January 2009

Lebanon …Without A Daily Star Until Further Notice

By Thair Abbas, Asharq Alawsat, 30/01/2009

The Lebanese English-language newspaper The Daily Star has been temporarily shut down since the middle of January due to a financial lawsuit between the newspaper and Standard Charter Bank. The newspaper was the only source of internal Lebanese news for many of the Lebanese “orphans” living abroad and for foreigners living in Lebanon, who would use it to follow the news of Lebanon which is rife with contradictions, events, and crises.

This is not the first time that The Daily Star has been “temporarily” shut down, indeed the newspaper has been closed down three times since its foundation, but it returned to print each time as a result of the market’s need for a publication to fill this niche. (more…)

Illustration of his poem by Palmer Cox, 1882

The Sultan of the East

by Palmer Cox

There was a sultan of the East
Who used to ride a stubborn beast;
A marvel of the donkey-kind,
That much perplexed his owner’s mind.
By turns he moved a rod ahead.
Then backed a rod or so instead.
And thus the day would pass around,
The Sultan gaining little ground.
The servants on before would stray
And pitch their tents beside the way,
And pass the time as best they might
Until their master hove in sight. (more…)

I am pleased to inform my friends and readers that my latest book Understanding Muslim Identity, Rethinking Fundamentalism, is finally on the bookshelf of (more or less virtual) book shops.

‘Another book on Islamic fundamentalism?’ I can hear the question echoing among friends, colleagues and readers. Since 2001, more than 100 books and 5,600 articles have been published on Islamic fundamentalism. Broadening the research to agnate labels – such as Islamism (about 200 books and 243 articles), political Islam (345 books and 4,670 articles) and Islamic extremism (only 16 books and 1610 articles). We can appreciate the amount of scholarly publication pressed into the past seven years.

So, why write another book? I have tried to explain the reasons in the Introduction, which you can read for free. The book provides a very different analysis of what has been labeled ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, and what I prefer to call ‘emotional Islam’. (more…)

The ubiquity of GPS threatens to leave the old printed map out of the picture. This is a pity, for there is much to be learned from the way maps frame the world. As J. Z. Smith once remarked, map is not territory. True enough, but maps are the way we imagine not only territory but our place in it. When Edward Said wrote his critique of Orientalism in 1978, he cited novelists, travelers, poets and academics, but no mapmakers. But in a way Holy Land maps are what put the Holy Land on the map. Maps not only illustrated what was thought to be the lay of the land, but what people imagined was there.

A splendid example of this is an 1856 pictorial Bible map of the Journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. I reproduce the image above, but if you
click here you can get a greatly enlarged view to see the details. Mind you, this was 1856, when few of the archeological discoveries in Bible territory had come to light. This is evident in the depiction of the “Chief God of Egypt,” (left side of map) who looks like a cross between an Assyrian and a Viking.


Residents returned to their homes around Gaza City on Friday. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Gaza is not history, nor is it likely to be soon. The bombs may have ceased on both sides, but the human toll presages a bleak future. Both sides have grievances, but the grief from death, maiming and sheer destruction of property and homes is incredibly disproportional. Even Independent observers must acknowlege this:

Up to 10 times as many Palestinians were killed as Israelis. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says 1,314 Palestinians were killed, of whom 412 were children or teenagers under 18, and 110 were women. On the Israeli side, there were 13 deaths between 27 December and 17 January, of whom three were civilians killed by rockets fired from Gaza. Of the 10 soldiers killed, four were lost to “friendly fire”.

Even if the Palestinian figure is disputed, it is clear that the death toll was massively higher for Palestinians than Israelis. Proportionality is not simply a matter of numbers, however. (more…)

Author Thomas S. Kidd

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, many of America’s Christian evangelicals have denounced Islam as a “demonic” and inherently violent religion, provoking frustration among other Christian conservatives who wish to present a more appealing message to the world’s Muslims. Yet as Thomas Kidd reveals in this sobering book, the conflicted views expressed by today’s evangelicals have deep roots in American history.

Tracing Islam’s role in the popular imagination of American Christians from the colonial period to today, Kidd demonstrates that Protestant evangelicals have viewed Islam as a global threat–while also actively seeking to convert Muslims to the Christian faith–since the nation’s founding. (more…)

“Druse Girl”(1862) drawn by Henry J. Van-Lennep, Henry J. (1815-1889), Lithographer,
C. Parsons; Printer of plates, W. Endicott & Co. From “The Oriental Album: Twenty Illustrations, in oil colors, of the people and scenery of Turkey, with an explanatory and descriptive text.” By Rev. Henry J. Van Lennep. Online in NYPL Digital Gallery.

For Lithographica Arabica #2, click here.

Bottle made for the Yemeni Rasulid Sultan al-Malik al-Mujahid ‘Ali ibn Dawud,
Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

One of my favorite haunts in Washington DC is the Freer Gallery of Art, part of the Smithsonian row. It boasts an extraordinary collection of Islamic art, well worth viewing and reviewing. But why wait until a trip to Washington, unless you are still braving the leftover throngs at the upcoming inaugural? The Freer’s website hosts high-quality images of many of the objects in its collection. As a Yemenophile, one of my favorites is a beautiful glass bottle made for the Yemeni Rasulid sultan al-Malik al-Mujahid ‘Ali ibn Dawud, who reigned from 1322-1363. The bottle was crafted in Syria and is “enameled and gilt colorless honey-tinted glass” (Rosamond E. Mack, Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300-1600, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, p. 118).

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