April 2007



[“Lasting Peace”, Poster, 1988 by Mohammad Khazaie]

by Ebrahim Moosa

No one has seen “Islam” in its transparent glory to really judge it. But what we have seen are Muslims: good Muslims and bad Muslims; ugly Muslims and pretty Muslims; just Muslims and unjust Muslims; Muslims who are oppressors, racists, bigots, misogynists, and criminals as well as Muslims who are compassionate, liberators, seekers of an end to racism and sexism, and those who aspire to global justice and equity. Therefore it is not uncommon to encounter Muslims saying, “You have to separate between Islam and Muslims”; “Islam is great, with every epithet of perfection.” The general rhetoric would be: “Islam is a religion of peace, it is Muslims who are bad.” But can one ever imagine Islam without Muslims? (more…)


[Illustration: Delta Force video game; insert, Somali soldier killed in heavy fighting in Mogadishu is dragged through the city’s streets in late March. Photograph: Mustafa Abdi/AFP/Getty]

The impoverished East African country of Somalia is continually in the news. Minority Rights Group (MRG) International announced a month ago that Somalia is now the least safe country in the world for minorities, edging out Iraq and Sudan for this dubious distinction. Nor can it be said that Somalia is safe for majorities, given its recent, bloody history. In the past month more than 1,000 people have died, rivaling the surging toll in Iraq.

In 1993, a decade before Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was shocked and awed into anarchic free fall, a team of U.S. commandos parachuted into Mogadishu, the capital of this strife-torn East African country. Two Blackhawk helicopters were downed and the warlord escaped. Hollywood’s cinematic version hit the screen eight years later with the same bad ending. Then came the video game, Delta Force Black Hawk Down. Now a savvy teenager, armed with cheats, could rewrite history and let the good guys win. But in Somalia today it is hard to figure out just who the good guys are. (more…)


Wilfred Cantwell Smith

For those of us who have been reading about Islam for decades, it is somewhat of a shock that one of the classic studies, Islam in Modern History, by the noted historian of religion Wilfred Cantwell Smith, is now half a century old. Based on personal experience in Pakistan in addition to masterful knowledge of sources, Smith put “modern” Islam on the intellectual map. For a book written so long ago by a humble scholar aware of the pitfalls of political prophecy, you might wonder why such an obviously out-of-date analysis is worth reading and re-reading. I suggest that despite the spate of recent books on Islam, many of them well worth reading and rereading in their own right, a return to Smith’s penchant reading of Islam is well worth the time and effort, no matter how you view the infinitely debatable notion of the divine. (more…)

[In 1953 Gregor von Rezzori published a fictional satire of an anonymous East European/Near Eastern land he called Maghrebinia. Here is an excerpt that is still poignant today…]

“I am about to report on the great and glorious country Maghrebinia. You won’t find it on a map, it isn’t in any atlas or on any globe. There are people who say it lies in southeast Europe, others like to think it is southeast Europe, but, for heaven’s sake, what is southeast Europe? … Of course pedantic people might make an effort to define the borders of Maghrebinia geographically and vaguely, but just these pedants would get it all wrong. For Maghrebinia’s true borders lie in the hearts and souls of its people, and pedants don’t know the first thing about the hearts and souls of people…”

“Maghrebinia is beautiful. (more…)

Anthropology unites humankind rather than dividing it

by Luke Freeman
The Guardian, Wednesday April 25, 2007

In claiming that Bob Geldof’s upcoming “anthropological” TV series on humanity risks “drawing unnecessary attention to what divides members of the human race” (Comment, April 20), Simon Jenkins does a disservice both to anthropology and to Geldof. His claim that anthropology “buries itself in rainforests and deserts” in search of “lost tribes” is a dinner-party caricature that ignores generations of anthropological research that has gone into showing interconnections between peoples wherever they may live. A brief glance at the PhDs in this department over the last 75 years reveals Culture Contact in South-East Africa (1932); Mexican Immigrant Settlement in Dallas (1949); and Bangladeshi Family Life in Bethnal Green (2002).

Jenkins’ claim that “the story of group differentiation is so fraught as to render it no-go territory for intellectual research” is simply wrong. Anthropology is a comparative discipline. It thrives on the tension between cultural, social and biological difference on the one hand and what unites us as humans on the other. (more…)

Moroccan Village Funnels Suicide Bombers to Iraq
NPR Morning Edition, April 25, 2007

Moroccan authorities believe the village of Tetuan has sent as many as 30 suicide bombers from the North African village to Iraq. Scott Atran, senior fellow at City University of New York’s Center on Terrorism, briefed the National Security Council on the issue in March.

Click here to hear the story.

More details were provided at a recent conference, including: (more…)


[Picture 4. The author, in the middle, with the Shaykhs.]


The Culture of Grief and Color Symbolism

The Shi’a people mourn al-Husayn and shed tears for the prophet’s family. The colors of black, red, green and white hold symbolic significance in ‘Ashura rituals and dramas. Though Shi‘a people value the color black as a symbol of modesty, it also emphasizes the state of grief or sadness. In the mourning processions (‘Aza’ or ta‘zziyya mawkabs), men wear predominantly black shirts and slacks. Some wear white gallabiyyas or gowns, however, men of religious learning (faqihs or shaykhs and so like) wear black robes (bisht or ‘abaya), and put white turbans on their heads. Shaykhs who are genealogically related to the prophet Muhammad, however, wear black turbans [see picture 4]. I heard that the Shi’a turban consists of 12 layers, connoting the 12 Imams. Women wear black overgarments or cloaks (‘abaiya) that cover their other clothing, such as dresses or slacks. Though women wear black cloaks all year round, they, including young girls, are careful to wear them during the forty days that include the Arabic month of Muharram (in which occurs ‘Ashura) and ten days into the month of Safar. Black is also associated with al-Mahdi, and black flags signal the nearness of his appearance. (more…)


[Illustration: “Refugees” by Palestinian artisit Ibrahim Hijazy, 1996.]

by George El-Hage

Today, the seventh day of the month of Death, I decided to end our relationship. I decided to pack my suitcase and leave. Everything in our spring-like room I left for you: the velvet drapes, old books, notebooks of memories and red roses. All the silk pillows, and the ivory chairs, and the chandelier of carnations, the big bed in the other corner of the room remain for you. I took with me one bleeding suitcase which is my heart. It was so filled with surprise and sorrow that I did not have room for one little pencil. I left empty-handed except for an armful of ashes. I held dejection to my breast, the harvest of a full year of love. I embraced it with anguish and washed its forehead with dew from my eyes. (more…)

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