News links for Aug. 31 – 2015

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  1. WSJ – Here’s Something New for the Arab World to Grapple With: a Woman Wrestler</strong

    Young female fighter ‘Joelle’ brings fishnets and enthusiasm to a sport dominated by men

    DUBAI—A wrestler named the Vigilante picked up his tiny opponent and smashed her into the corner of the ring. Then he slammed her limp body onto his knee, tossing it to the mat for the referee to count her out.

    A few minutes into her second bout, Joelle, the show’s only female pro wrestler, had been vanquished. Disappointed boos rang from the crowd.

    Using the pseudonym Joelle Hunter, Gheeda Chamasaddine wears fishnet stockings, black boots and a leather jacket for her partially scripted matches. The 17-year-old student believes she is the first female pro wrestler in the Arab world.

    “Some people say, ‘She’s out there wrestling guys?’ ” says Ms. Chamasaddine, who stands 5’ 4” tall with long curly brown hair. “They are not very cool with that.”

    Born in Lebanon and raised in Saudi Arabia, Ms. Chamasaddine herself is more than cool with it. In fact, the Muslim teen wants nothing less than to make a name for herself with the big U.S.-based promotional giant World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.

    Ms. Chamasaddine is part of the 20-man Dubai Pro Wrestling Academy, a group of small-time smackdown enthusiasts, which includes local Emiratis and expatriates from the Indian subcontinent, Europe and other parts of the Arab world.

    Although this form of wrestling, part physical and part theatrical, is called professional, the academy’s members aren’t paid for fighting and the level of wrestling is considered amateur.

    The academy was set up last year by ex-WWE hopeful Caleb Hall, 31, an American who trained as a professional wrestler in Kentucky before moving to Dubai to work in real estate. He is now helping others realize their wrestling dreams.

    Joelle’s presence at the academy—half-clad and fighting men—is an unusual sight for many of the local men. Although Muslim communities in the cosmopolitan United Arab Emirates interpret Islam in different ways, the local population largely adheres to a conservative form of Sunni Islam.

    Three sessions a week, Mr. Hall trains Ms. Chamasaddine and the others. They learn moves such as the back breaker, where fighters slam an opponent on a knee, the arm twister, where an opponent’s arm is spun round the wrong way, and the clothes line, a straight arm swung in a face.

    Most important, they learn how to time them all together, says Ms. Chamasaddine, so that the choreographed matches—and the violence inflicted upon one another—seems genuine.

    So far, Mr. Hall has put on two low-budget shows. The latest was in front of about a hundred people gathered at the HM Fitness gym in Dubai, where Joelle fought the Vigilante.

    The night billed six different fights with a ‘Battle Royal’ as a finale, which included all the wrestlers. In a room at the back, gym-goers pumped iron as wrestlers waited their turn in the ring.

    Joelle’s opponent, the Vigilante, (otherwise known as 19-year-old Michel Nassif from Lebanon), also isn’t bothered about wrestling the opposite sex. He beat her in the first show and was this time more concerned with quieting her growing fan base.

    “Just because she’s the first female Arab pro wrestler, it’s a big deal,” the Vigilante says sarcastically. “I want to put a stop to the fact that [people] like her so much.”

    The show also featured ‘The Arabian Knight’ (donning a traditional red and white Emirati headdress), Savage Sam (a caveman-like behemoth), and Blue Lightning (a blue version of the red-wearing comic hero, the Flash). All men.

    “In WWE, female wrestlers are very common,” Mr. Hall says. “But out here in the Gulf, Joelle’s the only one. We’ve been trying for a while to get another girl.”

    The Dubai Pro Wrestling Academy is riding a wave in popularity in the Middle East, thanks to the large local fan following of the WWE. The wrestling promotion firm has prioritized international expansion and the Gulf region has proved a successful frontier, according to Ed Wells, managing director for international operations at WWE.

    Fans packed a stadium in Abu Dhabi earlier this year to see WWE stars John Cena, Dolph Ziggler and Bad News Barrett wrestle for championship titles. Earlier this year, WWE launched 24 hour-programming in the Middle East and is considering Arabic-language content.

    Sami Zayn, a Canadian wrestler of Syrian descent, and Egyptian-born Mada Abdelhamid, who was on the reality TV show WWE Tough Enough, have both helped expand the popularity of the franchise in the Arab world, Mr. Wells says.

    The WWE says it is aware of the cultural sensitivities of women wrestling in the Gulf. It hasn’t put on a show with female wrestlers in the region yet. And while it offered a live show last year in conservative Saudi Arabia, only men were allowed to attend.

    In April this year, Doha-based promotions firm Qatar Pro Wrestling, or QPW, also organized a three-day event that showcased ex-WWE pro wrestlers. Bilal Taha, business development director for QPW, says he decided not to have female wrestlers to abide by the “traditional culture and religion” of Qatar, which is less liberal than Dubai.

    “We thought let’s be on the safe side,” Mr. Taha added.

    Ms. Chamasaddine’s mother, Nihaya Haimour had hoped her only child would also stay on the safe side of Arabian culture. Coming from beauty-conscious Lebanon, single-parent Ms. Haimour says she had “dreamed of having a girlie girl.”

    Instead, her daughter grew up idolizing the redheaded Irish WWE star named Sheamus. Today, they regularly sit in and watch WWE together, and will have heated debates about which wrestler is the best.

    “This is a dream for her,” says Ms. Haimour, a nurse.

    A few moments ahead of her second professional fight against the Vigilante, Joelle slipped between the ring’s ropes in her trademark tights and leather. She threw her hands in the air and screamed at the audience: “Come on!”

    The crowd whooped.

    Initially gaining the upper hand, Joelle twisted the Vigilante’s arm and strained it so badly, the referee had to give the wrestler a break. Fired up, Joelle slapped at her opponent like a girl attacking a bully in the school playground.

    But soon enough, the Vigilante flexed his muscle: Picking up Joelle, pulling her hair and eventually pinning her down.

    “I came out here and I gave it my best shot,” Joelle said between photographs with fans after the show. “I’ve proven I can wrestle men.”

  2. These five countries could break European law with their policies on Muslim refugees

    Several countries in Europe could be at risk of breaking EU laws on discrimination if they follow through with suggestions that they would only accept refugees if they are non-Muslim.

    As Quartz highlights, senior politicians from several countries in eastern and central Europe have heightened anti-Muslim rhetoric in recent weeks as the continent’s “migration crisis” continues.


    At an EU summit in April, Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov said his country has “nothing against Muslims”, but feared that if any more Muslims “come from abroad” the country’s demography was at risk of “radical change”.

    Czech Republic

    Czech president Milos Zaman has spoken out against accepting refugees from North African countries like Libya.

    “Refugees from a completely different cultural background would not be in a good position in the Czech Republic,” he said.


    Estonia is another country which has spoken out against taking in Muslim refugees. “After all, we are a country belonging to Christian culture,” explained Margus Tsahkna, the country’s minister for social affairs.


    Poland took in 60 Christian families from Syria in July through a non-EU initiative organised by British aid agency Operation Safe Havens. In the build-up to the scheme, prime minister Ewa Kopacz described Poland as “a Christian country” which had a special responsibility to help Christians. It has also taken in several other Christian-only groups explaining that “religious background will have [an] impact on their refugee status applications.”


    Earlier this month, interior ministry spokesman Ivan Metik said Slovakia would hand-pick 200 Christian refugees from camps in Turkey, Italy and Greece.

    “We could take 800 Muslims,” he told the BBC. “But we don’t have any mosques in Slovakia, so how can Muslims be integrated if they are not going to like it here?”

    The problem for all these countries is that European law specifically prohibits discrimination based on religious background (as well as sex, racial or ethnic origin disability, age or sexual orientation).–bJ5p5r08Sx

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