Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 3 Explainer: Dog

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode three, Dog.


Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 3 Explainer: Dog



Aron Kader:

Everything about this episode is classic to me. It uses dogs to point out that humans are trained to behave and conditioned to think in a certain way. It also plays on a stereotype that Arabs don't like dogs, which actually rings true.

In my experience, the disdain for dogs comes from the belief that they are dirty animals often referred to as "najis," meaning unclean or impure. As a matter of fact, most Arabs consider dogs to be just above pigs. To compare anything or anyone to a pig or a dog is a huge insult in Arabic. A typical Arabic curse might use the word dog ("kalb"). You will hear Amjad's father say that word a lot, especially in this episode.

All the dogs in Amjad's building seem to recognize that he's Arab and bark at him every time he walks into the apartment complex. When he asks a Jewish pet store worker whether dogs can recognize Arabs, he acknowledges this as a well-known fact. This seems to confirm Amjad's irrational fear of dogs, and he resorts to donning a yarmulke -- a small round cap traditionally worn by Jewish men -- to fool the dog into thinking he's Jewish.

This episode is also the beginning of Bushra's character arc as a professional therapist. She starts to observe Amjad and ends up using him as a case study in her class. It's hard to miss the Pavlov's dog metaphor in this episode, which is meant to be a statement on Jews and Arabs living together. Everyone knows that dogs can be trained to do anything, including attack or guard something. It's also true that Arabs and Jews have been conditioned to fear or have prejudice toward each other. This gets to the root of the entire conflict in one metaphor.

The culture among Arab and Jewish people in Israel has a long history of conditioning that needs to be untrained. Cultures are formed over generations and can take generations to undo. It's a long process. But is there an effort to fix it? Being blind to the culture around you can stop you from moving forward in the right direction.

For example, ultra religious Muslims and Jewish people will fight about something that happened so long ago that it's impossible to settle the differences. Cultures nurture or debunk positive or negative stereotypes and in Israel/Palestine, there is a fight between those that want to be part of a global future and those who want to step backward.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

Many biases, generalizations, and racist remarks are based on a small truth that has been taken out of context and exaggerated to a ridiculous extreme. This episode is a clear example of that. It's commonly known that Arabs (and I am generalizing here) are not big fans of dogs. They are not a pet culture. And the conclusion in this episode, that dogs can smell Arabs or bark only at Arabs, is an example of a ridiculous extreme.

There is always great irony in the fact that Amjad himself seems to believe stereotypes about his people, and then tries to do everything in his power to disillusion them. His desire to disprove this assumption makes the situation worse. Bushra, on the other hand, never gives in to what people seem to think of Arabs in general or her in particular. She is confident and proud so dogs are playful with her and lets her pet them.

Bushra seems to be the posterchild for believing in yourself and your values, as well as having a clear understanding of who the Alayin family needs to be as Palestinian Israelis. By being proud of her Arab heritage and not trying to be something she's not, she fits in on her own terms and finds a way to immerse herself in Israeli culture, even if that means being a bystander sometimes.

Amjad uses a Jewish skull cap to "trick" the dog into thinking he is Jewish. It is amusing that he chooses the most ostentatious kippa (head covering). Wearing a skull cap is a political statement in Israel, with each kind of of scull covering meaning a different thing. He chose a kippa that is usually used by nonobservant Jews at religious events; seldom do people walk around wearing these head coverings as he did.

Amjad is perpetuating a stereotype of his people regarding Arabs and dogs, while his neighbor Timna is yet one more extreme. Timna relates to her dog as if it's her child, she is mortified when the dog barks at an Arab, and calls the dog a "likudnik" (a member of Israel's right wing party). She wants to take the dog to see a psychologist for his problem.

At the end of the day, no psychologist is really needed. What is needed is for two diverse cultures to take the time and make the effort to get to know each other, understand their differences, and not let a dog be the one to prove the truth of a silly myth.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 4 Explainer: Nightgown

Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of Arab Labor.

Here's their take on season two, episode four, Nightgown.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 4 Explainer: Nightgown



Aron Kader:

I believe this episode was written purposely to break the taboo Arabs have about sex. I don't think that a show has ever brought an audience this far into the bedroom of a Muslim couple. Of course, they're no different then any other TV couple that has been seen in a bedroom, but for Arabs and Muslims, this is a big first.

Sex is never openly talked about among Arabs and Muslims, and Arabs will never show public displays of affection. By using a very traditional old-fashioned nightgown inside the bedroom, which is only sexy to Amjad's father Abu Amjad and probably the older generation, this episode advances the discourse on intimacy. It's quite obvious that there is a comment here on what the modern generation likes versus the older one. Arousal and desire differ from culture to culture, but I think this episode could have been written for any TV show anywhere and should be universally understood since all humans have sex and have different habits around it.

As an Arab married to another Arab, I witnessed how differently our families talked about sex before and after our wedding. This is not limited to Arabs; most married people probably experience something similar. Sex is unspoken before marriage and almost never not insinuated after -- maybe not in specifics, but in general about having babies and starting a family.

Most Arabs assume you're a virgin before marriage so sex is a big no-no to talk about until you're married. Even then, it's only acceptable to talk about it around other married people and really just between your respective sex. Delving into the topic can offend easily, but the humor here should be enough to compensate.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

In this episode, we get a peek into the bedroom of the different couples on the show. Honestly, sex is sex, people and intimate relationships are truly universal. The problems this episode addresses are relatable and on display on every sitcom.

Classically, Bushra, a working mom with small children, doesn't want to have sex because she is tired. Timna is looking for ways to spice up the romance in the bedroom, and tries to roleplay with her husband Natan. Meanwhile, Amjad's parents are the older couple. They're empty nesters still in love and simply having a blast.

What's different here is the cultural context and the opportunity to peek into a Muslim bedroom. I do not think we have ever seen that before. And when we think of the Middle East, most people assume that the people there are very traditional, perhaps religious and old fashioned. Well, I would think again.They use their tradition as a tool of seduction, or not ...

Bushra wears a traditional nightgown to keep her husband away, while her mother-in-law uses it to seduce her husband. The Jew who they give the nightgown to as a gift uses it to try and tempt her husband to act out a playful role as an Arab. It could seem surreal that culture and race enter the bedroom, but doesn't everything we live and breathe follow us to our most intimate places?

Natan doesn't want to engage in the roleplaying game of Arabs on the eve of his reserve duty since he will be dealing with Arabs while in the army. In Israel, everyone over the age of 18 is required by law to join the army. Girls serve for two years, boys for three. Men continue to do reserve service for one month every year until their 40th birthday. Unfortunately, many reserve soldiers spend their month of reserve duty standing at checkpoints that separate the Arab areas from the Jews, checking identification documents.

On the morning Natan has to leave for reserve duty, Timna pretends to be an Arab woman trying to go through the checkpoint and her husband, who is already in his military uniform, cooperates and they have a playful little encounter. It might seem tasteless to someone watching this from the outside, but dealing with the realities of the Middle East requires some humor and lightheartedness. It's no different than someone in the US role playing as a doctor, policeman, or firefighter.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 1 Explainer: Shower

Link TV has enlisted Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman to recap season two of Arab Labor, providing insight into the cultural nuances depicted in the award-winning sitcom.

Here's their take on the season two premiere, Shower.

Arab Labor Season 2, Episode 1: Shower



Aron Kader:

The opening episode of season two deals with a couple of rather serious topics in a funny and brilliant way. The first issue is Israel's control over water, while the second is the discriminatory housing practices and the nearly nonexistent awarding of permits to Arabs.

Water rights have been a controversial issue historically between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Jewish neighborhoods tend to have higher water pressure as a result of their superior infrastructure and management of water resources. In the beginning of the episode, Amjad looks out Meir's window, admiring the green grass and peaceful neighborhood.

Without getting into the politics too much, here's one narrative surrounding water. Traditionally, Israel has served its own community's needs first and Arabs second, which has led to the drying up of Palestinian lands -- mainly orchards and farms that have been passed down for many generations. Palestinians have viewed this as an Israeli strategy to dry the land out until they're forced to abandon it, leaving their property to be sold. Writer Sayed Kashua brilliantly uses shower/water pressure as a comedic vehicle to comment on social injustice.

After being prompted by Meir to put his foot down, Amjad takes his complains about the weak water pressure to the municipality only to have it tragically backfire. When the authorities look further into his concerns, they determine that his father Abu Amjad's home violates an unexplained property code. They serve an order for its demolition. Unfortunately, this happens to be a very common occurrence in Israel since Arabs typically are not granted permits to build on their own lands and if they are, it's usually accompanied by many obstacles to overcome.

Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.


Naomi Ackerman:

Saying "have a nice day" and smiling comes naturally in the United States. In order to have that nice day, all people really need are the basics -- for example, a strong, hot shower. Because if we don't have the basics, the entire day can be ruined.

In the first episode of season two of "Arab Labor," Amjad is frustrated with the water power in his house. Water politics in the Middle East is about controlling the supply and allocation of water resources. It is a sore issue that reflects a central aspect of the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that the Israeli government is the regulator of water to the West Bank, the influx of an additional large population to a relatively fragile geographical area, and the massive expansion of previously existing populations have all caused variance and struggle.

The water in this specific episode also addresses the difference in the utility services citizens of east Jerusalem receive, as opposed to citizens of west Jerusalem. Eastern Jerusalem is primarily populated by Palestinian Israelis, while the West is populated by Jewish Israelis. Palestinians can only be Israeli citizens if they don't live in the West Bank and hold an Israeli ID. Both sides of Jerusalem are served by a joint municipality. Unfortunately, there is a lack of equality in many of the services.

Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.

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Click here for more web extras

 
 

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Link TV's Mosaic on Hiatus

After careful consideration, we have decided that it is time to make changes in the format of Mosaic: World News from the Middle East. To accommodate this change, we are now extending the current hiatus indefinitely while we retool and do the necessary fund raising to grow and expand the program concept, and to cover our production costs. New reports will no longer be available online or on Link TV. The Mosaic archive of all past shows will remain at LinkTV.org/Mosaic.

 

Change is never easy. We have heard your thoughts and concerns during this time of transition -- and we share a passion for the legacy of this program and the vision that helped to create it. Mosaic has always been a concrete demonstration of Link TV's core mission, reaching beyond borders and presenting non-mainstream perspectives in the hopes of connecting people and cultures.

 

In this time of global conflicts, misconceptions, and lack of trustworthy information, we believe a program like Mosaic remains an essential value. We now ask for your support and patience, as we create a new format that will include voices from the region, thoughtful analysis and insight, and a careful examination of social media within the different cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. Our intention is to bring you a program in concert with the news from the region and the new information technologies available to help make sense of a rapidly changing world.

 

Thank you for all of your support, your honest feedback, and your understanding. We will continue to keep you informed as new plans emerge.

 
 

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Link TV's Mosaic Now Available Online
Mosaic: World News from the Middle East provides translated videos of the top broadcast news stories from the Middle East and North Africa each weekday on this website. You can also find Mosaic video reports at News.LinkTV.org and on our new iPad tablet app, LinkTV World News, which you can learn more about and download at News.LinkTV.org/Apps.
 
The daily Mosaic television program is currently on hiatus from the Link TV broadcast schedule. After more than 2700 daily episodes on the air since November 2001, we're taking a break to seek new funding sources, and we're using this time to plan for upgrades to the Mosaic program that could include more news from the region, and more analysis.
 
We'd appreciate your comments and specific suggestions on the evolution of the program. Please take this brief online survey, and share your thoughts: SurveyMonkey.com/s/MosaicViewerSurvey. We'll keep you informed about the plans for Mosaic on the broadcast, web, and mobile.
  
Thank you, as always, for your continued support and enthusiasm for Link TV and Mosaic.
 
 

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Syrian Opposition Unites, Rohingya Groups Speak Out, and More Top News This Week

REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout


US-approved Syrian opposition group forms governing body

After US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a "more trustworthy" Syrian opposition last week, New TV reported that a leader in the Free Syrian Army announced that the Free Army is reorganizing its ranks to gain the trust of the international community, adding that his leadership has started to settle inside Syria. The Syrian opposition also announced during its ongoing meetings in Doha that it accepted a proposal to establish a transitional government headed by opposition member Riyad Saif. The initiative, headed by Saif, stipulates creating a unified leadership dubbed the Syrian National Initiative, from which a government in exile will be formed.

World groups organize global day of action in support of Myanmar's Rohingyas; Suu Kyi under fire for ignoring violence

Myanmar's Rohingyas are fleeing Rakhine State after a new wave of attacks from the Buddhist majority. Press TV reported that Rohingya groups around the world held a global day of action for the Rohingyas on November 8. International rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, have also criticized Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the issue. The president of Arakan Rohingya National Organization, Noor al-Islam, added in an interview during a rally in London that if the persecuted had been Rakhine's Buddhists, Suu Kyi would have spoken out. Additionally, the aid group Doctors Without Borders says its workers have been threatened and stopped from reaching violence-hit areas in Myanmar. The group says thousands are left without medical care in the western Rakhine State as a result, adding that many of the victims are extremely vulnerable.

Tens of Thousands Demand Nobel Peace Prize for Malala Yousafzai

 

BBC Arabic reported that over 60 thousand people signed a petition calling for Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The 15-year-old girl is recovering in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, Britain, after suffering an armed attack by the Taliban movement in Pakistan. Malala and her campaign for education gained notoriety around the world after she wrote her memoirs in the Urdu section of the BBC about life under the teachings of the extremist Taliban movement that rejects girls' right to an education.

Oil Giant Shell Undercuts Iran Sanctions with $1.4B Grain Barter

 

Dubai TV reported that the Royal Dutch Shell Company aims to circumvent international sanctions imposed on Iran by concluding a swap through which it would pay its USD 1.4 billion debt to the Iranian national oil company with a grain barter deal through the American agribusiness Cargill. Through the deal, Shell would deliver grain to Iran worth USD 1.4 billion, or what amounts to nearly 80 percent of Iran's yearly grain imports. Sources also revealed that the Royal Dutch Shell company, Tehran's second largest customer, imports 100,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day, and continued to purchase oil until the sanctions went into effect on July 1st.

 

Image: Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai talks to her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, as she recuperates at the The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters on November 8, 2012. REUTERS/Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham/Handout

 
 

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Syrian Eid Truce Broken, Sudanese Arms Factory Bombed, and More News This Week

REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

 

Brahimi-brokered Eid al-Adha ceasefire quickly broken

New TV reported over the week that UN-Arab League Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi had been working with the Syrian government on a ceasefire for the Eid al-Adha holiday. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced a conditional truce on behalf of the Syrian regime, but armed opposition groups such as Ansar al-Sharia rejected the conditions and made their own demands. Sure enough, the ceasefire was broken on Friday, the first day of Eid.

Afghanistan: Dozens killed in Eid suicide blast

BBC Arabic reported on Friday that in the most violent attack in Afghanistan in months, 41 people were killed and at least another 50 were injured when a man blew himself up inside a mosque in the city of Maimana, the capital of the Faryab region in northern Afghanistan, during the early morning prayers for Eid al-Adha. The suicide bomber was reportedly wearing a police uniform. Many of the victims were government soldiers, and prominent local authorities were inside the mosque at the time of the explosion.

Sudan blames Israel for bombing of arms factory in Khartoum

Press TV reported on Wednesday that Sudan has blamed Israel for an air raid on an ammunition factory in Khartoum that killed two people. Sudanese Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman announced that evidence pointing to Israel was found among the remnants of the explosives, adding that Sudan reserved the right to retaliate. Hamas also accused Israel of orchestrating the bombing. However, Al Jazeera reported on Thursday that Israel denied the claims, and Israeli defense official Amos Gilad described Sudan as a "dangerous terrorist state."

More violence erupts against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

Press TV reports that at least 112 Rohingya have been killed in Rakhine State, and homes of Rohingya Muslims have been torched all across Myanmar in a new round of sectarian violence perpetrated mainly by Buddhist extremists. The violence had died down after a spate of killings in August that drove a number of Rohingya to flee the country, but they are again forced to leave their homes in light of the new wave of attacks.

 

Image: A member of the Free Syrian Army talks on the radio during an operation in Haram town, Idlib Governorate, October 26, 2012. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

 
 

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University Partner News: Boston College's Matt Sienkiewicz on LinkAsia

Matt SienkiewiczMatt Sienkiewicz, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Communication and International Studies at Boston College and Producer/Director of LIVE: From Bethlehem. Follow him on Twitter @MattSienkiewicz.

 

Shows such as LinkAsia and Mosaic are a tremendous resource for a global media studies professor. They bring together news clips from across the world and dub them into English with tremendous speed and accuracy, while providing context and creating original content to form a full picture. These programs provide the perfect balance for a teacher or student of international media culture. Importantly, they are curated, with careful editing ensuring that the clips are presented in a coherent and representative fashion.

Yet, at the same time, Mosaic and LinkAsia avoid the impulse to impose overarching narratives, allowing the juxtaposition of news from a diverse body of sources to emphasize the fractured, often contradictory picture that media paints. These programs provide the near-immediacy of a web search while avoiding the chaos that such an approach to media study inevitably entails. It's truly amazing to think that, free of charge, I can show my students a half-hour of professionally translated news from Asia or the Middle East shortly after its original airing.

The network presents global media while striving to preserve a strong sense of locality. By finding and distributing locally-produced programs intended for local audiences, Link TV allows its audience a unique opportunity to get a sense of what media activity is like in a far off place.

 
 

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Iranian Rial's Plunge, Turkey's Syria Strike, and More of This Week's Top News

REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

 

Iranian rial falls to all-time low as Western sanctions take hold

The rial has hit an all-time low against the American dollar, trading at 37,000 to the dollar this week, Future TV reported. And as objections against his government have risen, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the presence of a shortage of hard currencies in the Iranian market, and clarified that the Iranian rial was devalued because of international sanctions on Iran. He also said that he sees a psychological war accompanying this external international pressure, which led to the devaluation of the currency.

Tunisian woman accused of indecency after being raped by security forces

Dubai TV reported that the Tunisian judiciary charged a girl with public indecency on Wednesday, after police said they had arrested her in a car under what they described as "suspicious circumstances" this past September. The girl had accused security agents of raping her. After a number of protests worldwide, Tunisian President Moncef al-Marzouki offered a state apology to the girl, and viewed the security flaw as not being within the security institution, but rather in the mindset of some of its members.

Turkey strikes Syrian targets in retaliation for deadly shelling

Press TV reported that tensions simmered between neighbors Turkey and Syria, as Turkey hit targets on Syrian soil in retaliation for mortar shelling from Syrian territories that hit Akcakale in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa on Wednesday. At least five people were killed and over a dozen others injured.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera reported that Turkey's parliament agreed to allow the government to wage a military operation outside the border if found necessary. Following the decision, anti-war protestors gathered around parliament and clashed with riot police there. Turkey's shelling eventually stopped, but New TV reported that at an AKP gathering on Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a new warning to Syria of the consequences of another shelling in Turkish territory.

Jailed Bahraini activist Mohammed Mushaima dies in custody

On Tuesday, 24-year-old Bahraini activist Mohammed Mushaima died of an illness while in custody. Press TV reported that he was in jail serving a prison term of seven years for taking part in anti-regime protests. Manama officials said that he was suffering from a hereditary disease. Lawyers said that they asked the court to release Mushaima because of his health, but their request had been denied.

Al-Alam reported that Bahraini regime forces launched a crackdown on his funeral procession in Manama on Wednesday, which was attended by "tens of thousands" of protestors. Al-Wefaq Society accused the Bahraini regime of being behind Mushaima's death, through depriving him of medical treatment and fabricating accusations against him.

 

Thousands of Jordanians take part in Friday protests despite king's dissolution of parliament


On Thursday, Jordan's King Abdullah II decided to dissolve parliament and call for early parliamentary elections in his country, reported Dubai TV. This was likely a preemptive move to head off the massive protests being called for by opposition groups on Friday. However, BBC Arabic reported that thousands still gathered in Amman on Friday for a day of protests dubbed "Friday to Save the Homeland," as called for by the opposition parties, most notably the Islamic Action Front.

 

Image: Protesters chant slogans during a demonstration against charges of indecency filed against a woman raped by two police officers, in front of the court in Tunis October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

 
 

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If Bashar Falls, What Will Happen to Syria's Alawites and Kurds?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is facing immense pressure to step down from power to end the conflict in his country. Unfortunately, ending the Syrian conflict is not that easy. Syria, like most countries in the Middle East, has kept a precarious balance of power between religious and ethnic groups for centuries. Assad stepping down may be the drastic change that the Syrian people need, but it could also have disastrous consequences for some of these groups.

 

Let us examine two of the largest minority groups in Syria-- Alawites and Kurds-- and see how they fit into the scene of this ongoing conflict.

Alawites

 

Map showing the presence of Alawites in the three countries where they are found: Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-1.0

 

The ruling al-Assad family is part of the Alawite community, which is a minority religious group in Syria and constitutes about 12 percent of Syria's population (2.1 million people). The term Alawite or Alawi comes from the name "Ali," referring to the fact that they are followers of Imam Ali bin Abi Taleb, a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammad.

While Alawites are classified as a distant branch of Shia Islam, many Muslims consider Alawite practices, such as drinking wine and believing in reincarnation, to be heresy. As such, Alawites have long suffered persecution, and have taken to keeping their beliefs behind a veil of secrecy.

Alawites have held a disproportionate amount of Syria's political and economic power since Bashar's father Hafez seized power in the 1970s. Sunnis, who comprise about three-quarters of the population and ruled the area for centuries, have resented this imbalance. However, the mostly-Alawite Assad government has been largely tolerant of other ethnic and religious minorities. The government has also enjoyed the support of neighboring Shiite political groups, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Aside from Damascus, the Alawites of Syria are concentrated in the country's northwest, along the Mediterranean coast, in the provinces of Latakia and Tartus. They are joined by significant Alawite minorities in Turkey's southern Antakya Province (formerly Antioch) to their immediate north, and Lebanon's northernmost district of Akkar to their immediate south.

South of Akkar, the Jabal al-Mohsen neighborhood in Tripoli (Tarabulus) is also mostly Alawite in a bastion of conservative Sunnis, and has experienced clashes with the anti-Assad Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood for decades. The fighting in Tripoli has only increased with the escalation of the war in Syria.

Many Alawites in the country fear a backlash against their community if Bashar al-Assad were to step down from power. Even if they are not pro-Assad, they fear being "massacred" by Sunnis once they are no longer under the protection of the Syrian army.

Kurds

 

Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)


Most of Hasaka Governorate, which is in the northeastern tip of Syria, forms a small part of the geocultural region of Kurdistan. This historically Kurdish region includes the majority of southeastern Turkey, the northern border of Iraq, most of the western border of Iran, and a small portion of Armenia. There are some 30 million Kurds living in this region, making them the largest ethnic group in the world without their own country.

Kurds are also one of the largest ethnic minorities in Syria, consisting of about 10 percent of the Syrian population (2 million people). They have been regularly discriminated against by the Syrian government, and were considered stateless for decades until earlier last year, when Bashar al-Assad granted them Syrian citizenship in a bid to prevent them from joining the growing opposition against his regime. This bid was largely unsuccessful, and many Kurds have joined the uprising with the hope of securing their autonomy as a separate Kurdish state within Syria, if not establishing Kurdistan as a nation, to the dismay of neighboring countries.

When the fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army intensified in western Syria this July, Syrian forces withdrew from the Kurdish northeast to strengthen their fronts against the FSA in western urban areas such as Aleppo and Damascus. The withdrawal left Syrian Kurds almost completely in control of their own region for the first time, much to Turkey's chagrin, which fears that the Kurdish region in Syria could become a haven for the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

At the moment, the region is one of the safest and most secure in the country, due in part to Kurds preventing both the Syrian army and the FSA from entering. However, many are worried that once the greater conflict is resolved, either the Syrian regime or the opposition will try to take back the Kurdish region, something that the newly-autonomous Kurds will not take kindly to.

Possible consequences of regime change

Neighboring countries fear that the fall of the Assad regime will lead to the fracturing of Syria along ethnic and religious lines, which would almost inevitably create complications in the greater region. King Abdullah of Jordan has said that the creation of an Alawite state along the predominantly-Alawite Syrian coast may be Bashar al-Assad's "Plan B." The creation of an independent Kurdish state in Syria's east may lead to more calls for Kurdish autonomy, even for a unified Kurdistan, in the surrounding Kurd-populated areas. Additionally, the influx of Syrian refugees will change the demographic makeup of the countries surrounding Syria, which could upset other precarious balances of power and lead to new conflicts years down the line.

 

Images:

1. Map showing the presence of Alawites in the three countries where they are found: Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. NordNordWest and Supreme Deliciousness / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-1.0

2. Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)

 
 

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