It seems like I’m always doing “part ones” of series. But anyway, enough about me, so how are you?
I had a pretty productive day, I guess, but instead of going out tonight (it’s a Monday, so it’s par for the course, but whatevs), I decided to stay in, watch TV, and do laundry.
And of course, what is all over the news is pretty shocking. In case you’ve been off the grid for the past few hours, there was an explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in England, with 19 people dead, most likely all teenagers or preteens. It’s shocking and troubling, and all over every news and social media platform out there.
But what a lot of people don’t realize is that this week was a gigantic victory elsewhere in the world that no one seems to be celebrating – 82 of the 200+ girls who were kidnapped while taking exams at their school in Nigeria have been found and returned to their parents. When I heard this news yesterday, I was truly elated. I can’t imagine what those families must have been feeling, and the relief that even though the girls endured much horror, they seemed to be happy and healthy to be back with their parents. I couldn’t stop clicking through YouTube videos of the happy reunions. I’ve always thought that if what had happened in Nigeria happened in the USA or Canada or England, the entire world would be up in arms, and not forget after a few days like they did when it happened 3 years ago. I’ve actually been thinking about it since it happened, I even remember where I was when I first found out about it, getting ready to embark on my first Summer Odyssey back in 2014. It was shocking then, and it’s stayed with me consistently ever since. Although I’m really happy that those 82 are back, in addition to the 50 or so others who’ve escaped/been rescued over the years, there are still around 100 unaccounted for, which is way too many people to just forget about.
And just like the parents of the kids who died, were injured, or are MIA in Manchester right now, the parents of the Nigerian girls haven’t forgotten, despite the world seeming to do so.
So, today my dad came into my room at about 9 AM telling me that there’d been a shooting in Paris today, and not of the fashion kind. It wasn’t until I got out of bed and went online that I read about the casualties; seasoned journalists, talented cartoonists, and policemen who had nothing at all to do with the magazine. They showed the videos on the news, but I could barely watch them. It looked like something out of Grand Theft Auto. And why?
Because of a cartoon.
Just a drawing, an image, a figment of someone’s imagination inked with pigment. Before I get into my political/non-political harangue here, let me check myself by saying, yes, Islam does not approve of depictions of Mohammed in any way, shape, or form, and that in a way, depicting him in a political cartoon is a little disrespectful of a tradition and culture of millions. But there are options. First, they don’t have to even look at it; most media in Islamic countries is heavily monitored anyway, so it’s not like people in rural Saudi Arabia or Indonesia are going to even see it. Second, there’s the option of writing a strongly-worded letter to the magazine in question, in this case Charlie Hebdo, a French humor/satire periodical. Oh yeah, and third, don’t kill people, because as we learned in kindergarten and the musical Urinetown, killing people is wrong.
What surprises me is how many people didn’t see it coming. This is the worst terrorist attack in France since 1961, which is horrible, but more people are killed in terrorist attacks every day for less, like villagers in Nigeria and Cameroon who just wanted to live their lives and educate their children, or commuters in Australia who just wanted some morning pastries. According to the news, Charlie Hebdo had previously been the victims of hacking and firebombing, for the exact same reason. Who would’ve thought that something like this would ever happen in contemporary, hip Paris?
I could name one.
In 2010, Norris, a Seattle-based cartoonist drew a picture of a box of pasta, a coffee cup, and other random items shouting “I’m Mohammed” in a Ryan Stiles-does-Carol Channing kinda way, with the headline, “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”
It was kind of cute and a little funny, but free speech didn’t fly with Islamic fundamentalists who drew the cartoonist in their cross-hairs. The comic also drew attention from Internet users all over America who drew their own Mohammeds, and soon it spiraled out of control, with her name all over it. She tried to distance herself from it, to no avail, even proposing “Everybody Draw Al Gore Day,” but it was too late. The newspaper terminated her column after receiving threats, and when she took her case to the FBI, they shrugged. Her life unraveled; she changed her name, left Seattle, and stopped drawing cartoons. A woman’s career, home, and identity ruined because of just one drawing (Cashill, Goldstein).
And that wasn’t even the first time it happened.
In 2005, the Danish newpaper Jyllands-Postenran a comic depicting Mohammed, and got worldwide backlash. In fact, according to this article translated by Jacob Wheeler, the newspaper’s editor Flemming Rose made a statement.
“It sends a shiver down my spine. Thinking about the people in Paris, what they’re experiencing now. In addition to shock, I’m not surprised. If you look at what’s happened in Europe over the past 10 years, since Jyllands-Postens Muhammad cartoons were published, time after time there have been threats and even violence…Here at Jyllands-Posten we live in fear.” (Rose)
As we can see, a pattern has developed. Oddly, a five-year pattern, but that’s besides the point. I could write a pretty long list of cartoons and comic strips that offend a particular religion. Christians are the butts of jokes all the time, and how many people have reacted inappropriately angrily to those depictions? (And no, the Westboro Baptist Church does not count.) How many Jews stormed and pillaged Seth MacFarlane’s home after the controversial lyric in Family Guy’s “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein?” Answer: None. There was a backlash against it initially by some Jewish groups, but MacFarlane changed the lyric and everybody just went back to the couch. But with Islam, it’s a whole different set of characters; if a cartoon is enough to rile people up so much that they feel the need to reach for the guns and the car keys, whether figuratively or literally, on repeated occasions, what does this say about the Islamic agenda? You can talk all day long about how they are extremists, and how they’re not representative of the true Islam, but the facts remain the same: it keeps happening. And it’s the same people. And they have access to more and more ammunition, resources, money, and power.
And who is taking action to stop it from happening?
In the 24-ish hours since the event, world leaders have spoken out about today, in defense of freedom and in denunciation of acts of terror. The list is long and growing: USA, UK, the EU, Russia, Australia, Israel, the Vatican. And the words come from their leaders: Barack Obama, Tony Abbott, Benjamin Netanyahu.
But one part of the world has been conspicuously silent.
Where is King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? Or King Abdullah of Jordan? What about Sheikh Tamim of Qatar – what does he think?
The question is this: with the world knowing what it knows now, as a result of today’s shootings, what’s going to change?How can we prevent this from ever happening again?
What have we learned?
Ok, ok, forget free speech for a moment; in what kind of world is it okay to go to someone’s workplace and gun them down, under any circumstance? That is the question.
I don’t think there is an answer, but if anyone reading this knows, please tell me.
Today, it rained in Madison. I mean rained. Also today the bodies of three teenagers – Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar, and Naftali Frenkel – we’re found half submerged in a field near Hebron. One of them, Frankel, was also an American.
As I sat in traffic, watching the water flood the streets and the gutters, I couldn’t help but think about the situation. I try to distance myself from the sadder side of politics, but I couldn’t get this out of mind.
How could this happen? Who did it and where are they? Why isn’t it on the news here in America? What if things were different?
Sone people say that tremping, or hitch hiking, is what killed the boys. No, a person or people killed the boys. So many people that I know in the West Bank rely on hitch hiking to get into Jerusalem due to limited bus service; it’s something that you wouldn’t let your kids do in America, but in Israel, people are taught to trust strangers and help one another.
Then there is the issue of Palestinian deaths due to this. I don’t know the whole story there, but I do know that there were people among their ranks who knew information, including the identities and whereabouts of the suspected murders. By refusing to divulge such information, it makes them accessories to the crime. Killing people is wrong, but when there is a refusal to cooperate with authority, that doesn’t solve anything, and at least here in America that’s not something taken lightly. Not to mention that their Hamas comrades were celebrating the murders.
Next, my thoughts turned to America, and Americans abroad. One of the boys was American, but no one made a statement about him, and no American troops or diplomats were instructed to take action. I have so many American friends living abroad – not just in Israel, but also in places like India, China, and Togo. What if it were one of them? I was once an American living abroad…what if the victim were me? Who would come to my defense?
Another thing: something tells me that if the American were a teenage girl instead of a boy, news outlets would have been all over it like Jessica Lynch. What if it had been Natalie Frenkel, good white Jewish girl from Brooklyn, instead of Naftali Frenkel?
This turn of events causes so much uncertainty in my life and the lives of others. But if one thing is certain, it’s this. No question will change anything, and no answer will bring these three back to life.
There are few times in my life when I’ve been really afraid for my life and my long term future. My parents had JFK and the Cuban missile crisis. I had September 11th, the anthrax scare, the number 22 bus bombing, rising antisemitism in Europe, campus shootings, but then this happened.
If I ever go abroad for research or to live, will I truly be alone? Will I be swept out to sea like so much rain down Johnson Street?
I decided that instead of “Book Review: Author, Title,” I’d adopt an actual title for all future book reviews, starting with this one. Today’s book review is Africa United by Steve Bloomfield. This copy has been traveling with me ever since I bought it at a Half-Price Books in Houston, and it’s been through about ten states and at least two plane rides, waiting for me to open it. I finished it last night just before drifting off to sleep.
In AfricaUnited, Steve Bloomfield, a Kenya-based news correspondent, travels around Africa in search of connections between the continent of Africa and the world’s (except for the USA) favorite sport. The impetus for this book came about upon the announcement of South Africa as the host nation of the FIFA World Cup in 2010. After narrowly losing the bid for 2006, South Africa rallied to become the first African nation to host the World Cup, a feat for a continent which has yet to host a major international sporting event, such as the Olympics. This sparked a movement across South Africa and the rest of the continent as a “unified Africa,” fueling an already fervent love for the sport among Africans.
Steve Bloomfield starts from Egypt in his journey down the continent, through some of the “best and worst” teams in Africa – Sudan, Chad, Somalia, Kenya, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Zimbabwe – before arriving in South Africa at the beginning of the World Cup. Bloomfield notes that he couldn’t cover all the countries of Africa in his introduction, but oddly enough, his “best and worst” happened to omit three of the six African teams who qualified for the World Cup; Cameroon, Algeria, and Ghana, leaving me to question his judgment of “best and worst” – aren’t these three countries among the “best,” who qualified in the same way that Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria did?
Despite this, Africa United takes no prisoners; as Bloomfield wends his way through the countries, he also gives us some insight into their history, geography, and politics in addition to their individual relationships with soccer. What I enjoyed the most were the chapters through nations we don’t see very often in literature, like Chad and Somalia. Somalia, in particular, poses quite the pickle regarding international team sports; its status as a failed state with no government leads to very little in the way of facilities and amenities, not to mention safety. Ergo, all their matches – even “home” matches – are played outside the country. Another factor that can lead African teams astray are due to politics and money; the chapter on DR Congo was enlightening in that respect, with prime minister vying for dominance via a bunch of guys just kicking around a ball. Local politics also play a part, establishing unification or establishment of difference. In Liberia, George Weah took his sport to the next level, running for president in his country’s first democratic election. Despite his popularity on the pitch, he lost out – but it would have been interesting to a sportsman of his caliber (who is also a college student in the USA) become the leader of an entire country. In Cote D’Ivoire, soccer filters down to the level of education, with some parents taking the money they would have spent on textbooks and school supplies for their sons and putting it towards expensive soccer clubs, thinking that their son will one day be as famous and wealthy as Didier Drogba,a footballer who made it in Europe and has become a cultural and national icon. The Zimbabwe chapter is by far the saddest, recapping a country once known as the “breadbasket of Africa” on its downfall to a dictator-led state with the world’s worst economy. Age fabrication is rampant, showing the even further lengths some countries will go to for just for the win. Some nations import players from Europe who were born or have ancestry in their countries; sometimes they arrive and change things, but more often they end up disappointing people, or not showing up at all. On the flip side, some countries’ entire teams skip town, as Bloomfield mentions in his epilogue of the Eritrean national team, who were no-shows for their return flight from a match against Kenya, opting instead to decamp in Nairobi and seek asylum there.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. In the chapter on Nigeria, Bloomfield talks about how its national team and its purpose-built capital city of Abuja seemed to ease tensions and increase cooperation between the northern Muslim parts of the country and the Christians to the south. Whereas in Cote D’Ivoire, the provenance of players provided some much-needed kinship with its former enemy neighbor, Burkina Faso, where blurred geographic lines and movement resulted in some Burkina Faso players being Ivorian, and vice versa, leading both countries with someone to cheer for on either team.
Overall, I mostly enjoyed the book. Some of the transitions are a bit clunky, or as Julian Hall puts it in his review “jumpy yet urgent” of the author, imploring him to further express “a little more passion in his reportage” (Hall). Bloomfield has a habit of switching rapidly from fun sports to refugees and genocide, but I guess that’s part of the greater story of Africa, that pride comes through pain, and that sports and games have a habit of doing just what they were made to do: create distractions, rivalries, and fun.
I’m not so big on the whole sports thing, except rooting for the Orioles, the Ravens, and briefly pausing on the Olympics when flipping channels. So this book taught me something. In fact, while the World Cup was going on, all I knew was that if I tuned in, my ears would immediately be assaulted by the dreaded horn known as the vuvuzela, which has now been added to the dictionary. Oh, and the theme song for the games, which had a music video in which this happened:
Entitled “Waka Waka,” it was a good beat to dance to, but drew some criticism. First, its lyrics are kinda vapid and stupid. Second, it wasn’t even performed by an African – despite including some words in an African language, deriving from a Cameroonian tune, and backed by the South African band Freshlyground – it was non-African pop singer Shakira who got to take the lead vocals. This only contributed to “Americanized” feeling of the opening ceremony’s featured entertainment – a sentiment expressed by many South Africans who were disappointed at the lack of local performers – as she performed in a roster that included Alicia Keys and John Legend. For the record, Shakira isn’t even American; despite her success and popularity in the USA that doesn’t change the fact that she’s from Colombia. On the song’s Wikipedia page, Shakira declared the song “multinational,” using African, South American, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms to create the song. Again, the lyrics and the insipid chorus leave something to be desired, owing to English not being Shakira’s first language. She probably hasn’t gained much of a fan base in Africa, but since’s she’s an otherwise beautiful, successful, fabulously awkward and delightfully Hispanic singer who gets away with doing things with her voice that would cause most other peoples’ vocal chords to explode, she’d probably give her haters something like this:
Even though Shakira does acknowledge Africa in her song, addressing some of the cultural appropriation that it utilized, she completely and woefully ignores the culture of the real coiner of the catchphrase that made her song famous:
Tsamina mina zangalewa: no love for Fozzie Bear.
Bloomfield, Steve. Africa United: Soccer, Passion, Politics and the First World Cup in Africa.” New York: HarperCollins, 2010.