The Cultural View from Within and Without

Farewell and thanks to Ahmed Seif (1951-2014) who was called "The sword of the people," and who pushed human rights to center stage

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s participation at the Lucerne Festival coincided with the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza, the reverberations of which cannot go unnoted by the ensemble.

The memory seems as though it is wired to store images, images that often live unpredictable lives within the psyche. Aziza, a 15-year old Yazidi Kurdish girl, has been haunting me for more than a week. Her innocent facial expression, a look of fear mingled with cognitive disorientation, continues to disturb me despite the helicopter that ferried her out of Mount Sinjar to safety. CNN’s Ivan Watson, the reporter who aided Aziza onto the chopper, is said to have become choked up with tears on several occasions.

I have often written about the disgraceful institution known as Al Mumannah Media. Now, it appears as though the shame is spreading to other media outlets, including those which openly boast of their adherence to what most journalists consider professional standards.

Broadcasting  “The Honorable Woman” is not an attempt to respond to current events, according to Hugo Blick, the British producer who wrote and directed eight episodes of the 4-hour mini-series.

Who would you pick given the opportunity to meet a key historical figure from the past? In his novel, “A Muslim Suicide,” translated from Arabic by Roger Allen, writer and liberal philosopher Bensalem Himmich has chosen to breathe life into Sufi philosopher, Ibn Sab’in (1217-1269). True to his independent nature, Sab’in acts as his own narrator, detailing his life and philosophy against the turbulent backdrop of 12th century Spain.

In this fascinating interview, Professor Nada Ramadan Elnahla talks with Dina Abd Elsalam, Egyptian filmmaker, novelist, and Alexandria University lecturer. Dr.

Ironically, the presence of rich natural petro-resources does not ensure sustained economic growth and development. Louis Martinez examines the political and economic histories of Algeria, Iraq, and Libya, postulating that petro dollars, far from guaranteeing stability and security for these countries, have instead allowed dysfunctional regimes to maintain power through the funding of abusive security forces. Louis Martinez's “The Violence of Petro-Dollar Regimes: Algeria, Iraq and Libya” offers important lessons for emerging democracies in oil-rich countries.

We Are All Equally Far From Love
By Adania Shibli
Translated by Paul StarkeyClockroot Books, 2012

BY LAUREN KHATER

American Arabesque, Arabs, Islam and the 19th Century Imaginary
By Jacob Rama Berman
New York University Press, 2012, 269 pp.

By Lynne Rogers

Gertrude
By Hassan Najmi
Interlink Publishing Group, Inc.
Boston, 2014

By Frances Khirallah Noble

New Waw
By Ibrahim Al-Koni
Translated and Introduced by William M. Hutchins
Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 
The University of Texas at Austin, 2014
 
By Frances Khairallah Noble
 
Ibrahim al-Koni has an ancient story to tell. It is the story of his tribe’s transition from nomadic to settled life, a transition depicted as an abandonment of the freedom and wandering required to invigorate the soul, a surrender to the seduction of earthly things.

Discrimination against Arab Americans was a blight he devoted good part of his energy to combating. He continues to speak out against anti-Arab stereotyping and discrimination in the entertainment industry. His involvement began when his son Mike (then 12) said to him, “Dad, I hate Arabs,” although Mike knew of his Lebanese heritage. Kasem was shocked. His son explained that he saw images of what terrible people the Arabs were on television and in films.

I have been watching and hearing too much about Assad's military and political victories, especially his spurious electoral 88 percent landslide. Watching Lebanese TV rarely gives you a break from the news of Assad's various and sundry supposed victories, especially in the neighborhoods of Homs. As if this were not enough, three days ago I was treated to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's televised speech where he cited Homs as evidence of the regime's "victorious" performance, the likes of which will soon follow in other cities.

Watching the news of the preparations for the Syrian presidential elections and the excitement, if not mass hysteria, sweeping the Syrian electorate in Lebanon, I found myself asking where is the "reason" in watching a mass murderer running for reelection as president.

While reviewing readings I had missed, some photographs in the New York Times caught me off guard. Tricked by Ben Hubbard's lead to the April 1 news story ("Behind Barbed Wire, Shakespeare Inspires a Cast of Young Syrians"), I initially believed the King in the camp to be King Abdullah II, and the king’s daughters to be Abdullah’s own (although I did not know if he actually had any daughters). Were they there to comfort the Syrian refugees whose camp has become the equivalent of the fourth largest Jordanian city?

The Lebanese poet Unsi al-Hajj passed away on February 18, 2014. No one who cared about Arab and Lebanese letters could be unaware of Unsi al-Hajj's contributions. He distinguished himself as a modernist poet (especially by his association with the avant-garde journal Shi’ir--"Poetry"), art and cultural critic, essayist, and editor of what used to be one of Lebanon's most important dailies, An Nahar.

“The Square” (Al Meedan)
Directed by Jehane Noujaim
Produced by Karim Amer/Noujaim Films, 2013
Running time, 1:44 minutes.

BY NADA RAMADAN ELNAHLA

"I am amazed," wrote Fawaz Traboulsi on his Facebook page. His astonishment concerns the mumannah group’s positions on Palestine. "'With Palestine and against the Palestinians’ is the name of a recently established political movement in the region," Traboulsi wrote.

I have been observing a phenomenon, the existence of a sizable number of political and intellectual bystanders or spectators of the Syrian scene. They appear to be waiting for the right moment or event to provide the needed rationalization to jump into the Assad camp without remorse or inconvenience. These spectators are not hypothetical, but actual human beings, some of whom I know personally, and others whom I have been following through their columns, posts, and interviews via new social media, daily press and TV networks.

In the following edited translation of Abbass Beydoun's post (in Arabic) on January 30, the Lebanese poet, critic, and editor of the cultural pages of As Safir newspaper examines the dilemmas of choice existing between the regime and the opposition, as well as the issue of responsibility and the causes of violence in the Syrian conflict. 

HAMA32 YEARS LATER. February 3 was the 32nd anniversary of the Hama massacre. One post caught my attention, as it asked a question that has become both familiar and justified since the onset of the Syrian Revolution: How could such a massacre take place without any mass condemnation, either Syrian, Arab or international? For whatever it is worth, the fault may lie in the absence of today's social media, among other forms of modern media technologies.

Ben Barka Lane
By Mahmoud Saeed
Translated by Kay Heikkinen
Interlink Books, 2013

BY REBECCA JOUBIN

THE PICTURE OF A WOMAN FROM ALEPPO! Every time I watch the images from Aleppo or hear the news that the poor suburbs of the city have again been the targets for Assad's bombs, I recall the mumanah or "leftist" diatribe of their championship of the downtrodden and the impoverished, the students, workers and peasants whose interests the Assad regime claims to have at heart.

LEBANESE POLITICIANS serve as a classic case illustrating a more "notorious" style of politics. As someone who has taught political science for decades, I searched for cases which functioned better than abstract theoretical definitions in order to illustrate the different types of politics for my students. 

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