‘Funny’ Heroes

Heroic feats are no mean feats. I wrote recently on how knighthoods are given out too easily by the government, making populist decisions on a short-term basis. Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins are idolised far too quickly. If they were touted for promoting healthy lifestyles through cycling showing determination and success, I’d be happier with the awards. Winning the Tour De France in such a tainted sport and with a whole team working for you or Olympic gold medals in a variety of non-events is not enough. However they, at least, strove to achieve.

Political heroes must stand up to much higher levels of criticism and evaluation. They must face the media over their present and pasts and later face revisionist historical analysis in which they have no say. Churchill was a great British hero but also made tactical judgement calls that would be severely criticised now. Clinton’s sexual affairs overrode his legacy. Mandela was, somewhat legitimately, called a terrorist by the South African government of the time. We dismissed this at the time but now the state is happy to use the terrorist label for any violent opponent.

When you ask a question at work (and across the ME) to name a hero, the same names come up and they will surprise. I’ll give you the top 3 I heard.

saddam-hussein-fresco-at-basra-depicting-him-in-heroic-style1. Saddam Hussain is considered a hero and great leader in much of the Middle East. He was known as the Sword, heralded for holding together a country and fighting Iran. The evidence cited of his greatness is the present situation in Iraq. He built infrastructure and even sent a rocket into space. I heard congratulates for invading and defeating the great State of Kuwait in a matter of hours! Nasser was the Arab previous hero.

What seems to be ignored is the war in Iran was a disaster. He also lost it. He also sent rockets other places including Iran, Kuwait, Israel and the Kurdish area of his own country replete with poison gas while enriching himself and allowing his sons to kidnap and rape women. What is also not mentioned is the support for Saddam is mostly based on his Sunni religion. If he was Shia, he would be vilified. Just ask Assad in Syria. This grand divide is the fundamental in the region.

2. ‘I like Hitler because he killed a lot of Jews’ said a Middle East diplomat to me. He said it directly and with a slight smile. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard his Hitler’s name mentioned. We were talking about political heroes and what makes a good leader as part of the diplomacy course. Others  roll their eyes at these comments, but I am not sure if they disagree or are just aware of the consequences of such opinion. The only positive coming from that statement was the lack of Holocaust denial though David Irvine does get quoted sometimes.

The Israeli-Arab divide is another long running sore leading to suspicion, anger and Palestinian poverty, The Israel Government is doing everything to protect its state, constantly using the mantra of survival to maintain its destructive policies. The Arab states use the Palestinian disaster as a nationalist rallying call within their own state, a tactic to deflect attention away from the dsyfunctionality and illegitimacy of their own governments. Heroes are therefore defined by victimisaton rather than heroic actions.

3. The above leads onto the third category of heroes in the Middle East; national leaders. Idolatry is banished in Islam. Images of the prophets or God are absent from any mosque. The uproar over the Danish cartoons was as much about the image of the prophet as much as the satire. Yet through the Middle East, imagery of leaders and heroes is rife. Every building in Qatar has two pictures: of the former Emir Hamed and the present Emir, his son Tamin. They adorn office walls and whole buildings and are thanked on the news every night. Qatar doesn’t go as far as Kuwait and the UAE which run hourly adverts between programs highlighting the sincerity and benevolence of the leaders.

The cult of personality is not unique to the region. Thailand salutes the king before every movie with the national anthem. The Stans are run by various despots. The US salutes the flag regularly and salutes its heroes, including some eyebrow-raising ones. Even in the UK, a few decades ago it was common to see a picture of the Queen in a pub though more in affection rather than adulation.

This form of nationalism is of course mandatory in a lot of the world. The media in the ME is controlled, pulling inconvenient stories from foreign papers, blocking internet access and running sycophantic stories in the press. The Middle East doesn’t go as far as North Korea where people are forced to wear badges with the image of the leader, cry on command and prostrate themselves to his wishes. But nationalism and religious fervency are not so far apart. They lead to the same end; a desire to submit to a greater power and ironically Islam does mean submission.

While I am not arguing for greater openness in the Middle East, the lack of non-political heroes indicates either political strife hence a nationalistic form of education or a lack of development outside the traditions of war and religion. Many are new states. Stability and order prevail.

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Time At the Bar

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Yup that is a toilet!

Someone told me yesterday I looked younger than when I was in Doha. I believe that to be true. While work there was easy, life itself I found was depressing bringing me back to MattP’s very first words in Doha….‘it’s not a place for a single person.’ I aged mentally.

I’ve been away from this blog for a while. Somehow my mind and body have been fulfilled but now I’ve got too much time again and I need to start making decisions  about what’s going on next. I got into Leiden if you didn’t know to study from February 2015. I’m working 9 weeks at Oxford University, generally keeping my head above water and out of the bar. I’ve had visitors in the forms of Pedro and Olivia. I caught up with Jorden, Tomek and Catherine and Andy Carlin yesterday. This month promises more friends. You could say I am satisfied.

Being satisfied was never enough for me. I’ve always strived to push on and see and do more. I’m ungrateful, almost mistrustful of what I have. Patience is never a virtue I have or sought. But I get the feeling that driving impulse is fading within me. There are now things that I want that require time, thought planning and sacrifice. University or another career are such examples. There are people I want to spend more time with. This requires the kind of patience I’ll search out for. There is a network of not rarely-seen but greatly appreciated others but a new community to be created, a grouping to give me what I’ve always forcibly removed myself from.

I am thinking about a place to be. A person to be with. A legacy to set. This is not to all garnered at once. I am not trying to get married here. But I do wish for  some stability and to develop some project with someone. I want to invest in them and myself and find a worthy reason beyond hedonism and mirth to be grateful for all I’ve seen and felt. Doha might not be at an end. I’d just have to do it right next time.

Qatar Is Paying For FIFA’s Corruption

So you’ll have seen the news over the last few days reporting emails and documents showing payments from Qatar to various FIFA representatives. They later voted for Qatar’s ridiculous bid to host a month-long outdoor event with 32 teams of fit men and thousands of overweight men in the peak of summer. If that FIFA decision wasn’t bad enough, Qatar is now paying for doing what is necessary to get such a tournament: bribery.

Qatar is getting a hammering in the international news right now. It is wholly unprepared for this kind of scrutiny. Public scrutiny of the state and particularly the officials is amost non-existent within the country. Sure there are complaints but they are dealt with by knowing an individual who will fix it. The same nepotism runs through the whole country. Favours are traded, credit is secured and public criticism is rare. The local newspaper is merely a self-congratulatory, promotional tool. The TV states only good news inside the country. Crime is non-existent. The murder of the an English teacher last autumn is unmentioned in the media because it was perpetrated by a Qatar. However the mugging of three Emirati in London is big news.

International media doesn’t kowtow like this and the European media encouraged by UEFA are keen on an FIFA expose. Qatar’s been caught in the middle. It did what wa expected. It undoubtedly paid bribes. Russia did the same. Brazil also. The corruption in the game in Brazil is well-known and led to the downfall of Teixeira and the disgrace of Havelange, the former FIFA president. Blatter is not ready to accept his responsibility for any corruption. He may be innocent himself (in this case) but the whole vote-buying is rampant and shambolic in his organisation. Yet he sees himself as a broom rather than a tool.

Qatar is also taking a beating on his workforce rights. Passports are surrendered. Wages are often unpaid. Workers do sleep 8 to a room on the outside of the city. They are customarily barred from parts of the social scene. The economic system is completely biased to the local Qatari for obvious reasons. But the legal system suffers the same issues. Within a secretive and stubborn state like Saudi Arabia that is understandable, if not forgivable. But Qatar wants to be seen as a model of Islamic values and has put its head above the parapet. It’s getting shot at and doesn’t know how to deflect the bullets.

The FIFA inquiry will be a shambles. Qatar has already spent billions building infrastructure. FIFA and Qatar stand to lose big time. Qatar will be humiliated. Its neighbours will snigger. Qatar won’t sue. It did the deed and won’t want to face up to public scrutiny. The real issue is FIFA. To get such a tournament, vote-buying is the way, whether it be a football pitch, a 7-star hotel, hookers (ask Korean Air how Seoul got the 1988 Olympics) or just wads of cash.

Football is a game I grew up playing. The so-called beautiful game, played on streets, parks and against terrace walls. You really don’t need much. Qatar is paying the financial and public price for FIFA’s practices. FIFA will survive, blame a few bad eggs and then move on to continue furnishing the financial juggernaut that was our beautiful game.

Miss n’ Not

I will miss: The Turkish barbers
I won’t miss: the Filipinos’ customer service being so robot-like.

I will miss: the range of authentic, first-generation restaurants
I won’t miss: the sedentary lifestyle

I will miss: the cheap taxis
I won’t miss: the traffic

I will miss: the weather for 7 months
I won’t miss: the weather for 5 months

I will miss: the work-life balance
I won’t miss: the feeling you haven’t done an honest day’s work

I will miss: getting to the airport from the centre of the city in 15mins max
I won’t miss: waiting at the crap airport

I will miss: the billions or so coffee shops
I won’t miss: the lack of bars

I will miss: the lack of crime
I won’t miss: the lack of action

I will miss: the geunineness of most people
I won’t miss: the hierarchy in society

I will miss: the generosity of Qataris
I won’t miss: the sight of maids following their mistresses round

I will miss: the Corniche and occasional trips to the desert
I won’t miss: the lack of green

You know when I tally it up it isn’t such a bad place. The negatives do loom large depending on what your aim in life is right now but for a few months of the year and a short period, it is a decent place spot.

Khalas

April is the final month. It seems to have taken a long time but it’s finally here. I am flying out tonight after final drinks and meet with friends. The apartment is empty. The windows are now sealed shut. The air-con is on and would stay on for the next 5 months should I stay. But I’m not going to. The fridge is empty. The bag is packed. I even swept the floor of the ever-accumulating dust. It’s halas time.

While its slowed in pace as rapidly as the weather heats up in April (32C to 42C), my mind moved from confusion to clarity. Confusion reigns over whether I was doing the right thing here and there but when I sent my belonging through the post and said goodbye to the staff yesterday and the diplomats today I felt sad but clear. The mind is as clear as the city is covered in haze. From May onwards Qataris start taking holidays and the country becomes much quieter heading into Ramadan. Only the lesser off remain. The city (and therefore the country) is left to survive the summer heat usually heading towards 50C every day.

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But April itself has been interesting.  We kayaked in the mango groves watching the sun set. I drove a powerboat and tried some Arabic (Lebanese and Egyptian) dancing after a fair bit of tequila. The museum held an exhibit documenting the history of chess and other board games which was surprisingly interesting. They all date back to India but the rules were drafted in Persia. Some of the pieces and boards dated back to the 9th century. I walked and ran a lot. Friends exchanged meals and we said fond farewells. The souq held some celebrations. My happiest memory was going out with the Sri Lankan houseboys to eat their food. I wanted Sri Lankan food I never saw when I visited and they came through. Hopas, egg, plain or string will stay with me. Thank you.

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The summer promises to be fun. I’ve much to decide regarding where the next job will be. I could come back but leaving right now is the right action. What happens next is the next confusion but a few simple decisions I’ve put off for months and all will be fine. First it’s to Moscow and St Petersburg to meet Polina and Ekaterina. Then onto the wedding in Serbia, a trip into Montenegro and finally back to the UK for interviews, awaiting university decisions and a general refocus. 18 months might not seem like a lot but it is here in the desert. Time for some greenery. I’ll see if I miss the place.

March Muchness

March was a fast month beautifully-dissected by a long-awaited return to my second home Japan. It also heralded the true beginning of my countdown to leaving Qatar. As the temperatures rise, bringing with them sand and electric storms, it’s time to get out of here. It’s fulfilled its role.

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Leaving aside Japan for a moment, work contracts are coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed them all this time round and should I not get into the university I want, I’d consider coming back for a few months in the autumn. But I know in my heart, I am done here and need an environment where I don’t need to search out things to do. We did however make a great little boat trip a few weeks ago for the afternoon into West Bay, sailing past the towers and onto an island out in the bay. The water was too salty due to desalination and the jetskiers were annoying but we had good company, a boat, sun and a barbecue. It served its purpose.

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Japan was every bit as excited, warm and rewarding as I hoped. It truly is a different world out there, inaccessible but liveable. I saw no shrines, no temples, no Mt Fuji but I did see the lights and energy of Tokyo, sang karaoke, drank sake, ate takoyaki and okonomiyaki, wndered at Kyoto Eki Ko, marvelled at the cleanineess and orderedness of the place and saw snow over Kyoto. Seoul remained its rougher edged brother, bleaker in many ways but has a vitality missing a few years ago. It’s progressing and interacting with the world unlike before. Wine, coffees, teas, food, music and beers were now international in flavour. The trade has gone both ways.

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Next month is going to be fairly-chaotic or at least looks that way right now. I’m planning a trip to Moscow follwed by Jan’s wedding in Belgrade. I’ll do a week or 10 days of travelling after that (Croatia, Amsterdam) with Olivia and then return to London. Nancy is coming to visit for a few days to look around summer schools. She’s hoping to stay for a few months later. She’s never been to England or London so it should be fun.

I also regained contact with a few friends I’ve not spoken to for a while. These people remind me of summer, travelling, freedom. Despite Oli being away, I’m looking forward to catching up with Weronica, Si, Tom, Viola, Mary, Alex, Luke, Helen. Jorden and the Devon guys. Even the lovely Ash (who was with me in my David Lynch dream) is talking about coming to Europe to live awhile. And Marsha and Jeroen….I promise I’ll be over in Holland to see you.

Uni applications are finished and I await the answers. My summer work looks set. June is a free-ish month. I suspect I’ll be watching a bit of the World Cup and travelling! I’ll be in Devon, Cardiff or Oxford and yes, I’ll be making sidetrips to see you. And you. And you.

Gucci Education

I’ve been helping a woman here with her diploma course at a UK university here in Qatar. She is studying to get on an MA course. Most of the readings come from critical theory, ideas of Anderson, Hobsbawn, collective memory and the occasional Foucault…sigh! She is studying hard but these texts are complex. English isn’t her first language and so naturally she is finding it difficult to comprehend. So we both read the texts and then I clarify her understanding. I enjoy the reading. She does all the writing. I don’t see any of it but hear she is getting good marks at times.

To get on the MA course with a scholarship, she needs to be recommended by the tutors. There are 3 scholarships and 5 students. You would think her odds are good. But the odds are in fact stacked against her. I’ve just heard two of the students haven’t written a word of they are handing in. Someone else does the reading, gives the student their seminar notes and writes the essays including the mini-dissertation for them. This is a common occurrence here. This is Gucci Education.

About a year ago, I was speaking to an employee of a gas company here. She informed me how university was very hard here. She had a lot of work to do she told me. I looked at her quizzically. After all I heard plenty of stories informing me of the corruption within the university sector. I’ve also met employees of the big, prestigious companies in Qatar and have come to the conclusion with the help of numerous examples, they are not up to task. Similar to the white foreigners in the Gulf, they are fairly substandard.

But this woman insisted it was far more difficult to pass here than friends who studied at international universities abroad. I enquired why. She told me her friend was studying at Virginia Tech in the US, a well-known university but found it very easy. Here she had to study and write in Arabic and found it difficult. Whereas in the US, her friend simply got someone else to write the essays. Her morality was perverse. The fact was she couldn’t cheat and so her friend was fortunate. If she could, she would. After all it’s Gucci education.

My old boss here was a professor at a non-accredited university in London. A quick search for his name on ratemyprofessor.com reveals the students only believed he was interested in money and female students. ‘Give him some money and you’ll pass’ is one comment. His sponsor here, a Qatari, has a Masters from the UK curiously the same non-accredited university as my old boss. A Masters involves a 15,000 to 20,000 word essay. Having met him, his English was exhausted after saying ‘you like Qatar?’ He never wrote a word of it. Yet he has a Master certificate accredited through Open University.

This is not unique to Qatar, the Gulf or anywhere else. Chinese students in the UK are known to do the same thing. But education here is very much about the destination rather than the journey. The pursuit of knowledge and understanding seems to be tiresome and time-consuming. I’ve seen the same approach in the work place and IELTS. Students simply take the test again and again instead of spending the time to improve. The number of times I’ve heard from people they need to prepare and pass an IELTS exam in the very near future (weeks, days or in one case 4 hours!) substantiate these conclusions.

It’s a conciliatory effort (or uneffort) in many cultures. When a mistake is made, sometimes costing considerable sums, there are few consequences. We just continue as if nothing happened. This depends where you are on the hierarchy. Those not in favour mostly for race but linked to status are more disposable.

The term Gucci Education comes from the status acquired by this accomplishment. A PhD or Masters should be acclaimed. They take work, considered thought and hopefully lead to connsilence. However here its too often all about the certificates, the status accrued from a certificate rather than the education gained. The certificate gets you the  prestigious job. Once you have it, it’s job done and now really time to sit back. That certificate can sit alongside the Bentley, gold watch and Chanel handbags. ‘We can all be justifiably proud of ourselves now.’

The real tragedy is for the people who do spend months and years working hard to read for and write their thesis. They still make up the majority here amongst Qataris but not as much as they should. If you are given the money and know a short-cut, it’s very tempting. It is at least credible of the government that they require an education of sorts to get prestigious jobs even if it might be achieved by fraudulent means. I have as well met some very capable Qataris in good positions who never went to university.

As anyone who’s started out on a project, academic or not, will testify your research and work often end up somewhere completely different to where you envisage at the start. The journey of discovery to that final destination is complex and frustrating (and very occasionally soul-destroying!) but it serves a purpose in ameliorating your critical skills, an appreciation of hard-work and a sense of justifiable pride.