A day at the parque...

Conveniently, in Aix we live near this ridiculous mansion and its surrounding grounds and parks. I take Jack there every afternoon to get out of the house and give Alex some time to himself.


Every day is an adventure. Yesterday Jack found himself in the midst of a big kid's birthday party and squirt gun fight. Yesterday he was flirting with a young Portuguese girl clearly on a school field trip. Then he met another 19 month old whose dad gave him a little cake.

Sometimes there is something for me too. I noticed that there was a small lending library box in the corner of the children's area. Inside I found a book of poems, René Char's En trente-trois morceaux (In 33 morsels) with wonderful one liners like this one (It is necessary to tremble to grow):


I spend my mornings at a cute cafe with a charismatic employee who is constantly castigating rude customers, sneaking out front to smoke cigarettes, affectionately greeting those making drop offs, and in other ways just being full of life. They also have adorable plastic trays for serving espresso. Basically heaven.


Baby Jack

My baby is cuter than your baby. That must be hard.


With "Cal" the coyote, his favorite toy.

With "Cal" the coyote, his favorite toy.

A more recent one.

A more recent one.

With Uncle Joe after his bath

With Uncle Joe after his bath

How to Learn Arabic

My little brother has decided to study Arabic. The occasion has me considering what I would do if I had the chance to do it over again.

1. I would listen to Arabic at least 15 minutes per day, every day from the beginning. See this post and consider this book.

2. I would hire a speaking tutor to meet with at least once per week.

3. I would study dialect for the first six weeks spent in any Arabic-speaking country.

4. I would keep a notebook with me and write down a list of words that I would like to know.

5. I would look up in a dictionary, or ask my tutor, how to say the words in number 4.

6. I would take every opportunity that I could to speak.

7. I would read more Arabic poetry. I always liked the selections in this book.

8. I would keep looking for a good grammar book. I have heard good things about this one.

9. I would write many more sentences every time I learned new grammar rules or new words.

10. I would do the Master of Arts in Arab Studies at Georgetown.

Book Review: Children's Books for Ramadan

I give frequent lectures to the general public about Islam and politics. One question that is often asked is for additional resources. In this post I discuss two children's books that could be used to teach children about the Islamic month of fasting.

Ramadan Moon, by Na'ima B Robert and illustrated by Shirin Adl

This beautiful book presents a positive, devotional portrait of the holy month of Ramadan, the "great Month of Mercy," by following the phases of the moon. In this work, the main characters look forward to the holy month, enjoy it, and long for its return. This is a welcome change from the narrative that Muslims "survive" or "endure" the fast.

The book also presents the holy month as more than one of just fasting. Rather, Ramdan is portrayed as a time when Muslims seek to embrace their faith in every aspect of their lives, by giving to charity, acting with patience toward others and resist behavioral patterns like anger.

Most importantly, the book is BEAUTIFUL. The illustrations, especially pages 5-6, are stunning. Muslims are presented as diverse. In an age where Islam is so often presented in a negative light, people of all ages will benefit from reflecting on the Islamic esthetic tradition.

This book is ideal for parents introducing the subject of fasting to their own children, whether Muslim or not.

It's Ramadan, Curious George, by Hena Khan and illustrated by Mary O'Keefe Young

Curious George turns out to be a wonderful character from whom to learn about Ramadan. In the book, he shows solidarity with his friend Kareem by entertaining him during the day of his first fast, and then by partaking in the feast at the end of the month. George does not fast, however.  Nor is the focus exclusively on fasting. Like Ramadan Moon, the book emphasizes charity as an essential practice during the holy month. The book is ideal for parents wanting to teach their children about how to support their Muslim friends who are fasting or for Muslim parents who want to encourage their children to involve their non-Muslim friends in some of the month's activities.


Book Review: Emma Sky's The Unraveling

Emma Sky's new book The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq solves a number of problems for professors trying to teach about the War on Terror to undergraduates.

1. Female voice: It is difficult to find book-length female analyses for teaching the War on Terror (Lisa Stampnitzky's Disciplining Terror excepted - see my review here). Sky does not write as an omniscient narrator. Rather, her memoir explicitly addresses how being a woman in a war zone shaped her experiences, including the often very funny jokes that others made at her expense (or she made at theirs). Students will appreciate the candor and frequent use of dialogue and all students regardless of gender will benefit from learning about the war from an extremely intelligent observer and participant.

2. Positive portrayal of the military: Too often, writing about the Iraq war conflates disdain for the policy with disdain for those soldiers who participated. Sky, though initially very critical of the US military, is nuanced and ultimately praiseworthy of the soldiers she worked alongside in Iraq. This is important for undergraduate classrooms because many veterans seek out classes on Middle East politics in order to understand their experiences, but end up alienated by the negative tone taken by their professors.

3. Brief and cogent syntheses of complicated developments: Writing on the Iraq war tends to oscillate between oversimplification and a deluge of information. Sky frequently summarizes extremely complicated situations in a matter of paragraphs, boiling down the most important information without veering into inaccurate or simplistic renderings. As a result, the book could easily be paired with more complicated readings. Students should be encouraged to read the relevant portion of the Sky text first, so that they can use it as a reference, particularly if another reading is very detailed or poorly written.

4. Breadth of Coverage/Capturing Evolution: The book is divided into four parts: Direct Rule (June 2003-June 2004), Surge (January - December 2007), Drawdown (May 2008-September 2010) and Aftermath (January 2012-July 2014). Viewed from this ten year span, Sky is able to comment on the significant changes that took place in the Iraqi context and coalition strategy, a welcome reprieve from the narrative that the War in Iraq was an unmitigated failure. Rather, Sky presents how many small successes still did not ultimately add up to a stable or democratic Iraq.

5. Primacy of Politics: Finally, political science faculty will welcome the (implicit) conclusion of the book - that military strategy cannot compensate for political processes and strong democratic institutions and processes.

Faculty considering the memoir should be forewarned that the book is very long-- 363 pages of text, though individual chapters are often brief.

Overall, though, I highly recommend the text for use in undergraduate classrooms.

Post on the Monkey Cage Blog

Don't miss my post on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog about the need for narrow definitions of terrorism. The piece previews my new book coming out in fall 2017!!

Here's an excerpt:

"As Andrew March recently described, the United States has already taken steps to interpret counterterror legislation and other statutes in a way that allows for wide applicability. Examples from the Middle East and North Africa demonstrate the risks of such an approach, particularly to journalists and members of the political opposition. The focus on whether or not to call it “radical Islamic terrorism” obfuscates the more critical issue of how to define terrorism and terrorists. In light of these examples, a narrow definition of terrorism would be a truly bold approach to counterterrorism."

Arabic language resources: The BBC Xtra Podcast

When I was an undergraduate, my French teacher Zoe Petropoulou pushed me to listen to 15 minutes of radio in French every day. She said that just by listening to the sounds of French, even passively while doing something else, my language skills would improve.

When I became an Arabic student, it was several years before I stumbled upon the BBC Xtra Podcast, but when I did, I applied the lesson I learned in French and began listening to the podcast regularly. Usually, I download it to my phone and listen to it when I am walking or driving somewhere. It is the easiest way to practice listening to Arabic every day.

Rules for a Successful Research Leave: Create Artificial Structure

One of the most important choices that I have made during my research leave was to create artificial structure in what was otherwise an open canvas of time. I call it artificial because I do not technically have to be anywhere at any particular time. Because I am completing my research leave in a different city than where I live and teach full-time, I have literally no commitments here besides to my writing, and my relationships. In order to create structure in my day, I instituted a strict 8:30am "leave the house" rule which I have kept nearly every working day of my leave.

Many people may not need to leave the house in order to write, but I have found that it is easy for the day to never officially "start" when I stay home. For others, it may just make sense to institute a start time that one attempts to meet each day, even if one works at home.

Reasons why I find it useful to LEAVE THE HOUSE first thing in the morning:

1. I write when my mind is the freshest and has done the fewest other tasks.

2. I prioritize the writing by doing it first; it does not get crowded out by other activities.

3. The deadline has implications for many other activities. With my self-inflicted start time, I know by when I must get up, take a shower, get ready, eat breakfast and leave. This also protects me from the "I never got out of my pajamas" syndrome that so many suffer from during one's leave. Does one write the same in a button down shirt that one writes in pajamas? I don't know, but just in case, I chose the former.

4. I remove distractions. I have two cats, both of which desire constant attention. When I leave the house, I avoid any wasted time from playing with them. My partner and I do have a set time when we play with them every day though. By setting a specific time, I do not feel guilty at other times when I have to tell them that they need to occupy themselves.

5. The deadline is an arbitrary measure of success. Sometimes, the writing does not go well, but if I have left the house at 8:30, I can still claim that I had a minor success that day. This may sound silly to someone who is not on leave, but I find it to be true. If you have only one goal, and you struggle to meet it, you may want something else (anything else!) to be proud of as you struggle through the writing.

Where do you go?

I chose to do my writing at a local coffee shop. I did not chose the shop with the best coffee, I chose the one with the best combination of location and working environment (and rewards program!). I have found a stool that faces a wall (again, limit distractions) near a plug that I sit in virtually every day. The space has different energetic properties for me. When I arrive to my writing spot I do not face the same kinds of online distractions that I face at home because I have trained myself that that stool is where I work on the book. After I get my drink, I sit down and immediately begin working - no email, no Twitter, no anything else. I tend to stay for between two and three hours.

(Etiquette alert: My rule is to buy a coffee at least every 90 minutes, though I end up getting one every hour or so. With the reduced price of refills, this is not as expensive as it may sound. But even if it was, my book would still be worth it, and so is yours).

Intimidation of Moroccan activist (and longtime friend) Maâti Monjib

Today while sorting through my Google News alerts, neglected over Columbus Day weekend, I came across a concerning story published in the New York Times. The article details the continued repression of Moroccan journalists that is well documented elsewhere. In particular, it highlighted the plight of my longtime friend Maâti Monjib (bio here), who is currently 'wanted for undermining state security.' This situation builds on increased harassment of Monjib and other human rights groups as reported in November of last year.

I wrote to Monjib to find out more details of the situation. He responded today at 12:50pm EST, "Thank you Ann Marie I'm on my eighth day of hunger strike...to protest against the travel ban..and the defamation campain lead by the intelligence agencies against me...My life has become hellish...Please disseminate the information, there is facebook page and an international committee to support me incmuding Abdellah Hammoudi (Princeton) and Naom Chomsky..."

I have since located this statement of solidarity, and petition in support of Maâti. Please make his situation and the general closing of political space in Morocco known.

Monjib and I many moons ago, in 2008, on a trip to visit his mother.

Monjib and I many moons ago, in 2008, on a trip to visit his mother.

Review of Language Schools in Morocco

Today I received an email asking me which school I prefer in Morocco: Qalam wa Lawh or ALIF. As I receive many questions about language schools, I've decided to publish my response here. The student is coming from a security studies background, so the response is in some ways tailored to him.


It’s nice to hear from you. I’m glad that you found the blog insightful. You are writing at a good time, because I am currently a student at Qalam wa Lawh so my thoughts on the two schools are fresh!

First, I’ll say that either school will meet your needs. I have studied at ALIF four or five times, and at Qalam just this past summer. In general, Qalam is better at administration, answering emails quickly and thinking of small useful things (like a shuttle from student residences to the school), while ALIF has more experienced language instructors and a longer pedigree of working with American students. Qalam has some fun programming elements that are included in the hours of classes, so some of your time will be spent in journalism club, Islamic club, etc. This has pros and cons. Sometimes it allows for learning  interesting vocabulary and sometimes it is a waste of time as speakers are late or you are stuck listening to a student with less language experience than you struggle to make a comment.  

Additionally, ALIF gives classes two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. The break tends to make each class more well-organized, in my opinion. At Qalam, all four hours are right in a row and teachers and students fatigue. I find that at Qalam we frequently spend more time on activities than we need to, in part trying to fill the time. Add to that that the teachers are a bit better at ALIF, and I think the quality of instruction there is better. Nevertheless, Qalam has some unique elements that make it a fun place to study. There are lectures from guest speakers given in Modern Standard Arabic, and field trips and tours given also in MSA. ALIF also has speakers and field trips, but they are less consistent in the use of MSA in these extracurriculars.

Despite the differences in these schools, in my opinion the most important thing to do to assure a successful time here in Morocco is not to pick a particular school but to start with six weeks of Moroccan Colloquial Arabic, darija, before you continue your studies of Fusha or Modern Standard Arabic. Dialect is indispensable and necessary for all of your interactions throughout the year. Then you can continue with either language as your needs determine.

Second, I’d say that since both schools offer excellent quality instruction, you may want to pick your location based on your research interests. In this regard, it may make sense to spend your first six weeks in Fez studying MCA at ALIF, and then the rest of your time in Rabat at Qalam where you will be closer to government offices and be better situated to work on your research.

I’d also recommend that during the first six weeks you live with a host family in the old city of Fez, and that you request to have a host family that knows no French or Fusha, to force you to learn as much colloquial as possible. Then, when you move to Rabat, I recommend that you either stay in one of the student residences offered by Qalam in Agdal or that you rent your own apartment. It is wonderful living with a family, but it does distract from research, and gives your days a degree of unpredictability that could harm your productivity. This is why I recommend an intensive period of interaction in your first six weeks living with a family, and then a more controlled environment once you come to Rabat.

These are my general thoughts. Let me know if you find this approach useful. I am happy to answer any other questions that you have. Just let me know what they are.


Graduation advice: be willing to fail

In the last 24 hours, I have had three reminders that we are in graduation season. The first was an email from an old friend of mine, who has just finished a masters degree. We knew each other years ago. She found my blog through Facebook and found herself wandering around my website, reading my CV and seeing where life had taken me. She wrote to me about how she felt like she had gotten a bit disconnected from her own interests, and her passions, and how seeing what I have done with my life reminded her of them and inspired her to get back to the basics.

It was a kind gesture of her to share these thoughts with me. I struggle with knowing whether or not to publicize my rather bizarre but certainly busy life. I know I have a number of privileges. I've made some good decisions, but I've also benefited from certain structural opportunities and in some cases been just down right blessed. I sometimes worry that sharing my experiences with other people could be alienating or frustrating to some who don't have the opportunities that I have. Her email suggested the opposite, that being more open with others about my own life can assist rather than discourage. This was an encouragement to me.

The second reminder was an op-ed in the NYT this morning, the graduation speech that a former professor would give if given the chance. He had four pieces of advice: 1. "Earn Everything" 2. "Don't be a 'city doll" or in other words, don't be jealous of those who can ignore step one and land a sweet gig right after graduation, 3. Actively attempt to help the poor, and 4. "Think for yourself."

Many people feel they are situated to give advice to college graduates, but few offer something new. Although these points aren't all that radical, they struck me as unusual and well-timed graduation advice. Who is not jealous of the friend who lands a sweet job right out of school, and begins earning huge sums of money to do relatively meaningless work? It is appealing at some level to have work that stays in the office, and lots of money to play with after hours, and real weekends and evenings where you are not always working. Nevertheless, now that I have, in a sense, "arrived" at the job I have been headed towards for a decade, I can say with honesty that I'm glad I had no money in my twenties, that I traveled and consumed huge amounts of information and that I did not find myself in my first real job until the age of twenty-nine. Now I have a job that sends me to Morocco for my summers, and allows me to counsel students in a critical moment of decision making, and pursue my intellectual interests. In sum, I'm starting to be far enough from graduate school poverty to feel like it was a good decision.

This position seems confirmed by a third article from VOX "How Wall Street recruits so many insecure Ivy League grads." The article looks at a variation of the city doll, the investment banker who has come out of an Ivy League school. The article is an interview between Ezra Klein and Kevin Roose, the author of a new book about investment bankers. Roose suggests that people who take jobs as investment bankers are people who fear taking risks and want economic stability above all else. Becoming investment bankers for a few years allows them to postpone making the difficult decisions about what to do next.

(The article also talks about people for whom investment banking is a good thing: those who have a reason to be there, or those who just love the industry. I'm interested more in the people who go for reasons to avoid risk. The article argues that the industry can really destroy these people by eliminating their ability to think creatively).

Back to the idea that some people become bankers to postpone difficult decisions, though. This argument interested me a lot because I am frequently concerned that undergraduates go to graduate school (or law school) for exactly this same reason: they want to delay making a decision about what next. They want someone to hand them a checklist that says what the next step is (study for the GRE, take the LSAT). They are afraid to fail. What the NYT op-ed was saying though, was exactly that. Go and fail! Try a few different things. You will be a much better human being, and long term you may even be more likely to be successful because of what you learn through failure.

Putting these three things together, I'd say that it can really feel like you are headed in the wrong direction when you are in the midst of failure. I considered leaving graduate school on multiple occasions. Many of you know the many other life paths that I have considered. So I guess I'd say, in conclusion, if you are very concerned that you have taken a risk that didn't pay off, you may be in a better position than you thought you were. And if you have taken the easy way out, avoiding making adult decisions while seeking the privileges of adulthood, you may find that you are very unhappy. Both are difficult roads, but the light seems brighter at the end of the first tunnel. I'm glad that I took the path of risk.


Morocco Day 2: Reflections + a funny story

Most things are familiar.

  • The Nass al Ghiwane playing "Fein ghadi biya khoya" on the radio. The song translates to "Where are you taking us brother?" It was a protest song in the 1970s, questioning the direction then king Hassan II was taking the country.
  • The lengthy greetings. "Peace be upon you." "And upon you peace." "How are you?" "I'm fine, praise Allah. And you?" "I'm fine, praise Allah." "And your family, how are they?" "They're fine, praise Allah. And yours?" It goes on.
  • The spread of the muezzin's call to prayer from the central mosque to outlying mosques.

Some things are new:

  • The development on the other side of the Bouregreg river. The modern buildings look like they might be luxury housing units.
  • The price of Telquel is now 20 dirhams. A big price increase from only three years ago.
  • Having two little Moroccan brothers. One is two years old, and cute as a button and mischievous as hell. The other is seven and shy, and very involved with watching cartoons on tv. (Something else new, Cartoon Network "Arabiyya")
  • The Qalam wa Lawh language school is really lovely, and chock full of students. The staff is gracious and kind, and everyone speaks Fusha all the time.
  • Wifi is everywhere! OMG wifi in my house!

I met my host family today. Said, the father of the family, picked me up from the language school. In the car, I asked what he did. He said, "I work for the Ministry of the Interior." The Ministry of the Interior is the government agency that monitors the activities of citizens (and foreigners). I asked him what he did for the Ministry. "I'm in the accountability office," he said in stumbling English. It's a good thing I was sitting down or I might have fallen over laughing. How is it that an agency know for the torture and disappearance of Moroccan citizens has an accountability office! Do they have an obudsmen too? It was just too much.

Later that day, I asked Said how to say accountability in Arabic. Then I asked him where the root of the word came from. "Ha Sa Ba, to count," he explained. "Oh, so you're an accountant?" I asked. "Yes. Numbers all day," he replied.

A recap. Said, eager to practice his English, said "accountability" when what he meant was "accounting." In the context of the Ministry of the Interior, the faux pas was magnified. Just to be clear, there is no accountability office in the Ministry of the Interior. At least not yet ;)

Study Skills: Focus

Today, the Diane Rehm Show featured the work of Daniel Goleman. His latest book is titled "Focus." On the show, Goleman discussed the parts of the brain that allow for focus, and how they can be trained to function better.

Undergraduate students are faced with much higher workloads than ever before, at the same time that they have access to a myriad of distractions. Goleman's work offers strategies for using your time wisely, for getting "into the zone" faster. These strategies include a daily meditation practice (even as little as 15 minutes a day!) and the development of a "creative cocoon." By setting aside a part of your day as sacred and dedicated to your most important projects, where you will not check email nor answer the phone, one can achieve higher levels of focus and production over the course of a year. 

Can we meet?

I'm getting a lot of questions from UF students wanting to meet to make plans about the future.  I accepted a position at St. Louis University so I no longer live in Gainesville. I can, however, talk to you by phone. My office hours this year are:

M 1-2pm
MW 11-11:50am

My phone number is 314-977-3006. Please feel free to call with your questions. Leave a message if I don't answer. I also am responding to emails at the old address or the new one: wainscottam@slu.edu.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!