Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A different kind of spring


photo: mideast.foreignpolicy.com

For the past 3 moths, every Monday from 6 to 8o'clock, approximately 25 students from all over the world (such variety that resulted in universal representation almost) gathered into a ridiculously small classroom hidden in the hardest to find building on campus to discuss what the media have been calling for a while now 'The Arab Spring.' We started with addressing the name of the class itself,agreed by the University to be "Arab Uprising.." 

Should we call the street protests 'revolts' or' revolutions'? What is, then, a revolution and when is it ok to call a massive(violent) protest a revolution? Is the successful regime overthrown the border between the 2 therms? Does it have to result in radical political change? Is the democratic outcome, or lack thereof, a qualifier? Then is democracy the norm and how do you measure democracy? Pluralism? Representative government? Participation? Free elections? Equal citizenship rights? Freedom of press? How much religion (in politics and law) is too much? Can we include all the countries in discussion under the same umbrella name? Can we call it a 'wave'? What do we gain and what do we lose by oversimplifying? 

"All our work, our whole lifeis a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, thematerial out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written.Everything depends on our understanding of them." Felix Frankfurter

We are trying to use the best words that faithfully convey our thoughts, and words become the sealing of a contract between two partners that commonly agree upon the same therms. Words' meaning is subject to culture and culture is organic, but we can say that most of the times is the usage of the word that is questioned, not its meaning (unless we are talking about what 'human' means in UDHR-that's a whole different topic) We can see how the word "amazing" was butchered through over-usage in reference to normal/mediocre things, feelings, and ideas. I hardly use it and tried to eliminate it from my vocabulary altogether realizing that it is no longer fully expressing the quality of the subject of my attention. Therefore, I prefer: 'an exciting class' (causing great enthusiasm) or 'a brilliant" professor' (marked by impressive intelligence) to amazing class/amazing teacher.  
Instead of  'amazing' ,  when you wake up in a fresh morning, and you go outside where an immense overwhelming feeling of freedom and possibility excites you to the bones, when you are surrounded E-W-N-S by the bright green color of young grass and the only sound you hear is that of your rested breath, and when the phone rights and the intruder asks you "how's there?" use all the words above or simply respond: 'breathtaking'. That is because Starbucks coffee is amazing, watching CSI last night was amazing, some shoes that we'll soon forget, as they rapidly, before season end, go out of fashion, are amazing, and even soft toilet paper is amazing (ok...about the last one...STP is indeed amazing) 

breathtaking: astonishing, awe-inspiring, exciting, hair-raising,heart-stirring, heart-stopping, impressive,magnificent, moving, overwhelming,spine-tingling, stunning,thrilling

And back to 'Arab Spring':
   

After 3 months of debating around the topic, dismissing almost completely the reflection of the events in the international media (read US), and focusing only on the information and analyses produced by Arab scholars, we had to turn in a research paper on the topic of our choosing. I decided to write about women. I was never more afraid of a paper: what can I tell to my professor that she doesn't already know (she being a very cultivated, extremely insightful, Arab scholar) Secondly, I am probably the only female student at CU that never took a class on feminism (though I've tried to,but our schedule never matched), so a superficial attempt to discus "women" in any given context, without a basic, historical framework, is a painful exercise for both the writer and the reader. Thirdly, how can I frame the discussion so that I will not talk from the perspective of white female with a western education dominated by white-male liberal professors (we are, after all, in the Upper West Side); no offense, CU had produced some famous conservatives, but only one won the presidency and he is a democrat, if I can joke about it.

My paper sent to me to the conclusion that the latest changes in the region are detrimental to women, with a focus on Egypt, while acknowledging that we are discussing a short, unstable, period of time. Afraid that my background will transpire in the research, I diluted my voice by straightening Gramsci's.

Though I just found out that I did a great job, if grades count for something, a strange sad feeling tried me all this time: it was for the first time in my life that I felt like a complete foreigner in a culture. 
Paradoxically, we are exposed to news from the Arab world every day of our (American) lives.