April 2011

Mahmud Saʻid,The Girls of Bahari; and an untitled portrait by Abdelal Hassan (2000; current location unknown)

[Note: The following is an excerpt from a fascinating discussion of Orientalist art by the philosopher, cultural critic and poet Pino Blasone, whose knowledge of both European and Arab cultures brings a fresh lens to the discussion of the genre. The article is entitled “Orientalism: Veiled and Unveiled” and is available in its entirety online.]

In an online weekly supplement to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram (17-23 May 2007, Issue No. 845), we can read an interesting article by Mohammed Salmawy, entitled“Dialogues of Naguib Mahfouz: A passion for the Arts”. Notoriously Naguib Mahfouz, or Nagib Mahfuz, is the best Egyptian novelist of the 20th century, died in 2006 and received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. Salmawy reports and comments a late interview to him. In particular, let us consider a passage from that: “My first exposure to the plastic arts was in the late 1920s… I remember reading an article by Al-ʻAqqad about an artist called Mahmud Saʻid. This was kind of unusual, for art wasnʼt really big back then. So for someone like Al-ʻAqqad to write a whole article about an artist was a bit of a shock. After that, I learned that Saʻid came from a prominent family and had a brilliant career in the judiciary, a career that he abandoned to dedicate his life to art. From then on I made a point of going to all Saʻidʼs exhibitions. […] Some of Saʻidʼs paintings are still imprinted on my mind: The Girls of Bahari, The Liquorice Merchant, and those splendid portraits of countryside women”. (more…)

Most people find it hard to take cartoons seriously, apart from political satire and that can become a deadly issue, depending on the target. Given the recent Danish cartoon controversy it would seem that comics and religion do not mix well or at least settle well for the believers who see themselves as the target. But what about comic relief for the political struggle between Israel and the Palestinians? Fundamentalist tract artist Jack Chick, whose comic empire is dedicated to winning souls for Christ by drawing on God’s hate, has been using his pen to spread a rather nasty version of the Gospel for over 40 years. One of his more recent offerings is called “The Squatters” and it provides a virtual roadmap to apocalypse. (more…)

One day while navigating to the website for the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq at www.uniraq.org I came across an interesting error. It seems, as the image above shows (though it has now been corrected), that the Country Team in Iraq for a short while was “Untied.” I suppose during that window there were no strings attached to the aid.

Israel’s resolute occupation of Palestinians in not just historic Palestine, but in the West Bank and Gaza Strip specifically, can be considered the oldest quasi-dictatorship in the Middle East, Bishara argues [GALLO/GETTY]

by Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera, April 21, 2011

As the conventional wisdom goes – especially in the West – Israel is the “only democracy” in the Middle East. And that is so, particularly for its Jewish citizens. However Israel has been anything but democratic for the indigenous people of the land, the Palestinian Arabs.

By nature and precedence, foreign military occupation is temporary. Colonialism on the other hand, and more precisely civilian colonisation, is a socio-political system of ruling over another people.

Since its inception at the end of the 19th century, Zionism preached self-determination for the Jewish people in “their” homeland. In reality, Israel has directly or indirectly driven Palestinians out of their homeland, confiscated their properties, rejected their right to return to their homeland despite UN resolutions, and occupied and colonised the rest of their homeland for the last four decades.

Throughout, Israeli military and security services ruled over another people against their will. They oppressed, tortured, exploited and robbed the Palestinians of their land, water and most importantly, their freedom. There has been more political prisoners in Israeli jails than any of its neighbours.

In denial over their predicament, Israeli leaders have taken shelter in the illusion of surplus morality. (more…)

So who is the best Muslim? Here is a debate between a Salafi and a Wahhabi. Guess who wins and guess who loses. (In a way we all lose in this kind of debate.)

Ali Abdullah Salih, from 1978 to 2011

From the latest news reports in the region it appears that President Ali Abdullah Salih has agreed to step down within a month in an agreement brokered by the GCC. The plan calls for Salih to hand over power to his Vice President one month after the opposition signs on to the agreement, which they have reportedly done. Although, as I write this Salih’s decision to step down has not been broadcast in the state-run Yemeni newspaper al-Thawra or on his personal website. Two months later a national election is to be held. A possible sticking point is the immunity that this agreement provides President Salih and his family. The U.S. administration has already blessed the plan and it seems likely that it will be finally resolve Salih’s departure.

The protests against Salih have left the country divided and the economy, weak as it was to begin with, has basically ground to a halt. The poorest country in the Middle East is even poorer after three months of protests across the country. So what happens now?

The removal of President Salih will not solve the range of economic, ecological and social problems facing Yemen. Unemployment will continue, as the oil production nears an end; water tables will draw down even more drastically; imported Salafi conservatism will divide the population even more. In a sense Salih has been out of power for the past three months, simply hanging on as the protests gained more and more momentum. Unable, and apparently unwilling, to stop the street protests militarily (as Qaddafi is desperately trying), Salih deftly tried to garner his own supporters as a counter to those who wanted him to leave. But the hand writing was on the wall all along, given the wide coalition of groups who had grievances against his regime. The opposition seemingly united in its primary goal of removing Salih, but there is no single leading opposition party or leader waiting in the wings. (more…)

Ruling families not fondly remembered in Egypt

The history of divine kingship and dictatorial hubris has a consistent theme: elevating a ruler’s name above all others and stamping that name on just about everything in sight. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq his image was everywhere, at times in the heroic proportions of a Babylonian king; visit Syria and you will find Assad and son lionized in every nook and cranny; Timur is resurrected in Uzbekistan. Then there is Hosni Mubarak, whose fall from power is now accompanied by an erasure of his public visage. As reported in Al Jazeera:

An Egyptian court has ordered the names of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s former president, and his wife Suzanne, to be removed from all public places, including streets and parks. Judge Mohammad Hassan Omar ordered on Thursday that Mubarak’s name and picture be removed from sport fields, streets, schools, libraries and other public establishments, according to the state-run al-Ahram newspaper. Currently, various public spaces, including squares, streets and about 500 public schools bear the names of either Hosni, Suzanne or Gamal Mubarak.


Portrait of the infant Rustam shown to Sam (folio 30b)

On Thursday night I had the privilege of attending a reading of portions of the Shanamah by Iraj Anvar.
The reading was held as part of the superb series called “Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World,” which is a series of readings and events that began in March with a lecture by Bruce Lawrence on the Quran and continues through May 7. This is an extraordinary opportunity to hear and learn more about the variety of poetic production in Islamic cultures worldwide.

While the reading of the Shanamah is over, you can still see the exhibit of the mid 15th century Muhammad Juki’s manuscript of the Shanamah at the Asia Society through May 1.

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