Linguists know, based on reams of research, that a form of [Proto Indo-European], the language, did arrive in India from elsewhere, becoming Sanskrit over time. That fact doesn’t have to diminish the ‘Indianness’ of the language. Sanskrit’s deep and longstanding cultural importance in the subcontinent is a strong enough connection. Its shared ancestry with farflung languages is just one of the many connections that have been made and remade over and over again in India’s history.
Can you spot the globalization in this photo?
Let me first set the stage. This is a picture of professional soccer player Lucas Barrios holding the trophy awarded to the champions of Germany’s Bundesliga. And in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, the victorious Deutschmeister was Borussia Dortmund. For a U.S. audience, Borussia Dortmund, or “BVB”, might best be described as the Pittsburgh Steelers of German soccer. The club’s colors are a bold yellow and black; the club’s fan base is very large and very passionate; the club has a long and distinguished history as one of Germany’s most successful, including nine Bundesliga titles and a pair of European trophies; and while beginning to emerge as one of Europe’s “super clubs” in world soccer, its identity remains intensely rooted in the modest-sized, industrial city that it calls home. What Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania are to the United States, Dortmund and its Ruhr Valley are to Germany, and BVB is not nearly the global brand that its southern, Munich-based rival, FC Bayern (aka “FC Hollywood”) represents.
Against this intensely local backdrop, note two rather conspicuous global elements in the photo. First, there is the Döner Kebap Haus in the background, reminding us that Germany’s postwar industrial recovery relied heavily on a workforce supplemented by millions of gastarbeiter, especially from Turkey. Today, Turks represent the largest non-Germanic ethnic minority group in an increasingly multicultural country, accounting for about five percent of the total population. Through areas such as sport, music, film, and, of course, food, Turkish Germans are helping redefine what it means to be German in the 21st Century. (Sticking with film, the nearly two decades of work by Hamburg native Fatih Akin are a great place to start discovering the rich Turkish-German experience; also well worth watching is the multi-generational, guest-worker immigration story told by Yasemin Samdereli’s 2011 film, Almanya: Willkommen in Deutschland.)
The second, no less obvious global connection in the photo, is Barrios himself, who is a native of Buenos Aires and, in soccer terms at least, a national of Paraguay thanks to family connections on his mother’s side. But there is even more to his global story. This photograph is linked from a recent article on Chinese professional soccer. Like many other big names from the ranks of world soccer, including both players and coaches, Barrios has been lured by a big pay raise to ply his trade in the fledgling Chinese league. It’s been a mixed story, both for players such as Barrios and for the league, but it reveals the large and lucrative market that exists in China, and eastern Asia more broadly, for the world’s game. It’s also a fascinating microcosm of the new dynamics of wealth that has accumulated in post-Mao China, with many of the country’s richest individuals generating and displaying their wealth through a combination of property development and soccer. As the article points out, real-estate companies own 13 of China’s 16 first-division teams, including Barrios’s FC Evergrande, owned by the billionaire founder of Evergrande real estate, Xu Jiayin.
A little more than three miles from the Stade du 26 Mars, the 55-thousand-seat home of Mali’s national soccer team, lies just one of several dirt pitches that occupy much of the open space in Bamako (population ca. 2 million). While the green grass field of the Stade represents one side of Malian soccer—a very distinguished side, to be sure, as Mali’s “Eagles” have been surprise semi-finalists in the Africa Cup of Nations two times running—the other side of Malian soccer represented by the city’s less formal dirt pitches arguably better embodies the heart and soul of the beautiful game. This is the game that Americans Gwendolyn Oxenham and Luke Boughen recently traveled the world to find, and play, as chronicled in both their film, Pelada, and Gwendolyn’s book, Finding the Game. It is also the game played a few years back by a group of U.S. Airmen from Florida’s Hulburt Field, against a local Bamako side, which was watched by as many as 2000 spectators. First Lieutenant Lauren Johnson captured the sheer joy of the action that day with some wonderful photographs. One of these photos is shown above; it and a couple of others can be viewed in full size here, here, and here. (The rest of images posted above are screen captures from some virtual exploration of Bamako using Google Maps.)
The Uncertain Future of the Epidemiological Transition
I’ve just wrapped up a unit in my Introduction to Human Geography that focuses on the demographic transitions of the modern, industrial age. These transitions include a decline in death rates and corresponding rise in life expectancy that provide the primary trigger for the modern population “explosion”. As Abdel Omran explained, this “Epidemiological Transition” is built around developments in health care and infrastructure that change not only the rates of death, but also the common causes of death. In Omran’s words, the pre-modern “Age of Pestilence and Famine” eventually gives way to a modern “Age of Degenerative and Man-Made Diseases”; or, to put it another way, humanity moves from a time of cholera to a time of cancer.
Among the modern innovations that have driven the Epidemiological Transition is the discovery and application of antibiotic medicines. Like so many other features of modern society, however, the long-term sustainability of antibiotics increasingly is coming under question. Dr. Daniel Uslan, assistant clinical professor of infectious diseases at UCLA and director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program, estimates that as much as half of the use of antibiotics today is unnecessary or otherwise inappropriate. This is concerning because the overuse of antibiotics accelerates the evolution of resistant bacteria, endangering lives and inducing billions of dollars in additional health-care costs each year. Dr. Uslan will be on campus at SMC on Tuesday, October 30, to discuss the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, in the next presentation of our Distinguished Scientists Lecture Series (Science 140, 11:15 am).
The uncertainty surrounding the future of the Epidemiological Transition also concerns the other side of infectious disease—not the bacteria that thrive in unsanitary environments but the viruses that thrive in globally connected societies. Vaccination has been the primary tool modern humanity has used to guard against viral infections, and to such great success that none us who have lived in a time and place free of the fear of smallpox, polio, and the like, should take it for granted. As a recent book by David Quammen reminds us, however, there always lingers the threat of the next “big one”, the next virus to “Spillover” into humans from elsewhere in the animal kingdom and wipe out millions of people around the world, in one fell swoop, a la the “Spanish Flu” of 1918. As real a threat potential future pandemics might pose, society’s vigilance against new viruses also can be excessive. But rather than medical-demographic consequences analogous to our overuse of antibiotics, our excessive vigilance against new viruses can have adverse consequences that are of a more political-economic sort. At least that’s the argument made in another new book—Mark Harrison’s Contagion—which relates a history of humankind exploiting fear over impending pandemics to selfishly disrupt and redirect world trade; medical quarantine and embargo all too frequently become an excessive form of nationalistic protectionism.
As noted at the top of this post, the Epidemiological Transition is but one piece of a more complete Demographic Transition that also includes a “Fertility Transition” toward ever-lower birth rates. The continuing global, but geographically uneven, decline in fertility is a topic unto itself, but one that since the turn of the century is typically discussed with a great deal of optimism. Indeed, in 2002, the UN Population Division hosted a meeting of experts to outline the prospects for “Completing the Fertility Transition” in the foreseeable future. The reasons for fertility’s steady and near-universal decline are multiple, and at the local scale of village and household, may involve a wide range of variables, including religion and other notions of personal values and identities. At the aggregated global scale, however, it would appear that economic development, combined with the rising social status of girls and women, are what have led the way to lower modern fertility—one or two children per woman, rather than five or six. Paul Schultz of Yale University makes that case here, and the always entertaining and enlightening Hans Rosling, does so as well in the video below.
Culture, Colonialism, Misogyny, and the Middle East
Much of the early attention that Eltahawy’s essay has received has been critical. Eltahawy is accused of painting with a very broad and simplistic brush. Which she does. The “they” whom she describes as hating women are variously identified as Arab, Muslim, and/or Middle Eastern, three diverse and overlapping communities who—in the context of this article—seem to be defined by little else than their apparent misogyny.
A closer, more sympathetic reading of the essay reveals that Eltahawy really isn’t trying to suggest that there is something essentially misogynistic woven, sine qua non, into the fabric of Arab, Muslim, and/or Middle Eastern culture. Indeed, Eltahawy argues quite passionately toward the end of the piece that to believe as such is to submit ourselves to a cultural relativism that apologizes for actions and attitudes we would never tolerate in the liberal, modern West. (Or at least we like to think we wouldn’t.)
First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman.
But if Eltahawy isn’t exactly saying women are systematically discriminated across the Middle East because of Arab and/or Muslim culture, she also fails to provide an alternative explanation. This is where Max Fisher’s response, posted today at The Atlantic, is a welcome contribution. Fisher provides neither a defense nor a rebuttal, but rather a reinforcement, of Eltahawy. Despite his headline, Fisher, too, fails to provide a definitive explanation of ”…Sexism in the Middle East,” but he appropriately emphasizes that its “Real Roots…” can be found in the dynamics of colonial and post-colonial society. Fisher’s essay is not without its own problems, in particular a redefinition of the often-used concept of a ”patriarchal bargain“ that strays rather far from the original definition developed by Deniz Kandiyoti, which emphasized the agency of women around the world in negotiating a wide variety of distinct patriarchal systems. But that is a topic for another post, perhaps several more posts. For now, here are a handful of suggestions for additional, more academically oriented, reading on patriarchy, colonialism, Islam, and the Middle East. If you have additional suggestions, please share them below!
- Deniz Kandiyoti, ed., Women, Islam, and the State (1991)
- Inger Marie Okkenhaug and Ingvild Flaskerud, eds., Gender, Religion And Change In The Middle East: Two Hundred Years Of History (2005)
- Sherifa Zuhur, “Women and empowerment in the Arab world,” Arab Studies Quarterly, 25 (Fall 2003)
Language is fun.
Saudi Arabia’s strict clothing requirements for women are a further impediment. Outdoors, a woman must wear a black cloak, called an ‘abaya, covering her from head to toe. Najwa J. told Human Rights Watch that a few years ago Qatif residents held a “marathon” in which women could participate, but only wearing the ‘abaya.
from “Steps of the Devil”: Denial of Women’s and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia, a new report by Human Rights Watch (2012), p. 4.
As a follow-up to my post yesterday, this report demonstrates the real issue concerning sport, women, and Islam: access. Yes, clothing matters, and some implementations of the Muslim principle of hijab, such as the ‘abaya, are so restrictive as to effectively rule out women’s public participation in sport. But the FIFA headscarf ban exceeded the mark, and it effectively ruled out public participation in sport by the many women of faith for whom the headscarf is an essential part of their public identity.
The HRW report focuses on Saudi Arabia. The outstanding boutique publisher, Berkshire, provides short primers on women’s sport in Iran, and in Muslim countries in general. It is this sort of context that too often is missing from the snap judgments we make, as foreigners, about the visible practices of other societies. And it is our never-ending efforts to understand such context and engage with each other on whatever common ground we can find that is the essence of global citizenship.
On the importance of images: the hijab and women’s soccer
I ran across the following headline this morning—”Feminists line up against football veil ruling“—from a publication that covers French news in the English language. Besides disagreeing with the basic premise of the article, I was especially taken aback by the photograph chosen to illustrate it. The photo (see below) is a rather generic headshot of an unnamed woman in full niqab—the complete facial veil associated with especially devout religious practice and/or oppressive Islamist government in some parts of the Muslim world.
I was struck by this choice of photograph because it appears to have very little to do with the facts of the underlying story. Instead, the choice of images has everything to do with the symbolic messages that are being read into the story by otherwise liberal-minded observers.
Some background: the worldwide governing body for amateur and professional soccer, FIFA, earlier this month lifted its ban on players wearing Muslim headscarves, generally known as hijab, during international matches. This ban long had been controversial, especially within the Muslim world, and it infamously led to the premature termination of the Iranian national team’s campaign to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games, when the women were forced to forfeit their match versus Jordan due to their refusal to play without headscarves. While the recent lifting of the ban won’t restore the Iranians’ Olympic dreams, it has nonetheless been celebrated as a major step forward for religious freedom and women’s rights within the Muslim world. Yes, you read that correctly: a step forward, not backward, for women’s rights.
That’s not, however, how some self-described feminists in France and elsewhere choose to see it. Instead, they see the lifting of the ban as an affirmation of policies that oppress women and reinforce a global patriarchy which views women’s bodies as nothing more (or less) than a seductive object presented for male desire—a desire that men might try to satisfy or instead cover up in an effort to resist such “evil” temptation. But this feminist critique misses the point, for it assumes that the patriarchal, male outsider’s view is the same view held by the women in hijab themselves. To the contrary, rather than symbols of their oppression, wearing hijab on the field can be a symbol of personal faith and a tool that facilitates personal liberty, rather than stamps upon it. The simple act of playing soccer itself can be a very powerful feminist act that subverts a patriarchy seeking to sharply confine a woman’s role to “traditional” spheres of female life. Recent films such as Bend it Like Beckham and Offside have powerfully told the story of soccer’s liberating potential for girls and young women in rigidly gendered societies. And the argument for lifting this and other headscarf bans doesn’t need to be any more complicated than the following plea made elsewhere on Tumblr by Right2Wear:
As young Muslim woman we have one request: get out of our wardrobes! We are tired of everyone - governments, our families, religious scholars, the justice system, our peers - being obsessed with what we wear. Muslim women and girls [have] the right to choose how we outwardly express our faith and religion. We have the right to wear what we please!
Led by Canadian activist, Farrah Khan, Right2Wear was a leading voice advocating for the lifting of FIFA’s ban. Which brings us back to image. Look at the photograph below, which accompanied a recent CBC story on the ban’s lifting, and provides a much more truthful illustration of the issue at hand. There are no veils here, no disembodied, distant, dehumanized eyes. Instead, what we see are soccer players, Iranian soccer players, whose headwear you almost stop noticing after just a few moments.
This is not a picture of oppressed women, is it? These are athletes, practicing a sport they love and at which they excel. Given the country they represent, it’s not unreasonable to assume that at least some of them would indeed prefer to play without the headscarf, and would opt to do so if freely given the option. But it’s not reasonable, either, to assume that all, or even most, of them would choose to remove the headscarf if playing, say, for the United States or Germany. How much easier, then, it is to turn our attention from this more accurate, but also more ambiguous, image, to the one of the niqab above. In that image’s near-total blackness, we on the outside looking in have virtually unfettered freedom to imagine what these pieces of clothing “really” mean, tempered only by a pair of eyes looking off in another direction. Thus, I encourage those who would like to maintain this and/or other headscarf bans to turn their outsider’s gaze back upon themselves. Is your discomfort with the hijab really that of a liberal-minded feminist concerned for women’s freedom? Or is your discomfort instead that of a secular-minded modern who is uneasy with any outward display of religious devotion, especially of the Muslim kind?