qatarperegrine: (disturbed)
Starting May 1, it's going to get a whole lot more difficult to visit Qatar.

Until now, tourists from "affluent countries" could just fly to Qatar and buy a tourist visa on the spot. Now, Qatar will only issue you a visa on arrival if YOUR country issues QATARIS visas on arrival. So, starting May 1 (happily, three days after my in-laws arrive), Westerners will have to send their passports in to the Qatari embassy in their home country before they can fly here.

This is part of Qatar's new "reciprocity" kick. A few months ago they switched to a reciprocity system for driver's licenses: American licenses can't be automatically converted to Qatari ones, because the US doesn't automatically convert Qatari licenses. However, having to retake a driving exam is a pretty minor inconvenience that only affects people moving her long-term. But requiring all tourists to get a visa in advance? That just seems like a good way to ensure that no Westerner will ever visit Qatar.

I actually entered Qatar on a tourist visa once. When I moved here, my visa and other permanent residency documents were all issued under an incorrect name. For three years nobody cared, but then one day, as I was flying home from Gabon, an immigration officer noticed. She invalidated my visa on the spot, and I had to buy a tourist visa and then go through the entire immigration process over again. It's alarming to think that if something like that happened after May 1, I would be stranded in the Doha airport.

I'll be interested to see if they actually implement this new law, and if so how long it stays in place. This seems so self-evidently counter to Qatar's own national interests, it's hard to believe they'll really follow through with it.

Then again, it is part of a definite trend: customs has started scrutinizing books being imported, I've heard a few stories in the last year of women being officially told off for wearing provocative clothes, etc. Are conservative forces starting to exert more influence on Qatari politics? Is a move to limit European/American tourism actually intentional? Or is this just a bit of political grandstanding with unintended side effects?

UPDATE: The Qatari government web portal has just been updated to show that citizens of the 33 "affluent" countries can now request tourist visas ONLINE before they travel, and have them approved/rejected on the spot. So, this is much, much less of an inconvenience than the Gulf Times article suggested.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Today's Peninsula tells us all about the "bold and honest address" His Highness Sheikh Hamad gave at the Arab Summit yesterday before turning the event over to Mu'ammar Gaddafi.

It doesn't tell us, however, that Gaddafi responded with a fat joke.

Ah well. As Gaddafi's hilarious gaffes go, this one is at least better than bragging that he is "the imam of the Muslims"... to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. (Needless to say, King Abdullah is not attending the summit!)
qatarperegrine: (Default)
I suspect everyone reading this already supports health care reform. But in case you don't, you should read underpope's blog entry about how the health care decisions he was forced to make while uninsured have damaged his long-term health.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Saudi is a kingdom; Oman is a sultanate; the UAE is a federation of emirates. Qatar has an emir, but if you call it an emirate most people will say, "No, it's a state," which is odd because "state" is not a type of government.

Is there any real difference between an kingdom, a sultanate, and an emirate? Or are these just different words for the same thing? Obviously they have different etymologies, but is there any difference in the powers of their rulers?

I always thought there was some actual difference between the three forms of government, but here's how the CIA World Factbook defines them:
  • monarchy: "a government in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of a monarch who reigns over a state or territory, usually for life and by hereditary right"
  • sultanate: "similar to a monarchy, but a government in which the supreme power is in the hands of a sultan (the head of a Muslim state)"
  • emirate: "similar to a monarchy or sultanate, but a government in which the supreme power is in the hands of an emir (the ruler of a Muslim state)."
That makes it sound like these are just different words for the same thing. But if that's the case, why doesn't the CIA just classify them all as monarchies? After all it classifies Thailand as a monarchy and not as a "Ratcha Anachak," so why use the local terms for the Arab versions?
qatarperegrine: (qatarhero)
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — President Barack Obama on Tuesday chose an Arabic satellite TV network for his first formal television interview as president, delivering a message to the Muslim world that "Americans are not your enemy."

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- ... The president also has pledged to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital in the first 100 days of his administration. No location has been announced.

PLEASE BE DOHA PLEASE BE DOHA PLEASE BE DOHA.
qatarperegrine: (flag)
"Is his middle name really Hussein?", a colleague asked.

"Yep," I said. "Barack Hussein Obama."

My colleague smiled. "Now that's really something!"
qatarperegrine: (flag)
"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world -- our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

I was very pleased to hear from a coworker that the speech was as eloquent and moving in Arabic as in English. I hope many people hear it!

(Update: College friends in Zimbabwe put it well: "It’s like everybody just simultaneously won the World Cup.")

نعم سنستطيع (Yes we can!)
qatarperegrine: (flag)
I was standing in line last night when the cashier asked me where I was from. Upon hearing I was American, he said, "Vote for Obama, please!"

So, on behalf of all the people out here whose lives are directly impacted by an election in which they can't vote, I'd like to urge all my American readers to GO VOTE! The ability to help choose the next president of the United States is an awesome power that a lot of people in the world envy. Don't squander the opportunity!

And if people outside the U.S. could vote, well... let's just say there are a lot of blue states out there....
qatarperegrine: (flag)
McCain supporter: "I can't trust Obama. I have read about him, and he's not, he's not, he's, uh, um, he's an Arab."
McCain: "No ma'am, no ma'am, he's a decent family man citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on, on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about."

We've all read about this exchange since it happened a couple weeks ago, but a conversation in the ARC yesterday made me reflect that I should post about it from the vantage point of Qatar.

I'm glad McCain confronted this ignorant woman and tried to set a respectful tone, even if his other actions (both before and since) give the lie to this supposed respect. But think about that exchange from the point of an Arab American, or an Arab here in the Middle East:
"He's an Arab."
"No ma'am, no ma'am, he's a decent family man citizen."
On what planet is "decent family man citizen" (let's pretend that really is a noun) an antonym for "Arab"? What does it tell us about McCain that he thinks that the statement "he's a decent man" is a cogent counterargument to the statement "he's an Arab"?

I am saddened by the picture of the U.S. that emerges from this election. I'm sad that our students hear the ignorance of Americans claiming Obama's an Arab and/or a Muslim, but even more sad that they hear the fear those claims engender. I'm sad they hear the candidates denying the veracity of those claims without addressing the underlying fear. I'm embarrassed that my African coworker has to learn what the Bradley effect is, and has to read quotes from Pennsylvania voters calling Obama a nigger.

As Colin Powell just said, "Those kinds of images going out on al Jazeera are killing us around the world." It's not a metaphor. Since 9/11 the U.S. seems to be doing everything it possibly can to convince people around the world that we hate and fear those with different skin color and religious beliefs. It makes me ashamed of America. And it makes us not just less respected in the world, but less safe as well.

I'll close on a more positive note, with more of Colin Powell's words as he endorsed Obama:
I’m also troubled by what members of the party say, and is permitted to be said, such things as, 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well, the correct answer is, 'He is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian, he’s always been a Christian.'

But the really right answer is, 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?'

The answer’s 'No, that’s not America.'"
qatarperegrine: (flag)
My dad just sent me this interesting summary of polling data of Al Qaeda sympathizers: Bin Laden's Soft Support: How the next president can win over the world's most alienated Muslims. A sample quote:

...in order to repair the dismal impression that many Muslims have of the United States, a new president doesn’t need to pull all troops out of Iraq right away, or solve the Israel-Palestine conflict overnight. More modest—if still politically tricky—actions can have an immediate and dramatic impact. It is essential for the United States to adopt policies that reveal a different side of American power—one that demonstrates respect and compassion by improving the lives of individual Muslims. Such policies include increasing student and work visas, direct humanitarian aid, and trade agreements. Since much of the Muslim anger towards the United States and the West is fueled by the widespread perception of a lack of respect, all of these people-based policies send a powerful, tangible message that we care about Muslims and regard them as equals.

This article really resonates with what I've experienced since moving to Qatar. If the U.S. is trying to reduce support for terrorism among Muslims, most of our anti-terrorism measures are shockingly counterproductive.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
In case you are living under a rock, the investigatory panel in Alaska concluded that Sarah Palin did abuse her power to try to get her brother-in-law fired, and that she broke state ethics laws to boot. Maverick reformer my ass.

The best part of this story is a quote from Alaskan state senator Gary Stevens (R), who said: "I think there are some problems in this report. I would encourage people to be very cautious, to look at this with a jaundiced eye."

I think Stevens meant to say "with a critical eye" or perhaps "with a skeptical eye." Looking at things with a jaundiced eye doesn't mean taking with them with a grain of salt; it means seeing them through the lens of your own prejudice instead of seeing them as they really are.

Or then again, maybe he did mean "with a jaundiced eye."
qatarperegrine: (Default)
GIBSON: What if Israel decided it felt threatened and needed to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?

PALIN: Well, first, we are friends with Israel and I don't think that we should second guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security.

GIBSON: So if we wouldn't second guess it and they decided they needed to do it because Iran was an existential threat, we would cooperative or agree with that.

PALIN: I don't think we can second guess what Israel has to do to secure its nation.

GIBSON: So if it felt necessary, if it felt the need to defend itself by taking out Iranian nuclear facilities, that would be all right.

PALIN: We cannot second guess the steps that Israel has to take to defend itself. [transcript]
Well there's a woman with a talking point she's sticking to. Maybe I should invite her to my workshop on paraphrasing.

Also, did anyone else think it was weird for her to say, in the course of one interview, that "smaller democratic countries that are invaded by a larger power is something for us to be vigilant against" (regarding Russia crossing the Georgian border) and "we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target" (regarding the U.S. crossing the Pakistani border)?

I am also appalled that Palin has visited no more countries in her entire life than I visited during my summer vacation. For sure, I am extraordinarily privileged to be able to see as much of the world as I do, but you'd think that someone who feels uniquely qualified to be VP would have gotten out a little more.

Two hilarious Palin-related videos that have been making the rounds lately: The Daily Show on the gender card; Palin for President. If you haven't seen them already, you should!

Sigh

Jun. 7th, 2008 02:23 pm
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Sometimes, as an ex-pat, I kind of romanticize the U.S., and particularly American democracy. So I'm glad I read today's Tribune-Review over breakfast, to remind myself that I live in an ivory tower.

The first article I read quoted the webmaster of clintons4mccain.com as saying that she would never vote for Obama, because he has never conclusively proved that he isn't secretly a Muslim. The very next article alleged that Obama has -- are you ready for this? -- secret ties to the Communist party.

I then finished breakfast and left the paper behind, but I have to imagine that the next article would have uncovered the shocking truth that Obama is a secret Nazi.
qatarperegrine: (quran)
Last week, an Iraqi militiaman training with U.S. forces found a bullet-riddled Qur'an on a shooting range in Baghdad. American soldiers had been using it for target practice.

I wonder how long that militia will stay allied with the U.S.

Yesterday, the army issued a formal apology, which it sounds like they handled reasonably well. Angry Iraqis were chanting the traditional "With our spirits and hearts we defend you, Qur'an." The commander of U.S. troops in Baghdad begged forgiveness. The commander of the brigade reported that the soldier responsible had been reprimanded and dismissed from the regiment, and then presented a new Qur'an to the village after kissing it and touching it to his forehead. (Of course it's questionable for a non-Muslim to touch the Qur'an in the first place; I wonder how the villagers felt about that.)

I've said before that it's easy for us to underestimate how Muslims feel about the Qur'an. Since it is believed to be the actual incarnation of the Word of God, its role in Islam is more comparable to Jesus' role in Christianity than to the Bible's. Desecrating the Qur'an is therefore much, much worse than desecrating the Bible. I would hazard that shooting the Qur'an in a Muslim community would have much the same impact as peeing on the Eucharist outside the Opus Dei headquarters in Vatican City.

It does seem slightly surreal to me that the shooting of an book would cause such a furor when people are being shot, which surely ought to be viewed as more blasphemous than harming an object. But come on, people. When the Muslim world increasingly feels that our military presence here represents a new crusade against Islam*, the least we can do is not freaking prove them right.

* At a 2005 Doha Debate on this topic, 49.6% of the audience voted that "the war on terror has become a war on Islam" -- and that's an audience made up almost entirely of people affiliated with American universities. In fact, in retrospect I suppose that means the motion would have passed if I hadn't voted against it.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
On the plane on the way home, I read a riveting book called Inside the Jihad. This is the memoir of an anonymous Muslim who, according to the book, was involved with the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé, became an informant for the French secret service, and ultimately trained at Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 90s.

The book reads like a spy thriller, and I don't imagine there's any way to verify how true it is, but it was a really worthwhile read. I was fascinated by the author's ambivalence: on the one hand, he is seeking to destroy these jihadist groups because he believes their tactics are un-Islamic and wrong. On the other hand, it's clear that his sympathies are with them, and indeed if Al Qaeda had asked him to go make his jihad in Chechnya, he would have gone. Reading about a European Muslim's love/hate relationship with armed jihad made for fascinating reading.

Equally fascinating was the jihadists' rhetoric. As the introduction points out, none of the mujahidin in the book "hate us for our freedom." Our freedoms pass entirely unmentioned, as do even the moral depravities the Muslim world tends to find most off-putting about the West. Rather, the mujahidin's rationale is entirely that specific foreign policies of the Western countries (US support of Israel, Russian domination of Chechnya, widespread lack of concern about Bosnia, etc.) add up to an outright assault on Islam, thus warranting a defensive jihad. This isn't news, of course, but it's interesting to hear that rhetoric in a first-person account.

Related to this is a sentiment I've heard even here in Doha: a deep-seated sense of humiliation that the Muslim umma, which used to be and ought to be the preeminent civilization on Earth, has fallen into such a state of decay that it can be bullied by infidels. The author's sense of shame that the mujahidin need to use their enemies' weapons (Uzis) is palpable. And this feeds into the rhetoric above: Muslim civilization ought to be the finest on earth, but it has been robbed of its rightful place by enemies without and within. This helped me understand how the mujahidin -- who obviously know the Qur'an well enough to know that an offensive war cannot be Islamic -- can come to believe that they are protecting the Muslim homeland from what amounts to one more in an endless series of crusades to stamp out the true faith.

A final fascinating point is that the author trained under Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, whose intelligence (extracted by torture) was what convinced the U.S. government that Saddam Hussein supported Al Qaeda. The author's accounts of al-Libi's views on Saddam and Iraq provide a lot of insight into what might have motivated him to spread that disinformation.
qatarperegrine: (qatar)
You may have noticed that the dollar is doing pretty badly lately. Here in Qatar we definitely notice that the dollar is doing badly, because our currency is pegged to the dollar, but most of our trade partners operate in euros or yen. As a result of that and the housing crisis, inflation is currently at around 14%, and the Qatari riyal is believed to be undervalued by as much as 30%.

You know who this sucks for? Workers. They still get paid the same amount in riyals, but suddenly that's worth a whole lot less in rupees. According to the Middle East Economic Digest (cited here), five years ago an Indian construction worker could earn four times as much in Dubai as in India; today, "the pay differential has been reduced to 40 per cent." Apparently this makes manual laborers much less excited about taking jobs in the Gulf -- possibly the only good thing to come out of this monetary crisis.

Last month Alan Greenspan told Qatar they should depeg, and word on the street is that they might do so as soon as April.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Obama! He won the Democrats Abroad primary by a 2:1 margin. Yay! Intriguingly, since our delegates only get half votes, that means he gained 2.5 delegates to Clinton's 2. I love that there are half votes.

Over here you can see the breakdown of votes by country. Here in Qatar, a whopping 13 Democrats voted. That's not as bad as it sounds, since presumably a lot voted in their states' primaries. It could be worse, though: only one person each voted in Oman and Yemen, and better yet, they cancelled each other out. Over in Saudi, 4% of the vote (that's one person) went to Kucinich! Strange to think of Kucinich gaining votes in Saudi.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
If you're an American expat who can't vote in nonfederal elections because you've broken residency in your previous state, you can still vote in the Democratic primaries by registering with Democrats Abroad by January 31. The Democratic Party allots some delegates to Democrats Abroad, so our votes will count at the convention. Best of all, we can vote online. Woo-hoo!

If you're a Republican expat who has broken residency, you're out of luck. If you aren't a resident of a state, you can't vote in the primaries.

But expats of all stripes can (and should!) register to vote from abroad in the general election.

Vote early, vote often!
qatarperegrine: (Default)
An airline pilot has posted a well-written commentary on airport security here.

"No matter that a deadly sharp can be fashioned from virtually anything found on a plane, be it a broken wine bottle or a snapped-off length of plastic, we are content wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and untold hours of labor in a delusional attempt to thwart an attack that has already happened.
...
The truth is, regardless of how many pointy tools and shampoo bottles we confiscate, there shall remain an unlimited number of ways to smuggle dangerous items onto a plane. The precise shape, form and substance of those items is irrelevant. We are not fighting materials, we are fighting the imagination and cleverness of the would-be saboteur."

Going through security in Dulles last week, I was asked not only to remove my laptop from my carry-on, not only to remove my shoes, not only to take my contact lens case out to be scanned separately -- I was asked to remove my glasses and put them through the X-ray machine. What nefarious deed I'm supposed to be able to carry out with my glasses, I have no idea. But this request can't simply have been because my glasses would set off the metal detector, because there is definitely more metal content in my underwire bra than in my wire-framed glasses.

Also, you can imagine what having people remove their glasses does for the speed of the security line. My glasses were the last of my possessions to go through the X-ray machine, but I had to wait for someone to hand them back to me before I could figure out which were my bag, laptop, shoes and baggie of suspicious liquids.

Somehow I don't feel safer, just more seriously inconvenienced. Why are we willing to make these trade-offs?

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