Saturday, April 11, 2015

So Yeah, about Yemen, and why extremist-Islam happens anywhere in the World

Dear family in the land-far-and-away, we in Oman are safe and fine. The war in Yemen doesn't really affect us, beyond both Saudi and UAE being a little mad that we won't be joining them in airstrikes. There are some Omanis, Americans, British, and likely Australian, French, Europe, what have you's folks too, stranded there in Yemen according to the news. Us in Muscat, are obviously not counted among those. Even in Salalah (aka Dhofar region bordering Yemen), the emphasis isn't on arming one' self and marching off to fight the Shiite "rebels/agitators" in Yemen, more on border control.

Al Qaeda doesn't really inspire Omanis very much (the majority of Omanis are Ibadhi so Al Qaeda would be against your neighbor or friend even if you are a Sunni---and let's face it, we get along). Nor does supporting Shia/Sunni conflict, being in Oman, we don't feel the need to restrict shia in anyway or be all anti-Iran like our good friends in Saudi, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Somehow the stuff Iran and shia themselves do, is usually enough, to stop folks from being like "I wanna be just like them" (visit Mutrah, Muscat, in front of the Shia mosque during ashura and you'll know what I mean). If you are shia, visit Oman, and realize, that I, a Sunni, and all Ibadhi, do not hate you or want to confiscate your piece of clay from you when you are praying. We might think you are slightly wrong, or weird, but leave that up to Allah to decide. Beside, being all fascist never works for governmenting religion if a government longs for its own sustainability (nudge nudge, KSA). It usually just makes the facist government's take on a religion look ugly, twisted, prejudiced, partial, and often, shway evil. And makes people more likely to convert to shiism, to quote former OPNO "I always root for the underdog". Air strikes, usually come across that way as well [evil], to a civilian population, who, no matter what bad guy you are aiming for, you end up striking some hapless child or NGO hospital by mistake.

So why is anyone (Oman isn't) actually fighting Yemen? Those guys are armed with conflicting ideologies, a couple rocket launchers, and ak47s. No matter who wins, more people lose, and that's a no-brainer. And I didn't know airstrikes were all the effective against AKs, terrorist-mindsets, and different tribal and religious factions. Way to unite a disintegrating country, bravo.

Back to the issue of Yemen---what happened? Well in short, Iranian-backed Shiite rebels called "Houthi" by the Western media, surrounded the presidential palace and put President Hadi under house-arrest. So you can see why this issue is a slipery slope for Oman, now can't you?

Dear lands far and away, if you look at Oman's history, our current leader took over our country [Sultan Qaboos] in a bloodless coup, surrounding his own father's palace. So we can't condemn that action alone, if the intent behind it is for something brighter in terms of a future [i guess?].

The Yemeni President's government agreed to the reforms the Houthi rebels asked for, but despite,the Houthis did not withdraw, nor did they release the hostage they had taken, the president's chief of staff. Being that they would have basically been a puppet government from that point onward, President Hadi's (democratically elected) government resigned.

As for anti-terrorism, America is supposedly against ISIS, and Al Qaeda.  So is Oman (but not to the point of invading other countries, which, actually, makes recruiting easier for terrorist organizations when a place is strewn with conflict). As the Houthis are Shiite, obviously, having them in government would make ISIS and Al Qaeda (already in Southern Tribal Yemen) easier able to recruit forces for going to Yemen and making an issue with the Houthi government there. But the more serrious reason for that, for Saudi, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the US, of course, is that the Houthis are Iranian-backed. Forget about Israel, and the stolen lands there, and waters (as far as Jordan) and the police-state action against Palestinians, forget about ALL that. Iran is the worst right?

Still, the Al-Houthis (Zayd shia correct me if I am wrong--shia fiqh is my weakest) made themselves look hypocritical too, since they seized power from democratically elected government after insisting for months that was not their intention. Obviously we shouldn't support them either right?

Thus far, as it stands, in Marib (province/region with oil) Sunni Islah party are clashing with Shia Houthi for control. In Oman, I am watching "Red Widow" on Dubai channel one and Emirates News reporter Katie Feilder is there talking about Emirati airstrikes in Yemen. I can't tell from the inflection in her voice, her personal opinion behind this, although her pro-government phrasing is always clear when she's talking about Dubai Cares initiatives, or about development plans, or Maktoum playing polo, or something.

I myself shudder when I think of heartless, mindless bombs and misiles. They do what? Destroy infrastructre, and support ground forces, I guess, but serriously, does Yemen need less infrastructure these days?

So I guess, though I am not related to MiddleEastern politics in the slightest, that's why Oman is not in it. It would be hypocritical of our government to criticize the means of a like government in its early stages, and it would also be pointless to bombard a country with destructive airstrikes and think terrorism can effectively be fought that way. Iran is not our enemy, nor are shia. Shiite militantism is only born in places where Shia idealogy is suppressed. Sunni militantism is born in places (like UK, US, Canada, Saudi, Afghanistan and Yemen) where Islamic education is isolated and controlled by people with political agendas, be it the marginalisation of women, or mistrust of government for personal gain in standing, or physical wealth. Where you isolate and supress people, and limit their access to politics, education, and livlihood, you will have extreme forms of anything look somewhat attractive or at least, sensical, to people.

For example, in France, if I was a born-native French girl who wore the veil as part of my Islamic beliefs, I'd want to fight my government that disallowed me from being in public, from being educated, from working in government, and from being part of society. Extreme views and extreme actions would look permissable then. Even I am against violence, I am not against self-defence. Get it?

So yeah, about Yemen, that is a mess, always been a mess, too many cooks in the kitchen, and its going to be messier. It would be a good time right now, for ordinary Omanis to think of helping the Red Cross/Crescent and Unicef with food, water, and clothing donations, and perhaps vehicles and drivers since we have some border access. Some considerations for refugees, etc... That's what Oman should be doing, and as an expat and a Muslim I am proud Oman is staying out of a fight that has nothing to do with Islam, or preserving goodness and protecting people (the Yemeni citizens).

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Natural Arabian Building Materials---Moroccan Tadelakt Plaster

Tadelakt is a plaster traditionally used in Morocco as an alternative to plaster and paint. It is waterproof, can be tinted with colours, and I absolutely love it as a building material. Its history is in the hammams (bathing houses) of the Arab world, but its purposes are many. Myself, I fancy a tadelakt kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom;). But to be true to Oman;) I have to go for the Omani equivelent, which is sarooj (post on that in the works).
But tadelakt is longer lasting than sarooj.

What is it exactly? It is a lime plaster that is 100% water resistant: natural lime, marble powder, quartz sands, clay, ashes, and cellulose.
Tadelakt in raw form…

What is the building process for using tadelakt? The tadelakt powder is mixed with water and left to ‘ferment’ . This used to be necessary for 2 or 3 days, but the mixture now requires less time. It is mixed well and when ‘fermented’ it is at this stage that natural pigmentation is added if the finished tadelakt is to be coloured. 

The base for any shelves is made in brick and concrete first before plastering with tadelakt. The walls (or shelves) are then smoothed and prepared and then doused in water before 2 layers of tadelakt are then applied using small trowels. The walls are then scraped firmly to flatten and smooth the surfaces and eliminate any rough grains.
The first layer goes on…
The scraping …

A polished river stone with a flat side (usually basalt or similar) is then used to painstakingly polish every inch of the walls to further compress the plaster and extract the moisture.
Tools of the tadelakt trade…

It is then left to dry for a couple of days and you’re left with a gorgeous, slightly mottled and undulating, polished walls that are dirt and water resistant and look fabulous. It is labour intensive, but definitely worth it. Photos & commentary courtesy of awesome sustainable development in the Atlas mountains