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dimanche 10 novembre 2013

Taking a Break/Une petite pause

This blog has been silent for quite some time now, not because there is nothing to say, but in fact because there is too much. The events taking place in the Maghreb region (and in the Sahel) have led me to see that I am lacking some background information that would allow me (and many others) to understand current developments more completely. Therefore, I am embarking on a new adventure. Since I have recently gotten a new position at a university library, I have access to a wealth of works on every imaginable topic. I will choose and review those that are useful to readers who share my interests. Keep an eye out for some to be posted shortly and hopefully, readers can benefit from this resource.

Depuis un certain moment, ce blog reste muet -- non pas parce qu'il n'y a rien à dire, mais plutôt l'invers : les événements se succèdent un peu trop vite. L'actualité au maghreb (et au sahel) me fait découvrir des lacunes des connaissances du fond et du contexte. Alors, je me lance dans une nouvelle aventure. Ayant décrochée un poste dans unebibliothèque universitaire, j'ai accès à toute une panoplie des ouvrages, dont je choisirai les plus intéressants pour en faire de brèves critiques. Affaire à suivre et profitez-en!

mardi 6 août 2013

Single mothers in Tunisia

Your blogger translated this in-depth report about single mothers and the work of the Amal Association in Tunisia.

It's useful that Nawaat includes these kinds of dossiers (Society, Economy) as well as the up to the minute political content. Many people, even those who may have visited Tunisia on holiday, don't know very much about the country, or only know what they see in headlines. Nawaat helps fill that void and your blogger is proud to help, even if the contribution is minute.

mardi 29 janvier 2013

Who gets to interpret religion?

Hannah Armstrong, who is a Institute of Current World Affairs fellow in the Sahel and someone your blogger follow enthusiastically on Twitter (), wrote another interesting piece on Mali in the New York Times.

She contrasts the violent, authoritarian attitude of the various jihadi groups in Northern Mali with the gentler tactics of the High Council of Islam:
who uniformly decry violence and defend the importance of working alongside the Malian state — unlike the jihadis up north. And unlike the Gulf-inspired radicalism of those jihadis, the H.C.I. groups together Muslims of wide-ranging ideologies. Some represent the local brand of Sufism, for which music, fetishes and gender mixing are quite ordinary; others subscribe to the conservative Wahhabi strain of Islam, an import from Saudi Arabia.
While some of the comments on her piece took issue with the statements of one of the cheikhs she interviewed, the role that religion takes in public life is an important and complicated issue, throughout the MENA region (and related territories, like Mali). The controversy in Mali over celebrating the Prophet Muhammad's birthday mirrors similar tensions elsewhere, much as religious firebrands destroy saints' mausoleums from Timbuktu to Tunis.

While recent turmoil in Egypt has tarnished Western views of the Muslim Brotherhood, this doesn't mean that religious leaders can't play a useful and constructive role in the civil society of Muslim countries. However, these leaders are a varied group and there is no single version of what Islam is, or how religion and politics should co-exist. Hannah's points are interesting, and the questions her piece raises about the Arab-centric nature of Muslim discourse and its racist undercurrents warrant further investigation:

One Malian recently tweeted ... : “These Arab Islamists are racists for they only conceive of Islam as being by Arabs, blacks are just second class.” He, like most black southern Malians, who overwhelmingly support the intervention, do not grant Arab countries a monopoly on the interpretation of Islam. They favor their own version, leavened by pluralism and compromise-seeking.

mardi 15 janvier 2013

How We Can Mimize the Chance of Future Tragedies

In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, myriad theories have been trotted out to the tragedy, and an even wider selection of solutions proposed to prevent similar attacks. Because America is so atypical in terms of gun violence, we focus on what these killers do and not what drives them to do so. And while the gun issue is serious, our focus should be on bringing disaffected young men into the fold and removing the factors that cause them to snap.

It is not an accident that most of these atrocities are committed by men, nor that their frequency is increasing. And while they may be hard to profile, we can still do something about it. Dr. Michael Stone of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City explains: “People usually don’t commit mass murder more than once. Usually you’re dealing with an angry, dissatisfied person who has poor social skills or few friends, and then there is a trigger that sets them off.”

Let's focus on that characterization: angry and dissatisfied with poor social skills. There is a link between poor social skills and depression and both of these factors seem to be at play with mass killers. Further, men struggle with depression differently from women and have trouble seeking help. However, among the healthy coping mechanisms suggested are support from friends and family and taking part in enoyable activites.

Discussing gender gets complicated quickly, and brings out strong feelings. As a variety of commentators have pointed out, changes in our society are difficult for men, who suffer from what they perceive as giving up some of their entitlements. Yet proposing anything geared toward men provokes a defensive reaction from women, who justifiably fear losing their gains. Any viable solution, therefore, needs to address men's needs without shortchanging women.

Here are three concrete suggestions to improve men's social skills and reduce the frequency of tragic violent incidents:

  • Expand educational and training opportunities. While a college education is useful for those who succeed academically, it may not be the best choice for everyone. Training programs that provide skills needed for employment would play an important role in preparing men for jobs.

  • Increase recreational opportunities for youth and adults. Evidence suggests that engaging in sporting activities has a positive effect on psychosocial health, particularly for people who are depressed.

  • Decrease the emphasis on drug crimes in the justice system. Many people in jail on drug charges do not necessarily pose a threat to others. Limiting incarceration for these kinds of crimes would cut down on pulling families apart, refocus police resources, and prevent non-violent offenders from being exposed to criminal networks in prison.

While these three initiatives are designed to support men, they would also benefit women. Training and apprenticeship programs help prepare people for a changing job market. And men and women alike can improve their health, happiness and create social bonds through recreational activities. Finally, while keeping non-violent offenders out of jail would help these men by allowing them to remain employed, it would also help their families, especially by making them available to their children and more stable partners for their spouses.

These measures would not completely eliminate tragic, violent incidents. It's unrealistic to believe there is any kind of panacea. However, responses that don't address the root of the problem will do less good than the initiatives proposed above, and might do more harm. Although it requires funds and effort, using these resources for a constructive purpose now is better than using them later to respond to tragedy.