Sunday, September 30, 2007

A New Low for NPR's "This I Believe": "I support the military checkpoints" for Palestinians

My Sunday morning tea was nearly ruined by this morning's episode of the NPR series "This I Believe." It featured Tamar Duke-Cohan, raised in Israel, who teaches classes about the Hholocaust at Hebrew College, Newton, Mass.

Here are a few juicy examples of Duke-Cohan's beliefs:

Moral or not, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a fact of life, as is the threat of terrorism. Given this realpolitik, I support the military checkpoints, which have managed to halt suicide bombings despite their negative impact on Palestinian lives.

Military occupation simply a "fact of life"!

Does the Israeli need for security outweigh the importance of the rights of individual Palestinians? I believe it does and my mother believes it does not.

Duke-Cohan's mother belongs to Machsom Watch, an Israeli women's group that monitors Israeli soldiers' behavior at checkpoints. It is an extremely courageous group--check out its monthly reports. (The photo above, of the Qalandiya checkpoint, is from Machsom Watch.)

Note that "This I Believe" chooses to feature an Israeli point of view that supports the military occupation. And a point of view that argues that the "morality" of this position is based on the fact of an ongoing argument between Duke-Cohan and her mother over these issues.

...we are duty bound to confront moral dilemmas and scrutinize the implications of our actions. For me, this is the main lesson of the Holocaust. We must hotly debate the political and ethical questions posed by today's complicated world — and we should sometimes disagree, avoiding the dangers of "group-think," while striving for compromise. That's why I believe in asking hard questions and arguing about them.

Would NPR ever broadcast an essay from someone like Duke-Cohan's mother? Or from a Palestinian living under the military occupation that Duke-Cohan considers simply a "fact of life"? This I (kinda) believe: not. (I couldn't find anyone taking such a position when I hunted through the "This I Believe" data base. Does this conform with Edward R. Murrow's moral vision?)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Shana Tova (Happy New Year) from Gideon Levy

Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz's intrepid correspondent, gives his account of some of the Palestinian casualties (in Gaza and the West Bank) of the Jewish year of 5767. As he says, a "pretty quiet" year, "only" 457 Palestinians and 10 Israelis were killed. But for children, horrible: 92 Palestinian children killed (but not a single Israeli child), and one-fifth of the Palestinians killed: children and teens.

Too bad that most of kufiya wearers I keep obsessively tracking aren't, for the most part, aware of such issues (the honorable exception: Aki Nawaz).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Timbaland the "ethno-beat-thief"

Read here wayneandwax's post about the new suit, filed by Osama Ahmed Fahmy (not Admed, as in the original post), against Jay-Z, Timbaland and a host of others, for the use of a riff from Abdel Halim Hafez's 1957 recording, "Khosara," in Jay-Z's 1999 hit, "Big Pimpin'."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Kufiyaspotting #23: Robert Geller

The more time I spend on this subject, the more amazed I am at how ubiquitous the kufiya has become. I missed this from last fall, Robert Geller's scarf, from his prestigious Harald line, which according to Laura Schechter, was "envisioned [by Geller] as an interpretation of the Arabic warm-weather scarf, also known as a shemagh, designed to protect from direct sun and shield the mouth and eyes from dust and sand." Schechter calls it "the Harald Kaffiyeh scarf."

And, according to this article in Nylon, the German-born Geller typically wears a "Palestinian scarf" of the sort that he used to finish off the look of most of his Autumn '06 line.

Back from Holland

I returned on the 19th from a trip to Holland. I was invited there by ISIM (The Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World), to participate in a workshop on Islamic Fashion and Music, and to give a talk. The title of the lecture, cosponsored by Cosmopolis (Rotterdam) was "Jihad Rap?: 'Islamic' Popular Music in Europe, Post 9/11." I gave the lecture, on September 14, in Rotterdam, a city I had never visited. It's very cool--it was pretty much completely bombed out when the Germans invaded in World War II, and currently a lot of money is being spent on refurbishing it. The architecture is outstanding, and you can see a few examples on my flickr account.

One of the things that really impressed me is how much biking goes on in Holland. As you can see from the photo, hundreds of bikes are parked outside the train stations. Every road has a bike lane or a dedicated bike path. Everyone seems to be riding bikes. We went on a lovely, long bike ride last Sunday, and the bike paths were full of riders. I hardly ever see anyone else riding when I'm on my bike in Fayetteville. No doubt due in part to all the bike riding, and all the walking, you don't notice any obese people in The Netherlands. (But you notice them as soon as you get off the plane in Northwest Arkansas.)

Thanks to the people at ISIM, there was a lot of media coverage of my visit. I couldn't figure out why, but one my ISIM handlers pointed out that it was probably the title, "Jihad Rap"! If you read Dutch, check this report out in Dagblad De Pers, and this one in Metro, a free paper which is read by 1.5 million people, in a country with a population of 16.5 million. (The circulation of USA Today, by comparison, is 2.3 million, the highest in the US.) There was more coverage, but not all of it is available on-line. If I find some more I'll post those links as well. (Here's another, originally from NRC Handesblad.)

I may have more to say about my Holland experiences in future...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Kufiyaspotting #22: Nili Lotan's kufiya dresses on Fifth Avenue and at New York Fashion Week

Thanks to Rochelle, who spotted the kufiya sheeth in silk while walking down Fifth Avenue (NYC) over Labor Day weekend and took photos on her cellphone. The designer, as you can read on the window, is Nili Lotan, who is based in New York City, born in Israel. According to the New York Times, Nili Lotan "served in the Israeli air force before working for Nautica and Ralph Lauren." That's her photo in the window. You can read there as well that Nili Lotan is the winner of this year's Mercury Style Awards, sponsored by Elle Magazine.

It appears that these two dresses are from her Spring '08 fashion line, which she revealed on September 10 at the New York Fashion Week. Below is a photo of a red kufiya dress shown on the runway. If you check out this youtube clip from the show, it's the eight dress that goes by--although it's hard to recognize that it's a red kufiya design (backless).

The line will be featured in a spread for American Photo's November 2007 issue. Be sure to check for kufiyas! (I've read some accounts of the line at the New York Fashion Week and no one seemed to notice the kufiya.)

In Israel, however, observers have a keener eye for Palestinian motifs. According to an article published last year in Ha'aretz, she has used Palestinian as well as Yemeni embroidery in her previous designs:

Local embroidery is also incorporated into Lotan's clothes. On a quest for Yemenite embroidery, she met with several older Yemenite women, but says she came to the conclusion that she finds Palestinian embroidery more interesting.

"Yemenite embroidery has one motif," explains Lotan, "while Palestinian embroidery is a whole world. Now I visit a group of women in Segev Shalom, near Be'er Sheva, for ideas. I also plan to use ideas from the sources that inspired Maskit, which I feel is a wonderful project."

The embroideries are a minimal component in Lotan's clothes. "No one would ever figure out where they came from. Even the outfit Paris Hilton wears was inspired by a Yemenite woman. I use these ideas in only a few of my clothes, but they give me a lot of pleasure."

And, according to Ha'aretz, there is a vague sort of political dimension to her fashion, although it doesn't seem to go beyond a desire to stimulate "thinking":

Next spring women in Manhattan could be wearing dresses, skirts and blouses, or even underwear, emblazoned with rifles, submachine guns and pistols. The fashionable woman looking for a slightly more refined message will have an alternative: dresses with oil-well prints, which will go nicely with U.S. Army-issue water canteen belts accessorized with silver buckles.

The designer behind this arms-print collection is Nili Lotan, an American-Israeli and a familiar figure on the American fashion scene....

"I'm sick of drawing flowers, circles and stripes, and decided to look for graphic shapes that would express my experiences," says Lotan, explaining the rationale behind her new collection, which will be presented in January 2007. "This is not about a protest, but rather an expression of what I feel. I want to stimulate women to think. What's happening around the world today bothers me. What's happening in Israel and the Middle East bothers me even more. I was in Israel for a week during the war in Lebanon, and I am very worried. Still, I thought up the idea for dresses with gun prints beforehand."

Lotan realizes that her collection may not interest fashionistas from Park Avenue.

"I don't think that these are prints that many women will want to wear," she admits. "I don't think many women will want to express their political opinions via their clothes. Even so, I believe there will be some who will buy [my collection] because it will give them a unique power. There are even some who think it is very sexy."

I've not yet found the guns and oil-well Lotan lines...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Displaced: Middle East Report Issue 244

Very timely new issue of Middle East Report (244, Fall 2007), on Displacement. The promotional blurb is below. Read and SUBSCRIBE! (Confession: I'm on the editorial committee).

Downplayed in the media, dithered over by the international community and (until recently) ignored by the Bush administration, more than 4 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US-led invasion of their country in 2003. Even before the Iraqis' flight, the Middle East held the dubious distinction of being one of the foremost generators of refugees -- Palestinians, Sudanese, Somalis and others -- in the world. In the mass uprooting and dispersal of Iraqis, as demonstrated in the fall 2007 issue of Middle East Report, "Displaced," there is much that is sadly familiar.

What is novel about the Iraqi displacement crisis, writes anthropologist Julie Peteet, is the near silence about the displaced, the absence of camps and the belated humanitarian assistance. The crisis magnifies the trend noticeable in the 1990s toward categorizing the displaced as something other than refugees and thereby minimizing the legal obligations of states and international bodies to help them.

Madona Mokbel surveys the plight of Iraqis in neighboring states, where they are denied access to jobs and services, and also face the growing resentment of the native population, who blame them for rising prices and groaning infrastructure. As political scientist Stefanie Nanes finds in Jordan, this blame is misplaced. Given the limited capacity of neighboring states to absorb refugees, the question is why the US and UN have been so slow to respond, argue researchers Kathryn Libal and Scott Harding.

The displacement of Iraqis of course recalls the 1948 expulsion and flight of Palestinians, who continue to live in a harrowing limbo. Muhammad Ali Khalidi and Diane Riskedahl, analyzing the Lebanese army's summer 2007 assault on the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp, conclude that the only thing uniting Lebanese factions is "antipathy for the Palestinians living in their midst." Relief efforts, reports Mayssun Sukarieh, are received with ambivalence by Palestinians who wish their supporters would focus on campaigning for Palestinian rights -- including the right of return. Middle East Report interviews the activists of Zochrot, an Israeli organization working to recover the suppressed memory of the Palestinian displacement in Israel.

Also featured: Stephen Dedalus chronicles another forced migration that has passed almost unnoticed in the West -- the Pakistani military's displacement of perhaps 250,000 people from rebellious Balochistan; Joel Beinin visits settler-besieged al-Tuwani in the South Hebron Hills; Laleh Khalili reviews Bernard Rougier's Everyday Jihad; and more.

Subscribe to Middle East Report or order individual copies online at

Kufiyaspotting #21: Justin Timberlake at the MTV Video Music Awards

Somehow, I missed watching them last night, but thanks to Hisham, I've learned that Justin Timberlake had a black-and-white kufiya stuck in his back pocket while performing at the MTV MVA, 2007. (You can see it quite clearly if you click on the photo to see an enlarged version.) And yes, Justin has pretty high "hip" credibility, so that must mean: kufiyas are still hip. (But in the back pocket? What's next?

Btw, I searched the MTV site but couldn't find a video of this performance. Someone tell me when it shows up on youtube--it's not there yet.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Kufiyaspotting #20: Fun^Da^Mental

I'm preparing to speak about Fun^Da^Mental again and realized that, although Aki Nawaz seems always to be garbed in a kufiya, I've never devoted a kufiyaspotting post to the group. Most infamously, kufiyas feature in their music video for "Dog Tribe," which the BBC banned from daytime television. (You can watch the vid at Fun^Da^Mental's site, just go to video. But better yet, buy All Is War and get a DVD with all their vids.) John Hutnyk gives a penetrating analysis of the video and controversy over it in his book, Critique of Exotica. (Search this site for many more posts on Fun^Da^Mental.)

Fez: "Mad Men"

I've been watching the new AMC show "Mad Men" pretty faithfully, in part because I like the way it depicts gender relations in the early '60s.

I was struck by something in the latest episode (8), "The Hobo Code." Don goes to meet his on-the-side girl Midge and her beatnik friends at a flat (probably somewhere in the Village). They all smoke pot and listen to Miles Davis. Here's the thing, one of the guys is wearing a fez--green, I think. So now I'm dying to know whether this is "accurate" (the show prides itself on its scrupulously faithful attention to details of setting and costuming).

So, was the fez part of "hip" beatnik gear? Where did it come from? Surely not the Shriners--the epitome of un-hip.

There's a flickr fez pool to look at--but it doesn't really help.

I seem to recall photos of bebop artists wearing fezes, and then of course there's the Moorish Science Temple founded by Noble Drew Ali (pictured above), which was gaining white bohemian adherents in the fifties (see Peter Lamborn Wilson's Sacred Drift, p. 49).

And then there are Matt Groening's beloved Akbar and Jeff of Life Is Hell.

Stay tuned. Maybe I need to start a "fezspotting" series?

Pete Doherty, The Libertines, Love Music Hate Racism

Early on in my kufiyaspotting adventure, I posted about The Libertines and the kufiya that appears on the sleeve of their 2004 CD. More recently, I've posted about ex-Libertines, current Babyshambles leader Pete Doherty, infamous drug abuser and boyfriend of Kate Moss, who was spotted giving charity kisses for Palestinian children.

Now I find that Doherty has also played a leading role in the British anti-racist formation, Love Music Hate Racism, and in fact, has done more free work for the organization than any other artist. Love Music Hate Racism was set up in 2002 in response to "rising levels of racism and electoral successes for the Nazi British National Party (BNP)." LMHR is a successor to the celebrated Rock Against Racism movement of the late 1970s.

Among the many other acts involved with LMHR is British Muslim rap group Mecca2Medina as well as Asian Dub Foundation.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Berke Breathed on the Burqini (Islamic Swimsuit)

Check it out (courtesy to Chris for alerting me to this).

More on the burqini here and here.

Footnote: before I was a Razorback I was a Longhorn. Berke Breathed got his start as a cartoonist, doing a strip called The Academia Waltz, back in 1978, when I was a grad student at UT. I remember it fondly.

Forget the Kufiya, It's Syrian Lingerie

I'm about to go off to Holland to give a talk on "Jihad [sic] Rap," but I'm really sorry I will miss the symposium on Arabic Visual Culture, "Khatt Kufi Kufiya," to be held in Amsterdam on August 24, and sponsored by the Khatt Foundation Center for Arabic Typography in Amsterdam. Interesting sessions include the one on lingerie, led by Malu Halasa, whose book on the subject, The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design, is coming out in 2008.

And then there's the session on "The Clash of the Motion Picture," led by lecturer and video documentary maker Khaled Ramadan. Is his kufiya outfit not the craziest you've ever seen?

And there's much more: check out the site for the conference, visually and intellectually stimulating.