Prague is almost oppressively beautiful. Despite the cold wind and damp, which occasionally rises to the level of mist (a friend describes it as “pub weather”), we’ve been walking for hours and hours every day, going from one lovely vista to another. (And so have tens of thousands of other people. Even in darkest November, Prague is teeming with Spanish, Russian and British tourists.)
I’ve got nothing useful to say about the city – just lots of photos I can’t post to Flickr until I have better connectivity.
So let me point you instead towards what some friends are saying instead.
Ahmed of Saudi Jeans is one of my favorite bridgebloggers. A pharmacy student in Riyadh, his blog a great way to keep an eye on press in the Middle East because he reads voraciously and translates a great deal of what he reads. He also offers a very personal view of the tensions and frustrations of being a young Saudi man in a society that has strong gender segregation in some public spaces.
A recent post of his is an incredibly helpful meditation on the different ways Saudi Arabia can be misunderstood:
Many Muslims look up to Saudi Arabia and consider it the model Islamic state which represents religion in its purest form. Many non-Muslims, especially in the West, view Saudi Arabia as this mysterious land of desert and camels, oil and Usama Bin Laden. However, both parties are mistaken. There is much, much more about this country, and unfortunately it is the one most stereotyped places on this planet.
He worries that the tendency to separate Westerners from Saudis, encouraging foreigners to live in walled compounds away from Saudi daily life, leads to a view of Saudi Arabia as exotic and impenetrable. And he sees a very complicated relationship between Muslims around the world and Saudi Arabia – as Muslims look to Mecca and the country that surrounds it, it’s understandable that some consider Saudi more Muslim than other nations. This experience of Saudi as exemplar leads to an unwillingness to accept criticism or reform:
To make matters even worse, some currents in Saudi Arabia use this stereotyping as a weapon against those who disagree with them. “See, all Muslims think we are such a great country,” they say, “and now you want to come and ruin this beautiful picture.” Something else these people tend to use is calling those who call for reforms as “unoriginal Saudis,” forgetting that those they call unoriginals have inhibited and been living in this land for so long probably even before this country has come into existence less than 100 years ago. It is pathetic how some of those who claim to be the guardians of religion would use such tactics to strengthen their position.
Ahmed’s prescriptions for change? More educational exchange, sending students around the world from Saudi Arabia to receive higher education and come back to improve the state, and more intercultural communication through blogging and other media. His post is an excellent example of just how powerful bridgeblogging can be.
Andrew Heavens is another blogger I’m regularly inspired by. A photojournalist in Ethiopia, he offers images and impressions from a complex, conflicted and under-covered part of the world with a sense of humor and a sense of wonder. I mentioned, a few weeks back, an excellent talk Andrew gave at the Digital Citizen Indaba on Creative Commons and the effect that putting an open license on his photos has had on dissemination of his work. Andrew has now posted the substance of the talk along with some of the photos he presented in South Africa. It’s a must-read, an excellent discourse on what Creative Commons makes possible… the good, and the bad.
In Prague tomorrow, off to Budapest, via Bratislava on Tuesday. High hopes of posting photos when connectivity improves.