The Cultural View from Within and Without

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. 

When the September 16th issue of the New Yorker arrived, I started flipping the pages until I saw "By Fire," a work of fiction, by Tahar Ben Jelloun, a noted Morroccan writer. I must admit that I do not avidly read fiction, even though I edit a magazine that publishes works of fiction along with non-fiction content such as art, film and book reviews.

I am always leery of wars. Aside from the immorality of war, my training and reading in international politics has shown me the inability to predict its outcome. I am not confident the expected results of a strike against Assad's forces can be accomplished with the great precision of scientifically diagnosing an illness.

In addition to being a prominent Syrian leftist with a significant presence in the revolution, Michel Kilo is also a great short story teller. His anecdotes are found not in novels, but in newspaper columns, which Kilo calls "Stories from the World of Ghosts." These stories are multi-dimensional: funny, ironic, tragic, real, and autobiographical. Ahmad, a character from "Stories from the World of the Ghosts," published in a column in Asharq Alawsat, has a gripping story.

BY ELIE CHALALA

A great majority of Syrian and Arab intellectuals and artists have rallied to protest the abduction of Youssef Abdelke, one of the best living Syrian artists, whose life could be wasted like many others behind bars until their "natural" death in Syrian prisons. This happened recently to one of Abdelke's friends, Abdel Aziz al-Khair, an opposition figure who was arrested last year, and, according to unconfirmed reports, died or was killed in prison.

In the great tradition of Picasso's "Guernica," Abdelke's art carries visual memories of the Syrian Revolution. This is the message Ali Atassi want to convey through his post which was translated for Al Jadid.

"Before we go on holiday, we should all make a donation to humanitarian relief for Syria,” writes Los Angeles Times columnist Timothy Garton Ash ("No relief for Syria"). Do not allow this concluding remark to mislead you from Ash’s main point. Humanitarian relief alone will not solve the Syrian conflict. Syria needs a political solution, including some form of military intervention, to provide lasting relief for the Syrians. Sadly, none of which is forthcoming.

Exaggerate everything; progress not at all. "Exaggeration is a widespread epidemic in 'our country,'" writes Syrian director Haitham Hakki on his Facebook. I intentionally put "our country" in quotations, as I believe his reference goes beyond the national borders of Syria.

By Elie Chalala

Press reports claim that Qatari capital acquired Al Quds Al Arabi: if so, can Al Quds readers expect the same intellectual disrespect as Al Jazeera viewers got on June 30th? I must admit that I am not and never was a follower of Abdel Bari Atwan’s columns for Al Quds Al Arabi, especially his writing on Arafat, Kaddafi, Saddam and, of course, Osama Bin Laden.

Now that Mohammed Morsi has exited the stage, what will the students of Arab politics remember about his Islamic regime? The Brotherhood has violated a long tradition in Egypt of incorporating the intellectuals into the state; previous states either co-opted the intellectual class or opened doors for their political participation.

By Elie Chalala

Leaving the city of Qusayr in ruins, Hezbollah and the Assadist army revived memories of the debris of other battered cities: the destruction of Guernica, for instance, in the 1937 Spanish Civil War as well as the destruction of the Vietnamese city Huế in 1968—the Siege of Huế was one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. This is one of the many insightful reflections Syrian author Subhi Hadidi wrote in his regular column in Al Quds Al Arabi on June 6, 2013.

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