Thursday, February 19, 2009

Change is (up) in the air

Strangely, since I've gotten back it's hit me that Egypt, of all places, and AUC and my group of friends have come to represent stability. Over the last seven years, I haven't spent more than a couple of years in one place and each of the past three academic years has been on a different continent. Making new friends, starting new academic programs, and adapting and re-adapting to cultures is invigorating, but also exhausting. Taking this into account and understanding the value of having a Master's degree as competition increases with the decrease in job availability, remaining in Egypt for another semester (ideally) or two (if necessary) seems the most prudent course of action academically and professionally at this point.
Last night my thoughts were racing as I prepared mentally to go to the new campus to argue to be able to change classes (it may technically beyond the add deadline, though not the drop). I got up early and headed to the Greek Campus just to see one more time if Eman might be able to help me. Lo and behold, she called up the associate registrar who said that there was no problem and that I could bring in the appropriate forms next week. Now, if there's one thing I've learned attending AUC it's not to get my hopes up. As it stands, though, I am positioned to be able to switch into a much more pertinent class and into the Master's program early next week.
I won't know until next month whether or not I've been accepted to the language program for the summer in Cairo, so when exactly I'll do my thesis is still up in the air. At any rate, I will be in America at some point during the summer to give speeches to Rotary clubs in central Illinois. I'll admit that the idea of doing so originally terrified me, but the desire to share the richness of my experience here and the things I've learned far trumps my fear of public speaking and I am more than ready and very excited.
Law class yesterday was pretty interesting, at least for me. We sat outside (whoever is responsible for unlocking classrooms must've taken the day off) in the courtyard in the late afternoon sun, birds chirping, learning about consular protection. A bit dry for some, but because of my interest in the State Department, I was all ears.
Immediately after our course, a sizeable number of us went directly to the CMRS Seminar which, last night, consisted of Philip Rizk showing his film, This Palestinian Life, and answering questions. The film was fantastic. It showed a part of Palestine-rural areas of Gaza and the West Bank-whose inhabitants rarely get to be heard. The people interviewed range from the poetic to the candid to the humorous, but all are extraordinarily resilient in the face of manmade tragedy. There was no anti-Israeli vitriole and no call for violence. Hopefully the film will be made available on YouTube so that I can share it on the blog sometime soon. Philip himself was well-spoken, radiating an aura of calm, and about ten feet tall. Out of respect for that fact that he wants emphasis not to be placed on his detention, but on the ongoing hardships of the Palestinian people, only an occasional indirect mention was made about his ordeal by questioners. Needing to speak to Ray, who was moderating, about my course switch, and then to leave with a group headed for the Greek Club, I didn't get a chance to ask more about Diaa Gad afterward, but have since sent Philip a note to see what he has to say.
One of the questioners, a rather effervescent native of Southern California who had lived in Gaza for sometime, went on a mini-tirade against Evangelical Christians and their categorical support for Israel. Derisive, smug laughter at various comments bubbled of from the crowd of students, expats, academics, and NGO workers. Many of them, I'd guess, would like to paint themselves as more worldly or more righteous, but I think they're missing a far more complex reality and writing Evangelicals off too quickly. Needless to say, I wasn't as amused as much of the crowd. Philip himself went to Wheaton College and, though I am not sure about the details of his faith and religious beliefs, I suspect he knows the situation is more nuanced than Christians simply being irrational fundamentalists. For me, my Christianity is what drives me to be so deeply aggrieved by the gross mistreatment of the Palestinian people not only by Israel, but by the rest of Arab world and the international community as a whole. Though I consider myself simply Christian, my immediate family has for over ten years attended Northwoods Community Church in Peoria, a part of the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches. I don't recall ever hearing a message there offering an explicit position on Israel or Palestine, but I've heard quite a few about loving one's neighbors and one's enemies. Given conversations I've had at home and comments like these replying to an opinion published in the Peoria Journal Star, I know there are a great many in the States that are misinformed or underinformed about the conflict. And, I'll admit that many in the Christian community have found spurious Biblical claims to back up their blind support of Israel action, whatever it may be, but by and large, I think that many Christians are open-minded and desire to understand what's really going on. They suffer from the same lack of good information that most other Americans do. So, khelas (enough!) with the overgeneralizing of American Christians and, at the same time, enough with the ignorance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Links on Palestine:
Economist article on American-Israeli relations vis-à-vis Palestine
B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Nour, former candidate for Egyptian presidency, unexpectedly released from prison yesterday
US Senator Kerry visits Gaza, American school destroyed by Israeli offensive
Egypt not keen on having Shalit release linked to truce between Israelis and Hamas

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