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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thomas Friedman, "Revolution Hits the Universities": Meet Layla, Who Underwent Female Genital Mutilation

It never fails to amaze me how Thomas Friedman can spew bunkum twice weekly, 52 weeks each year, over the op-ed page of The New York Times. This is a rare talent.

In his latest Times op-ed entitled "Revolution Hits the Universities" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/opinion/sunday/friedman-revolution-hits-the-universities.html?_r=0), he sings paeans to online higher learning, which leaves him "incredibly hopeful about the future." Friedman, once jubilant over the so-called Arab Spring which has since degenerated into a winter of discord and discontent (note the rioting over the past three days in Port Said, Egypt, which has left 41 dead), now writes:

"Yes, only a small percentage complete all the work, and even they still tend to be from the middle and upper classes of their societies, but I am convinced that within five years these platforms will reach a much broader demographic. Imagine how this might change U.S. foreign aid. For relatively little money, the U.S. could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic."

Ah, yes, online college learning in Egyptian villages! Layla, who is 15-years-old and lives in such a village outside of Cairo, is positively ecstatic about the prospects of such a course. Layla, who is married (a "child bride") and pregnant with her second child, underwent female genital mutilation like most Egyptian women. She cannot speak English. For that matter, she can barely read (some 40 percent of Egyptian women are illiterate), but she can't wait to begin her studies, that is, once the swelling around her eyes from the last beating she received from her husband begins to subside.

On the other hand, Layla is uncertain how her husband will react to the news that she will be spending time on a computer, given that she is the family's sole breadwinner (she sews clothes at a nearby factory for just less than $40 a month). Moreover, given that there is gender segregation at all schools in her village, she is not certain whether a separate course for women will ever be offered.

Keep those ideas coming, Tom! Layla just can't wait to learn more! Viva la revolution!

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