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Syria: Snag Hits Blogging Contest

As local blogospheres around the world grow, many blogging communities are organizing meetups and competitions to reward bloggers and build a better sense of community. The Syrian blogosphere, which is quite active and centered around Arabic and English, has recently joined the realm of competitive blogospheres, with a competition for the best Syrian blogs launched by blogging community Almudawen, and sponsored by several Syrian organizations.

Syrian blogger Omar Mushaweh, writing at AlMarfaa, announced the competition [ar]:

أعلن موقع المدوّن عن انطلاق مسابقة لأفضل المدونات السورية ، وهي مسابقة سنوية يقوم بها ويرعاها موقع (المدوّن) مجتمع المدونات السورية ، وذلك في يوم 8/8 من كل سنة بمناسبة الذكرى السنوية لتأسيس موقع المدوّن ، وتعتبر هذه السنة هي المسابقة الأولى ، و التي تعتبر أول مسابقة من نوعها للمدونات السورية .
Al Mudawen announced the launch of a contest for the best Syrian blogs, which is an annual competition sponsored by the Syrian blogging community on August 8 of each year to mark the anniversary of its establishment. This year's contest is the first competition of its kind for Syrian blogs.

The competition has not been without controversy. Abu Fares, a Syrian blogger who writes in English, expressed frustration at a clause in the blogging competition's rules, stating:

This is a commendable effort on their part if it's indeed intended to honor outstanding Syrian blogs, encourage and support a blogging culture and expose the role of blogs in the making and shaping of a civil society in Syria. However, if you read the 5th and last condition for blogs to be accepted in the competition, this is what you'll find (translated word by word): the contents of which [the submitted blog] must not dissent from the accepted mores and morals (i.e. sex through videos or photos, hostility to religions, cussing, swearing and bad taste). Do I take it that it is acceptable for a blog to attack trans-dressers but not Sheikhs and priests? Or, for the sake of argument, is a photo of a random cloud in the sky in the shape of an eye and a comment underneath that this is the eye of God acceptable but not another photo of a woman's perfect behind with the apt remark that this butt is an elegant example of the splendor of creation (if we're so inclined to believe)?

Global Voices’ own Yazan Badran, in his blog On Olives and Sake, discussed the aftermath of Abu Fares‘ observations, analyzed the situation and, following its resolution, wrote:

The discussion that followed was an interesting experience. After years at Wikipedia, I’ve learned to always start a discussion while assuming good faith, and this was very much inline with that. And while there was a major disagreement on the most fundamental issues, Omar Mushaweh, the Admin of Al-Mudawen, (and the only representative from the site in the contest, it should be mentioned), was quite courteous in understanding the reservations that I, and other Judges, had on said prerequisite. And he readily accepted to remove it.

Yazan, who will also be judging the competition, added:

It is interesting to note, that while there was no consensus on the issue itself, there was a consensus on resolving the issue. Not to make a big deal out of it, but it is a refreshing incidence in a blogosphere that is growing more and more apart, and more and more bitter.

Readers of Yazan's blog shared their reactions in the comments. Katia applauded the decision, stating:

The majority is not always right, that is a fact. In a pure democracy, both the majority and the minority each have common interests and that is basically the only rope holding them together. Once the cards get shuffled, the positions change and individuals whose interests do not match the group’s anymore, end up disappointed and bitter. Eventually, many of those who find themselves at the short end turn to extremes to show off their difference from the “evil” group and its “corrupt” stands. Now, if only the concepts of compromise and consensus were practiced as thoroughly as pure lobbying, we could see some sunbeams shining through again.

Another reader, Razan, noted that:

Nevertheless, this condition does not stand on its own when it comes to Almudawen’s problems. On AlMudawwen’s “add your blog” page, the same condition appears at the bottom of the “conditions” list to add a blog.

Musing on the blogosphere in general, she added:

It’s worth to note, that posts on intimacy and sex is another approach to understanding a given society. So if there is a blogger telling us about Hash and sex, I think it tells us a lot about a certain society that it exists in Syria and it’s marginalized by “our given morals”. By marginalizing these voices, we are to put it bluntly: censors, worst type of censors, since we advocate “free speech”. I don’t mind at all, for almudawwen to accept certain voices, but it should be clear about it, presenting itself as accepting like-minded voices, but i think it’s not right to say something and do otherwise.

Syrian bloggers have until August 22, 2009 to submit their blogs to the competition.

  • http://maysaloon.blogspot.com Maysaloon

    This has been the typical storm in a teacup response from the politically correct brigade. The tyranny of one form of morality and control is replaced with another, albeit more ridiculous one.

    To give a sense of proportion to the fallacy of their argument we can present it as follows:

    The elimination of a clause on the basis that it discriminates against what we believe is immoral or offensive to our society or religions would be akin to a European blog competition in which the restrictions on blogs which advocate national socialism, or sex with animals, are lifted.

    To discriminate against the profane and offensive is not injustice. Championing them is. And yes, each society has a right to dictate what the profane and offensive means.

    • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

      I see your point, but I view it differently – in a diverse society (which Syria decidedly is), it seems absurd to me that an atheist cannot criticize a religion, or a Muslim can’t criticize Christianity (and vice versa), etc. And comparing that to a European discussing sex with animals? Just offensive.

  • http://maysaloon.blogspot.com Maysaloon

    Well the problem is you don’t see my point. The issue at stake here is not whether one can or cannot criticize religion.

    This may come as a surprise to many of you people but nobody has been waiting for blogs to be invented so that they can criticise religion. In fact they have been at it in this part of the world for over 2000 years!

    What I find absurd is that you are all blissfully unaware of this, and it is probably half the reason why this unnecessary debate has taken place.

    No, what is at stake here is far more important, which is that somebody in that aggregator naturally wanted a safe guard against bad taste and absurdity, a common feature of Syria’s, and in fact the world’s, blogging communities. The self righteous tripe which has been kicked up by some bloggers over this non-issue is nothing less than a kick in the face of common sense.

    As for the offensiveness of that poor European talking about sex with animals. I take offense to your offense, for surely based on your logic the sexual orientation of any independent adult is none of your or my business. If you were consistent with your principles you would not find it offensive that a comparison is drawn with the plight of people whose only fault is that they feel love knows no species.

    Miss York, surely such a travesty of justice cannot be acceptable in anybody’s book. I for one, call for all of us to review our principles and be true to them, regardless of how outrageous or socially unacceptable the results may seem. We cannot continue to fuel our outrage over injustice only by our teen rebellion against parents and society.

    • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

      They wanted to safeguard against absurdity and vulgarity? No, they wanted to safeguard against the discussion of sensitive topics, thus protecting those who might just be too sensitive to handle the discussion of their religion. As Yazan said, let all blogs into the contest (sure, even those that discuss inter-species relations, why not?) as they’ll naturally become filtered out. Let the people decide.

      And um, my principles include opposition to animal abuse, so therefore, I don’t see how I could possibly be inconsistent here. Try again.

  • http://Newsfromsyria.com Sasa

    Maysaloon, I think it’s much bigger than the right to criticise religion. This is not the Danish cartoon row all over again. This is something much more important: the right to live in a secular society, which Syria is. Religion is not imposed on people according to the constitution and rightly so (according to my very limited knowledge of religion). The competition’s founders crossed over that line.

    There’s a big big difference between being allowed to criticise religion (especially when it’s done as cheap provocation) and being allowed to talk about things not permitted by religion.

    If they didn’t undo those limits it would’ve turned into a competition for relgious blogs. Hmm.

  • http://Newsfromsyria.com Sasa

    Oh damn. I think I misread both of your points :) Well anyway, my comment still stands even if it doesn’t address what you were both saying.

  • http://maysaloon.blogspot.com Maysaloon

    Jillian,
    You can backtrack and try to defend your position, but what you have said is still there in black and white.

    The point I made earlier still stands. Nobody has been waiting for this blog competition to criticise religion. In fact has anybody actually been excluded by that clause? I suspect not.

    The English speaking half of the Syrian blogging community is expecting to apply Western norms and specifications to what is ‘acceptable’ in a guideline. That they see such norms as so ‘obvious’ and non-debatable is the epitomy of colonial arrogance. But of course, they have all came from the Arab world, had hummus and waved a Palestinian flag at a demo, so that makes them perfectly qualified to come back to their backwards brothers and sisters blessed with the White Man’s enlightenment.

  • http://maysaloon.blogspot.com Maysaloon

    and why does everybody else get their logo when they comment here and I don’t?

  • http://www.solanasaurus.com/ Solana Larsen

    Maysaloon, you just have to sign up for a Gravatar:

    http://en.gravatar.com/

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  • http://maysaloon.blogspot.com Maysaloon

    Thanks Solana. You’re a star ;-)

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