December 2007


The more things change, the more they remain the same. Mark Twain did not say that, but consider his greeting from the 19th to the 20th century, published in the New York Herald on December 30, 1900:

I bring you the stately nation named Christendom, returning, bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.

Following a link on the website www.korans.com can take you to the website www.teddybearmuhammad.com, which hawks the cute and cuddly namesake of Islam’s prophet. As the site explains, the bear commemorates the Sudanese government recently accusing 54-year old British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons of blasphemy for “allowing” her class of 7-year old students at Khartoum’s Unity High School to choose what some considered the wrong name for the class stuffed animal. (The children named the bear after a popular classmate, not directly for the Prophet). The incident provided Sudanese politicians with an opportunity for local pandering, geopolitical bluster and a demonstration of sovereignty in reaction to international condemnation of the genocide in Darfur.

Cultural sensitivities about divine names and images are real, even when in particular instances they are feigned, exaggerated, or used as weapons in military or political conflicts. This reality is what gives their manipulation its potential power, although it also lays such manipulations open to exposure, derision, and failure. (more…)

As another year draws to a close, it is hard not to think in larger terms of the course of the last century. The world has seen two world wars and far too many atrocities since 1908 to think of our technological and commercially driven age as golden. But in it all there has been humor. Believe it or not, the American writer Mark Twain was still alive one hundred years ago. His greatest books belong to the century before, from the mother of all Holy Land travelogues, Innocents Abroad, to Huckleberry Finn and his adventurous friend Tom Sawyer. Surely one of the greatest humorists ever, Mark Twain did more than tell funny stories. His work survives in part because it uses humor to remind us of the unfairness and unwavering mundaneness of life.

In Tom Sawyer Abroad Twain offers a vivid critique of the kind of Orientalism that Edward Said rightly views as a style for dominating the Orient. (more…)


1. John MacIntyre Tattooing in Los Angeles

Inscribing The Body: Tattoos in Traditional and Modern Cultures

by el-Sayed el-Aswad
University of Bahrain

From ancient Egyptian culture, whence comes early evidence of tattooing, to contemporary art, the body has been employed as a living canvas for inscriptions and designs such as those of tattoos embodying symbols, icons, archetypes and mythological or folkloric themes. Tattoos, especially those consisting of lines and dots, have been found on preserved mummies, including that of Amunet, a priestess of the goddess Hathor at Thebes dating back to the XI Dynasty, 2000 B.C.E. Although amulets are widely used for protective, magical and ascetic purposes (and were predominantly used in ancient Egypt), they are replaceable or not permanent. Notions related to authenticity, ethnicity, gender, identity, sanctity, fertility, femininity, masculinity, class, and aestheticism, to mention a few, are inscribed permanently in various forms on the body.

Though tattooing is prohibited in Islam, because it is viewed as a factor in mutilating, maiming or altering the body’s physical features, local or traditional practices are still existent among the folk in various Muslim societies. (more…)

For Part One, click here.

Not only are Muslims in Italy disrupted in their efforts to establish official (hence controlled and approved by the councils and the state) congregational spaces, but they are also demonised and misrepresented in a hardly believable way. Recently, Giancarlo Gentilini, deputy mayor of Treviso and a staunch anti-Muslim activist, has said that Muslims, are a ‘cancer which must be eradicated before they start to spread’. Political posters and leaflets often speak of ‘Islamic invasion’ in Italy, of a Europe being controlled by an Islamic lobby, or Muslim women, all of them, as passive creatures oppressed by an archaic and primitive religion, Islam. It is very difficult, in Italy, to find any balanced and informed discussion about Islam and Muslims. Like in a tragic opera, everything should be sung at the top of one’s voice, with vibrato and tragic emphasis. Muslims living in Italy (often called Mohammedans, Islamists, Saladins, or, even when not specifically originally from those countries, Turks, and Moroccans) have to read, often everyday, misleading information about their religion and themselves. (more…)

Here is the work of an unknown Italian artist, representing a Muslim and his hate for our civilization….No, oops, sorry…it is not a Muslim, it is a Jew. Well, to correct the mistake, this is an unknown Italian artist in 1941 representing the Jewish domination of America, in particular New York City, recognizable here by the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline. You can see this anti-Semitic wartime poster at the Florida Holocaust Museum. Today in Italy, the traditional fascist hatred of the Jew is increasingly substituted by a hatred of Muslims, all of them, children, women and men. Today Muslims in Italy are not so differently represented as their Semitic brothers were during the time of the Fascio and the Eia Eia alala. (more…)


A picture is worth a thousand slogans and not just in Lebanon.

[Note: The most notable, at least in the Nobel laureate sense, Arab writer of literature is the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, who passed away in 2006 . Among his many novels, several of which are available in English translation by Doubleday Press, is the classic “Midaq Alley”, written more than six decades ago, but still a vibrant testament to the universality of human foibles in a literary mirror. Below is one of my favorite character descriptions in the novel. If you have not yet read “Midaq Alley”, then do so as soon as you can, and taste the sweet words (even in translation) for yourself.]

Many things combine to show that Midaq Alley is one of the gems of times gone by and that it once shone forth like a flashing star in the history of Cairo. Which Cairo do I mean? That of the Fatimids, the Mamlukes, or the Sultans? Only God and the archaeologists know the answer to that, but in any case, the alley is certainly an ancient relic and a precious one. How could it be otherwise with its stone-paved surface leading directly to the historic Sanadiqiyya Street. And then there is its café known as Kirsha’s. Its walls decorated with multicolored arabesques, now crumbling, give off strong odors from the medicines of olden times, smells which have now become the spices and folk cures of today and tomorrow…

Although Midaq Alley lives in almost complete isolation from all surrounding activity, it clamors with a distinctive and personal life of its own. Fundamentally, and basically, its roots connect with life as a whole and yet, at the same time, it retains a number of the secrets of a world now past. (more…)

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