Wednesday, November 28, 2007



By Kevin Stoda

One really needs maps and photos to understand what is being negotiated between Israel and Palestine this coming month. As many churches and Islamic groups are praying for peace. Here are a set of maps provided by the Jerusalem-based PASSIA (The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs). These are historical maps:

PASSIA also provides a more up-to-date set of maps showing how obscene the dividing up of Palestinian land has continued under the Israeli regimes since the 1967 War.

Those maps are from 2006 or 2007 and show the divisions of major townships in the West Bank.

Recently, xenophobic anti-Palestinian e-mails have been floating around the web by uninformed or misinformed right wing groups in the U.S. and Israel. They have claimed that Jerusalem will be divided or given up.

First of all, Israel and Jerusalem are already divided and have been for some time. Just look at these maps of Jerusalem.

The objective of peace negotiations is too allow more peaceful passages and multicultural ownership of Jerusalem without barbed wire or apartheid fences.

Second of all, many Palestinians are Christians and some are Jews. Therefore, all Christians and Muslims need to pray for people of all faiths.

The only way for peace to take place is if everyone is willing to give & take in activities & actions ensuring peace.

It will take Israel giving up a Zionist governmental dream and moving into the age of Democracy, where people who have lived in the land for generations have the right to choose their own government.

It will take people of whatever faith or nationality to give up on hateful and depressing dreams as memories. A future needs to be built—NOW!

Moreover, the continuing impoverishment of the Palestinians has had an adverse affect on Israel and wages everywhere in the Middle East.

Check out the links on housing demolitions, barrier checks, ignoring of human rights that make the region politically, socially, economically, and spiritually unstable. See PASSIA’s other links and downloads:

Check out PASSIA’s academic website to get the facts, so that prayers are not made asking for the creation of continued or new future hostilities, injustices, and impoverishment in Israel and Palestine this holiday season.

Eid Mubarak, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah!


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dear Arab World: Take Sudan and other Neighbors to Task for Distorting both Islam and democracy today!?

Dear Arab World: Take Sudan and other Neighbors to Task for Distorting both Islam and democracy today!?

By Kevin Stoda

Let me recall the following!

--In the early 1990s there were democratically held elections in Algeria. Islamic extremist sponsored candidates won. The West refused to support the Islamicist protests when the results of the elections were thrown out. Civil war ensued in Algeria.

--A few years ago in Palestine, Hamas won the elections. This time again the West boycotted the results of those elections. Civil war ensued in Palestine—fully dividing the government and the state into two separate lands.

--Now, in Sudan another anti-election trend is joining the ones that occurred in other Arab countries over the last two decades.

Alright—civil war has been going on in Sudan long before this tiny election in Khartoum this last month. But, it’s the anti-democratic lesson being taught children (the future) that is of concern here.


This particular election was for children.

Where did it take place?

In an elementary school classroom in Khartoum in Sudan!

The class was being taught by British Gillian Gibbons. She was simply “following a British National Curriculum course designed to teach young pupils about animals and their habitats. This year's animal was the bear.”

In addition, the lesson teaches the children to take responsibility for their environment by allowing them to participate in a campaign to name the mascot of the year--a teddy bear in this case.

The children nominated several names and then votes were cast.

The 6- and 7- year old students overwhelmingly chose the name, “Mohammed.”

Upset parents and Islamicists have raised Cain with the Ministry of Education. This anti-democratic trend culminated last week in the arrest of Gillian Gibbons under the charge of blasphemy.


Well, once again, (at first glance) it seems that someone has attacked the name of Mohammed, the main prophet of Islam.

Is that the issue? No, this is not nor should it be the issue.

The issue is how Islam and Arabs wants to be perceived by the rest of the world.

The response by police, Islamicists and other authorities to Gillian Gibbons’ innocent usage or misuse of the name Mohammed is like providing the West and all-NON-muslims an excuse to say once again that those Muslims claim to worship Allah but actually they worship saints and Mohammed.

The West and others might be right or partially justified, henceforth, in calling such Muslims the name they hate the most: Mohammadans, i.e. worshippers of Mohammed.

As well, it also appears that someone (i.e. certain Muslums and the Sudanese police) is attacking children’s rights to choose the name of their own teddy bear mascot for a whole school year?

To me, this appears to be an accurate description of the recent ongoing harassment of poor educator Gillian Gibbons.

I imagine there must be thousands of children—either playing dolls, children’s games, or roles in dramas—who have chosen to call a fictitious creature or being “Mohammed”.

Children do this simply because they like the name. Only a person who thinks Mohammed is like a God to be worshipped could disagree with a child’s right to choose.

It is totalitarian to simply throw the teacher in the klinger (jail) if she and here children are (1) doing their job and (2) promoting a little democracy amongst their pupils.

It is in not an issue of religious law (sharia) nor of state law.


The fact is elections are turned over or manipulated all over the Arab- and non-Arab worlds.

In the U.S. the Supreme court intervenes in elections counts and thousands of ballots are ignored

Meanwhile, results are thrown out in Egypt quite often!—There, too, Islamicists and others are not permitted to run for office.

Similarly, in Russia, Belorus, China, and Burma today, elections are manipulated consistently so that whole parties and peoples are not permitted to run nor be represented.

In Thailand and in Pakistan the military leadership simply takes over whenever they want—almost as if they are addicted to the power. (This happens in Turkey, too.)

Please, Sudan, don’t invite children to give up on democracy in your land at the ages of 6 and 7 years of age. Don’t teach cynicism so young. It is not healthy!


Democracy needs to be taught early—just as respect for elders and holy prophets must be taught early on and all the way till the youngsters become adults.

Let’s not LET confusion reign!!

The name of Muhammed is not to be protected in the same manner that women should be protected from rape in Sudan and in many neighboring lands, like Saudi Arabia—where women are lashed 200 times for being raped (and for being brave enough to challenge the courts on the injustice of the system as applied to her case).

The Arab world must work harder to support democracy on its own and not wait for the West to promote democracy and justice. Start with taking Sudan and other neighbors to task for distorting both Islam and democracy today!

p.s. Also, please, Arab peoples and states! Please put pressure on Khartoum to stop its own civil wars now, too.


“Sudan arrests teacher over 'Mohammed' bear”,


Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Image of the Outsider in Literature, Media, and Society: It's “Affect” on Second Language Acquisition

The Image of the Outsider in Literature, Media, and Society: It's “Affect” on Second Language Acquisition

By Kevin Anthony Stoda, Educator in Kuwait

According to the Modern Language Association in America, “Enrollment in foreign language courses is booming on American college campuses.” The MLA in America’s new study finds, for example that the study of Arabic has more than doubled since 2002. The findings of the study by MLA “reflect a major push toward internationalization on college campuses, with total enrollment in language courses growing 12.9 percent over the four years.”

This increase in focus on foreign language acquisition is a pleasant surprise because over the last 8 decades the trend has been for Americans not to take foreign language education seriously. This recent American history of negative attitudes towards foreigners, their language and their culture has made it very difficult to prepare Americans for changes in an increasingly smaller network of peoples & nations who interact regularly in what we sometimes call a “global village”.

Meanwhile, America’s own most popular language—English—is one of the most popular courses of study all over the world.

In this context of growing interest in learning both other languages and the cultures of those who use these languages, it is important to discuss what sort of texts and materials—like videos and DVDs--are needed in foreign language education.

In 2008, the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies of Social Imagery (SISSI) will hold another conference in Colorado Springs on the topic of “the outsider”. I think developing and selecting curricula more around the topic of “an outsiders perspective” is quite important.

An individual who is considered an outside is defined as such by living a lifestyle or representing a race or culture that is considered by those in power to be outside the established order, particularly someone who ignores (or seems to ignore) or challenges social norms.

Foreign and second language educators should especially focus on the perspective of the outsider (1) in organizing classes and in order to (2) select written and spoken texts with the perspective of the outsider in mind--for use in reading, viewing and discussion. These authentic texts, when focusing “on the perspective of the outsider”, help students to internalize cross-cultural information when presented in realistic exchanges and in authentic communication for those students trying to comprehend and internalize cultural and language cues.

The rest of this article focuses on expanding this argument and lists a myriad of reasons to do so. Further, it suggests what sorts of materials and topics should be considered.

As interests in foreign language at the secondary and tertiary level in the U.S. reach an all-time high, it is important to recognize that many individuals on both sides of different cultures and language-barriers will empathize and internalize the perspective of the outsider. This can be a positive experience for all if teachers and students are made aware of the meta-learning benefits of taking on an outsider’s perspective.


“The outsider” as understood here might be a stranger, an eccentric, a critic, or at least someone who poses alternatives to the established or dominating circles within a culture. Moreover, the outsider may be a member of an excluded group, a group or representative of a group with different values, beliefs, and characteristics than mainstream society. Images of the outsider have been prominent in all literature, history and cultures.

Educationally speaking, these images and texts can and should be analyzed from literary, social, and political perspectives by all students. More importantly, the outsider in the form of the second language (L2) learner may potentially be the type of learner most likely to connect with and appreciate--both cognitively and emotionally--images of the outsiders of any language’s literary and historical present or past.

The simple reasoning behind this hypothesis is based upon the L2 learners own special role as outsiders (from an L1 or first-language-of-student perspective) looking into an L2 and the L2’s culture of users. The major implication and burden for L2 educators is that if the L2 learner is unable to appreciate the L2’s cultural experience, the L2 educators will need to be actively playing the important role of increasing the students understanding of and linkages to the texts. Videos, movies, audio recordings, and written texts-all sorts of authentic material--make up the necessary material that educators must use in introducing the L2 learners as outsiders to an L1 culture as listeners, readers, and observers.


Not so many years ago, in the United States, the term “passing” was used to indicate that someone from the African-American community with light skin was trying “to pass” as a white-skinned individual in a white-skinned dominated America. The benefits of “passing as white” were considered quite high and several American movies, such as Imitation of Life of the 1930s and Pinkie of the 1940s, dealt with this issue in the U.S.A. in the era leading up to the explosive civil rights’ successes in the later 1950s and 1960s.

In several ways, when a person with diligence attempts to learn another’s language, that person is indicating that he or she desires the ability to “communicate” in that language at a level roughly equivalent to “passing”. The language learner wishes to “pass” at a level whereby she can enter into the inner circle of speakers of that target language. Depending on the degree of integration with the target language desired or expected by a particular L2 (second language) learner, the L2 learner will exhibit many of the same motivational desires and cross-cultural stresses which one might have observed in an African-American who chose to pass for white in mid-20th century America.

Although to various degrees this particular metaphor of “passing” may appear to be an extreme one, the two levels that appear most appropriate for comparison are at the levels of psycho- and socio-linguistic stress, which the L2 learner faces (or will face) in a fully immersed foreign or second language learning situation.

Regardless as to (1) whether the language learner has left or will leave her own homeland to live and work in another culture or (2) whether he or she is seeking to learn the new language specifically in order to deal with foreigners in his or her own country, the L2 has to handle the feelings of being an outsider (or being perceived of as an outsider) by the group which speaks the language, which the L2 is trying to acquire.

In other words, at various levels of cross-cultural contact, the language learner is trying to pass as an accepted member of the target language group. At times, the level of acceptance desired is likely affected or modulated by emotional stress. This is especially the case as when the L2 learner perceives that she is giving up her own culture or sense-of-self in the process of linguistic acculturation.

In short, the individual L2 learner is rewriting herself in the process of new L2 experiences of acquisition and acculturation. All these dimensions are at the heart of the “passing” metaphor, which to a certain extent drives the theory expounded for educators in this paper.


In The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, Tomasello (1999:6) distinguishes between cultural learning and other forms of learning. The three core types of cultural learning are “imitative learning,” “instructed learning,” and “collaborative learning.” Watching, observing, and discussions about authentic visual, audio, and written texts in the target language provide the basis for all three types of learning for language students.

It is important to note, however, that each type of cultural learning is “made possible by a single very special form of cognition, namely the ability of individual organisms to understand conspecies as being like themselves who have intentional and mental lives like their own.” This simply means that a representative of the human species has the ability to mentally put herself in the shoes of the other.

According to Tomasello (1999), biological-, and socio-anthropologists, the appropriate use of intersubjectively “understood linguistic symbols” requires even a child language learner to:

(1) Understand others as intentional agents

(2) Participate in joint attentional scenes that set the social-cognitive grounds for acts of symbolic-- including linguistic--and communication

(3) Understand the intentions and communicative intentions to which someone else intends for her to attend to during the joint attentional scene

(4) Reverse roles with adults in the cultural learning process ad thereby use toward them what they have used toward her, i.e., which actually creates the intersubjectively understood communicative convention or symbol. Tomasello (1999:107)

Further, Tomasello points out that “learning linguistic symbols in this way puts young children in a position to begin taking advantage of all kinds of skills and knowledge preexisting in their local communities and cultures as a whole.”

The aforementioned “passing” metaphor, noted in the previous section, contains the understanding that L2 learners of all ages bring their local (L1) communities and culture to the table when acquiring the L2. Another important aspect of the metaphor is namely that L2 acquisition involves acquisition of other’s (L2) cultural symbols and to some degrees the cultural memory of the L2 community.

Finally, one other implication of this paper is that L2 instructors should note that both the acquisition of cultural information and an L2 learner’s cognitive ability to interpret it are not limited by innate cognitive development. Therefore, at face-value the age of the L2 learner should not affect acquisition of many of the cultural linguistic facets of the L2 cultural community. In addition, it is also likely that individual affective elements play the greatest of roles in either limiting or enhancing a learner’s ability to manipulate symbols and improve cultural intersubjectivity in L2 acquisition for both learners as individuals2 and communities of learners. On the other hand as noted above in the discussion on Tomasello’s observations, many elements of cognitive development in language manipulation depend on the presence of certain socio-cultural environments promoting intersubjectivity. This is why the selection of texts and the teaching of both cultural insider and cultural outsider information are relevant areas of research, development, and teaching of second languages.


Probably no subject area of education is so teacher dependent for its success as the teaching of a foreign language.3 This does not imply that the (L2) course must be taught as a teacher-centered one but simply that the instructor has the constant burden of creating a context that is both psycho- and socio-linguistically supportive of the acquisition of the second or foreign language. This is why authenticity of L2 content became a buzzword in the field of FL instruction during the last half of the 20th century in the area of foreign language instruction. By this emphasis on authenticity or “real contexts” for learning and practicing language implies that there has been a shift in focus to the psychology of education, especially the psychological perspective of language learners in recent decades.

A short summary of the trends in the field of foreign language education in the latter half of the 20th century might begin within the 1970s with Tausch and Tausch (1973) who focused on the relationship between teacher and student in their research on classrooms and found that the teacher’s behavior is of utmost importance for the foreign language classroom. In other words, the psychological processes involving the social relationships in the classroom, especially between teacher and student, were judged as key to success in any L2 classroom.

In the latter part of the decade, social interaction and communication became the dominant areas of experimentation in both FL research and in the development of foreign language teaching methodologies. For example, introduced in the 1970s and 1980s were the methods of Total Physical Response or TPR (Asher, 1977) and the Silent Way (Chamot & McKeon, 1984). Both the Silent Way and TPR focused on giving the language learner time to observe and imitate the instructor.

Eventually, however, TPR became ever-more relegated to the role of a singular classroom activity-rather than as a regularly used method for framing an educational program. In the meantime, the Silent Way was soon criticized for placing the teacher in a role far too distant from the students. Next, the Natural Approach (Krashen, 1982) came into vogue. The Natural Approach, with its focus on everyday language and with the teacher asked to provide “comprehensible input” at an ever more difficult or newly informative level.

As part of these trends, in the late 1960s and early 1970s a focus on “communicative competency” was gathering steam. Communicative competency had been speared by theorists, such as Dell Hymes (1972, 1974), who had argued for language methodologists to define objectives for FL instruction away from the purely linguistic, especially syntactic and phonetic, elements which had dominated in previous decades.

Communicative competence emphasized both conveying and interpreting meaning, i.e. aiding students in negotiating interpersonally in specific contexts, while pushing emphasis in the classroom away from syntax. Educational psychologists focused on “context” and defined “context” as either (a) the immediate physical environment of the L2 learner, (b) the verbal environment of the L2 learner, or (c) “the social and psychological world in which the language user operates at any given time (Ochs, 1979).”

Today, most L2 instructors, such as Taeschner (1991), emphasize the learning of vocabulary or sentences in “context”, i.e. teaching (1) through “real life situations,” (2) through the usage of “direct motivational methods to stimulate learning,” and (3) through the promotion of imagination by employing activities in and out of the classroom. These activities invite students to pretend they are in the target culture’s environmental domain. Whereas Taeschner (1991) invites teachers to promote what she calls “Let’s Pretend”4 activities, this paper suggests that by focusing on texts concerning “the Other” in the role of “the Outsider,” the L2 learner of all ages will be extremely motivated to identify with or ponder about the relationships manifest or discussed in the visual, written, or spoken texts.


In Cognition to Language: Categories, Word Meanings, and Training, Mabel Rice (1980:6) noted that the psycholinguistic or developmental approach to language training needs to be distinguished from earlier behavioralist-dominated models by the fact that the behavioralist models typically “never mention any aspects of meaning or underlying cognition as factors to be considered in teaching a child functional language skills.

The developmentalists argue that such conceptual organization is of central significance; indeed, that it accounts for the meaningful use of appropriate novel utterances across different contexts.” Good L2 learners need to be particularly active in interpreting and comprehending language and contexts outside of their own previous experience. Texts, visuals, feelings, and experiences need to be observed and evaluated if someone is expecting to be able to interpret anything outside oneself.

This is no easy task. As an L2 instructor, one must certainly be ready to select both appropriate and thematically balanced material when designing curricula which should motivate cognitively as well as through the special dimensions of empathy and other devices of the affective domain. Using the theme of “the Outsider” certainly is a topic certainly promoted both in film and literature for its educational and motivational. Such themes also provide fodder for analyzing one’s own culture against either the written text or the one portrayed on the video or movie screen.

In Rewriting the Self, Mark Freeman (1993:5) claims, “Interpreting what exists outside of ourselves is difficult enough. It involves a going-beyond what is, an effortful act of creating a context, within which what is must be placed. What this means, of course, is that interpretation involves an inescapably subjective dimension....” In the rewriting-of-self involved in learning an L2--and in trying to integrate oneself to any degree into the culture which uses the L2--, the L2 learner certainly has to rewrite herself to some degree. One does this by exploring one’s own language and history as well as through observing the other culture and the behaviors in it.

Concerning the one who is “rewriting” himself, Freeman (1993:7) appropriately ponders whether “the ultimate interest is in fact in an enhanced understanding of human lives and not only in the words that are used to speak them....” Focusing on dominant culture and the relationships between these culture and the outsiders or the other, is surely an optimal path for enhancing understanding of all lives. More importantly, the individual who is rewriting herself is interested in this, too. Further, as indicated above, the outsider focus is also a means of discussing the observed behaviors of others-interpreting the treatment of others and rewriting one’s self in relationship to “the other”.

Freeman (1993:8) argues that if “texts refer to anything at all, it might be held, it is only to other texts, this chain of ‘intertextuality’ being endless, infinite; and what this implies, in turn, is that there may really be no ‘lives’ apart from this infinite play of language itself.” L2 learners, are in essence, particularly active in observing texts of the other and trying to relate all others-especially to the degree they perceive themselves as outsiders-to themselves and to their own previously experienced contexts.

When a movie or literary text discusses or presents an outsider or alternative group (or thought to the primary or dominant group depicted) in an observed text and embedded in another’s culture, cognitive and affective cues are already present or on hand for the L2 learner to find a hold for her own intersubjective understanding and interpretation.

Included with these understandings is the concept that the L2 learner perceives to have some things in common with the other or the outsider. Most importantly, a sense of empathy is possible and even likely fostered in observing the relationship between the dominant culture and outsider. This in turn increases the bonds between the cultural experience of the L2 learner and that cultural experience observed as an outsider--and presented in the literary or visual text presented in the L2 classroom.

Another way of understanding this, is to think of one’s own life by itself as being seen in context in a chain of contexts of others in which one can be either the insider or the outsider. Therefore, when one attempts to make sense of one’s life or of the other’s lives, one then chooses to use a self-selected core plot to hold together a single narration between all these contexts together in one’s mind. Using stories of historical outsiders, such as Helen Keller in her own autobiography which Freeman used in his work, Freeman himself (1993:19) points out that the “interconnected triad of history, memory, and narrative, might serve as a kind of central pivot around which to think about human lives and human development.”

Given that human development is the name of the game in education and that foreign language acquisition includes certain elements of manipulating the self, it appears that L2 instructors certainly need to consider selecting texts and media for usage in their courses which appeal to this thoughtful and contemplative dimension of the L2 learner’s experience. As mentioned above, one means of doing this is certainly by choosing themes, similar to that of the outsider as a core source of such selected literature and audio-visual texts.

Such themes could include the story of a great one who has fallen, been shunned in one’s own society, and is trying to reintegrate himself in some way, such as the life story of John Nash in the recent film, A Beautiful Mind.

Another way the character of John Nash in the same film is important is the fact that he had a debilitating mental disorder; films of both fact and fiction which might be used in the classroom and maintain this same theme include the movies: The Grover Cleveland Alexander Story, Forrest Gump, and I am Sam. Choosing such a theme provides not only insight into how one integrates but why one is (or may be) excluded.

Also, if such a tale is told with emphasis on culture and historical perspective, later literature and films can fill in the gaps concerning what has continued to evolve in a society over time since the protagonist last faced the L2 society. In this way, empathy is created between the L2 learner who may often view himself as one with the outsiders in literature and film. Secondly, the L2 learner can see the film or text as another stepping stone to further acculturation and integration over the course of a semester.

Empathy not only provides points of intellectual and emotional contact for the L2 learner but the same dimensions of empathy can, through the pedagogically sound confrontation with the material, L2 learners can put the pieces of a series of literary and other media texts together over time. This leads the L2 learner to come to identity with the evolving relationships in society over generations. Such cultural knowledge, passed down through generations of experience and change in a society, is what any native-speaking language community brings to the table of intra-communal relationships at both overt and subliminal levels each day.

On the other hand, the changing concept-of-self that evolves in any language community over time is occasionally witnessed and appreciated by some outsiders to the community with more clarity than by some of those in the community, who are most involved with negotiating the changes on a day-to-day level. In short, through text and film, our students become like the main character in H. G. Wells’ The Time-Machine.

Whenever someone views any series of texts about a culture over-time, i.e. texts which reveal changes in attitudes and behaviors over generations, one is actually behaving as a time-traveling outsider bouncing through history. As a time-traveling outsider through history, such as the main protagonists in either the popular TV series Quantum Leap or Michael J. Fox’s Back to the Future movies, a culture’s own continuity and ruptures can be understood and appreciated to a greater degree and more quickly than it was--or has been appreciated--by those who are living out their lives in the same period of time.


Most interestingly, often many of the more insightful films, legends, myths, and even musical texts, which represent the great breadth of the American experience to non-natives of English, focus on or present the outsider as both main characters and as prominent supporting characters: Pinky (1948), West Side Story (1962), Fiddler on the Roof (1970), Born on the Fourth of July (1988), Dances with Wolves (1990), Malcolm X (1992), JFK (1991), Forrest Gump(1994), For Richer or Poorer (1996), and As Good as it Gets (1997) are among some of those works with which my ESL and EFL students worked with in recent semesters here in the United States and abroad in Latin America and in the Middle East.

Nearly two decades ago in the 1980s, I studied Spanish and German languages and American literature at the Bergische University in Wuppertal, Germany when I took American literature courses. In various courses, I was asked to read books by the American authors, novels by Upton Sinclair and short stories by Phillip Crane, and saw movies based on these men’s works, such as Crane’s iconoclastic "The Blue Hotel." Early-20th Century America’s most universally published and translated author, Upton Sinclair has continued to have world-wide popularity for his having favored "the outsider" in his description of America's coming to age as a global power. Sinclair's especially sympathetic portrayals of immigrants and the poor in all of his major works successfully challenged basic assumptions of his age and challenge historians to rethink American historical memory in novels, such as King Coal (1918) and The Jungle (1906).

The critical description of America in Upton Sinclair’s writings have become more modern and relevant in recent years—predating in style and content books like those that have inspired the GANGS OF NEW YORK in historical fiction and are educational and inspiring in nature, like the real-life story portrayed in the film AMERICAN FREEDOM WRITERS.

A common thread in all these aforementioned movies and narratives mentioned above is the strong presence of “outsider” (or one who feels himself to be an outsider) characters in a community of marginalized people living outside of the dominant culture. Alternatively, protagonists in dominant circles who have discovered themselves to feel as outsiders-even in what they had once perceived as their own culture--are portrayed.

A few years later, I found myself active as both a high school German and Spanish instructor. In Spanish classes, I chose to use the classic El Norte (1983), a trilingual film which depicted the cultural clashes experienced by Guatemalan refugees making their way to “the Promised Land of the U.S.” and specifically a brother and sister’s attempts to acculturate themselves in their new world. In addition, I used adapted tales of Don Quixote and its many “outsider” characters, to motivate even the most elementary level language learners.

As a high school German instructor a decade ago, I used the movies Die Bruecke (1954), Heinrich Boll’s Ende eines Dienstfahrts (1966), and Guenther Grass’s Der Blechtrommel (1979) in all three levels of German that I taught. All three of the films dealt with either experiences familiar to Germans in the war or how the post-War German society handled memories of the Nazi dominated 1930s and the Second World War. At the time, it was particularly important to use these military related films because the Gulf War was on everyone’s minds that particular 1990-1991 school year in the U.S.-and Germany had, in line with its own Post-WWII constitutional tradition, initially taken a somewhat neutral stance in participating in that war. In addition, I was co-leading that year an exchange program involving nearly 30 students and families on both sides of the Atlantic in Great Bend, Kansas and Villengen-Schenningen in the newly unified Germany, I saw it important to select such films to provide insight into three-plus decades of popular discussion on war that had gone on in West Germany in the Cold War era.

When I, myself, had been a student of German language in Wuppertal, Germany in the 1980s, I was required to read many works by Heinrich Boll, such as Ansichten eines Clownes, Billard um Halbzehn, and Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum. These literary works had given me great insight into post-WII West German culture and, although seldom read in German high schools today, they are very appropriate to the study of society and politics in the post-Vietnam through Anti-Terrorist war period of the U.S. today. Particularly, the Katarina Blum work, which tells of love, terrorism, and free speech would therefore be very insightful works for usage in German classes today for American audiences.

While taking part as a student in a wonderful program at the University of Kansas nearly a decade called Kansas University Languages Across the Curriculum (KULAC), later I acquired both historical and social depth in understanding recent Latin American history, film and literature. Through a course that provided not only insight into Latin American and Chicano writers’ experiences in the last half of the 20th century, I was given a new depth of understanding concerning both American Cinema as well as history.

The literature and film course, for example, presented the theme of Latino culture in America-much as the current PBS drama series, The American Family does on a weekly basis today. For the first time, I looked at the “zoot suit riots” in Los Angeles in the 1940s by both watching the musical Zoot Suit and by reading historical literature on those same events. Later, we studied Manuel Puig’s Argentinian experience with film and literary criticism as revealed in the movie Kiss of the Spider Women and his book of the same name. As both a leftist radical and as a homosexual, Puig’s own biography tells us the story of both his Peronist hometown Buenos Aires of the 1950s and of Cuba in the 1960s--as Puig faces repression in both society’s and comes to critique the world as an outsider wherever he walked. While at the same time, Puig remains enamored by the empathy and sympathy for other cultures evoked by him through visual media.


In summary, through my experiences both as a lifelong teacher of foreign languages-especially as an ESL or EFL instructor of students from some seventy different nations-and as a former instructor of the social sciences, literature, and culture, I have posited in this conceptual piece the following: (1)The outsiders portrayed in movies, media, and literature play an important role in the collective memories of all peoples and language groups, especially in America and for Americans. (2) This collective memory is something which many foreign students and non-native speakers of English not only desire to come to know and understand while becoming ever more immersed in simply as learners of a target language but is (3) also something which the L2 learners often eventually wish to experience and identify with when coming in contact with individual American communities, authentic American cultural products, or American personalities whom they have seen or met. (4) Many EFL--and other second language learners identify--with the outsider role as they acquire English other new languages and related cultural norms. Finally, it has been specifically posited that (5) by consciously exposing these L2 students to the outsider dimension in American film and by consciously teaching American history and culture--along with the usage of such films, texts, and media sources--, L2 learners increase their own self-confidence while improving their listening, reading, observation, and clarification skills.

Moreover, all this happens while L2 students are increasing their individual cross-cultural and cognitive awareness as they comprehend and become sensitive to the complexity of the American reality. For example, whether one sees the movie or musical Ragtime, observes the life and times of Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods in the national press, or studies Spike Lee’s film about the life of Malcom X (which is based loosely on Malcom Little’s own autobiography as told to Alex Haley), the American English language learning student is made aware that the black community’s story in America is not a unified one. Salience is created as all kinds of infighting and alternative leadership is introduced come to make up this and other outsider groups’ self-identity. The salience is increased as the student internalizes the contradictory forces in a historically marginalized community or class. The student becomes even better at this through the comparative approach across texts in time and space.

The main emphasis, related to the framework outlined above, is that an instructor need be aware of the positive cognitive and motivational backwash on L2 acquisition that can be had by carefully selecting media and texts which focus on the use of "outsiders" as main protagonists. American literature, film, and media are simply awash in this outsider-based material concerning both individuals and groups. On the one hand, there are stories of rugged individuals dating back to the literature of Thomas Jefferson.

There are also fictional Horatio Alger characters praised in the post-Civil War period, and Ayn Rand-type characters in 20th century literature and film. There have also been the critical prophets and radicals, like John Brown, Shirley Jackson, or the Berrigan Brothers. Further, there are the Chief Josephs who will fight-no-more forever. There are the nouveau rich, such as The Great Gatsby or the loner road philosopher, such as Jack Kerouak or Walt Whitman. Finally, there are breakers of rules and stereotypes, including the fictional Dirty Harry figure famous in Clint Eastwood films or the fairly authentic and recent Erin Brockavich.

American history-as well as its literature, theater, and film-is rife with “outsider” group struggles as well. These include sad events and trying times in the U.S. experience-events and times that have formed our collective memory and help us formulate who are and where we need to go or improve as a people. Such a group experience is that of the Jacksonian era Cherokees and their Trail of Tears. There were also the witches burned at the stake in Salem. Other persecuted groups would certainly include the concentration camps for Japanese in WWII America.

There is also the black women’s double-marginalization as victims of black machismo and white America’s racism in the American experience, as exemplified by Ceci in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple or in the real manifestations of the historical Fannie Lou Hamer (Lee: 2000) or in the film of Billy Holiday’s life, Lady Sings the Blues.

There are also American stories of success for marginal or oppressed groups in the American experience, such as first women’s right struggle culminating in the passage of the 19th Amendment in the early 20th Century. Other civil rights events included activities by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks in the successful Montgomery Boycott Movement in 1950’s Alabama. These late 20th century American societal changes reflect an ever greater concern with civil rights manifested both in America foreign policy and media as the new century dawns. These civil rights movements led to greater Maranda rights, rights for the handicapped, more rights for workers, and prisoners-as well as support for the poor and marginalized by the government. Many marginalized groups in America moved from outsider positions in U.S. society to becoming slowly more accepted in the main stream of popular American conscience and opinion.

A reoccurring theme of this paper is that although instruction in American history and culture for English as either second language or foreign Language students is certainly motivating, pedagogically speaking the experience can be much more than simply one of among many sources of motivation for the L2 student. For example, exposure to and the discussion of “outsider” related themes can provide a laboratory-like simulations for our students. The authentic material on the outsider can provide interactive and intertextual experiences, which approximate authentic American experience outside of a contained L2 classroom.

One final point is that learning to view the world from the outsider’s perspective should help Americans as a whole to use critical thinking skills that have been lacking in our foreign relations with other nations around the world. Bridging this gap is one of the most important reasons that interest in Arab language acquisition has increased since the U.S. Iraq invasion began in 2003.


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Friday, November 23, 2007



By Kevin A. Stoda, Kuwait

While the new-media and studio writers are on strike just ending their second full-week, it seemed a good time to go out for a movie today.

I took several Filipinos out to their first movie theater visit in Kuwait in The Avenues Mall here in Kuwait. For some of them, it was the first movie (in four or more years) which they had viewed which hadn’t been pirated onto DVDs.

This is not surprising: Movies in theaters in Kuwait cost 8-dollars a ticket and many laborers earn less than a dollar an hour in Kuwait. (Some employees take home less than 33 cents per-hour here—after third parties deduct part of their salary for helping them get employment or for providing housing and transport. Don’t forget that Kuwait is the wealthiest country in the world per capita.)

I had to go to a mall to enjoy any large screen cinema in Kuwait because no other locations for movie theaters exist in the country. This is a similar situation in many corners of the world, especially in the USA.

Otherwise I would have successfully boycotted spending money in a mall this Thanksgiving weekend. (After seeing the portrayal of the new documentary film “What Would Jesus Buy?” on Democracy Now shown on Thanksgiving Eve, I have been particularly inspired to boycott malls this holiday season.) Now, I need to ponder what else I can do with my wages.

Wait, I believe I have started already working on this season of giving! Haven’t you?

Oh, I just experienced the blessing of being able to donate money to the victims of the recent Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, which had killed over 3300 and had left many homeless this month in one of the poorest countries on the planet.

I first donated through HOPE WORLDWIDE and then through the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) online.

Next, since the majority of our region’s cleaning and janitorial staff in the whole country are Bangladeshi, our office took up a special collection for specifically the three employees in our building whose family actually lost their houses in the Cyclone Sidr and ensuing floods. (These affected Bangladeshi laborers are likely some of those same aforementioned workers who earn less than 140 dollars a month here in Kuwait.)


In preparation for the spirit of the season, I have put in some old cassettes--which my church has been passing around on the “Discipleship and Spirituality”. (Yes, we recycle our material at the church this way—we share and pass back and forth the same media. Yes, we pay the full price for copyrighted material.)

The tape I listened to all Thanksgiving Day was by Douglas Jacoby. I put the tape in my car’s cassette player, and in this way, I have been focusing on man’s purpose and mission in this world. Jacoby says that man has a purpose outlined by Jesus. This includes speaking out for the impoverished—even if they are not speaking out for themselves.

Moreover, just like the aforementioned Reverend Billy and his non-shoppers, theologian and scholar Dr.Douglas Jacoby, is a watchdog of consumerism. He is particularly worried about the influence of media and advertising on children and society.

For example, Jacoby has written an article, entitled “Rethinking Television and the Media”. In it he states:

“A revolution in our perception of science, technology, and the media is in order if we are to ‘escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires’ (2 Peter 1:4). In a key scripture, Luke 17:1-3 we see that Jesus cared not only about sin, but about the media through which temptations come. We too must be concerned not so much about what is in the air (the flying demons of medieval Christianity!), but what is on the air.”

Jacoby adds, “The call to re-think how we "view" television is fundamentally a call to think. Does not our Lord always call us to use our mental faculties, to follow the truth wherever it leads? This is of the essence, because the church seldom questions the social system. We are brought up to ‘eat everything on our plate,’ so to speak -- to ingest the spirit of our age uncritically. We have elevated the virtue of ‘tolerance’ above all other values. This is demonic. We are even raised to believe that capitalism and exploitation are of God.”

As others stuff themselves with Turkey leftovers and take an over-dose of football games, Jacoby calls me to ponder this thought:

“The average American knows far more about sports than current events, and cares little for those in the ‘outside world.’ This brings me great heartache, and it is not unusual for my congregation to receive an exhortation to stay current with the news, contribute time and money to help those less fortunate, and become key players in the drama of redemption as ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world.’”

Moreover, Jacoby concludes his line of thinking by noting some final major critiques of pastors and evangelists in the USA. He warns other clergy around my homeland:

“Clergymen, symbols of the American ‘system,’ likewise are socialized not to question. Having drunk deeply of the ‘system,’ they have choked down any natural objections or pangs of conscience. Few churches have the mettle to speak against the system, or any part of it! The media need to be scrutinized and exposed.”

From any Christian-, evangelist- and educator’s perspective, these are all important words to ponder.

More importantly, ministers like Reverend Billy and theologians like Douglas Jacoby, call Americans and other faithful and concerned peoples to adjust their way of lives and make a change.

The holiday season, which in America often leads to consumption levels triple or quadruple the normal weekly rate, it is obviously the most important time to spend the season thinking about the needy.

Moreover, we need to move beyond just thinking and pondering.

We need to take time to not only ask how we can make a positive contribution to those who are poorer--or more disadvantaged--than ourselves. (1) We need to speak out locally & globally on the behalves of those who need our well-rested voices, and (2) we need actually to start acting in other ways, i.e. get down and work face to face with others to make a difference.

I saw a great example of this by the participants portrayed in the interfaith documentary: ON CULTURAL GROUND.


On Thanksgiving evening, I went to the AWARE CENTER in Surra, Kuwait to watch this documentary film: On Cultural Ground. It was sparsely attended by visitors from three continents, including a Bangladeshi officer on-loan to the Kuwaiti military. (He brought his two young boys along.)

Everyone in attendance that evening was impressed by what unfolded on screen in front of us during the documentary film: On Common Grounds.

As billed, this is certainly an “inspiring documentary” following an 3 American religious communities who decided to come together to make a difference in the world while getting to know the other’s faiths better. This entourage included three groups of Christians, Jews and Muslims from one Southern California county--all who decided in the wake of the events of 9-11 to work on several special projects which were intended to build and grow interfaith community and dialogues. Moreover, they went out of their ways to build a house (a la Habitat for Humanity) for a poor family in Mexico. They did this through an NGO called Corazon.

By working together with this Mexican NGO, these peoples of different faiths and genders attempted to begin a lifelong journey of trying “to overcome their differences with gesture[s] of goodwill. . . Not only do they face each other for the first time but these inexperienced builders . . . complete the project in a very short amount of time.” During “this race against time, many share with us their fears, hopes and views of ‘the other side’.

The participants in the film came from one church, one synagogue, and one mosque in Orange County. These participants included “Dassie, a Jewish lady born in Israel and Nadia, a Muslim lady born and raised in Lebanon.” The question had been, “Can these groups achieve their mission?”

I agree with one review summary which stated, “This powerful story provides a fresh and hopeful approach to peace in a world divided by conflict, taking us on a journey beyond the boundaries of our differences to a place of Common Grounds.” Perhaps it can be emulated in parts of the Middle East once people take ownership of their problems and societies more.

This film was produced by Zahra Pictures USA. The story is very interesting because it focuses on the similarity between these three religions—this focus is on serving the poor and the needy of this world. This is a binding activity for all.

At the same time that many faithful were working in an interfaith situation to build a home for the family on the NGO Corazon in Cumbres township near Tiajuana, they worked to learn more about each other.

As well, many of the participants of the three represented faiths crossed over an international border for the first time in their lives to do volunteer work in an impoverished and underdeveloped hill country town in rugged Baja California (Mexico).

Finally, the age group of the participants is a fascinating aspect of the documentary film, too. There were children as young as ten years (or younger)of age through adults nearing their retirement years.

During the film, they all take turns hammering, carrying material together, and lifting heavy beams and slats. At the same time, they cooperate with three or so Mexican carpenters volunteering as experts and coordinators of the project for the agency Corazon.

What an inspiring way to spend Thanksgiving! Watching that film with an Islamic audience made my Thanksgiving evening special—even without Turkey and stuffing on hand.

Moreover: What a nice way to get into the holiday season!

Let’s commit ourselves to reaching across borders and faiths this holiday season and not get bogged down in differences. Focus on the common ground and build up houses and build peace.

In the film, these peoples from different religious faiths in America showed that they can”build up and not destroy.” What a good example for Americans to set! Perhaps Middle Easterners can (and will) follow suit (some day)!

Eid Mubarak, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah 2007!


“Four Narratives of Anti-Poverty Mobilization”,

Jacoby, Douglas, “Q&A 0789 - Advertising & Christian responsibility a bit long, but we made an exception;

Jacoby, Douglas, “Q&A 0219 - Consumerism and materialism”,

Jacoby, Douglas, “Rethinking Television and the Media”,

“The Stop Shopping Monitor”,

“Reverand Billy and the Church of Non-Shopping”


“The Stop Shopping Monitor”,

“’What Would Jesus Buy?’: As Holiday Buying Frenzy Begins, New Film Tracks Anti-Consumerism Gospel of Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping”,

“Writers Strike Enters Third Week in Divide Over Online Content—Inter views of striking writers,”

Zahra Pictures, USA, DVD, On Cultural Ground ,


Wednesday, November 21, 2007



By Kevin A. Stoda

Just after President Bush’s envoy John Negroponte left his five-hour talk with General Pervaiz Musharrif this weekend, newspapers in the region were rife with new information provided by U.S. officials that the U.S. is increasing the number of American military advisors in the regions of Pakistan, where fighting is heaviest among Musharrif’s forces, local tribesman, Al-Quaeda, Al-Quaeda allies, the Taliban on the border with Afghanistan.

It has simultaneously been emphasized in this and other reports that the United States has certainly also been increasingly aiding Pakistan in protecting its nuclear arms industry increasingly in the years since 9-11.

This was all being revealed as many person were killed in battles amongst Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the northwest part of Pakistan.

Finally, a few days later, once again Musharrif’s military and security arrested hundreds of protesting journalists.

Negroponte, who had led America’s effort to promote unpopular governments in Central America in the 1980s, had been sent by the White House ostensibly to tell Musharrif to retire from the military and to end the state of siege in his country in order to hold fair national elections in January. However, Negroponte left the Mussharrif meeting without even slapping the wrist of the Pakistani strongman, who had seized power illegally in 2000.


Supposedly the CIA and American national security agencies have had a stronger presence in Pakistan in recent years than has the U.S. military.

This is partially because the local Pakistani populace generally sees heavy U.S. military presence there as a quasi-American-colonialization of the Pakistani status quo.

So, in the years after 2001, when the allies or the USA had already entered Afghanistan via Pakistan and other neighboring states, the U.S. military presence had been decreased greatly. Currently, there are reported to be only about 50 U.S. military personnel in the country.

International Herald Tribune reporter, Carlotta Gall, writes, “Altogether, the broader strategy is being accelerated because of concern about the instability in Pakistan and the weakness of the Musharraf government, as well as fears of extremist with safe havens in the tribal areas could escalate their attacks on allied troops in Afghanistan.”

It is also noteworthy that the U.S. has already sent about 11 billion dollars to Pakistan since 9-11 to help in the so-called war against terror. However, Pakistan military under strongman Musharrif to date has had little success.

As the war on terror is appearing more and more to be the George W. Bush administration’s version of the Vietnam War, one is tempted to say that the increase in U.S. activity parallels the U.S. in the Vietnam-era in Cambodia and Laos. At that time, in the 1960s and 1970s, in order to increase pressure on Northern Vietnamese forces using the so-called Ho Chi Minh trail, the United States focused on neighboring countries.

The “Cambodiazation” of the Vietnam was the last big expansion of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia in the 1970s.

Therefore, it is responsible to begin wondering whether the expansion of the war in Pakistan will bode equally adversely on South Asia. In short, the Khmer Rouge took over in Cambodia a few years after the U.S. began to depart Southeast Asia. As well, Laos fell to communist forces that were supported by the North Vietnamese and other communist states.

Ultimately, the “Cambodiazation” of the Vietnam War and the expansion of bombing in Laos eventually led to the greatest American backlash against America’s longest war. That is, the public began to be extremely vocal in demand that the U.S. presence in the Vietnam War and regional civil wars be brought to an end.

In short, after the Nixon administration’s expansion of the war into Cambodia, the middle class and mainstream America began marching on Washington and started speaking out in large numbers against the war, i.e. in numbers too large to be ignored . Within three years the U.S. military had begun its exit from Southeast Asia.


Negroponte’s failure to stand strongly with democratic forces in Pakistan during and after his meeting with President-General Musharrif this past weekend has further disgruntled Arabs in the Middle East who are already disappointed by the U.S. administration’s continued support of strongmen, who controlling governments and limiting democracy in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel/Palestine in recent years.

The general perception of Arab people in the street to generals in the military—and throughout the region from Kuwait to northern Africa--is that the American promotion of democracy is a fairly negotiable article for American foreign policy leadership.


Schnitt, Eric, Mazzetti, Mark, & Gall, Carlotta, “U.S. may increase role in Pakistan: Strategy envisions enlisting tribal chiefs in fight against Al Quaeda and Taliban”, International Herald-Tribune, 19 November 2007, p.1, 8.

Sanger, David E. “U.S. aiding Pakistan on nuclear security: Clandestine effort protects arsenal, but instability threatens fuels worries”, International Herald-Tribune, 19 November 2007, p. 8.

“Sectarian violence kills 91 in Pakistan”, International Herald-Tribune, 19 November 2007, p. 8.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007



By Kevin A. Stoda

Last Thursday, the Archbishop Mounged El-Hachem (Apostolic Nuncio to the State of Kuwait) visited the Aware Center in Surra, Kuwait to present a "Dialogue between Christians & Muslims Today".

This was the third lecture in a series of lectures on tolerance held at the Aware Center this autumn. This was also fairly timely lecture as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had recently visited the Vatican—the first rapprochement ever from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the head of the Catholic Church in the World.

In introducing the Archbishop that November 12 evening, Dr. Theresa Lesher, who is Muslim, made three main comments about Islam.

First, she stated that according to Mohammed, the prophet, "God honors his churches and synagogues." Second, Islam recognizes Jesus as one of the greatest prophets of the faith. Finally, both Islam and Christianity are institutions of peace.

A poem was then read and the Holy See's Archbishop Mounged El-Hachem stood up to speak.


The Ambassador of the Holy See began by clarifying as follows: "Regardless of race, gender or culture, people and information are moving around the globe very fast these days. This occurs with such speed that we often don't know each other well enough before we react. This means we need to have multicultural dialogues and inter-religious dialogue."

Archbishop El-Hachem indicated that this was why the Pope had asked him and others to become more proactive in promoting dialogue, especially now important in the wake of what has occurred in recent years between East and West.

Archbishop Mounged El-Hachem, who had served prior to this as Archbishop to Lebanon, explained that his speech had three foci: (1) Introduce the broad history of relations among these two faiths, (2) Elaborate on the Vatican II documents of 1965 concerning the relationship between the Church and other faiths around the world, and finally (3) Review the status of interfaith dialogue today.

The archbishop then began, "Muslims are the majority in many countries in Africa and Asia. Christianity makes up the majority in the West. In some countries, Christians and Muslims live in harmony with their various religious practices—i.e., living out their religious lives without restrictions."

"However, in some other countries, there are many restrictions." The Monsignor continued, "Christianity was present in Mecca and Medina in the time when of Mohammed lived. The relationships between Christians then and there with the Prophet—and in Jerusalem all the way to Ethiopia—were well known and good."

"During the Califate, churches were protected by and cooperated with the Califate. Meanwhile dialogues between East and West was initially strong. Books from Greece and Syria were translated into Arabic."

With somewhat an apology, the religious leader next lamented, "The Crusades led to conflict and persecution, but otherwise over a great period of centuries relationships were still often very good among many Muslims in the Middle East & Africa and various Christians in Europe and elsewhere—this was especially true during the more recent centuries. However, a renewed friction arose again in the 20th Century."

The 20th CENTURY

The Ambassador of the Holy See explained, "The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, creation of the state of Israel and other new regional states, the discovery of oil, and the end to prolonged colonization of all sorts led to a New Balance among the faiths and faithful in and outside the Middle East."

"The good news was," according to the Archbishop "a new stage of mutual study has also begun. Nowadays, from Egypt to Lebanon, from Qatar to Europe, and in Kuwait at places, like the Aware Center, dialogues between Muslims and Christians has been carried out."

This was the second visit to the Aware Center by the Archbishop in the past year.

Next, the Archbishop began to refer often to the 1965 document of the Second Vatican Council called "Nostra Etate, Dignitatis Humane, and Lumen Gentium", and he emphasized the documents important focus on having the church and Christians come to respect and grow closer to other faiths by focusing on the common grounds, rather than the differences among faiths.

In short, the "Nostra Etate" sought to promote good relationships with Christians and peoples of other faiths.

Even more importantly, the archbishop stated, "The 'Nostra Etate' charges that 'Christians are to recognize the facets of truth in other faiths where true Christian faith is manifest.'"

"This means that the Church has high regards for Islam and the role of Muslims in humanity. The church also acknowledges and appreciates, for example, that Islam venerates both Jesus and Mary. Moreover, Christians respect the fact that Muslims recognize the resurrection and other facets of Christianity."

The Catholic representative to Kuwait then stated that until recently Islam was not united at all in the West's calls to rapprochement between their faith and the approach to other religions of the world. However, this is likely because Islam is much more decentralized in structure than the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Evangelical churches in the West.


The Archbishop noted with a smile, on October 13, 2006 a most amazing document was publicly signed and issued to churches around the globe. That document was the first ever offensive by Muslim scholars, Imams, and leaders of a great variety of Shia, Sunni, Sufi and other groupings of Islam to promote wide-scale dialogue among Christians and Muslims.

[A writer for the Christian Science Monitor, Dan Murphy, clarifies what the historic October 13, 2006 document to the Vatican and others was exactly about, "Thirty-eight Muslim scholars from 20 countries sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI urging mutual tolerance and respect . . . , and 500 prominent Muslims signed a religious ruling rejecting violence against civilians."]

The quite pleased Archbishop, Mounged El-Hachem, revealed that since last October 2006 some 250 Islamic scholars have now signed on to the original document in support. More importantly, in the intervening period Citizen Muslim scholars from 49 different countries have now become recommended as signatories to that letter.

The archbishop emphasized, "This was a very important event in the history of humanity, especially successful, in that the Islamic Scholars cited Christian Bible and Jewish Holy texts in the document. The letter invites Christians to interfaith dialogue. Moreover, it promises that Muslims will not make attack on people's of Christian faith unless attacked first."

The Archbishop continued, "The survival of the world is at stake! Our souls are at stake if we don't make every effort to live in sincere peace and harmony. This is why the October 13 letter was written to the Pope."

He added, "The letter was written not only to the pope but to all Christians all over the world. It has led to the positive response: (a) God is one. (b) God loved us. (c) We are called to love our neighbors."

Finally, the catholic archbishop noted, "This was a call to spiritual discussion. Replies to the letter have come not only from the catholic church but from the World Council of Churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury and from all over the planet."

It is in this context that on November 6, 2007 the Saudi King Abdullah came to meet the pope in Rome.

The archbishop finished the reading of his speech with a famous quote, "'Man is an enemy of what he ignores.' This is why, it is very important that we get to know each other—i.e. not avoid and ignore each other."

He stressed that in both East and West, "Even people of different faiths who live on the same building or in the same streets with one another have never read each others' holy books. By reading them, we would have a start."

In conclusion, "Violence—Never Again! Terrorism—Never Again! War—Never Again! Intolerance—Never Again!" This is what our interfaith dialogue seeks.


At the end of the speech there was time for only a few short questions (due primarily to the fact that numerous visiting VIPs had shown up late—leading to a 25 minute delay in the start of the archbishop's speech).

The first question asked was about the "Trinity" and "the three persons in one". The archbishop disappointingly struggled to explain this distinction but was unable do the topic much justice, i.e. he wasn't very convincing, especially to the great numbers of Muslims in the audience.

However, the archbishop shined on the final question of the evening, which he answered quite diplomatically.

This was a question concerning "the value to Christians of the Holy Book, the Koran".

The Vatican representative to Kuwait replied, "Concerning whether the book is considered Holy. The answer is frankly, 'No.'

The archbishop added "The fact is, the church doesn't recognize any letters or books written after the death of the Disciple John in a.d. 95 as Holy Books. However, there are many truths in the Koran—even if we don't consider it a 'revealed truth'. There are many common beliefs and truths revealed in the Koran—many that parallel the material in Christian 'revealed books.'"

He continued, "The dogma of the 2nd Vatican Counsel has set down—and as was approved by Bishops from all over the world—that there are truths common to both religions and books. This, therefore, is indirect recognition of the words passed from Mohammed as Prophet. That is, we have to respect him and the Koran even if we don't see his words today as 'revealed text'."


The audience seemed a bit dissatisfied because no deep dialogue had really begun between the adherents of various faith traditions that evening at the Aware Center.

Many would have liked to have asked about and discussed difficult and perplexing questions about the faith and how life is actually lived in Islamic and in Western lands.

This frustration among the audience demonsrates that more critical and positive dialogue is welcome in Kuwait, a Middle Eastern country which allows various faiths to be practiced here to a moderate degree.

However, in contrast to the Christian and Jewish dialogue--which swung into high gear after the tragic events of the WWII era--, Christians and Muslims need to still do a lot more dialoguing in the near future.

"Jewish-Polish Dialogue"

"King Abdullah and Pope Benedict Meet,"


"Nostra Etate",

"Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI by 38 Leading Muslim Scholars and Leaders",


Monday, November 19, 2007

Finally, a British-funded study has been conducted in the United States. A report in November 18th’s Guardian reports that “23 years after a US arms


By Kevin Stoda, Kuwait

I have written previously about the fact that today in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkons the number of victims of depleted uranium (DU) weapons technology is growing but that the actual numbers of victims largely remain uncounted due to political aversions in the U.S. and in allied nation states to share (1) more data and (2) conduct more investigations on what DU has been doing to those who have come into contact with the deadly uranium contamination created when such weapons hit or miss their targets.

Finally, a British-funded study has been conducted in the United States. A report in November 18th’s Guardian reports that “23 years after a US arms plant closed, workers, and residents have cancer—and experts say their suffering shows the use of such [DU] weapons may be a war crime.”

The article, written by David Rose, is entitled “’Safe’ Uranium that Left a Town Contaminated”. The town referred to is in New York state in a suburb of the city of Albany. The suburb is known as Colonie and is where the department of defense had had uranium processed from the late 1950s until the plant was forcibly closed due to leaking contamination in the early 1980s.


According to Rose’s report, “Repeatedly, US agencies have claimed that the Colonie plant was reasonably safe, despite the massive clean-up. Most recently, in 2003, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry issued a report saying that, although the pollution produced when the plant was operating might have slightly increased the risks of kidney disease and lung cancer, there was now 'no apparent public health hazard'.

The findings of British researchers show a distinctly different picture of continuing contamination and its effects on the Albany community.

Officially, the DU processing plant’s name in Colonie was under the banner of National Lead (NL), so most residents nearby had had no idea that uranium was being burnt in the incinerators, where it then left the plant via smokestack for many decades. “The NL plant on Central Avenue, Colonie's main artery, opened in 1958 and became one of the Pentagon's main suppliers. DU - the material left in huge quantities by the process of refining enriched uranium for bombs and nuclear reactors - is extremely dense.”

The British researchers, led by Prof. Randall Parrish, have taken a small sample of long-term residents of Colonie and have discovered that an extremely high percentage are suffering due to cancer and cancer related diseases, such as Chrohn’s disease. Some have chronic fatigue alongside several other series ailments. Others have already died of Chrone’s disease and similar ailments.

It is understood that the uranium oxidization process which comes from (1) burning, (2) collisions, and (3) impacts that is believed to cause the long-term damage to the environment and human beings. “A pointed rod fired at high velocity will penetrate not only armour but several feet of concrete. In 1979 a whistleblower from inside the plant told the local health department that it was releasing large amounts of DU from its 50ft chimney, which was not properly filtered. The state government carried out atmospheric tests and in 1981 ordered that main production cease. The factory shut three years later.”

Moreover, as Rose points out, “Parrish's team has found that DU contamination, which remains radioactive for millions of years, is in effect impossible to eradicate, not only from the environment but also from the bodies of humans. Twenty-three years after production ceased they tested the urine of five former workers. All are still contaminated with DU. So were 20 per cent of people tested who had spent at least 10 years living near the factory when it was still working . . . .”

More disconcerting is the fact that it has already been nearly 25 years since the NL plant stopped operation in Colonie. Yet, the DU elements still are contaminating the soil, plants , and groundwater.

This NP plant’s closure was followed by a massive cleanup involving the Army Corp of Engineers and the removal the soil at the NL plant (which was taken to Colorado). The engineers claimed to have taken away all possible residues at the plant. For example, the Army Corp claimed that there was no DU residue in the soil, but then they failed to check the air.

In short, the duration of oxidized DU, its contamination, and its residues appear to last forever in the environment where it has been dispersed in. In many cases, the contamination particles are so tiny that they are usually simply breathed in.


Thus far, images of victims of depleted uranium weapon have been mostly of foreign victims located in distant countries far away from the USA. This is where, for example, in the wake of the First Gulf War in 1991 children in both Iraq and Kuwait were seen playing on and among the uranium oxidized, contaminated, and destroyed vehicles that had been the targets of allied bombings in that short war.

Now, with the recent British study (and future ones to come along), working class Americans, like those in Colonie, who unknowingly have been contaminated with DU will become the new symbol for victims of depleted uranium tipped weapons.

Perhaps now a backlash will start against those who love and promote shock-and-awe technology, like DU weaponry, regardless as to short- and long-term costs to the environment and humans.


Beckow, Steve, “DU Wasteland: Signs of Truth”,

Rose, David, “’Safe’ Uranium that Left a Town Contaminated”,,,2212865,00.html

Stoda, Kevin, “Depleted Uranium is scarcely spoken about but is ever present in the lives of Kuwaitis and in neighboring states”,


Sunday, November 18, 2007



By Kevin Stoda

Some years ago, I came across an article that discussed a list of options to the status quo available for electing democratically our leaders in the USA.

The article, entitled “ELECTION SELECTION: Are we Using the Worst Voting Procedure?”, was written by Erica Klarreich, and it was published in SCIENCE NEWS magazine.

As Americans are currently (1) concerned about the lack of good representation in governance, and more Americans than ever are (2) interested in electoral reform, I have been advocating or lobbying for some constitutional amendment(s) to eradicate business-as-usual-in-Washington and to transform our country into a better, more vibrant, and more just (or more fair) democracy.

In order to better discuss this topic of representation in governance, I have looked again at Klarreich’s article. In it, the author makes it very clear that most every single voting theorist in both the USA and abroad believes that “plurality voting is one of the worst of all possible choices.”

Plurality voting is the system used almost universally in the USA. It’s logic is defined by the phrase “one man, one vote”.


Having been raised in the American public school system, I had been raised to assume that one-man-one-vote defined democracy.

I was so led or misled (brainwashed?) in this direction that I even ignored the fact that my own mother and father actually split their votes as a team in some elections.

For example, my dad voted fore the American Progressive Party of George Wallace in the 1968 election while my mom voted for Hubert Humphrey, a democrat. My dad voted for Eugene McCarthy for president in 1976 and my mother again voted Democratic, i.e. for Jimmy Carter. Finally, in 1980 my dad voted for John Anderson, the independent candidate, while my mom voted for Carter, again.

At the time, my dad was ahead of the game; now many other Americans consider themselves to be independents.

These Americans provide the swing votes every single election.
However, like my father, who oversaw splitting of the 2 votes of the 2 adults of my family’s household, most Americans are dissatisfied by the results of the current election system, in terms of its inability to leave the voting public with a sense that their vote count--or that their voice is being heard.

Americans are so frustrated with the faults of the plurality system—the “one-man, one-vote” system so beloved back in the 18th century era of our founding fathers--that tens of millions of them refuse to even vote in national elections every 4-years.

These non-voting American are obviously not feeling represented and certainly are lacking much voice in government. Nonetheless, most of these non-voters are, indeed, still among the losing voters in whatever election they refuse to vote in.

For all these reasons, no presidential candidate in recent American history has come close to getting 50% of the votes from the 18+ year-old age group (since America’s voting age was lowered through constitutional amendment to 18 years).

This was over 3 ½ decades ago! Because of this low turnout rate, usually only about 30% of the total adult population in the USA is sufficient to become elected the President of the United States every four years

Among the western democratic world, the U.S. has maintained the lead in absenteeism at election-time for many decades.

So, what can be done in the way of election and constitutional reform? What other models are out there?


I first lived in Germany in 1984, returning again to live and work there in late 1986. As a social scientists, I was most amazed and inspired by the way national elections proceed in that Central European land.

Essentially, in Germany each voting age adult is provided two votes. The first vote goes for an individual candidate; the second vote goes either towards a political party or to a coalition running together on the same ticket.

In this way, each voter is voting for representation in government two times.

That is, Germany and a few other democracies, use a “one-man, two vote system”. With the first vote the German voter chooses a single candidate, as we do in the USA, to try and through the plurality system within the voting district.

The winning candidate of this vote will subsequently go to the nation’s capital and serve in two capacities. This winning candidate from the district will serve at the national level as both (1) the voter’s regional representative in parliament and serve as (2) elector in an electoral college for the prime minister--known as the German Chancellor.

This means that the parliamentary representative lends his or her voice to either the approval or disapproval of the cabinet of ministers as well as the entire leadership of the government.

Meanwhile, the voter casts his or her second vote at the very same time they cast their first vote. What does the German voter do with the second vote?

With this second vote, the German voter contributes to the proportional representation of parties or coalitions for the national parliament.

For example, in this way, any German state that—let us say for illustration purposes—is allocated 30 such parliamentarian seats will divvy up these 30 seats proportionately according to the total percentage “second votes” received by each party or coalition. In this way, all the parties or coalitions who receive a minimum of 5% of the total vote in that state will receive at least one seat in the national parliament.

Further, let us say, the Turquoise Party gets 40% of the vote. The Turquoise Party is thus guaranteed 12 of the 30 seats set aside under the second vote.

Likewise, a party, named the Pink Party. has only received 10% of the vote. The Pink Party, nonetheless, would still receive 3 representatives out of these 30 seats in the national parliament.

In short, with this second vote, Germans are usually voting on platforms and parties, not necessarily on the popularity of individual politicians.

I personally enjoy and appreciate this mixed “one-man, two vote” system because it allows voters in Germany to act very strategically when they choose to split their votes among different parties and candidates. Further, husbands and wives who find both of their candidates losing on their first vote, may still find their party (or their coalition of choice) representing them in the national parliament after receiving more than 5% of the vote in the state-wide election.


The bottom line, according to Klarreich, is that concerning “races with a large slate of candidates, plurality voting dilutes voter preferences, creating the possibility of electing leaders that a vast majority of voters despise.”

This simple fact has led many locales around the globe to prefer run-off elections in multi-party or multi-candidate elections. This run-off is required if the top-voter getter fails to receive 50% or more of the vote cast.

However, other models are still available. The main one is known as the instant run-off election. This instant run-off procedure enables voters to choose (at the time they actually vote) which candidate they rank higher than the others.

This means, one candidate will be ranked number 1 by each voter. Then the next most favorite candidate is marked as number 2 choice. The third in rankings is ranked number 3, etc. Each ranking is considered (and possibly) actually assigned or given for every single candidate on the ballot list.

If no single candidate has the clear majority, immediately the candidate with the least number 1 votes is dropped again and the totals are recalculated. Then the process is repeated—again dropping out the one who in this second calculation received the least number of combined second and first place votes.

In Takoma Park, Maryland, Klarreich explains that the followed variation is used. When one candidate has been found to have had the least first-place votes, “[t]hat candidate is erased from the voters’ preference lists, and ballots of voters who had placed him [the absolute loser] first are converted into votes for their second choice. From the remaining candidates, once again the one with the fewest first-place votes is dropped. When only two candidates remain, the one with the more top votes wins.”


One other popular system around the world is the Borda Count.

However, it is actually used only in Australia and Ireland today in case of national elections. The system was devised by an 18th Century French mathematician, Jean Charles Borda, and it is generally used in the USA primarily “to rank college football and basketball teams.”

The Borda Count is a point system. The highest ranked candidate of each voter is valued at double the point-count of the other candidates selected as alternative choice. Likewise, the second place (alternate choice) is valued at more than the third place choice of the voter. The third place rank is valued at higher than the later ranked candidates, etc.

According to researchers, no other system works better for multiparty or multi-candidate elections in terms of providing the government with an understanding of what issues concern voters most.

On the other hand, as is the case in all close elections, any possible combination of rankings (as provided by a few swing voters) can ultimately give these swing voters undue influence on the final outcome of the election.


Obviously, different voting and different rating systems can mean different results in tight elections. However, as Hannu Nurmi, one important European political scientist has pointed out, “All methods that allow voters to express their views fully rather than to single out one candidate convey a much more nuanced message to the political machine.”

With the statistical information provided by such “nuanced” election alternatives (as presented above), in America it would be less likely that any administration, e.g. the Bush-Cheney one, would be allowed by the press, the people, or the people’s representatives to run as amok, i.e. against the peoples wishes, as the current administration has.

Another reason why Americans should embrace this call for change is sanguinely stated by the voting theorist, Alexander Tabarrok of George Mason University, “We [Americans and founding fathers] chose our voting system before voting theory existed . . . .I don’t think any voting theorist would choose plurality rule today.”

The bottom line is that even if the U.S. system has traditionally been one of plurality votes, currently there “is no reason to resist change.”

The warning from Klarreich is simply that “citizens should think carefully not just about how well the election machinery counts up the votes but also about how they want the votes to count.”


Klarreich, Erica, “ELECTION SELECTION: Are we Using the Worst Voting
?”, Science News, Vol. 162, Nov. 2, 2002, pp. 280-282.