Saudi Arabia has a foolproof plan to staunch revolutionary rumblings. On Thursday, the Saudi newspaper al-Medinareported
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.
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
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.
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.
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", wonderedthe
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 Journalquotes 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
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
Forbesnotes. (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
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
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
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: