April 2008

from al-Ahram, July 2004

Aisha Abdel-Rahman, better known as Bint Al-Shati’, might have become famous for her fiction and poetry but it was her stories on rural Egypt which launched her writing career in Al-Ahram. The “Daughter of the Shore”, writes Professor Yunan Labib Rizk, had a weak spot for the countryside and its people

From the outset of her career, Aisha Abdel-Rahman, a prominent scholar and writer, preferred to go by the name Bint Al-Shati’ (Daughter of the Shore). She adopted this pen-name, which alludes to her birthplace in Damietta, out of respect for her family’s customs — her father was a scholar in a religious institute in that northern Egyptian coastal city — and because it was also a custom of that age for women writers to conceal their true identities.

Bint Al-Shati’ first made her mark in Al-Ahram in the summer of 1935 when the newspaper allocated considerable front-page space to the problems of rural Egypt. She was only 23 at the time (she was born in 1913), which is not so odd in itself — it was Al-Ahram ‘s policy to give a chance to young and talented aspiring writers, of whom some later became its prominent featured writers and literary and intellectual celebrities. What was odd, given her conservative family background, was the level of education she attained. Her father, an Azharite, would not allow her “modern schooling” so he educated her himself, and so solid was his instruction that she came out first among all the female students who sat for the competency certificate for teachers “from their homes” in 1929. Thus encouraged, she received her secondary school baccalaureate in 1934. This was the only certificate she was armed with when she began writing for Al-Ahram the following year. But then whoever said that degrees make a writer? (more…)

Since the U.S.-led take-over of Iraq, now more than five years ago, a wide range of Iraqis have become mad as hell, or perhaps more accurately mad enough to make hell with both the U.S. military and against each other. Some are even mahdi as hell, resulting in the Mahdi Army virtually commanded by Muqtada al-Sadr, the grandson of a well-known shi’a grand ayatollah. This renegade militia is the major homegrown thorn in the side of President Nuri al-Maliki’s Green Zone republic. Starting in October, 2003, Muqtada put into play a shadow Islamic government and by August of 2004 he called on his supporters to fight the Coalition forces. For almost three years there has been a loose ceasefire, but that was shattered recently when al-Maliki attempted to oust the Mahdi Army from Basra. (more…)

Many things are not funny, but most things can be poked fun at. Certainly the ongoing violence, destruction and daily killing in Iraq is not funny. But when we stop belonging to Homo ludens as a species, we lose yet another part of our humanity. There is a lot of prejudice against Arabs, Iranians, and Muslims in general. This is no more funny to most Arabs, Iranians, and Muslims than Black Sambo is to African Americans or Chief Wahoo to Native Americans. But there are times when laughing at yourself is a way of dealing with tragedy. In the real world Arabs are not a bunch of bearded, hook-nosed, camel-smelling harem masters, so making fun of the stereotype can at times be like streaking naked in front of a boring commencement speaker. Such raw moments are provided by Habib, an Iraqi, and Remy, a Virginian, in a YouTube rap video called A-R-A-B: the Rap. (more…)

By Roger Cohen, The New York Times, April 14, 2008

When Barack Obama’s Indonesian classmates are asked to recall the boy they all called “Barry” (pronounced “Berry”), their description is unanimous: “chubby.”

He was the tall, chubby kid in Bermudas who joined their 4th grade class at the Besuki elementary school in 1970, the boy with the white mother and Indonesian stepfather who brought his own sandwiches to school (odd to a noodle-eating crowd) and, strangest of all, wrote with his left hand.

“It was so weird that he was left-handed,” recalled Ati Kisjanto, now a marketing consultant. “That was considered impolite here, and you were forced to write with your right hand.”

A dozen of Obama’s classmates were gathered at the house of Sandra Sambuaga, exchanging stories over Indonesian delicacies. (more…)

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

Certainly he has not the fascinating look of a Bin Laden and does not live in the mysterious caves of the Hindu Kush, surely he has not the media appeal and the anchorman vocation which the ‘Master of Terror’ has shown to have in the last seven years. Yet Roberto Sandalo (alias Robby the Mad or Commandant Franco) has more terrorist credentials than ‘Sheik Osama’. Roberto Sandalo is allegedly the leader of a Christian anti-Islamic terrorist movement called Fronte Combattente Cristaino or ‘Fighting Christian Front’. The mysterious group has been responsible, in the last year, for bomb attacks against Islamic centres and mosques as well as death threats to Muslims.

The Italian police arrested Mr Sandalo on 10th April 2008; he has subsequently confessed to the attacks, the foundation of the Christian terrorist organization as well as new plots. Mr Sandalo, who was a member of the Lega Nord and subsequently expelled for providing a false name, has been an infamous, bloody killer and terrorist for Prima Linea (Front Line), a Communist terrorist organization similar to the Red Brigades. Mr Sandalo has justified his actions, and future plans to continue a terrorist campaign against Muslims, such as Dr Gonzaga, director of Islamic Relief Italy, as a fight in the name of Jesus against ‘Islamofascism’. (more…)

Grover’s Theater, Washington D.C.

April 14, 1865. For Americans, at least above the Mason Dixon line, this is one of those dates that live in infamy. John Wilkes Booth, a rather bad actor on the stage, shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. According to an account by Mrs. Helen Palmes Moss in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine for 1909, Lincoln had the option of going to a rival theatre, the National or Grover’s, that night where a private box had been prepared for him by Mr. C. D. Hess, the co-manager. Apparently Booth had planned to attempt the assassination at whichever theater Lincoln attended. He much preferred Ford’s, since he had no inside help at the National and would have to shoot Lincoln as he stepped out of the carriage. What does this fateful event have to do with the Middle East? If Lincoln had attended the National Theatre and J. Wilkes Booth had missed, the President would have seen a dramatization of the Arabian Nights tale “Aladdin.” Would that Lincoln had been more of an Orientalist… (more…)

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iranians Favor Direct Talks with US on Shared Issues,

Mutual Access for Journalists, More Trade

Poll Finds Diminished Perception of US Threat,

General Thawing of Hostility

World Public Opinion, April 7, 2008

College Park, MD—A new poll finds that although Iranians continue to view the United States negatively, they strongly support steps to improve US-Iran relations including direct talks on issues, greater access for each others’ journalists, increased trade and more cultural, educational and athletic exchanges.

While majorities of Iranians think the United States threatens Iran and is hostile to Islam, these numbers have diminished over the past year. A growing number—now two out of three—believe it is possible for Islam and the West to find common ground. (more…)

U.S. Embassy to Qat Chewers: quit now if you want an immigrant visa

By Sarah Wolff, Yemen Times,

SANA’A, March 31 — The United States Embassy in Yemen recently introduced a new provision for Yemenis seeking permanent residence in the U.S. Its message? Lay off your qat if you want to live in America.

Under this new stipulation, the U.S. Embassy will not issue immigration visas to anyone who is addicted to qat. Unites States law defines an “addict” as anyone who has used a drug for other than experimental purposes, i.e., more than one-time usage. This means that anyone in Yemen who has chewed qat more than once will have to medically prove that they are no longer using it in order to live in the United States.

U.S. law qualifies qat as a Schedule I controlled substance because it contains the chemical cathinone, which is a narcotic with addictive properties and has no known medicinal benefits. Abuse of Schedule I drugs is considered a “Class A” medical ineligibility under the Immigration and Nationality Act. (more…)

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