December 2006


[From left to right: Photograph of the Corniche in Ein Mraisseh located behind the AmericanUniversity of Beirut (Copyright Diane E. King), Photograph of Diane King in Kurdistan region of Iraq while conducting her PhD dissertation field work in 1998 (Copyright Diane E. King); Photograph of vehicular traffic sign in downtown Beirut covered by and “Independence 05” poster. This photograph is part of Kristin Monroe’s study on practices of mobility in post-conflict Beirut (Copyright Kristin Monroe).]

The Anthropological Society in Lebanon (ASIL) is an association of professional anthropologists, students of anthropology, and other individuals interested in the field. We work to promote and support anthropological research and projects in the country and throughout the greater Middle East, North Africa and Mediterranean region. (more…)

Yemeni Women Shaking Men’s Hands: Right or Wrong?
By Hakim Almasmari
The Yemen Observer, December 5, 2006

Ten years ago, it was still relatively uncommon to see a Yemeni woman shake hands with a man. In this conservative, Islamic society, shaking hands with a man who was not a relative has been viewed as inappropriate physical contact. But this has begun to change. As more foreigners have begun to do business in Yemen, and more women have entered the workplace, shaking hands has in many companies and government offices become the norm.


One of the most common questions I am asked about Muslims in the Middle East is why they do not engage in debates about their religion or society the way “we” (usually not in a royal sense) do in America. The assumption underlying such a question is that Muslims, Arabs and the labels that used to fit snugly under the rubric of “Orientals” are fundamentalist zombies who never question tradition and knee-jerk reject everything about the “infidel” West. But this kind of thinking is less due to a fundamental “clash” of civilizations than a pervasive ignorance of what happens in Islamic societies apart from the CNN/Fox News reports of the latest car bombs. (more…)

In a candid moment near the start of the Iraq War (pre-civil, civil or post-civil), then Secretary of State Colin Powell told President Bush exactly what the Iraq Study Group has now reminded him three years later. We broke Iraq and now we own the problem. We have been paying, of course, all along in lives and billions of dollars that might have served a useful purpose rather than taking more lives. Now encoded in mediaspeak as the “Pottery Barn rule,” the label sticks even though the commercial Pottery Barn does not have such a rule. The fact that the situation in Iraq is “grave and deteriorating,” as the Iraq Study Group bluntly states, shows that the current war and occupation have indeed gone to pot. Leave it to ten former politicians and continuing public personas to hash[ish] it out and exhume the failed policy for all to see. (more…)

Map is not territory, as historian of religion J. Z. Smith reminded us several decades ago. But neither is there a territorial monopoly on maps in printed atlases and underutilized map rooms. If you like maps, especially vintage variety, of the Middle East, there is a curious collection at a most anachronistically named website:

As the name implies, this is not a site put out by Muslims. In fact it is a poorly disguised Christian missionary site trying to convert Muslims back into the earlier fold. (more…)

[Leaf from a large Qur’an manuscript written in Muhaqqaq script, 1400-1405, Afghanistan. Ink and gold on paper, 45 x 98 cm. 20/1987]

“The central miracle in Islam is the Koran, which Muslims believe was revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Muhammad in early seventh-century Arabia. Reverence for the word therefore became a primary theme of religious art, as artists endeavored to make the physical presentation of God’s word as beautiful as its content. These two lines come from one of the largest manuscripts of the Koran ever made, a loose-leaf copy produced about 1400 for the congregational mosque built by the warlord Timur at Samarkand in Central Asia. Artists everywhere used verses from the Koran to decorate Islamic art and architecture, and the appreciation of beautiful writing led them to exploit the decorative potential of Arabic script by developing many styles to use in different media and contexts.” Cosmophilia Exhibition, Boston

Cosmophilia (literally “love of ornament”) is an exhibition comprised of 123 of the finest examples of Islamic art from the C. L. David Collection in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is being held through December 31, 2006 at the McMullen Museum of Art of Boston College.

Curated by Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom, Cosmophilia was organized by the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College in collaboration with the David Collection, Copenhagen.

Speakers of every human language use words or phrases pragmatically, as discourse markers. Some of these discourse markers (for example, English “mm-hmm”) can be used by a listener to tell a speaker that he is paying attention to what is being said and understands it. This is what linguists call a “back-channel” marker. It tells the principle speaker that he may go on talking. Other discourse markers can be used by the principle speaker to prompt the listener to speak briefly without taking center stage in the discussion. Such prompts – for example, English “y’know what I’m saying?” – elicit a short backchannel response from the listener (ex. “uh-huh…”) but do not invite him to take a full turn in the conversation. (more…)

[Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence, left; Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, right]

The recent resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was so long overdue that it would be perverse to offer thanks to President Bush for accepting the obvious-beyond-belief relief of the event. There is hardly a negative adjective that has not been used to describe Rummy’s tenure at the Pentagon. Simply watching him sneer and jeer his way through a press conference, showing such uncompromising disdain for anyone who did not worship his version of the truth, explains how the Iraq debacle unraveled from the start.

It is tempting to compare Rumsfeld, as a close ally of the President, with Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s irascible and controversial Secretary of War. As a Buchanan (not the modern-day conservative variety) Democrat who at first labeled Lincoln ” the original gorilla,” he later became a close confidante and supporter of President Lincoln, even though he did not always obey his commander-in-chief. (more…)

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