Adonis Diaries

Archive for May 11th, 2012

Migrant workers, foreign domestic workers, racism, Arab Spring…

I published several posts on that subject, and an article a couple of months ago (read link in note), and here Robert Fisk offers several cases and eye-witness accounts on racist behaviors in the Arab World. Robert Fisk wrote:

“How many tracts, books, documentaries, speeches and doctoral theses have been written and produced about Islamophobia? How many denunciations have been made against the French Sarkozy, Le Pens, and the Wilders for their anti-immigration (read largely anti-Muslim) policies or down the far darker paths against the plague of this Norway Breivik-style racism?

The problem with all this is that Muslim societies, whittle down to Middle Eastern societies, are allowed to appear squeaky-clean in the face of such trash, and innocent of any racism themselves.

A health warning to all Arab readers of this column: you may not like this week’s rant from yours truly. Because I fear very much that the video of Alem Dechasa‘s, (Ethiopian mother working as house helper in Lebanon), recent torment in Beirut is all too typical of the treatment meted out to foreign domestic workers across the Arab World (there are 200,000 in Lebanon alone).

Many thousands have now seen the footage of 33-year-old Ms Dechasa being abused and humiliated and pushed into a taxi by Ali Mahfouz, the Lebanese agent who brought her to Lebanon as a domestic worker. Ms Dechasa was transported to hospital where she was placed in the psychiatric wing and where, on 14 March, she hanged herself. She was a mother of two and could not stand the thought of being deported back to her native Ethiopia. That may not have been the only reason for her mental agony.

Lebanese women protested in the centre of Beirut, the UN protested, everyone protested. Ali Mahfouz has been formally accused of contributing to her death. But that’s it.

The Syrian revolt, the Bahraini revolution, the Arab Awakening, have simply washed Alem Dechasa’s tragedy out of the news. For example, how many readers know that not long before Ms Dechasa’s death, a Bengali domestic worker was raped by a policeman guarding her at a courthouse in the south Lebanese town of Nabatieh, after she had been caught fleeing an allegedly abusive employer?

As the Lebanese journalist Anne-Marie El-Hage has eloquently written, Ms Dechasa belonged to “those who submit in silence to the injustice of a Lebanese system that ignores their human rights, a system which literally closes its eyes to conditions of hiring and work often close to slavery“. All too true.

How well I recall the Sri Lanka girl who turned up in Commodore Street at the height of the Israeli siege and shelling of West Beirut in 1982, pleading for help and protection. Like tens of thousands of other domestic workers from the sub-continent, her passport had been taken from her the moment she began her work as a domestic “slave” in the city; and her employers had fled abroad to safety – taking the girl’s passport with them so she could not leave herself. She was rescued by a hotel proprietor when he discovered that local taxi drivers were offering her a “bed” in their vehicles in return for sex.

Everyone who lives in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt or Syria, or particularly the Gulf States, is well aware of this outrage, albeit cloaked in a pious silence by the politicians and prelates and businessmen of these societies.

In Cairo, at a dinner I remarked to the Egyptian hosts on the awful scars on the face of the young woman serving food to us. I was ostracised for the rest of the meal and never invited again.

Arab societies are dependent on servants. About 25% of Lebanese families have a live-in migrant worker, according to Professor Ray Jureidini of the Lebanese American University in Beirut. They are essential not only for the social lives of their employers (housework and caring for children) but for the broader Lebanese economy.

In the Arab Gulf, the treatment of migrant labour, male and female, has long been a scandal. Men from the subcontinent (India, Bangladesh, Philippine, and mainly Pakistan) often live eight to a room in slums – even in the billionaires’ paradise of Kuwait – and are consistently harassed, treated as third-class citizens, and arrested on the meanest of charges.

Saudi Arabia has the habit of chopping off the heads of migrant workers who were accused of assault or murder or drug-running, after trials that bore no relation to international justice.

For example, in 1993, a Christian Filipino woman accused of killing her employer and his family was dragged into a public square in Dammam and forced to kneel on the ground where her executioner pulled her scarf from her head before decapitating her with a sword.

How about this case in United Arab Emirates?

Sithi Farouq, a 19-year old Sri Lanka housemaid, was accused of killing her employer’s four-year-old daughter in 1994. She claimed her employer’s aunt had accidentally killed the girl. On 13 April, 1995, she was led from her prison cell in the United Arab Emirates to stand in a courtyard in a white abaya gown, crying uncontrollably, before a 9-man firing squad. It was her 20th birthday. God’s mercy, enshrined in the first words of the Koran, could not be extended to her, it seems, in her hour of need.

Note: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/racist-behaviors-or-cultured-my-ass-environment-in-lebanon/

Genes are transformed by Nurturing: Genes functioning as Default program

New experiments conducted since 2000 are overturning the old paradigm that says: “Nature/Genes are the main factors in a person’s characteristics for succeeding and prospering in life…Such as a person natural capacities (physical and mental), dispositions, evolutionary heritage…”

In the old paradigm, culture, nurture, experiences (personal history) were relegated to far lower status, and most psychology experiments neglected to include nurturing as a factor for the effects on a person characteristics…

The old paradigm says: “Innate faculties are the foundations for the evolution of any specie…”. This old paradigm follows the rationalist thinkers as Descartes and Leibniz…

Even the linguist Noam Chomsky took side with this theory by stating that language acquisition by toddlers is innate. Why? Because toddlers are unable to formulate the rules of language syntax to follow, and yet they learn to talk perfectly correct…Consequently, since there are scarcity of “stimuli” to induce the process of empirical practice of language…toddlers must be learning according to their innate faculties…

There are flaws in that logic and I will expand more later on.

The breakthrough came about a decade ago, as experiments demonstrated that genes function differently in various environments. The technology of brain imagery was an efficient tool in these experiments. For an example of such experiments:

The experimental group of rats that received maternal care and nurturing developed zones in the brain that grew faster and with more complex connections than the control group of rats. The experimental rats were secreting far less of the “stress hormone” such as cortisol.

Mind you that I am not attaching any connotation to the term Nurturing, even though people think it has a positive or good connotation.

Epigenetic study the influences of the environment on the expression of genes. The genes in the DNA dictate the synthesis of proteins that cells depend on. The way a gene is read, it can be modified by the environment. For example, chemical compounds modification may change how a gene responds without altering the DNA chain. Chemical modifications in a gene can be inherited (transmitted to offspring)

Jesse Prinz, professor of philosophy at New York City Univ., published a guide on the current state of research on nature versus nurture titled “Beyond Human Nature: How culture and experience shape our lives”. Prinz wrote: “A very few proportion of published articles in psychology magazines have considered culture as a factor in their studies…”

For example, even our vision of colors has evolved, and only sustained practice in tasks can change our genes functionality at a higher level of performance…

The group of scientists adopting the new paradigm says: “The capacity to practice on tasks requiring multiple functions (running, playing baseball…) in different environments is the guiding factor for the development and evolution of any specie…”

The new paradigm has the empiricist (experimental) thinkers such as Locke as mentor who claimed that experience (practice) is sufficient enough to endow us with the required capacities…

Prinz put forth the concept that it is the way our brain grossly “statistically” processes data and sensorial inputs that enhance acquisition of language. The more frequent in short time the events occur, the more “weight” are attached to the connections among the relationship of the events. The innate argument is the “black box” that scientists use to throw in whatever they failed to conduct in experiments…

Toddlers imitate and mostly extrapolate from data and inputs: They are constantly testing, evaluating, and comparing what structures come their way. The cluster of sensorial stimulus that exhibit trends of regularity and consistency are retained in the memory as good for saving, emulating, and forming the world model…

A toddler abandoned in nature, away from any human community with a verbal language, will imitate the voices of the animals around and manage to communicate with them…I conjecture that the toddler might acquire altered sensory capabilities than common people…

A toddler switched to a community not speaking the language of his original community, will speak the language of his adoptive community…

It is the social status-quo that gives the illusion of “innate” differences for justifying a political system…

We are born with a default genes program (what was acquired by successive generations of change and evolution) that is ready to compose with whatever environment is sent our way, and we have to struggle to either adapt, change our world model, or perish…

Actually, Prinz wrote: “Answers to questionnaires on mankind sexual behaviors and preferences are not to be taken seriously: We tend not to say the truth, even if we knew it. Those who would like to comprehend mankind sexual preferences ought to read history books, instead of watching the gorillas. Biology helps explain why we are more inclined to flirt with another person rather than a potato…But this is the beginning of history…”

All communities of living species , including mankind, had to relocate due to climatic changes and mankind furious interventions. Relocating to a different environment prime the default genes program to taking over our survival mechanism.  If the environment is not suitable to the default program, the community had to alter its “nurturing protocol” (daily life-style, culture, ceremonies, moral values, social/political system. community organization, institutions…), mostly by trial and error method, and reform to a nurturing program that works…

Every community reached a fork in its evolution, many forks at different periods, in order to consider which nurturing protocol to reform. Each time, the community has to make a choice : reform and adapt, or hit the wall.

As a community goes smack into the wall, the energy and imagination needed to backtrack and try another alternative are too high to grapple with, and the usual “let go and wait. Good things come to those who wait…” Eventually, the community disappear…the verbal language, the written language, the myths, the customs and traditions…they all disappear, and nothing is left to recall what this community did and believed in.

At many forks in the evolution of a community, a few “illuminated” persons (leaders, prophets, village fool…) ring the bell and sound the alarm for change…If the Timing is appropriate, the “illuminated” group succeed in undertaking the required reforms to survive…

Generally, the Timing or the Fool are not at the meeting, and the community resumes its life-style according to the default genes program.

It means, either the community believed that “Nurturing is not that relevant in the upbringing of kids so that the kids grow free on their own, as they feel like living…” or the community believed that the current and ancient customs and traditions are immutable and should not be interpreted and revised according to changing realities…

A couple of years ago, I have watched a documentary on twins relocated separately to different environments.  The cases are biased and confounded:

1. I don’t recall twins “nurtured” in very extreme different environments, like in a well-to-do and in a very poor, disfavored and crime-plagued neighborhood. The locations were in developed States and the general cultural climates were pretty much homogeneous to impact the general genes default program…

2. The twins were not assigned to countries with different languages and customs, such as western, oriental, Asian, Islamic environmental culture

Fundamentally, the history of a specie evolution is a series of transformation of the nurturing protocol (daily life-style, culture, ceremonies, moral values, social/political system. community organization, institutions…)

The last chapter of my autobiography tried to connect the nurture and the nature factors in my upbringing and development at critical period of my life. This could be an interesting personal case study to revisit as my comprehension of the topic evolves.

Note 1: For more references on experiments and research on Epigenetics: bit.ly/insermepi; and epigenesys.eu

Note 2: Post inspired from the piece of Simon Blackburn in the French weekly Corrier International # 1122. Simon Blackburn  is professor of philosophy at the Cambridge Univ. and published “Praise of sexual desire, 2009″


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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