Nora Ashmawi's Blog

Archive for November 2009

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” – William Shakespeare.

This poignant quote by Shakespeare illustrates the prominence and presence of racism and disputes between people of varied colors, religions, and cultures. This problem still exists today…

The Clash of Ignorance is an article in The Nation written by Edward W. Said on October 22, 2001. Said is a renowned professional both in the Arab and the Western world. He was a professor of English and Comparative Literature in the University of Columbia who writes for many American and Arabic newspapers worldwide. The great writer passed away on September 2003.

Edward W. Said

Dr. Said

Dr. Huntington

Said began his article by referring to Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article titled The Clash of Civilizations? which attracted much attention and reaction and attacked policy-makers. Huntington asserts that conflicts amongst countries will turn from ideological to cultural. Said reiterated the fact that the clash between Islam and the West earn the greatest, or “lion’s share” of the attention of “civilization identity.” It is said that the West fears and tries very hard to fend off Islam. Much of the West has persisted Islam and increased doing so because of the greater appearance of Muslims in Europe and the US. What these Westerns percieve is that the great Arab/Islamic conquests and power of the seventh century will repeat.

Most of the West and most probably its media has a distorted view of Islam. Said quoted one of Pakistan’s great writers, the late Eqbal Ahmad as claiming in a 1999 article in Dawn weekly, that it is near impossible to study and recognize modern Muslims as an ideal sample of how the are supposed to be and act. Today’s Muslims (as well as Chritians and Jews), Ahmad argues, are concerned mainly with power and mobilizing people for political purposes, as opposed to empowerment through the soul,  and alleviating aspirations for a higher truth and peace. Therefore to attack modern day Islam because of the modern extremeists and atypical examples of Muslims, such as Osama Bin Laden, is a terrible error and would lead to a very muddy view of proper Islam.

There were weaknesses and strengths prevalent in Said’s article. One weakness was his beginning. Said started his fiery article with a quite bland or rather typical opening line. He opened with a sentence about the name and year of Huntington’s article and which magazine it is found it, concluding that it has claimed much attention and reaction. I feel that since Said has many interesting, relevant and insightful points, he shouldn’t have began with “Samuel Huntington’s article “The Clash of Civilzations?” appeared in the Summer 1993…” His article should begin strong so readers would be engaged and continue to read on.

Secondly, Said openly criticized Huntington for being an “ideologist” who “wants to make ‘civilizations’ and ‘identities’ into what they are not…” Although it is good that Said is able to recognize flaws in Huntington’s article, it is perhaps too honest or severe for Said to attack the writer with strong labels.

Another weakness I found in the article was that of biases. To illustrate, I will quote a part of Said’s article: “Huntington tried to give his argument a little more subtlety and many, many more footnotes; all he did, however, was confuse himself and demonstrate what a clumsy writer and inelegant thinker he was.” In my opinion this is an outright insult. It was too blunt for Said to defame Huntington and there are many other subtle ways to hint at readers that Huntington’s article is unreliable. Further, when Said openly portrays his biases, he loses credibility as a writer. Readers may now how suspicions as to whether all points made in the previous part of the article are also tainted with biases…

Having described the weaknesses, there are also many strengths that deserve mentioning. First, the title of Said’s article is a spoof or smart pun of Huntington’s article. Said names his article The Clash of Ignorance which mirrors the ignorance that Huntington and other generalizers have of Islam and the West.

Another strength that Said has in his article is that he uses a variety of sources. For example he uses sources from Pakistani writers, such as Eqbal Ahmad, as well as sources from Western writers such as Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington. This makes his article well-rounded and impartial. On a similar note, Said notices the flaw of Huntington’s sample because it consists of a minor number of some Muslim populations. Said points out that a all-encompassing and reminiscent of the entire population, something he asserts is near-impossible to do. Said says that doing this would confuse the mind induce stereotypes and generalizations.

Said concluded by thrashing Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations claiming that it is “better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time.” In Said’s eyes, the matter of Islam, the West and the clashes they have are too complex to be understood at such a surface level. One must be careful not to generalize Islam and the West, this is one thing Said never forgot.

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Hmm… I create my own avatar… So I can be anything I want to be? Do anything I want to do? What’s that? I can even fly? Open and develop a multinational company from my desk? Save the world? Second Life sounds great!

I am a spunny [s’pʌnɪ]. A ‘spunny’ is a four legged mammal, no bigger than the palm of an average human’s hand. They are most reminiscent of modern day bunnies and chipmunks. Spunnies are furry and their ears are half the length of their heads. They have a cotton ball-like tail on their lower back region. Male spunnies are blue and green, female spunnies are purple and pink, and those that are asexual are orange. When spunnies are angry, they turn into monotone shades of white, grey and black, depending on how angry they are.

Spunnies have a life span of 60 years in which they do not have the complications of grey hairs, slower motor reflexes, weakening bones, etc… as they age! Spunnies are adapted to all environments, cold, hot, even polluted ones. You see, spunnies have undergone a selective mutation process in which only the spunnies’ genes with traits and characteristics which help them strive in polluted areas are passed on. Spunnies have therefore developed a kind of inbuilt air filter in their noses. Their saliva also contains a higher level of SAK, (selective acidic killers). SAK recognize foreign and potentially dangerous antibodies, bacteria, contaminated food and kills them (with high acidic levels) before they enter further into the stomach and cause damage. Therefore, spunnies have the advantage of being immune to viruses and health problems. So, why do spunnies die at age 60? Well, why would you want these furry little creatures to live forever and overpopulate the world? Don’t worry though, their times to leave are very subtle. When a spunny passes away, it simply switches off, so to a spunny it feels like it is just dozing off. I have created spunnies to have remarkable bodily functions and systems which help them survive because these are traits that I, as well as many other people I’m sure, would love to have. Health is, in my opinion, one of the most crucial factors of life and spunnies are lucky that they do not need to worry about it.

Sbunny

10 Year-Old Female Spunny

How wonderful it is to be a spunny! Spunnies have many abilities that ordinary animals do not have, they speak and understand English, Arabic, French, Chinese and German, which allows them to interact with humans. Spunnies were first bred in Switzerland, Geneva and now live in our modern-day real-life world in almost every country around the globe. This means that they are able to affect and change our lives directly and quickly.

One major problem that my spunny, as well as other fellow spunnies will deal with is war. Spunnies have the ability to eradicate hatred in people so they will end conflict and war. Spunnies’ eyes emit un-violent rays. Un-violent rays alter and destroy the negative aura and violent feelings that are especially prevalent in human beings. It alters people’s harsh feelings so that they become loving humanitarians. Israelis, Palestinians, Indians, Pakistanis, Americans and Iranians will all be united and live in a harmonious world.

But all these are just dreams… Our Second Life characters, avatars, personalities, accomplishments, though they may peak into the real life by helping us meet new people, establish new ideas, invent new products, or realize new solutions to global warming, they cannot be substituted for real life movements and actions. These ideas we develop from Second Life mean nothing until we follow them through and translate them into tangible and realistic ideas. I agree, we should live in a world where extensive eating habits do not affect our weight, or little rainbow bunnies roam the streets (well, maybe that’s just my fantasy), but ideas that are too absurd, alien and unrealistic may not exactly work in our world, real world that is. Having said this, my dream for spunnies is strong and I am hopeful. Perhaps one day a little pink spunny will hop onto a war zone and end a war!

P. W. Singer writes a frighteningly surreal article titled Robots at War: The New Battlefield where robots and other highly advanced technologies are substitiuted for soldiers at war.

To summarize, Singer explains the hazards of IED (Improved Explosive Devices) and how EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams are sent on missions to disable or safely explode these devices. It seemed that the EOD team was effective because $50, 000 incentives were given to insurgents who could kill an EOD soldier. An example of a EOD soldier was 42-pound, $150, 000 PackBot. PackBot is an example of mastered engineering that allows flexibility of the robot so that it is able to climb, twist and squeeze through areas.

These robots are now commonly called “unmanned systems” and as of 2008 there has been a reported 12, 000 units operating.

Many of these battlefield technologies were inspired by science fiction pieces such as H. G. Well’s 1903 short story Land Ironclads which led to Winston Churchill’s developments of the tank. One war robot was inspired and designed to look like R2D2 of George Lucas’ Star Wars.

The technologically advanced robots are now available in an array of sizes and types. There are currently 22 different robot systems operating on the ground. However, this realm of surreal robots are taking over air and sea as well. A famous example of a UAV (Unmanned Aerial vehicle) is the Predator which is operated by a human pilot actually 7,500 miles away usually in the air force base in Nevada. The Wasp is an example of a smaller UAV with a tiny peanut-sized camera that allows soldiers to receive transmitted video surveillance of war sites or suspicious areas, thus keeping a safe distance.

The main functions of “unmanned underwater vehicles” are to aid the Navy by searching for hidden water mines and chasing down pirates.

There is a plethora of advantages with the unmanned systems at war. A pertinent advantage that is often emphasized is that it saves the lives of many soldiers by keeping them far from the dangers of war. As is mentioned in the article, soldiers can now operate at a base in the states, and make it in time for their child’s PTA! Other obvious advantages are that robots do not get hungry, afraid, emotional, or forgetful. Also, the robots unlike humans do not require breaks. For these reasons, they are also able to perform the “dull, dirty, or dangerous” jobs that humans may not be wiling to do. According to Singer “robots can do the same task in about a fifth the time and with greater accuracy” than humans. The unmanned system computers learn much quicker than human and share intelligence with fellow computerized soldiers through wiring and networks at digital speed.

In addition to the many advantages of unmanned system, there are many horrific disadvantages. First, many worry that working with robots has alleviated the horrors and seriousness of war that can even encourage more wars.

Secondly, the semi-automatic to fully automatic modes of unmanned robots may pose great threats as their judgments of what is and isn’t the enemy may be flawed. Take the U.S.S. Vincennes for example. This ship was equipped with the new Aegis radar system that would detect then shoot down enemies, or rather, any foreign objects. The Navy crew on ship trusted the computer systems without second thought when it detected an overhead plane. When the missile was released it hit the Iran Air Flight 655 passenger jet killing all 290 passengers…

Another consequence of using robots for battle is that it portrays an apparently cost-less view of war that leads to greater masses accepting, and reinforcing the idea of war.

Some argue that the greatest disadvantage of war is the fact that postings of robot-versus-enemy video footage are being viewed by people  as a form of entertainment. War that was once viewer as a serious and threatening experience is now a past-time as it encourages voyeurism.  As Singer rightly points out “the ability to watch more but experience less has a paradoxical effect.”

Singer ends his article by noting that “robots entail a dark irony” because by aiming to decrease the cost of human lives at war, they seem to increase the number of wars, which leads to highly human cost, just on the other side of the battle field. Further, since citizens have no emotional attachment to the soldiers at war and therefore the idea of war,  they are now able to look at war from an objective point of view and treat it like any other policy. Society may grow cold-blooded responses and reactions to one of the most volatile subjects on earth!



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  • norashmawi: Hey Yasmin! I am on both! On Twitter I'm @norashm and on LinkendIn.. I'm just there too! Hope you're doing well!!
  • Yasmin Helal: Where are you old friend? Can't find you on Twitter or LinkedIn!!
  • nazgolhrh: Good job on your blog... great word choice and creative as always.

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