July 04, 2005
The Lounsbury Introduction
As my opening post at this little blog, « ‘Aqoul » perhaps a word of introduction, and my own view on the purpose of this, a "group blog."
First, although I originated the name in a fit of archness two years ago or so in the context of another "project" to open a "Middle East" focused group blog that went nowhere, the motivating force was a one eerie who has both the technical skills and lack of good judgment to set up and finance this, which intends to be a group blog for commenting on the MENA (Middle East – North Africa).
Since good deeds rarely go unpunished, I am sure she will come to regret it, but in the meantime I hope we can make this slip in judgment worth her while, as well as ours. For the moment let me express my hope that this corner can contribute something worth the electrons it burns up (or at least she remains foolish enough to pay for these indulgences).
Returning to substance, the name is Arabic, a play on words: ‘Aqoul which is at once "understanding, reasonableness" and a name (among several) for a thorny bush native to the region, more usually known as "Camel’s Thorn" and thus the alternate name we can use.
The Blog then is supposed to represent understanding, reasonableness and a fair degree of thorniness as well.
What are we here for then?
Supposedly to discuss the Middle East in its broad sense. Since sterile definitional debates are uninteresting, we can include generally the Islamic world when that makes sense, in a reasonable manner, although with a fair degree of thorniness as well. One should also hope for a degree of balance and at least decently informed commentary.
What one hopes not to fall into is pointless bickering about Israel and Palestine, or bogged down in the current American domestic politics pretending to be comments about the Middle East and Iraq.
I believe the majority of "founders," to use a mildly absurd word, are non-American – I never checked their passports of course. I personally think there is plenty of ink or electrons being squandered on domestic US squabbles. Of course, if commenting on Iraq requires one to note how indescribably foolish and incompetent the US administration has been, so be it; but I do hope we are focused on the region and not engaging in Washington focused navel gazing of a pedestrian and vulgar sort.
Since I make no pretensions to editorial inputs beyond these few pious little inanities, I shall leave further commentary to my colleagues, however shy and retiring they are. They may one day learn that becoming convinced of one’s own infallibility at least has some entertainment value in the abstract.
Now, by way of personal introduction, I should make a comment on myself. Present the bona fides as it were (although the exercise is a bit meaningless in an online world except as a benchmark of my claims of knowledge against what is actually displayed).
While preferring a certain ambiguous anonymity for reasons of work confidentiality and the like as I interact with certain actors I also slam, I confess to be an expat, working in the financial sector in North Africa and Middle East, or MENA as we like to say.
I am also a more or less fluent Arabic speaker with command of both formal Arabic and several dialects; although as an adult learner of the language one must qualify "fluent" as a relative term. Certainly I am far stronger in the Arabic one uses in "the real world" of business and commerce than in more classical and literary things, in which I border on embarrassing illiteracy (were I the sort to be embarrassed by such, but then I consider most of it frilly nonsense).
Rather unhumbly I claim a certain expertise in the region, having been so mad at one point in my life to obtain advanced degrees in both finance and Islamic history (a combination I thought made sense), and having something like a decade of experience in and around the region, largely in the private sector. Of course, being an expert of some sort doesn’t make me more prone to be right, but at least when I commit the sin of being wrong – for the novelty value if nothing else – it is with the flair of being well-informed in my error and not prone to being in error through the vulgar means of gross ignorance.
This aside, I rather limit my claim of expertise to that narrow domain of "getting things done right" in the region. I am interested in seeing the region grow and develop – for reasons both historical to my familial background (afraid it contains a share of colonial exploiters, running dogs of capitalism, naval engineers and dentists – I leave it to you to decide where the sins of blood are heaviest), and no doubt due to being dropped on my head as a wee one (I made that up), I developed a taste for this region, despite all its frustrations and imperfections. Indeed when people point I probably would make a stronger career in my chosen field outside the region, I simply say "it wouldn’t be as much fun."
The challenge is a big one, probably the pay off is mediocre, but then there is the intangible pay off in adventure and interest. How else would I be able to tell tales executing due diligence site visits on potential concrete plant investments in the Occupied Territories and getting detained incommunicado by the Israelis who did not like the cut of my jib. Should birth control ever fail, I shall surely make an interesting grandfather with stories to compensate the children for my likely poor parenting skills and abusive behaviour.
Otherwise, my interest in the development of the MENA region focuses almost exclusively on its economic development and that in a particularly liberal, free market context. I am fundamentally uninterested in imposing values or other such facile "Civilizing Mission" clap trap that greater thinkers than I (see George Orwell) recognized as self-delusion long ago. Imposing values is a futile exercise for those holding liberal values (and here I mean the classic liberal values, or "libertarian" if you will, although without the US tinhattery angle), and moreover engenders reaction. My personal point of view is that if one truly believes in the superiority of one’s values of the moment; let the market place of ideas sell them. Moreover, those wishing to do the imposing rarely have a glimmer of a clue as to the real circumstances, etc. in the region.
A final word – for reasons of self amusement dressed up in the term 'branding' I am known here as "The Lounsbury", an epithet as it were, this being a portion of my (longish) real name, but only a portion likely unrecognisable in the real world.
There we have it then.
Yours most insincerely, "The Lounsbury"
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Belatedly, I should say I'm very happy about this site, it seemed promising, and it seems to furfill its promise. Congrats, good luck, etc.
Posted by: David Weman at July 5, 2005 04:44 AM
By the way, the offer on migration assistance may be taken up given this new home of sorts.
I should note the FOE was an inspiration.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 5, 2005 05:22 AM
A brilliant intro. Looking forward to the new format.
Posted by: praktike at July 6, 2005 07:30 AM
Thanks mate. Hope Cairo is treating you well.
And if you'd like to contribute the odd item on Cairo or such things here, drop me a line.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 6, 2005 08:50 AM
Will do. I'm also going to be doing some traveling in August, so I may have something interesting to say from Syria. We'll see.
Posted by: praktike at July 7, 2005 05:04 PM