by Luna

by Luna



Blog Intro

Hello, I'm Luna, and I'd like to welcome you to "Kisses from Kairo,"* my blog about living and working as an American belly dancer in Cairo.

Life in Cairo isn't easy for dancers, foreigners, women, or even Egyptians. It is, however, always exciting. That’s why after living here for seven years, I've decided to share my experiences with the world. From being contracted at the Semiramis Hotel to almost being deported, not a day has gone by without something odd or magical happening. I will therefore fill these pages with bits of my history in Cairo—my experiences, successes, mistakes, and observations. Admittedly, my time here has been rather unique, so I want to stress that while everything I write is true, my experiences do not necessarily reflect the lives of other dancers.

In addition to my life as a belly dancer, I will write about developments in costuming, performances, festivals, and, of course, the dance itself. I will also make frequent references to Egyptian culture. I should note that I have a love/hate relationship with Egypt. If I make any criticisms about the country, please keep in mind that I do so with the utmost love, respect, and most of all, honesty. Egypt has become my home, so I want to avoid romanticizing and apologizing for social maladies, as most foreigners tend to do. Nothing could be more misguided, patronizing, or insulting.

I hope you find this blog informative, insightful and entertaining, and that we can make this as interactive as possible. That means I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments, questions, complaints, suggestions, pics, doctoral dissertations, money, etc., and I will get back to you. Promise. :)~

My Videos

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Oppression-- In the Eye of the Beholder?

I’m going to take a break from trying to be FAMOUS! to be a little more intellectual. Just for now. This might be long and dense, so I apologize in advance, but the topic has been on my mind for a while. Oppression. Like most of you, I received the standard American liberal arts education. The concept of oppression permeated the general curriculum. It seeped into our political science and history classes. Art history classes. Sociology and economics classes. By now, it has probably found its way into the hard sciences, music, and physical education. In grad school, I did my master's in Middle Eastern Studies, so you can imagine how much back and forth we did over oppression—the oppression of regional populations by European imperialists, the oppression of religious minorities, the oppression of women (of course this was the biggie), and so on and so forth. Not surprisingly, the consensus among faculty and students was that women are not oppressed. Not even the ones who are forced to cover their faces, or who have minimal rights, or who suffer what to us constitute atrocities at the hands of male relatives, and by that larger body of men we call government. The reason they’re not oppressed? Because they don't believe themselves to be. It’s as simple as that. So basically, being unconvinced and/or unaware of your oppression means you are in fact not oppressed. Yes? By that logic, a very young child who is molested is not abused because he/she is unaware of it. Or a person who is born into and dies in slavery is not oppressed because as far as they’re concerned, a) things have always been that way *for their people*, b) they are unaware that things could be better *for their people* and c) they are unaware that they have been cheated out of their human dignity. Or, a North Korean. Not oppressed for the same reasons that apply to slaves. These are three different examples with one thing in common: the object(s) of certain behaviors or cultural institutions which most of us would describe as abusive/oppressive does not know that those behaviors are considered abusive, oppressive, and unhealthy by others. So that makes it ok, according to the logic behind the assumption that lack of awareness of one’s oppression equals lack of *actual* oppression.

((You may counter than I'm conflating abuse with oppression. But really there's nothing to conflate. They are one and the same. It's just that when harmful behavior is done by one individual to another individual, we call it abuse. When many individuals engage in that same behavior… when it becomes an epidemic that defines entire societies, we call it oppression. (Or ‘culture.’ šŸ˜Š). Why? Because even if victims extract themselves from abusive interactions, the probability of them encountering that same abusive behavior again with different people is very high, because the abuse has become part of the fabric of the society they live in. It’s the same with mental illness. When an individual does things that harm their welfare or that of another, we call them mentally ill (assuming the culture within which they operate does not condone such behavior, and that their behavior is not politically motivated). But when that behavior IS condoned and practiced by the society at large, we call it a social ill. Or again, ‘culture.’ šŸ˜Š))

But where does that lack of awareness of oppression come from? Does it not come from lack of a point of comparison? Ok, in the case of the young child, his/her mental faculties aren’t developed enough to allow comparison. But for all others born into conditions most would describe as oppressive, be they slavery, or extreme, overt misogyny (not the ‘my employer won’t pay for my birth control’ variety), or under tyrannical regimes that themselves constitute one huge violation of human rights, what prevents people from realizing the gravity of their condition is their lack of access to a point of comparison. In simpler terms, you can’t know good without knowing bad. Or rather (as it is more relevant to what I’m writing), bad without knowing good (or ‘better,’ for those of us who don’t believe in Good with a capital G šŸ˜Š). Without a point of comparison, you can’t possibly evaluate your situation and determine whether it’s good or bad, or if it could be better. Why do you think countries that we would describe as oppressive go to great lengths to limit outside influences? No internet for North Koreans (unless they work in gov.), no Facebook in China (yes I know there are ways around it), separate facilities for locals and tourists in Cuba so that interaction between the two is limited—something I experienced personally. The point is to limit foreign ideas so that people have nothing to compare their reality to—so that they don’t suddenly realize they are naked in the Garden of Eden and do something about it.

Countries that for whatever reason have not been as successful at cutting off their people from the rest of the world (because of past imperialism, because the country is too big to control 100 percent, or because the government decides that interaction with the outside world is desirable for economic reasons) have a difficult time limiting the inward flow of foreign ideas. Which means their subjects have many things to compare their circumstances to. Which means someone could theoretically decide that a foreign idea or way or life is preferable. Of course, if enough people start reaching the same conclusion, the existing political, economic, social and religious structures become threatened. Countries in this situation resort to another tactic. Brainwashing. Whether it’s the former Soviet Union or Islamist Saudi Arabia, the propaganda that gets sent from top to bottom sounds something like ‘yes, there are other ways to organize life, and yes, they may *seem* more desirable on the surface, however those lifestyles are sinful and are guaranteed to get you a one-way ticket to hell (or jail, or both). Or as atheistic communist societies would phrase it, those societies are built by and for greedy, evil capitalists. Our way of life is superior. Believe or die.

In these cases, if you 'voluntarily' engage in or refrain from particular behaviors because you are afraid of provoking the wrath of some authority, be it your god, your president, your husband, your father, a dead prophet, or society, then you are oppressed. Even if you defend the wishes of your authority as valid. Even if you cleverly twist the meaning of the behaviors in question to make them seem the exact opposite of oppressive. The fact that this was the first and only thing you learned when you were an impressionable child, and that this message was reinforced by the state, media, society, and family, over and over again, means you are programmed. Your choices are not truly free, because they are shadowed by fear. Knowing this, how can one argue that oppression is merely in the eye of the beholder… that, going back to the original example, women in the MENAT region are never oppressed? (Or is it that when oppression is carried out by people of the same nation/color/ethnicity/religion, it doesn’t qualify as oppression?) Or that young, undiscerning children aren’t abused? Isn’t there—shouldn’t there be—a more objective set of criteria used to classify behaviors as oppressive or not? I certainly think there is. What do you think?

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