November 10, 2007
Infidel Review: Packaged Phobias
Yes, in in breaking news, the long-awaited mysterious review of Hirsi Magan/Ali has been sighted.
It is perhaps not off to share as well, The Financial Times very able critical review of a related genre of Islamophobic literature, that of the statistically illiterate "Eurabia" genre to which in many ways Hirsi Magan/Ali belongs.
October 25, 2007
The Magic Kingdom
Last week, I decided it would be interesting to watch The Kingdom, an action movie that followed four FBI agents sent to Saudi Arabia to investigate a massive attack on an American housing compound. I went not because I expected it to be intellectually stimulating (it wasn't) or because I figured I'd learn useful things from the film (I didn't), but because I wanted to see how Hollywood portrayed Saudi Arabia. Save for the surfeit of British villains, Hollywood is a useful barometer of American perceptions of a particular part of the world; there is a reason so many bad guys were Russians during the Cold War.
September 26, 2006
Indigènes: Underlining fallacious framing
I thought I might return to a film that I have mentioned in the past since it is now out in the cinemas, at least in Europe, Indigènes, which tells a story that, as a French historian puts it in his discussion of the film, has been "obscured" in French and generally in Western recounting of WWII (and Maghrebine of their own history, at least following the anti-colonial reaction). I confess my personal interest arises from a family connexion with the tale, insofar as one of my grandfathers was a naval officer transported these fellows across the Med...
That is, the participation - indeed the dominant role of Muslim African (be they Maghrebine or sub-Saharan) soldiers in the "French" army liberating France - an item that I have mentioned in the past in connexion with the idiocy of ignoramuses such as Irshad Manji tying the Islamic world to the Nazis. It is also an item of interest in reflecting on the fallaciousness of simple minded Clash of Civilisation whanking on.
September 01, 2006
Naguib Mahfouz, 1911-2006
Back when I was planning my first trip to Egypt, I asked a Lebanese friend of mine what one should read to get a feel for the country. Her immediate, breathless response was "Naguib Mahfouz! Omigod you have to read him!!" (yes, a bit of an airhead, but also adorable). Her first recommendation was the Palace Walk series, but recognizing the impracticalities of lugging three books around in my suitcase, she told me to read Midaq Alley instead.
My first night in Cairo was a blur of people, cars and smoggy air. I recall standing near the open window of my hotel room at 1am and wondering why it still sounded like the city was in the middle of rushhour traffic. Despite having come from a large (albeit orderly) city myself, I had trouble adjusting to all the noise and chaos, not to mention the small problem of air so thick you could almost grab it. An hour later, I found my way to a tiny 24-hour internet cafe. The only other person there was a chainsmoking American expat who laughed when I complained about the pollution and suggested I breathe through a filter, like he did.
May 10, 2006
Sheikh Sultan's ripping read
Newly translated into English, the Sheikh of Sharjah has written a historical novel, "Deep-Seated Malice", about 15th-century Portuguese conqueror, Afonso de Alberquerque. It relates his "obsessive pursuit" to control and exploit the resources of the Gulf and India, and the fact that he was prepared to "ransack the Holy Ka'aba in the Holy City of Makkah, use the remains of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) as ransom for territorial concessions".
Alberquerque's ugly contempt for the Islamic world and his lust for the resources of the East are reminiscent of many similar attempts since his time. The book ends with the death of Alberquerque and the question: "But was the deep-seated malice buried with him? Or has it remained one of the characteristics of colonialism to this very day?"
It will be available from Saqi but isn't on their website yet.
May 07, 2006
Turkey: Anti-Western Sentiment and "Islam is the Solution"
Earlier this year I saw the Turkish movie Kurtlar Vadisi Irak (Valley of the Wolves - Iraq - Website). It is reportedly the most expensive Turkish movie ever made but that's not why it made a big splash. Being a movie spin-off from one of Turkey's most-watched TV series, addressing a very emotional topic, and playing to popular sentiments resulted in record audience numbers - in Turkey itself and among Turkish communities abroad.
May 04, 2006
Unspeakable Love: Gay MENA Culture Reviewed
I've just posted a review of Brian Whitaker's Unspeakable Love, a survey of gay and lesbian life in the Middle East. Although his book-blog says it's been out in Beirut since April 5, today was the first time I saw a copy in stores - Virgin had a ton of them, prominently displayed (albeit not as prominently as Walid bin Talal's puff bio).
April 28, 2006
The Goatee of Enlightenment
When Michael Totten writes his next book, I hope someone blurbs him as "the rightful heir of Thomas Friedman". It would be true on so many levels.
This week, the Goatee of Enlightenment followed the Moustache of Understanding from Beirut to, well, Tel Aviv at least. While there, he demonstrates all he's learned at the Master's feet, passing along commonplaces as though they were wisdom. But then he rockets off into a stupidity that's all his own, as he finds a new source of hope for Israeli-Arab relations in their relationship with the Bedouins:
Bedouin also serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. The skills they learn as desert wanderers make them the perfect trackers.
Because, you know, they get +10 to their "spot" and "sneak" rolls, and can train Tracking to level 37. But I digress. Let's see the true moment of happy cultural exchange:
January 19, 2006
Book review: Why Fitz Lodd is a Ten Tola Twit
Dubai by Robin Moore (1976): A rollicking good read, and still extremely relevant thirty years since its publication, if one can stomach the cretinous American "hero".
Tola 1: Despite being a senior army officer with a couple of decades of service, with ample experience of the Middle East, Fitz Lodd manages to lose his cool in about thirty seconds when being needled by a partisan Jewish journalist known for "twisting words around".
Tola 2: When falsely branded anti-semitic, Fitz Lodd accepts all pressure to take early retirment and save the US army embarrassment, going quietly without any fight or any proper compensation.
Tola 3: Although he is popular with the Arabs solely because they believe the anti-semitic accusations against him, Fitz Lodd tries endlessly to publically refute the allegations, despite repeated cautions from other, wise expat businessmen.
Tola 4: Despite being given specific intelligence that Britain is going to redraw maritime boundaries and screw up "Kajmira's" oil rights, Fitz pushes on with his attempts to get a concession there.
Tola 5: Although he could make millions more dollars in business, Fitz Lodd decides to try for an ambassadorship, for the pathetically lame reason that he wants to impress his girlfriend.
Tola 6: When his girlfriend dumps him, Fitz Lodd loses all ambition, because none of his plans and "thirst for power" means anything "without Laylah".
Tola 7: The split second his ex-girlfriend get dumped by the man she dumped Fitz for, and sends Fitz a whingey little note, Fitz is back on a plane and into her arms.
Tola 8: Despite having nothing but vague hints that he may get an ambassadorship, Fitz makes a massive financial donation to the Republican party.
Tola 9: Despite still having nothing but vague information on the likelihood of an ambassadorship, Fitz sells his "treasured" Ten Tola Bar (his sole livelihood) to clean up his prospects. Readers will be unsurprised and quite delighted when of course he is doublecrossed by the US government (again) and passed over for it.
Tola 10: It takes Fitz until page 501 to actually wake up and smell the qahwah:
"Christ," Fitz muttered, "if that's what we've got in the Middle East Department, the Arabs were one hundred percent better off with the British power structure."
December 22, 2005
Putting aside our Mona Eltahawy daydreams for a moment, and because I’ve been a delinquent contributor lately, here is a review of a miniseries I found last night while trying out the “on demand” feature on my digital cable box. Obviously I was trying to avoid finishing an entirely separate entry on Turkey, but since the show happened to be about a terror cell operating in post 9/11 America, I thought it might be worth mentioning here.
Of course, I’ve only managed to watch three episodes so far, so it may end up being a stupid series after all.
Judging by the exposed breasts (ah yes, brace yourselves, my male readers) and provocative subject matter, Sleeper Cell is clearly not for regular network television. Produced by Showtime (which, irritatingly, does not allow non-US visitors to view its website), it follows the progress of an Islamist terror cell as it plans a major attack on US soil. The twist to this tale is that the group has already been infiltrated by an FBI agent posing as a Muslim bent on jihad against the West. The twist to that twist is that he is in fact a devout Muslim, and seems to alternate between morbid fascination and utter revulsion at his terrorist comrades.
December 12, 2005
On Syriana (cross from Lounsbury)
Having just seen this film, I thought I might make a comment or two.
Overall, a very interesting film, I rather liked it. Somewhat on the dramatic side, as relatively large budget film has to be, but very nicely done overall. I shall not pretend to review the film as a film reviewer, but some thoughts on its MENA subject matter and small details that pleased me (as well as displeased), from someone who operates in this kind of world.
What follows will have direct reference to the film’s events, “spoilers” to use that silly precious little phrase. Don’t want to read them, don’t read on. For those who may want to see the film, my summary is I found the film to be a very nice rendition of affaires here in my region, although to be sure dramatised.
November 26, 2005
I’m sure you’ve already come across countless reviews that whine about Syriana being “too complicated”, “too difficult to follow” and “too jumpy”. Well yes, if you’re one of those annoying morons who can’t sit through a Disney film without asking questions about the plot, this one will go right over your head. Everyone else, particularly those who were able to follow Traffic (written by the same guy), should be fine. I will agree that the storytelling could have used a bit more exposition, seeing as I did find myself wondering “which old white guy is this?” at the beginning of some scenes. Otherwise, no excuse for not paying attention like some slack jawed movie critic.
August 13, 2005
The Perverse Fascination Continues: Sheikh-Themed Romance Novels
Joining secretdubai, yinshuisiyuan and myself, the ever-thoughtful Jackmormon is also contemplating the mysterious popularity of sheikh-themed romance novels:
All mockery aside, I suspect that there is a statistically significant boom in such novels--one Susan Mallery began writing romance novels with "sheik" in the title in November 2001 and is up to eight in her series by now--but I can't really make the longitudinal argument I'd like to without more serious Library of Congress diving. And for that kind of research, I'll have to have an academic article in view. My hypothesis so far is that since romance novelists and readers are constantly in search of new diabolical male stereotypes, the recent media coverage of Arab masculinity has sparked an uptick in Arab-male leading roles in romance novels. And since the romance-novel writing business is so fast, I'll bet one could find one hell of a statistical correlation, if one knew how to look.
I suppose one might try to force such a survey through Amazon’s Advanced Search, but the speed at which these novels are published is probably comparable to the speed at which they drop off the face of the earth.
August 11, 2005
Emory Law School: Islamic Family Law Resource
Currently reading Women's Rights & Islamic Family Law: Perspectives on Reform, based on a series of studies conducted by Emory Law School.
The book presents case studies of Muslim societies in Egypt, the West Bank & Gaza and the United States. It also includes a general survey of domestic violence in the Middle East. This study is particularly interesting to me because it attempts to describe the interaction between shari'a, social attitudes and state law in the region. I may write something about it later, but for now I offer this useful link to Emory's Islamic Family Law website.
Note that the data is current as of 2002 and may not include more recent legal reforms/reviews in countries like Morocco (I'm smirking at you, Lounsbury).
August 09, 2005
Fatima Mernissi: The Veil and the Male Elite
Lately I’ve been reading a lot about women, personal status law and gender inequality in MENA. While it is a common knee-jerk reaction to blame Islam for oppressing women in the region, one need only look non-Muslim communities in and around the Middle East to see that similar practices often cut across religions. Mistreatment and neglect of women and female children is perpetrated by Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others, justified to varying degrees by calls to religion, local custom or ancient tradition.
Having said that, it’s also quite common to see people claiming that Islam elevated the status of women, when compared to the jahiliyya (pre-Islamic period) in Arabia. This appears to be true (although it remains controversial to what degree), but these same writers generally fail to mention that both the Qur’an and the Hadith contain passages stating quite clearly that women are not equal to men in some rather important respects. For me, the inequality is exemplified by a verse in Sura 4 (here are two translations):
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what God would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next) refuse to share their beds (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): for God is Most High, Great (above you all). – 4:34 (trans. A. Yusuf Ali)
Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they spend some of their wealth. Hence righteous women are obedient, guarding the unseen which Allah has guarded. And those of them that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them. Should they obey you, do not seek a way of harming them, for Allah is Sublime and Great! - 4:34 (trans. Majid Fakhry)
Guardianship, obedience and the “appropriate” interpretation of this verse have been widely debated by religious scholars. Based on the full title of Moroccan feminist writer Fatima Mernissi’s work, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam, I expected a discussion of Qur’anic verses that suggested both equality and inequality in terms of gender. Of course, I had already been disappointed by Mernissi’s meandering style in Islam and Democracy, so it was not particularly surprising to discover the same unfocused, overly-poetic writing here. My guess is that this work is not a rigorous sociological study as much as it is a description of her personal journey, with a bit of history thrown in for interest.
July 29, 2005
"A black comedy of errors"
It was shocking to discover Lynne Graham's seminal treatise on East-West relations, "The Arabian Mistress", languishing in the one-dollar-clearance bin at Books & Record Exchange. In her detailed allegorical analysis of the strained and difficult history between Arabia and the West, Graham brings both depth of knowledge and sharp perception.
"Arabia" is encapsulated in the boldy-drawn, bold-tempered protagonist, Prince Tariq Shazad ibn Zachir. Graham's multiple, florid descriptions of this 28-year-old "paramount Sheikh of Jumar" are surely a sly dig at Western stereotyping of the "Orient", from the lush harems depicted in Orientalist art to cult romance figures such as Valentino's The Sheikh.
"He stilled like a lion on the prowl. Magnificent, hugely confident, his silent grace of movement one of his most noticeable physical attributes. In the sunlight he was a golden feast of vibrant masculinity. His luxuriant black hair shone. His tawny skin glowed with health and his stunning bronze eyes gleamed like precious metal, both brilliant and unreadable. Indeed, he was quite staggeringly beautiful..."
July 01, 2005
Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination
I just thwacked myself on the head with Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination. Literally. I was so furious with the idiocy of the story that I had to do something. Hurt quite a bit, for a paperback.
Aside from Bridget Jones's Diary, I have never read girly novels. In fact, I routinely scoff at their tangerine and lime covers as I walk by the Chick Lit table at my local bookstore. But this weekend I spent far too much time reading about economic development and the plight of women in China, it was very depressing. Decided that a dose of fluffy, girlish escapism would be a pleasant distraction, perhaps I could lose myself in the adventures of an interesting female character and her CIA-agent love interest.
As you can guess from the title, our protagonist has an "overactive imagination" but (surprise!) happens to be spot on when she starts to believe that a jetsetting playboy is actually an Islamist terrorist. Why? Well, he's swarthy, speaks Arabic and happens to be in the same city when a cruise ship gets blown up by (surprise!) al-Qaeda. Since the author is an ignorant nitwit when it comes to Arabs, Islam, MENA and Islamist terrorism, it turns out that the playboy is in fact an al-Qaeda terrorist. A beautiful, sexy terrorist that Olivia wants to screw, but can't because she feels put out by the six-foot-tall sultry Indian model who hangs around him all the time.