ISRAEL-GAZA… Here we go

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This is probably happening to you as well.

I am lucky enough to live in a country of relative peace and stability. I have constant access to running water, food and shelter. Throughout the day when I am not with them, I have a general feeling that my kids and wife are ok. I don’t fear a bomb or missile will hit anywhere near my home and neither my immediate ancestors nor current relatives have been immersed in a history of war fueled by hatred, intolerance, mismanaged conflict and religious bigotry. I am lucky that way.

I see the current escalation of the Middle East conflict from afar. I read about it while I sip a cup of freshly brewed coffee in an air-conditioned office. I browse through the different news outlets unsuccessfully trying to get some sort of approximation of the facts because it is safe to say that international news media is biased one way or the other and has its own political agenda.  Then, I go into Facebook.

What is normally a social media website where my friends gather to publish pictures of their kids’ latest accomplishments, share the results of trivia such as “Which European City I should live in” and the like, has changed.

For some reason, it seems that a lot of people just recently found out about this age-old conflict and escalation and of course, EVERYONE has an opinion they feel the need to share. A series of YouTube videos which summarize the history of the region since its inception in a couple of poorly constructed minutes of animation, have apparently given all of my friends the means to determine if they root for Israel or the Palestinians in this conflict, as if this horrible situation were a soccer match. Friends in Mexico, U.S., Canada and elsewhere keep sharing these videos saying “this explains it all” and I’m invaded by hashtags pro and anti-Israel. Every so often, a hopeful #PrayForGaza line pops up.

Even sadder to see are some my friends of Israeli, Arab and Muslim origin, who are usually peace-loving and tolerant people, turned into soapbox salespeople for “their cause.” I see Jewish friends talking about how “we are just defending ourselves” and grouping all Arabs and Muslims under the label of “terrorist”. On the other side of the spectrum, my Arab and Muslim friends from different nations talk about “we were here first” and the disproportionate use of force and possible war crimes of the current Israeli government attacking Gaza.

Their friends in turn comment on their posts. They tell them “We are with you” and “we support you,” which is an expected reaction from people who love them and see that behind their outbursts is an unequivocal truth: their people are hurting.

The problem with this dynamic is that it only heightens the blame game and draws conflicting sides even further away from a conception of conflict resolution or at the very least, conflict settlement. Do posturing and trying to establish that one of the warring parties is supposedly right or wrong, change the fact that innocent lives are being lost by the hundreds and have been suffering for too many years? Does it do anything else than by some twisted manner create a virtual reality of self-justification for killing others? Does posting these highly biased but supposedly educational videos make you sleep better at night?

To my Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim friends from different countries: I AM WITH ALL OF YOU AND NOT WITH ANY OF YOU.

I am with you in empathy while from a distance I see you and/or people you hold dear in the way of immediate danger and suffering; when I see blood-splattered bodies of innocent men, women and children regardless of their color or creed. I am NOT with any of you when I see you seeking support or justification for violence from any of the parties involved in conflict. I am with you in the hope for steps forward and toward peace, such as cease-fires, peace talks, and a brokered process towards a reality in which all are allowed basic rights. I am not with you when you falter from the belief that this peace is attainable and when you corner yourselves to a reality where bullets are the only vehicle for getting your message across.

To my friends who are not directly or indirectly linked to this conflict, but who’ve succumbed to the temptation of expressing support or sponsorship of one of the warring sides, an invitation. I invite you to try to get the facts and do a little bit of research on the historical conflict that has brought the region to the crisis it faces today. I invite you to create your opinion based on an attempt to obtain objective and verifiable facts. I understand this means a lot of work but if you are not willing to do it, then I at least invite you to understand that by forming an opinion based solely on a biased YouTube video, you don’t look cool or intelligent or “in-the-know”. Moreover, by supporting and sharing these videos which only feed the blame game and promote positioning and posturing, you are actually worsening the conversation by skewing it away from the prospectus of a peaceful solution. Instead of trying to form an opinion about who is right or wrong, see this as an invitation to learn and understand complex conflict in human interaction, to identify its root causes and thus its possible solutions and to make sure you don’t bring hatred into your OWN realities.

So from my air-conditioned office half-way across the world, I say to all of you what John Lennon so brilliantly wrote once: All we are saying, is give peace a chance.

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Global Majority – Statement on the Middle East

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Dear friends,

I urge you to take a couple of minutes to read and support the joint Statement drafted and approved by the International Advisory Board of Global Majority on the current Crisis in the Middle East.

Global Majority is an international NGO dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution through education, training, and advocacy.

Please disseminate the message among your network by reposting / sharing these links:

I can’t thank you enough for your support and for investing a bit of your valuable time in making sure that international silence or even worse, uninformed or destructive dialogue hinders possibilities to promote peace in the region. I continue to believe it is attainable and hope you do too.

Best wishes,

Arjan

Mexican Culture and the World Cup

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Here is a link to a recent on AQBlog article of mine, titled “Mexican Culture and the World Cup“, published on Jul 2nd, 2014.

Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

The World Cup is a lot more than just soccer. It is a global celebration and in many regards, a showcase of cultures, not just from the host country but from all nations participating in it.

While Mexico did not become the World Cup soccer champion in Brazil, international media sources did call it the  champion of social media, as one of the nations with some of the most social media chatter and memes during the tournament. The flourishing of social media has made Mexico renown in all corners of the globe, in ways that traditional media has not.

Unfortunately, not all of our portrayals are positive. During Brazil 2014, some Mexican fans chose to display their “cultural humor” in ways that could be considered hateful or homophobic—including taunting goalkeepers by calling them “puto,” a derogatory term used frequently at soccer matches in Mexico. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) even opened up an investigation to evaluate if the Mexican soccer federation should be fined for promoting discrimination through the use of this taunt (in the end, FIFA decided against it, determining that the federation could not be held liable for spectators’ conduct).

More relevant than the debate over  FIFA’s decision about the chant is the fans’ reaction to it. Instead of questioning the use of the word and our projection of Mexican culture to the world, many Mexican soccer fans decided to bask in the glory of their ability to insult others.

Mexican media headlines glorified the offensive chant; we created hundreds of memesmaking fun of FIFA, and the fans attending a subsequent Mexico match intensified the use of the slur. While some prominent Mexicans—like actor Diego Luna and journalist Álvaro Cueva—spoke out publicly against the offensive slur, the message from many Mexican soccer fans was clear: we don’t care what FIFA thinks, we are going to amuse ourselves by insulting opponents on the international stage.

At times, the Mexican government has had to intervene on behalf of its misbehaving fans. In the 1998 World Cup in France, a Mexican tourist extinguished the eternal flame burning under Paris’ Arc de Triomphe by urinating on it causing an international uproar that ended with a formal apology from the Mexican Minister of Foreign Relations. In South Africa in 2010, a Mexican fan who had spent more than $7,700 on his flight to South Africa, lost the chance to see his team play after being arrested for placing a large sombrero and zarape on a statue of Nelson Mandela. Since this act was taken as an international offense, the Mexican Foreign Ministry had to step up, once again, and apologize to its counterpart in South Africa.

These types of stories are not exclusive to the Brazil 2014 World Cup—nor is offensive behavior exclusive to fans from Mexico. Despite FIFA’s “Say No to Racism” campaign, a man with neo-Nazi markings ran onto the field during the match between Germany and Ghana—where some German fans were seen in blackface—and some Russian and Croatian fans were seen holding anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi banners.  “Hooligan culture” has a long history in many soccer-loving countries.

Mexican culture has always been synonymous with celebration, joy and festivities. We are globally considered free-spirited and happy, and that’s ok. But there is a fine line between being free-spirited and being unruly. When we celebrate and cheer on examples of cultural insensitivity  during an international event such as the World Cup, we should really think about the type of culture Mexico wants to show the rest of the world—and the effect that this might have on our ability to discuss subjects far more serious than a soccer tournament, such as racism and homophobia.

Mexico’s participation in this World Cup is now over and we have four long years ahead of us to build a new project for the tournament in Russia. Can we try to behave and bring less embarrassment to ourselves in the future?