Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Dive Project is finally completed after 8 months of work

diveProject (academia.georgechalhoub.com) is a small non-profit academic project which aims to digitalize, organize, store and host all (or most) of the academic material that I've had during my undergraduate and graduate studies. Course material such as lectures, projects, academic papers or other would be included. diveProject also includes projects developed during my studies which have been developed:


Where are the files?

Projects with a large amount of coding have been uploaded to GitHub and linked from within the website, whereas the static files (Word, PowerPoint or PDF documents or other) have been uploaded and stored on a cloud bucket provided by the Google Cloud Platform (Accessible from this domain: cdn.georgechalhoub.com).

How is the website structured?

Apart from the main homepage, the website has a 'courses' page with a list of all courses (or modules). Each course title can be clicked and has his own separate page.

How it was it made?

The website application itself is hosted by GitHub and is a heavily modified version of a Github Pages template for academic websites. The template I've used was forked (then detached) by Stuart Geiger from the Minimal Mistakes Jekyll Theme, which is © 2016 Michael Rose and released under the MIT License.

On the other side, a small Python script was written to upload and format the academic files that were download from Google Drive. The Python script is called dive.py and is available in the repository, here is a snippet:

Open Source or Closed Source?

The source code of diveProject is open-source and it can be found on this URL here: https://github.com/georgechalhoub/georgechalhoub.github.io. There is no guarantee the source code stays open and public but it is expected to stay open source at the moment.

How much time it took?

I started on this project at Southampton University during a class. According to GitHub, the course pages have been being edited for about 7-8 months ago, here is a snapshot below:



Drawing the red line...

Copyrighted files such as books and research papers were not uploaded nor included in this project. Other confidential or sensitive files (mostly belonging to other classmates) were not included either. 

Moving on...

More files will be uploaded from my studies at Oxford. Meanwhile, I'll be taking a small break from this project.

Share:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

12 Things I loved about The University of Southampton

I have completed my MSc in Computer Science at the University of Southampton (from September 2017 until September 2018) and my experience has been really great, here are the things I loved the most about the university.

Free Uni-Link Buses

My accommodation at Wessex Lane Halls provided me with a free uni-link bus pass (blue card) which you can use any day during your studies. The buses are excellent and are connected to almost every place in the city (Airport, City Center, Halls, University Campuses, etc...). Often, there is a bus every 8 minutes and the timetable is posted on Google Maps, website and printed on the stop. The buses have wifi and USB chargers and very comfy. They have recently upgraded their buses with new low emission buses which is quite remarkable.


Accommodation Catering 

I have had excellent catering for 9 months, which allowed me to save money, lose weight and eat healthy food. Two meals were provided per day: Breakfast (7:30 am until 10:00 am) and Lunch (5:00 pm until 7:00 pm). I have had full English breakfast almost daily and enjoyed new British and non-British meals.


Internet Access 

The Internet Access was a great relief to me and allowed me to be immensely productive. You get connected to 'eduroam' network which will be available in all campus, university accommodation and sometimes across the city as well. As you'd expect, the Internet is very fast (somewhere around 200 mbps) and is not limited (as long as you don't abuse it).


Student Services Center  

The Student Services Center provides any type of support you need. You don't have to look for specific university offices in order to get the support you need. You can phone or email, and the support staff will guide or help you. It was very convenient and I have used that very often. They can answer 80 per cent of queries and can help with questions about accommodation, fees, finance, visas and ID cards. They can also process payments for tuition and accommodation fees.


The Beautiful Campus 

I have been into two campuses: Highfield Campus and Boldrewood Campus. Highfield has many innovative buildings, lively arts venues, and great sports and leisure facilities. It is a stunning place to work in a vibrant atmosphere. Highfield has a secret beautiful garden and facilities combined with tradition and modernity with spacious landscaped gardens.



Hartley Library 

This is the main library of the University of Southampton and I have spent a lot of time there! They have the library cafe which is very convenient to grab a quick snack, sandwich or coffee. They have numerous study rooms which could be booked and the usual resources any respectful library has.


My Supervisor 

Though I had issues with my original supervisor I have had the chance and honour to work later with Dr Reza Abdolbaghi who was my supervisor, mentor and programme leader and he supervised my thesis which was an industry project collaborated with Lloyd's Register. I have received excellent supervision, constant constructive feedback and met almost weekly with my supervisor.

Not Having Final Exams  

During my MSc, I have never undertaken any final exams because I had picked modules without final exams. This was incredible for me as I had the chance to focus on working on actual projects and coursework instead of having to cram slides and stress about having any final exams.

Not Strict About Attendance   

No module leader or instructor was strict or forced attendance. We were allowed not to show up, arrive late, or leave during the module. Although I personally showed up to all my lectures, I had no issues of missing classes when I had to attend my interview at Oxford or take some time off to work on my research proposal.

Marks Are Released on a fixed Date   

At the end of each term, we receive an email saying when we will get our grades (exact date and time), no hassle or delays in the release of the marks.  That means instructors or lecturers will have a specific time to release the marks. This allowed me to plan request of the transcript on a time to be able to send it to the universities I was applying to. 


Being part of ECS

Being an MSc Computer Science Student, I was part of the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS). ECS is regarded by the IET as having the "biggest and strongest department in the country in Electrical and Electronic Engineering." ECS was ranked 2nd in the UK in both Good University Guide published by the Times and the Complete University Guide published by the Independent. Computer Science was ranked 4th and 5th in the UK respectively.

The School is home to a number of notable staff including Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and Dame Wendy Hall, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, ex-president of the British Computer Society, and Co-Founding Director of the Web Science Research Initiative.



Sports and Wellbeing Center

The Sport and Wellbeing Center offers outstanding sports facilities and offers a comprehensive range of courses which offers watersports, swimming and fitness. The membership is not free though, which could be an issue for some. I have had exercised there and mostly swam during the summer.



Goodbye Southampton! It has been an honour being a student of the world-renowned School of Electronics and Computer Science, home of Sir Timothy Berners-Lee. You’ve given me the opportunity to connect with students and researchers from 20+ different countries and work with the smartest and brightest people. I had also the pleasure to collaborate with the talented innovation team from Lloyd’s Register during my thesis project. Thank you for making this unforgettable journey possible and I am proud to be an alumnus of the University of Southampton.
Share:

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

6 Types of Academic Plagiarists


Plagiarism is defined as using a work that doesn't belong to you. Here are the 6 most common types of academic plagiarism I know:



1. The malicious plagiarist: This is the plagiarist who copies stuff word from word and adds it to his report without giving any single fuck. This generally works in highschools and when presenting work that doesn't get checked by Turnitin and another plagiarism checker.

2. The smart plagiarist: This is the plagiarist who hires someone to do his or her work on their behalf. This is too common in college and students generally get away with it because there is no way for the instructor/lecturer to know. One way to avoid this is to ask students to write some sample work at the beginning of the semester and store a copy of it. You can compare the work together and ask the student to resubmit their work.

3. The translator plagiarist: This is the student who plagiaries a work made in a different language than the original one required. If the assignment was due to be delivered in English, they find a Chinese, Arabic, Russian article and they simply translate it and submit it. TurnItIn might be able to detect this sort of plagiarism, but you may need to contact them to make sure.

4. The Innocent plagiarist: This is the student who quotes and paraphrases one paragraph or two from elsewhere without realizing they need to reference it. This comes due to ignorance, and innocents shouldn't be heavily punished for making such a mistake (An academic warning would do).

5. The Self-Plagiarist: This is the student who resubmits his previous work. This usually works if the previous work isn't submitted on TurnItIn and generally there is no way for the instructor to know.

6. The Group Plagiarist: This is very common and the most underrated type of academic plagiarism. This is a student who is in a group project and does minimal to no contribution to work. His name is submitted and he gets equal marks to his classmates. This can be resolved if the instructor makes all a group members sign a mark distribution sheet at the end.
Share:

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Receiving a 120,000£ (160,000$) scholarship for my doctorate degree at Oxford University

I am very happy and grateful to have received a 120,000£ scholarship to support me for my next 4-years of studies at Oxford University.


The scholarship was awarded by Fondation Sesam, founded by Abdallah Chatila, which is a non-profit organization based in Switzerland: 

"Non-profit organization recognized by the cantonal authorities of Geneva as a public utility, sesame is a donor foundation based in Geneva. It supports social projects in Geneva and Lebanon, the country of origin of its founder. Sesam favours the creation of partnerships with associations, NGOs or programs aimed primarily at the most disadvantaged." (Translated) 


I will be pursuing a DPhil (PhD) in Cybersecurity from the 28th of September 2018 until the 7th of October 2022. This is what I will be studying:

"The student will receive a broad education for two terms in the broad topics of cyber security, including social and technical aspects.  Research will follow from this, in one of four areas: security of big data, cyber-physical security; effective systems assurance; and real-time security controls.  Students will use techniques from systems engineering, mathematical modelling, empirical research, and other methods to determine the effectiveness of existing security controls and to design and evaluate new approaches for improving cyber security in realistic and deployed contexts, for current and future technologies; against both known and newly-emerging threats."

I am very grateful to the professors that vouched for me at the University of Southampton. The friendship and support provided by the other members of the School of Electronics and Computer Science was groundbreaking. I am indebted to them for their help.

As a computer professional, I believe that is my responsibility to study and find solutions for social and ethical issues that emerge from the cyber world and especially ones related to cyber-security. Mixing my depth knowledge in Computer Science and Cybersecurity would also make a great candidate for this course at Oxford University. The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training would also provide the perfect opportunity for me to fulfil my dream of contributing to the advancement of cyber-security. 

I am ready to start my new journey at the University of Oxford and make the most out of it.


Share:

Thursday, January 25, 2018

COMP6219 Designing Usable and Accessible Technologies - Feedback

12-Feb-18 Update: this post was updated with a comment from the module leader after my statement regarding 'disabled people':

As we explained on the course In the UK disabled people refer to themselves as 'disabled people' reflecting the social model of disability where society disables people by not creating an accessible environment (e.g. lack of captioning or ramps or accessible web design). They don't like the US term 'people with disabilities' as this reflects the medical model where society has no responsibility for the disability. 

I don't generally post feedback about courses (UK equivalent: modules) I take in college, but this one course was one of my favourites. That is because I really learned something I didn't really know existed before.

About Module 

COMP6219 - Designing Usable and Accessible Technologies is a course taught at the graduate (UK equivalent: postgraduate) level in the world-renowned Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Southampton.

I am a webmaster and have designed websites for 5+ years but I have was never building a website and thought like 'Would a person with a disability be able to access this website?'.

And this course is designed to exactly be able to answer this question.

I never knew 'accessibility' was a topic for designing website and mobiles applications. And this course will teach you everything about that topic, from A to Z.

It starts from explaining an overview of accessibility and usability, then it talks about universal accessibility and usability standards (mainly WCAG 2.0). During the module, you are also taught how to create personas and later on thought how to evaluate websites and software applications for accessibility and usability. Frameworks are explained and examples in the lab are demonstrated. Other topics include 'business case for accessibility',  'accessibility and mobile technologies', 'designing for adoption' and 'open source development'.

Things liked:  

  • You are evaluated with coursework and not exams. No - seriously, I couldn't be happier. If exams were to be made, it would probably be memorising slides and cramming information to vomit later on an exam paper and not learning anything in the process. But instead, we are evaluated by one huge coursework which is due at the end of the semester.
  • Non-boring (at least for me), any topic about the web excites me. The lectures are filled with videos, websites which sometimes are checked on the spot and are generally interactive. The lecturers don't rely on the slides alone to explain and transfer ideas so you are less likely to be bored. Testimonials, examples, websites, and other educational material were shown in class.
  • The module has three lecturers and not just one. Sometimes the three lecturers are present in the class which dramatically improved the learning experience.
  • Not strict about laptop or cellphone use. Usually, no one is especially at the graduate level which is good.
  • Professionalism and punctuality. 

Things disliked:  

  • Slide Wiki: we are not allowed to use other than SlideWiki to make the slides. But SlideWiki, went down on several occasions. There was a time where I was a saving a slide and an error popped up saying 'Error 403: Service Unavailable'. I feel the site is suffering from a 'management' issue. It is also very hard to make slides on that website, and it fails to auto-save.
  • Sometimes the instructors refer to people with disabilities as 'disabled people'. It might offend some. It would be better if they use more sensitive wording such as 'people with disabilities' instead. 
  • Word limitations were really destructive for me. At the end of the semester, we have to produce a report where we evaluate four applications for accessibility and usability and other factors affecting them. We are only allowed to do that in 3,000 words which is too low for me. In my undergraduate university, the instructor used to tell me 'the limit is the sky' but here in the UK it is different. There are word limitations you have to follow. In my assignment, I had to remove a lot of information to reduce the word 3,100 words.
  • The assignment could have made a bit clearer. For example, we are asked about 'assistive technology description and analysis', but it is not really made clear what or how should we analyse. I do understand, that assignments can't be too explicit about some things to require us to research more but some questions aren't clear like the assistive technology one. 

The coursework 

It is arguably the most important part of that module. It is worth 100% of the total grade. So, I made sure to start way earlier than the deadline. I think I've started working 2 months earlier and made progress every day towards it. The reason why I started that early because the assignment is enormous:

My work

The report can be found here, whereas the oral presentation can be found here and finally the website can be found here. Here is a snapshot of the website:

Challenges

  • Reusing Microsoft Office: It brought back my old Microsoft Office memories. I broke up with Microsoft Office in 2014 and was using Google Docs for 3 years. I denounced Microsoft Office as a failing product but this time I've had to use it to write the report because it has more accessibility features and an accessibility checker which is something lacking from Google Docs. The product remains awful with a weak integration with OneDrive. I lost one night's work one time because of Microsoft Office and had to redo it.
  • Applications to pick: I had no idea what to evaluate but I wanted applications that are different so I went with: Reddit and Steam (for web), and VLC and Norton Internet Security (for web).
  • Time: The assignment was really time-consuming; especially if you like things to be perfect. It took a lot to build that website (despite having a template) and the presentation took a lot of time as well.  
  • Standards: Didn't know if my work was enough or not. 

Major things learned

    • Microsoft Edge has a good accessibility checker. I was really surprised about that and never thought Microsoft would bring such good feature in their mediocre new browser Edge.
    • Accessibility is generally ignored and most webmasters don't give a damn about making their site accessible (I didn't even know that was a thing). Governments such as UK and US have to put laws sometimes to force websites to comply.
    • All of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in detail.
    • Personas, how to make them and what they mean.
    • That SlideWiki exists. Learned how to use it, but really that wasn't hard.
    • All web accessibility tools aren't completely accurate and can't be accurate. Human intervention is needed. They are basically a script written by a human being.
    • Many people in the world today have disabilities. Having said that, it is important that you feel an ethical obligation to make your website accessible to them. In the same way that you make toilets accessible in the UK or US, you should make accessible websites.
    • Basics of WAI Aria which is a "technical specification that provides a framework to improve the accessibility and interoperability of web content and applications".
    • Generally, how to make websites accessible according to standards.
    • There is a lot more to research, improve and innovate in this field. 

    Grade

    I scored an 87% (UK Grading System), here are the details of my grade:
        Share:

        Saturday, October 14, 2017

        Successful application in UKVI's strict system

        I've been recently (~ 2 weeks ago)  given a tier-4 visa study in the United Kingdom:

        A post shared by George Chalhoub (@georgechalhoub) on

        However, I'd be a liar if I say that the process has been easy or straightforward. In fact, obtaining that visa was a long and tedious process which has cost a lot of money, time, paperwork (and an acceptance at St Andrews).

        GO.UK has a clear guide to applying for a tier-4 visa application but it doesn't have all the details and more detailed PDF documents ( > 100 pages) have to be read to make sure you are compliant with all of their guidelines.

        What are the most recent UK Visa incidents?

        Starting the application 

        That wasn't hard because of a new beta system called Visa4UK where you sign up, sign in and apply for a visa application online. There is no need anymore to fill any papers. It is intended to be used by applicants from abroad.

        Making the payments

        All visa applications require you to pay an amount of 456$, plus an immigration health surcharge of 300$ which totals 800$. The amount is only refundable if you don't attend your visa interview and withdraw your application online prior to your interview time. If your visa application has been unsuccessful, the amount remains nonrefundable. 

        Setting up an interview 

        Luckily, that was easy as well. After making the payment, you will be able to set up an interview date using the UKVI's web application Visa4UK. I don't have a screenshot anymore of the page but it looks like this (My interview was not in May 2017, illustration picture only):


        Degree award delayed

        Despite finishing all my courses and requirements at university in July 2017, the university was unable to provide me with a degree telling me to actually wait until September 2017 because of the vote of the Senate. This is clearly an issue as St Andrews University (where I have an acceptance) starts on the 8th of September 2017. I would not be able to catch my university on time. 


        Emailing UKVI

        At that point, I've had to email UKVI and ask if I can apply for a Tier-4 visa before my degree was officially awarded and the answer was no.


        Emailing UKVI again

        At this point, I was really desperate; I told them about my issue and that I would be late for St Andrews but the answer was still no:


        Postponing the interview 

        At that point, I have no choice but to postpone my visa interview until my degree was awarded.

        No degree awarded yet 

        On September the 2nd, LAU still didn't award me my degree. 

        Withdrawing my visa application

        At this point, I've decided to withdraw my visa application and I realized it is unrealistic to attend St Andrews anymore which starts on the 8th of September. Even if the visa is awarded (which would take time), I would be very late to register for and attend St Andrews.

        Informing St Andrews I'm not attending 

        That was done in writing as you see below:


        Official Degree Awarded

        Finally, the good people of LAU have given my degree on the 7th of September.

        Checking another university

        At this stage, I've confirmed to the University of Southampton that I'm attending (already had an acceptance) and I've asked them to issue a CAS. The university was set to start on 28 September.

        Starting new visa application

        That was done quickly and urgently. New payments were set.

        Parents joint bank account issue

        One of the UKVI's major Tier-4 visa requirements is proving that you can finance yourself. I've had decided to use parent's joint bank account. But it turns out, it wasn't accepted. UKCISA has reported:

        It’s important to be aware that according to page 52 of the Tier 4 policy guidance and paragraph 1A(k) of Appendix C of the Immigration Rules you are only allowed to use money held in a joint bank account if you are one of the named account holders.  If you use a joint account that is not in your name then there is a risk that your Tier 4 application will be refused.

        Requesting copy of urgent sponsorship letter

        So I've had now to urgently request from my partial sponsor Fondation Sesam to send me a letter of partial sponsorship support to provide with my application. And they did quickly:

        A post shared by George Chalhoub (@georgechalhoub) on


        Registering with TLSContact Beirut

        This is UKVI's commercial partner that handles all visa applications and interviews in person. I've had to register there and link application and confirm interview times:


        Paying for priority visa


        Attending the interview

        September 13: I've attended the video interview and submitted my passport and all the documentation required.


        Application transferred to UKVI



        September 13: The application was transferred for decision.


        Application received by UKVI 

        September 17: The application was received for decision by the UKVI.


        Decision Made by UKVI

        September 24: The application was accessed for decision by the UKVI.


        Passport ready for collection

        September 25: The password was ready for collection by TLSContact.


        Visa acceptance letter

        I've picked up my password and the letter informing me the visa application has been successful.


        What next?

        I've left Lebanon in few days to catch up with the University of Southampton.
        Share:

        Monday, August 31, 2015

        What constitutes an identity? A comprehensive synthesis

        People are more than just government documents with statistical information; they are humans who have had their own turbulent childhoods, heritages, culture shocks, life milestones, and relationships. All of these factors lead to the creation of a person's unique identity; one that is dictated not by what the seal of his passport is but by how has lived. One's identity affects how he behaves with other people and reciprocally how others behave with him. Human history of full examples of conflicts and fights because of identity clashes. These clashes could be as minor as a politically incorrect joke on a YouTube video to large-scale genocides perpetrated by colonizers against "savages". These clashes come from a person not fully understanding people who ascribe to different identities; a situation that history proves can be a deadly incentive to persecution and intolerance. Abstracting from this, if a person consciously knows who he is, he will predict and be socially aware of how others will evaluate him based on their preconceptions of what his identity is. With an identity forged from his languages, cultures, and experiences and manifested in his sense of belonging, he understands not only how other people stereotypically judge him, but also likewise how he judges himself, judges others, and connects to others.

        Various social commentators, journalists, and thinkers have touched upon the idea of how one's identity is formed and reflected in his and other people’s awareness of his social image. In his 2007 article "My First Passport", Orhan Pamuk gives the reader a glimpse of his early childhood and young adulthood spent in Switzerland and Turkey where he experienced firsthand how identities are formed, clashed, and judged. He claims that a person's identity is formed only from his experiences, wherever these experiences come from. Regardless of how you identity yourself, Orhan argues that other people will try to pinpoint what they think your identity is and judge you based on that. Ultimately, your true identity stays and grows with you. Amin Maalouf follows the same train of thought in "Deadly Identities" (1998) but takes it to a more drastic level. He explores the persecution and marginalization that follows from these identity clashes and identity pinpointing. He claims that one's identity could be formed from multiple cultural resources and experiences, and that people often try to oversimplify other people's identity by reducing it to one's national or ethnic background. But, such actions could lead to intolerance, judgment, prejudices, and xenophobia. This alarming claim is realized in both Mona Kareem's "Why do you hate Khalijis" (2012) and Ghinwa Yateem's "Lebanese women are suffering from sexual stereotypes" (2004). In the former, Kareem's discusses how many non-Gulf Arabs have developed stereotypes of Gulf Arabs (Khalijis) based on neo-colonial attitudes. She claims that non-Gulf Arabs have reduced Khaliji Arabs to these preconceptions and blackened their image, ignoring their centuries-old Bedouin culture and the role they have played in helping the Arab World. Similarly, Yateem argues that this judgmental mentality has likewise been directly from the Gulf (and other Arab countries) to Lebanese Arab women. She claims that Lebanese women have been judged as sexually promiscuous, shallow, and vain by other Arab cultures, all the while ignoring the diversity in the lives and accomplishments of Lebanese women. In response to these stereotypes, many people have taken up a call-to-action and actively fought against stereotyping and prejudice, such as the blogger Faisal Abbas who actively posts on online media in order to counter widespread Arab stereotypes (LAU, 2009). All these writers illustrate the ways that individual identities can be formed and how other people oversimplify them to a great extent.

        Language is man’s original mode of communication, our innate method of sharing information with others. It thus forms one of the crucial ingredients in the creation of one’s identity. As explored in depth by Maalouf (1998), language can either be an open channel into the further development of a richer and more complicated identity, or it can be a preserver of a person’s original identity by preventing the “intrusion” of other identity-creating ingredients. Maalouf explores the former function of language in “Deadly Identities” where he provides biographical information on how he came to develop a Franco-Lebanese identity. Both the Lebanese and French facets of his one singular identity were nurtured not just by the Mediterranean and European cuisines that he grew up on, but on his exposure to great works in literature through both Arabic and French. It is through his fluency in his own native language that Amin Maalouf was able to access his ancestral folktales and strengthen his Lebanese roots. Likewise, it was through his fluency in French that he was able to penetrate into European literary culture and become a productive writer and sharer of ideas. Both Lebanon and France are a part of his identity because of how language was a channel for him to access and integrate both societies. In contrast to this identity-expansion aspect of language, language can also deter further modifications to one’s identity by fossilizing one’s affiliations and his ease of penetrating into foreign social groups. This is illustrated in the biographical account of Orhan Pamuk (2007), who as a child was not able to integrate into the Francophone Swiss school, culture, and society because of his inability to speak the language. Instead, his Turkish identity was preserved and he had to return to Istanbul to continue his education. Ironically, it was only through reading non-Turkish works in Turkish that Pamuk was able to understand these foreign societies. Furthermore, it was only in Turkish that Pamuk was able to express and refine his identity through his multiple publications.  Both these identity-expansion and identity-preservation functions of language are vividly experienced by any Lebanese citizen who on average is taught two or three languages, each of which bringing with its own cultural baggage and expression. Some find it easy to attain high fluency in these languages, and thus they find themselves cradling Middle Eastern, French, and American ties in their own identity. But others find it difficult to do so. Instead, they (subconsciously) choose to dedicate their time to only one of these language-society pairs and they mold their personalities on only this pair to the exclusion of the others. But regardless of which mode taken, language is a clear constructor of a person’s identity through it being a channel of information transfer and sense of belonging.

        Expressed through language, culture likewise plays a role in identity formation. Culture is an umbrella term for the various beliefs and practices that a person grows up around. It is this under this umbrella though those identities are created and influenced. In the case of beliefs for example, by being exposed to a culture that advocates restricted interaction between the two sexes, a person may grow to subconsciously believe that gender segregation is proper and he will act based on that belief. As discussed by Kareem (2012), this is the case of some Gulf Arabs who are implicitly and explicitly told how to a proper man or woman behaves in public and private. Of course, not all Gulf Arabs, raised around the same culture, ascribe to the same attitudes and any such overgeneralization is stereotypical. But a significant number of them do. And for these specific individuals, it is because of Gulf culture. In contrast, exposure to a culture with more lax attitudes on gender interaction could create a person who believes in that same attitude and act accordingly. Gender integration is common in Lebanon as shown by the diversity of how Lebanese women live their lives (Yateem, 2004). Some feel comfortable with their sexuality, while others are more reserved. Some achieve great feats in their professional careers alongside men – May Chidiac comes to mind – while others prefer to live simpler lives outside of the work force. It is through these women’s exposure to a Lebanese culture of gender integration and feminist ideals that they choose for themselves how to live and how to see themselves. Furthermore, in terms of cultural practices and identity, when a person is continuously exposed to the culture of some social group in the form of its arts, literature, and cuisine, his psychological ties to that social group will be strengthened. When a Beiruti who was raised at a prestigious Lycee goes on a vacation to Paris, he will feel a strong bond to the faces, sounds, and sights of the French society that he first experienced in his French-Lebanese school and that he now sees live. Likewise, whether this same person is walking down an alleyway in Cairo or on the corner of the Empire State building in NYC, the aroma of falafels coming from street vendors will remind him of his Lebanese culture and identity. All in all, it is through the exposure of cultural beliefs and practices that a person’s sense of self is created and grown.

        Through language and within a cultural environment, a person experiences different aspects of life: education, relationships, struggles, losses, achievements, and victories. It is ultimately his experiences that are the bulk of his identity and selfhood. For Orhan Pamuk (2007), it was his inadequacies in French and the sense of isolation he felt in Switzerland that nurtured his introverted tendencies. It was his later return to Turkey and personal readings that were the seeds for his lifelong literary career. The idea that it is your life that defines your identity is expanded in Maalouf (1998). For him, it was his simple childhood in a Lebanese village and his academic and literary career in France that created his identity. Who a person becomes is the sum product of what he has done in life and what has been done to him. Every Lebanese individual will have a unique identity that grew with a trajectory based on what life experiences he has had. Whether he went finished the Lebanese baccalaureate, got married at a young age, lost his family in the war, or emigrated to the West after graduation, all of these different potential events will create who he his and will be.

        Created through language, culture, and experiences, a person’s identity is manifested in his sense of belonging or where he senses home truly is. If a person identifies with some culture and society, then he will feel at home when with other people of similar – but not identical – identities. This home could be the place where a person grew up and felt cultural ties to, as was the case for Pamuk (2007). Despite his attempts at integrating into the Swiss culture and school, Pamuk was not able to feel at home in Switzerland and had no choice but to return to his true place of belonging, Turkey. But for other people, home could include multiple places where a person spent many years of his life and much of his efforts into, as was the case for Maalouf (1998). Maalouf experienced multiple cultures and homes in his life and was able to integrate multiple affinities and ties into his identity. He was at ease in both Middle Eastern and French societies and equally felt at home at both places. The fact that he could so was a reflection of the complicated nature of his identity, one that had incorporated both his Arab and French experiences and cultures. Similarly for the average Lebanese citizen, the languages and people he is raised around and integrates into his identity will be manifested in his sense of belonging. Whether he is located in a Lebanese suburb in Michigan, a pan-Arab ghetto in Paris, or a Francophone city in West Africa, he will feel that he belongs to that area and its people as long as he has a shared identity with them.

        It is clear that people’s identities are formed based on the input of language, culture, and experience and the output of their sense of belonging. However, many people falsely believe that all of these factors pale in comparison to the person’s nationalistic or ethnic origin. That is, regardless of how the he has lived in his life, every person has a fundamental identity and sense of belonging that is based completely on where he comes from – his nation, sect, or ethnicity. Other factors like language, education, culture, human relationships, and experiences play only a small role. It is ultimately a person’s passport that is the determiner of his real identity. But, such an idea is false and dangerous. It is false because governmental documents are only that, documents! As exemplified by Pamuk (2007), his passport was only a document that erroneously detailed parts of his body and demographics, not a true representation of who he was and who he would become as a person. Although he had a European passport and was evaluated as a “member of the council of Europe”, his inner identity had no connection with Switzerland. In the Lebanese diaspora, there are many people who have a Lebanese passport and Lebanese DNA running through their blood, but they have little traces of Lebanese culture running through their blood. For example, the actress Salma Hayek has verified Lebanese ancestors and carries the Lebanese citizenship. Yet, she neither speaks the language, cooks the food, celebrates the holidays, nor has experienced a single milestone in her life in Lebanon. She was born and raised in Mexico and is a Mexican by identity in all its aspects.  On paper she is Lebanese, but she is not Lebanese on the inside regardless of the fanfare that the Lebanese showed her when she arrived in Lebanon this April (Westall, 2015).

        Secondly, this argument is dangerous according to Maalouf (1998). The danger lies in how this oversimplification of a person’s identity can lead to marginalizing that individual, making him feel devalued, and spreading xenophobia. There are many people who have identities that are more complicated than where they happen to have been born and raised; they further face marginalization because of this. A case in point is the social position of migrant communities such as Algerians in France. These migrants have in reality one identity influenced from both the Arab and French worlds, but both worlds marginalize these people whenever they recognize the other part of their identity, i.e. they French reject the migrant when he acknowledges his Arab identity and the Arabs reject him when he acknowledges his French identity. For the French, he is treated hostilely as terrorist; and for the Arabs, he is a traitor to his homeland Even in the Lebanese context, there are many Lebanese, including Maalouf, who are raised around French culture, have complicated identities, and feel a sense of belonging to both the Arab World and the Francophonie. Their identities are bigger than their passports, but reducing their identities to their passport seal is a denial of who they really. This denial becomes an obstacle against healthy dialogue between French and Arab cultures and could lead to intolerance and xenophobia. Even in the small country of Lebanon, no two Lebanese individuals will have identical identities just because they share a Lebanese passport. Their different family backgrounds, neighborhoods, educations, relationships, and adventures will create two unique identities. A person’s identity cannot be encapsulated in some government document, but will be nurtured by multiple variables: language, culture, experiences, and belonging.

        A person’s identity is unique because of the multiple ingredients in its constructions. However, people are naturally inclined to find patterns in the world, and that includes the human tendency to ignorantly overgeneralize people, to put them into narrow categories, to have stereotypical preconceptions of them, and thus reduce people’s unique identities into smaller boxes. These stereotypical overgeneralizations and ignorant prejudices are dangerously pervasive in Lebanese culture and towards the Lebanese people. As explained by Kareem (2012), there has been a surge of stereotypical preconceptions of Gulf Arabs or Khalijis by non-Gulf Arabs, including the Lebanese. Because of their countries’ economic boom, human rights record, and conservative sexual attitudes, Khalijis are judged as being greedy, exploitative, backwards, and sexually repressed people. The actions of the few – the menial labor employers and the sex tourists – have been the measure by which all Gulf Arabs are judged and lumped together. The intricacies of Bedouin culture and society are completely ignored and reduced into this single false image of the greedy oil baron who goes on sex trips to Beirut. These stereotypical tendencies also work in the opposite direction whereby Arabs, including Khalijis, misperceive Lebanese women as promiscuous, vain, and shallow (Yateem, 2004). Their evidence is just the actions of a minority of superficial Lebanese women and prostitutes. No attention is given to the full spectrum of Lebanese women – the lawyers, judges, housewives, journalists, and mothers who play a crucial role in Lebanese society and enjoy more freedoms than their Gulf counterparts. But regardless of the direction of stereotypes, both the judger and judged are mistreated and misevaluated. Their identities are reduced to simplistic and false descriptions, based on paltry evidence and ignorance.

        Based on ignorance, stereotypes are a dangerous slippery slope that can lead to intolerance, loss of humanity, and homogeneity. First, by negatively overgeneralizing a population and the identities of its individuals, the value of that population’s history, culture, and world contributions are lost. Through the reduction of Khalijis to repressed oil barons, the centuries-old Bedouin culture is marked down as just a land of oil and not a land of hospitality, poetry, and tradition. Through the stereotyping of Khalijis as exploitative and spoiled, the contributions of the Gulf in the Arab revolutions and its place as a meeting point between multiple cultures is forgotten (Kareem, 2012). Time will tell if this erasure of Gulf contributions to the world will ever be brought back into public consciousness and if the Khaliji will regain the respect he once had. But secondly, on a much more serious scale, stereotyping will not just lead to a loss of humanity, i.e. the dehumanizing and forgetting of a culture and history of some people, but also to intolerance and the loss of lives. History is full of civilizations and peoples who were killed and eradicated because of extreme stereotyping and dehumanization. To cite just a few examples, the last 100 years has seen the mass deaths of Rwandans, Slavs, Palestinians, Jews, and Armenians because of how too many people believed in horrible stereotypes about them. How stereotyping can potentially lead to crimes against humanity is difficult to explain. But Maalouf provides a model in his hallmark “Deadly Identities” (1998). By oversimplifying a person’s identity and by ignoring the complexities that go into creating his multifaceted identity, stereotyping limits healthy human interaction. If a person who, like Maalouf, has a complicated identity influenced by multiple cultures and societies, then he can act as a bridge of dialogue between those societies. But by disrespecting such complicated identities, dialogue cannot happen even between societies that are geographically close to each other. The diversity in population identities will be reduced into one homogeneous pile whereby people with complicated identities or those who have identities associated with the ‘enemy’ will be marginalized and repressed. Conversely, by respecting people who have complicated identities, dialogue and peace is insured between the societies associated with these identities.

        Although the problems posed by stereotypical thinking are clear, an effective antidote is not. However, one potential solution is to utilize the media in both actively and passively fighting stereotypical generalizations. To actively fight stereotypes is to explicitly address stereotypical thinking and judgments on different media platforms. For example, to counter rising stereotypes about Lebanese women, journalists could publish multiple articles, blog posts, and videos where they talk about these stereotypes and debunk them. This is illustrated in Yateem (2004) where she directs most of her efforts into detailing what stereotypes exist about Lebanese woman, showing the hypocrisy in the people who believe such stereotypes, and providing counter-arguments in the form of real-life diversity in Lebanese women. Her article is an active struggle against stereotypes because it directly challenges them with the intent of correcting or erasing them. The same can be said for the blogger Faisal Abbas (LAU, 2009) who has made an online journalism career for himself out of his blogging activism against Arab stereotypes. On the other hand, another effective subsolution to the stereotyping problem would be to passively fight it. Instead of having the media publish works where the writer or creator explicitly and deliberately condemns stereotyping, passive media would involve releasing documentaries or articles where the stereotypes are implicitly resisted and disproven. For example, a fear raised by Kareem (2012) in her discussion on Khaliji stereotypes is the fact such prejudicial thinking has erased the existence and value of Bedouin culture from the public consciousness of the Arab World. That is, the idea of the Khaliji has now become associated with the inhumane oil baron and not the noble Bedouin nomad. To relieve this situation, journalists could publish works where this image and culture is renewed. They could broadcast documentaries exploring Bedouin history, the multiculturalism of the Gulf, and military history on the role of the Gulf in the Arab revolutions. The same could be done to resolve the issue of stereotyping Lebanese women by getting the Lebanese media to no longer use the vain nymphomaniac Lebanese girl as a stock character. Instead, Arab media would create multidimensional Lebanese female characters modeled after real-life Lebanese women. These two steps are passive in the sense that they do not involve explicitly arguing with the prejudicial audience but they indirectly make the audience see how the stereotypes are inaccurate or misguided. By watching and understanding the history of the Gulf and the value of the contributions of its people, non-Gulf Arabs will be less inclined to believe their narrow-minded judgments of Khalijis as exploitative sex tourists. Likewise, by having the diversity of Lebanese women be displayed on television as it is in real life, other Arab people will no longer think that all Lebanese women are identical fickle fashionistas. By utilizing both the active and passive forms of media as described, the Arab World has a viable strategy to counter the spread of prejudicial and stereotypical thinking. The media is one of the most powerful social forces that exist in human society. Just as it has been able to spread stereotypes before, so can it resist and cure them.

        Just as no two people share identical genetic code, no two people share the same identity. Every person is unique because they were to different dialects, different cultures (cuisines, ideologies, beliefs, practices, customs, arts, ), and had different ups and downs in their life. They know who they are in relation to other people by sensing if they belong to a certain land, area, or people. They could feel this belonging to multiple areas and peoples though because of the multifaceted nature of humanity and the human psyche. Their identity is just bigger than the where they happen to have come from – their government documents. This is illustrated in the lives of many Lebanese people who have ties to multiple cultures (Middle Eastern, French, or American) and who maintain these identities wherever they live, whether it’s somewhere in the Arab World, the Franchophonie, or the Anglosphere. However, out of ignorance, many people oversimplify different people’s identities into small stereotypical boxes. This action is dangerous because it can lead to a loss of human value and, much more seriously, to the loss of human lives as illustrated with past genocides and contemporary inter-Arab discrimination. Respect must be given to the diversity of human identities, or else the consequences may be undoable.

        Lebanese American University. (2009, July 13). Award-winning LAU grad uses blogs to break Western stereotypes of Arabs. Retrieved from http://www.lau.edu.lb/news-events/news/archive/award-winning_lau_grad_breaks/

        Kareem, M. (2012, August 29). Why do you hate Khalijis? Al-Akhbar. Retrieved from http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/11576

        Maalouf, A. (1998). Les identités meurtrières [Deadly Identities]. Grasset.

        Pamuk, O. (2007, April 16). My first passport: What does it mean to belong to a country?. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/04/16/my-first-passport

        Westall, S. (2015, April 27). Salma Hayek pays tribute to Lebanese roots with film of ‘The Prophet’. In Reuters. Retrived from http://reuters.com/article/2015/04/27/us-lebanon-film-hayek-idUSKBN0NI17O20150427

        Yateem, G. (2004, April 21). Lebanese women suffering from sexual stereotypes. The Daily Star. Retrieved from http://www.dailystar.com.lb//Opinion/Voices/2004/Apr-21/92061-lebanese-women-suffering-from-sexual-stereotypes.ashx

        This synthesis can be found on http://blog.georgechalhoub.com/2015/08/identity.html and can be reproduced elsewhere without permission as long as this message is kept. © 2015 George Chalhoub.

        Share: