Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 2011

The voices of Arab Spring uprising: They have been sounding for decades!

For three decades, hundreds of “Arab” authors have been publishing poignant novels, describing accurately and harshly the social and family conditions in their particular countries.  Wrong! The intelligentsia and public activists have been very engaged: It is the world community that was ignoring the upheaval among the youth of the Arab World, by not getting committed in translating the works extensively.

You hear that foreign politicians were taken aback by this “Arab” mass upheavals, and are unable to comprehend the new dynamics.  It has been proven that novels and stories (narratives in movies and documentaries) are the best medium to break through “cognitive dissonance”, which  totalitarian regimes and media oriented “democratic” regimes educate citizens on the proper political positions to taking. 

The “Arab” masses have been liberated from their despotic indoctrination and they assimilated the indignities that novels have been sharing and exposing clearly, boldly, colorfully, and brightly.

Before mass printing in the 20th century, people mass uprising needed a century of novel swapping to understanding the big picture.  Nowadays, a decade is enough to getting people up in arms and demanding regime change.  What the politicians could not comprehend is “How many of these changes happened by peaceful means of mass determination”.

You might hear skeptics saying: “Any Arab author could not expect more than 3,000 books to be purchased, much less to be read.  How can you account for the masses to have assimilated the problems in their countries?” 

First, maybe entire books are not read, but essential extracts are disseminated on the internet.  Second, people know their own situation: All they need is to hear that someone else is sharing their plight by telling their stories. I guess that is what I have been doing in the last three years: I have been reviewing books and commenting them in my blog; you may check my category Book Review, of hundreds of translated manuscripts from Arabic, French, and English.

The first novel of the Libyan Hisham Mattar “In the country of men, 2007)” is about a young boy who lived during the Qadhafi regime in the 1970’s, in the shadow of the “Guide”.   The father, an opposition personality is sent to jail, never to reappear.  The second novel of Hisham “Anatomy of a disappearance, 2011” recounts the story of Nouri El Alfli, a young boy of 12 year-old, who fled with his family from Tripoli (Libya) to Cairo in the 70’s.  The young boy recollects his love for Mona, an Anglo-Egyptian, that he met with his father in Alexandria.  Mona was to become his step-mother.  Nouri had this Oedipal rivalry with his dissident father relative to Mona.  The father is kidnapped by the Qadhafi security in Cairo, and Nouri is never to see him again.  The story is how sadness build an identity, how absence transforms relationship, and how loss in young age affects sexual behavior in adulthood. 

In this novel, Hisham Mattar celebrates the father who disappeared 21 years ago in Qadhafi jails and how despots ravage the normal lives of normal families and individuals, for “we cannot live outside History!”

Raja Alem, a female Saudi author, published “The pigeon collar” (Tawq al hamama).  This novel depicts the Sacred City of Mecca as a hotbed of delinquency and religious fanaticism, where foreign workers are exploited by the mafia of Real Estates development enterprises that are destroying historic quarters.  These stories are told in letters sent to her German lovers, another taboo of foreign relationship not appreciated by this Wahhabi obscurantist theocracy/absolute monarchy.

Mohammad Achaari is a Moroccan author: He published “The Arc and the Butterfly” (Al Qawss wa Al Farasha).  This novel treats the relationship between Islamism and terrorism from the perspective of their consequences on the lives of family members.  It is the story of a leftist activist who receive a letter from Al Qaeda informing him that his son is a martyr.  The father was under the impression that his son was studying in Paris  and not in Afghanistan, fighting with the Al Qaeda. How this revelation impacted on the family life, father and mother.

Raja Alem and Mohammad Achaar received the “Arab Booker” laureate of best Arabic book of the year by the International Award for Arabic novels held in Abu Dhabi this year.  For the last four years, the British Booker institute has been awarding prizes for best Arabic novels.

The three taboo themes of sexuality, politics, and religion are now wildly approached and dissected in Arabic novels.  The government censure is exacerbated by Islamist threats:  A situation that forces the Arab authors to publish in Europe, Russia, and the USA, and most of the time in foreign languages for wider dissemination.

In the last three decades, Arab authors have been emulating the Soviet dissident authors and doing their best to break through tight censorship and rounding up of entire families for punishing a single author.  For example, the Lebanese author Hanane El Cheikh published “London my love” as a message to highlighting the divergences between western life-style and Arabic conditions and what our society lacks in means of reform and change.

You may read the novel of the Egyptian Alaa el-Aswany “The Yacoubian building”; the Libyan Ibrahim Al Koni “Gold dust” and “Angel, who are you?”; the Egyptian Ahdaf Soueif “Lady Pacha”, and many women authors from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen…

You may also read my post:

Note:  I translated part of an article in The Courrier International#1067

Reid published ten rules for successful business ventures, borne from his experiences starting companies and partnering with great entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.  I slightly edited the rules before commenting on the rules, this insane urge for going bigger and bigger once we start a company, and the lack of defining exactly the product for the reflecting on the relevance of a rule. You may read the link to the original

Rule #1: Look for disruptive change.
If you’re about to start on a new venture, ask yourself: “What is becoming possible or necessary that wasn’t possible before? Is a new product (or service) able to take over an existing market or create a new market?” When I co-founded LinkedIn, the tech industry was in a deep depression. I looked at all the opportunities created by the Internet and had the idea that, eventually, everyone would need a professional profile online. The disruption was that people were able to directly reach the best candidates rather than hoping for responses from a listing in the paper or an ad on a Web site.

(I guess that disruptive change was empowering the entrepreneur for direct access to the best qualified professionals in specific fields.)

Rule #2: Aim big.
Regardless of whether a start-up is targeting a big idea or a small one, it will still require the same amount of blood, sweat and tears—so aim big! What is “big?” It is a new product or service that creates or dominates a significant market.

(The term “niche in a market” used to be the common expression in marketing studies, but again, it is better to venture into a stable and developed market.  For example, every specialty business are grouped on a certain street or locality for obvious reasons of clients attraction)

Rule #3: Build a network to magnify your company.
People tend to think that behind every great start-up is a single entrepreneur with a whiz-bang idea. The reality is great companies are built by a number of people with talent who are surrounded by amplifying networks. The most successful entrepreneurs bring in advisors, investors, collaborators and early customer relationships.

(The idea is to steer away from templates that dictate rigid principles for starting up companies.  The trend is to empower many early collaborators in the ideas generation, planning, and decision making.  Open discussion of the early problems are necessary for the designated decision makers in the start-ups.  For example, the enterprise “kharabeesh”, based in Amman, permitted the office kitchen employee to becoming their best animator, and the driver to lend his voice to Qadhafi…)

Rule #4: Plan for good luck and bad luck.
You should always assume you will have both good luck and bad luck with your new company. Good luck is not as simple as “it worked out.” Rather, this is when you discover a great opportunity and can quickly shift to go after it. Bad luck is what happens when your first idea doesn’t work. It doesn’t mean failure; it means you need to pursue plan B.

(No matter what some professionals insist on getting on with the business, and investing time on trial and error tactics, it is essential that meticulous research and comprehension of the business be the first building block.  Otherwise, how would you be able to selecting the best candidates for the job?)

Rule #5: Maintain flexible persistence.
Very often entrepreneurs are given conflicting advice: “Be persistent! Stay committed to your vision!” or “Pivot on key data! Know when to change!” The challenge is to follow them both, but know which advice is most appropriate for which situation. You must know how to maintain flexible persistence.

(I guess flexible persistence presumes a thorough knowledge of the business venture and the need to have confidence in the professionals in the field. How are you supposed to “Pivot on key data” if you are unable to making heads from tails looking at data?)

Rule #6: Launch early enough so that you are embarrassed by your first product release.
With my first start-up,, it took us nine months to launch the first product. That was a disastrous mistake. We wanted to have all the detailed functionality right away, including social controls to people could decide to connect or not with the people in their networks. We wanted everyone to “Ooh” and “Aaah” about how terrific the product was. We wasted a bunch of time and it put us months behind on more important problems that needed to be solved, such as how to get our product in the hands of millions of people. From that I learned, if you are not embarrassed by your first release, you’ve launched too late!

(If you are not slightly embarrassed by your first release, how would you convince the customers that you consider “redesigning a product” is more important than patching faults and errors?”

Rule #7: Aspire, but don’t drink your own Kool-Aid.
Target excellence, but be very careful about blind trust or belief in your theories. It is important to launch as early as you can in order to learn how your customers use your product or service. It is equally important to identify metrics that tell you if your aspirations and vision are on target. You should also get feedback from your network in order to iterate or pivot on the target, the product and/or the service. In other words, maintain your aspiration but always look for good perspective on how you are doing. It is very easy for creative innovators to get caught up in their own story rather than learning where they should be headed.

(It means, factor in data collection process and timely analysis on clients behavior and feedback as an intrinsic part of the business.  How could you “pivot on the target” if you don’t believe that “data can talk”? How can you gain different perspectives if you refuse to communicate with the data from different venues?  How do you think financial multinationals are making such huge profit if not from mastering the process of gathering data and instant analysis and synthesis of the market responses, needs, and wants?  Fact is, financial multinationals do not speculate: they know for fact what is the outcome of every decision!)

Rule #8: Having a great product is important, but having great product distribution is more important.
I meet a lot of entrepreneurs who think the best product is the most important thing and that the best product should always win. What a lot of people fail to realize is that without great distribution, the product dies. How will you get your product in the hands of millions or hundreds of millions of people?

(That is the principle of vertical integration: Associate with a successful distribution company from the start.)

Rule #9: Pay close attention to culture and hires from the very beginning.
Your first hires set your culture, so make them good ones. These first people hire the next people and so on. The old wisdom was that you needed people with a decade more of experience in your start-up. The things a smart person learned a decade ago won’t help you now – you’re doing things that have never been done before, and the world and the competitive landscape are changing at hyper speeds. What you really need are people who can learn fast.

(Most important rule of all: every generation has a new brand of intelligence that is quicker and more adaptable to the new technologies.  You might be doing a huge mistake if you insist on not hiring from an older generations:  Knowing and adapting to the newer paces in technology is never enough for building a cohesive and sustainable business.  Any exclusion of older generation is a sure sign or amoral ethical conduct of the start-up:  Social movements of solidarity are fine-tuning their selection of companies of choices, not based on just good product, but on sustainable moral and ethical conducts)

Rule #10: Rules of entrepreneurship are guidelines, not laws of nature.
Do not pay too much attention to rules set by other people. Entrepreneurs are inventors. They are successful when they make something work for the very first time. Sometimes in order to make something work, you will drive over the guardrail of one of these rules. Entrepreneurs sometimes just make new rules.

(Do not be dominated by “template” success stories.  Reinventing the wheel is a great mechanism for discovering new ways of doing business:  Pioneers have necessarily missed to investigate many factors, and the new age has a different way to look at wants, needs, and problem solving.)

My first question to these rules is: Are we considering the new “ethical paradigm” of sustainable environment and life-style?  The key words in this generation are “green”, sustainable, rejuvenation, recycling, quality life-style, reforestation, climatic changes, water quality deterioration, toxic waste disposal and sites.  For example, why market a less than “clean” performing product and end-up dumping millions of outdated toxic leftover products?

My second question is: Are we researching how raw materials are being exploited and how the citizens of poor countries are being abused and robbed dry in order for your “great idea of a product” be manufactured and marketed successfully?

Who are the Akas pygmies; their songs? Who is Louis Sarno?

Deep in the equatorial Congo forest, live the African pygmies; one of the tribes is the Akas, famous for their melodious songs.

The pygmies number in the 100,000 and dwindling as their neighboring tribes the Bantous or (Bilos as called by the Akas), more numerous and of higher stature, have deforested extensively and have been using guns for killing animals.

For the Bilos, the Akas are no better than slaves and chimpanzees since they don’t live in houses.

Louis Sarno was born in the New Jersey (USA) in 1954, studied literature and loved to listen to Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler,and the classics.

Louis also liked to read Jack Kerouac and Albert Camus, reading shared by his roommate Jim Jarmusch (the director of “Dead Man” (1995) and “Ghost Dog” (1999), both movies were inspired by Sarno experience among the pygmies).

Louis married with a young Netherlands girl and moved to Amsterdam .  The marriage didn’t last. One winter night in 1980, Louis heard songs on the Netherlands radio that hypnotized him, nothing that he ever heard before in his life by his attuned ears.  He said: “A web of polyphonic feminine voices, of refined yodel kinds, a melody that keeps going back and forth without ending.  These exotic harmonies were pure magic and I had to meet these people who produced such songs. It was a chant that attracted me to the heart of Africa”

With $500 and a tape recorder, Sarno purchased in 1985 a one-way ticket to Bangui in Central Africa. Louis said: “In exchange for initiating me to their music, the Akas demanded that I live among them. It was a win deal for me.”

Sarno has been living there for the last 25 years.

A team from the German daily Die Zeit (Hamburg) were impressed by the book “Song from the Forest“, written by Louis Sarno and published in 1990.  This team, headed by Michael Obert, decided to meet with Sarno in the jungle without any warning.  The team landed in Yaounde (Capital of Cameroon), crossed the borders of Central Africa via the river Sangha, and walked to the village of Yandoumbe.

The team was welcomed by pygmies pointing spears at them.  The women with tattooed faces and pointed incisive grab them by their shirts.  Suddenly, the shouts stop and a white man, (two feet taller than the men around him 190 cm), bare chest and bare feet, with elongated and skinny face, arrives carrying two babies in his arms.

The piercing black eyes of Sarno are expressing displeasure.  Then, a six-year old child takes our hands and starts to sing.  Sarno melts and changes to a friendly guy.

We mentioned the book that was the catalyst for their adventure and Sarno replied: “Never mention this book: I didn’t know much of the Akas at the time of writing the book. In New York they made fun of me calling me “The King of the Pygmies

Louis Sarno is already a legend: He recorded 400 hours of the Akas music and songs, survived typhus, hepatitis, and all kinds of equatorial diseases. Inside his rudimentary hut made of branches, you find no television, or phones…

Actually, there is no electricity or running water.  The radio and taping recorder function on batteries.

When asked how people can find their way in this jungle, Louis says: “The forest is an orchestra and the Akas add their solo pieces.  The songs of birds and the sounds of the animals and branches have their special directional orientation.  They can hear the river from long distances. For example, a woman knows that her husband had a good hunt by the birds singing variations”

Louis Sarno married a pygmy girl and has two sons, the elder is Bokumbe (12 year-old) and Yambi (7).

They divorced because Louis never learned to climb trees and bring in the wild honey “Without honey, do not expect honey in return!”  The children wear T-shirt of Harry potter, Tokio Hotel, Vodafone

The Akas name Sarno Looyay because they cannot pronounce Louis. He became their guardian angel since he is in contact with officials in order to preserving the Akas rights. Louis says: “The Akas are my family and the forest is my home”

Recently, Louis’s mother of 83 sent him an e-mail with an plane ticket to visit her.  Sarno is in New York for a short visit in order to record more Akas songs and generate money for the tribe. Louis purchased a Panasonic LS86, a DVD reader for showing the favorite movies of his two sons, Bruce Lee and Fantastic Mister Fox…

Note 1: You may listen to the Akas music such as “Bayaka”: The extraordinary music of the Babenzele pygmies and their Forest Home-a book and CD by Louis Sarno”, or “Central Africa Pygmies Akas: Chants of hunting, love, and mockery-a CD Ocora-Radio (France)”, or “Central Africa: Antology of pygmy music– a CD Ocora-Radio (France)”

Note 2: This story was taken from “Courrier International #1067”

Note 3: The neurosurgeon, Saul Schwarz, MD (E-mail : sent me this request:  “I am one of Louis’ closest friends, through high school and college. We were last together in the mid-1990’s, when he stayed with me in our home in North Carolina. Can you give him my contact info? Greatly appreciated. Denver, CO. USA.

Note 4: Patti Waters sends this message to Louis: “When I was a teenager, my friend Louis and I would create stories where we imagined a different life. I know he indeed has a life that we could not have imagined then. If he would like to contact me I would welcome that. With love and respect.”

Case of the Julius Bar Swiss bank: “Inside WikiLeaks” story

Daniel Domscheit-Berg wrote in “Inside WikiLeaks”:

On January 2008, I had started working as volunteer for WikiLeaks, when the first batch of documents were leaked to us relative to a famous Swiss bank called Julius Bar. The documents sent to our mailbox contained plenty of numbers, organigrams (or flow charts of responsibilities and high level personnel), business procedures, and contracts…Internal correspondence, notes, and computation were included in the hundred of pages that Julian Assange and I had to analyze and digest.

The documents revealed hundred of rich people bypassing fiscal laws by rerouting their wealth to the Caiman Islands.  The accounts ranged from $5 million to hundred million.  The Swiss bank Julius Bar had fine-tuned its complex system of erecting screen financial societies that would secure the flux of capital.

Julian Assange and I did a few side research and on January 14, 2008, we published our report on Internet.  We had dispatched press releases to a few media.

This Tuesday at work, I glanced every 5 minutes on my portable computer to check the reactions on Google News.  We had no means to find out who consulted our site (hits) since this would contradict the anonymity principle of WikiLeaks. Julian Assange and I never called one another; we communicated by chatting on the net.

The first reaction arrived at 8:30 pm on January 15. 

The sender of the mail was a lawyer from a law firm.  The lawyer wanted the name of the leaker of the documents!  We were excited to test our security system that was fine theoretically. Thus, we asked the lawyer a few more details so that we know who is the client he was defending.  We let this lawyer presume that we had our own lawyer.  Actually, the only volunteer lawyer, Julie Turner lived in Texas and we could not get in touch with her.

I was using the name of my cat for pseudonym Daniel Schmitt: I had no inkling to letting banks detectives coming to sniff around me.   Mails started to flood us, particularly from American media and civic rights movements that rallied around our case:  Protection of sources and freedom of press, stupid.  The thematic of “alert launchers” as heroes was more developed in the USA than in Europe.

A legal  complaint was lodged against us  in California by the bank lawyers, where the domain was created.  The judge ordered the shutting down of our domain name on account that most probably, the leaker must have signed a confidential clause in his contract!

A wave of indignation irrupted around the world and journalists wanted to interview us. I spent days responding to the mails. The CBS News titled “Free speech has a number” and mentioned our IP address  WikiLeaks was propelled quicker than we imagined without the lawyer complaints.  The judge had no alternative but to reverse his decision.

We published all our correspondence with the bank’s lawyers.  Many individuals in the list of tax evaders were implicated and they tried to bribe us in order to removing their name from the list.

Julian Assange and I were the only persons writing, sending press releases, and replying to mails, though people had the impression that a large team of employees and volunteers were involved.  If the new literary analysis program was applied to our writing, people would have discovered that only two individuals were behind that job.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg divulged that WikiLeaks managed to hire only two technicians but Julian failed to secure any consistent and serious volunteers.  The server was an outdated equipment and if it failed, the entire enterprise would have gone down the drain.

Ya Omar talk to Ali

I was riding with Ashley and Hanane for the launching event of a new video clip song “Wehdeh” by Tania Saleh in the restaurant of Em Nazih in Ashrafieh.

On the road, Ashley inserted Tania’s CD and I heard the song “Ya Omar kallem Ali”

The song is encouraging the two Moslem sects of Sunni and Shia to start communicating and desist from this non-sense of centuries of animosity.

The Shia were upset that Caliph Omar bin Khattab was selected as the second caliph instead of Ali (a close relative and son-in-law of the prophet Mohammad who died without a male son): Apparently, Omar refused to designate Ali as he was dying from an assassination attempt, and preferred to designate 5 people to decide on the next caliph.

That is why Omar is hated by the Shias and his name is cursed.  The third caliph Othman bin Affan was also from the Koraich tribe and the fifth Moawiya was from Koraich, and established the monarchic hereditary system for succession,  and so on.

The Shias were persecuted in the Sunni Kingdoms as heretics, even worse than the Christian minorities.

You might think that there are major theological differences between the two sects, but it is a matter of “tribal” mentality among those who considered that the tribe of Koraich is the essence of power, instead of the ancestors of a member of the tribe, for example the prophet Mohammad.

That is a long story and I wrote extensively on that subject.  You may start with this article:

This schism resembles splits among political parties:  More focus is given to the content and the serious context of the split among the “charismatic” leaders is hidden under the rug.

Anyway, Tania is telling Omar that if he wants to play he has to play with Ali.

And Why Omar refuses also to play with George and Antoine and …?

The song “Wehdeh” (unity) might give the impression that a man needs to “unite” with a woman in order to gain support and consolation from isolation.

In fact, the song is encouraging the Lebanese to definitely chose one identity from a variety of unions, such national, Arabic, Islamic…in order to find cohesion…

I cannot see this need of selecting from fictitious concepts in order to find common denominators among the Lebanese with 18 recognized religious sects and many ethnic varieties like Armenians, Kurd…

What we need is to discuss and analyze what are the ingredients or factors that we share and are ready to get engaged in for preserving and saving for our survival and the survival of our children.

What we need is a Constitutional, regular, and solid legitimate government and State institutions in order to make all Lebanese feel that they are within the category of “modern citizens” as defined by the UN.

What we need is that all Lebanese enjoy full citizenship, including the female genders

So far, the Lebanese enjoy a passport as a token of citizenship, and nothing else material that demonstrate belonging to a democratic State.  The election laws basically identify us as chattel to local feudal leaders or members of religious sects.

It was a nice cool evening, and Lebanese-made beer and wine were served.  We had whole peanuts for food.

We watched the clip of the song “Wehdeh” that Ashley contributed in the animation, David in selecting the pictures and the drawings for the design, and William designed the entire cover package.  Tania autographed purchased CD costing $10 each.

We stayed from 6 till 9 pm and then converged to Schtrumph of Ashrafieh for a bite and all you-can-eat salad buffet.

I was shocked that the prices on the menu tripled within a couple of years, and that a bottle of water is no less than $2.  This restaurant was packed, and it turned out that a luxury bus was waiting for the foreign teenagers to finish eating.

TEDxRamallah Event in Beirut, part 3

In the previous two articles, I talked of the speakers Fadi Ghandour, Huwaida Arraf, Steve Sosebee, Julia Basha, Sheerin Al Araj, Laila Atshan, Alice Walker, and Wael Attili of the Kharabeesh enterprise.  The third part will discuss many of the remaining speakers.

The first session hosted Raja Shehadeh, Gisel Kordestani, Mohammad Khatib, Fadi Ghandour, and Huwaida Arraf.

Mohammad Khatib is a young entrepreneur that was hired by Google to join the team in Silicon Valley after developing Bazinga! a start-up catalyst and a tech hub in Ramallah. The application records and plays back the freedom slogans during the Egyptian peaceful revolution. Mohammad Khatib doesn’t tell us what his mother told him for him to advise the younger generation: “Don’t listen to your mom“.  Maybe his mom was urging him not to leave to the USA?

Raja Shehadeh is founder of Al Haq (law in the service of human rights) in the West Bank. Al Haq is an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists that monitors, documents, and issue reports on human rights violations in Israel and Palestine. Raja Shehadeh wrote “The Third Way: A Journal of life in the West Bank and occupiers’ laws. Strangers in the house” and “Palestinian Walks (2008)“.  His latest book is “A Rift in time, travels with my Ottoman Uncle”

The second session hosted Amal Shehabi. Sam Bahour, Steve Sosebee, Mohammad al Dahshan, the Palestinian singer Rim Al Banna, Julia Basha (Director of the award winning movie Budrus), and Munir Fasheh.

Amal Shehabi had a harsh life in the Palestinian camp of Ain Helweh in Saida (Lebanon).  When the Israeli forces invaded Lebanon in 1982, she was taken prisoner at the age of 15 and experienced the brutality and confinement of prison: She was denied to see the sun light…She received a health-care diploma from the UNRWA Siblin training center and worked as supervisor to Palestinian woman’s organization from 1985 to 2008.

The son of Amal Shehabi suffered severe bullet head injuries and was handicapped; Amal care for him everyday and encouraged her son to become an Olympic champion in wide jump. Amal Shehabi has told her detaintion story in the documentary “Kingdom of Women” of Danah Abu Rahmeh.

The speaker Muneer Fasheh is a mathematician born in Jerusalem in 1941.  His family was expelled to Ramallah in 1948 by the nascent Israeli State.  Muneer said that we have to respect other kinds of knowledge not based on official institutions diplomas.  For example, his illiterate mother, who could not even handle numbers, was an excellent seamstress for years:  No PhD degree in any disciplines may position you to sew even a shirt.

(Apparently, institutional education is mostly politically motivated to limit the better job opportunities to the most fortunate citizens in any obvious or latent apartheid system).  Lack of schooling institutions for all is a major handicap for acceding to equal job opportunity rights.

In 1997, Muneer established the Arab Education Forum within Harvard University Center for Middle-Eastern Studies.  His fresh idea is to institute a college “Home of wisdom” in one of the Palestinian universities.

The third session welcomed Abdelrahman Katanany (the zinko artworks), the Lebanese-based Palestinian rap group Katibe 5, Alessandro Petti, Saleh Jawad, Sheerin Al Araj, and the blind psychologist Laila Atshan.

Suad Amiry is a funny architect and the founder of RIWAQ: The Center for Architectural Conservation dedicated to restoring and preserving Palestinian buildings. Her parents had to leave Jaffa in 1948 as refugees in Amman.  On her first hour at the university in Lebanon, professor Khoury let a sand clock finish the hour before saying: “Is this hour too long for you? Consider that you will spend one million of such an hour during your career.  If you are pressured to engage in architecture against your will, now is the time to decide.”  Many students never returned.

During the 40-day curfew and 10-month siege of Ramallah by Ariel Sharon, Suad Amiry had to take in her demanding mother-in-law.  As Suad is writing her diary at 4 am her mother-in-law would bug her to come out and prepare breakfast.  Thus, “Sharon and my mother-in-law: Ramallah Diary ” was born.  At the age of 55, Suad started a new career of writer.

The fourth session hosted Wael Attili (the Kharabeesh enterprise based in Amman), Khaled Seb3awi, the Mexican/US rap singer Mark Gonzales, Alice Walker, Suad Amiry, and the group of bagpipe players of Guirab. The session ended with the Fayha group of 40 young singers singing three beautiful songs and led by maestro Barkev Taslakian.

Khaled Seb3awi is a Canadian/Palestinian Computer Engineer and the first certified Geothermal Engineer in the Middle-East. He installed the first geothermal system in the West Bank and is the founder of MENA Geothermal.  This system takes advantage of the steady temperature on the ground at 17 degrees and infuse water in underground canalization to heat the homes in winter and cool them in summertime, thus, saving 70% on the energy bill.

Khaled Seb3awi invention cut down the return on investment geothermal systems from 12 to 6 years.

He had hard time with the Jordanian government before he secured the project of the 1.6MW for the University of Madaba:  He had to deal with a dozen ministries for the review and approval process.

The case of the Scientology cult: In “Inside WikiLeaks”

In “inside WikiLeaks” Daniel Domscheit-Berg explains how they started to receive documents and video on the Scientology cult.

“After the leaks on the Julius Bar Swiss Bank, we started receiving leaks from “Anonymous” on our chat sessions. The “Anonymous” were recognized by their Guy Fawkes’ masks on You Tube. Guy Fawkes is the guy who attempted to detonate the English parliament in 1605.

The “Anonymous” said:

You might get the impression that we are trying to scare you off, but this is not the case. The Scientology Church trail and harass members protesting their activities.  We are simply protecting ourselves from intimidation tactics that we witnessed other members being submitted to.  The Scientology Church is very rich and employ an array of lawyers to pursuing aberrant legal cases.”

The “Anonymous” sign their message: “Knowledge is free.  We are Legion. We do not forgive.  We do not forget. Expect us!”

The frustrated and scared initiates of the Scientology Church grabbed the opportunity to leak their information through WikiLeaks because they believed to be secure from legal prosecutions.  Tapes, video, and documents on this cult steamed to WikiLeaks.

We first published the internal manual of the sect, a manual only members who acceded to level 3 can purchase, after mortgaging their homes and are reduced to slave for this Church for pocket money.

The member ascends the echelons in a carrier kind manner in order to reach the level “Clear” in the Thetan level hierarchy.  Who are these Thetans?

They are curious creatures who suffered from overpopulation and revolted when our universe was composed of 76 planets. An intergalactic warrior Xenu traveled among the planets and rounded up all the Thetans and dumped them in a volcano in Hawaii and bombed them.  According to the Scientology Church, the spirit of a few dead Thetans hover around earth, looking out for primitive human bodies to enter”

If you are having any problem, rest assured:  One of the Thetan managed to dwell in you!  That is the doctrine of this highly scientific cult. Can you believe many members mortgaged their home in order to buy this “rare” and highly secret and sacred story book?

Whoever fails to progress quick enough in the cult levels must be rehabilitated.

The member is dispatched to the “Rehabilitation Project Force” (RPF) for reeducation or “introspection process”. This cult also own it fleet of specialized boats , called “Sea Org” for rehabilitation purposes.

The rehabilitated member has to undergo humiliating and debilitating series of punishing activities. This non-accomplished member has to sleep in an integral rubber suit and isolated from the remaining crew; he has to eat the leftover of the crew after they have eaten; he has to be constantly running and refused normal pacing; he has to empty the shit pot…before he is permitted to resume his “spiritual’ progression.

The death of 36 year-old Lisa McPherson in 1995, resulting from rehabilitation procedures, forced the cult to facing the legal system. The investigation ended in 2000 for lack of proofs! But the parents of Lisa settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in 2004.

Wikileaks also published lists of businesses and organization dealing with the cult. The founder L. Ron Hubbard pretended in his conferences in the 1950’s of being several million years old and had traveled the universe as an observer.

On a personal level.

In the late 80’s, I was a graduate student and pretty curious of whatever was going on around me.  I might have read a posted ad. on sessions for interpreting dreams.  In the beginning the sessions were free of charge and then we were asked to contribute and later we were to pay $10.  The small booklets on the subject of dreams cost also $10.

In these sessions, the focus was on the appropriate techniques for concentrating, like closing our eyes and imagine a sea, a blue sky, a green field…with someone talking on how to enhance our imagination, relaxing…

At times, we were to listen to tapes with background sounds related to what we are focusing on.  We were asked to light a candle at home and look at the flame and do not waver our mind outside focusing on the candle light… I realized that I am not susceptible to these kinds of hypnosis…

One day, an older lady visited the group of about 15 persons and tried to predict our physical well-being, such as the types of diseases that we are prone to and should be aware of…The lady would close her eyes and claim that she is receiving information from somewhere.  If we wanted a copy of the taped “visions” we had to cough up $10.

This curious exercises was becoming pretty expensive for a student and I desisted.  I recall that the name of Hubbard was mentioned as the founder of this school of Scientology…My hypothesis is that all cults select their members from among the susceptible people, ready to relax their control and letting be led my the “voices”.

In this university town, all kinds of religious sects Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian…had their churches close to the university. I visited most of them, at least once, on Sundays.

The common denominator among the sects was investing on chorals for their Sunday ceremonies.  The rich sects built sophisticated organ system, those long many pipes of different lengths.

They were mostly conservative and there was no way to discriminate them on their theological differences.  Jesus was mentioned frequently but never the Virgin Mary as in the Catholic Churches, especially in Latin American countries.

The Presbyterian sect served communion.  Eventually, the university reserved a particular room for the Moslem students to pray.

I once attended church at a negro Baptist church in San Francisco:  There was plenty of clapping, dancing, singing but the preach was unavoidably about Moses crossing the desert with his followers.  This Moses story was very common during the slavery period.

I guess the Scientology cult had no such public facilities to exhibit their wealth and popularity.  When I think that Tom Cruise and John Travolta are still staunch high level members in the Scientology cult is pretty unsettling.

TEDxRamallah in Beirut; part two

This is the second installment of the series covering the TEDxRamallah in Beirut event.

In the first session we lacked focus on the speakers, but things improved after the first break.  The first session hosted Raja Shehadeh, Gisel Kordestani, Mohammad Khatib, Fadi Ghandour, and Huwaida Arraf.  I talked about Huwaida Arraf and Alice Walker in the first part of this series

Fadi Ghandour described the empowering process in neglected communities.  In the suburb of Amman, there is this community of 75,000 called Jabal Nazif (Clean Mountain) that was contrary to its name:  Garbage containers were scarce, one container for over 500 families. Taxi drivers would not venture in that area and there was no public transportation.  Schools were running down and there were no health facilities such as hospitals or dispensaries or even pharmacies…

Fadi Ghandour instituted “Ruwwad” (innovators) after meeting with the elders of the community.  A mother decided to get things in her hand and began organizing the community to collect their garbage and not wait for public institution to doing their jobs.  Schools were maintained and repainted according to the State specifications.  A computer and network facility was established for the young students to meeting and learning English:  The mothers got excited and demanded to learn how to read and write.  A hospital was constructed according to the State specifications and voluntary physicians participated in caring for the sick.  Artisan working groups were organized to earning a living…

Fadi Ghandour is founder of Aramex, a leading logistics and transportation companies and the first to go public on the NASDAQ stock exchange from the Arab world. He is founding partner of Maktoob, the world’s largest Arab online community, recently acquired by Yahoo!

The second session hosted Amal Shehabi, Sam Bahour, Steve Sosebee, Mohammad al Dahshan, the Palestinian singer Rim Al Banna, Julia Basha (Director of the award-winning movie Budrus), and Munir Fasheh.

Julia Basha is Brazilian or Lebanese descent who directed and produced the award-winning movie “Budrus” (2009).  This movie is a narrative of the community of Budrus in the West Bank who united to peacefully demonstrate against the Wall of Shame planned to cut the village.  All the political factions of Fateh, Hamas…and families joined forces and were supported by Israeli and foreign activists:  They marched every day to the construction site and girls stood in front of bulldozers that were rooting out olive trees… Finally, the Israeli authority gave up on the project for the Wall of separation to pass by the village.

Julia explained the cognitive dissonance of why foreign media refused to cover this wonderfully achievement.  It seems that the media professionals had their mental model or coherent story concerning the conflict and this new aspect of peaceful Palestinian cohesion didn’t match the model.  Thus, Julia said that narrative stories are the most effective medium to changing perspectives on a story.

The film was shown to a group of Tea Party sympathizers who believe that private property is the cornerstone for independence of State government plans.  A large man asked Julia: “Didn’t the Israeli government pay for the proprietors of the land?”  Israel don’t pay for anything owned by Palestinian, but Julia replied:  “A few accepted to sell but most of them refused.  They believed that if the Israeli government got its way once, it will repeat its nasty behavior.”  The man beamed:  this story didn’t contradict his mental model.  Julia Basha co-wrote and edited “Control Room” (2004),  and co-directed “Encounter Point” (2006)

Steve Sosebee is founder of Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) and contacted foreign surgeons from around the world to visit the West Bank and Gaza and perform urgent surgeries on handicapped Palestinian children and those in need of care not available in local hospitals.  One surgeon from Newzealanda used to come every year and perform heart surgery and saved a total of 600 children with heart conditions.  This benevolent surgeon trained many Palestinian physicians in his particular skills.

Palestine Children’s Relief Fund made a difference to 3,000 children just in 2008. Steve Sosebee produced the movie “Open Heart” (2006) and “Beit Iksa” (2008).

The third session welcomed  Abdelrahman Katanany (the zinko artworks), the Lebanese-based Palestinian rap group Katibe 5,  Alessandro Petti, Saleh Jawad, Sheerin Al Araj, and the blind psychologist Laila Atshan.

Sheerin Al Araj was born and raised in the village of Al Walajeh.  This village was vaster than Harlem in land and Israel confiscated most of the land to build colonies and left only a small portion for the Palestinian community.  Sheerin Al Araj managed to earn two master degrees, one of them in Human Rights from the University of Essex.  She worked for the UN, especially for the UNESCO in Ramallah.  In 2008, she was sent on mission to Darfur (Sudan) and had joined the security council panel of experts on Sudan.  As dramatic events development in Al Walajeh, like erecting the Wall of Shame, Sheerin Al Araj quit her job in the UN to stay in her village and focus on fighting off Israel’s incursion into the land of her village.

The funny psychologist Laila Atshan with a ready laugh was born blind and her family sent her to a British boarding school.  Once, Laila was three hours late to school and management was worried and about to call the police.  As Laila arrived, her teacher Grace said: “Laila, you must be hungry. We cooked chicken and rice.” Grace was one of the candles who lightened up Laila life and development.

Laila Atshan returned to Palestine after graduating in an US university and counseled afflicted Palestinian children, disabled people, refugees, prisoners, and survivors of political and domestic violence.  She was a consultant for UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the West Bank.  She trained Iraqi university professors in promoting and implementing human rights.

The fourth session hosted Wael Attili (the Kharabeesh enterprise based in Amman), Khaled Sab3awi, the Mexican/US rap singer Mark Gonzales, Alice Walker, Suad Amiry, and the group of bagpipe players of Guirab.  The session ended with the Fayha group of 40 young singers singing three beautiful songs and led by maestro Barkev Taslakian; one of the song was a creative version of “Ya kudsu ya zahrata al madaen” where Christian and Moslem liturgies are inserted to show unity among the religious sects in Lebanon.

Wael Attili, founder of “Kharabeesh” (2008), a cartoon and animated story telling  enterprise based in Amman, was very emotional.  This company started with 5 founders and has already hired over 50 animators and professional graphic designers.  The employees are trained in house by working on projects.  For example, the voice-over in the Qadhafi’s cartoon is done by the driver, and the one who started as making coffee in the office is one of the best animating professionals. Wael Attili is blogger and founder of online businesses such as Tootcorp, which owns,, and

The third part of this series will resume the introduction of the other speakers.




April 2011

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