Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Middle East Report nominated for prestigious award

I just learned that Middle East Report has been nominated for an Utne Independent Press Award in the category of International Coverage. I served on the editorial commmittee of MER from 1997-2002, and recently learned that I'm going back on the editorial committee beginning in 2007. (I can't believe I was away for 4 years!) So congratulations to my comrades. And hawgblawg readers, please read MER and give it your support.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

“Rockers, Feminists and Homosexuals: Diversionary Scenes in Chahine’s 'Bab al-Hadid'”

I attended the Middle East Studies Association meetings, November 18-21, in Boston, where I presented a paper on Youssef Chahine's classic 1958 film Cairo Station (Bab al-Hadid). The entire panel was devoted to the film, and also featured papers by my UA History Department colleague Joel Gordon and by Elliott Colla (Comp Lit, Brown). It was a great panel, an all-too-rare occasion to focus attention on a single work. I offer below the opening paragraph of the paper; if anyone is interested in the whole thing, they can write me.

I propose today to concentrate our attention away from Bab al-Hadid’s main plotline, the gradual descent of Qinawi into madness and attempted homicide, and toward on three scenes which, according to conventional analyses of the film, serve as entertaining “distractions” from the story’s forward momentum. Film critic Viola Shafik, for instance, describes such scenes, of which there are several, as “inserts” that function as “observations made by Qinawi” and “allow the audience to participate in his voyeurism” (2001: 78). Shafik claims as well that Bab al-Hadid represents a “successful mélange of social criticism and entertainment” (Ibid). Her assertion that these scenes are Qinawi’s observations, however, is problematic because he is not always present, and where he is, the scene is often not shot from his point of view. In addition, Shafik trivializes such scenes by naming them as “inserts” and posing them as “entertainment” in contrast to the ostensibly more serious scenes of “social criticism.” My analysis by contrast foregrounds such scenes and suggests that the film’s pleasures derive as much from the “inserts,” the excesses, as they do from the unfolding tension of the main plot. Rather than viewing them as “mere” entertainment, I want to argue that they both reflect as well as comment on Egypt’s social conditions in significant ways. In addition, attention to such scenes can help us to deepen our appreciation of depicted in Bab al-Hadid as a sight of remarkable social dynamics and interactions, as a crossroads, as the narrator Madbouli states at the film’s opening, where a very heterogeneous variety of social classes and types interact: “northerners and southerners (bahri wa ‘ibli), foreigners and locals, the rich and poor, the employed and those out of work.” These include encounters between travelers of all sorts and the relatively fixed population of workers like Qinawi the newspaper peddler (Youssef Chahine), Hanuma the soda pop vendor (Hind Rustum), and Abu Siri‘ the porter (Farid Shauqi), who provide services to those coming and going, but who are also, in a sense, travelers themselves, as part of Cairo’s burgeoning population of rural-to-urban migrants (Gauthier 1985: 57).

I proceeded to examine three scenes that I call the rock ‘n’ roll, the feminist, and the gay pickup scenes.

The photo shows Hanuma (played by Hind Rustum) on the train with the rock 'n' rollers.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Arab Fiction

I was excited to read a review of The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction in today's New York Times. Excited because I was pleased to learn about the book, and excited because the review was very favorable. I'm always glad when Arab culture gets its props in high-profile media venues in the US. Although I've not seen the volume, I think the reviewer, Robert W. Worth (who covers Iraq for the Times) gets things right, based on what I know about the writers he covers. He praises Egyptian short story writer Yusuf Idris, Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim, and Egyptian Nubian writer Haggag Hassan Oddoul's story, "Nights of Musk," from the short story collection of the same name (AUC Press, 2005). I'm particularly pleased to see Oddoul (pictured) getting some credit, both because he's an excellent writer and because it's good for Nubian visibility. Worth also gives high marks to Sudanese novelis Tayeb Salih, and he makes the very accute observation that the stories of Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi's "angry rants against Muslim treatment of women...are among the few stories in the book where an author appears to be playing to a Western audience."

Here's what bugs me about the review. Worth states that "One of the best pieces here is an excerpt from 'Men in the Sun'" by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani. I can't quibble, for I think that this novella is Kanafani's best work. Worth goes on to describe Kanafani as a "Palestinian advocate killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 1972." It has of course been very well known for a long time that the car bomb that killed Kanafani (and his niece Lamis) was planted by Israeli intelligence. In fact, Eitan Haber, former spokesperson and speechwriter for the late Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin admitted Mossad's responsibility, in an article published in Yediot Aharanot last October. (See my blog entry on the subject here.) But even when Israeli terrorism is officially acknowledged and confirmed, the New York Times will not publish the fact. Too "controversial" to say that Israel engaged in targeted assassinations, I guess, even--or maybe especially?--in a review of literature.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Fun-Da-Mental's "DIY Cookbook" Video

You must see this video! Watch it for free, here. Or better yet, buy it, for 1.99 pounds sterling, here . By purchasing, you support Fun-Da-Mental and get a better quality video to boot. (The image above is the last frame of the video--surprisingly, a quote from JFK.) John Hutnyk, on his invaluable blog Trinketization, analyzes the video here, situating it within the tradition of pantomime.

Here's an excerpt from John's analysis:
In the video for DIY Cookbook, pantomime characters make the argument. There are three verses. The first entails a cross-of-St-George-wearing youth constructing a strap-on bomb from a recipe downloaded from the internet. He is dressed as a rabbit and as a lizard in parts of the verse, playing on childlike toys and fears; the second verse references the Muslim scholar and the figure of the armed guerrilla as the character relates a more cynical employment as a mercenary making a ‘dirty bomb’ with fission materials bought on the black market in Chechnya or some such; the third pantomime figure is the respectable scientist discussed in RamParts by Dave, here the scientist in a lab coat morphs into a member of the Klu Klux Klan and then a suited business man, building a neutron bomb that destroys people ‘but leaves the buildings intact’.

I hope to add something to what Hutnyk says in the future...bil mishmish, as they say. For my earlier posts on Fun-Da-Mental, click on the label below (a new, cool feature).


Tha Global Cipha: Hip Hop Culture and Consciousness

I just received a note from James Spady informing me of the publication of Tha Global Cipha: Hip Hop Culture and Consciousness, co-edited by Spady, H. Samy Alim, and Samir Meghelli. It's a collection of interviews with US and international artists with (presumed) connections to hip-hop, including Jay-Z, Sunni rappers Mos Def and Eve, reggaetón star Tego Calderon, dancehall artist Buju Banton, rai singer Khaled, and French rapper Booba. Read more about it here.

I assume that the books resembles the format of Spady's earlier volumes: Nation Conscious Rap: The Hip Hop Vision (co-edited with James D. Eure, 1991), Twisted tales: in the hip hop streets of Philly (co-edited with Stefan Dupres and Charles G. Lee, 1995), and Street Conscious Rap (co-edited with Charles G. Lee, H. Samy Alim, and C. G. Leedham, 1999). These are all massive volumes with invaluable and in-depth interviews with well-known as well as important but not so well-known rap artists. What I find particularly valuable about these volumes is that there is a wealth of material on the Islamic (from Sunni to Nation of Islam to--especially--Nation of Gods and Earths) sympathies and beliefs of many rap artists. Spady has been an indefatigable researcher on such subjects, who is also very attuned to the global dimensions of hip-hop, Afrocentric thought, and Islamic-inflected rap.

H. Samy Alim teaches Anthropology at UCLA and has authored a number of articles on hip-hop. I like what he does, but I have a quibble with him (for an earlier quibble, go here). In his article "A New Research Agenda: Exploring the Transglobal Hip Hop Umma" (in miriam cook and Bruce Lawrence, eds., Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip Hop, 2005), he tends to assimilate the beliefs of members of the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE) like Rza to the beliefs of Sunni Muslims like Mos Def. Alim goes so far as to assert that "the belief in Allah and the revelation of the Quran through the Prophet Muhammad is a tenet of all Muslim communities" including the Nation of Gods and Earths (p. 266). This is a misrepresentation of the NGE, who believe, on the contrary, that black men are "Gods" and that monotheistic religions like orthodox Islam mislead the masses by preaching belief in a "mystery god" or "spook." (For more, see my article, "Islam in the Mix: Lessons of the Five Percent" here. And for what I think will be the definitive work, look out for Michael Muhammad Knight's The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip-hop, and the Gods of New York, due out from Oneworld in spring 2007.) But other than the fact that I think that Alim is trying to force Five Percenters into a Hip Hop "umma," I think he's a fine researcher. (And I should add that when he was the editor of Black Arts Quarterly, he generously published one of my articles [vol. 7, issue 1, Spring 2002]. Go here to download the issue.)

I don't know anything about the third editor, Samir Meghelli, so here's what the book's website says: "a Richard Hofstadter Fellow and doctoral candidate in American History at Columbia University, and his work has been published in The Black Arts Quarterly [in Vol. 8, issue 1, Spring 2003--download here], Proud Flesh, and Newsletter of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University. He has organized several public history programs throughout the New York and Philadelphia areas, as well as served as a consultant to the Museum of the City of New York for their exhibition, “Black Style Now!” Meghelli’s research interests include the history and globalization/glocalization of Hip Hop Culture, and immigration, race, and identity in France."

Be sure to check it out!

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bushra at MESA

I attended the Middle East Studies Association meetings in Boston, November 18-21. On the evening of the 20th, MERIP organized a memorial event for Ahmed Abdalla, the celebrated Egyptian student leader of the 70's, who passed away on June 6. I met Ahmed in the early nineties at the house of Joe Stork. When I met him, it didn't click in my head who he was, and so I asked what he did. He responded, "professional troublemaker." Ahmed was the author of Student Movement and National Politics in Egypt, 1923-1973 (Al-Saqi, 1985), which remains the authoritative text on the subject, as well as well as numerous articles, including several in Middle East Report, such as this one.

The event was very moving, and one of the highlights was the presence of Ahmed's daughter Bushra, 25, an up-and-coming Egyptian singer and actress. I got to sit next to her at dinner and photographed her obsessively, as you can see here. Bushra makes an appearance in Michal Goldman's film, Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt--she's the cute nine-year old girl at the end who sings an Umm K. song.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Anti-War March in Fayetteville

Sunday November 5, on a rainy and gloomy day, Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Equality organized a demo with the theme: Stop the War! March for Change. I guess about 250 people participated, but I'm not sure--there was little media coverage. In any case, it was spirited, the speakers and performers were good. (I spoke as well, and not so sure about my own performance. I argued that the peace movement needed to take on the issue of US support for Israel, stressing that the ongoing disasters in Lebanon and Gaza should be addressed in addition to that of Iraq.) More photos on my flickr account.