November 2013



I put on my daughter’s abaya, took a picture of myself, and used it as my profile picture on Twitter and Facebook. (Photo supplied: Abdullah Hamidaddin)

by Abdullah Hamidaddin, Al-Arabiya, November 30, 2013

The ‘hijab’ is a very complicated piece of cloth. Since its inception a few millennia ago it had carried with it many meanings. It was an expression of male dominance, an act of religious piety, a manifestation of female oppression, a limitation to a female’s power of seduction, an icon of cultural pride, a slogan of resistance to colonialism imperialism and globalization, an indicator of a worthy wife, an evasion of feminine competition, a marker of otherness and a discouragement to harassers. Different meanings constructed in different epochs for different social and political reasons by different actors with different motivations.

If anything, this makes it quite difficult to speak of the ‘hijab’ rather one ought to speak of ‘hijabs’ each using a ‘cloth’ but each assigning to it so many meanings that renders it impossible to make any generalization no matter how mild it may be. And every generalization I make here has multiple exceptions. Yet despite all those many differences there seems to be one constant about the hijab: it is about women and for women; only women. Men do not put on a hijab. They may cover their heads even their faces, but that is another thing. The hijab is not the cloth that covers a head, or hair, or even the face. The hijab is something else altogether. (more…)

Women and Peacebuilding in Yemen: challenges and opportunities

by Najwa Adra, NOREF, 12 November 2013

This expert analysis explores hurdles facing and opportunities available to Yemeni women in light of UN Security Council Resolution 1325’s guidelines. Yemen is rich in social capital with norms that prioritise the protection of women, but internal and external stresses pose serious threats to women’s security.

Despite these hurdles, Yemeni women continue to participate in nation building. In 2011 women led the demonstrations that ousted the previous regime. At 27%, women’s representation and leadership in the current National Dialogue Conference is relatively inclusive. Their calls for 30% women’s participation in all levels of government have passed despite the opposition of religious extremists and the Yemeni Socialist Party. To provide the best guarantee of women’s security in Yemen, international agencies must, firstly, pressure UN member states to desist from escalating conflicts in Yemen, and secondly, prioritise development over geopolitical security concerns. Literate women with access to health care and marketable skills can use their participatory traditions to build a new Yemeni nation.

Downlad the pdf of this report here: http://www.peacebuilding.no/Regions/Middle-East-and-North-Africa/The-Gulf/Publications/Women-and-peacebuilding-in-Yemen-challenges-and-opportunities

Najwa Adra , PhD, is a cultural anthropologist with long-term research and consulting experience in Yemen. She has worked with FAO, UNICEF, USAID, the World Bank and DfID. In 2000-03 she piloted the highly successful Literacy through Poetry/Heritage, an adult literacy project in which learners’ own oral traditions formed the texts from which they learned to read and write. Her academic publications and development reports cover tribal identity and customary law, women in agriculture, social exclusion and adult literacy.


A feast for the eyes, ears, nose, throat…

Why can’t Spiderman convert to Islam?

by Leon Moosavi, Al Jazeera, Nov. 27, 2013

[Editor’s Note: There are a number of hyperlinks in the original Al Jazeera article which are not reproduced here by a tired editor.]

There’s a strong current of Islamophobia gushing through our era. In various places, Muslims are still perceived as causing problems with their alleged insistence on being different. From Canada, to the UK, to Burma, and beyond, there are intense debates today that construct Muslims as a troublesome “race” who need to be contained. So when I heard about a new superhero that is going to eradicate this globalised Islamophobia, I was excited.

Commentators have celebrated Marvel’s new Muslim superhero, Kamala Khan (aka Ms Marvel), as a refreshing example of a strong Muslim woman who will normalise Muslim identity. Some even went as far as saying that Khan is “a much needed counter to Islamophobia in show business” and that “Marvel’s work is a watershed moment in breaking down fear and ignorance.” I wish these commentators were right, but sadly, I think they are overlooking some finer points of Kamala’s character that may suggest she is part of the problem rather than the solution.

A Muslim shapeshifter

From the limited information we have about Kamala, we know that she is a 16-year-old “shapeshifter”, who comes from a conservative and restrictive family. She apparently struggles with an identity crisis between her Muslim and American identities. This loose characterisation does not sound like a refreshing portrayal of a Muslim character to me, but in fact, is consistent with typical outdated stereotypes of Muslims. In particular, the idea that Muslim women are trapped by family, tradition and Muslim men is an old orientalist trope that is still projected onto Muslim communities today. It is the same logic that has been used to justify the criminalisation of Muslim clothing and the invasion of Muslim countries.

Her ability to “shapeshift” brings to mind the common Islamophobic accusation that Muslims routinely practice taqqiya where they deliberately conceal their true beliefs for the sake of sinister plots.

In this respect, it may not be a coincidence that Kamala rhymes with Malala, as both of their stories may give the impression that Muslim women need saving from Muslim men. The question that has been asked about Malala, may fairly be asked about Kamala as well: Is she really an empowered Muslim woman or is she an appropriated tool whose narrative coalesces with the portrayal of Muslim men’s ruthless domination needing to be curbed? It will be interesting to see what role Kamala’s white male friend “Bruno” plays in respect to this. It would be tragic if he is the one who Kamala feels safe to confide in, or who helps liberate her, or who gains an intimate relationship with her, because all of these correspond with racist imaginings of how the hierarchical relationship between white men and brown women should be. (more…)

For those fortunate enough to own a MAC computer there is the digital blessing of ITunes. One of the stations listed under “Eclectic” is “The 1920’s Radio Network” which features jazz and vaudeville songs from the 20s through the 40s. Every once in awhile along comes one of those “Oriental” tunes, usually riding stereotypes into the desert on a sand-blasted camel of Araby. One I recently heard manages to offend both Egyptians and obese women (not to mention any serious poet). This is Egyptian Ella, not to be confused with Ella Fitzgerald, who did not debut until four years after this tune was written by Walter Doyle and popularized by Ted Weems and his orchestra.

Egyptian Ella

by Walter Doyle

Ella was a dancing girl who started getting fat
Every day saw three more pounds on Ella
Until one day she found she’d lost her job because of that
And to make it worse, she’d lost her fella
She took a trip to Egypt to forget
And she made such a hit that she’s there yet … (more…)


A mass grave near Zvornik from which more than 500 corpses were exhumed, 2002; photograph by Tarek Samarah

In a recent open access article, The Science of Hatred, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tom Bartlet discusses a psychologist attempting to understand the Serbian denial of the massacres of Muslims in Bosnia in the 1990s. The subtitle is: “What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence? A small group of psychologists say they are moving toward answers. Is anyone listening?” The article is more a profile of Sabina Cehajic-Clancy, a Bosnian social psychologist who studies intergroup conflict, than a probing of the title. The focus is more on “how” Serbs could deny such a well documented atrocity rather than the motivations for the mass killing. There really is no “science” in the article, a part from a nod to some role for our evolutionary trajectory. But if you would like to read a human-interest story about an individual working on a very personal matter to better understand the denial of atrocities, it is worth reading.

The idea that there can be a “science” of hatred sounds promising, but it tends to fall apart less over the debate about what science is than what we mean by the emotionally charged notion of “hatred.” Several religions teach the God is love, but then also note that there are lots of things that God hates. Love and hate go together, not so much as polar opposites but as part of a continuum of how we perceive the world around us as comforting and dangerous at the same time. There is one kind of hate or love that is directed to an individual because of the familiarity of interaction. Falling into love, to quote the romantic rubric, suggests that we can fall into hate as well. But these are metaphors that swirl around fuzzy concepts. (more…)

In the current issue of ARAMCO World, which is available free online, there is an interesting article on how Iranian pistacios came to California. Click here for the full article. I attach a teaser below…

In 1957, a small experimental orchard in Chico, California distributed to commercial nut-growers a promising new variety of pistachio tree from Iran, called Kerman.

The United States Department of Agriculture wanted to see how these Kerman trees might perform in the richly fertile Central Valley of California.

By 2013, the Kerman had created a billion-dollar agricultural industry, and what was once a delicacy was a long way toward becoming a common household snack. University of California pistachio specialist Louise Ferguson calls the California Kerman pistachio tree “the single most successful plant introduction of the 20th century.”


عجايب المخلوقات وغرايب المخلوقات الموجودات

The Arabic manuscripts collection of the Wellcome Library (London) comprises around 1000 manuscript books and fragments relating to the history of medicine. For the first time this website enables a substantial proportion of this collection to be consulted online via high-quality digital images of entire manuscripts and associated rich metadata.

This has been made possible by a pioneering partnership between the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Wellcome Library, and King’s College London, with funding from the JISC Islamic studies programme.

These manuscripts are part of the Wellcome Library’s Asian Collection, which comprises some 12,000 manuscripts and 4,000 printed books in 43 different languages. The Islamic holdings include Arabic and Persian manuscripts and printed books, and a small collection of Ottoman manuscripts and Turkish books. The core of these collections relates to the great heritage of classical medicine, preserved, enlarged and commentated on throughout the Islamic world, stretching from Southern Spain to South and South-east Asia.

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