Sunday, June 10, 2007

I Respond to My Arabic Instructor

My article “What I Learned in Arabic Class” caused my professor to write to me, rather unhappy with what I wrote and the fact that I wrote it. I have chosen a few of her comments to respond to:

Ustaazi: Thanks once again for responding to my article. I would like to respond to a few of the comments you made.

From your letter: “I had the courage and the adventurous spirit to explore places beyond my map, which is so uncommon in your country.”

Ustaazi: First, let me say that I and all the other students very much appreciate the fact that you made the trip from your country to ours in order to teach a class in Arabic. You are an exceptionally gifted professor, with a great ability to create interest in a difficult subject. I’m sure that you will be a very successful professor, no matter what the subject.

As for your comment regarding a lack of “courage and the adventurous spirit” among Americans, there are currently 175,000 American men and women serving in Iraq and in Afghanistan, trying to establish democracy in those countries. Many Americans are serving in Korea, in other parts of Asia, and in Europe, also for the purpose of maintaining the peace in unstable parts of the world.

Many hundreds of thousands of Americans are buried all around the world, or lost at sea, having died in the defense of the freedom of others.

As I said, I and the other students are happy that you chose to come to Richmond and teach at the University of Richmond for a year, but I don’t think that your “adventure” required quite as much courage as that which is required for American men (and women) to ride the streets of Baghdad trying to keep the peace while being attacked by gunfire and explosive devices. It’s not quite the same thing.

Your comment: “Even when woman are veiled, sometimes they wear the most fashionable clothes ever.”

Ustaazi: I am glad to know that Syrian women are allowed to purchase and wear fashionable clothes under their veils. However, the fact that they have to wear veils at all is an indication of the extent to which they do not have the freedom to live the way they want. Obviously, all parts of the Muslim world are not the same, but being forced to cover up completely is the way that Muslim women protect themselves from the fact that they are quite often powerless. Muslim women are often viewed as no more than “property”, with no or few rights of their own. And since they have few rights, then they must cover up so that they cannot be accused of tempting a man just by walking past him on the street or by speaking to him in public.
This is the result of religious fundamentalism. We have that in the United States as well, but to a far lesser degree, because our constitutional form of government forces the religious extremists to the margins of society, where they belong.
Obviously things are very different in much of the Muslim world, where the power of the religious institutions over the state means that the rights of women are diminished to the point where they have the same political status as children for most of their lives or, in some places, they have the same political status as livestock, such as cattle.

Your comment: “I am a teacher and to know that one of brightest students wasn't in my class to actually learn but to critique people from other cultures and judge their political, religious, and emotional behaviour as such.”

Ustaazi: I came to the class to learn Arabic. The idea for the article occurred to me several days after the class ended, as I was reflecting on the various political comments I heard, particularly with regard to the war in Iraq.