As ethnographies go, this is one of the best I have yet read, doubly so because it is assigned reading for a class this fall.
Elizabeth Warnock Fernea married her anthropologist husband and moved with him to the small Southern Iraqi village of El Nahra in 1956 so that he could conduct fieldwork and finish his doctorate. With initially limited Arabic, she entered the sequestered world of village women at her husband’s request and her own curiosity since he is unable to even consider observing the daily lives of women due to their highly sequestered nature in the conservative , rural Shia Muslim society.
Fernea finds the going rough at first, largely because of that poor Arabic . She is unhappy about it but adopts the full-body abayah cover and veil that the women wear, along with other social mores she swiftly becomes cognizant of (including the danger of walking alone, because this would give her a bad reputation and embarrass her husband among the villagers, hampering his fieldwork). The women initially treat her as an oddity to be toyed with or barely tolerated, though in time even potential friends (a term fraught with meaning in a society where men cannot be companions and women depend upon true friends especially) feel burdened and uncomfortable having to constantly stop to translate for her. Her habit of smiling and laughing as women talk about or make fun of her (imparting upon some of the women the impression that she is stupid or daft) fades as she is able to respond in kind to teasing or contribute her own viewpoints.
Early on, she swings at times between impotent rage with being treated poorly by some of the “illiterate, poor” village women and genuine dismay at how different their cultures are and how this shapes the womens’ expectations of education, relationships, and role within society at large. As her Arabic improves, so does her position among the women. She can banter with, probe, and even engage in in-depth conversations that are of enormous value for her understanding of the womens’ lives. She understands the complex emotional and social interactions and interdependencies of the women in the harem resigned to a polygamous life. She witnesses how central to the success of reform respecting tradition as much as possible is. Female teachers sent from Baghdad to staff burgeoning girls’ schools can thrive if they show their respect for tribal and Islamic traditions while gently impressing upon families the importance of education for their children. The society places a significant impetus on a woman bearing her husband a son, yet still values the role daughters can play in supporting the family, especially the elderly.
There is much more to learn about what it means to live as a woman in such a society. While the world has moved on impressively in most locations in terms of gender relations and social standing of independent women, hundreds of millions of women live in a similar state to that of the women profiled by Fernea in 1956-57, especially in areas where the US military is operating. A fast but detailed read, “Guests of the Sheik” promises to be of value for those in development organizations as well working in societies with similar social and familial environments.
Hollywood may finally have gotten it right. The Army formally supported its production and it looks like it has a good mix of humor, reality and drama. Its in theaters Sept. 26th.
Russia joins the ranks of the delusional, offering up half-baked diplomatic initiatives and theories of dominance that don’t mesh with reality. Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post has the details. I acknowledge the wisdom of TDAXP‘s assessment of Russia when faced with hubris like this.
“Traveling to Berlin early this month on one of his first trips as president, Medvedev stressed the need for “a new world order.” Leaders call for the founding of a new world order only when they are convinced that their nation will dominate it. That was true for George H.W. Bush in 1991, and it is true today for Putin, Medvedev and others in Russia’s reformulated leadership.”
Nevertheless, if Malthus is wrong, then why is it necessary to prove him wrong again and again, every decade and every century? Perhaps because a fear exists that at some fundamental level, Malthus is right. For the great contribution of this estimable man was to bring nature itself into the argument over politics. Indeed, in an era of global warming, Malthus may prove among the most-relevant philosophers of the Enlightenment.
Fareed Zakaria and Thomas PM Barnett both helpfully pour cold water on the heated rhetoric of fear and exaggeration that dominates America’s understanding of problems like terrorism and Iran’s nuclear program.
In a sense, the warriors are pessimists. In the old days they were scared that communists would destroy America. Today they rail that Al Qaeda and Iran threaten our way of life. In fact, America is an extremely powerful country, with a unique and extraordinary set of strengths. The only way that position can truly be eroded is by its own actions and overreactions—by unwise and imprudent leadership. A good way to start correcting the errors of the past would be to recognize that we are not at war.
As I’ve said repeatedly, terrorism is, to me, what’s left, not what’s next—much less what’s transcendent.
To me, that’s like America in 1875 saying Crazy Horse and threats like him are the future of the United States experiment and we should reshape our entire government and foreign policy and national security establishment to meet this transcendent challenge.
Andrew Sullivan reviews the writings of Bill Kristol, mocking Senator Chuck Hagel in late 2002 for daring to ask what happens after Saddam’s regime would fall, and dismissing with maximum ignorance the possibility of sectarian violence in post-Saddam Iraq. The repugnant Kristol has proven time and again he has the same level of reputability as Tim Donaghy, the disgraced NBA referee, yet is a darling of the media and now enjoys a perch at the New York Times as a resident conservative columnist. There are far, far better conservatives to represent our ideas and opinions than him, and I find it a tad insulting the Times misrepresents us so.