–Allahu Akbar–Om Mane Padme Hum-U.S.A!!!-The Navajo and the Wahabbi-Seminars- PLO-S.W.A.G-City Livin’-
Salaam Aleikum y’all. It’s been a busy couple of weeks here, so busy I haven’t had the time to want to update this blog. So, so much has happened in the past few weeks that I hardly know where to begin. But begin I must, and I know that no matter what I do I will inevitably forget to write about some awesome event or other, and the ones that I do remember will be described inadequately. Oh well. I’ll give it my best shot. Or, as we say in Middle East studies: I’m no Sufi, but I’ll give it a whirl.
A week or two back, I had the opportunity to visit D.C’s own Islamic Center, which, at the time of its construction, was the largest mosque in the West. Since being upstaged, it now works as an ecumenical center and mosque, offering not just prayer services, but classes, daycare, a bookstore, the whole shebang. Being a religion major, I was fascinated to, for the first time, be present for the azhan and the afternoon prayer. I should add that the Imam [i], in addition to being an extremely gracious human being, recited an amazing, amazing call to prayer. Truly stunning.
Continuing along the theme of various religious events, I was also fortunate enough to see a speech by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I’ll spare you my complaints about the self-concious public meditators, the hypocrites who seemed to take the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion as an excuse to push, shove, and argue, and the people who seemed to think that Hinduism or all of the various other diverse forms of Buddhism were essentially all the same as Tibetan Buddhism or, worse yet, saw the Dalai Lama as the representative of their own aesthetically pleasing, philosophically lazy, vaguely “eastern” “spirituality” instead of an incarnation of the Boddhisattva of Compassion and the religious leader of a specific sect of a specific region’s interpretation of Buddhism. No, instead, I will just say that because I got up at 5 a.m. to get good seats, I was up front with some members of the Tibetan Diaspora. Their absolute awe and reverence, their prostrations, their near-ecstasy once he came out reminded me that while it’s perfectly o.k for me to respect the Dalai Lama for his pragmatic, humanistic attitudes in politics and religion and his serenity, grace, and (perhaps most importantly) humor, at the end of the day, his own people don’t see him that way. To them, he is the an incarnation of Chenrizi, he is the heart of a people displaced and under occupation, and he is the spiritual leader of a religion that is deeply profound, powerful strange, and unlike just about anything else out there, Buddhist or otherwise. That said, I wish I would have had the time to attend some of the rest of the Kalachakra, which he was in D.C. to perform.
As for the fourth of July in Washington D.C…. well, it was ok. They go a bit overboard, and it didn’t hold too much interest for me (No offense to Josh Groban, who was the featured performer on the Capitol Lawn). I don’t have much to say about it except that it was really crowded and almost everyone had on the same four or five shirts. What was WAY BETTER was the Smithsonian Folkways festival, which took place on the two weekends preceding the 4th. They brought in musicians and craftsmen and craftswomen from all around the world, though there was a seemingly distinct emphasis on South America. Sorry Josh Groban, but those Bolivian Dance bands just didn’t quit. Bolivia: Keep Bouncing.
As for my internship itself, well, there’s not a whole lot to say. The people I work with are still great. The work I do is still pretty standard intern work. One bit of intern work worth mentioning: Right now I’m helping one of the Center’s higher ups, Dr. Barbara Stowasser, clean out her office. She is old, German, and absolutely brilliant. Through a combination of natural generosity and a desire to get rid of all of her stuff, she keeps giving Crystal [ii] and I a whole lot of…stuff. For example, this week I’ve gotten my hands on Dr. Stowasser’s book Women in the Qur’an: Traditions and Interpretations, a fake Navajo rug[iii], and, best of all, a Qur’an that has been translated and interpreted into English by a bunch of Saudi Wahhabis, who just go ahead and add a whole bunch of stuff in. They add their own words in parentheses and, in case you didn’t get the point, add in extensive foot notes and appendices that rival Nabokov’s Pale Fire for divinely misguided interpretation. For example:
Sura 31 verse 6 is often translated like this: “But there are, among men, those who purchase idle tales, without knowledge, to mislead from the Path of Allah and throw ridicule (on the Path): for such there will be a Humiliating Penalty.” My new Wahhabi Qur’an has a much more colorful interpretation. Observe: “And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks (i.e. music, singing etc.) to mislead men from the path of Allah without knowledge and takes it by way of mockery. For such there will be a humiliating torment (in the Hell Fire).
Let’s also look at Surah 4 (which is full of interesting interpretations) and look at verse 153. One translation reads “The people given the book ask you for a book to be sent down on them from heaven”. The Wahhabi version clears this up a bit, writing “The people of the scriptures (Jews)…”. In light of the other notes on Jews this book has, this passage takes on a whole new light. It’s also got some choice words for women, that’s for sure. It’s a very different Qur’an than the one I have back home. Whether I should put this on my religious scriptures shelf or with my burgeoning propaganda collection, I am not sure.
As always, the non-internship side of the NCUSAR program continues to be excellent. Our after work seminars are consistently interesting, most likely because the various diplomats, ambassadors, authors and the like have all had very interesting lives. High point: Afshin Mohlavi, who spoke about Iran. I read his book ‘The Soul of Iran” whilst writing a research paper for Professor O’Neil last semester and highly recommend it. It didn’t do much for my paper, but it’s a fun and non academic introduction to Iranian history and current events. However, as these seminars are set up by the National Council on US/ ARAB (not Persian) Relations, we’ve mostly been focusing on the gulf region, which has been fantastic, because I know almost nothing about it. My interests have always been with Iran or the Levant, so it’s been great to expand my knowledge to a part of the world I’ve ignored for far too long. Countries like Yemen or the United Arab Emirates just weren’t on my radar, and there is SO MUCH to learn about them. For example, here’s something I didn’t know about Oman: It is very interesting.
WOW! Who knew?
The National Council is still doing a great job of keeping us interns entertained with more visits to just about everywhere, such as the D.C. headquarters of the world’s richest company, Saudi ARAMCO
The State Department
or the Jerusalem Center’s Palestinian Film Festival. Even when it’s not an official NCUSAR visit, there are always things going on D.C that my boss is gracious enough to let me leave in the middle of the day to attend. Today, for example, was a Carnegie Center presentation of a recent Pew Poll which attempted to answer the questions “What does the Islamic World really think about the West?” and “What does the West really think about the Islamic World”? [iv] Stuff like that’s going on all the time here. And by all the time, I mean that each week I get an e-mail that has the a complete listing of the 20 events or so per day that are all within a mile or two of where I am. Last week I attended a panel with a couple of academic folks and Washington D.C’s highest ranking PLO member (who is also coming to speak with the National Council next week), who were discussing Palestine’s bid for statehood in September. Next Friday there’s one on Women and War AND an Egyptian concert. Like I said, there are cool presentations going on all the time and the only downside is that there is no possible way to attend them all. The best of these events give you free stuff, or, as it is affectionately known, Stuff We All Get, or S.W.A.G. Today, for example, I got two publications on Iran and two on Afghanistan from the Carnegie institute. Score. Tacoma, I love you, but you don’t have much in the way of daily international relations seminars with PLO members or world-renowned authors.
That said, it’s ridiculously hot here, [v] what with the worst heat wave in a decade and all. Also, living in a giant busy city is a bit stressful. Being in a small city and going to a small school certainly has it’s disadvantages, but you know what? Our library doesn’t have a Starbucks inside it, there are no T.G.I.Friday’s outside our dorm windows, and it’s quiet at night.[vi] And that’s the way I like it. Point: Tacoma
Well, I know I forgot a great deal of what I’ve done here, but due to my poor memory and the ever increasing length of this post [vii] I’m going to call it a night. The rest of my misadventures will have to wait until what will most likely be my last blog post, for unfortunately and incredibly, I only have two weeks left.
Until then, take it easy and I’ll see you later. Or as we say in D.C. “Let me check my blackberry…..Ok,,,, Tell you what. Here’s my card. I’ll have my people get in touch with your people”
P.S. Sabah al-khayr is actually a morning greeting. If you don’t happen to be reading this in the morning, know that my sentiments remain the same.
[i] Yes, they called him an Imam, which makes me think that despite the fact that this organization was originally Sunni before opening themselves up to the wider DC area Muslim community.
[ii] In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, the other intern I work with at CCAS is Crystal Whetstone. She rocks.
[iii]This is fantastic news, because I’ve been wanting one for a long time and now I don’t have to spend money on one or steal one of my parent’s.
[iv] SPOILER ALERT: The short answer to both questions is “Not much”
[v] “How hot is it????” It’s so hot that I heard a Saudi Arabian say he’d rather be in Saudi Arabia. I know I set that up like a lame joke, but that’s the truth.
[vi] The sound outside of my window at night is constant, oceanic but not pacific, and droning, with only the occasional siren or inebriate breaking out of the haze. Plus my room-mate snores so loudly I’m concerned for his life.
[vii] and the fact that some of the other stories aren’t all that interesting. You don’t really need to hear about my visits to the Capitol and White House