Sunday, 10 January 2010

This Blog Has Moved!

This blog has moved! I'm redirecting  you to my new blog.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

This Blog Will Move!

This year it will be five years since I started blogging, so I figured its about time for some renovation.  It's not much of a change, since I am staying with blogspot... (I thought of moving to Wordpress, but I'm too cheap to go the way, and the free one is too limited.)

The address will however be changing, probably sometime this week. When I'm done with the essay I should be writing right about now. >_<

A belated happy new year to everyone, and all the best in 2010.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Translation: In the Arab World You Live

Poem by Tamim Barghouti:
In The Arab World You Live

(my translation)

In the Arab world, you live
Like a cat living under a car
Eyes seeing nothing of this world but shoes.

In the Arab world, you live
Like a clown,
Under you,
A clown you step on,
And on your head,
A clown stepping on you,
And all standing,
- respectable!

In the Arab world, you live
A football match
That's been going on
For a thousand years.
Players running left and right
And the ball, all the time,
In the hands of the referee.

In the Arab world, you live
Cursing the taste of water
and falafel
and the coffee house
and its visitors
and your wife
and her children
what the devil does
and your penniless state.

And if they asked you,
You say: praise be!
May He keep the blessings coming!

In the Arab world, you live
Like tears in the eyes of the proud.
Difficulty banishes them,
generosity returns them.

In the Arab world, you live
A student in a school courtyard,
Eyes on the street
As he salutes the flag.

In the Arab world, you live
One eye on the clock
Afraid you'll miss the news
To see onscreen people
In the Arab world, die.

Translated by: Tasnim Qutait

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Sweden and the Minarets

One in four  Swedes are against the building of minarets, apparently. In the poll, 26% were against, 44% said they should be allowed, and 30% were undecided. 

I wouldn't have been surprised if there had been a larger number against. But then what does that 30% mean exactly? That it is a non-issue, or that people would rather not say?

I have no idea what that picture has to do with minarets. A seemingly smiling woman in a headscarf. Is she smiling to say: I come in peace? That seems the only explanation, given the article, which talks worriedly about the danger of rising intolerance in Sweden in quite opinionated terms.   

On TV, Debatt had a show about it, except like Debatt always is, it was too wide-ranging a topic and too big an audience for anything useful to be "debated."

In the video, after a repetitive squabble over the oh-so-familiar sentence "Islam is a violent religion", a woman asks the Muslim-identifying group: "why are we not allowed to criticize you?" 

Indirectly, an answer was provided which showed some of the differences of Islam in Sweden. The bearded, middle-aged man defending Islam against the extremists, the earnest politically-active young woman pushing dialogue, and the long-haired live-and-let-live guy.  The fractures are many. The young woman did not like hearing, for example, that most Muslims in Sweden are not Muslims, and only identify strongly as Muslims because/when the community is under criticism  (the long-haired guy's opinion). Different people see being Muslim differently, she said pointedly  in reply.

One interesting point raised though, is how isolated everything is in Sweden. Individuals living in houses, not much of a sense of having neighbors. It's much more that way than in the UK, even.  The immigrant areas so clearly marked out, and even where there is mixing, there is no mixing because people keep themselves to themselves so much. What exactly can we do about that, the presenter asked. The answer: we shouldn't be doing anything, it should be happening naturally. 

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Enchantment of Reading

It is. . . easy to account for this enchantment. To follow the chain of perplexed ratiocination, to view with critical skill the airy architecture of systems, to unravel the web of sophistry, or weigh the merits of opposite hypotheses, requires perspicacity, and presupposes learning.

Anna Letitia Barbauld so effortlessly mixing words like "enchantment" with making reading sound like brain-hurting rocket science. And the "web of sophistry." What strange collisions of scientific and "airy" words.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Contextualizing Rappaccini’s Daughter in the Contemporary Race Debate

Beyond Allegory

As Frederick Crews notes, the excess and fairytale logic of Rappaccini's Daughter calls “for some nonliteral rationale” beyond the literal plot, and the narrator’s claims that the tale makes “little or no reference either to time or space” has resulted in dozens of metaphysical ahistorical readings. But as the Author is dead, we hope to show that Rappacini's Daughter was, despite Hawthorne pronouncements, inscribed with the concerns of its historical moment. More specifically, we use Bakhtin's concept of the dialogic imagination to argue that Hawthorne deflected the identity crisis of mid-ninteenth century America to 16th century Italy. As a result of this analogy, threats to the illusory White Anglo Saxon Prostestant American identity being constructed at the time were conceived in what Said would call orientalist terms.

Said and American Orientalism

To discuss orientalism in Hawthorne is problematic as Said's conception of Orientalism as a discourse constitutive of and constituted by the direct exercise of imperial power in the Orient means that he sees American orientalism as developing only after WWII, when America took over as the dominant western power in the ‘Near and Far East’. This time-frame has been disputed as power in Focault's power-knowledge dynamic is not limited to colonialism, and scholars like Mae Ngai and Ussama Makdisi have examined 19th century American orientalist discourse in relation to Chinese immigration and evangelical missions in the Levant.

More radically Fuaad Shaaban argues that not only Said's time frame but his model of orientialism is inadequate, because Said fails to draw the obvious conclusion from his observation that the imaginary oriental Europe constructed provided “one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other...[and thus]... helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image”.

Rest of Presentation

Serial Novels and Works in Progress

The potted history of the serial novel is well-documented, dating back to The Thousand and One Nights, with its frame of vizier's daughter Scheherazade narrating hook-laden stories to avoid execution by King Shahryar. Its heyday was the 19th century, with the Charles Dickens-founded periodical, All the Year Round, publishing novels of his, including Great Expectations, and Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, at the same time as Sherlock Holmes was taking his first cases in The Strand magazine (which had a circulation of 500,000). Nowadays newspapers and journals rarely serialise novels, but the format lives on in Japanese manga, as well as the dank online caves of the horror, SF and occult genres, pioneered by Stephen King's "e-novel", The Plant, published in 2000 (which remains unfinished).
So does the serial novel in 2009 feel anachronistic, or thoroughly modern – a way of reading literature facilitated by technology?

Serial novels makes me think of the Pickwick Papers. Serial writing makes me think of fanfiction and wips. And the contrary souls who prefer catching a "long, regularly-updated wip" right at the start to reading through one already completed. And comments and feedback and community. Imagining all the possible alternative stories in the virtual universe between the text and the reader, only that process is doubled in fanfiction, with the directness of its responding and being responded to.

The aesthetics of anticipation, I was told by one wip-fan... compelling enough to be addictive, especially if there is a judicious use of cliffhangers. And no abandoned fics at the end.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Back Home

Summer is drawing to an end and you are going back (home). The open suitcase, overflowing with summer clothes, tells you what you would rather not admit: you have become one of those people, the ones who stream back to the home country in the holidays, visiting beach resorts and attempting to learn the names of a new crop of cousins.

There had been a girl born the night you arrived. You had first seen her tiny seven-day old face by candlelight, in a house that was quiet and dark and unfamiliar due to a blackout. The lack of electricity and the shadows thrown by the lone candle had made the familiar room seem like a prehistoric cavern or a bomb-shelter.

This picturesque scene could be a whole chapter in a story of home-coming, the sort of story that delves exuberantly into all the details of the homeland, describing smell, texture, and taste like a gastronomist and a travel brochure rolled into one.

But to begin writing a story of home-coming, you first have to pin down the word home, pin it down firmly on a world map with a red map-pin and give it a name, a location, a latitude.

"Don't tell me you're feeling sorry for yourself," says the angular aunt, the one with the perpetual furrowed brow that lent her a thoughtful air and a dignified mien. "Thousands would dream of this sort of life."

"The world's full of nomads with a collection of passports and a year split between continents," your cousin interjects. She's one of them. One of you.

You never thought you would be a stranger to winters in your own country. You can vaguely remember summer visits when the water would make you sick, and that makes you think of stories of sickly children in alien climates, quite contrary Mary wilting under a fierce sun, stubbornly poking at infertile sand. It is not a comfortable thought, because it brings you face to
face with the sour truth that belonging is never simply a matter of deciding to.

"You can only really become something in your own land. It's about dignity." This is the wisdom offered to you by an elderly woman, full of life and wrinkles, who commandeers the tea-making
process. She hands you a cup of green tea and asks you chidingly when you will come home for good. You fumble for an answer that will satisfy her.

"Don't ever write about 'home-coming'," your cousin demands, with acerbic scare quotes.

You promise not to.

Within a few days you and your cousin will be on opposite ends of the globe, where your lives will continue to unfold, connected by nothing but the slender thread that leads you back here, every other other summer. You could ignore it. You were neither born nor raised here. You are not moored.

Except when you step out of the enclosure of walls, the physical space that is home, you're still in some way home here. You no longer qualify for go home slogans. You don't feel compelled to eulogize the feeling. But it's something. It's there.

Home back home is a terraced house, currently empty, in a nice suburb where the cats tiptoe across the roofs at night and slip into your room if the window is open. Plump well-groomed pets hold the community together, encroaching into the neighbors gardens with no respect for properly pruned hedges and demarcated borders. Here the door is always unlocked and occasionally ajar during the daytime, and neighbors come in with a perfunctory knock or the clearing of a throat, while the cats are skinny, feral and aloof.

You lean out of the window and look down at an overgrown garden, home to a lemon tree, a fig tree and a weathered palm with a trunk like rhino hide. There are roses on the family farm, pale pink as new skin, and your aunt, a dedicated gardener, has stolen some for her own plot of land, is gently encouraging their growth as though they were premature infants or children with delicate constitutions.

Like a scene out of a film the suitcase waits to be closed. You leave it open and wander downstairs, encountering clusters of people who are your flesh and blood. Family. You are waiting for the farewell scene, an inversed version of the welcome, the same faces, but more subdued. It is a special kind of theater.

It seems a day between the embraces of welcome and the uplifted hands of farewell.

Inside Story - Swiss Minaret Ban

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Gigglefit, Reading The Waves

The waves of the sea “like turbaned warriors, like turbaned men with poisoned assegais who, whirling their arms on high, advance upon the feeding flocks, the white sheep.”

Reading Woolf and giggling. Don't generally go hand in hand.

Voting on Minarets in Switzerland

Swiss nationals are voting on whether to ban the building of minarets on the country's mosques.

Muslims make up about 6 percent of Switzerland, where there are currently four minarets. Not quite as many as the army of minaret-missiles on the anti-minaret posters. But, says Ulrich Schlüer of the rightwing Swiss People's party, why wait till you can't see the white cross on the flag for the forest of black minarets?

This either/or, it is draining. But, aesthetically speaking, very cleverly depicted.

Schlüer argues that the minaret has got nothing to do with religion. But, simultaneously, it seems that minarets are the first stage to the introduction of sharia law.

First they build a tower, and then, you see, they ban bacon. Also, FYI, architectural structures conduct forced marriages.

"Forced marriages and other things like cemeteries separating the pure and impure - we don't have that in Switzerland, and we do not want to introduce it."

Oh and Julia Onken believes "mosques are male houses, minarets are male power symbols...the building of minarets is also a visible signal of the state's acceptance of the oppression of women."

I. Well. How logical. Perhaps we need a more extensive ban, to fully eradicate male power symbol architecture?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Eid Mubarak

Postcolonial And Diasporic Representations Of Muslim Women

Westernised Women & Silenced Ciphers:
Postcolonial And Diasporic Representations Of Muslim Women

Essay published in Outskirts.

"The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."

- Laura Bush

On August 26, 2000 the New York Times reported on Asiyah Andrabi, a “conservative Muslim and radical feminist” who “makes her demands for equal rights for women from behind the all-enveloping burqa.” Andrabi, who is also described as a militant fighting for the liberation of Kashmir, seems to compound what the writer evidently sees as the irreconcilable contradiction between feminism and Islam, women’s rights and the veil, Muslim women and militancy. The representation of Muslim women as militant or potentially violent is rare. The idea of Islam as threatening is usually reserved for Muslim men, while women are perceived as an object of pity or empathy. Underlying Laura Bush’s statement is this more familiar paradigm of women as victims of fundamentalist Islamic tradition, implicitly brown women in need of rescue by civilized people throughout the world.

This paper examines representations of Muslim women, looking at the way interpretations of the Muslim woman are often limited to what is seen as the symbolic and ideological aspect of their presence in the texts, and examining the wider question of the veil, which unavoidably enters the realms of religious debate, cultural theory and literary criticism. It will focus primarily on two texts which can be classified as postcolonial: Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album (BA) and Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes: A Love Story. In studying these texts and their representation of Muslim women, I am concerned not so much with the concept of "writing back" which is often a common theme in post-colonial discourse but with the way both writers speak out of and to their respective audiences.

On the one hand, Aidoo’s ironically titled novel, as has often been noted, is in fact a discourse on the complexities of the positions and lives of members of the Ghana’s neo-colonial elite, (Odamtten: 1994: 161) while Kureishi writes not as a postcolonial subject displaced in Britain but “as a British subject in a post-colonial world trying to contest and displace the dominant narrative of the nation.” (Williams: 1999: 10) I have chosen to focus on two Muslim female characters represented in these two very different texts who both play a secondary part in the plot, yet whose presence in the text is nevertheless central to both novels.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Algeria vs Egypt

So everyone is watching the match, and I have been drawn inexorably into it, to the extent that I'm now watching football and listening to the French commentary on Algerian TV, because its raining here and the Egyptian channel is a mass of violent colors.

Which is not altogether inappropriate, considering the violence that "flared" days and days before the match and has continued to "flare" since, online and offline. You would think it would not be possible to despair more over the state of Arab disunity, but it seems some people are determined to prove otherwise.

I am not a football fan at all. But I can understand the football obsession, even if I can't fully relate to it. I was in Cairo when Egypt won the African cup. It was a quite spectacularly unforgettable night.

Wahed Sefr got that part right. So maybe it takes people's minds of the dreariness of day to day, and maybe it is about much more than nationalism.

But now its just ridiculous. Whoever wins the match, I think what will last longer in people's memory is the fiasco of what occured before it.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Jamal Dajani on the Fort Hood Story

Don't Ask Me About Hasan

"Hey, Jamal...sorry to disturb you so early. But you know the Hasan story is big, and I was wondering if you're willing to come for an interview and talk about how it feels being a Maahzlem (Muslim) and all," a television producer says to me on my cell, while I was driving to work.

"How did you feel being a Christian, with Timothy McVeigh and Adolf Hitler being Christians?" I fired back.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

'Rogue' Afghan Policeman

Five British soldiers have been shot dead by a "rogue Afghan policeman."

Parenthetically, somewhere far below the masses of restrained recriminating text: Two Afghan police are also believed to have been killed. (Or, as it may be, three, we don't really know)

Reporting on the facts and responses to the facts are peppered with head-shaking over Afghan govt incompetence and Afghan police uselessness, amid analytical re-enactments and objectivity-laden emotion. I don't understand the convolutions of attempting neutrality. I really don't.

And now everyone has to focus very very carefully on the word "rogue" because why would an Afghan harbor ill-will towards British troops? The motive for this one, it's a real puzzler.

"Sources close to the investigation said Gulbaddin may have been high on heroin at the time of the attack. It has been suggested the killer may have had links to the Taleban. There are also suggestions that he had animosity towards his superiors after being repeatedly moved around the country as part of his duties."

So. Our "rogue Afghan policeman" is either a) a junkie b) a lazy native who didn't appreciate having duties, or c) a terrorist, in which case see d) the general uselessness of the Afghan govt which can't stop infilitrators infilitrating into their poorly educated, notoriously corrupt police force.

Yes, we are in a post-imperial age.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Another appalling video game movie. Xena meets Alladin by way of Tomb Raider, only Gemma Arterton's voice-over accomplishes the feat of being even more annoying than Lara Croft's accent.

Which, perfectly sensical. Over the top British accents, never ever out of place if you're talking ancient/foreign. (The prince in the game had a British accent. So. Yeah, extremely authentic.)

I do accept the wisdom and inevitability of Hollywood's marker for all things foreign, the neutral space for your imagination to supply authenticity. But: "We must take the dagger to the secret guardian temple!" Seriously? That is just toe-curlingly cringe-worthy.

And this appalling Disney misadventure is taken seriously enough that there are yelps of "white-washing!", followed by casting suggestions of ethnic-looking people and/or recommendations of contacts and tanning.

Also: Aryan Iranians (excuse me, Persians) harping on about their Caucasianness, and Iranians rolling their eyes at said Aryans, and the dawning awareness that Hollywood mentality makes blue-eyed Persian princes the flip-side of 300.

Prince of Persia was the first game I ever played. Now I will never be able to play it without feeling nauseous.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Al Jazeera's 13th Birthday

Al Jazeera 13th Anniversary will apparently be accompanied by a make-over of the Arabic channel, which is in desperately dire need of change. Ever since someone decided to loose all sense of aesthetics and arabesques for the busy-ness of a CNN type glarish clash of colours, it's all gone more than a little random.

Content over appearance and all, but I have a conspiracy theory that Al Arabiya's viewers may be drawn there as a result of its colour-coded matchiness and restfully mesmerising purple. The expensive graphics may also be a factor. Al Jazeera Arabic has needed more funding for a long long time.

When it first launched in 1996, Jazeera was the only independent 24 hour news channel in the Arab world. It is still the most watched. The channel's appearance should be up to the standard of the reporting. And they really need the new programmes that will apparently be coming.

(I am still bemoaning the loss of Siri Lil ghaya and Yu7ka Ana)

So. Let's hope the relaunch does it justice.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Tunisia's First Lady and The Queen of Carthage

The subject and title character of The Queen of Carthage by Nicolas Beau and Catherine Graciet, is Leila al-Tarabulusi, wife of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

And Leila is not at all flattered.

Written by two French journalists, the book promptly got itself banned in Tunis, for its apparently "offensive" portrayal of Tunisia's first lady and the sheer unwholesome amount of megalomania-inducing power she, and her tribe, so despotically wield. The book is apparently also critical of France's complicity and profound silence in the face of such abuses of power in its former colony.

Is is not ironic that this where France turns around with raised eyebrows and stresses: former colony. How scandalous to imply that we should interfere! We are no longer in the imperial age. We are the unassuming, unmeddling, diplomatic presence on the red carpet, side by side with our dark-skinned brethen for the general improvement of their quality of life, with absolutely no self-interest but our purely humanitarian concern for their well-being!

Tunisia is not pleased. There have been attempts to ban the book in France. Calling the book "defamatory" and "injurious" did not, however, have much effect. Since that didn't work out, Tunisian journalists who have dared to talk about the "injurious" book have been visited by government-sent thugs with a sanction to injure (as a means to re-adjust and fine-tune the journalist's sense of self-preservation.)

In other news, the Tunisian President was recently re-elected, with an unbelievable ego-inflating majority.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Islam: Sweden's Biggest Threat Since WWII

Islam is Sweden's biggest threat since World War II, says Jimmie Åkesson, leader of Sweden Democrats. Writing in Aftonbladet, he asserted that “today’s multicultural Swedish power-elite are totally blind to the dangers of Islam,” and ended his article with a promise to do "everything in his power" to "turn the trend."And now everyone is in that mode of outraged condemnation that follows the outrageous comments of far-right leaders. Åkesson's blatant attention-seeking is getting a lot of attention.

Maria Schottenius writes "Grotesque, Jimmie Åkesson. Change Muslims to Jews and read." Kristina Edblom seems to be shaking her head exasperatedly in the article "Wrong, wrong, wrong, Åkesson." It's the literal (ten) statistical wrongs she points out, and the population studies that don't exist, which have meant that the SD leader had to take back and/or qualify a few statements, such as his claim that Muslim men are overrepresented among rape perpetrators. Although he explains a few others quite logically. When it comes to his claim that fundamentalism is rising, for example, he justifies that as a quite natural assumption since the Muslim population is growing.

One of the funniest passages in Åkesson's article is this: "Därmed antar man också att man kommer att kunna tämja islam på samma sätt som sekulära krafter sedan århundraden tillbaka tämjt den europeiska kristendomen och förpassat den till den privata sfären."

"There is an assumption that one can tame Islam as a century ago secular powers tamed European Christianity and relegated it to the private sphere."

Åkesson is contemptuous of such naivety. You can't tame Islam! It has no equivalent to the New Testament, no common or garden variety "kärleksbudskap" (literally, love message). Evidence for all this: they actively rejected the Enlightenment, and Humanism.

Such lovely, beautiful, enlightened, human ideologies to reject.

There are quite a few laugh-out-loud statements. There is also the usual, in one long, intense, overwhelming passage with the premise that "Islam has changed Sweden more than Sweden has changed Islam." We now have: Halal meat in swedish supermarkets! Swedish swimming pools with women-only hours! Ramadan holidays! Circumcisions! Terrorist organisations! And: High Birth Rates (They breed like rabbits)!

"All this is now part of the Swedish reality." You feel quite sorry for poor overwhelmed Åkesson at this point. According to him, this horrible nightmare is all the fault of the postmodern, "oikophobic" Western world. The editor's note at the end clarifies: "oikophobe: according to the British philosopher Scruton someone who despises his homeland."

Åkesson's article was a "debate" piece and its certainly done it's job in the sense that there is now a storm of words about Åkesson's words. I'm glad he wrote the article, and not only for the laughs. But I'm also in two minds about this. Condemning (or laughing at) Åkesson is very very easy. Actually dealing with the situation (and the mentality) behind his inflammatory words is not so simple.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Time That Remains Trailer

Trailer for
Elia Suleiman's film, The Time that Remains, which I blogged about here.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

How Not To Be Unidentified & Fled

(published in Gloom Cupboard)

how not to be unidentified
(iraq 2007)

as old as the olive tree
reads the text on the body
fished out of the river
in the blue light before dawn
the line decipherable
body still a cypher
but now the word is out

in the beginning the word
the riddle, the clue
poetic self-effacing small tattoo
waits for a face and a name
to replace the figures
on the anonymous stiff blank sheet

as the man at the morgue
numbers the nameless
in dingy dimlit rooms
nothing is white anymore
even at the height of noon

dark corners untouched
by sunlight, streaming
through bulletholes in metal doors
through the eye of a needle
silver needle retracing
new blue greivances
not snakes, tigerheads or proud flags
no bold these colours don't run

but first name, last name, tribal name
diligently picked out
by a fine arts graduate, raw tattoist
tattoing over and over
a rollcall of death

a thin woman with corrugated skin
and her own blue-green tattoo on her chin
brought in her great grand-daughter
last of the line, moon faced,
red-chipped polish on bitten nails
plaited hair and red ribbons
orphaned and cast back
two generations

there's a waiting list:
the dull-eyed, drained
of imagination
prozac zombie nation
the bitter, counting off their dead
on accusing fingers
the rosary-clicking crowd
agrees to anything
on the one condition
of positive identification

but the younger generation
wears pragmaticism
like a raincoat
get a tattoo in case you die
make it look good in case you live

no guarantees,
the self-made tattoist says
he turns his palms up,
they are even as the scales
of justice, blue 18
and 81 filling in the lines
no promises, no refunds

they discuss what part of the body
is most likely
to survive unscathed

and the neighbours children wear
themselves to school everyday
name, D.O.B, address,
denomination, (digitally
altered to protect their identity)



fled the country
a running figure that just
gave the slip to the grasping shadow
that was the homeland

then shipped oars and anchored
temporarily somewhere
planning a pension
and an anthology of poetry

words that would scream
defiance and restore
everything, symbolically


talking about the weather
is comforting now

when you've run away
from too many people who know too much
anonymous people
are a blessing

they have blank eyes
like teddybear buttons
and stitched smiles
and they say the most banal things

the mental voiceover goes away
snippets of overheard conversations substitute
and the anthology is left at a lonely sentence
about forgetting