May 2011


If you type “burqa cartoon” into Google, you will find a wide variety of cartoons making fun of the burqa and the controversy over it. Here are just a few samples…



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With all the scenes of angry crowds protesting President Salih’s 32-year reign, it is useful to remember who the Yemeni people are. Here is a delightful montage online.


Exactly 90 years ago in 1921 a four-volume set of encyclopedia-like human interest books was published as The Human Interest Library: Visualized Knowledge by Midland Press in Chicago. All four volumes ended up in my family’s library, but my favorite is the fourth volume entitled Old World Travelogues. Here is how the volume begins:

It was a saying of Lord Bacon that “History maketh one wise.” Perhaps this is not universally true, but one can scarcely traverse the history and geography of the Old World with its deeds of heroism, picturesque scenes and peoples, splendid buildings, or hallowed places, without having become wiser and better, as well as having enjoyed many an hour of keen pleasure. With the most interesting of guides, we visit splendid cities, historic rivers of scenic beauty or castle-lined banks; monument-covered battle-fields, or the haunts of poets and cavaliers.


The image above is at the head of the article on “The Sahara and its Inhabitants” (pp. 95-103). If this history is intended to make the reader wiser, it is a bleak premise indeed. Here is how the desert is represented:

The desert is a dreary, monotonous place, life there has a great sameness, there is little physical work to be done, little cooking is required and there is little to engage the attention of men. (more…)


Protests in Sanaa on Friday; if only everyone could follow the dove

The past few days has witnessed a turn to violence in the ongoing protests in Yemen. An altercation between President Salih’s forces and the major Hashid tribal family of al-Ahmar left scores dead and threatened to accelerate into a civil war. It appears that Salih would like nothing better as once again he could find an excuse to hold on to power. But as the young Husayn al-Ahmar said yesterday:

صالح قال اليمن ليست مصر ولا ليبياوأناأقول له إن صنعاء ليست طرابلس ومهلة الضمانات انتهت.
“Salih said that Yemen isn’t Egypt nor Libya, but I say to him that Sanaa is not Tripoli and the time for making a decision about guarantees has passed.”


Sadiq al-Ahmar, left; Husayn al-Ahmar, right

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As someone who has a long standing interest in the peoples and cultures of the region geographically maligned as the “Middle East,” I am beyond being overwhelmed by the daily turn of events. To see the streets of Yemen turned into bloody confrontation after three months of amazingly peaceful protests is so sad. I had always wondered if Ali Abdullah Salih was really trying to be a father-of-his-country figure (despite the widespread corruption and nepotism) or if it was mainly his inability to be a brutal dictator in the Ben Ali mode that ruled the day. His recent flirtation with leaving office, only to back down each time, suggests that he has no intention of leaving and is looking for any way to prolong his rule. The Al Qaeda on the doorsteps alibi has not fooled anyone, including the U.S. terrorism money machine. So it seems his latest insane step, right out of a really bad thriller movie, is to foment civil strife. Today’s news about his attempt to alienate the leader of the Hashid confederacy has indeed plunged the capital into street fighting. One thing is clear: Ali Abdullah Salih loves Ali Abdullah Salih and the country he has ruled over for over three decades be damned.

Then there is Syria, where Bashar al-Asad, once thought to be a rather weak version of his towering (at least in all the statues strewn about the former Umayyad enclave) father, has decided to be the old-fashioned Stalinesque strongman. Not content to believe that the mere 96.7% of the votes in his last presidential referendum meant anything other than the normal one-man-rule politics, he is apparently trying to get rid of anyone who opposes him by whatever mean means work. To protest in Syria, as in Libya, means to risk life and limb. (more…)

[Photo: Cheikh lisant le Coran, c. 1880, Abdullah Freres, Collection Pierre de Gigord, Paris]

Interested in learning more about the Quran or reading different translations or looking up specific passages? Whether you are a student, professor, Muslim or non-Muslim, the website Online Quran Resources offers convenient access to links on all aspects and all viewpoints about the Quran.

Initiated in 2002 as an SSRC-funded project by Daniel Martin Varisco (Hofstra University) and Bruce Lawrence (Duke University), the site is dedicated to providing a range of views on the Quran from online materials. This is once again up to date with pages devoted to links on the following topics: (more…)


Reports coming out of Yemen today suggest that Ali Abdullah Salih may finally have no choice but to sign his abdication. Yesterday’s altercation with supporters of Hashid shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar near his fortified house in Sanaa expanded to the Ministry of Interior. Today it is reported that Sanaa International Airport is closed and the Central Bank of Yemen has been shut down as well. Yemen is currently in the dark, both literally and politically.

Having run his country into a ditch, indeed quite a large wadi, President Salih is desperately trying to go out with some kind of moral victory. He will not let the country succumb to Civil War, like Somalia. He will not let Yemen become a failed state and fall to Al Qaeda. He will stay in the country and join the opposition. The words sound conciliatory enough, but his political kalam machine has been spewing forth similar justifications ever since he took power lo those many years ago. Even the little boy who cried “wolf” in the fabled children’s story only did so three or four times. (more…)


The current protests in Yemen have not gone unnoticed. Among the Yemeni photographers chronicling the current unrest is Hanan Ishaq, a young Yemeni artist whose work is featured on Flickr.


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