How HellyLuv Risked It All

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HellyLuv and her music video ‘Risk it all’ went viral in the Middle East. Ranja Faraj takes a closer look at it and explains what it means to be a female risktaker.

Before I start this article, I would like to address that I am for the happiness and freedom of all. This video I am using is perfect to bring a very interesting discourse forward. I believe music is subjective and I am not criticizing this particular song sonically or attacking the singer, HellyLuv. I am merely using the reaction this video caused as well as what this video represents in terms of the apparent progression of the Kurdish population.

Let’s Start

It is not a huge surprise that this song was musically designed to be commercially successful and contemporary. It does sound nice and it’s current exposure shows that there are likers and dislikers out there. Firstly, I want to magnify the issue of why some like it and some do not.

The Good, The Bad And The Passionate

Those who like the song, support what it represents and see it as a great platform to push Kurdistan forward have genuine reasons, though to what extent? On the other side you have people who dislike the song, see it as regressive for Kurds or even tarnishing and those who see it as a mere copycat of Western culture and the loss of our own. Both are right.

The reason why is because, here, we see a cross section of society, the immigrant in another country. A society living within someone living in a different society. The one who can feel at home in two places but is not perceived to be. The natural instinct would be to bring the two together because that is what one knows, what is embellished in their identity. So when HellyLuv, and many others, use a passion as a platform for their heritage you get a huge array of consequences, both good and bad.

I love culture and it is the differing cultures that makes one appreciate and distinguish one another. So, with the large generation of multi-culture kids, you face a fusion of culture already. Is this progression for society or is the preservation of each culture progression? Do we form a culture together and follow the dominating popular West in order to progress? Does it matter what culture we have as long as we do have culture?

The Wild Wild West

Another perspective is how the elite in South Kurdistan are encouraging foreign investment and with this you get foreign influence evidently and foreign products and demand for foreign goods increase with it and so on. Now, you would expect the younger generation in Kurdistan to desire Western culture when it is their investment which has seen the prosperity rise. So, what is wrong with HellyLuv playing to a strength she has and using it to unify an untapped generation that listen to the music that she makes? The elders in Kurdistan want money and with it came the culture. It seems that their hypocrisy denies their right to complain.

I am trying to figure out whether being three steps behind the West is better or worse. South Kurdistan are outsourcing resources and the West are outsourcing their culture. Who is winning and who is losing?

Are You Ready For This Jelly?

What about the Beyoncé Effect? There has been an increase of using women as empowering figures in the realm of the music industry. Your assumption may be why would that be relevant, let alone detrimental.

Look at it like this, the emphasis on independent women and fierceness and such for women exists and is marketed well and proven commercially successful. Now, when have you heard a song about an independent man who has to sing about issues to empower himself? It is a double standard. The reason why is because it’s marketable and you can create fandom. If a female wants to become successful right now, it has to target a following. So, when a female artist wants to achieve commercial success, they will target areas they can create a strong affinity with: females and issues of equality. It sounds very callous but it has become that and it is being recycled.

HellyLuv of Arabia

“A woman poses with two lions and a tight dress in a music video and suddenly women are equal.” No.

That is not the case and what is unfair to HellyLuv is how much responsibility has been put on her shoulders. She is doing what she loves yet there are people turning it into an international forum for the progression of the Kurdish population. Then there are people with vulgar comments from small villages consisting of 9 men to 1 women to 13 donkeys. Then there are death threats from self-righteous religious extremists. Then there are remarks from the ever so kind and thoughtful Kurdish women. There is a huge array of perspectives and arguments but let’s flip it on its head:

It’s a White Woman’s World

If an ordinary white woman sung this song, would there be this much outroar? If a white woman is free from any restrictions and implications when she wants to make music, why is HellyLuv different?

You can look at HellyLuv and see Arabification or you can snicker and gossip about HellyLuv trying to mimic MIA, Beyoncé, Shakira or Nicole Scherzinger. The parade of Kurdish flags in the video may show nationalism and pride, good or bad however you want to view it. Essentially, she is a bad person because she did what she did. That is the general view I have come across and it sickens me. HellyLuv will inspire a generation because she is a first.

Who Run The World? Girls?

What if a Kurdish man sung this song?

There would be no remarks that breach the wall of either “oh, he is trying to innovate Kurdish pop” or “he has sold his soul to the west”. Look at Darin, Swedish Pop Idol star, who was the first mediocre Western singer who had a Kurdish background. Darin was praised and idolised publicly. In similar circumstances, HellyLuv is in the crossfire of all kinds of judgement. Now, it simply cannot be because she is a woman… well no, maybe it is. All I can be certain of is that HellyLuv brought this up, unknowingly I assume, and now that it is recognised in a medium we can all see and discuss, there will be a push forward in this discourse.

Please, I want to hear your thoughts.

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Hobby: Critical Thinking

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More than a month ago, I created a Facebook page called “Dinge, die ein Politikstudent nicht sagt” (>3 500 fans), following the example of its successful English Version “Things Politics students don’t say” (>6 000 fans).

Among the most successful posts have been following posts:

The money is in studying Politics, you end up poor if you do Economics.

I have finally found a simple definition of politics that everyone can agree on!

or my favourite

My parents were so happy when I studied this instead of law.

As it is with all things, they’re funniest when they’re true. To anyone who has just finished his A-Levels, look for these pages on Facebook, relevant to your desired program. They will tell you more about your next three years in college studying – let’s say – politics than any student counselor.

When I first started studying Politics back in 2009, Facebook was not as popular in Germany as it is today. As there was nobody to truly tell me how it would be like to study what I had always had an interest in, I was left with my intuition, people’s opinions and experiences about studying Politics and my parents’ disapproval.

I dived in naively, not knowing the relatively unstable job market for political scientists-to-be. While it is true that most political scientists find Jobs within federal governments, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, political lobbying groups, and labor organizations. Now, three years later, I cannot stress enough that getting a job is highly dependent on one’s own efforts and luck to become a good job candidate.

I now understood why my parents were not particularly keen on seeing me sign up for three, and most likely, five years of studying Political Science.

But 2011 changed everything.

In 2011 within just a few months, “pretty stable” regimes collapsed, Japan’s nuclear catastrophe irreversibly changed Germany’s energy policy and Denmark returned to its infamous border controls. Nothing seemed safe, everything was unpredictable. Questions were asked, answers were needed. The more complex the news, the more necessary became those who could explain them: political scientists turned into overnight celebrities. What they were taught are what they can do best: organize chaos, explain mysteries, foresee hindrance. Explain the world.

Luckily, my parents now, too, understand.

Poison Penmanship and Politics: Twitter and The Armchair Activist

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The ever growing number of online freedom fighters has been an issue since the advent of the notorious Kony campaign by Invisible Children. At first impression, you must be wondering why it would even be an issue. Why would the increase in conscious citizens using Twitter to tackle real world issues be an issue? Romance.

Freedom fighting has often been romanticised as something heroic and courageous, filled with grit and bloodshed, something noble. The camaraderie, the union of men and women bound by oppression and fighting for a single ideal, freedom. Now this may be a cinematic description of what the Syrian rebels or PKK soldiers may be doing but nonetheless it paints a picture that does not exist. Now I do not doubt nor am I talking ill of those around the world in these political positions – however the fusion of the Internet and the romance of anti-establishment has created a new battleground for these online Guevara-influenced guerillas.

Social media was at the forefront of the Arab Spring and the ones I speak of bear no resemblance to them. I am talking about those who tweet excerpts of The 48 Laws of Power, nationalistic views and the odd picture of Karl Marx or Fidel Castro smoking a cigar with an abstract comment like “the ashes fall like my comrades in battle”. For the readers who get the impression I am a right wing nut with a disdain for anything red or left – no, I am quite the opposite. I was born and bred in London to Kurdish refugee parents. I’ve been submerged in politics, completely out of my control, since I can remember. Now rather than parade what I believe in and what I have learnt, the point I am making is that these armchair activists take themselves too seriously and honestly believe they are waging a necessary war via the Internet.

One click of a hashtag on Twitter and you are sent into a warzone of regurgitated facts and angry polemicists seemingly trying to build a nation with 140 characters. The romance of it attracts the superficial ones. Some do like being oppressed, most may not know it but they are driven by it, they like fighting for a cause and without it, feel redundant. So what do they do? They fight fire with fire. An endless war that they initially tried to end by taking up arms online and as a result they unknowingly become a victim of their own circumstance. The oppressed and oppressors are no different in this case, just two sides of the same coin. For people who are supposed to believe in the welfare of mankind and basic human rights, they are very quick to incite violence on their oppressors or those who disagree with them.

Now I get the same response over and over: “They’re raising awareness, it counts for something”. Yes it does but where does awareness end and action begin? The internet is a great tool and a great tool must be utilised, it is not intended to just add ease. It is easy to tweet a 140 character war cry from your armchair. However, I am not suggesting you get the next flight to Tibet and spearhead an independence movement. My intention is for you to be critical of superficial tendencies that get in the way of something so integral as peace and safety for your neighbour.

There is an undeniable romantic appeal towards freedom fighters and anti-establishment. As a result, people become so concerned with the supposed flashy and glamourous life of a guerilla. They do not act like thinkers and builders on Twitter. They act like the very same soldiers they “fight” against. Thus the internet is another battlefield and everyone is equipped with weapons ranging from Twitter to Facebook. People need to understand that the revolution will not be Youtube-d. Actually, it already has.

Why You Should Listen To Stupid Ideas

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There is a man that haunted, crippled and talked me down for years and his name is Earl Keith Miller. He is a successful cognitive neuroscientist who studied at Princeton University and taught at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). As a scientist, his work comprises of a lot of research. As a scientist, he serves humanity in the most honorable way: he collects information, analyses it and tells us what to do, not to do and what is wrong and right in a lot of cases.

In 2009, four years ago, I was in my first undergraduate semester – a freshman eager to do everything right from the beginning until the very end. 2009 was also the year when I read an article on the Ethiopian Review about him and his new, important findings.

This is where the drama begins.

Successes are more informative than failures”, Earl said, meaning: If you fail at something you probably know why. You got fired because you showed up late most of the time. Your spouse left because you showed up too many times at the wrong place, with the wrong person. You already know the reason you failed.

But “if you succeed, everything has gone right, so there’s a lot more information in successes than failures,” Miller continued, meaning: We learn more from success, not failure.

And this is where the climax begins.

Naturally I assumed I should study the successful if I wished to be successful. And I did. For years and years, and even until now, I read biographies of people who are held to be successful members of our society, in their own way, in their own niche – not telling me that most of them rarely talk about failures in their lives. Having founded a startup magazine myself, I regularly read about the successful startups that the Fortune magazine displays so heroically – not telling me that most startups don’t actually start up. And I studied night after night wanting to become like the average A – students – not knowing that there are a lot more reasons why I had not as many As as them than just my IQ. In short, because failure became invisible, the difference between failure and success became invisible, too.

In 2009, I firmly believed that there is an infinite number of ways to fail and only a few ways to succeed and in 2013, I must correct myself: there is an infinite number of ways to fail and an infinite number of ways to succeed.

But herein lies the difficulty: the hard part is pinning down the cause of success.

Most people just point at highly visible things, and make claims like

 “StartupX is successful because the founders worked extremely hard, the office culture was well-developed, and there were lots of team building activities.”

Or

StudentX gets a lot of A grades because he studies a lot.”

The problem is that this ignores the 5,000 other startups and eager students that did all those same things, but failed. Perhaps it turns out that StartupX really succeeded because they had a sales guy with lots of good connections and et cetera. Or StudentX really had better grades because he studied with the right people, had the right routines and et cetera.

Causation is not relation, everybody knows that. But it is damn hard to figure out what and often the people themselves are biased and don’t really know why they have become successful. I would say a big percentage of tips you get are less useful than you might think, perhaps even harmful, but to figure out which one of them depends on your judgment.

In the words of one of my favorite journalists, David McRaney on his blog youarenotsosmart.com:

If you spend your life only learning from survivors, buying books about successful people and poring over the history of companies that shook the planet, your knowledge of the world will be strongly biased and enormously incomplete. As best I can tell, here is the trick: When looking for advice, you should look for what not to do, for what is missing, but don’t expect to find it among the quotes and biographical records of people whose signals rose above the noise. They may have no idea how or if they lucked up. What you can’t see, and what they can’t see, is that the successful tend to make it more probable that unlikely events will happen to them while trying to steer themselves into the positive side of randomness. They stick with it, remaining open to better opportunities that may require abandoning their current paths, and that’s something you can start doing right now without reading a single self-help proverb, maxim, or aphorism. Also, keep in mind that those who fail rarely get paid for advice on how not to fail, which is too bad because despite how it may seem, success boils down to serially avoiding catastrophic failure while routinely absorbing manageable damage.

Sites like Admitting Failure and events like FailFaireDC 2012 which have recently attempted to bring together stories of projects gone wrong, addressed the need to discuss failures. I will try to do that, too.

An Apology To Barbie

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While a Barbie-themed restaurant opening was hailed with general delight and fanfare in Taipei earlier this year, the opening of the blonde doll’s new crib in Berlin revives a discussion that is long obsolete.

Left-wing feminists are protesting the Barbie Dreamhouse Experience – a 27,000-square-foot lifesized pink estate – opening in Berlin tomorrow on May 16.

For decades, the world’s new women have taken Barbie for granted. The consensus is: Barbie is evil. She is too sexy, they say. She is too thin, they claim. And above all, she reduces women to a domestic, sexual slave of today’s patriarchy. I mean, even Mattel, Inc., Barbie’s producer, sued the band Aqua for their song ‘Barbie Girl’, saying they violated the Barbie trademark and turned Barbie into a sex object, referring to her as a “Blonde Bimbo“.
On trial, judge Kozinski however dismissed the case by concluding: “The parties are advised to chill.

And I agree. I dare to go further: women owe Barbie an apology.

Plastic doll little Barbara is the epitome of early feminism. She was women’s first alternative to being a mother.

Let’s all remember the old standard dolls back in the days: that one toy girls were taught to take care of, change its diapers, feed and pay extra attention to. And then came the 60ies, and our long-lost best friend Barbie arrived.

Girls dressed Barbie because she has fun with fashion, not because she is helpless. Barbie bakes cakes because she invites girlfriends over, not because she has to feed her baby. The first women-self-help sit-ins were at her place. There is a Ken in each Barbie’s life but Ken is not her boss: he is an accessoire who has (way too much) fun wearing fashionable clothes and having tea parties with the other girls.

Barbie is everything an emancipated woman wants to be: grown up, emotionally independent, confident, financially and sexually free.

So, yes, you all need to chill.

The German Fear Of Opinion

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I live in Germany and I speak German. Yet, I blog in English. There are several reasons for that.

The Internet is a big, big equalizer, at least anywhere but Germany. Youngsters and professors alike have one voice. In Germany, we make fun of you. Here, we’re obsessed with status and hierarchy.

Here, we are busy climbing up the education ladder for years and years. We collect diplomas, certificates and evaluation reports, so that the whole world believes us when we say we are smart. In Germany, we don’t think anyone can have an opinion. And when we read blogs, we go to their ‘About page’, see if the blog’s author is qualified enough to write about what he writes about. We don’t care if his arguments are original, smart or edgy. He has to have studied it for at least 15 years.

This is not a country with a chief advisor called Larry Summers. We know he reads blogs from big and small names. He likes to listen to the people. I’m sorry but there is no bloggers’ voice to take into account here, Larry.

If we do manage to have one, ooh he better not err often, most preferably never. We fear public embarrassment so much that we don’t write much – if anything at all. If we do write about something we are – on paper – experts on, we fear to overlook an important aspect. If we write about something we are not experts on, oh, nevermind, we don’t do that.

We have methods, strategies and statistics. You bloggers love to jump to conclusions as if it is fun to discuss. Listen to us, listen to us very carefully: it takes years to write a perfect post. You cannot have an actual opinion in a couple of days. And what good does blogging do you anyway? It doesn’t make you famous. We love being famous. You guys just want to turn into those critical minds outside the system. We have no time for well articulated criticism. We’d do that for money though.

Why I Love Studying Political Science

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My job and interest require me to read a lot on Iraq. As the 10th anniversary of the war came and went, concluding, apologetic and criticising articles, essays, opinions and let’s-take-a-look-at-what-we’ve-done-heres dominated the internet press. I read so many of them, I’d dare to say that I read them all.

Like Jennifer Rubin, I was surprised by the lack of effort on the part of those who backed the Iraq War to defend it, but I was probably more baffled by the amount of confidence with which the authors answered the most interesting question of the last decade: “Was it worth it?”

A general view of Firdous Square at the site of an Associated Press photograph taken by Jerome Delay. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

4 400 Americans died while the Iraq Body Count documented Iraqi Civilian deaths up to 122 326 until now. But does this answer the question? It would have maybe, if the world didn’t wage wars in the first place. We did and that means, we expect death. Anti-war protestors are rarely represented in a government that is prone to waging wars. They are more likely to be thought of as endlessly bickering about petty and trivial questions such as “Do we really need violence?”

But if our conscience doesn’t have an answer, what can possibly tell us if we’ve done right or wrong? How do we measure its worth – the success of a war?

We measure success by our own motives, more concretely: we compare the current outcome to goals which we’ve set at the very starting point and then we take a look at how similar they are. A lot of people waged the Iraq War and they had many motives, too. Some were known, others not so much. But that is collateral, in this post. To fully grasp the responses to the 10th anniversary, I took the liberty to divide them into two motives groups: (1) Bush administration and defenders and (2) Bush administration critics.

Group (1), as Rubin already stated, was surprisingly silent. You might ask, what could they possibly say?

Saddam Is Here, Jamal Penjweny 2010, http://www.jamalpenjweny.com

Group (2) would probably argue, group (1) had a lot to say back then and no time to answer to accusations of mendacity. Bush administration critics love to criticise not only the entire government and most of its officials. The entire society is to be blamed here, too. Because, yes, back then, willingness to resist the stampede for war was dire and the public debate was practically non-existent. There is a lot to be criticised, indeed. Iraq was a strategic disaster, it was a financial disaster, and for far too many it was a human and humanitarian disaster.  Yes, yes, yes, the intelligence was faulty, the pundit class failed, Judith Miller was wrong, and the New York Times screwed up.  In short, a lot of  “I supported the Iraq war, and I’m sorry.”  and “Look at that mess”.  (Even though not everyone thought invading Iraq was a good idea. In September 2002, thirty-three senior scholars who specialize in security affairs published a quarter-page ad on the New York Times op-ed page, declaring, “War with Iraq is Not in America’s National Interest.” (You can read the original ad here. Walt and Mearsheimer also put out a Foreign Policy piece against the war in January 2003.)

Critics certainly outweigh the defenders, that means, the war must have been wrong, right?

I don’t know. I was born in Iraq, I grew up there until I was ten, and I still have family left in the northern autonomous region, Kurdistan. I can’t tell you if it was worth it, unnecessary or – especially because I’m Kurdish – an act of liberation or not. Maybe I’m speechless because I don’t think wars are ever worth it, necessary or liberating, because I had no authority, power or enough information to wage this war, on any side of the equation, and unlike authors of all the articles I gave you to read, I didn’t have a motive. In my four years of studying Political Science, I found it troubling that so many people can have such big opinions, regardless of their expertise. But this is exactly why I loved studying it so meticulously: reading the news is like reading the psychology of politics.