Saudi Arabia bans Guy Fawkes masks for 'instilling culture of violence'

Saudi Arabia has a foolproof plan to staunch revolutionary rumblings. On Thursday, the Saudi newspaper al-Medina reported that the country's Ministry of the Interior has banned the import and sale of the Guy Fawkes masks from the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta.

Earlier this week, al-Medina reported that the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs had issued a statement calling on public figures to instruct Saudi youth not to wear the mask as it "instills a culture of violence and extremism" and "encourages young people to breach security and spread chaos in society." Oddly, the statement singled out Sunni youths as a concern, despite the fact that unrest in Saudi Arabia has been concentrated in Shiite communities in the country's east.

That measure apparently did not go far enough, and Thursday's ban will include the confiscation and destruction of masks already in Saudi Arabian markets and toy stores. "It should be noted that young people have strange traditions," mused al-Medina.

Saudi Arabia is not the first country to ban the mask -- Bahrain, where an underground protest movement has simmered for the past two years, prohibited them in February (that hasn't stopped some activists, like the one above in Manama). Drawing on the imagery of the blockbuster film -- in which the mask becomes a symbol of united opposition to a fascist government -- the masks have become a popular accessory for protesters around the world, from Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square to the online hacker collective Anonymous.

Of course, Saudi protesters have bigger concerns than the legality of their masks -- given that political demonstrations themselves are banned throughout the country. Protesters bold enough to take to the streets, though, may now have to be a bit more traditional in how they hide their faces. But revolutionaries, don't worry: Balaclavas and kaffiyehs are still legal.

(h/t: Riyadh Bureau)

Marya Hannun contributed to this post.



Why Indian-Americans d-o-m-i-n-a-t-e spelling bees

Update: The streak continues. Arvind Mahankali, 13, won the 2013 national spelling bee with the German-Yiddish word "knaidel" on Thursday night, making him the sixth Indian-American winner in as many years.

When, in 2010, Anamika Veeramani correctly sounded out the letters to "stromuhr" (I hadn't heard the word before either) to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she captured the hearts and minds of the Indian and U.S. media alike. This was partly thanks to her inspiring performance -- and also because she had become the third Indian-American in as many years to win the prestigious competition. "Spelling champ's victory hat-trick for Indian-Americans," gushed, the Hindu, an English-language daily in India.

Indian-Americans have maintained their Scripps dominance ever since, having now won the title of America's best speller for five consecutive years. In fact, 10 of the last 14 winners have been Indian-American.

With the competition's finals coming up Thursday at 8 p.m., the world will soon learn if this domination will continue. Indian-Americans represented around a third of this year's semi-finalists, and two of them were siblings of past winners.

Just what accounts for this astounding success? As it turns out, we're not the first to ask this question. "Is it because of India's colonial history with Britain", wondered the Hindu back in 2010, "or is it something at the level of genetic programming?" The answer is neither as Darwinian as genetics nor as deterministic as colonialism.

Part of the explanation does have to do with education. In India, education tends to be more rote, with an emphasis on memorization. The Wall Street Journal quotes Sharmila Sen, a former English professor at Harvard, as saying:

The first generation immigrant parent brings with her/him a set of memories about how education works and what is to be valued. For Indians that is a memory of endless class tests doled out on a regular basis to evaluate our ability to retrieve information - spellings of words, names of world capitals, cash crops of states, length of rivers, height of mountains, and a plethora of minutiae charmingly labeled as General Knowledge.

In addition to bringing this educational emphasis to the United States, highly skilled immigrants tend to enroll their children in more academically oriented extracurricular pursuits, as Forbes notes. (As a first-generation American, I can attest to this, having parents who pushed piano and quiz bowl over organized sports).

But the phenomenon may have as much to do with where immigrants are going as it does with where they're coming from. As Sen went on to tell the Journal, the spelling bee represents a way for Indians to assimilate. George Thampy (winner in 2000 for the comparably easy word "demarche") echoed this sentiment, calling spelling "an American tradition that stresses diligence and studying."

Immigrants also tend to concentrate in specific fields, benefiting from existing networks and internal assistance. And Indian-Americans aspiring to the national spelling bee have definitely benefitted from one such network. As Slate puts it, Indian-Americans "have their own minor-league spelling bee circuit" -- the North South Foundation (NSF):

The NSF circuit consists of 75 chapters run by close to 1,000 volunteers. The competitions, which began in 1993, function as a nerd Olympiad for Indian-Americans-there are separate divisions for math, science, vocab, geography, essay writing, and even public speaking-and a way to raise money for college scholarships for underprivileged students in India.

Originally conceived as a way for young people to gain access to Indian-American communities and educational resources, "in the last decade North South Foundation has transformed from an SAT prep course into a training ground for Scripps," according to Slate.

Spelling bees are an historically American-British sport (Slate, which deserves a nod for its stellar spelling bee coverage generally, has an amazing list of alternative contests that includes a Chinese speed-dictionary competition). But bees have slowly gained international traction. It's no surprise that India is among the countries that now boast regional spelling bees.

So will an Indian-American claim the crown again this time around? If past years are any indication, not even a fainting fit can stop a determined winner:

Alex Wong/Getty Images