April 2012



The continuing turmoil in Syria and impending election in Egypt have knocked Bahrain off the news cycle. Things there are not so funny, but it is still worthwhile to take a comic look. You can do that here.


sample illustration from Josh Neufeld’s “Lines in Ink, Lines in the Sand”

There was a time when “Oriental Tales” were the rage of the age. Montesquieu penned Lettres Persanes in 1721 and Oliver Goldsmith followed up several decades later with The Citizen of the World. But I recently came across a late 19th century text about a future visit of a Persian Prince and Admiral to the ruins of a land known as Mehrica. This is The Last American and purports to be the journal of Khan-Li, a rather bizarre name for a Persian but so thoroughly Orientalist in mode. The Introduction to the text was provided in a previous post.

It is quite apt that the epigraph for the book is a dedication to “the American who is more than satisfied with himself and his country.”
Given the recent “Occupy Wall Street” interest, here is a century old look at what it might have been in ruins…
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There was a time when “Oriental Tales” were the rage of the age. Montesquieu penned Lettres Persanes in 1721 and Oliver Goldsmith followed up several decades later with The Citizen of the World. But I recently came across a late 19th century text about a future visit of a Persian Prince and Admiral to the ruins of a land known as Mehrica. This is The Last American and purports to be the journal of Khan-Li, a rather bizarre name for a Persian but so thoroughly Orientalist in mode. The admiral visits America in 1990 ( a century after the book was written), when American is in ruins, following the massacre of the Protestants in 1907 and the overthrow of the Murfey dynasty in 1930. But let the introduction to the text set up the marvels…

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Nadwa Al-Dawsari (with her tribal shiekh colleague)

by Nadwa Al-Dawsari, Carnegie Paper, April 2012

The power-sharing deal signed by Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in November 2011 mentioned presidential elections, the formation of a national unity government, and a military commission to reform the armed forces. It was at best the first step in Yemen’s recovery from the protracted turmoil and instability that wracked the country for months.

In this uncertain period of transition, as the new government struggles to establish legitimacy and address its most pressing issues, tribal law and traditions will play an important role in restoring a degree of stability because government capacity is extremely limited. This is particularly true given increasing conflicts and emerging sectarian and political divisions in the country. State and rule of law institutions are not only weak and ineffective outside of the main cities but also widely untrusted.

Yemenis have relied on indigenous tribal traditions to regulate conflict and establish justice for centuries, if not millennia. Tribal law has effectively handled conflicts between various tribes, between tribes and extractive companies, and between tribes and the government. It has successfully prevented and resolved conflicts over resources, development services, and land, and has sometimes managed to contain complex revenge-killing cases. Nationally, tribal mediators have played an important role in promoting political dialogue and building consensus among political groups. During the past year, where government forces withdrew, tribes took responsibility and managed to provide a reasonable level of security within their territories and along the main roads that connect tribal governorates. (more…)

NY Daily News, Tuesday, April 24th 2012

Over 1,600 Bohra Muslim women in India have signed an online petition calling for an end to the practice of female circumcision in the community. The community’s insistence on “Khatna” (the excision of the clitoris) sets it apart from other Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.

Eleven years ago, Farida Bano was circumcised by an aunt on a bunk bed in her family home at the end of her 10th birthday party.

The mutilation occurred not in Africa, where the practice is most prevalent, but in India where a small Muslim sub-sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra continues to believe that the removal of the clitoris is the will of God.

“We claim to be modern and different from other Muslim sects. We are different but not modern,” Bano, a 21-year-old law graduate who is angry about what was done to her, told AFP in New Delhi. She vividly remembers the moment in the party when the aunt pounced with a razor blade and a pack of cotton wool.

The Bohra brand of Islam is followed by 1.2 million people worldwide and is a sect of Shia Islam that originated in Yemen. While the sect bars other Muslims from its mosques, it sees itself as more liberal, treating men and women equally in matters of education and marriage.

The community’s insistence on “Khatna” (the excision of the clitoris) also sets it apart from others on the subcontinent. “If other Muslims are not doing it then why are we following it?” Bano says. (more…)

Arbuckles’ Ariosa (air-ee-o-sa) Coffee packages bore a yellow label with the name ARBUCKLES’ in large red letters across the front, beneath which flew a Flying Angel trademark over the words ARIOSA COFFEE in black letters. Shipped all over the country in sturdy wooden crates, one hundred packages to a crate, ARBUCKLES’ ARIOSA COFFEE became so dominant, particularly in the west, that many Cowboys were not aware there was any other kind. Keen marketing minds, the Arbuckle Brothers printed signature coupons on the bags of coffee redeemable for all manner of notions including handkerchiefs, razors, scissors, and wedding rings. To sweeten the deal, each package of ARBUCKLES’ contained a stick of peppermint candy. Due to the demands on chuck wagon cooks to keep a ready supply of hot ARBUCKLES’ on hand around the campfire, the peppermint stick became a means by which the steady coffee supply was ground. Upon hearing the cook’s call, “Who wants the candy?” some of the toughest Cowboys on the trail were known to vie for the opportunity of manning the coffee grinder in exchange for satisfying a sweet tooth.

While sorting through a bevy of late 19th century advertising cards and magazine illustrations collected by my great, great aunt in several yellowing albums, I came across several for the Middle East that were published for Arbuckle’s coffee. (more…)


Calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy, an Iraqi artist based in Paris

by Omid Safi, Religion News Service, April 22, 2011

On Thursday, I went to the funeral of a 16-year old angel.

This was not a child, faceless and nameless, that you see buried in a newspaper. This was a child born to a family that I adore, a family whose whole lives has been spent in service to humanity. I was there when this angel came home from the hospital, and I used to babysit her when her mother, a leading scholar of Islamic studies, was finishing her PhD.

This was a child that every one of her teachers called the single most brilliant, creative, and inspiring child they had ever taught.

We put her body in the ground, the machines lowered a cement block on top of the coffin, and each of us scattered a handful of dirt, a rose, and tears, on her grave. Her adopted aunts and uncles sat by the graveside, and recited Qur’an verses to keep her soul company on the journey back to God.

We wept as few of us have ever wept before. We have not stopped crying. This is the kind of weeping that taps into a shattering of a heart.

High school kids with tattoos and dyed hair wept. Those of us who are parents wept for this child, for this family, confronting what is every parent’s absolute worst nightmare. Teachers wept.

Her mother stood up before us, beginning in the name of God, and catching her breath several times as she spoke through tears, softly and clearly. She thanked God for the gift of this beautiful child, for each one of the 16 years. She acknowledged that each of us felt that parents should not bury their own children, but we are not given any guarantees. She said gracefully that while she “strongly disagrees” with God’s plan to call her angel home, she abides in faith and is grateful.

I am a scholar of religion. Pondering these large questions of life—and sadly, death—is what I do, what I am supposed to do. I have looked into my own tradition, Islam, as well as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and others, to find some semblance of explanation, of meaning. (more…)

by Rana al-Tonsi [Translated from Arabic by Sinan Antoon]

On one foot
like a humiliated beggar I limp
past all the swinging doors
and the flags that are taken down from their masts . . .
The sidewalk was never my friend
but it embraced me those times
when the crying was tough and bitter

In my country
soldiers go to a war
where they never fight
In every coffeehouse or square
under the feet of the sick, the sad and insane
you can glimpse the trace of a rose
thrown into the arms of nurses
in lonely rooms inhabited by wailing,
a rose drawn in blood. (more…)

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