April 2009

by Kenan Malik, Prospect, April 2009

… The novelist Hanif Kureishi, a friend of Rushdie’s since before the fatwa, has long chronicled the changing experience of immigrants in Britain, through novels like The Buddha of Suburbia and screenplays such as My Beautiful Laundrette. I talked to him recently about the impact of the campaign against The Satanic Verses on his writing and on British culture.

“Nobody,” Kureishi suggests, “would have the balls today to write The Satanic Verses, let alone publish it. Writing is now timid because writers are now terrified.”

Like Rushdie, Kureishi is a writer who came of literary age in the 1980s, exploring the relationship between race, culture, identity and politics in Thatcher’s Britain. But where Rushdie had been born in Bombay and his work deeply shaped by the politics and culture of the subcontinent, Kureishi was born in Bromley, south London, went to the same school as his hero David Bowie (although not at the same time), and his work is infused by the sounds and rhythms of the capital. (more…)

Sign at a tea party tax protest earlier this week in Arizona

In the 1770s the beer and coffee drinking crowds of revolutionaries in Boston heaved sacks of British tainted tea into the deep. Since American colonists were never that fond of tea, the symbolism was not very taxing. “No taxation without representation” was the rallying cry. Earlier this week, encouraged by the right-wing media pundits on Fox News and the radio rush of vitriol, a slight rage [the oxymoron here is intentional] of tea bagging took place. Apparently the government that poured millions and millions of dollars into an unnecessary war in Iraq and lined the pockets of Wall Street executives through deregulation was doing its job when it was Republican in name. But tea is the wrong drink to describe the protesters, few of whom were the two-martini lunch crowd. This was a shot of sour grapes straight up. (more…)

The following information is about a conference at the Riverside Church in Manhattan on May 15-17, 2009. Tabsir commentator and newly tenured professor Amir Hussein (pictured above) will be giving a presentation on Saturday, as noted below. Note that unlocking the key to these Forensic Scriptures is not free, but requires registration.

Forensic Scriptures presents the Qur’an as a sacred resource increasingly accessible to Jewish and Christian scholars and students of the Scriptures. It is a template of scriptural production from the last major culture to spring from the ancient Middle East, in which reliable information about scriptural development has never disappeared from view. To illustrate the model, Muslims believe Muhammad was illiterate and that nearly all Surahs of the Qur’an may have been written down by the women of his household, lead by Hafsah, who was entrusted with preservation of the Qur’an and transmission of it to the world. The Hadith presents conversations and actions of the Prophet as recorded by his Companions, male and female, including another wife, Ayisha. Recognition that such materials were penned by women does not rely on secondary sources or conjecture. Islamic primary sources, under rigorous re-evaluation by Islamic scholars today, have a potential to reveal whole new paradigms that may now be applied to Biblical texts, beginning with these historic Riverside symposia, supported by surrounding seminaries and by noted scholars. (more…)

Given the economy, you may not be planning any trips this summer or anytime soon. But who would not like to take a tour of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul? No problem, you can do it for free. Just go to this website (http://www.3dmekanlar.com/topkapi_palace.htm), download and start clicking away. And when you exhaust that, check out a number of major Islamic sites that are yours for digital pleasure.

Geert Wilders, the right-wing Dutch politician. Photograph: Jerry Lampen/Reuters

“Islamophobia” is a relatively new word, perhaps only from the late 1980s. What it signifies, however, dates back to the very beginning of the Islamic faith. Indeed, the initial response of the Meccan elite to the monotheistic preaching of Muhammad was so fearful of the economic fallout and political challenge of the message brought by this new prophet that the first Muslims were forced to flee to a safe haven in Madina. After Islam was established as a community and expanded, it came into conflict with the Christian enclaves in Syria and Egypt, as well as the Sassanian Persian empire to the east. By the time Muslims had briefly made forays into southern France in the 9th century, the Venerable Bede villified them as a “very sore plague.” Whether seen as Arabs, Moors or Turks, the many ethnicities represented by the growing religion understandably struck fear among those who saw the faith as a political or religious threat.

Fear is understandable; anything new is prone to be misunderstood, especially when the issue is about how to believe in God. Christians and Jews came to fear Islam because it was a rival, one with powerful political muscle through the 16th century. Fear, however, is not the problem. The major stumbling block for peaceful coexistence between rival faiths or ideologies of any kind is hatred. (more…)

Kurt Westergaard says he is too old to be afraid.

Danish cartoonist remains defiant

BBC News, April 5, 2009
The row over publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper resurfaced this week as Turkey held up the appointment of Danish prime minister as the new Nato secretary general. But as the BBC’s Malcolm Brabant reports from Denmark, the impact of that 2006 controversy has never gone away for those closely involved.

Dusk was falling, the curtains were open and the house was hyggelig – a Danish word that means cosy, welcoming and enticing – with scores of candles flickering around the open-plan sitting room.

Dressed in his favourite “anarchist” colours of red and black, Kurt Westergaard sat down to a nourishing Nordic repast of black bread, plaice and prawns.

Unwinding after a day at the coalface of his profession, the bohemian grandfather with a seadog’s beard and Father Christmas trousers appeared to be the epitome of Scandinavian tranquillity. (more…)

Moonglow from Underground

Alabaster, one of the rarest and most ancient of lighting materials, has now been reinterpreted in a contemporary idiom.

Used to illuminate Arabian palaces and tower-houses since 2,000 years ago, the subtle glow of alabaster – ‘moonlight stone’ – has been brought to light again by Abdulwahhab al-Sayrafi, master alabaster craftsman. His unique, hand-made range of alabaster windows, lamps and candleholders are perfect for today’s architecture and today’s interiors. (more…)

President Obama speaking in Turkey, photograph by Charles Dharapak/AP

by Munir Jiwa, San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, April 7, 2009

President Obama has been roundly criticized for his approach thus far to the Muslim world, so it will be interesting to see how the Muslim world receives the words he delivered in Turkey on Monday.

Some critics see Obama’s promise to open a dialogue with the Muslim world as being soft on terrorism. Others wonder why the president would waste time on words, when, they say, now is the time for policies. Others (including Alaa Al Aswany, an Egyptian whose op-ed, “Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama,” was published in February in the New York Times) point to the disappointment felt by Egyptians and others in the Muslim world that President Obama did not take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. The criticisms are variations on a theme: Actions speak louder than words.

Many are asking: Will his words matter? And, how might the world benefit now from his words to the Muslim world?

The operative word is “now.” Actions may speak louder than words, but proverbial wisdom also has it that you can’t get there from here. In this case, we can’t get to effective action without words. (more…)

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