving her BA in English and World Religions from Trinity University in San Antonio. Her experiences in these different cultures, even at a young age, has influenced many of her works.
Nye often writes about her experiences as an Arab-American through her poems and books. She illustrates her heritage and peaceful spirit through her well-rounded and diverse pieces. Despite authoring some books, she is best known as a poet and has won a multitude of awards for her poems. For example, she received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award for You and Yours in 2005. She has also obtained honors from the International Poetry Forum and the Texas Institute of Letters, as well as the Carity Randall Prize and Lavan Award. She still has been successful as a children’s author, winning the Jane Addams Children’s Book award in 1998 for Habibi. Her poems and short stories have appeared in a numerous journals throughout the world as well.

Following September 11th, Nye became a major figure for Arab-Americans by speaking out against terrorism and prejudice. She wrote a collection of poems that was published as one novel, 19 Varieties of Gazelle:  Poems of the Middle East, that dealt with the lack of understanding between Arabs and Americans. She received a lot of praise for this work due to the timeliness and thought put into her message. Finally, in 2009, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Today, she lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Works Cited:
"Naomi Shihab Nye." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
"Naomi Shihab Nye." Academy of American Poets. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Weekly Report 7: Sam Khalifa

Sam Khalifa was born on December 5th, 1963 in Fontana, California while his father was working on his Ph.D. at the University of California, Riverside. During his youth, he relocated numerous times due to his father’s job, twice to the Middle East. At a young age, he moved to Alexandria, Egypt and a few years later at the age of 12 his family moved to Tripoli, Libya. In Libya, Sam truly developed a love for the game of baseball, playing on a sand field with the children of American businessmen employed by the oil companies in the surrounding area.
Sam’s mother, an American, was a native of Tucson, Arizona, and that is where Sam attended high school. He immediately became a dazzling athlete, both on the gridiron and the diamond. He was named the all-city quarterback by The Arizona Daily Star in 1982, the same year he led his baseball team to a state-championship title as their star shortstop. He was selected as the 7th-pick in the 1982 Major League Baseball Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and was offered a $100,000 signing bonus.

He developed quickly as a player, and by 1985, Khalifa was on display at Three Rivers Stadium as the Pirates everyday shortstop, replacing the injured Johnnie LeMaster. He got off to a red-hot start, recording hits in six of his first eleven Major League at-bats. However, his time in the limelight faded rapidly, and by the 1989 season, he found himself in Triple-A Buffalo moving from position to position. He realized that he would never be the everyday shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. One night, during a road trip for Buffalo, Khalifa missed the team bus due to a miscommunication and flew home in frustration. He was suspended by the Pirates and he figured he would start over the next season in spring training with another organization. He even had a tryout set up with the San Diego Padres.
However, five months later, Khalifa’s father was murdered, ending any aspirations Khalifa had of making a comeback. He no longer could focus on the game. Instead, he obtained a college degree, drove a cab, went through a multitude of jobs in sales, and ended up as a cab driver again. He refused to get over his father’s murder and the ongoing investigation.
Rashad Khalifa, his father, was brutally murdered on January 31, 1990, at the Masjid of Tucson. Rashad founded the masjid himself, considering himself a messenger of God, implementing science, modernity, and numerology into the practice and study of the Islamic faith. He considered himself a prophet, which led to a lot of controversy and threats. His son, Sam, struggled to focus on his baseball career during this time due to the distractions at home. Rashad’s murder became a cold case until 2006, when the Justice Department traced DNA to a man named Glen Francis. Francis was eventually indicted for the murder of Khalifa in 2013.

Today, Sam Khalifa is a content man. He does not discuss his glory days as a Major Leaguer much, and instead, spends his time either volunteering as a coach at his high school alma-mater or driving his cab.


Brownfield, Paul. "Briefly a Rising Star, Forever a Mourning Son." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Weekly Report 6: Alaa Al Aswany

On December 11th, 2015, The Guardian released an article discussing how Egypt had decided to shut down one of Alaa-al Aswany’s public seminars. Aswany first burst into the world of literature in 2002 with his second novel, The Yacoubian Building. Not only was it a bestseller in Arabic, but the English translation and movie were incredibly popular as well. Because of this, he is able to maintain a high-profile through his newspaper columns, novels, and public speaking endeavours. He is considered a controversial speaking because he creates debate and showcases his viewpoints on certain political aspects of Egypt.

Alaa Al Aswany

Aswany was supportive of Egyptian President Sisi’s use of military intervention against the Muslim Brotherhood, even after a mass killing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in August of 2013. However, he was incredibly critical of Sisi’s style of governance, and actually campaigned against him in the election of May of 2014 on behalf of Hamdeen Sabahy, the socialist candidate. His criticism of President Sisi drew enough attention to have the novelist banned from publishing his weekly column in Al Masry Al Youm, an Egyptian newspaper, and from appearing in any media run by the state of Egypt. As a result, Aswany has been quoted as saying that under Sisi’s government “freedom of expression does not exist” and is adamantly opposed to any form of dictatorship. He now uses social media to communicate with his Egyptian audience, considering it “the only space left for free expression.”

The cancellation of Aswany’s talk still accentuates the point that Sisi’s tolerance for any type of criticism or non traditionalist ideas are dwindling. In the past few years, numerous journalists and activists have been jailed. It has affected writers as well. For example, Ahmed Naji went to trial in November of 2015 due to a chapter within his novel The Use of Life, which was accused of “offending public morals.” In February of 2016, he has given a harsh two-year prison sentence for “violating public modesty.” This is just one of many examples of authors being restricted and punished in regards to their works.

Hence, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information condemned the cancellation of Aswany’s seminar, saying that “he (Aswany) is being subjected to smear campaigns.” In 2015, Aswany released two books in English translation:  The Automobile Club and Democracy Is the Answer. His loyal Egyptian fans are hoping that his second book can inspire a change in Egyptian politics and society and allow them to regain their freedom of expression. Much to their dismay, that change is yet to be seen.

Qualey, Marcia Lynx. "Egypt Shuts down Novelist Alaa Al-Aswany's Public Event and Media Work." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reflection 6: The Relationship Between the United States and Middle East

Dr. Leahy covered a multitude of specific topics pertaining to the relationship between the United States and the Middle East in her lecture. She started by pointing out that the main focal point of conflict between the U.S. and the Middle East lies in the U.S.’s support of Israel. As long as the United States supports Israel, there will be resentment towards the United States in the Middle East. This resentment has great merit. Israel receives roughly 40% of all U.S. aid. They continue to receive this aid despite the immorality the state portrays on a daily basis. The murder of Rachel Corrie, an American who was working at Rafah Refugee Camp, at the hands of the IDF was not even enough to get the U.S. to relinquish some of its aid. Furthermore, in conflicts such as the Battle of Jenin in 2002, the United States allowed Israel to kill civilians and destroy homes, leaving 4,000 people homeless. The United States also rejected the idea of a cease fire in 2006 when Lebanon was invaded by Israel. Israel was withstanding rocket attacks on military sites by Hezbollah, and responded by attacking innocent Lebanese civilians rather than military targets. By delaying the ceasefire, the United States actively endorsed Israel’s actions and allowed them to bomb infrastructure, set up a naval blockade, and kill 1,200 Lebanese. Israel’s response was not proportional to the threat displayed by Hezbollah. More recently, in May of 2010, the IDF boarded the vessel of the Free Gaza Movement from Turkey who were bringing aid such as food, medicine, and building materials to the Gaza Strip. The IDF ended up killing 9 Turkish civilians that day for simply trying to help those in need. 

As for the U.S.’s future with Israel, it is still to be determined. President Obama hoped to reestablish the borders to what they were in 1967, however he was unable to accomplish this feat. All of the major U.S. presidential candidates, other than Bernie Sanders, spoke at AIPAC, a pro-Israel organization, and vowed to stand unconditionally with Israel. Ted Cruz went as far as to say, “Palestine has not existed since 1948.”

Outside of Israel, there are many other factors that lead to the conflict between the United States and Middle East. First, the United States has supported Middle Eastern dictators throughout history, no matter their behavior. The United States, a democratic state, supports dictators while crushing democratic elections like they did in 2006 in Palestine. In January of 2006, Hamas won legislative elections in Palestine, only to have the United States, Russia, the European Union, and United Nations cut funding to Palestine because they were not happy with the election results. Hamas was what the people wanted, proven by the fact that there was a 74.6% voter turnout, an astoundingly high number for any election. Second, the United States placed sanctions against Iraq, failing to recognize that those sanctions hurt the common man rather than the political regimes. Those sanctions lead to poverty among youth-heavy populations, attracting extremists to the country to recruit the marginalized for their organizations. Third, the United States broke their promise by leaving U.S. military bases in Mecca following the Gulf War. Finally, oil is another reason for U.S. and Middle Eastern conflict.

Hence, I fully agree with everything Dr. Leahy said today. The United States fails to recognize its role in their conflict with the Middle East. I hope that our next U.S. President can find a way to make amends with the Middle East and pave the road for a prosperous future in the region.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Weekly Report 5: The U.S. in Yemen

According to an article from The New York Times, on March 28, 2016 American Navy ships intercepted and confiscated a weapons shipment from Iran meant for the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Yemen crisis is one of the most serious conflicts it has faced in years. The fight is between the government loyalists, backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis, backed by Iran. The Houthis adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism, which makes up one-third of the population of Northern Yemen. Both of those groups are opposed by AQAP, an al-Qaeda group based out of the Arabian Peninsula. “Western intelligence agencies consider AQAP the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda because of its technical expertise and global reach (BBC).” The violence in Yemen stems from problems of inequality in regards to power and resources. The government has been corrupt, unstable, and weak. The poorest country in the Middle East has been depleted both economically and in terms of infrastructure. More than 10 million citizens are lacking adequate access to nutritional food as well due to unemployment, a lack of social services, and high food prices. With the issues already surrounding the modern Middle East, the West fears that the issues in Yemen will only increase regional tensions.
Last week’s confiscated arms were hidden on a small dhow, a traditional sailing vessel used to transport goods and passengers throughout the Persian Gulf. The weapons included AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and machine guns. The crew of the ship was released following the the confiscation of the weapons. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said “that Iran’s support for the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war was an example of its ‘destabilizing activities’ in the region (Reuters).’” Questions surrounding the weapons could be raised at the United Nations Security Council, the strongest body in the United Nations responsible for international peace and security.

Some of the weapons seized on March 28, 2016

Reuters. "Yemen: U.S. Seizes Weapons at Sea." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 4 Apr. 2016. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.

"Yemen Crisis: Who Is Fighting Whom? - BBC News." BBC News. BBC, 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Reflection 5: The Two-State Solution

I believe that a just, durable, and good solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would be the implementation of the two-state solution. Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation is unacceptable in modern times. Palestinians have been permanently displaced and have been stripped of their happiness, prosperity, and most of all hope. According to a Foreign Policy poll from March of 2010, 57 percent of Palestinians and 71 percent of Israelis support a two-state solution. This is what the people within both parties want. However, it has to be something the governments are willing to negotiate, and the United States must recognize that it plays a role in this conflict. For example, Israel is incredibly dependent on the United States, and if the U.S. were to threaten to halt their aid or support at any time it would give Israel incentive to negotiate an agreement with Palestine. Once an agreement is signed, both sides would have to agree on their future actions and be assured that their needs and desires will be met. 

The two-state solution would embody many elements. First of all, agreements in regards to security would have to be reached, especially due to Israel’s large security concerns. This seems like the best logical first step before any portion of the population is moved or Israel removes itself from any territory because it creates some sort of structure. After security agreements are reached, Israel would then remove itself from the West Bank and end its blockade of Gaza that has paralyzed Gaza’s economy. The Palestinian state would then be allocated fair access to sources of water and a fixed land connection between the West Bank and Gaza. Jerusalem would be a shared city, with East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine. The idea of sharing the city is best due to the religious connection that both Muslims and Jews alike have with Jerusalem and its holy sites. The holy sites would also be shared, and mandates would be created in order to help them to run smoothly. I believe that the Palestinian and Israeli governments, along with U.S. and international support, can secure these changes and solve these issues. Finally, and most importantly, both sides would agree that the two-state solution means that the Arab-Israeli Conflict is over. Furthermore, the Arab League should then formally recognize the State of Israel and establish peaceful relations with it. 

There are obvious positive aspects to the two-state solution. First of all, it would give the Palestinian and Israeli people what they want. Secondly, it has the potential to lead to peace in the region, and both countries would benefit from the changes. Even Israel, who would be losing land, would benefit due to improved relations with the United States and its repaired worldwide image. Hence, I believe the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the implementation of the two-state solution.

Cohen, Michael A. “Think Again:  The Two-State Solution.” Foreign Policy. September 14, 2011.