November 2010

Cambridge Arabic expert made executive editor of five-year project, University of Cambridge, November 29, 2010

James Montgomery, Professor of Classical Arabic at Cambridge University, has been appointed as Executive Editor of a five-year project at the Library of Arabic Literature (LAL).

He will work in conjunction with Professor Philip Kennedy (General Editor and Faculty Director, NYUAD Institute) and Shawkat M. Toorawa, (Executive Editor and Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Cornell University).

The project, funded by a grant from NYUAD’s research centre, the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, will initially publish 35 English translations of the great works of classical Arabic literature. The translations, rendered in parallel-text format with Arabic and English on facing pages, will be undertaken by renowned scholars of Arabic literature and Islamic studies. The translations will include a full range of works, including poetry, poetics, fiction, religion, philosophy, law, science, history and historiography. (more…)

The media hype over the latest batch of smorgasbord-style Wiki leaks is indeed a feeding frenzy of almost Faustian proportions. Both mundane musings and sensitive undiplomatic quotes are now available online and also on the main pages of major newspapers, like the New York Times. If the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, then Mr. Julian Assange has just provided the world with a Black Sunday to boot. But somehow I see more than a minimum of black humor in what libertarian-minded folk might see as a silver lining. Thus far in my casual reading of several diplomatic cables I find nothing I did not already know or suspect. Is there any sane person who does not think that diplomats would spy for their country, no matter what that country? Does anyone other than those who are only glued to Fox News believe that world leaders say what they really think in public and hold no negative views of other world leaders? And, who is silly enough in this day and age to think that any communication marked “secret” will remain so?

The mantra of the news organizations is that people have a right to know how their government works, even if publishing off-the-record remarks (especially of leaders we consider allies) damages the ability of our government to work. If I was Hosni Mubarak or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, my biggest concern would not be that the world now knows what I think of the leader in Iran or Iraq, but how the one remaining superpower is unable to keep secret things secret. The damage from these leaks is less what is being said than the mere fact it can so easily be leaked. (more…)

The Egyptian televangelist Amr Khaled with a group of young Yemeni performers at the opening ceremony of a new campaign to combat religious extremism in Yemen. Yemen Times photo

by Tom Finn. Yemen Times, November 25, 2010

ADEN, Nov. 23 — A campaign has been launched by the Yemeni government to win over Yemeni hearts and minds, in a battle to confront extremist ideology and favour Islam’s moderation.

The project was launched on Wednesday at an opening ceremony in Aden attended by the Deputy Prime Minister and representatives from the Ministries of Tourism, Culture and Justice.

As well as an array of performances by Yemeni children, the ceremony included a speech by Amr Khaled, the world renowned Egyptian televangelist, whose organization, the Right Start Foundation, will be leading the two week project to confront religious extremism in Yemen. (more…)

Way back in 1976 I picked up a delightful photographic book called Afghan Trucks, published by the Stonehill Publishing Company in New York. The photographer was Jean-Charles Blanc, who obviously had a far easier time trucking around Afghanistan than a photographer would today. The brief introduction says nothing about the photographer. It does say a lot about Afghan drivers:

“The driver and his mates are conditioned to a hard, lonely, even painful life, but its austerity is brightened by the dazzling exterior decor of the truck. Flowers transform it into a moving oasis: with rows of tulips and bouquets of roses clinging to its sides, the Afghan truck is like a traveling art gallery wending its way through arid mountains and deserts. (more…)

by Robert Wright, The New York Times, Opinionator, November 23, 2010

“We did the Cole and we wanted the United States to react. And if they reacted, they are going to invade Afghanistan and that’s what we want … . Then we will start holy war against the Americans, exactly like the Soviets.”
— Mohammed Atef, military commander of Al Qaeda, in November of 2000

You have to give the people at Al Qaeda this much: They plan ahead. And they stick with their goals. If bombing the U.S.S. Cole failed to get American troops mired in Afghanistan, maybe 9/11 would do the trick?

You might say. Last week at the NATO summit President Obama pushed the light at the end of the tunnel further down the tracks. By the end of 2014, he now tells us, American combat operations in Afghanistan will cease.

It’s not as if we need those four years to set any records. At just over nine years of age, this war is already the longest in American history. And this Saturday we’ll eclipse the Soviet Union’s misadventure in Afghanistan; the Soviets brought their own personal Vietnam to an end after nine years and seven weeks.

Is Afghanistan, as some people say, America’s second Vietnam? Actually, a point-by-point comparison of the two wars suggests that it’s worse than that. (more…)

Sword dance at a Bedouin wedding in Palestine, early 1900s; Rowe 2010, opposite p. 116

We hear so much about the political turmoil between Palestinians and Israelis that the traditional culture and its transformation are all but forgotten. Bombs continue to go off or be dropped, settler slabs destabilize the opportunity for a variety of people to live together, hawks and doves flitter away in a rhetorical fog. Yet there is movement, especially in dance. Nicholas Rowe, a choreographer and dancer from Australia has recently published a moving portrait of the changing dance tradition among Palestinians, with a focus on how dance reflects political stalemate and obstacles. This is his Raising Dust: A Cultural History of Dance in Palestine (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010).

A brief description of the book is provided by the publisher: (more…)

Pizza Hut in Beirut, 2009; photograph by Daniel Martin Varisco

Being Italian by family name, and Sicilian at that, I feel qualified to talk about pizza. Whether or not pizza really was invented in Italy, Italian Americans have made pizza parlors the strip mall contender with Chinese takeouts. Pizza was not invented once, any more than the wheel. Once you start baking flat bread, and that goes back millennia, all you need is a few of the right kinds of droppings and the rest is culinary evolution. In the current global economy food has been ethnicized and consumer friended around the world. The Pizza Hut, with humble beginnings a half century ago in Kansas (yes Kansas!), now boasts franchises throughout the Middle East. There is even a website in Arabic. Of course, real Italians (those with the requisite last names) go to local parlors rather than give in to the fast food giant.

But this commentary is not really about pizza; it’s about what we choose to eat rather than what we actually eat. Choosing Pizza Hut in Beirut is branding yourself, even if you convince yourself it tastes good. (more…)

CNN has put together an audio slide show on Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje’s trip to Mecca in 1885. Check it out at

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