Essays and Features

Manufactured Expertise: Selling Out Arab News Audiences

By 
Salam Kawakibi

As the different uprisings continued to unfold in the Arab world, the demand for TV guests called “analysts,” “academics,” and “experts” increased, despite a serious shortage of true professional experts. Faced with this structural deficit, some Arab TV stations resorted to “manufacturing” their expert news analysts, inviting virtual unknowns, and then bestowing supreme titles upon them in an attempt to create artificial qualifications without having to go through legitimate vetting processes, reviewing actual scientific or practical credentials. By contrast, the genuine experts chose to strictly confine their TV appearances within the limits of their expertise, avoiding the temptation to make claims of knowledge in areas outside their specializations or practical experiences. Still, a majority of the guests did willingly plunge into the maze of spotlights, exploiting the qualitative and quantitative shortages of truly qualified experts. Those pseudo experts emerged as “stars” of the screen, triumphing at the expense of the viewer.

 
Since the onset of the “Arab Spring,” and through the development of revolutionary phases, with their violent consequences, Arab satellite TV stations, which reach millions of viewers, persistently devoted themselves to broadcasting interviews with “analysts,” “academics,” and “experts” on the issues surrounding various national uprisings.
 
As events continued to unfold, the demand for these types of guests increased, despite a structural supply shortage of serious and professional experts.

‘The Morning They Came for Us’: Untold Stories of Syria's Most Vulnerable Victims

By 
Elie Chalala
 

Ms. Janine di Giovanni, one of Europe’s most respected reporters, chronicles the hardships inflicted upon adults and children alike, telling tales both gruesome and emotional in her new book, “The Morning They Came for Us” (Liveright, 2016). From her visits to Syria in 2012, di Giovanni gathered stories, speaking with a diverse group of people including pro-Assad nuns, regime doctors, and civilian activists...“The Morning They Came for Us” provides rich content that can be difficult to find in daily news coverage alone.

Former Lebanese Prisoners of ‘Tadmor’ Reenact Dark Days Within Assads’s Dungeons

By 
Elie Chalala

The name Tadmor Prison evokes images of one of the cruelest prisons in the world, with its gory history of torture and intense suffering. The prison, which ISIS seized briefly in May 2015, and was retaken a year later by governmental forces under questionable circumstances, holds a dark place in the memories of those forced to live in it during the 1980s under the Hafez al-Assad regime.

Behind Palestinian Museum Delays: Bureaucratic Quarrels and Discordant Visions

By 
Elie Chalala

With an initial investment of $24 million funding the Palestinian Museum, many attending the opening on May 18th felt surprised by the institution’s lack of art exhibits. The Museum directors had originally scheduled the opening on May 15th to honor Nakba Day, a memorial to the Palestinian “nakba” or catastrophe, and had advertised the opening exhibit, the “Never Part” for almost a year. Thus, the lack of Palestinian embroidery, traditional folk crafts, vintage photographs and collected memorabilia sparked confusion among many of those who attended the event.

With an initial investment of $24 million funding the Palestinian Museum, many attending the opening on May 18th felt surprised by the institution’s lack of art exhibits. The Museum directors had originally scheduled the opening on May 15th to honor Nakba Day, a memorial to the Palestinian “nakba” or catastrophe, and had advertised the opening exhibit, the “Never Part” for almost a year. Thus, the lack of Palestinian embroidery, traditional folk crafts, vintage photographs and collected memorabilia sparked confusion among many of those who attended the event.

Syria and the Politics of Personal Sadness

A Review of Yassin Haj Saleh's Revolutionary Thought
By 
Rana Issa

Rana Issa surveys aspects of the life of eminent Syrian intellectual and activist, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, and how he weaves his personal experiences into his political analysis and outlook. Al-Haj Saleh spent 16 years in Assad’s prisons, including one year in the notorious Tadmur prison. After his release, Issa states that the Syrian intellectual found himself “using a combination of personal narrative and general observation to subvert the system.” As a secular and progressive activist, al-Haj Saleh is as much a critic of the Assad regime as of the fundamentalist Islamist groups. Threatened by the Assad regime before and after the Arab Spring, he was forced to leave the Ghouta of Damascus in 2013, traveling to Raqqa then to Turkey.

 
“We do not gain a reality if we lose a dream.” With those words the Syrian intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh ends his sad analysis on the destruction of Tadmur, Palmyra, at the hands of Daesh, or I.S., (the Islamic State) in late May 2015. Although known as the site of a famous ancient city, and a popular tourist destination, Palmyra, or Tadmur as the Arabs know the place (Palmyra will be used from now on), holds different associations for the locals.

Syrian Children and the Exit from the Dark Tunnel!

By 
Salam Kawakibi
For more than five decades, the Syrian child was subjected to an orderly process of upbringing to control the phases of his growth and maturity. Following the nursery phase, which did not have an ideological formation, the child entered the realm of official popular organizations, along the North Korean model, controlling the child’s consciousness and distorting his growth.
 
 
For more than five decades, the Syrian child was subjected to an orderly process of upbringing to control the phases of his growth and maturity. Following the nursery phase, which did not have an ideological formation, the child entered the realm of official popular organizations, along the North Korean model, controlling the child’s consciousness and distorting his growth.
 
Among the new promised generation, ideological series of “brainwashing” continued while accompanied with the development of an intelligence psychology.

Rima Assaf: How One Broadcaster Liberated Her Emotions with the Written Word

By 
Rima Assaf

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.

Through these words I repeat those of a wounded child in Al Sukari suburb hospital as she cried out: “Mother, help me! May God support and comfort you. My heart hurts me.”

The Tarabishi — Al-Jabiri Debate

A New Book Debunks Mohammed Abd al-Jabiri’s Theory and Sources
By 
Elie Chalala

A work which would have stirred a rich intellectual debate, involving historical and methodological questions in studying contemporary Arab political thought has, instead, taken a bizarre twist. George Tarabishi's book “Nakd Nakd Al `Aql Al Arabi, Nazariyyat Al Aql" [Critique of the Critique of Arab Reason, Theory of Reason], published by Dar Al Saqi (London 1996), levels harsh criticisms at a fellow Arab intellectual, Moroccan theorist Mohammed Abed al-Jabiri in response to his work, “Theory of Arab Reason” or (Critique de la Raison Arabe), the third book of a four volume. Tarabishi focuses on both the intellectual limits of al-Jabiri and an alleged scandal, the fraudulent usage of sources, including misinterpretations and erroneous conclusions. This has not only set the stage for what has come to be known as the Tarabishi — al-Jabiri debate, but also has unleashed another scandal: revealing al-Jabiri’s sectarian predisposition when he explains Tarabishi's criticisms in terms of the Syrian author's Christian faith.

A work which would have stirred a rich intellectual debate, involving historical and methodological questions in studying contemporary Arab political thought has, instead, taken a bizarre twist. George Tarabishi's book “Nakd Nakd Al `Aql Al Arabi, Nazariyyat Al Aql" [Critique of the Critique of Arab Reason, Theory of Reason], published by Dar Al Saqi (London 1996), levels harsh criticisms at a fellow Arab intellectual, Moroccan theorist Mohammed Abed al-Jabiri in response to his work, “Theory of Arab Reason” or (Critique de la Raison Arabe), the third book of a four volume.

Aleppo: A Catastrophe Defying Poets’ Powers of Description

By 
Amjad Nasser

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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