The London Olympics has been billed as a notable step forward in gender equality. It is the first Olympics with female representation from all countries despite the many and several barriers to female sport participation that still exist in some countries (including developed ones). These Olympics have female boxers, female athletes from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei and male medal bearers But despite Jacques Rogge's declaration in his opening ceremony speech, some are more equal than others. Australia and Japan are reviewing their athletes' travel arrangements after women were given second class tickets and there is a small, but growing campaign to see male synchronised swimming form part of the program (one of two sports, the other being rhythmic gymnastics, with no male competition). [more inside]
This weekend marks the time of the Hajj, a core pillar of Islam in which great tides of humanity venture to the ancient city of Mecca to honor God. Predating Mohammed's birth by centuries, the pilgrimage comprises several days of rites, from congregation like snow on Mount Arafat and the ritual stoning of Shaitan to the circling of the sacred Kaaba (the shrouded cubical monolith Muslims pray toward daily) and kissing the Black Stone (colored by the absorption of myriad sins, and believed by some to be a fallen meteorite). While the city has modernized to handle this largest of annual gatherings -- building highway-scale ramps, gaudy skyscrapers for the ultra-rich, and tent cities the size of Seattle -- it remains mysterious, as unbelievers are forbidden from entering its borders. Richard Francis Burton became famous for touring the city in disguise to write a rare travelogue, but contemporary viewers have a more immediate guide: Vice Magazine journalist Suroosh Alvi, who smuggled a minicam into the city to record The Mecca Diaries [alt], a 14-minute documentary of his own Hajj journey. Browse the manual to see what goes into a Hajj trip, or watch the YouTube livestream to see the Grand Mosque crowds in real time.
22 basic suggested readings on the Middle East from history professor and informed commenter on Middle Eastern affairs Juan Cole.
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