Sunday, January 29, 2006

Kufiyaspotting #8: 'Arabistan/Khuzistan

....Or Does It Explode? alerts us to conditions in the southern Iranian province of Khuzestan (often referred to in the Arab world as 'Arabistan), where the Iranian regime has been cracking down on overt expressions of Arab ethnicity, including the wearing of the red kufiya. According to a report published by the Underrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, "In November's Eid-al-Fitr demonstrations in Ahwaz, Governor General Heyat Mojadam ordered all those wearing keffiyeh be arrested. An Ahwazi Arab youth freed from prison following his arrest during the Eid-al-Fitr protests spoke of how the prosecutor, Mr Farhadi-Rad, argued that the wearing of the red keffiyeh was a 'political statement' that indicated support for secessionism." Another report states that the state has banned the wearing of the kufiya at work. This includes the state oil company, NOIC, the largest employer in the province.

This occurs in the background of the recent upsurge of protests by Arabs in Khuzestan over the past several months.

Latest death count: Iraq

My neighbor continues to keep a daily count of US military casualties in Iraq.

Iraqi civilian casualties: today Iraq Body Count puts the estimates at between 28,198 and 31,800.


Kufiyaspotting #7: David Mamet

These photos accompany an article in today's New York Times on David Mamet's new CBS series, "The Unit." The article does not call attention to, or comment on, the fact that Mamet is wearing a kufiya. It does mention that Mamet's left-wing political views are well known.

The David Mamet Society informs us that Mamet was offered a special tribute at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July, 2001, and that he "toured Jerusalem with Mayor Ehud Olmert [currently Israel's PM], visiting the sites of numerous suicide bombings."

In a column written for The Guardian in January, 2003, Mamet predicted the rise of Israelis as villains or monsters in film of the next few years. He begins the essay by extolling the film, Exodus, in which Israelis appear as epic and beautiful heroes, and goes on to assert that the turnabout whereby Israelis emerge as villains "is fair play and it is merely the Jews' turn in the barrel."

So now, the enigmatic Mamet is wearing the kufiya...

Earlier kufiyaspottings: One, two, three, four, five, six.

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Postscript, July 10, 2011:

From Christopher Hitchens' review of David Mamet's new book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (New York Times Book Review, June 19, 2011). The book marks Mamet's lurch to the right. Hitchens finds it dull and irritating. But Mamet does say: "the Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all." If Mamet's donning of a kufiya in 2006 was an enigma, today, no doubt, he would consider that fashion accessory to have been a deluded mistake.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Nadi Cinema

Here's an item of interest mostly to locals: a Middle East film series, "Nadi Cinema," hosted by my colleague Joel Gordon in History. All films are at 7 PM, in 104 Mullins Library, University of Arkansas.

The schedule:

January 25: Amrika Shika Bika (America Abracadabra), dir. Khayri Bishara, Egypt, 1993

February 8: Vivre au Paradis (Living in Paradise), dir. Bourdem Guerdjou, Algeria/France, 1998

March 8: Eskiya (Bandit), dir. Yavuz Turgel, Turkey, 1996

April 5: Ihna Bitu' al-Autobis (We Are the Bus People), dir. Husayn Kamal, Egypt, 1979

April 19: Dayereh (The Circle), dir. Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2000

May 3: Darb al-Tabanat (The Milky Way), dir. Ali Nassar, Palestine/Israel, 1997

Outed by Campus Watch

I just discovered that, for a time last fall, my photo and a quote from me was featured on the homepage of Daniel Pipes' notorious Campus Watch. It is now in the archive of "Previous Quotes of the Month." Here's the quote:
"Many of the clauses in the new [Iraqi] constitution are 'extremely problematic' when compared to the progressive laws concerning women's rights under the secular regime of Saddam Hussein..."

Campus Watch features quotes without commentary. Presumably from the perspective of Campus Watch, such a claim needs no comment because it is so self-evidently outrageous. From what I know of Campus Watch, I guess Pipes & Co. would claim this statement makes me some kind of Saddamist fellow traveler, and would put it in the category of what they call "apologetics." Incidentally, the link to my statement is wrong, or perhaps no longer exists. I'm pretty sure I was quoted saying this by the University of Arkansas student newspaper, The Traveler, while speaking at a bi-weekly public forum, Diwan Baghdad, that I run with my colleagues Joel Gordon and Najib Ghadbian.

Other quotes in the archive are from usual suspects, such as Rashid Khalidi, Juan Cole, Joel Beinin, and so on. What I find remarkable about all this is that (a) no one ever bothered to inform me that Campus Watch had featured me as a notorious "apologist" Middle East specialist of the month and (b) I received not a single piece of hate mail in response to my presumably extremist, Baathist dead-ender statement. No one, whether friend or foe of Campus Watch, cared much about the matter. So much for the power of Campus Watch to intimidate wayward academics. (Or perhaps it's just that no one thinks it's worth harassing a professor in what many folks on the two coasts consider the boondocks of Arkansas?)

This is not to say that Campus Watch-style forces are not able to harass professors, as can be witnessed by recent reports of the efforts of a right-wing alumni group to pay student informants to gather information on "radical professors." This is juicy stuff, and if you've not seen it, please go here and here.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Marilyn Monroe in Egypt

A placard advertisement for Cinema al-Kawkab, a movie theater in the Husayn district, Cairo, Egypt, featuring Marilyn. Husayn is a traditional district, located near al-Azhar. The placard dates from the early '50s, was given away for free and presumably was hung in shops throughout Cairo.

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Wrestlers in Egypt

A poster widely available in popular quarters in Cairo in the mid-'90s. It says: Egyptian and World Champions. The wrestlers, from left to right, are Makkawi, 'Imadi and Shahhat.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Shawarma Lights Up Sharon's Brain?

Last Tuesday, the doctors of Israel's ex-PM Sharon tried to stimulate his brain by putting a plate of shawarma--reportedly Arik's favorite dish--next to his head.

Ironies abound here. First, that Sharon's favorite food would be Arab. (Shawarma, for those readers who do not know, is slices of lamb roasted on a skewer. Like gyros, but much tastier. Shawarma is ubiquitous in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. To my mind, the true shawarma masters are the Lebanese.) Second, that the doctors tried to revive Sharon's brain with the smell of meat, the massive consumption of which probably caused his stroke. (Sharon was also a big fan of other meat dishes prepared in the Arab style, especially kabob.) Third, despite the fact that Israel has tried to turn shawarma, as well as falafel and tabbouleh and "pita" (Arabic bread or khubz) into Israeli national dishes, they remain indelibly Arab in their origins and names. (Although these foods arguably are the "native" foods of a majority of Israelis, if we consider that the majority of Israeli citizens are "Eastern" in origin, if we add together Palestinian citizens and Mizrahi Jews of Arab origin.)

Despite Sharon's best efforts, over the entire course of his career, to deny the Arab/Palestinian traces that Israel attempted to obliterate in the course of its founding, they remain there to haunt him, and perhaps even revive him.

And here is another one of those indelible traces: Sharon is being treated in Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital. 'Ayn Karim was a Palestinian village that fell to Israel during the 1947-48 war, and was annexed to Jerusalem, its 3000+ inhabitants (Muslim and Christian), expelled. Many of the original homes and churches remain, lending a tony atmosphere to this upscale suburb inhabited mostly by Israeli Jews. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, is also built on the lands of 'Ayn Karim.

Every time we hear about Sharon and Hadassah Ein Kerem, it reminds us that Arik is being cared for on the land of ethnically-cleansed Palestinians.

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I've been away...first it was because of work on the house (check out my flickr account, on the right-hand column, for photos) and then I was in Washington, DC, reading proposals for the Department of Education. Alas, classes start tomorrow, but I am nonetheless determined to get back to blogging!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Architectural Debate in Israel on "The Wall"

Very useful article by Nicolai Ouroussoff in the Sunday New York Times on the wall and the architectural debate over it in Israel. A key figure in the debate is architect Eyal Weizman, who has published a report that "essentially accused Israeli architects of being collaborators in the colonization of the West Bank." Says Weizman, "We examined these architectural drawings in a clinical manner...We showed that the crime was in the making of the line - in the drawing itself - not only in the principle of building a settlement."

Shimon Navez, a retired brigadier general and director of the Israeli Defense Forces' Operational Theory Research Institute, is also a critic of the wall, but from a position that endorses, rather than critiques, Israeli colonialism. Navez deploys the theories of Deleuze, Bataille and the Situationists, claiming that the West Bank is already a "smooth space," and the wall (the "barrier," in his parlance) a kind of ineffective anachronism, representative of "striated space." Navez cites Gaza as an example of how Israeli forces are effectively using "smooth space" as a mechanism of control, "saying that as long as Israel controls the air space, what happens on the ground is essentially irrelevant from a security standpoint. 'The main idea is that we can see and do what we please,' [Navez] said."

According to Weizman, General Navez "is simply trying to replace one form of control with another that is less visible."

Ouroussoff proceeds to give a very useful description of the wall, and he concludes (very surprisingly, for a NYT article):

The consequences extend beyond the ghettoization of Palestinians and Israelis. The wall destroys the space for those who once occupied the middle ground: those who refuse to divide the world into good and bad, civilization and barbarity. It threatens to sever the threads, already fragile, that might one day be woven into a more tolerant image of coexistence.

(My only complaint about the article: no Palestinian voices! Why not talk to Palestinian architects like Suad Amiri?)

Some articles by Weizman:

"Strategic Points, Flexible Lines, Tense Surfaces and Political Volumes: Ariel Sharon and The Geometry of Occupation." In Cities, War and Terrorism: Towards an Urban Geopolitics, ed. Stephen Graham (Blackwell, 2004)

A piece (I can't locate the title) in Against the Wall: Israel's Barrier to Peace, ed. Michael Sorkin (The New Press, 2005)

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Sexy Beirut

As reported by Queer Arabs, the Jan/Feb issue of The Out Traveler features an article on "Surprising, Sexy Beirut." The article excerpt available online states:
Indeed, it’s tourism that has empowered the country’s gay and lesbian community and has made it the most liberal place in the Arab world. “Tourists come from all over the world because they know Lebanon is a fairly open society,” says Georges Azzi, head of the Beirut-based organization Helem (Arabic for “dream”), the Arab world’s first and only gay advocacy group. “This is especially so for Gulf Arabs,” he explains, referring to the Middle East’s most lavish spenders, from countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. “So the police couldn’t crack down on the nightlife scene even if they wanted to.”

Helem's website is here.

(Out Traveler identifies Beirut nightclub BO18 as being built on the site of a "onetime Palestinian refugee camp." This is incorrect. BO18 is built on the ruins of Qarantina, an urban slum cleared by the Phalangists in early 1976, during the Lebanese civil war, and many of its inhabitants massacred, 1500, according to journalist Michael Jansen. It was a heterogeneous slum, with Kurds, Palestinians, and Shi'ite migrants and refugees from southern Lebanon.)

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