art of resistance, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine

Remembering May Ziadeh: Ahead of (her) Time.

May Ziadeh (Marie Elias Ziadeh, born in Nazareth, Palestine in 1886, died in Cairo in 1941) was one of the key figures of the Nahda in the early 20th-century Arab literary scene, and is known for being one of the early Palestinian feminists. Ziadeh was born in Palestine to a Lebanese father and a Palestinian mother, and moved to Egypt where she wrote for Arab newspapers and periodicals.

may ziade iwan behanceMay Ziadeh /image © Iwan/

Her poetry and essays were pioneering, she wrote numerous articles and editorials and was noticed for her translation efforts and intiatives concerning English, German, and French novels of the peirod. Shortly after the Russian Revolution, she raised the issue of socialism and other political ideologies of the day in a series of articles.

In 1921, she convened a conference under the heading “The goal of life”, where she called upon Arab women to aspire toward freedom, and to be open to the Occident without forgetting their Oriental identity. Ziadeh also wrote sensitive biographical studies of three pioneer women writers and poets, Warda al-Yaziji, A’isha Taymur, and Bahithat al-Badiya.

She was perhaps best-known for hosting a Tuesday salon, which remained active for approximately 20 years (1911-1931), during which time May’s house, where it was held, was the pole to which the greatest writers and intellectuals of the age were drawn.

Antje Ziegler writes in her essay May Ziadeh Rediscovered:

„ If May’s, in comparison to other women of her time, nearly unprecedented literary, journalistic and rhetorical efforts to find public recognition, can be seen as a steady search for social integration, the founding of her salon appears to be the logical culmination of these efforts.  Open to men and women of varied religious, national and social background, this salon contrasts with the other famous Egyptian salon of the period, the politically influenced salon of Princess Nazli Abu Fadil, exclusively visited by men.

May Ziadeh was a prominent, but moderate representative of this ‘age of enlightenment’, who did not equate modernity with the denial of cultural heritage in blind imitation of the West.  Strongly dependent on integration herself, she advocated the reconciliation of conflicting views all her life.“

lebanon 2010 July 377Ziadeh /photo via northshorewoman/

Very well known but still mysterious in its nature is her correspondence with Khalil Gibran (who lived in New York), which extended over two decades, though the two never met. Ziadeh became one of the most prolific writers of the new genre of ‘shi’r manthur’, prose poetry or poetic prose.  Her reputation as a critic also grew first of all in connection with Khalil Gibran, whose works she helped make famous in the Arab world with her articles.

Ziadeh never married. At the end of 1920s, she suffered a series of personal losses, beginning with the death of her parents, her friends, and Khalil Gibran. She fell into a deep depression and returned to Lebanon where her relatives placed her in a psychiatric hospital to gain control over her estate. She eventually recovered and returned to Cairo where she died. She left more than 15 books of poetry, literature and translations. I believe none of her works are available in English, unfortunately.

img_34391/image via Bambi’s Soapbox/

Gibran’s letters to Ziadeh were published in a book Love Letters (Ziadeh’s family did not want her letters published, so we do not get to read her responses to Gibran). It feels appropriate to finish this post with one of Gibran’s letters to Ziadeh (written in May of 1921). He writes:

“Where is my letter, May? Why have you not sent it to me? I am eager to receive it, and I want all of it, every little bit of it. Do you know how much I desire to receive that letter after having read a brief snatch of it—a divine fragment which arrived to announce the dawning of a new day?”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Worn Out, Gaza.

Iyad Ramadan Sabbah is a Palestinian artist, famous for his sculptures and installations that are very artistic and beautiful, but also political and almost always related to Palestinian issue(s). Palestine is all over his artwork, but Sabbah has no issues with that. He uses his art to show the suffering of his people.

In his latest artwork, Sabbah displayed clay figures on Gaza beach depicting people fleeing their homes, as part of a contemporary art project portraying the recent Israeli onslaught on Gaza. The exhibition, called Tahaluk (Worn Out) is meant to show the horrors Palestinians faced in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood of Gaza city.

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Sabbah said he wanted to represent the psychological impact of war and commemorate those who died.

“There has been a violation of humanity in all of the Gaza community as a result of the aggression,” he told The Independent.

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The sculputures were also placed on the beach in Gaza to symbolise the refugees fleeing to other countries illegally in a desperate attempt to escape the conflict.  They were all created using mud and waste materials found in bombsites.

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During the latest attack on Gaza, at least 2,145 Palestinian were killed and 11,200 civilians injured, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures.

iyad sabbah

/all images via Jamal Dajani/

For more on Worn Out installation, see the article on Cairo Post and The Independent. For more on Sabbah and his work, visit his official website.

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art of resistance, Iran, travel

Kandovan, Iran: Living In A Cave.

Kandovan (Iran) is one of the handful villages in the world that was carved into rocks. The story of Kandovan is a story of the 21st century cavemen. Brownbook’s Sophie Chamas describes the trip to Kandovan with the photographer Saber Alinejad:

” ‘I travel to Kandovan a lot. I usually drive, taking the mountainous Kargar Boulevard past the garden city of Osku towards a path that’s full of twists and turns. It takes me through villages full of pink roses before leading me to Kandovan, an incredible village that highlights the history of this land.’ 

Like many residents of Tabriz, the capital of northwestern Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, photographer Saber Alinejad has been making regular excursions 60 kilometres south to the neighbouring village of Kandovan since he was a child. Believed to be more than 700 years old, the sparsely populated, ancient town of around 600 residents welcomes around 300,000 visitors from Tabriz, greater Iran and far beyond each year, all eager to admire its unusual landscape and meet the troglodytes, or cave dwellers, who call it home.”

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Chamas continues saying:

Windows, electricity cables, clotheslines, doors and chimneys become increasingly discernible with every passing kilometre, marking these aged caves not as archaic dwellings, but contemporary homes. ‘Visiting this landscape for the first time as a child was very strange,’ recalls Alinejad. ‘I didn’t know what to make of these people carving “hives” into volcanic rock.’

As an ensemble, these caves are often compared to an enormous termite colony, explaining why their residents call them ‘karan’, meaning ‘beehives’ in the local Turkic dialect.”

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“‘Kandovan is one of a handful of villages in the world that was carved into rocks,’ says Alinejad, ‘and it’s only here that people continue to inhabit their caves. They have the option of leaving for bigger cities to study and find better work, but many like living here. For them, it’s like being in a sturdy castle.’ “

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For more about this unique village and its residents, read the full article on Brownbook.

I am finding this story lovely lovely (double lovely is intentional) and can’t help myself but to think about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Connecting it with the Kandovan caves story, we could say that the residents of Kandovan might never find the freedom of the philosopher, but I am sure there is beauty to their caves and a freedom of its own. In this case, it just might be the opposite of Plato’s allegory  – free from many torments of the global plague of capitalism , it is they, inside the caves – who can see the life limpidly.

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//all images © Saber Alinejad/ Brownbook//

For more great photos of Kandovan, you can also visit Heritage Institute.

 

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art of resistance, Iraq

Riverbend: Ten Years Later, Baghdad Still Burning.

It’s been months, well – probably years since I last time opened Riverbend’s blog. It was in the period of 2003 – 2007 that her blog opened my eyes – and the eyes of many, showing us what liberation is like to Iraqi people. Then there was the book – Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From Iraq, a compilation of her blog entries for part of 2003 and 2004. Riverbend’s writing was intelligent, witty, warm, passionate, informative, and it always seemed to me – she was as honest as a person can be. Opening her blog today – made me miss her writing so much.

Well, there was something there for me – for all of us who have missed her for years now. She published one more post, first one since 2007. Published in April of 2013, it’s her last one. I wish to repost it here, because I find it so important and relevant (I think it will remain relevant and important for a long time to come, considering the situation in Iraq and Middle East generally).

Ten Years On…

April 9, 2013 marks ten years since the fall of Baghdad. Ten years since the invasion. Since the lives of millions of Iraqis changed forever. It’s difficult to believe. It feels like only yesterday I was sharing day to day activities with the world. I feel obliged today to put my thoughts down on the blog once again, probably for the last time.

In 2003, we were counting our lives in days and weeks. Would we make it to next month? Would we make it through the summer? Some of us did and many of us didn’t. 

Back in 2003, one year seemed like a lifetime ahead. The idiots said, “Things will improve immediately.” The optimists were giving our occupiers a year, or two… The realists said, “Things won’t improve for at least five years.” And the pessimists? The pessimists said, “It will take ten years. It will take a decade.”

Looking back at the last ten years, what have our occupiers and their Iraqi governments given us in ten years? What have our puppets achieved in this last decade? What have we learned?

We learned a lot.

We learned that while life is not fair, death is even less fair- it takes the good people. Even in death you can be unlucky. Lucky ones die a ‘normal’ death… A familiar death of cancer, or a heart-attack, or stroke. Unlucky ones have to be collected in bits and pieces. Their families trying to bury what can be salvaged and scraped off of streets that have seen so much blood, it is a wonder they are not red. 

We learned that you can be floating on a sea of oil, but your people can be destitute. Your city can be an open sewer; your women and children can be eating out of trash dumps and begging for money in foreign lands. 

We learned that justice does not prevail in this day and age. Innocent people are persecuted and executed daily. Some of them in courts, some of them in streets, and some of them in the private torture chambers.

We are learning that corruption is the way to go. You want a passport issued? Pay someone. You want a document ratified? Pay someone. You want someone dead? Pay someone. 

We learned that it’s not that difficult to make billions disappear. 

We are learning that those amenities we took for granted before 2003, you know- the luxuries – electricity, clean water from faucets, walkable streets, safe schools – those are for deserving populations. Those are for people who don’t allow occupiers into their country. 

We’re learning that the biggest fans of the occupation (you know who you are, you traitors) eventually leave abroad. And where do they go? The USA, most likely, with the UK a close second. If I were an American, I’d be outraged. After spending so much money and so many lives, I’d expect the minor Chalabis and Malikis and Hashimis of Iraq to, well, stay in Iraq. Invest in their country. I’d stand in passport control and ask them, “Weren’t you happy when we invaded your country? Weren’t you happy we liberated you? Go back. Go back to the country you’re so happy with because now, you’re free!” 

We’re learning that militias aren’t particular about who they kill. The easiest thing in the world would be to say that Shia militias kill Sunnis and Sunni militias kill Shia, but that’s not the way it works. That’s too simple. 

We’re learning that the leaders don’t make history. Populations don’t make history. Historians don’t write history. News networks do. The Foxes, and CNNs, and BBCs, and Jazeeras of the world make history. They twist and turn things to fit their own private agendas. 

We’re learning that the masks are off. No one is ashamed of the hypocrisy anymore. You can be against one country (like Iran), but empowering them somewhere else (like in Iraq). You can claim to be against religious extremism (like in Afghanistan), but promoting religious extremism somewhere else (like in Iraq and Egypt and Syria). 

Those who didn’t know it in 2003 are learning (much too late) that an occupation is not the portal to freedom and democracy. The occupiers do not have your best interests at heart. 

We are learning that ignorance is the death of civilized societies and that everyone thinks their particular form of fanaticism is acceptable. 

We are learning how easy it is to manipulate populations with their own prejudices and that politics and religion never mix, even if a super-power says they should mix. 

But it wasn’t all a bad education… 

We learned that you sometimes receive kindness  when you least expect it. We learned that people often step outside of the stereotypes we build for them and surprise us. We learned and continue to learn that there is strength in numbers and that Iraqis are not easy to oppress. It is a matter of time… 

And then there are things we’d like to learn…

Ahmed Chalabi, Iyad Allawi, Ibrahim Jaafari, Tarek Al Hashemi and the rest of the vultures, where are they now? Have they crawled back under their rocks in countries like the USA, the UK, etc.? Where will Maliki be in a year or two? Will he return to Iran or take the millions he made off of killing Iraqis and then seek asylum in some European country? Far away from the angry Iraqi masses… 

What about George Bush, Condi, Wolfowitz, and Powell? Will they ever be held accountable for the devastation and the death they wrought in Iraq? Saddam was held accountable for 300,000 Iraqis… Surely someone should be held accountable for the million or so?

Finally, after all is said and done, we shouldn’t forget what this was about – making America safer… And are you safer Americans? If you are, why is it that we hear more and more about attacks on your embassies and diplomats? Why is it that you are constantly warned to not go to this country or that one? Is it better now, ten years down the line? Do you feel safer, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis out of the way (granted half of them were women and children, but children grow up, right?)?

And what happened to Riverbend and my family? I eventually moved from Syria. I moved before the heavy fighting, before it got ugly. That’s how fortunate I was. I moved to another country nearby, stayed almost a year, and then made another move to a third Arab country with the hope that, this time, it’ll stick until… Until when? Even the pessimists aren’t sure anymore. When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?  

For those of you who are disappointed reality has reared its ugly head again, go to Fox News, I’m sure they have a reportage that will soothe your conscience. 

For those of you who have been asking about me and wondering how I have been doing, I thank you. “Lo khuliyet, qulibet…” Which means “If the world were empty of good people, it would end.” I only need to check my emails to know it won’t be ending any time soon. 

/Published on Baghdad Burning, written by Riverbend/

Thank you Riverbend, may you stay safe and peace be upon you. Meet you where hearts can heal and souls can mend.

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art of resistance, Qatar

Qatar’s First Anime & Manga Toy Store.

This month Doha News has a lovely story about a young Qatari couple Fatma Al-Jassim and Jassim Al-Mass who just opened Qatar’s first manga store, Hobby Chan. Chantelle D’Mello writes how the growing local subculture of anime aficionados is fueled in large part by dubbed Japanese cartoons that used to air on local television networks.

For me, this is a piece of art,” said Al-Jassim, referring to her collection of anime figures. “We grew up watching anime in Arabic. Japan has always been part of our childhood. There’s just something magical in these creations and in that world.”

aaasAl-Jassim and Al-Mass //image © Chantelle D’Mello/ Doha News//

Speaking to Doha News, Al-Mass said the shop is the result of around a year of planning and hard work.

We were motivated to open the store after we visited Japan for our honeymoon (last October). From concept to branding to creating the actual store, the process took around seven months. We were very fortunate to meet Danny Choo when we were at Comic Con in Dubai last year, and he put us in touch with vendors and wholesalers for our merchandise.”

Some of the major hurdles included wading through the paperwork needed to start a business in Qatar, and keeping in mind social norms, Al-Mass said, continuing:

“The whole thing was a challenge, to be honest, because we are doing something new. We were worried how society would respond. The mentality is that toys are just for kids, and not for adults, and we’re trying to break that. The legwork took around six months, while creating the store and getting everything in took barely a month.”

asedHobby Chan Store //image © Chantelle D’Mello/ Doha News//

Al-Jassim added that it has also been tough to coax fans to come out of ‘hiding’: “Most Qataris who are into this, don’t say it out loud. The fans are there, but the are quiet. They need a place where they can meet others like them. They need a place they can call home, and we hope to provide that for them,” she said.

The duo, both graphic designers, created the store’s design and layout themselves. “We wanted to bring an authentic Japanese feel here. We don’t just want to sell the products, but the experience too. Everything is compact because toy stores in Japan are compact,” said Al- Mass.

akod//image © Chantelle D’Mello/ Doha News//

Currently, the store stocks merchandise from Japanese cartoons and games popular in the region, including One Piece, Naruto, Fairy Tail, Gintama, Attack on Titan and Sailor Moon.

Read the full article by Chantelle D’Mello on Doha News. For more on the Hobby Chan store – visit their Instagram and their Twitter page.

ass/photo via Hobby Chan Instagram/

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art of resistance

Coming Home: Queer South Asians and the Politics of Family.

Alok Vaid-Menon is a trans/national South Asian writer, performer, and solidarity activist who has organized with racial, economic, and gender justice movements across the world. His creative & political work grapples with questions of diaspora, trauma, race, desire, and politics. As a staff member of the audre lorde project (a grassroots organizing center for LGBT people of color) and ½ of the spoken word collaborationDARKMATTER, he is committed to building the collective power of young queer and trans people of color.

maxresdefaultAlok Vaid-Menon /image via youtube/

I discovered a great article on his website Return The Gayze, where he describes his own experience of ‘coming out’ and the way it differentiates from the experience of his white peers and the impressions they had of it. Here are some great excerpts from the article:

“The more that I’ve built community with other queer (South) Asians, the more I’ve begin to think about how these conversations about blood family are actually part of our movement work. That impromptu skillshare at the bar, that discussion potluck (I mean crying session), and those daily phone calls with extended blood family are campaign strategies that we are engaging in. What we are trying to do is create new language and framework that actually make sense for our experiences.

I want to suggest that our attachments to our blood families are not only sentimental, they are political. This sentimentality, this angst, this emotional labor is legitimate political work. Our turn toward our families of origin is part of a strategy of intimate organizing – a type of political work that often gets erased or dismissed by dominant white and masculine standards of queer visibility. In a political climate where radicalism is increasingly being attributed to individual activists developing individual political theory and finding individual liberation, our turn back to the blood family is a form of critique. It suggests a commitment to a type of collective liberation and a practice of solidarity where we refuse to allow our people to be disposable in our movement work.

In one telling of the story I ‘found’ my queerness and became an activist outside of my people. However, to subscribe to this story would be to relegate my family – and by extension, my people – into a space chiefly defined by its apathy and conservatism. White supremacy has long relied on such a trope: that immigrants and people of color are too ‘conservative’ and ‘too traditional.’  I bought into the story and defined my queerness and my politics always in contrast to my family of origin.

But what I soon learned is that as queer South Asians we navigate a complicated cultural landscape where we often are not afforded control of our own narratives. Our telling of personal violence often gets swallowed by white supremacy in the service of its racist and imperialist agenda. This is because the cultural logics that help maintain structural racism are stronger than our individual stories.

When my white peers would hear about the queerphobia I experienced from my people it would give power to a larger imperialist narrative that immigrants and people of color are traditional and conservative and therefore need to be educated or saved (read: occupied and exploited). My white peers would ask irrelevant questions like when my parents immigrated to this country and what access to education they had as if Western education and citizenship are necessary for queer politics. My white peers would ask me how fluent in English they were – as if access to English is at all correlated with queer violence. They would ask me why I was still in contact with them, why I didn’t just cut my connections.

What became evident is that my individual narratives could not pierce through the logics of orientalism which continue to find ways to position brown folks as ess developed than the Western world. What white queers don’t understand is that the entire mandate of racist assimilation in this country is about us being forced to give up our culture, tradition, and families. Assimilation has always been about us hating ourselves and feeling insecure in our bodies, families, and cultures. White folks do not understand how so many of us are not willing to leave our cultures for our queerness – how so many of us carry more complex identities than just our genders and sexualities.

Collectively we began to recognize that our immigrant families are not just transphobic, they are also ‘colonized.’ I learned the ways in which colonialism in South Asia and white supremacy in the United States has always relied on regulating the genders and sexualities of my people. I learned the ways in which racism operates by enforcing and policing the gender binary and compulsory heterosexuality on communities of color. I recognized that my family is just as broken as I am but they never had the time and space to really process and heal from the violence of colonialism, the terror of Partition, the trauma of diaspora – let alone the English to articulate it to me.

Rather than blaming my own communities for our lack of queer South Asian visibility I began to realize that our diaspora responds to racism with heteronormativity. External threat engenders intimate violence. In the white telling of the story my family is just prejudiced. But in my telling of the story my people have been so forcibly disconnected from their culture and tradition that they cling desperately onto heteronormativity to maintain some semblance of self. In the white telling of the story my people are acting from a place of power and violence. In my telling of the story my people are acting from a place of hurt.

Trauma seeps through generations.

For those of us who still have access to our families or communities of origin and can interact with them without fear of significant harm, I believe that it is important that we do this slow and intimate work of finding ways to translate our queerness. This work of coming to terms with our ‘queer’ and ‘(South) Asian’ identities cannot be the only site of our movement work (as is often the case). We must continue to mobilize in solidarity with other oppressed peoples and address prejudice within our own. Certainly we are all still trying to figure out the best strategies to do this work and to still remain safe and secure. Certainly we are going to fuck up. Certainly it’s some of the hardest work that we can do because often our validation relies on approval from the very people who may deny and abuse us. But this type of work feels important nonetheless to so many of us. And there is power and politics in that feeling. Like the same way so many of us know that we will invite our mothers to live with us when they get too old to care for themselves (regardless of what our queer communities might think).

Because when I think about the future, when I think about the world that I am fighting for… I know that I am not interested in being part of the revolution unless my mother will be right there beside me.”

Read the full article on Return The Gayze. And – listen to Alok’s Tactile Lerner poem.

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art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda

West vs. Islam: Playing The Religion Card.

In the spring of 2009, Barack Obama gave his famous Cairo speech. One of his first sentences was:

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world, tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunites to many Muslims.“

He continues to talk about Islam during the speech, emphasizing the partnership of Islam and America,and the fight against negative stereotypes of Islam.

Now, the terms West vs. Islam or United States vs. Muslims are quite obvious – West is not defined by religion, but (Middle) East continues to be. It is true that the dominant religion in the West is practiced differently and is maybe less obviously present in everyday life (on a personal, not on an institutional level – let’s just say that the influence of the Catholic Church is not be underestimated) and you will probably not see Christians in New York or Sydney praying five times a day, but you will definitely see Muslims doing it in Amman or Sana’a, for example. But, there are so many issues with defining people by their religion primarily.

One of them is that those terms are extremely insulting to Muslims living in the West, people who have spent their lives in – let’s say – USA, and find it as their home, find American identity as an important part of who they are. Saying that we are in conflict with Muslims generally or have an issue with Muslims is problematic for there are 1.5 billions of Muslims in the world, and they belong to diverse communities, different countries, and many, many of them – live and belong to the Western world.

Jocelyne Cesari, Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, an the Director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University writes how:

One major consequence of such a polarized mindset is to mask the sociological reality of Muslims. In fact, a striking gap exists between the image of Islam as it is constructed in binary public discourse and the multifaceted reality of Muslims across countries and localities. For example, the dominant assumption is that visible Islamic identities in the West are inversely correlated to their civic and political loyalties, while there is empirical evidence that contradicts such an assumption. My book – ‘Why the West Fears Islam – An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies’ – presents first-hand data from focus groups I organized in Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Boston between 2007 and 2010. In this regard, it is the first systematic and comparative review of the existing knowledge about Muslim political behaviours and religious practices in western Europe and in the United States.

The major conclusion is that although Muslims are challenged by their secular environment, they do not experience the incompatibility so intensely debated by western politicians and Salafi preachers alike. Then why is Islam depicted as an obstacle in political discourse and the media? Taking up this intriguing gap, I have attempted to make sense of this disjuncture between what Muslims do and the political construct of the ‘Muslim problem’. During this exploration, liberalism and secularism have appeared as the two major idioms used to make sense of the Muslim presence.

The ‘Islamic Problem’ in Europe is a consequence of immigrant settlement that in the last two decades has been phrased in cultural and religious terms. The fact that Muslims stand at the core of three major social ‘problems’ – immigration; class and economic integration; ethnicity and multiculturalism – has increased the concern about Islamic religion, increasingly seen as the major reason for all problems. I show in my book that in the United States this culturalization of all political issues related to Muslims is more recent and primarily related to security concerns. Therefore, categories of ‘immigrant’ and ‘Muslim’ overlap in Western Europe, unlike in the United States where immigration debates centre on economic and social concerns such as wages, assimilation, and language. The outcome of these social shifts is visible in the apocalyptic turn of the public rhetoric on Islam in Europe. Extreme right political figures like Geert Wilders speak of ‘the lights going out over Europe’ or of ‘the sheer survival of the West’.“

She continues to say:

This ‘new integrationist’ discourse is widely shared across European countries and, interestingly, promoted by former left-wing activists. Gender equality and rejection of religious authority, which were primary left-wing topics of struggle in the 1960s have become in the present decade the legitimate markers of European identity. In these conditions, all groups and individuals are required to demonstrate conformity to these liberal values in order to become legitimate members of national communities. The ‘Moderate Muslims’ label serves this purpose. It creates a distinction that is supposedly not based on Islam as such but on the adherence of Muslims to liberal values.

Strikingly, feminist groups have become key actors of this discourse. Some feminist figures have been particularly vehement against group rights and especially against any Islamic principles that could undermine gender equality. Curiously, this feminist discourse silences the Muslim women that it purports to defend. As a consequence, Muslim women are transformed into subalterns in a way that is similar to the colonial and postcolonial vision of the Muslim subject.“

With their book Who Speaks for Islam? John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed have performed an invaluable service in understanding contemporary Islam and the disparate views of 1.5 billion Muslims.  Relying on the work of the Gallup organization to ascertain the views of Muslims across the world, Esposito and Mogahed have analyzed public opinion in the Islamic world on all of the most important issues of the day. Their analysis provides an excellent foundation for bridging the gaps between the West and the East, and is a great read for all of those who wish to understand this topic.

There are many reasons for us to do so. For example, a 2006 USA Today/Gallup poll found that substantial minorities of Americans admit to harboring at least some prejudice against Muslims and favoring heightened security measures for Muslims a way to help prevent terrorism. The same poll found that 44% of Americans saying that Muslim are too extreme in their religious beliefs.

What is extreme? Isn’t the killing of Dr. George Tiller, a 67-year-old abortion provider who was shot point blank in the forehead as he attended church services in Wichita, extreme? Tiller’s clinic was one of a handful in the USA that performed abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy. Tiller’s case is not an isolated one, and that is only one tiny example of the wrongdoings of extreme Christians. But Tiller’s murderer Shelley Shannon was not chosen as a representative model of Christians by the media, the same way we do not see Army of God banners and flags all over the place as an image depicting Christians.

Donald_Spitz_holds_Army_of_God_BannerDonald Spitz holds Army of God banner. /image via wikipedia/

And I think that is good, since those people and those acts do not represent the majority of Christians or the religion itself (this is not to say that we shouldn’t pay attention to them, but rather not to take them as a standard and representative for all).

Now, the other issue I find disturbing when it comes to West vs. Islam, is that it allows us (Western countries – our governments) to make the religion of Islam responsible for everything bad going on in the (Middle) East. It is a way of reducing people and issues to one thing – a way in which Islam serves as a cover-up of for all the complex realities, identities and historical events of the Middle East. It is extremely ignorant and extremely dangerous. But it is also perfect – since Western governments share a great deal of responsibility for the turmoils of the (Middle) East.

Of course, part of the blame for the religious name-calling lies on the shoulders of incapable Arab leaders who – knowing not how to lead their countries and provide competent solutions for their people and issues they are facing – every now and then talk about Islam like it is going to magically solve everything (but, then again –  Obama also finishes every speech with God bless America, and when we talk about America – we do not say Christians or Christianity).

I believe that the religion is what a person makes of it. All of the holy books – whether it is the Bible, Qur’an, Torah – can be interpreted in many ways. If you are a good person, you’ll find what’s good in it and live by it. If you’re a violent, embittered person, you’ll find in it an excuse to be violent in the name of religion. Like Reza Aslan says in the interview for the CNN: „Islam is just a religion and like any other religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent.“

So – instead of all the talk about the Islam, we must talk about the legacy of colonialism which continues to make a profound impact on East-West relations today. We must talk about the current distribution of global power, once wielded by Europe and now by the United States, which fuels a sense of alienation, frustration, and mistrust in the Eastern world. To finish this post – let’s just go back to 1996 and Samuel Huntington’s implicit claim in his Clash of Civilizations that there is a collision between the fundamental values of Islamic and Western worlds and that “Islam has bloody borders” , a point of view that justifies the current global power imbalance to the detriment of non-Western cultures and societies. It is time to finally let go of the dirty games, lower passions and superficial explanations we are being fed with.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Remembering Edward Said: In the name of Humanism.

“Humanism is the only – I would go so far as saying the final- resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.

Edward Said

The end of September (25th of September to be precise) marked eleven years without Edward Said, literary theorist and an intellectual who was a founding figure of the critical-theory field of Post-colonialism, and a strong advocate of political and human rights of the Palestinian people. His capital work, Orientalism,  preseneted the Western study of Eastern cultures and, in general, the framework of how The West perceives and represents The East.

It’s hard to label people as heroes in today’s world, but I would say Said was one. Living in exile, he chose not to look the other way and forget the injustice and struggle in his homeland, but to fight, to raise awareness, to dedicate his life, his time, dedicate it to better understanding, to fairness, even if it meant (and it often did) repeating things all the time, hitting the wall all over again. Even in his last years and months, sick and exhausted (over a decade fighting with leukemia), he was writing, giving three hour interviews, and finishing documentaries about Palestine. Now, that’s dedication.

Said’s great intellect and his inexhaustible energy are strongly missed. Many of the things Said wrote about – from  cultural representations of the East to the question of Palestine – remain a hot topic (and a burning issue) today. To commemorate Said and recall the magnitude of his works, I’ve decided to gather some of the great thoughts and excerpts from his books and essays, and provide links to some of his great interviews.

edward saidEdward Said /photo via reformancers/

No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot’s phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the “other echoes [that] inhabit the garden.” It is more rewarding – and more difficult – to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about “us.” But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how “our” culture or country is number one (or not number one, for that matter).” /from the book Culture and Imperialism/

“The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.” /from the book Orientalism/

In a great interview for Ha’aretz (Said mentions it in the above posted  interview Reflections on Exile with Brian Lamb), Said provides a detailed insight on the issue of Palestine. Ari Shavit describes the meeting with Said:

His hair has turned gray over the past year. The cancerous growth in his stomach bothers him too. Nevertheless, Edward Said is still a very handsome man, punctilious about his appearance and his dress. A silk handkerchief protrudes from his jacket pocket and the gold watch on his wrist glitters when he stretches out his hand to take a sip from the bottle of Pelegrino on his desk.

He exudes charm. The most widely known Palestinian intellectual in the West, he is warm, learned and cunning. Highly political, emotional, with a sense of humor. He skips lightly and gracefully from poetic quotations from Dante to Zionist-damning quotations from Sternhell – and back again. He takes obvious delight in moving between the various languages and between the cultural levels on which he lives. Between the different identities that skitter within him. As though celebrating his ability to be British and American and Arab all at the same time. Both a refugee and an aristocrat, both a subversive and a conservative, both a literateur and a propagandist, both European and Mediterranean.”

In an answer to the question “Is this a symmetrical conflict between two peoples who have equal rights over the land they share?” Said answers:

“There is no symmetry in this conflict. One would have to say that. I deeply believe that. There is a guilty side and there are victims. The Palestinians are the victims. I don’t want to say that everything that happened to the Palestinians is the direct result of Israel. But the original distortion in the lives of the Palestinians was introduced by Zionist intervention, which to us – in our narrative – begins with the Balfour Declaration and events thereafter that led to the replacement of one people by another. And it is continuing to this day. This is why Israel is not a state like any other. It is not like France, because there is continuing injustice. The laws of the State of Israel perpetuate injustice.

This is a dialectical conflict. But there is no possible synthesis. In this case, I don’t think it’s possible to ride out the dialectical contradictions. There is no way I know to reconcile the messianic-driven and Holocaust-driven impulse of the Zionists with the Palestinian impulse to stay on the land. These are fundamentally different impulses. This is why I think the essence of the conflict is its irreconcilability.

“Not one of our political spokespeople—the same is true of the Arabs since Abdel Nasser’s time—ever speaks with self-respect and dignity of what we are, what we want, what we have done, and where we want to go. In the 1956 Suez War, the French colonial war against Algeria, the Israeli wars of occupation and dispossession, and the campaign against Iraq, a war whose stated purpose was to topple a specific regime but whose real goal was the devastation of the most powerful Arab country. And just as the French, British, Israeli, and American campaign against Gamal Abdel Nasser was designed to bring down a force that openly stated as its ambition the unification of the Arabs into a very powerful independent political force.”  /from the book Power, Politics and Culture/

The Orient is watched, since its almost (but never quite) offensive behavior issues out of a reservoir of infinite peculiarity; the European, whose sensibility tours the Orient, is a watcher, never involved, always detached, always ready for new examples of what the Description de l’Egypte called “bizarre jouissance.” The Orient becomes a living tableau of queerness.” /from the book Orientalism/

In his essay Islam Through Western Eyes for The Nation in 1980, Said writes:

„The media have become obsessed with something called ‘Islam,’ which in their voguish lexicon has acquired only two meanings, both of them unacceptable and impoverishing. On the one hand, ‘Islam’ represents the threat of a resurgent atavism, which suggests not only the menace of a return to the Middle Ages but the destruction of what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls the democratic order in the Western world. On the other hand, ‘Islam’ is made to stand for a defensive counterresponse to this first image of Islam as threat, especially when, for geopolitical reasons, ‘good’ Moslems like the Saudi Arabians or the Afghan Moslem ‘freedom fighters’ against the Soviet Union are in question. Anything said in defense of Islam is more or less forced into the apologetic form of a plea for Islam’s humanism, its contributions to civilization, development and perhaps even to democratic niceness.“

He continues to say:

„The Islamic Orient today is important for its resources or for its geopolitical location. Neither of these, however, is interchangeable with the interests, needs or aspirations of the native Orientals. Ever since the end of World War II, the United States has been taking positions of dominance and hegemony once held in the Islamic world by Britain and France. With this replacement of one imperial system by another have gone two things: first, a remarkable burgeoning of academic and expert interest in Islam, and, second, an extraordinary revolution in the techniques available to the largely private-sector press and electronic journalism industries. Together these two phenomena, by which a huge apparatus of university, government and business experts study Islam and the Middle East and by which Islam has become a subject familiar to every consumer of news in the West, have almost entirely domesticated the Islamic world. Not only has that world become the subject of the most profound cultural and economic Western saturation in history–for no non-Western realm has been so dominated by the United States as the Arab-Islamic world is dominated today–by the exchange between Islam and the West, in this case the United States, is profoundly one-sided.“

In this interview with Salman Rusdie, Said talks about the Palestinian experience, saying that unlike other colonial experiences – we weren’t exploited, we were excluded. And that is the essence of the Palestinian struggle.  Let us remember that and let us remember Said.

The 2014 Edward Said Memorial Lecture was held yesterday and you can watch the full lecture by Judith Butler „What is the value of Palestinian lives?“ on The Jerusalem Fund

 

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art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda, Pakistan

Why I can’t celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this Friday to India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai for their struggles against the suppression of children and for young people’s rights, including the right to education. That is great news, and it might almost mean Nobel Peace Prize makes sense again, after being awarded to Barack Obama in 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, and to European Union in 2012 “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.

Still, there is something that really troubles me. How come we (meaning the West) always recognize the “devils” of the East, the torments children like Malala had to and have to go through (in her case, with the Taliban), but always fail to recognize our own participation in creating those “devils”? How come we never talk about the things our governments are doing to the children of Pakistan, or Syria, or Iraq, or Palestine, or Yemen? Let’s just take drone strikes as an example. Last year’s tweet by George Galloway might illustrate this hypocrisy.

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Galloway is absolutely right. We would never even know her name. But, since Malala’s story fits into the western narrative of the oriental oppression (in which the context underlying the creation of the oppression is left out), we all know Malala’s name. Like Assed Baig writes:

This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalised. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armour to save her. The actions of the West, the bombings, the occupations the wars all seem justified now, ‘see, we told you, this is why we intervene to save the natives.'”

The problem is, there are thousands of Malalas West helped create with endless wars, occupations, interventions, drone strikes, etc. In Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, one can hear how little we know about the drone strikes – its aims, targets, results. “Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. That frightens me.” This is how Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, explained the US policy on drone strikes during a congressional hearing last year.

The following photo presents the piece that was installed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, close to Pakistan’s northwest border with Afghanistan, by an art collective that includes Pakistanis, Americans and others associated with the French artist JR. The collective said it produced the work in the hope that U.S. drone operators will see the human face of their victims in a region that has been the target of frequent strikes.

foto/photo via notabugsplat/

That is the reality we are not being presented with. Another reality is the story of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, 14-year-old Iraqi girl, who was gang raped by five U.S. Army soldiers and killed in her house in Yusufiyah (Iraq) in 2006. She was raped and murdered after her parents and six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza were killed. Also not irrelevant to mention is that Abeer was going to school before the US invasion but had to stop going because of her father’s concerns for her safety.

article-0-0C89D3B2000005DC-51_634x548Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi

And while the West applauds Malala (as they should), I am afraid it might be for the wrong reasons, or with a wrong perspective.  It feels like the West wants to gain an agenda that suits them or the policies they want. That is also why Malala’s views on Islam are rarely presented. She uses her faith as a framework to argue for the importance of education rather than making Islam a justification for oppression, but that is rarely mentioned. It also “doesn’t fit”.

So, my thoughts were mixed this Friday when I heard the news about the Nobel Peace Prize. On so many levels. They still are. We’ve entered a new war, and peace prize award ceremonies seem ridiculous after looking at this photo.

tumblr_nd1ycaClBV1tgyqboo1_1280“They say that if God loves you, He will let you live a long life, but I wish that He loved me a little less. I wish that I didn’t live long enough to see my country in ruins.”  Ahmad, a 102 year old Syrian refugee /photo by A. McConnell, UNHCR/

Sure, we must acknowledge the efforts of those who are fighting for a better world, but when it is done in a way that feels so calculated, unidimensional, loaded with secret agendas and tons of hypocrisy – I just can’t celebrate it.

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art of resistance, Iraq

Al-Mutanabbi Street and the Healing Power of Poetry.

Manuscripts really do not burn. Seven years after the explosion of al-Mutanabbi street in Baghdad, the famous street of poets and booksellers is slowly recovering. I already wrote about the coalition of artists working on ‘An Inventory Of Al-Mutanabbi Street’, a project to “re-assemble” some of the “inventory” of the reading material that was lost in the bombing.

Today, I decided to gather photos and experiences from al-Mutanabbi street, before and after the bombing, to try to feel the atmosphere of this legendary street. Jason Florio in his photo essay Baghdad Café (Orion Magazine, 2003) observes how:

“Throughout the Al- Mutanabbi district, the restaurants are full, the fruit stands are fully stocked, and the red double-decker buses rolling by seem oddly familiar. There are no armed militiamen at intersections. No tanks grinding up the asphalt on Sharia Raschid…

The Sh’ah Bander and other nearby cafes are a haven from sanctions that have left many intellectuals driving Taxis for Dinar instead of punding keys of Crown typewriters. There is little money in Baghdad at all, even less for the purchase of words, but their passion for writing has not been dissuaded by the lack of financial renumeration. ‘We don’t need a full stomach, but we need to write’, says Wajeeh Abbas, who writes for next to nothing for the weekly magazine al-Itihad.

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/all images above © Jason Florio/

Here is the feature from the Radio Free Europe /Radio Liberty about the revival of al-Mutanabbi street in 2010. Poets are gathering again, reciting their poetry, celebrating love and life.

AFP

AFP2/al Mutanabbi street in 2012 and 2013, images © AFP/

lynsey addarioSeated near the entrance of the Shahbandar literary cafe , owner Haji Mohammed al Khashali gazes out to Al Mutanabbi street , a centuries old hub for booksellers and intellectuals. A 2007 car bomb near the cafe killed five of Khashali’s sons, whose portraits hang on the wall. /image © Lynsey Addario, After the Storm – Baghdad series/

It feels right to end this post with Taha Muhammad ALi, great Palestinian poet, reading his beautiful poem Revenge.

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!

But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

Listen to Taha reading it beautifully in Arabic, and Peter Cole translating it greatly into English. It is a special experience. And do not forget – keep track of Iraq Body Count. Al-Mutanabbi street might be healing, but Iraq is far from being at peace (at last).

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