Blogger Template by Blogcrowds

Final day in Tallahassee

It's really hard to believe that today is the last day we will be spending in Tallahassee. It seems surreal, very surreal; especially in the light of the fact that we have so much stuff to get done today. It's going to be a long day indeed, which will start at 7:00 when someone picks up the last of the chairs I was selling, to the moment... well, until we are done loading the truck, cleaning the house, throwing out the trash, getting rid of stuff for freecycle, etc.

Gotta scoot!

I think I did well on my exam. My brain hurt, though. It's been over fifteen years since I've actually written anything in Arabic, let alone try to put together a coherent sentence together in Arabic. Like I said before, although I speak the Lebanese dialect almost every day with my mother, I don't speak nahawi, or high/formal arabic at all. Whenever I listen to news or read online magazines in Arabic, I can pretty much get the gist of what the reporter is trying to say. Otherwise, I really have no need for it. So today when I had to read long passages and answer questions, I found it a little challenging. Translating from Arabic into English was a breeze, which is very surprising. The test itself should have taken between 1.5 and 2 hours, but it took me about 2 hours and eleven minutes. Most of that time was trying to formulate my answers to the questions. It took less than ten minutes to translate two paragraphs.

On the ride home on the bus, I saw a woman who was snuggled with her daughter, who was wearing a T-shirt that said "Sorry: Mind closed until further notice." Now, why on earth would someone go around advertising that his or her head is completely closed? Might as well just have a shirt that says "I'm an idiot"!

This t-shirt reminds of this bumper-sticker/t-shirt.

I guess I just don't get why would want to advertise that they're complete dolts.

Language skills

Although I speak Arabic on a regular basis with my mother, I have not actually written anything in Arabic in almost twenty years. As part of my graduate degree, I need to take a language assessment. I found out this morning that I will be taking it at 10:30. The exam will consist of 2 reading passages with questions and one text to translate. According to the prof, it should take me between 1:30 hour to 2 hours. Now I'm nervous. But, at least I can get that final requirement out of the way before my move.

But, that also messes up my plan of packing for the day.

T minus 4 days!!

One of my interests is the history of slavery in the Middle East, and specifically, slavery and trafficking out of Africa into Arabia. Historically, the pattern of enslavement, especially during the Ottoman empire, was quite different than the transtlantic slave trade. Chattel slavery was not very common, and most slaves ended up either guarding women in the harems, or worked as domestic servants and in agriculture. Some of them even became the merchants' assistants and proteges, learning trading from their "masters", and being responsible for the upkeep of the books, and for making the trade connections across the world. Most commonly, however, they were used in the military as soldiers. In fact, at one point, slaves constituted the majority of the Ottoman military.

So, this new book by Ehud Toledano to be very interesting with regards to slavery in the Middle East.

Until very recently, the "authority" on Islamic slavery was Bernard Lewis' "Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry," in which he argued that the current racial prejudice in the Arab world, and the association of blackness with a state of inferiority, can be explained historically. After the death of Muhammad, Muslims expanded geographically, and enslaved non-Arabs, who were mostly black. In the process of their conquests, they established contact with more advanced whites and inferior blacks, whom they also enslaved. After the abolition of slavery in Europe, the development of slave trading resulted in the overrepresentation of Africans in the slave population. Therefore, Lewis attributes all three factors to the eventual association of race with slavery and prejudice in the Arab world.

I disagree with Lewis' treatment of the history of slavery, not only because he misses some historical data, but because he is very simplistic in his treatment of race and slavery. The argument is more complex than that, and has a strong religious motivation that Lewis is not very attentive to.

Either way, this new book by Toledano should prove interesting. He has previously written extensively on slavery in the Ottomon empire, but this seems like it adds a new comparative dimension with the transatlantic slave trade that is not very well discussed in the literature.

From the blurb on the Yale website:

This groundbreaking book reconceptualizes slavery through the voices of enslaved persons themselves, voices that have remained silent in the narratives of conventional history. Focusing in particular on the Islamic Middle East from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, Ehud R. Toledano examines how bonded persons experienced enslavement in Ottoman societies. He draws on court records and a variety of other unexamined primary sources to uncover important new information about the Africans and Circassians who were forcibly removed from their own societies and transplanted to Middle East cultures that were alien to them. Toledano also considers the experiences of these enslaved people within the context of the global history of slavery.

The book looks at the bonds of slavery from an original perspective, moving away from the traditional master/slave domination paradigm toward the point of view of the enslaved and their responses to their plight. With keen and original insights, Toledano suggests new ways of thinking about enslavement.

Ehud R. Toledano is professor of Middle East history and director, The Graduate School of Historical Studies, Tel Aviv University.

I haven't seen any reviews of it yet, but I'm curious as to how it stands out to other treatments of the subject material.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Somalia food aid trucks stranded

In Somalia now, 140 food aid trucks are stranded at the Kenya border and can't get food to people.

Of course, this is the day after the Independent reported that the UN food aid is "causing chaos and violence" in Somalia:

There's a pattern here that will hopefully not recreate the violence that created the "black hawk down" fiasco in the 1990s.

This quote is the best in the article:

It is not the first time that Marere's elders have criticised the WFP. After a chaotic food distribution last year, which also took place during the harvest season, the elders wrote to WFP asking the UN organisation not to deliver food again. But, in the past nine months, Marere's elders have changed twice - first the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) then the transitional government took control of the area.
It really is the same story of militias fighting, but of course, according to the Independent, they're militias belonging to different clans who are fighting.

And, lastly,

Some recipients of the food aid have also claimed that the quality is so bad they have had to feed it to their animals.

Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for WFP, said the organisation had received "no reports of this kind" from its local partners in Marere. But, he added: "Somalia is perhaps the WFP's worst operating environment in the world at this time."

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

First post

It's funny, the last time I started a new non-livejournal blog was on my personal server right before I started my PhD program. Now, this is another one, and am getting ready for yet another move. Must be something about new beginnings that inspires me to start new things.

Newer Posts Home