The End (for now…)

Around the country students everywhere are breathing sighs of relief ( or cries of anguish), but whether distraught or thrilled with the outcome of this is semester, it is over.  While this was not my first semester of college classes, it was my first semester on a college campus. In some ways it was exactly what I expected, but of course there were many surprises as well.

Luckily my end of the semester sentiments where mainly those of relief at having successfully completed/ survived it all. While most of my friends had finals today and have some tomorrow I was lucky enough to take my last final on Wednesday.

As the relief of break sets in the stories my parents used to tell of waking up in a cold sweat years after they graduated college with the fear of missing a final or a midterm makes a lot more since.

This semester has been filled with transitions some of them quite  smooth and others that I am still bumping through. The transition to living in the dorms was not all that big of a shift for me. To be honest, the thing I found myself missing the most was a kitchen and the quiet. The idea of cooking in a microwave was something I have been raised prejudice against, and after living three years on a ranch in the middle of nowhere Texas the constant noise traffic of the dorms was a bit of an adjustment.

Adjusting to college classes wasn’t all that difficult either. I honestly enjoyed my classes, and the new and challenging learning environment they created. I have always preferred learning on my own and then receiving further instruction; this style of teaching was especially evident and successful in my beginning Arabic class.

The transition from home to dorms and high school to college went surprisingly smoothly which leaves the question of where was the turbulence. For me the hardest aspect of shifting into the college environment was the people. I don’t really mean the professors it was mainly the students.

Growing up as a child my parents had a very strict no whining rule that no rule and the back-talk rule where the two rules that came above all else. You could get away with a lot of shit if you didn’t mess with the two golden rules. Therefore upon arriving on campus there seemed to me to be a lot of whining.

Now before I say anything more let me make something clear. I am aware, more than aware, that we live in a world that is far from perfect. A world where there is blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, a disgust for anyone society deems deviant. I am also aware that this is not a problem that is only “over there”, but here in America. Denying the existence of such social injustices will do nothing to help the growing epidemic of unrest across the country, and I in no way believe that this unrest is in anyway unfounded.

Yet, the biggest adjustment for me is the whining, the constant complaining in the elevators, in my classes, walking down the hallway, down the south oval its everywhere. What is and isn’t right, is and isn’t fair. And what’s the worst is when two groups that disagree with each other end up in the same room.

I have never been one to shy away from confrontation; in fact I might even say that I can be the center of confrontation. I rarely express an opinion until I have thought it through enough to be comfortable in doing so.

I guess my main adjustment is this oversharing; while everyone is entitled to an opinion those opinions that differ from yours aren’t always wrong and those view which have nothing to due with the current conversation can be (and I know this is a shock to some) kept to yourself. 

I’m and sure that in the coming semesters there will be more transitions. For me right now its handling one overshare, over enthused, overly dramatic opinion at a time.



Cyber Security

This past semester the University of Oklahoma hosted a week of lectures and discussions devoted to the issues revolving around cyber security. I attended a lecture given by Melissa Hathaway discussing in general the history of and the current problems involving cyber security.

The internet was created as a military communication tool on the 29th of October, 1969. The internet as we know it today wasn’t developed until the 90s by a group known as CERN in Switzerland. Following the development of the world wide web there were constant innovations: in May 2000 GPS becomes public; 2001 saw the first text messages; August 2004 google became public. Today the internet is the backbone of the family, of business enterprise, and the global economy.

After discussing the history and growing pervasive nature of the internet, Hathaway began to outline the dangers we face with the growing involvement of IP devices. An IP device as she defined it was any device capable of communicating through the web or bluetooth. She explained that the food industry is now putting IP devices on cows, chickens, and corn stalks to measure in take out take as well as the when and where of water and food. In her lecture she pointed out there wasn’t a single person in the room who didn’t have an IP device on them. In fact most people in the room had more than one IP device.

The dangers of this is right now all these IP devices can communicate with each other but there is no way to control the spread of possible viruses; that is to say in the everyday world there is no way prevent one infected IP device from spreading the infection. Hathaway was saying that with the growth of IP devices in everything (fridges, ovens, houses….), there must also be some way to isolate infected IP devices so they don’t infect an entire network.

This point also tied in with the main point of her lecture. There is plenty of growth in the development of IP devices and various other uses of the internet; yet security is not on the same level. It’s not even close. This obviously has major implications financial system. Hathaway argued that this is still the very beginning of the digital age, and in the future, up to date security will be mandatory to prevent things like what happened to Target of the US Department of Personnel Management.

Hathaway also spent time discuses foreign policy implications involving the growing lack of security. In general her lecture was probably one of my favorite I have so far attended. She was an engaging and personable speaker with an amazing grasp on her topic. As the holiday season is upon us there is an almost certainty that some sort of cyber related hack will take place that will put consumers at risk.

Tunisia Revolution: A People Find their Voice

A couple of weeks ago I attended a lecture given by Naima Boussofara concerning political discourse in Tunisia, and the lose of “Presidential Voice.” Boussofara spent much of her time explaining the sociolinguistic background of Tunisia; Tunisia is quiet diverse linguistically speaking with FusHa (Modern Standard Arabic), Tunisian Arabic, as well as French being spoken across the country.

The  primarily focus was the three speeches the President gave during the turmoil, and the connection between body hexis and habitus. Body Hexis is the way one speaks, walks, and adopts certain postures to situations; habitus, was defined as the ability to create a social connection through linguistic means. In her speech, Boussofara argued that Ben Ali’s speeches had failed in both of these areas, and therefore was rejected by the people.

The entire revolution in Tunisia happened quiet rapidly. On December 28th 2010, following an incident where an young man committed suicide by setting himself on fire, Ben Ali gave his first speech. During this speech the President was interrupted by the telephone which rang 8 times. During the incessant ringing Ben Ali lost control of his body hexis; he began shifting around in his seat, and moving back and forth. This outward lose of control undermined the words he was speaking. The speech exploded across social media becoming a well known joke. The Tunisian people were obviously quick to mock the president and the speech as an utter failure in any attempt to quell the unrest. Ben Ali gave two more speeches (January 10 and 13 2011) the later of which he gave for the first time in his attempt at Tunisian Arabic. During his 27 years as president Ben Ali never gave a formal speech in anything besides the fusHa Arabic.

His attempt to connect with the Tunisian’s by using Tunisian Arabic backfired in a major way. Not only was his “Tunisian Arabic” only bits and pieces of the actual dialect, but he did not have the social capital to speak Tunisian Arabic. Boussofara explained that it sounded fake; that Ben Ali “lacked the legitimacy to use the local Arabic.” Following this third speech Ben Ali was ousted as president and forced to flee.

The Tunisian revolution was by far the quickest and arguable most successful uprising of the so called Arab Spring. This success is largely due to the people’s pride in their language, and the complex shared sociolinguistic history the President was unable access or fully understand.

Blind, Deaf, and Dumb

A couple of weeks ago my father called me late on a Thursday night; it is unusual for him to call, but to call so late on a school night was unheard of. Before I could even ask if anything was wrong, he was having me download an HBO app, search a documentary title, and go to a specific time in the film all the while dodging my questions to the nature of his odd behavior. When I arrived at the screen and pushed play the former commander of U.S. special operations command, General Stanley McChrystal, appeared on the screen. This is what he said:

“The thing to understand is why are the people that we are fighting doing what they’re doing? Why is the enemy the enemy? If you don’t understand why they’re doing it, it’s very difficult to stop. We don’t speak the language enough. We don’t understand the culture enough. We haven’t taken the time to not be blind, deaf, and dumb in areas of the world that matter to us.”

I rewound the clip and watched it again turning on the captioning so I could read every word. When I paused the video my dad’s voice came over the phone again, “That’s what you always say, that’s the reason you decided to do what you are doing.”

The documentary was titled The Hunt for bin Laden, and McChrystal’s comments were in the context of the war on terrorism. My dad, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, had heard McChrystal’s words, and thought of my many attempts to defend to friends and family what it was that I wanted to do with my life. Graduating with 42 people in a small Texas town, defending a decision to study and major in Arabic was never very easy. I was often met with comments along the lines of “You don’t need to speak the language all you need is a gun, that’s a language they’ll understand well enough” or “ You watch out now young lady, Islam will turn your soul against the Lord!” It might sound crazy, perhaps overly dramatic, but people around the country do in fact say things just like that.

Hearing McChrystal’s words was one of the most validating moments of my entire live. Listening  to those words with my father awaiting my response over the phone is a moment in time that will forever be burned into my memory. It was thrilling to have someone so accomplished and experienced put into words what I had been trying to explain to people for years.

The War on Terrorism has effected my life more than most, but far less than some. Growing up a military brat I witnessed first hand the pain that war can cause for those thousands of miles away. I had friends who lost parents, brothers, sisters. When my dad was stationed at West Point I went to school with the children of NYC commuters, some of which had moved out of the city directly following the events of 9/11. As a young girl I asked why, and I have never been satisfied with the answers given.

Terrorsim is a tactic, how do you have a war on a tactic? Radical Islam produces the ideals of jihad, how do you have a war on an ideology much less a radicalized religion?

The initial American response of shock and awe, from a logistical stand point, was a poor one. Shock and awe cannot end a war on terror; it can only create terrorism. While the U.S. eventually shifted to the far more appropriate tactic of quiet clandestine operations in fighting terrorism there is still the fundamental question of understanding the hatred that gives rise to terrorism in the first place.

To imply that this idea of understanding behind my desire to enter the career field of international security studies particularly with a focus in the Middle East and other Arab speaking countries is in any way original or unheard of would be not only naive, but also insulting to the many professionals who have been working tirelessly with precisely this concept in mind. Yet, as McChrystal points out “We don’t speak the language enough. We don’t understand the culture enough.” It’s not a matter of realizing the language and culture need to be understood, it is a matter of understanding them beyond the very narrow context of American or Western interests.

For me this commitment to achieve “enough” in the matter of language and culture is just beginning. McChrystal’s quote currently hangs on my door; perhaps one day I will have succeeded in not being blind, deaf, and dumb.