Since the 2011 March uprising, scores of books have been published on Syrian politics, with most written by a new generation of scholars with no longstanding background in what might be loosely called “Syrian Studies.” For someone who has devoted years to the study of Syrian politics, first as a graduate student and then as an academic, I admit to not missing many of Syria’s “old guard” analysts.

Unquestionably, Michael Malek Najjar’s new book will stand as a vanguard in the study of Arab-American culture and arts. “Arab American Drama, Film and Performance: A Critical Study, 1908 to the Present,” reviewed by Angelle Ellis for Al Jadid’s forthcoming issue (vol. 19, No. 69), adds much for those interested in the history of Arab theater and film, specialist and the non-specialist alike.

(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.’”

Photo Credit of Najwa Barakat, www.fobyaa.com

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 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.

While preparing my report on the Holocaust of Aleppo, I felt the customary format of broadcast news did not allow me to express my feelings. Thus, I have resorted to these written words in order to release my unbearable pain after watching a father breaking and clawing at stones with his bare hands in search of his children, entombed under mountains of rubbles.

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When talking about what is happening in Syria, I face the inability of language to express reality. My vocabulary remains limited. My ability to describe reality, the basic forms of literature and writing, remains limited.  Nothing I have written or read could be elevated to the level of one moment of the reality experienced by Syrians in their disastrous country, or in their great Diaspora into which they were unmercifully pushed.

 

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"...although a Palestine mystery, “Murder Under the Bridge” presents readers with a crime that exposes the harsh plight of illegal foreign female workers in Israel and the corruption that leads to their abuse."
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The crimes committed in Syria have surpassed what the human mind can imagine in terms of horrors and atrocities. Undoubtedly, in our cruel East, we have become accustomed to living with this reality, which plunges us down to the depths of hell. This horror lies in our acceptance of what occurs in our countries while we continue our daily lives as if nothing is happening, and justify the violence as a defense of central causes or as wars against terrorism.

 

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In the translator’s introduction, Radwan explains the importance of the timing of this publication, shedding light on this pioneering figure who predominantly contributed to Arabic literature through his novels, short stories, and plays. 

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“Nada’s Revolution” follows the tale of the 27-year Nada Ahmed, an Alexandrian woman looking to make decisions about marriage and career in the years after the revolutionary wave of the Arab Spring. In “Feminism Inshallah: A History of Arab Feminism,” Feriel Ben Mahmoud, the film’s director, traces the beginnings of feminism to male feminists such as the Egyptian Qasim Amin (1863-1908), whose nationalist aspirations for Egypt fueled his assertion that the Quran supported women’s rights—essential to throwing off the yoke of colonialism and joining the modern world.

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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. 

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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; 

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“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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"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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