A Yemeni memoir
January 9, 2010 10:18 AM   Subscribe

From bikinis to burkas: a Yemeni memoir. Toronto theater critic Kamal Al-Solaylee (more articles) describes how his family went from cosmopolitan secularism to defeatism and traditionalism. From the Toronto Globe and Mail.
posted by russilwvong (16 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by mullingitover at 10:32 AM on January 9, 2010


Looking at the first photo, I'm thinking, "what a lovely family." As his story progressed, I mourned the (symbolic) death of his family.
posted by SPrintF at 10:39 AM on January 9, 2010


Could it happen here?
posted by Brodiggitty at 10:54 AM on January 9, 2010


A very interesting article. Thanks!
posted by ob at 10:56 AM on January 9, 2010


What I find interesting about this is the suggestion of culture as grindstone; that the average person may be shifted from their beliefs as their culture shifts around them, quarter inch by quarter inch. For how long can the difference between one's interior perception that something is wrong, and the knowledge that almost all those around one percieve something as wrong and will be angered and move to punish one who does that something, be maintained? How different is the fear of other people's anger or dissaproval if they see a bareheaded woman in a photo and your own fear of being in such a photo?

We like to think --- especially, perhaps, those of us who cherish the ideal of individual liberty --- that one's ideals are rooted in inner conviction, strong and hardy, and rarely capable of change, even if challenged; or at least, will only be so changed if confronted with a greater truth. But I'm not sure about this; I don't know if you can survive in a place for too long without being molded by it, excpet in the rarest of cases. Maybe the poor Swedes in that bank should never have had a syndrome named after them at all; perhaps it's just what always happens to everyone, given enough time and pressure....
posted by Diablevert at 10:57 AM on January 9, 2010 [10 favorites]


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posted by lalochezia at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2010


Read The Handmaids Tale. Makes it completely believable that it could happen in the USA.
posted by conifer at 11:13 AM on January 9, 2010


This is a very thought provoking article, and I commend russilwvong for the FPP. This, seems to me, is the frontline, the real war as opposed to the War On Terror marketed here in the West. The real war for hearts and minds - and what it says is frightening. If even families which were abundantly exposed to the secular values of West, families which actually spent time - many, many years - abroad, can succumb to the most pernicious narrow-minded extremist religiosity, why should we be so surprised that "don't they understand we're only trying to help them in Afghanistan"? The hold the taliban have over the minds of the Afghanis seems inexplicable, given their vicious reign and the contrast to the well-intentioned (even if horribly, sometimes lethally incompetent) NATO - inexplicable, only if you don't understand how human psychology works. Here is a family that had infinitely greater odds of resisting the allure of extremism, and yet succumbed. What chance does the average Afghani have - who has not had the privilege, the education, the international living experience that this Yemeni family had?

And so the challenge is much greater than we so often assume. We're not even talking about the jackbooted monstrosity of GWB's invasions and how that set us back for decades in the PR department. I'm saying that our entire approach is laughably inadequate. A few speeches by Obama - not followed by deeds, or followed by deeds that seem to contradict his speeches - will not set our relations with the Muslim world right. The challenge is huge, and I see nothing on the horizon here, and nobody in power, who has any ideas about what to do.
posted by VikingSword at 11:22 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


We like to think --- especially, perhaps, those of us who cherish the ideal of individual liberty --- that one's ideals are rooted in inner conviction, strong and hardy, and rarely capable of change, even if challenged; or at least, will only be so changed if confronted with a greater truth. But I'm not sure about this; I don't know if you can survive in a place for too long without being molded by it, excpet in the rarest of cases. Maybe the poor Swedes in that bank should never have had a syndrome named after them at all; perhaps it's just what always happens to everyone, given enough time and pressure....

However, you can also take some encouragement from the fact that oppressive regimes have to work, constantly, at maintaining their oppression, because given the slightest amount of opportunity, some segment of the population will break the rules. Human beings, in general, tend to be good at finding loopholes and escapes. Stockholm Syndrome may take hold in many, but there will always be those who chafe and resent their captivity.

Which doesn't mitigate the evil of what's happening here or the damage it does to people when you oppress them, especially the lives lost or ruined. But every dictator, no matter how secure, is haunted by the fear of revolution for a reason.
posted by emjaybee at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, you can also take some encouragement from the fact that oppressive regimes have to work, constantly, at maintaining their oppression, because given the slightest amount of opportunity, some segment of the population will break the rules. Human beings, in general, tend to be good at finding loopholes and escapes. Stockholm Syndrome may take hold in many, but there will always be those who chafe and resent their captivity.

Sure. But I don't think this is so simple as a repressive regime; it is not merely that a particular government has come to power and imposed strictures. This has been a shift among people, not merely something done to them. The Roundheads, not the Bolshiviks. That's what's interesting about it.
posted by Diablevert at 3:17 PM on January 9, 2010


If even families which were abundantly exposed to the secular values of West,....

Even? I'm not keeping score, but it seems like a high number of captured terrorists and suicide bombers can list abundant exposure to the the secular values of the west on their CVs.

My curiosity mirrors Diablevert's.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:15 PM on January 9, 2010


Prof Fred Halliday of the LSE has been visiting, studying and writing about the Yemen since the late 60s/early 70s; I've disagreed with him over his support for other recent military interventions in the region but will always read his analysis, as he's anything but a mere neocon water carrier. Anyway, here's something he wrote on Yemen last summer, and I'd recommend the rest of his oeuvre for those interested in the country.
posted by Abiezer at 4:26 PM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Yemeni will greet us as liberators.
posted by neuron at 5:05 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know why the Wahhabi strain of Islam has become so predominant among the others. It seems the kind of Islam that prevailed in the 14th century was far more liberal the one that you read about in the papers today.

Anyways, thank you for linking this article.
posted by thisperon at 5:56 PM on January 9, 2010


I don't know why the Wahhabi strain of Islam has become so predominant among the others.

Because it is funded with oil money, most likely. And because people who feel at sea will gravitate to hard-line versions of a faith rather than gentle ones, sometimes. And because Saudi Arabia can use it as a tool of the state.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wahhabi#International_influence
is a good starting point.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:42 AM on January 10, 2010


Waq al-Waq
posted by jcruelty at 9:25 PM on January 10, 2010


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