November 2013


In Charlie Chaplin’s marvelous satirical response to Hitler in The Great Dictator there is a profound speech, available with Arabic subtitles and quite relevant to the fighting currently going on in the Middle East and everywhere. And there are dictators who are not called dictators… Here is a copy of the speech.

The photographer Narcisso Contreras has an extraordinary gallery of photographs taken in Syria and Egypt on his website.

His biography, as taken from his website, is as follows:

Narciso Contreras is a photographer born in Mexico City, fond of exploring each encounter to precisely capture its most poignant moments. His work focuses in feature stories, reportage and documentary based on religious communities, human nature and conflicts, the later being his main focus for the past years. Contreras has studied Philosophy and Photography, conducting research for many years and dedicating himself to photography professionally for three. Contreras is currently covering the ongoing civil war in Syria. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines all over the world, among others in TIME, the Guardian, the Times, the New York Times, der Spiegel, National Geographic, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, L’ Espresso among others.

Perhaps it is boring to be rich, especially for the super rich in a traditional cultural setting. Take the Emirates, for example, with the ultra modern business hub of Dubai and the fabulous new buildings that oil money funds in Abu Dhabi. The Emirates is an unusual oasis in the heartland of the Islamic faith. What makes it unusual is that some 88% of the population here is foreign. So it is not surprising that there should be a murmur of culture clash under the glitz. So when Western pop stars like Snoop Dog, Jay Z, Justin Bieber and Rihanna role into one of the Emirates, you can expect some culture clash talk. Al Jazeera reports that several recent Western superstars have raised eyebrows by their language and behavior. Did the organizers really think that Jay Z would forget how to swear or call women by demeaning terms? This is his bread and butter.

There is a famous biblical saying that Jesus once said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Jesus, theologians tell us, was referring to a narrow gate in Jerusalem that made it very hard for camels to enter, but the sentiment is apt. Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are respected prophets, but none of them squandered riches or lived in opulence or built huge pyramids. This is not just a problem for Muslims, but for all the major monotheisms which preach about helping the poor. Islam is exemplary in this regard with its principle of sadaqa, but Judaism and Christianity also stress helping the unfortunate. For that matter, even concerned atheists care about their fellow humans. But there is something about wealth (the love of money being the root of all evil) that strains religious behavior. Jay Z and Snoop Dog went to the Emirates, where the money flows, not Yemen, though I suspect young Yemenis have heard them as well in the global pop music market.

My point is not to disparage pop music, nor to defend those who would place a Muslim in a 7th century cultural bubble, but simply to note that defining one’s personal faith is not made easier in a context of vast wealth. Even a cursory reading of the Arabian Nights shows that this is not a modern problem. But if you invite Jay Z, don’t expect a sermon.

The Yemeni literary figure Ramziyya Abbas al-Iryani, who recently passed away, is given tribute in this video with recollections by her students and other Yemenis who knew and respected her.

اليمنيون يوّدعون “رمزية الإرياني” إلى مثواها الأخير السبت, 16-نوفمبر-2013 صنعاء ـ خبر للأنباء: – استقبلت جموع اليمنيين، مساء السبت، جثمان فقيدة الوطن رمزية عباس الارياني – عضو اللجنة العامة للمؤتمر الشعبي العام.. رئيسة اتحاد نساء اليمن، الذي وصل مطار صنعاء، على متن طائرة تابعة للخطوط الجوية اليمنية قادماً من جمهورية ألمانيا الاتحادية. ويودع جموع اليمنيين، وفي مقدمتهم قيادات وكوادر المؤتمر الشعبي العام والفعاليات الوطنية الرسمية والحزبية ومنظمات المجتمع المدني والجموع الشعبية، غداً “الأحد” الجثمان الطاهر للفقيدة، إلى مثواه الأخير بمقبرة الرحمة ظهر الأحد بالعاصمة صنعاء بعد الصلاة عليه بجامع التوحيد. وخسرت اليمن واحدةً من أعظم قياداتها النسائية البارزة، حيث وافاها الأجل في احد مستشفيات العاصمة الألمانية برلين إثر إصابتها بجلطة دماغية. وكانت الفقيدة — رحمها الله — من أبرز أعلام النضال الوطني ولها حضورها المتميز في كافة المجالات وفي مقدمتها الدفاع عن حقوق المرأة اليمنية. وقد نعت رئاسة الجمهورية، وقيادة المؤتمر الشعبي العام، ومؤتمر الحوار الوطني، والوزارات، والأحزاب والمنظمات السياسية والمجتمعية، ومنظمات حقوق الإنسان، الفقيدة الراحلة. وعبرت البرقيات عن تعازيها الحارة للأسرة الكريمة، سائلة المولى العلي القدير، أن يتغمدها بواسع رحمته، ويلهم أهلها وكل محبيها الصبر والسلوان. إنا لها وإنا إليه راجعون

by Daniel Martin Varisco, Middle East Muddle, Anthropology News, November, 2013

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt prophesied, December 7th, 1941 is a day that lives in infamy, even some seven decades after the event that triggered United States entry into the Second World War. Another date of more recent infamy is December 17, 2010, when a harassed Tunisian vegetable hawker named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the municipal building in the picturesque town of Sidi Bouzid. Although badly burned, he survived until January 4, just ten days before Ben Ali, the Tunisian dictator for some 23 years, boarded a plane for exile in Saudi Arabia. The first kind of infamy was the beginning of a devastating war, the second became the stimulus for what was hoped to be a sweeping political revolution across the Middle East. Three years later it seems to be politics as usual, a chilly seasonal change from the jasmine scent of the Arab Spring that blew across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and now swirls through the political maelstrom enveloping a surviving dictator in Syria, ongoing instability in Iraq and Afghanistan and a new regime outlook in Iran.

Seasoned pundits know that in many parts of the world spring’s prospects yield to the heat of summer, the cooling autumn and eventually the chilly reality of winter in a never-ending cycle. The Arab Spring is not one season fits all, but the overall effects have been more chilling than thrilling this year. In Tunisia the Islamic party leading the country is in a state of national paralysis following the July killing of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi. In Egypt the elected president, Muhammad Morsi, remains in military custody and his major party of support, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been banned. The military, under General Sisi, has reinstated martial law in a move that most Egyptians, it seems, support. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the transition to power by Islamic groups who promised not to dismantle the civil state structure has angered a wide range of groups, especially secularists and more moderate Muslims. (more…)


A destroyed building as a result of fighting between AQAP and the Yemeni government in 2012, taken in June 2013. (Photo: Fatima Abo Alasrar)

by Fatima Abo Alasrar, Atlantic Council, October 30, 2013

Apart from the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference that has been generating good news in the press, the country is on a rapidly deteriorating course toward uncertainty. On October 18, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) launched a suicide attack targeting a military installation in al-Ahwar district of Abyan governorate which killed twelve soldiers and left several others wounded. This was the same governorate that fell under control of the terrorist group of Ansar al-Sharia during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Despite the liberation of Abyan from the terrorist occupation, the group still conducts terrorist acts, through planting land mines in schools, kidnapping aid workers, in addition to their usual suicide tactics against military installations and local popular committees that guard the city.

The danger of AQAP in Yemen is real, but so are the drone attacks which intensified during the Obama administration. The weapon meant to target terrorists caused great harm to Yemen in a number of ways. Human Rights Watch issued a report on October 22 highlighting the devastating effects of air strikes. The report examined six drone strikes since 2009. Although the number of investigated cases is not a representative quantitive sample on the drone strikes in Yemen (various sources document an estimated eighty-two to ninety-two drones attacks during this period), the qualitative sample made one important point abundantly clear: no matter how precise the drones, they still generate civilian casualties, destruction, fear, trauma, motherless children, loss of income, and increasing rage towards the United States. (more…)

By Sama’a Al-Hamdani and Afrah Nasser for The Atlantic Post, Yemeniati, October 12, 2013

I was declared an apostate at the end of April 2013 because of a political seminar on women’s empowerment hosted at my college in Taiz. In this gathering, I stated that Islam’s most stringent provisions – whether in the Qur’an or the Sunnah – are meant to refine rather than to terrorize. A radical cleric twisted my words and said that I called the Prophet Mohammed a liar and based on it, I was labeled a Kafir (apostate). – Sally Adeeb, age 21, law school student.

Since the overthrow in Yemen of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, 11 people have been accused of apostasy (see chart 1 below) in the practice referred to as Takfeer. One of them, Jamal al-Junid, was detained by the police in May 2013 for 15 days and finally was released after the staging of several protests. Another accused “apostate” is Ahmed Al-Arami, a literature and arts lecturer who was labeled a “secularist” in April 2013 and subsequently fled the country because of serious threats and the possibility that he might be executed. The sensitivity of offending religion is a stumbling block in the quest to return Yemen to stability.

NDC and the Evolution of Takfeer

Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC), which was launched in March 2013 and is part of a Gulf Cooperation Council plan for a negotiated transition for Yemen, has been targeted for accusations of apostasy by one of the country’s leading clerics. Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani, Yemen’s influential Muslim Brotherhood/Wahhabist cleric who is also listed as a “specially designated global terrorist” by the United States Treasury Department in 2004, recently released a YouTube video in which he condemned the current NDC political process. The video presentation discussed the framing of the state’s legislation being managed by “the State Building Committee” and claimed that the majority of the committee’s members had voted that Islam is “the state’s main source of legislation” instead of “the state’s only source of legislation.” (more…)

BAGHDAD: CRADLE OF CULTURE AND CIVILIZATION, 1013-2013

On November 15-16, 2013 there will be a conference on Baghdad co-organized by the Iraqi Cultural Center (ICC) and The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII). The sessions will be held at the Iraqi Cultural Center, 1630 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, DC 20009

Draft Program

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15

9:00. Welcoming remarks. Mohammad Alturaihi (Iraqi Cultural Center) and McGuire Gibson (TAARII)

POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, AND SOCIAL LIFE OF MEDIEVAL BAGHDAD

Chase Robinson (CUNY Graduate Center), “Baghdad and Islamic Cosmopolitanism”
Stephen Humphreys (UC-Santa Barbara), “Islam’s First Imperial City: Baghdad from 763 to 945”
Sydney Griffith (Catholic University of America), “The Cultivation of Philosophy and Interreligious Colloquy in Abbasid Baghdad: A Convivencia of Jews, Christians, and Muslims”
Roy Mottahedeh (Harvard University), “The Twilight of Buyid Baghdad”
Richard Bulliet (Columbia University), “The Economic Rise and Fall of Medieval Baghdad”

12:30-2:00. Lunch

THE MAKING OF MODERN BAGHDAD
Abbas Kadhim (Boston University Institute for Iraqi Studies), “Baghdad’s First Encounter with Modernity (1869-1871)”
Sara Pursley (CUNY Graduate Center), “Familiar Futures: Reforming the Iraqi Family in the Age of Development”
Eric Davis (Rutgers University), “Pluralism or Sectarianism? Baghdad and the Production of Political Space in Iraq”

Discussion
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 16
9:00
LITERARY AND CULTURAL LIFE IN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN BAGHDAD
Samer Ali (University of Texas at Austin), “When the Night: Having Fun in Medieval Baghdad”
Suzanne Stetkevych (Georgetown University/Indiana University), “Arabic Poetry and the Invention of the Abbasid Golden Age”
Fawzi Kareem (Poet/Writer/Painter), “Witnessing Iraq’s Contemporary Culture”
Fatima Ali (Social Cases Performing Arts Company), “Being a Theatre Maker in Post-2003 Baghdad: Challenges and Realities” (more…)

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