The son of an Iraqi Muslim father and a Palestinian mother, Alshaibi immigrated to the United States as a child in the mid-1970s. Though he did not become a U.S. citizen until 2002, he is in many ways American – a lover of punk and metal music, a director of music videos, and the husband of a white Midwesterner. In his youth, he found solidarity with a group of American experimental filmmakers, musicians, and artists, and identifies himself as an atheist, who nonetheless feels respect for the “Mother Mosque” in Iowa City and its thoughtful imam....When his mother encourages him to change his name from Usama as part of his new citizenship, Alshaibi – who can be quite humorous – says, “At least now people know how to pronounce it.”
I struggled a bit to know what to say about PBS Frontline's “Inside Assad's Syria.” Searching the internet for reviews of the film, I found a rather uninteresting piece in a Hollywood business daily, as well as a blogger who felt that PBS had finally abandoned any pretext of truth in favor of outright propaganda in order to sell Assad to the American people. Clearly, they weren't paying attention to the fact that Smith registers his frustration throughout the program, wearing a purposefully tired expression while being carted along on an obvious pro-regime tour. Their inability to identify this clue made me wonder if the blogger and his approving commentators proved equally oblivious to the fact that Frontline obviously recognized the dog and pony show being provided by the regime, and could see just how easily people could fall for such tactics.
The Arab world lives in a state of nostalgia for bygone days, when much of the hatred and intolerance of today had not set in, and the demographic minorities of what was once called the Levant were not escaping to Europe and elsewhere. But the Levant of peaceful coexistence between religious and ethnic minorities and the Muslim majority has suffered a physical blow with the rise of the terroristic Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)...Using the word Levant has raised much curiosity, both intellectual and political. Identifying the vicious and obscurantist ISIS movement with the region called the Levant, a place which historically has represented the polar opposite of ISIS ideology, causes dissonance.
While the number of Christians has decreased under the Syrian government – a government that claims to be the “the protector of minorities” – from 15% in 1970 to 4.6% in 2008, the regime still insists on exaggerating the percentage to about 10%. The church itself places it at about 7%. The state’s rationale in offering a rosy picture appears clear: it provides a convenient propaganda tool from which the regime benefits in its “public relations.”
The scenes of refugees drowning by the hundreds in the seas between Turkey and Greece as they attempt to reach Europe are harrowing . They come from all corners of the Middle East, not only from Syria, but also Lebanon and Iraq. Lebanon recently received the corpses of a family of eight who died when they illegally took a ship from Turkey heading to Europe. All this while the photo of the Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, remains fresh in the minds of the world.
Sarah Houssayni’s debut novel, “Fireworks,” begins at the onset of the Israeli 2006 bombing of Lebanon in retaliation for the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. This promising novel interweaves the story of two single women, one a 30-year old American nurse from Kansas and one young, 16-year old Lebanese teenager, both trying to negotiate family pressures while searching for love.
“Safer Barlik,”—the phrase for the Famine— translated as “The Exile” in a 1967 Lebanese feature film traces its roots to the longtime practice of abducting and pressing men in Lebanon, then part of Greater Syria, into Ottoman slave labor gangs. (Safer means voyage; Barlik, Anatolia in Turkish Asia Minor.) Being pressed into these gangs proved tantamount to receiving a death sentence; even if a laborer survived his harsh work term, his masters would release him into the Anatolian wilderness with no resources to return home. Farshee’s research leads him to estimate that only three percent ever did make it back.
I read Etel Adnan. I meet her sometimes in Beirut. I try all the time to discover the kind of writer she is, the woman she is, how she perceives herself and the world around her. She tells us that her books are the houses she builds for herself, that she settles nowhere, that she lives all over the world in newspapers, railway stations, cafés, airports. Feeling different early in life, she writes in “Journey:” “Memories are as fresh as cool water and a cool breeze floats over one’s fever.”
In a meeting with my students at the American University of Beirut on December 14, 2000, the Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan told us that she began writing her long, prophetic poem “The Arab Apocalypse” (The Post-Apollo Press, 1989) in January 1975 in Beirut, two months before the outbreak of the Lebanese War (1975-1990). “Then, the war took the poem over,” said Adnan, and she added: “The war wrote this poem. I started with tensions and rhythms and later wrote 59 pages corresponding to the 59 days of the Tal-el-Zaatar (a Palestinian camp in the outskirts of Beirut, destroyed by the Lebanese Forces in 1976) siege and destruction.”
I have coined the phrase “Wounded Beirut” as an expression of the state of my bleeding heart and my city’s as I lived and suffered the war that decimated my country between1975-1990. I witnessed the agony of my city being reduced to ruins, and yet, refusing to die. Indeed, “Wounded Beirut” summarizes in my imagination all that we did, witnessed, and resisted throughout those long, tragic war years. Writing about my city has certainly been part of the healing process and a tribute to Beirut.
Technology has played the muse for a new generation of Arab artists who came of age during a time of vast expansion in the Internet, satellite television, and digital technology. The exciting new book, “Contemporary Arab Photography, Video and Mixed Media Art: View from Inside” showcases the diverse talents of 49 of the leading artists from thirteen different Arab countries. The book gives voice to individuals who otherwise might not be heard in the Western World.
Salw Bakr was asked to explain the large quantity of novel publications in the Arab world. Once again, Bakr pointed at political repression as a clue, especially when repressive regimes, under which most Arab intellectuals live, curtail freedom of expression. She indeed found the large number of published Arab novels amazing, for half of the Arab world remains illiterate, something that hits home, since Egypt constitutes half of that population. According to statistics, the average Arab reader reads no more than a quarter of a page annually.
The valley was flooding with apparitions . . . Silence, followed by a crescendo. A sound that will echo in the valley years later. ("Apparitions")… Radwa Ashour—novelist, educator, human rights activist, politically committed intellectual figure, and critic—opened her 1998 autobiographical novel "Apparitions" (or“Specters”) with this powerful scene. Seventeen years later, on November 30, 2014, Ashour would join those apparitions, her gentle soul forever filling our valley with her inspiration, resistance and writings.
The mumanah or the rejectionists have flooded the media market with opinion-based analysis, as have the anti-Assad groups. The Assad disinformation machine, however, buries its head in the sand, refusing to face the fact that Assad’s brutality, more than any ideology, has been the most effective recruiter for the Islamic state and other jihadist groups. Those who lost homes, parents, and children do not need a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam to join jihad.
(Artwork: While the photo of Aylan on the Turkish shore is web-based, the other is a calligraphy by Dr. Fayeq Oweis, which reads in Arabic the name of Aylan).
Al Hayat’s editor-in-chief shares a recent experience in Warsaw, when the tourist guide in the hotel said to him: “It is important to go to Auschwitz to view the effects of the holocaust, the gas chambers and the atrocities committed by the Nazis.” Mr. Charbel's answer proved telling, and predictable, given the current tragedy in Syria. “I listened to her words and was tempted by a desire to smile. There is no justification for me, an Arab, to go to Auschwitz. I have no right to examine history’s genocides while I am drowning in the holocausts of the present. I am from a region whose armies and militias do not hate the ‘final solution.’”
In “Oh, Salaam!” Najwa Barakat tells a haunting story of post-war life in an unnamed Arab country — unmistakably similar to Lebanon — through the lens of two survivors, Luqman and Salaam. Both feel helplessly stuck in a monotonous existence that does not compare with the thrills of war.
T.S. Eliot by Zareh for Al Jadid (left), Gibran by Emile Menhem (center), and Ezra pound (right).
If "The Prophet" is accepted on its own terms as a poetic work, regardless of its distinction from prevailing modes, one is struck by its direct engagement with common life…. It is time to accept Gibran not as a foreigner who wrote books in English, but as an American, with his difference and with his gifts. Let "The Prophet" and Kahlil Gibran enter the canon of American literature. The book and its author have been standing outside its rusty gates long enough.
The fasting month of Ramadan is a time for celebration in the Muslim World. During the ninth month of the lunar calendar, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day. Family gatherings in the evenings are marked with prayers, celebration, food, and television shows. Each year, networks produce a great number of television musalsalat (soap operas) especially for airing during the month of Ramadan, which represents the peak of soap opera production in the Arab world.
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.
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.
Hamdar’s examination of the female body in illness and suffering presents a compelling contribution to the body of literary criticism of Arabic Literature. She invokes strains of critical thought—like Foucault and the idea of discourse—using them to map the development of the image of the female body in recent Arabic literature.
Al Jadid is just out (Vol. 19, No. 68). The cover (“Encoded History 1” 2015) by Doris Bittar. Al Jadid is a Review & Record of Arab Culture and Arts (www.aljadid.com). As usual, the new issue is rich with essays and features, book, film and TV reviews, fiction, poetry, and a substantive editor's notebook.
ESSAYS AND FEATURES: ‘My Story With You is Different’ by Rima Assaf; ‘Sabah Zwein (1955-2014): An Innovative And Haunted Poet’ by Mike D’Andrea;
“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.
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.
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.
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.’”
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.
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.
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.
"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"!)
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.
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.
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.”
"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.
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.