Friday, July 26, 2013

Are Arabic articles in Wikipedia reliable?

No they are not. There is a huge gap between the accuracy of the information that exists in an English Wikipedia article and in the Arabic version of the same article. Wikipedia is the largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet, ranking seventh globally among all websites on Alexa as of June 2013, and it is one of the most important resources for common readers as well as students in today's world. Although Wikipedia is an open content source and pretty much anyone can edit or contribute to its articles, it is still viewed as a reliable source of information, however, this is not the case for the Arabic content of Wikipedia as many articles do not meet any encyclopedic standards.

Much of the content in Arabic the deals with history, natural sciences, nature, zoology etc. is indeed reliable as it is just a translation to the English or French content, but the content the deals with sensitive issues like Islam, the west, women rights, Jewish history etc. are not. Many of the sensitive content include a lot of anti-Western and Islamic propaganda. Here I'm going to offer some humble examples of those articles:

One article that is very frustrating and disappointing in the Arabic article about Women in Islam. While the English article offers a neutral detailed count of how Islam views women, it does not miss to mention and redirect you to issues like the debate about women rights within Islam, gender segregation, status of women in Arab societies, progressive criticism etc, the Arabic article offer a clear fundamentalist Muslim male dominant statements like "Allah honored women and relieved them from leadership and responsibility and gave them to man." the article goes on in another place and suggests that "Western enemies of Islam are criticize women status in Islam."

Wikipedia offers a very nice entry about Islam and Violence which discusses the relationship between Islam as a religion and the violence behavior of many Muslims, a very important global issue and concern no doubt. The article is available in English, Farsi and Arabic. The English and Farsi versions are quite objective and neutral as any other Wikipedia entry, however, I should tell you the Arabic one is not. The Arabic article, very long and formal, could have been written by a Hamas or a Hezbollah member as it defends Jihad and justify it as a tool of countering Western imperialism. The Article is strongly anti-Western and pro-Jihad, one can fairly describe it as propaganda. The article has been like this since last March.

Another worrying Arabic article was the one about "Protocols of Zion" which included clear antisemitism describing the protocols as the Jewish conspiracy to dominate the globe and many other antisemitic statements that made me edit the article many times myself.

Personally, I'm a fan of Wikipedia. It is a great easy source of reliable information that can be easily verified through the list of references. But it is important that people understand what Arabs do write and read in Wikipedia. I wish that many Arabic speaking editors in Wikipedia would commit themselves to the western standards of encyclopedic writing, saving the readers from being exposed to another Arabic nonacademic propaganda and a lot of misinformation.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Holy Antisemitic Month of Ramadan

From the days of my early childhood in Egypt, anti-Semitism was not only a common phenomenon, it has been a national characteristic of my country. From Alexandria to Aswan, in every city and small town along the Nile river, anti-Jewish propaganda can be easily found in mosques, bookstores, on the radio, in newspapers and on TV.

Learning to hate Jews starts in Egypt the first moment you learn about their existence and continues long into adulthood. I am so used to seeing Jews identified by the old traditional Middle Ages stereotype as mean, filthy, greedy dishonest conspirators out to cause global chaos and disharmony among the Egyptian people. Bit by bit I learned all the elements and causes of religious and secular hatred of Jews in Egyptian society. I still recall the time when, as a 13-year-old, I got to experience the broadcast of the Ramadan special: “A Horseless Knight,” a TV series watched widely across Egypt telling the story of the Jewish conspiracy to dominate humanity, as recorded in the “Elder’s Protocols.” The TV series spurred a large growth in sales of countless copies of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in Egypt.

Egyptians will be celebrating the holy month of Ramadan until August 7th this year. Little is known in the west about this Islamic festival other than that it is a holy month of fasting. Ramadan is the biggest and longest event in the Muslim world. The holiday is marked by 30 days of feasts and traditional celebrations, which vary depending on the cultural heritage of the country and are tangential to the religion. In some countries, schools and some businesses go on vacation for the entire month. In other countries, work is limited to only 4-6 hours a day.

Muslims and Arabs spend each day fasting, refraining from eating food and drinking water. Due to the usual harsh climate in the Middle East, they spend most of their time resting in the shade. Upon sunset they break their fast in a celebration known as Iftar, leaving the rest of the evening and night to a continuous joyful festival atmosphere with plenty of good food and family reunions and the family TV room is the traditional place for spending Ramadan.

During Ramadan, Arab TV networks offer hundreds of new daily shows starring the biggest actors and actresses in the Arab world, nearly 300 new episodes of Arabic language programs are introduced during the prime viewing month of Ramadan. Most of these programs are produced in Egypt, which was almost the sole producer of Arabic media content until the 2000s, which led to a prevalence of Egyptian Arabic all over the Middle East.

As far as I remember from the early days of my childhood, not one Ramadan season missed the opportunity to introduce some major anti-Jewish documentary or TV series. The biggest hit Ramadan specials in Egypt are usually programs that offer a large dose of anti-Semitism to the Arab appetite.

The Middle East has a mythological mix of nationalism, history and religion unlike anything in the West. National loyalty and history need to be defined clearly and because of the development of the Abrahamic framework of the region, the subject of “the Jews” offers a unique integration of these elements. Ramadan, is the perfect time to celebrate not just Muslim identity but being un-Jewish.

This Ramadan, a new documentary called Khaibar and produced by an Egyptian is being broadcast on a pan-Arab Qatari TV network. Khaibar introduces the audience to Jews being the villains, conspirators out to dominate humanity, enemies of Islam and slayers of prophets, the same themes used to define Jews over and over again to Arab audiences. It portrays the Jewish community living in the Arabian Peninsula during the time of the Prophet as a secret society, only concerned with conspiring against everyone else, including other Jews.

Ramadan specials like Khaibar are designed to remind large numbers of Arab viewers every day for a month that their Jewish neighbors are plotting their destruction. I distinctly remember Ramadan in 2005, when a Lebanese TV series titled The Diaspora Arabs featured a scene in which Jews slaughtered a Christian child for their secret matzah ingredient, the blood of Christians!

Given the fact that Arabs don’t have a strong reading culture, most of the information Arabs depend on comes from television, although lately the internet is becoming more prominent. Because of this, it may not be unusual to find a viewer of The Diaspora Arabs utterly convinced that the Jews eat matzah tainted with the blood of Christians. Unfortunately some Arab TV stations have decided to take advantage of a Muslim holiday to broadcast paranoia, obsessions and illusions.

Ramadan is supposed to offer Muslims a month of spiritual reflection, self-restraint, an opportunity to give charity and empathize with those who are less fortunate. Yet because of those who make decisions on Arab TV networks, this year’s Ramadan offers another dose of unchallenged hatred and historical forgery, planting deeper seeds of Jewish hatred that is all too often becoming an expression of Arab identity in the modern age.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Once again; What's going on in Egypt?

Apparently the Arab spring was not just a season, it was a beginning of the biggest mass movement in human history, while the results remain unknown and uncertain, it is important to understand what is happening in Egypt.

A coup? Or a revolution?

While the recent events in Egypt are generally recognized as a military coup in the west and in Egypt by followers of political Islam, in Egypt the people are determined to view it as a popular revolution against the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood giving the fact that the military assumed power after nearly 22 million Egyptians demonstrated against the president in the biggest demonstration in the history of man. Others in Egypt view it as both, a revolution followed by a coup supporting it. Practically this is a ridiculous technical question for either it was a revolution or a coup that won't change any facts on the ground, however this is not the case for Washington. The foreign assistance act which is a U.S law says in section 508 that the Us has to cut aid to any country whose “whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” That law generated the problem now existing regarding the US 1.5 billion dollars aid to Egypt. First I almost guarantee it the US won't cut aid to Egypt, Egypt is too important and the US cant afford losing it. Second, I have a lot of doubt that the real problem for the Obama administration is a legal one but rather its a problem regarding the current foreign policy of reaching mutual understandings with radical Islamist groups in the region. One can't ignore the strong support for Islamic militants in Syria, and also one should not forget that no significant reaction from Al Qaeda took place following the assassination of Bin Laden.

Back to Egypt, what is going on?

Well, what is going on right now in Egypt is the same as what has been going on since Jan 2011, a wave of political unrest following the throwing of a 30 years brutal western puppet dictator. Egyptians face a new reality of a divided diverse society with a disastrous economy and the ultimate failure of state infrastructure.
Following the fall of Mubarak in 2011, The army took over power promising a democratic transition which never took place. The Islamists represented in the three large groups of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis and the ex-Jihadists pressured the military for quick elections, the revolutionaries demanded a longer transitional period to allow them to organize new political parties. Eventually the military made the deal with the Islamists, and as usual America sponsored, introducing quick and distorted constitutional reforms and calling for elections which definitely came in the favor of the Islamists. The new Muslim Brotherhood regime promised the army financial independence and no accountability for any crimes committed before or after Mubarak left.  The Islamists started to shape the state and theoretical society as they wished, rapid process of Islamization took place, liberals and secularists were excluded from the whole political process, Christians were not even represented while writing the new constitution. The MB showed no sign that it was ready to share power with any one else announcing that as a winning majority they have the right of total domination. The new regime made it clear that it will shape the new Egyptian identity solely (For further reference about the Egyptian identity crisis: The revolutionary forces felt betrayed and abandoned, left only to count the numbers of those who died confronting the forces of Mubarak and the army. Frustration and anger were the common factor between liberals, socialists, secularists and the non-Muslim minority, the army was not impressed.

On the other hand and to be clear, the vast majority of Egyptians don't give a crap about the issues of Islam, identity, secularism or any other ideological confrontation. The main problem of the Egyptians is poverty and economic development. It is true that Egyptians elected the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, but they did so on the religious assumption that religious people are naturally successful, honest and blessed by Allah. An assumption which was destroyed shortly after the elections, the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood was remarkably quick and disastrous in a way that even the opposition did not expect. The MB was totally focusing on assuming power and occupying the state that it ignored totally the issues of economical development. Egypt is sinking in debt and yet the MB was asking the international bank for a new big 2 billion dollars loan, unemployment is higher than ever and the value of the Egyptian currency is falling quickly. The MB did very little to prevent the country from hitting the rock bottom. One American friend reported to me from Cairo in Morsi's last days: "There is no security, no tap water, no electricity and no gas at the gas stations. The current situation in the streets is no less than a Hollywood zombie apocalypse." When I heard so, I knew that a military coup was imminent, because first the people just two years ago revolted against a dictator who was much better than the current, secondly the military who owns and controls 40% of Egyptian economy had to move to protect its own economical empire.

While it is true that what happened in Egypt is technically a military coup, I would rather call on us to change our own concepts of democracy and democratic change than to call on Egyptians to put back to power a terrorist Islamic group. When democracy brings to power a group that is inefficient, discriminatory, oppressing women and minorities, have no history of democratic practices, supports and sponsors global terrorism, then my dear western reader there is something utterly wrong in our understanding of democracy. Those who call to kill the infidels, slay the Jews, cover the women, hang the gays and burn the Christians should not be considered legal political power nor beneficiaries of free speech, but terrorists. The Egyptian military coup saved Egypt and region from entering a long dark age of bloodshed and jihad mania, a move which we should be grateful for even if we would still call on the military to withdraw from political life. Personally I have spent time in military prison and had a bad experience with Egyptian military, yet I have no doubt that what the military did was for the better, I would rather protest against a secular dictator who may imprison me, than to protest against an Islamic dictator who will slaughter me then eat my organs.

There is a problem with the Islamic concept of a democracy, in Egypt, Iran and Gaza we have seen that Islamists understand democracy as elections and they use elections to eliminate any other democratic practices such as free speech and minority rights. Now in Egypt the Middle East is learning for the first time that lesson, that democracy just starts with elections and it has to do more with what you do with power after you reach it. Egypt amazingly have learned that lesson in a year, the same people who elected the MB are the same ones who demonstrated to remove it from power. While the future remains totally uncertain in Egypt as the military is once again back to power after a disastrous experience of "democratic transition", it is generally a great thing for the world that a terrorist Islamist group is now being alienated in its own land of birth. I personally don't think I will be able to go back to Egypt anytime soon, yet I should celebrate the fall of the terrorist group and remain skeptical of the Egyptian military.

Anti Morsi Protests