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Ask About Life, Blogging and Linux in the Middle East 286

Isam Bayazidi is about as far from the current U.S. media stereotype of an Arab as you can get. He's worked on the Arabeyes (Unix/Linux in Arabic) project, helped start the Arabic Wikipedia, co-founded the Jordan LUG, is a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE), works as a senior software developer for Maktoob, an online community that boasts more than four million members, and created Jordan Planet, a blogging community whose members have many different religious and political viewpoints. Isam is also a long-time Slashdot reader, so he's the perfect person to ask what's going on in the Arab (cyber)world today. One question per post please. Isam will answer 12 of the highest-moderated questions. We'll run his answers verbatim as soon as he gets them back to us.
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Ask About Life, Blogging and Linux in the Middle East

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  • by Viperion ( 569692 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:08PM (#14817109) Homepage
    A communication infrastructure, or a transportation infrastructure? I ask this because what my American viewpoint sees of the middle east is the seeming lack of mass-transportation systems like we have in American (highways, railroads, and the like.) The Middle East also seems to lack a stable communication infrastructure, especially to rural areas. Which do you think is more important, communications or transportation?
    • I ask this because what my American viewpoint sees of the middle east is the seeming lack of mass-transportation systems like we have in American (highways, railroads, and the like.)

      That's odd... from what I've seen, America lacks mass transportation systems, forcing the public onto the roads in private cars due to lack of suitable alternatives (underground railways, trams, etc), particularly in the cities.

  • by Yonkeltron ( 720465 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:09PM (#14817133) Homepage
    Is there any collaboration between the Arab and Israeli communities when it comes to blogging, Free/Open Source Software or general computing?
  • Arabic hacker food (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DarkClown ( 7673 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:11PM (#14817149) Homepage
    Pizza and some caffeinated beverage with an occasional foray into sushi are typical geek food in the west - what is finding it's way down the typical arabic chair dwellers gullet?
    • Sadly, the first meal I ate in Qatar was Pizza Hut.

      I also saw a Domino's. I know there's a Pizza Inn.

      So if they want pizza, they can get the worst of American pie!

      I, for one, enjoy good shawarma [] while hacking sometimes.
  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:11PM (#14817150) Homepage Journal
    You have solid credits for several "Arab versions" of modern software. The Mideast, was where many technologies, like writing, urban living, astronomy and symbolic math were invented or mastered. What new uses of the Internet and open SW do you see originating in Mideastern hands? Which brand new apps are people in your world using in a way more familiar in the Mideast, which could make the jump to global popularity the way so much Western tech already has?
  • How do you blog in Arabic? Aren't there several more characters in written arabic than there are on a normal keyboard?

    Do you have some cool Arabic keyboard? Is it dvorak?
    • Just do a search for "Arabic Keyboard". There are actually several layouts, but they're mostly similar. Some of the positioning comes from matching the morse-code for an Arabic letter and its Latin letter equivalent.

      The number of letters is not an issue, since there are no capital letters in Arabic. Plus, there's only 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, plus a few odd symbols. [] gives a good example of a common layout.
  • If they do, do they mostly use dial-up, DSL or cable modems for their internet access?
  • But the question that really jumps out in my mind to ask is this:

    After living in Egypt for a year, the biggest frustration I can recall with computers is how unreliable the power was. Due to the spikes and surges, the school I taught at would normally go through about 5 power supplies a month (for a building with about 200 computers). Any serious business who wants to protect their computer from an unwanted surge has at minimum a voltage regulator, and at maximum a UPS. Our school paid a company in Europe to host their website, as most Egyptian businesses did.

    Is there any power infrastructure advancements that are being made to better support the growing rise of computer use in the middle east?
    • Is there any power infrastructure advancements that are being made to better support the growing rise of computer use in the middle east?
      Such as selectively breeding donkeys to have more stamina?
    • Any serious business who wants to protect their computer from an unwanted surge has at minimum a voltage regulator, and at maximum a UPS

      No wonder you had so many problems. These things will not help you during a spike. What you need are high-Joule surge protectors + your UPS. "Voltage Regulators" will not help in times of a spike (or a brownout) but a high Joule surge protector will.
    • In addition to power supplies, there are some environmental issues to deal with as well.

      What solutions exist over there to deal with the large amounts of sand that can, and do end up in the systems? Obviously server rooms have intense filtration systems, but what about home computer use or laptops?

    • Is there any power infrastructure advancements that are being made to better support the growing rise of computer use in the middle east?

      They'd like to move to nuclear power, but have hit some snags.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:15PM (#14817192)

    So, what's your opinion on the arabic kids who are defacing websites [] in protest to the Mohammed cartoons?

  • I know that here, many people are spending an inordinate amount of time on the computer, to the point where it has negatively impacted their time spent with people in social settings (iow - people are becoming less social). Blogging is yet another time sink, on top of the web, email, etc.

    Do you foresee the same negative long-term effects in the middle east as we've experienced?

  • by d3ac0n ( 715594 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:17PM (#14817217)
    Ok, Two-parter here...

    1)As an Arab in today's world, how do you deal with those in the Western world who further the stereotype of "Arabs As Radicals"?

    2) In addition how do you, as a forward-thinking Arab, address the issue of those in the Middle Eastern world that would seek to further the radical elements of Islam for thier own purposes, regardless of the consequences or the stereotypes this may create in the West? In other words, how does one function as a concientious objector in Middle Eastern Society?
    • I like these questions. The problem with main stream media is that it only interviews people who will incite the viewers (ie: Gets ratings). How does someone in a similar situation (educated, middle income, technology worker) to many of the readers here feel about the Middle East social-political climate and the general sterio types between the Arabs and Westerners?

    • Okey, I just want to comment on this stereotype thing you said, I have always thought that any stereotyping is wrong. But, if I have learned one thing from my 2 years in UK is that the stereotypes are there *because* of some reason.

      Let me explain, I am from Mexico, and I have lived here (UK) for almost 2 years. It has been very interesting and I have had contact with a lot of different kind of people (different contries and races).

      I do not know if the stereotype of "arab as radical" is true but, all the mid
    • 1)As an Arab in today's world, how do you deal with those in the Western world who further the stereotype of "Arabs As Radicals"?

      It's Westeners who are furthering the radicals stereotype?!

      Maybe you should take off you rose colored glasses and look at the thousands of people that have been violently protesting cartoons to the point where lives have been lost and building burned... or the countless suicide bombings in that region that are cheered and looked at proudly by a large percentage of the population..
      • Perhaps you should re-read my question again...

        THOSE in the Western world. As in SOME people, NOT ALL.

        Your second comment regarding the cartoon related violence is what prompted the follow-up question. How does one function as a concientious objector to this type of violence when it takes place inside one's own culture, or as part of a subculture to your own culture?
      • It's Westeners who are furthering the radicals stereotype?!

        Yes, absolutely. Check out Ann Coulter's recent comments for an example. Ann Coulter, unfortunately, speaks for many, and is (again unfortunately) not roundly condemned as a lunatic by the right in the US.

    • Another question on stereotypes:

      How do you (do you?) fight stereotypes of all Westerners as depraved, immoral, Iraqi-woman-raping Crusaders? How common is the image of Westerners, especially Americans, as hell bent on conquering the Dar al-Islam, and what can be done to mitigate it?
    • "As an Arab in today's world, how do you deal with those in the Western world who further the stereotype of "Arabs As Radicals"?"

      I don't see how anybody can do anything about this. This has been a weird month hasn't it?

      How come all those right wing commentators went on and on about how dear freedom of speech was during the cartoon controversy and said nothing about a guy being jailed in Austria for a speech he made 17 years ago?

      How come those same commentators have said precious little about the prisoners i
  • Do you think that Islamic exposure to the Internet, and the information age is causing culture shock in the Middle East. Surely it must be, it is causing a culture shock in the US even. How do they handle it? How are they reactiong? Do you think it's causing a backlash that relates to terrorisim?
  • Stereotypes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NitsujTPU ( 19263 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:20PM (#14817246)
    Isam Bayazidi is about as far from the current U.S. media stereotype of an Arab as you can get.

    The article itself, in this case, is very leading regarding an opinion of treatment of Arabs by the US media.

    My question is, what do you feel that the stereotypes reinforced by major media outlets are? Certainly they reported that there were Arabic hijackers on 9/11, that Al Quaida has attacked the US many times, and has reported acts such as beheadings and suicide bombings. Unfortunately, the fact is that these events all happened.

    Do you believe that there is an undercurrent of racism and bigotry in the media's portrayal or Arabs? Do you believe that the image of the Arab has been charicatured by the US?

    As a follow-up. How do you feel that recent world events, such as the riots in Paris, riots over Danish comics, and even the actions of terrorist organizations or Arabic origin have influenced this view, by relation to media portrayal.

    Do you see this adversely affecting your career, or have major business outlets mostly overlooked this?
    • Do you believe that there is an undercurrent of racism and bigotry in the Arab media's portrayal or Americans? Do you believe that the image of the American has been charicatured by Arab governments?
    • How should he know?

      He does not live in the US. He's not exposed to the US media. How can someone judge media bias/undercurrent if he's not immersed in it?
      • I wasn't necessarily looking for an objective point of view, but rather the perceived notion.

        I for instance, lived in a community comprising mostly the international students at a major university last year. I could get a fairly good notion of what other countries said about the US from what the students would say.

        When people were discussing France and Germany at the start of the war in Iraq, I had a fairly good idea of what those countries had to say about us. I then met a number of French and German stu
    • "As a follow-up. How do you feel that recent world events, such as the riots in Paris, riots over Danish comics, and even the actions of terrorist organizations or Arabic origin have influenced this view, by relation to media portrayal. "

      I think those are pretty minor compared to the complete destruction of an entire city like Fallujia from US bombardment don't you? I mean we bombed a city twice. First time caused soccer fields outside the city to be turned into mass graves, the second time BBC reported tha
      • I don't see how that changes the question at all.

        I'm asking how he feels Arabs are portrayed by the media, and what influence he feels the media have on Arabic image.

        There's no lack of perspective. It's a straight question. How does he feel this is affecting world image?

        We already know that the war in Iraq is bad for US image, and you're making commentary on US image. If you want to argue that two wrongs make a right, or that US image is directly tied to Arab image, well, the soapbox is yours to stand on
  • Dilbert (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lev13than ( 581686 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:20PM (#14817255) Homepage
    I'm going to guess that office and IT environments around the globe probably share more in common than their superficial differences (language, decor, degree of automation etc...) suggest. Indeed, petty politics and general insanity are going to raise their heads regardless of your office's time zone. As such, how well does Dilbert [], the quintessential North American corporate satire, translate into Arabic? Do you see your office in these cartoons? If not, is there an Arabic version that does a better job?
  • well, looking at the questions so far, I don't know if one guy's opinion is a realistic way of finding out what's going on in the Arab world, but it's sure going to be a fascinating (and possibly scary) window on what the perceptions of the average western geek.
  • by tabdelgawad ( 590061 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:24PM (#14817299)
    As a founder of an Arabic (Jordanian) blogging community, what do you perceive to be the source of news most popular/trusted by Arab bloggers? Is it local, Arab (AlJazeera, etc), European (BBC, TV5, etc), or American (NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, etc)? Is the Arab blogging community a large echo chamber for the latest and greatest western conspiracy theories, or is there genuine diversity of sources and opinions?
  • by DaedalusLogic ( 449896 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:28PM (#14817343)
    A lot of people in the states are familiar with anti-export warnings on encryption technology:

    Are their any technologies that the government of Jordan specifically mandates not be exported outside of its borders?


    How common is it that encryption technology that the U.S. Government asks not be used overseas is actually implemented "against their will"?
  • Red Hat Certified Engineer - is that the Linux version of the MSCE?

    For a while I was starting to believe in some certifications again, but then I ran into an CISSP who needed to be told what magic things a firewall does to that new-fangled technology called TCP.
  • When writing code, do you find the pre-requisite of english a hinderance to writing solutions to problems? European spoken-language is part of the design of nearly any modern programming language - ie <BODY>, "FOR/NEXT", <xsl:value-of>, "SELECT * FROM"... which then requires at least a little understanding of English in order to make sense of what the keywords are suggesting.

    Yes fellow SlashdotWeenies, I know that when executed/compiled these 'words' are symbolized and purely arbitrary - but, a
    • Well as a native Arabic speaker, who also happens to speak French at a native level, and a pretty good English too (at least I think) I can tell you that this is absolutely not a problem, because as you said, those are just conventions and symbols with a meaning (a semantic) which are independent of the language itself, an Iteration concept will always be an Iteration concept in every language of the world, a print statement is a print statement even in Amazonia. Beside this, all Arabic geeks generally spea
    • Answer: Sometimes (Score:3, Interesting)

      by free space ( 13714 )
      Personally, as an Arab developer, I have no problems with coding using English constructs. Most Arab developers are the same.
      It's quite the opposite, in fact, there have been many attempts to create an 'Arabic programming language' that used Arabic keywords and identifiers, but none of them became popular even if the language itself was good.

      The problem, IMO, is with learning, not developing.
      Some of my students are not very good English speakers. They have no problem with basic programming constructs like f
  • Do you happen to know Junis []?
  • I know that a number of people work on doing translation work for various languages -- as a whole, what is the state of Arabic-translated open source software? Is it possible for someone to work on a Linux desktop fully within Arabic, or is it necessary to use English?

    How does this support compare with that under Windows?
  • Isam Bayazidi is about as far from the current U.S. media stereotype of an Arab as you can get.
    Does he think that women who don't wear tents and ninja masks are whores, and in consequence should be killed by having rocks lobbed at them?
  • about the Middle East that you've seen in Western Media that you wish could be cleared up?
  • Mo'toons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by redelm ( 54142 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @12:49PM (#14817571) Homepage
    I'm deeply concerned about the Arab/Islamic reactions to the Danish cartoons depicting The Prophet Mohammed.

    I accept the cartoons are blasphemy and deeply offensive. Yet I hear no acknowledgment that freedom-of-expression is religiously venerated in the West. Worse, official (pandering?) reaction (sanctions) holds large unrelated groups responsible rather than the tiny right-wing newspaper that did the wrong. The many must pay for the misdeeds of the few. This implies responsibility for their own extremists!

    I know media everywhere is seriously distorted. In the West, fear sells ink, photons and electrons. I wanted to understand the feeling on the ground. What are the people feeling?

    • tiny right-wing newspaper

      Actually, Jyllands-posten is the largest danish newspaper, though with several others coming close. The newspaper is generally not considered extreme, but some of it's journalists are quite right-wing (obviously, including Flemming Rose), since it is the most right-wing newspaper in Denmark (excluding fringe-newspapers).
      In danish journalistic tradition, most newspapers employ journalists without too much regard to their political stance. There are also journalists at Jyllands-

  • As an American I find my relation to the Middle East almost exclusively filtered through the lens of "spreading Democracy." I am also a Religious Studies major so I find myself fascinated by Muslim theocracies and their relation to modern technology. Increased access to the Internet and availability of technology must be an enormous influence for modernization and liberalization in otherwise oppressive countries. However, you see countries like Iran becoming more technologically saavy even while they pro
  • In addition to blogs, podcasting's blooming as an outlet for many groups and interests. Are there any you would recommend (in Arabic or English) for folks in the West to hear what folks in the Middle East are thinking, without media spin?
  • Isam? You're not a MySQL admin, by any chance?

    (Sorry, sorry, couldn't resist.)

    Serious question: from your point of view, what do you think it would take for MidEast nations to embrace democracy, in one form or another, rather than the monarchal and dictatorial systems which are currently popular? For instance, your home nation of Jordan is a monarchy, though a relatively benign one. Do you see any impetus for that to change? If not, why not? As a correllary, do you think it's important that MidEast nations
  • what are you really fighting over?
  • I don't know what the situation is in Iraq, for the locals, but I'd like to establish some contact.

    I can correspond in Esperanto and/or English. I'm sorry, but I don't know their native language.

    Do ordinary people in Iraq have access to the Internet? If not, is there some way of finding someone in Iraq who would like to correspond by mail with a "USonian" who is genuinely interested in their viewpoint?

    I can't help but think that if we only had more interpersonal relationships between the US and Iraq

  • What's the legal environment for publishing websites in the Arab world? You may be able to answer this only for Jordan, but can the government ask for records (real name, logs, etc) to be turned over regarding any individual poster/blogger? As a practical matter, do governments bother with censoring/harrassing critical posters?
  • At this point in time, what would further the use of Linux in the Arab world? Better fonts/font rendering? Translations of howtos? Better infrastructure?
  • by TINGEA77 ( 935076 ) on Tuesday February 28, 2006 @01:39PM (#14818151)
    As an Arab, a Jordanian, a regular Slashdot reader, and a computer addict my self, I feel compelled to ask this question. But first a little about why I'm asking... I started my addiction when I was in Jordan at an early age in the mid 80's, and moved to the United States in the late 90's. So I think by now I'm out of touch with how things are advancing in our part of the world. I used to be considered as a knowledgeable geek, but that was a long time ago when I had more time on my hands. :(

    My questions are (really it is the same LONG question:)

    Now that online communities and computer volunteering (especially OSS) is growing on the highest rate in the western part of the glob, how do you see participation and understanding of such participation in Jordan in specific, and the middle east in general?

    Do you see the Arab population is going toward a more active role, or maintaining a technology consumer role as it used to be in the old days? Do you feel that you are a loner in what you do and contribute? Or do you get a whole lot of "Hey man that is soo cool, how would I start contributing like you do?"

    Last but not least, from your day-in-day-out interaction with the local-online-communities, when do you see us (Arabs) technologically maturing to a level where we can be a major contributing force in the OSS global community... is it happening now?

    May be one of those days we'll meet... after all Jordan is a small place :)
  • In the U.S., the two educational systems of memorization (concrete) vs. conceptualization (theoretical) tend to favor the latter, theoretical methodology that encourages questioning and independent thought from the students.

    In many other countries, I have heard that the memorization or rote-learning methodology is strongly emphasized. I understand that this results in a large deference to the scholarship of others and less interest in, or tolerance of, a student's rejection of conventional thinking.

    Do you
  • I know you've seen the racist posts against blacks, indians and arabs, as well as the religious intolerance towards Islam, that pops up every day on Slashdot.

    I'm sure you are intelligent enough to know that at least half of these are trolls posted by people with no real opinions of their own, but what about the rest?

    My own solution involves alcohol, but that may not be an option for you ;)

    Mods: This is an honest question, and I haven't said anything bad about Zionism or Ayn Rand (this time around anyway) s
  • Canadian journalist Irshad Manji participated in a panel commenting on the Danish cartoons. She said that the restriction on rendering images of Mohamed only applies to muslims -- those controversial cartoons are only blasphemous if a moslem drew them or published them.

    Do you agree?

  • Middle east is NOT arabland!
    Why everybody is commenting on arabs!
    Iranians also live there, we have linux user groups (e.g. LUGIR []) and we DO have our own linux distros (e.g. Parsix []) and linux-related forums (e.g. Technotux []) and our government has declared linux as the national operating system which MUST gradually replace windows in all governmental organizations.
    I'm really sick n tired of people thinking middle east is were just arabs live or even worse mistaking us -Iranians- with arabs or our country -I
    • Sorry, but most people just don't know the difference. In other parts of the world they can't tell the difference between an American and a Canadian. :)
      If I didn't see a documentary about Iran on The History Channel I wouldn't have made the distinction either. It's the first time I realized that Iran = Persia and has remained unchanged for so long. Who knows, maybe I'm *still* wrong. If so, corrections are welcome.

  • The Arab/Palastinian/Israel issue has generated so much disinformation (all sides involved have an open and a hidden agenda and there are more sides involved than the average Slashdotter would think) and hot debates, it is like a flamewar. Do the real flames also heat up the online world? How far? Are geeks very much involved?

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!