Sabah by Zareh for Al Jadid

Sabah loved the spotlight and proved a prolific worker, despite, or possibly because, of surviving many adversities, which starting at a young age with the murder of her mother for alleged infidelity at the hands of her older brother. She also apparently loved to get married, holding a record of nine husbands from different backgrounds, including politicians and her co-stars, such as the famous heart throb, actor Rushdi Abaza.  Along the way, she had two children.  

A Syrian author, Ala Shayeb al-Din writes and comments on the shocking and detestable attitudes that humans display when presented with tragic and horrific circumstances. One occasion for such commentary occurred following the massacre in Jdeidet Al Fadel on the 21st of April 2013, where more than 483 people were burned alive or knifed to death over a four-day period.  This terrifying massacre became even more appalling when a group of Assad loyalists celebrated the event by organizing “festivals” to cheer the “courageous” Republican Guards and the Shabiha (pro-Assad thugs) on their victory over “the terrorists,” when in actuality they had committed unspeakable cruelties against civilians.

Faya and Rihan Younan

Forms of warfare that occur in the arena of art and culture sometimes prove as insidious as the military and political ones. In this type of warfare, beauty and charm can elicit a suspension of critical thought. Some may even argue that artists should not be judged as political theorists, as if being artistically duplicitous rather than politically deceptive somehow makes their works less dangerous. An examination of the recently released “peace message” video clip (لبلادي) by sisters Faya and Rihan Younan, or the brief YouTube video by Lebanese singer Julia Boutros, soon proves just how insidious such works can be. Although the artists vary in experience, and seek to accomplish their goals through different means, their messages remain consistently deceptive, and illustrate the depths to which the Lebanese and Syrian discourses have descended.

“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?

“The Jewish Quarter” has sent some unsettling messages about the “Ramadan series” (or soaps), prompting commentaries in the Arab press and beyond, and finally meriting a feature article in the New York Times. This 30 episode serial, which runs through the month of Ramadan in Egypt, offers a viewpoint unlike that featured in any other serial before or after the Arab Spring.

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I rarely passed on an Al Nakba remembrance, an event which was pivotal in forming my political and moral consciousness during my early days in Beirut and in my academic diaspora. Nowadays, I reserve my aggravation for those intellectual cowards who saw nothing in Al Nakba except a shelter to hide from their shameful silence on one of the most horrific “Nakbas” in modern Arab history.

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Long writes the book in a scholarly manner, but redeems it with a depth of insight and information on these fascinating personalities at a very important time in Middle Eastern history. Certainly, most will find “Reading Arabia” worth a look.

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Nearly 11 years ago, an automobile accident on a dusty Jordanian road cut Susan Atefat-Peckham’s life and work short. The Iranian American poet, memoirist and Full bright Scholar now takes her rightful place among the likes of Gregorgy Orfalea and Sharif Elmusa with her “Talking Through the Door.” The anthology transports readers to various eras and exotic locales, going back to Ibn Hazm’s 10th-century Cordoba, the Lebanon of World War I, pre-revolutionary Iran as well as 1950s and 60s Ohio. “Readers will find that these works carry with them a power and promise so life-affirming that Lisa Suhair Majaj describes them as ‘sustenance.’”

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The remarkable Assia Djebar has proven almost as controversial in death as in life. Some argued that the writer, who focused on the very human concerns of women, could not be a feminist. Other issues of contention included the Algerian author’s choice to write in French, the language of her country’s former colonizers. Certainly, her induction into the prestigious French Academy as an “immortal,” or life-long member, created controversy, with many critics overlooking the fact that the writer used “the language of the colonizer to document its savagery and some of its bloody memories.” In death, as in life, it appears that Djebar will continue to challenge her critics and provide topics of lively debate. Read more about her life and final journey back to Algeria in the following article.

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In the this interview with the critically acclaimed Syrian watercolorist, Etab Hreib, she discusses the interrelated nature of the arts in the context of her own love for the theater and set design, and details various influences on her work.

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 The World lost a great writer, teacher, scholar, and humanist when Arab-American Evelyn Shakir finally succumbed to breast cancer in 2010. Fortunately, Shakir bequeathed a rich literary legacy to her students, family, and admirers, one that reached its pinnacle with the publication of her final book, "Teaching Arabs, Writing Self, Memoirs of an Arab-American Woman," which is reviewed by Lynne Rogers for Al Jadid. The work documents her experiences growing up as a Lebanese American, as well as her adventures teaching abroad in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Damascus. Interesting characters, observations, and experiences, all related in her gentle, humorous, and often ironic style, make this book one readers will not want to miss. Shakir avoids the pitfalls of being overly didactic through the simple but profound expediency of revealing the social history and politics of each particular moment through a wealth of human interaction.

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"It feels surreal to even contemplate the possibility of Western powers crushing ISIS while allying with a regime that has facilitated the deaths of more than 200,000 of its citizens, displaced half of Syria's population, and transformed more than half of the country's infrastructure into a pile of rubble. How could the oppressed and marginalized Sunni communities ever trust in an alliance made with their tormentors?" (From The 'Realist' Scholar's Argument Strikes Delight in Syrian Regime: 'To Crush ISIS, Make a Deal With Assad"!)

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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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"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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