“Refugee”, 2012, by Tammam Azzam from “View from Inside,” Fotofest, Houston, TX and Schilt Publishsing, Amsterdam, NL, 2014, p. 149. (Courtesy of the Artist and Ayyam Gallery, Dubai and London).

Many of those same scholars, both in the West and the Arab world, still remain chained to old ideas invalidated not only by time, but by the hundreds of thousands dead, by the equal numbers maimed, and by the millions displaced. When we read or hear current assertions, both private and public, regarding the Syrian conflict, we discover, in the most vivid and concrete terms, the phenomenon of ideological totalitarianism.

a Conversation between Abbas Beydoun and Rula Jurdi
Abbas Beydoun by Mamoun Sakkal

In a fascinating conversation Lebanese journalist, poet and novelist, Abbas Beydoun and Lebanese historian and poet, Rula Jurdi discuss the limits and reach of modern Arabic poetry, its appeal to different public spheres, the politics of publishing, and the relationship between publisher and poet. Both agree that oral and performative traditions and innovations can increase accessibility.

 

Failed Promises: Film Sheds New Light on 'Assad Twilight’

 

Why did Bashar al-Assad fail to deliver the modern, liberal leadership he promised in 2000? What were the successes and failures of his father, Hafez al-Assad, whose bloodless 1970 coup launched a 30 year presidency? The Film, “Syria: The Assads’ Twilight”by directors Vincent de Cointet and Christophe Ayad, chronicles the rise of the regime, and its subsequent decline.

Film Redirects the Discussion: Pluralistic Islam and the Quran

How can we change negative perceptions in the West concerning Islam and Muslims? Philosopher-historian Fons Elder’s film, “Islam Unknown,” reviewed by Salam Mir, addresses this issue. In search for answers, Elder interviews eight respected, but unconventional Muslim intellectuals, on the War on Terror, nationalism, identity formation, “Otherness,” gender, sexual equality, and secularism.

 

From Jihadist to Advocate: Challenging Radical Islamism

It is no secret that hopeless young men and women make excellent candidates for radicalization. British-born Pakistani Maajid Nawaz details how, in 1992, his own journey towards extremism begins with the gang warfare decimating his neighborhood. He was imprisoned for five years in Egypt, which led Amnesty International to adopt the young man and his co-workers as prisoners of conscience. “Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism” documents this remarkable tale. 

Wadi al-Safi by Mamoun Sakkal for Al Jadid

Wadi al-Safi’s voice carried over almost a century.When Lebanese singer and composer died on 11 October 2013, at nearly 92 years of age, his professional career which began when he was only 12 years old, spanned 80 years. Born Wadi Francis on the first of November 1921 to a poor family in the Mount Lebanon village of Niha in Al-Shuf district, his father, Beshara Gabriel Francis, a police officer, and mother, Shafiqa Shadid al-’Ujil, moved their family to Beirut when Wadi was nine. In Beirut, he attended a Catholic school where he began singing at its religious choir. That early experience of chanting religious hymns stayed with Wadi until his final days.

Amin Maalouf by Mamoun Sakkal for Al Jadid

Politicians recognized the position Amin Maalouf occupies in France and the francophone world well before the Academy; these politicians include the Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy who made the author of “Leo Africanus” (Leo the African) accompany them in their visits to Lebanon. And how embarrassing it seemed when President Chirac, in his 1996 visit to Lebanon, introduced his “friend” Maalouf to the three presidents of Lebanon: President Elias Hrawi, Prime minister Rafik Hariri, and House Speaker Nabih Berri. Can you imagine that scene? Lebanese top officials waiting for a French president to convene a meeting between them and a renowned Lebanese author. Perhaps these men found it strange for a novelist to accompany presidents in political missions?

Joumana Haddad, Lebanese feminist, author, and poet, founded Jasad, the Arabic Journal of Erotic Arts, in order to advocate for the sexual liberation for the Arab World. In her film, “Jasad & The Queen of Contradictions” Amanda Homsi-Ottosson combines interviews with Haddad, Jasad journal contributors, and critics, as well as reactions from the street, and footage taken from the literary salons of Beirut, the Queen of Contradictions herself.  

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Several excellent articles and books have been written concerning the revolutions of the Arab Spring, most by participants, relatives of the fallen, political analysts or foreign correspondents. Tom Chesshyre makes no claim to any of these perspectives. Instead, he deals with the subject of life during and after revolution with the light touch and charm of a travel writer.

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Carlos ben Carlos Rossman, a Puerto Rican Jew, is in for a surprise. When he lands in New York Harbor in 1950, he realizes that the American melting pot is more fable than fact. In many cases, diversity is likely to make one “Un-American” rather than American. Language, culture, religion, or even something as simple as a green baseball bat, when all of the other kids own plain pine bats, can result in ostracism.

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A Study in Courage: Screenwriter and Activist Fouad Hamira

Cinematic activist, Fouad Hamira, who began his career working for the National Theater, has become one of the leading voices for justice in Syrian television. Despite all attempts to silence him, this man of courage and conviction remains as vocal as ever. Since the current uprising in Syria, he has denounced injustices such as the government’s attempts to reframe the battle for Syrian freedom as a sectarian uprising. 

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In this exemplary documentary film, women (both veiled and unveiled, religious and secular) discuss the presence of Islam and secularism in contemporary Turkish ...

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"The Green Wave," by filmmaker Ali Samadi Ahadi, skillfully utilizes animation, blog posts, film footage, and interviews, to restore the “lost or silenced voices” of that ill-fated election. 

From "Rouge Parole"

The late Mohamed Bouazizi was a butterfly for Tunisia. In life, he went unnoticed by society’s radar. But in death, his small wings blew tremors throughout the Arab world; his self-immolation on December 17, 2010 was seismic for the region. His death epitomizes the butterfly effect.

Photo Courtesy of Icarus Films

The revolution documented by Stefano Savona’s “Tahrir: Liberation Square” is not the sexy revolution of the media. Instead, Stefano Savona captures an organic Egyptian revolution – one of patience, uncertainty, and fraternity. The film is shot in Cairo on January 30, 2011, six days after Egyptians took to the streets.

Author Yassin al-Haj Saleh

At the outset of his recent book “With Salvation O’Youth: 16 Years in Syrian Prisons” (Saqi Books),  Yassin al-Haj Saleh pre-empts the reader’s query regarding the genre with which this work is to be identified.  For those who would classify it as “Prison literature,” the author explains that he does not believe any of his writings fall under the scope of this particular genre. 

Beirut’s pine forest, the Horsh Al-Sanawbar, has been no less a victim of Lebanon’s social and political challenges than its citizens have.  Nominally public property since Ottoman times, the park has been shut down since the civil war. During the 1990s, its greenest and most attractive section was remodeled and replanted,

Consider that one of the main thrusts of what would obliquely be termed “Arab Diaspora Studies” is to wrest Arabs out of the simplistic dichotomy of being invisible as racially white, or visible as a problematic cultural other. Layla al-Maleh’s edited collection, 

"Street Fighting, Beirut 1976. Training for 1982," from Tony Clifton and Catherine Leroy's "God Cried" (Quartet Books 1983)

Richard Millet’s recent work “La Confession Negative” is a harrowing tale based on the author’s participation in the Lebanese civil war in 1976. Residing in a grey area between memoir and novel, the book’s central theme is Millet’s becoming an author through the experience of war. Millet has previously written of this experience, albeit in a more roundabout fashion, in his first novel, “Sur un Balcon a Beyrouth.”

Alia Malek’s “A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories” is another collection ofArab American narratives in the tradition of Evelyn Shakir’s “Bint Arab” and Moustafa Bayoumi’s “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America.”

Ahmad's Story
"Syrians" by Gilan al-Safadi, from Arts & Freedom Exhibition, France

Over the years, we have devoted generous space to covering dissent by Arab intellectuals, especially the Syrians. We believed that most of them who were arrested and imprisoned for long periods of time (poet Farag Bayrakdar, 14 years; Riadh al-Turk, 17 years; Yassin al-Haj Saleh, 16 years) had been seen as members of different leftist and communist parties, thus posing threats to a repressive regime. But after reading Michel Kilo's stories from his time in Al Maza Military Prison (the article to follow is based on one of Kilo's stories), it is clear that even ordinary Syrians, who hardly harbor any hostile feelings toward the regime have spent similar periods of imprisonment.

Balloon seller in the park along the Orontes River, Hama, Syria, November 2010; photo by David R. Muerdter

Hama is the city where I stopped on a journey from Palmyra to Aleppo, where I photographed the ancient wooden water wheels that jigsaw the curving riverbed of the Orontes...

Poet Lahab Assef al-Jundi

I thought I would pursue a career in the scientific disciplines and I came to the States to study electrical engineering.  However, as I grew older, I began to discover my love for poetry. By age 30, I had started writing what I thought of as “love scribbles.”

From: "Art of the Middle East: Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World and Iran"

Amid so much hubbub and controversy surrounding the politics of the Middle East, one might think that the region’s visual arts are uncultivated, and the role that Middle Eastern artists play in the broader world negligible.

Remember Me to Lebanon: Stories of Lebanese Women in America

Those who know of Evelyn Shakir’s writing from her seminal 1997 book, “Bint Arab: Arab and Arab-American Women in the United States,” know her to be a skilled chronicler of the lives of Arab women immigrants and their daughters in America. By recording the words of various women across three generations, beginning with the 19th century, Shakir has given public visibility to the presence of strong, active and well-defined communities of Arab women in America.

I take my title from an essay by Salman Rushdie, in which he reflects on the need many expatriates, exiles, and just plain emigrants feel to look over their shoulder at the land that they have left behind and that now seems lost to them. And, if they’re writers, to try to recreate it in the literature they produce. But Rushdie issues a warning:  “We will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost.” Instead, “we will create fictions, not actual cities or villages but invisible ones, imaginary homelands.”

It was on a day, much like today (Saturday, June 30), the day of the Gay Pride Parade in Paris, that I met my friend, the writer Ilfat Idilbi, for lunch at Les Deux Magots a few years ago. I had not realized that the Gay Pride Parade would be taking place when I’d first proposed that date for our meeting – I dreaded crowds and noise, both things that did not bother Ilfat Idilbi in the least. As soon as we settled on the terrace, the parade floats began turning down Boulevard St. Germain.

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