I believe my observations are only generalizable for white collar Omanis and possibly just those in the capital city of Oman (Muscat). In terms of population, Oman is a small country with roughly 2 million citizens and 600,000 expatriates (people from other countries that are brought in to work). The expatriates are either treated very well (mostly the white collar and oil professionals) or as common laborers (who do the hard physical labor that the Omanis do not want to do themselves). Keep in mind that my observations may or may not be generalizable to the greater Arabian culture. I expect that these observations are fairly generalizable to business professionals throughout Arabia, but probably do not represent the opinions of the main population.
Omanis and the local expatriates who have been here a while (most of the expatriates with whom I spoke have been working in various Middle Eastern countries for six to twelve years) think the removal of Saddam was a very good thing. Most of the Arabs have very mixed feelings about it. They are delighted with Saddam's downfall, but not happy that the Americans had to do it. This seems to have its roots in both suspicion of American motives, but also in their native pride. They are embarrassed that the Arabian nations could not do this themselves and that they let the situation get so bad that America finally stepped in, like a mature adult finally putting a stop to squabbling children when things get out of hand. Even those who fully support the coalition's efforts and intellectually know the coalition has good intentions have stated that the presence of the coalition hurts their pride.
As one might expect, there is a wide range of opinion about what should be done next and how things are getting done. However, I have found two fairly universal themes. Virtually all those with whom I spoke, both Omani and white-collar expatriates, see the Iraqi intervention in terms of American strength or weakness and as a looming problem.
First, this is seen as a test of America's strength. The prevailing attitude seems to be that America's command of the skies approaches the supernatural and America's command of the seas is not far behind, but America has nothing special when it comes to holding territory and using ground forces. Should Americans write off Iraq and flee as they are perceived to have done with Vietnam and other local incidents, it will greatly reinforce this negative opinion of American military power. The current uprisings in Iraq are seen as a military problem and they are watching to see if America and its friends are up to the task.
There are various opinions on whether or not America would stay the course. Most thought the US would and others thought the US would not. The forthcoming elections also played a role. Many thought the US would run away if Kerry were elected while others thought Kerry would have no choice but to stay and protect the reputation of the United States. Interesting enough, those who thought that Kerry would run away were pro-Bush. Those who thought Kerry would stay were split on the issue of Bush vs. Kerry. In addition, this latter camp didn't really care – the Omanis are very focused on developing their country and in providing a comfortable living for their families. Their preferences aside, the common expectation is that Bush will win.
The second point of consensus was that the situation in Iraq was getting worse. I pressed for details and this common opinion is not just based on media reports (thus shattering one vain hope of mine). Many people had second- or third-hand knowledge from friends who had visited Iraq and one person had visited Iraq himself multiple times since the fall of Saddam - yet another phrase for the American intervention.
One British expatriate who had been in the region for the last six years was both quite opinionated and informed. As a British citizen, he and his wife have freely traveled through most of the Arabian countries, including two recent trips to Iran. He was critical of Bush, but his complaints were that Bush was not being strong enough with the military. He thinks that Bush should send more troops and use them much more. Strength is appreciated in Arabian culture. After hearing this, I expected my British interviewee to be rooting for Kerry when I asked him if he had a preference in our presidential election. He emphatically said Bush because he thought Kerry would be a disaster for the Middle East if he were elected president.
Interestingly enough, there is more speculation about the Australian election than the American election. While the local consensus is that President Bush will win in the US, the fate of John Howard is less certain. Rightly or wrongly, the locals firmly believe that the terrorists scared the Spanish voters into bringing down their pro-American government. Many believe the Australians are just as cowardly as the Spanish and the terrorists will succeed in toppling John Howard as well. In a similar vein, many expect the British to be the primary terrorist target after the Australian elections in an attempt to topple Tony Blair.
This has been the experience of one visitor to Oman.
The Omanis currently do not have much to export other than oil, natural gas, silver, and spices (such as frankincense and myrrh). However, they want this agreement for two reasons. They are both looking to the future and they want to keep up with the Jones. This is very important in Arabian culture and the Omanis are well aware that Bahrain has already signed a free trade agreement with the States.
However, some of their neighbors still have a way to go.
In Iran, a woman went to court to secure a judicial order for him to beat her once a week instead of every night according to the Oman Daily Observer. This woman had set quite limited goals for herself, but I'm glad she took some action. Once the judge finished laughing, he ordered the husband to cease beating his wife altogether.
In India, a poor woman thought her husband was either a deserter from the Indian Army or dead. After hearing nothing for four years, her family agreed she could remarry. She did so and is currently pregnant with her first child. Then her first husband reappears – he was captured by the Pakistanis and has been a POW all this time. The religious elders told her that according to Islamic law, she must go back to her first husband (who wants his wife back but does not want the child). She is complying with the law even though the All India Democratic Women's Association is outraged that no one is asking her what she wants to do in this difficult situation.
In Malaysia, the "Scorpion Queen" has reclaimed the world's record of the most days of living in a room of scorpions. She has spent 33 days (as of Thursday) living in box that measures 12 feet by 10 feet. She shares this box with 6,000 scorpions. The local news has been giving updates; the woman has been stung several times, but refuses to quit. Now that she has regained her world record (a person from Thailand beat her old record in 2002), she plans to coming out of the box on Saturday.
Sesame Street seems weird and annoying in Arabic.
A concert was on the hotel property along the beach. The band was The Bootleg Doors. As their name implies, they mimic The Doors. The concert was quite loud and the lead singer was quite suggestive in many of his comments to the crowd. Even though this was audible for quite a distance from the hotel (it was quite loud from inside my fourth floor room), it was apparently acceptable. Despite the volume, I fell asleep within minutes of returning to my room at 11:00 - so I do not know how long the concert lasted.
Today the local paper mentioned that Israel was negotiating with Washington to buy some of our "bunker busters" – bombs that could destroy Iran's heavily-fortified nuclear reactor. It doesn't take a political analyst to understand how seriously Israel perceives the Iranian nuclear threat. Now this would be a great question to ask Bush & Kerry in the debates. Knowing that if we sell these bombs to Israel, there is a high probability they will be used against Iran, should we sell them? I would love to hear both candidates discuss why they would or would not support the sale of these bombs to Israel.
I eat breakfast at my hotel restaurant every morning. The hotel serves a wide range of clientele from all over the world, so I was not surprised to find some bacon in a special pot at the breakfast buffet. I say special because the pot was set apart from the other food and warns people, in multiple languages, that it contains pork. Muslims, like their Jewish cousins, are forbidden to eat pork and this pot is set aside so that even the serving utensil will not be inadvertently used on other food.
I was not surprised by this, but I was surprised to see bacon and sausage also available with the other offerings.
Then I read the signs. They offered two types of sausage: veal and chicken. The bacon that was mixed with the other food also came from veal. Apparently Arabs enjoy sausage and bacon as much as any other people, it just had not occurred to me that they would make from other animals. Personally, I found both types of sausage to be quite tasty and readily distinct from each other. The bacon was edible, but in this case, I greatly prefer the taste of American bacon. This latter may not be a preference for pork, bacon in most parts of the world taste different from American bacon. I do not know if this is because of how it is prepared or because American pigs are such a different breed from pigs elsewhere in the world. Most of our bacon comes from large farms where our pigs are feed special foods to help then taste better. That's not a real priority in nations that are still working to keep everyone fed.
The major Indian story of the week is the upcoming visit of the Indian prime minister to the White House. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is currently visiting in the UK, yet that was a minor part of the story. The focus was on visit with President George W. Bush. The Indian press was very happy with Bush's decision to lift export controls on high tech equipment for India, specifically equipment for India's nuclear and space industries. In turn, India agreed to address Bush's concerns about nuclear proliferation.
As an American, I am sometimes oblivious to the international influence wielded by our president. I take for granted that whoever holds our presidency is "the most powerful man in the world" without realizing the impact this has on the citizens of other great powers such as India.
This visit between Singh and Bush is important news and I hope some of my fellow bloggers can take time from discussing our November election to cover this story. I have long believed that India and the US should be close allies since we share so much in common (e.g., we both have democratic forms of government, our law has a common British heritage, etc.). Yet, the politics of the cold war (where India became firm friends with the Soviets) and the war on terror (where Indians are dismayed that we are improving relations with Pakistan) have kept the relationship cooler than it should be. I hope that this visit is another large step toward much closer relations between our countries.
There were a few very interesting points that I will share. Only official vehicles were allowed in the embassy parking lot, so we had to park across the street at the embassy of country W. While this tactic would not help against suicide drivers, it does prevent terrorists from parking a car bomb near the embassy. If anyone were so dumb to attempt such a thing, they would only damage the embassy of country W.
After our business was concluded at the embassy, we walked back to our vehicle. One of my associates and I each took a picture of country W's embassy. Then he took a few shots of the US embassy while I walked to get a better angle. Probably by design, there was no clear shot at the US embassy, the landscaping was designed in such a way to always obscure parts of the facility. While I was trying to find a decent angle, an Arabian guard came up to me and explained photography was forbidden in this area. After seeing that I was not going to argue (i.e., I put the cap on my camera and turned it off), he then proceeded to our vehicle and politely but firmly asked for the film from my associate's camera. My coworker also complied, but he was not happy to lose all the pictures he had taken of our visit to Oman. Fortunately for me, the guard did not realize I had already taken a picture of Embassy W, or he might have confiscated my digital memory card. Despite the momentary excitement at the end of the visit, I am glad I had the opportunity to meet some of the fine folk who officially represent the States in that part of the world.
Despite some Western misimpressions, the low divorce rates in many Arabian countries is not due to their religion.
Islamic law makes it very easy to obtain a divorce. However, Arabs are a tribal people and marriages tend to be between families who know each other well. This provides ample motivation for people to make their marriages work. Many problems become public knowledge and in the event of a divorce, it is not uncommon for the family of the divorced woman to make things unpleasant for the former husband. This displeasure may even be expressed in physical action in some cases. In other cases, the husband who obtained a divorce suffers little to no social consequences for divorcing his wife. The divorce is weighed in the court of public opinion and social pressure is applied to the person judged to have been at fault. According to several Gulf Arabs with whom I spoke, the social pressures placed on a married couple are one reason that foreign brides are desired by some. From the husband's perspective, such marriages are free from many of the in-law pressures that are part of a traditional marriage.
Traditional Arabian marriages also come with a dowry being paid by the husband to the family of the bride, who in turn almost always gives that money to the bride. This money is an additional safety net for the woman. Once married, this dowry remains under the wife's control. Should she ever be divorced (or simply have another need for her own money), she has significant resources with which to operate. Those with whom I spoke said this was the biggest mistake that Western women make if they marry Arabs. Such woman rarely ask for a dowry. This has two problems. It places Western woman in a position of weakness once they are in an Arabian home (unless they have their own wealth from before the marriage). This also signals a lack of understanding of Arabian culture which is perceived as a sign of foolishness. On the other hand, the advantages of marrying Western women are manifold for Arabian men. They avoid constant exposures to in-laws and they rarely have to come up with a dowry. These perceived advantages of Western brides are so great, that the Sultan of Oman passed
The Omani people number approximately 2.6 million. This is a small percentage of the overall Arabian peoples. And of the 2.6 million, 600,000 are not Omanis, but expatriates (workers from other countries). As such, the Omani take steps to protect their culture from being assimilated from both the Western world and neighboring Arabian peoples. For instance, the Sultan of Oman ruled that Omanis could only marry Omanis unless they obtained a waiver from the government. While the states intent of this policy was to protect Omani culture, another result has been to keep divorce rates below 5%.
Polygamy has been part of Arabian culture, although not as much as usually portrayed by the media. It is expensive to have multiple wives (e.g., each new wife requires an additional dowry). In addition, there are some long-term costs associated with multiple wives. Unlike most Western parents, Arabian parents do not tell their kids they are on their own at 18 (or when they finish college). Instead, Arabian parents support their children, helping them find jobs, paying for at least a large percentage, if not all, of new cars, and even buying a house for their sons when they get married. Since multiple wives usually means many more children, the financial pressures on an Arabic man to provide for his family are high. This was less of a problem when Omanis lived in tents and had little physical wealth. It was relatively easy to provide sons with their own tents and some livestock of their own. Yet, imagine trying to buy modern houses for 8 to 12 sons (a typical range for Omani families today). There is immense social pressure for each son's house to be at least as good as those of his neighbor, yet the per capita income is approximately $8,000 per year. This financial pressure may help explain why many Omanis strongly support having women in the workforce. Typically, the financially besieged husband will be the strongest advocate for sending his wife to work.
As children see their parents struggling to financially meet the social obligations to provide for them, some Omanis expect the next generation to opt for a smaller families. If these Omanis are correct, polygamy will become rare and be limited to the very wealthy.
Given the currently large size of Omani families, many Western women may ask how Omani woman find the time to work and raise a large family. In American culture, this would be quite difficult. However, despite the financial pressures facing modern Omanis, they are quite wealthy for their part of the world and have an ample supply of inexpensive labor (usually from India and the Philippines). Thus, maids and nannies are common, especially in homes with multiple incomes. Since there is no income tax in Oman, 100% of the income earned by the wife is available for the family.
Internet access is not reliable here, so posting will be erratic. From what I've seen, Americans are treated very well by Omanis. I've been taking notes on my experience, and what I've learned, as I go and I'll post them when I can.
I'll provide more details later (hint: I'm visiting a country that borders Saudi Arabia). In my free time, I hope to have to opportunity to interview some Middle Eastern citizens about their perspective on certain issues. If any of my readers has any particular questions they would like asked, speak up and I'll see what I can do.
"only an idiot" would fail to support the health care plan proposed by her husband, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Teresa, I don't want you raising my taxes to provide more health care subsidies. If history is any judge, most of these taxes would be wasted on administration instead of going to help us pay high medical bills. Instead, let's reduce our high medical bills by simply protecting them from trial lawyers like John Edwards.
At the same time Teresa Kerry was attacking my intelligence, a professor on the right also called me an idiot if I could answer yes to even one of his twenty-five questions. Unlike Teresa, Mike Adams was using humor to make a point. However, I think he was also serious. I must admit, some of his questions would probably serve their stated purpose. But then he blew it.
19. Have you ever nodded during a speech by Jesse Jackson?Yes. Yes I have. On November 27, 1993 I fully agreed with several of Jesse Jackson's points. In a rare showing of common sense, Jackson anticipated Bill Cosby's honest appraisal of some of the social problems African Americans cause themselves.
There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start to think about robbery and then look around and see it's somebody white and feel relieved. How humiliating.I'll cut Mike some slack though – back in 1994 I think Adams was still a liberal and he probably wants to suppress some of those memories. And I haven't heard Jesse Jackson say anything so refreshingly true in years. But I expect Mike to admit he was wrong and apologize for calling me an idiot. I'd like an apology from the Ketchup queen too, but I don't expect to get one from the likes of her.
We got the power right now to stop killing each other, to stop abandoning our babies and give them the dignity of our names.
I was so impressed with this speech I still have a summary of it that was published a few months later. You can obtain a copy from your library (US News & World Report, January 17, 1994, pages 38-39).
First of all, my site is called a roundtable because I do not know everything. I greatly appreciate the perspectives and ideas of my readers and I especially value new insights. If anyone wants me to post a new thread on any subject at all, drop me a line and I'll be glad to do so if I have the time.
Some people have asked if a certain comment was appropriate for a given thread. So long as everyone is polite, I want everyone in our community to feel free to take the discussion where he or she thinks appropriate. I have no problem with comments expanding well beyond the original context. If someone asks, or if I feel inspired, I may start a new post to pursue a tangent, but I am just as happy to continue conversations in the comments section from whence they sprung.
I also am not much of a censor so long as people remain "civilized." In general, I only police three types of comments. I delete spam, profane comments, and comments from trolls who are more interested in personal attacks than in having a discussion. Fortunately, this tactic seems to drive away trolls, I haven't seen any in a while. (Of course, taking the summer off may have driven them away too). So feel free to post and join in the fun!
For instance, I've noticed that the rabbis and priests who take their Scriptures literally are usually the ones that believe their religious texts are very clear - abortion is murder. Likewise, those priests and rabbis who think the Scriptures are "guidance" and "suggestions" tend to think abortion should be legal. In general, this bulk of this group also believes gay marriage and the Scriptures are easily reconciled. These folks are the ones who strain interpretations, but they have the advantage of being politically correct. And if you believe that Scripture is just guidance, there is no reason to follow it too carefully.
Calling abortion for the murder it is, is very politically incorrect and brings out attacks from many – sometimes where one least expects it. Thus, many people are reluctant to do so which reduces the availability of this information. This may explain why some well-read folks have trouble even believing that the Scriptures are even pertinent to this issue.
For example, the inspiration for this post comes from a discussion I've been having with Dean Esmay. When I agree with others that the Scriptures are clear that abortion is murder, I get responses such as:
Every Jewish expert I have ever spoken to says that the scriptures clearly state that the soul enters the body upon the first drawing of breath--and that abortion, while it may be troubling, is clearly not proscribed by the scriptures.I do not know with what Jewish experts Dean is familiar, but it appears obvious he has only been exposed to a small spectrum of Jewish opinion. Or to be even more fair, he has probably only been exposed to the majority opinion of North American Jews. And if he is not familiar with the politically incorrect beliefs of many Jews, others may be in the same boat. This is not an attack on Dean, whom I respect, but an attempt to overturn a misconception that is apparently held by many. One reason for this misconception may be that North American Jews are notoriously "liberal" in the world-wide Jewish community, so many Americans may expect that the mainstream Jewish opinion in America reflects that of the world's Jews. It rarely does. (A quick political test provides an example. Which US presidential candidate is favored by most American Jews? Which US presidential candidate is favored by most Israelis? Hmmm…).
At any rate, let me share some references that will clearly refute the claim that all Jewish experts believe abortion is not proscribed by the Scriptures. And I will deliberately select some experts from North America to show that even here, in the heart of the most liberal Jews in the world, those who believe the Scriptures are literal have a pro-life voice.
One of the most complete discussions of Jewish law and abortion was written by two Jewish Christians. Their book Ethics for a Brave New World is a great resource and clearly speaks to this and other issues.
However, I can anticipate the responses now. "But those are Jewish Christians. What about Jewish Jews?" So let's look at what some contemporary Rabbis are saying.
This is a typical summary of Jewish experts who take the Scriptures literally. It is a slightly more nuanced view than those who see a complete ban on abortion. These rabbis "only" believe the Scriptures ban abortion in the 99.99% of cases where the mother's life is not in danger. I've placed a few parts in bold.
A group of Jewish rabbis--orthodox, conservative and reform--joined Christians at a pro-life gathering in Washington DC on November 12. The rabbis said the Jewish community should speak out more vocally against abortion, and agreed that Jewish law forbids abortion unless the mother's life is threatened. "But in every other situation, when there is no such mortal threat, abortion is prohibited," said Rabbi David Novak of the University of Toronto. Rabbi Yehuda Levin of Brooklyn, New York said the "Orthodox Jewish community is not doing enough in getting the message out. It's the world's greatest secret that we care about this."This article does an excellent job discussing the wide range of beliefs in the American Jewish community. There is certainly not unanimity even amongst the pro-life American Jews, but there are many experts who use the Scripture (and Science) to argue against abortion.
Barry Freundel, an Orthodox rabbi from Georgetown… feels obliged to inform them that the absolute license to abort, as practiced in the United States today, is "simply impossible to reconcile" with traditional Jewish teaching. Judaism, he said, permits abortion in a few limited circumstances, such as to save the life of the mother.If you have read my white paper, or other sources, you may be wondering why most Jewish experts make an exception when the life of the mother is in danger (and this is mostly a theoretical exception – it is very, very, very rare and I know some doctors who claim there is no case where they cannot try to save both the woman and the child. In any case where pregnancy causes risk, abortion also causes a high risk to the mother). After all, there is no Scripture that provides for such an exception. Rabbi Barry Freundel explains that there is an oral tradition that is vital to Jewish religion.
David Novak, a theologian and rabbi who holds a chair in Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto… No Jewish source, however, accepts abortion for the purpose of birth control or sterility, a practice that "cheapens human life" and public morality.
Yehuda Levin, an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn… said that the Orthodox community has a special responsibility to present to the wider public the authentic pro–natal, pro–life Jewish view on abortion. Levin… said Jews are obliged not just to cultivate righteousness within their own community but also to be "a light unto the nations"; specifically, he argued, Orthodox institutions should lobby to protect life as earnestly as they seek tuition tax credits or vouchers for religious schools.
Clifford E. Librach, a Reform rabbi from Sharon, Massachusetts… turned the tables on his own liberal Reform movement, which frequently justifies changes in Jewish law on the grounds that the ancient rabbis lacked modern, scientific knowledge. What, then, Rabbi Librach asked, if the sages had known that, from the moment of conception, twenty–three chromosome pairs form the signature of each human being, or that a fetus exhibits brain waves at just ten weeks, or that fetuses are sensitive to music and human voices?
Moses A. Birnbaum, a Conservative movement rabbi from Plainview, Long Island, was among the 450 rabbis who, under the sponsorship of the Institute for Religious Values, recently published an open letter to Jewish members of the U.S. Senate, urging an override of President Clinton’s veto of a bill to ban partial–birth abortion. The National Council of Jewish Women countered with a pro–abortion letter signed by a group of 500 rabbis; but, Rabbi Birnbaum said, they were unable to refute either the medical or religious arguments of the original letter.
So while they are a minority in the States, there are many, many Jewish experts who believe their Scriptures forbid abortion (with most of these experts allowing for an exception in the case where a woman's life is in danger from the pregnancy).
Rabbi Freundel of the Kesher Israel Congregation, Georgetown Synagogue, in Washington, D.C., is currently vice president and Ethics Committee Chairman of the Rabbinical Council of America.
According to the Mishnah, which is a record of oral interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures, abortion is only permitted when a woman is in "hard travail" and her life is in danger. This is a very limiting position, Freundel pointed out, since there must be serious danger to the mother.
This would not include the vast majority of abortions actually performed in the United States. Not even in the most lenient interpretations, Rabbi Freundel stressed, is there anything that allows abortion on demand.
Why is this even controversial? It is no secret that the overwhelming majority of those who believe the Jewish and Christian Scriptures are pro-life. The Scriptures are very clear that abortion is wrong. In my own case, this is why I tend to vote Republican even though I am an independent. I disagree with many Republican policies (e.g., I despise handouts to large businesses). However, I have never knowingly voted for a candidate who supports abortion and never shall. And since the Democrats rarely nominate a pro-life candidate, I rarely vote for a Democrat even though I agree with some of their other policies (e.g., our prison policy needs to be completely revamped – incarcerating our people should not be a growth industry).
Keyes has plenty of problems (e.g., he called Hillary Clinton a carpetbagger for running as a NY Senator and now he is doing the same thing in Illinois), but the recent vehement attacks on Keyes are without merit. Keyes apparently hit a nerve with those who wish people would hide their religious beliefs and ignore them when they vote. Tough. I strongly encourage everyone to consider their beliefs and ethics when voting. If your beliefs do not even matter when you are helping determine the future of your country, when do they matter?
If you have emailed me over the summer, I will try to get back to you this month. However, today my mailbox had 8,311 email messages in it. A large portion of this was junk mail, but after running these through my filters, I still had almost a thousand emails remaining. So if I don't respond by the end of September, it means my filters inadvertently trashed your emails too and you should try again.