This new issue of Al Jadid (Vol. 26, No. 82/83, 2022) explores contemporary culture, the arts, and a critical overview of the social-political scene, in both the Arab world and its diaspora.
A glimpse into Layla Murad's life and career can be found in "Once the Cinderella of the Arab Screen, Tragedy Overshadowed Layla Murad's Life and Career," which tells the story of a successful woman whose career was cut short by conspiracy theories about her Jewish heritage and constantly overshadowed by tragedy. The essay “Algerian Identity 60 Years After Independence: Reclaiming Memory and Sovereignty Over Language Amid Lingering French Tensions” follows France’s renewed efforts to mend relations with Algeria and take accountability for 132 years of French colonial rule; meanwhile, 60 years after seizing independence, Algeria continues its struggle to reclaim memory and identity in its language and culture. In “Mona al-Saudi (1945-2022): The Sculptor Who Befriended Stone and Challenged Traditions,” we celebrate the late Jordanian sculptor and artist Mona al-Saudi, a fierce supporter of Palestine and freedom whose abstract works explored the essence of existence.
In the past two years alone, Lebanon has undergone sweeping changes that paint a bleak picture for the country. The uncertain future has occupied the minds of its citizens as the country faces mass emigration and a crumbling economy while still recovering from the Beirut Port explosion. “Lebanon, Land of Loss and Farewells, Looks Back and Forward as the New Year Begins” reflects on the country's major issues as it transitioned from 2021 into the new year. In “Honesty is Honored in Selection of Judge Tarek Bittar as Lebanon’s Person of the Year,” we look at Lebanon’s “Person of the Year,” judge Tarek Bittar, who has earned a reputation as the unflinching head of Beirut’s criminal court and has become a beacon of hope that those responsible for the August 2020 explosion will be held accountable.
Arab intellectuals have long been celebrated, historically and culturally, for their impact as role models and influence on civil society. However, globalization and the rise of oppression across the Arab world spark concern that the role of the Arab intellectual may soon vanish. “Multiple Pressures from State Repression, Fundamentalist Retribution, Cultural Critiques and Competition from Global Media Choking Off the Voice of the Arab Intellectual” explores the conditions leading to their diminishing cultural influence. The essay “Ghassan al-Jibai (1952-2022) Remembering A Courageous Writer: His Refusal of Censorship, of Exile, and of Silence” examines the life of the Syrian writer, dramatist, and former political prisoner Ghassan al-Jibai, who devoted his life’s work to opposing tyranny and calling upon the importance of intellectuals to bring change. In memory of the late writer, who passed away in early August, this issue of Al Jadid includes translations of three of his poems, “Those Who Die While We’re Unaware,” “Two Parallel Lines,” and “A Poem for Omar,” all translated from the Arabic by Fawaz Azem.
The battle for human rights remains a constant and ongoing struggle in the Arab world. In “Beating Up the Already Battered: Modern Arab Media’s Role in Bullying and Harassment,” the normalization of bullying and harassment in Arab media sets the fight for gender equality a step back, trivializing the severity of violence against women for viewership ratings. This trend rises in tandem with the femicide cases across the Arab world, the murders of at least four women within days of each other in late June causing outrage and fear, as reported in “Growing Dysfunction of Arab Societies Parallels Rise in Violence Against Women.”
This year, media backlash and controversy emerged over two recent films accused of harming the Palestinian cause. We cover Palestinian-Dutch director Hany Abu-Assad’s “Huda’s Salon” in “Nudity Overshadows Betrayal in ‘Huda’s Salon’: Arab Audience and Critics Riled Over Controversial Film,” a fast-paced thriller following two Palestinian women: Huda, a salon owner who recruits and blackmails women with their nude photos into spying for Israel, and the young mother Reem, her latest victim. “Plot Twist Ties Up Distribution of Controversial Arab ‘Life Smuggling’ Film” reviews Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab’s “Amira,” whose entry in the Oscar’s 2022 Best Foreign Film was withdrawn in response to social media backlash. The film tells the story of 17-year-old Amira, the daughter of a Palestinian freedom fighter serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison, who was conceived through artificial insemination via smuggling. As her parents attempt to have another child through the same means, Amira learns she is not biologically her father’s child but the child of an Israeli guard.
The Arab publishing industry continues to decline under the prevalent digital changes of globalization. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid deterioration of its economy, Lebanon’s publishing industry has struggled to stay afloat. In “A Book Fair Writes an Old Story: How a Poster — And Regional Politics — Sank Effort to Invigorate Lebanon’s Publishing Industry,” political tensions undermined the country’s attempt to revitalize the industry through its first book exhibition since the 2020 lockdown. Meanwhile, UNESCO’s yearly celebration of World Book Day resurfaces the popular myth that Arabs read only six minutes a year, a claim we debunk in the essay “Looking at Reading Rates Beyond Bogus Statistics: Yes, Arabs Read! But How Much?”
Present-day discussions of Arab heritage, its history, cultural traditions, and celebration of intellectuals, bridge the old with the new. The essay “Two Decades After Alfred Farag’s Death, Debate Still Rages Over Origins and Decline of Arab Theater” delves into the roots of Arab theater and its declining state today, reflecting on the influence of the late Egyptian playwright Alfred Farag on contemporary Arab theater and his hope for its future. Oral tradition is deeply embedded in Arab cultural heritage. “Today, Authoritarian Threats Rather Than Technological Limitations Make It Difficult to Capture the Oral History of the Arab World” discusses the potential of oral testimony as a valuable resource in Middle Eastern academia, addressing its lack of written and archival records in comparison to Western and European academia. In “Islamic Scholar Hashem Saleh Shocks with Critique of Venerated 10th Century Scholar, Ibn Khaldun,” one scholar questions the present-day relevance of the Enlightenment thinker Ibn Khaldun, an Arab cultural and intellectual giant, through the writings of the late Algerian scholar Mohammed Arkoun.
This issue also offers an overview of substantial and intriguing books published about the Arab world. “Book Examines Lasting Legacy of Assassinated Cartoonist, Whose Work Drew on Experience of War and Exile” recalls the memory of the late Palestinian political cartoonist Naji al-Ali after the recent discovery of the French book, “Le Livre de Handala” by Sivan Halevy and Muhammad al-Asaad, which preserves the artist’s legacy. “The Tragedies and Political Realities of Aleppo’s Old Red Light District” takes a look at Syrian novelist Ibtisam Ibrahim Tracy’s latest work, “Daughter of Lahlouha,” a multigenerational story glimpsing into the suffering of Syrian women under social oppression and political tyranny beneath the French mandate and Syrian regimes. “Historical Overview of Arab American Women from 19th Century to Present Honors the Works of Michael Suleiman” provides current and insightful analysis of issues pertinent to Arab American women, building off the works of the late Michael Suleiman in this new collection of essays, “Arab American Women: Representation and Refusal,” reviewed by Lynne Rogers. “Examining the Past to Understand Present Controversy Over ‘The Image’ in Islamic Jurisprudence and Art” contemplates Charbel Dagher’s “Between Islamic Jurisprudence and Art: Controversy Over the Image,” an overview of the history and relationship between an artist’s expression, agency, and interactions with collective identity, especially about Islamic jurisprudence, reviewed by Sausan Hasan and translated by Joseph Sills for Al Jadid.
In “The Catcher in the Bulgur? Coming of Age Story Witnesses Tribulations of Growing Up Arab American in Brooklyn,” D.W. Aossey reviews Paul Aziz Zarou’s recent novel “Arab Boy Delivered,” a coming-of-age story is capturing the experiences of the Palestinian teenager Michael Haddad as he grows up in Brooklyn. Pamela Nice’s review of “Muslim American City: Gender and Religion in Metro Detroit” in “Muslim Americans Negotiate the Public Sphere: ‘Civic Purdah’ and Civic Engagement in Metro Detroit” offers thought-provoking findings from an ethnographic study of Muslim communities within Hamtramck, a small incorporated city within the boundaries of greater Detroit. “Narrating and Re-Narrating the Arab American Story” touches on Arab American identity as portrayed in film through Waleed F. Mahdi’s critical study “Arab Americans in Film: From Hollywood & Egyptian Stereotypes to Self-Representation,” reviewed by Angele Ellis. Vivid colors shine a light on multigenerational memories in “The Wonders of a Village Childhood,” in which Lynne Rogers reviews “Stories My Father Told Me: Memories of a Childhood in Syria and Lebanon” by Elia and Helen Zughaib, a collection of short stories about the traditions and values of Syria before the Arab Spring passed down to Elia by his father and illustrated by his daughter, Helen. Sami Asmar looks at Dwight Reynolds’ “The Musical Heritage of Al-Andalus” in “Inheritors of Sound and Song: Arab Music and the Legacy of Al-Andalus,” an extensive survey of Arab music and history throughout the Iberian Peninsula, or ‘Al-Andalus.’
Our Cultural Roundup honors past and present as we revisit topics written in Al Jadid’s archives and celebrate the cultural footprints of prominent Arab creatives: the Egyptian musician Sayyed Darwish in “Sayyed Darwish’s Musical Ingenuity Resonates Nearly a Century After His Death,” the French, Egyptian, and Lebanese writer Andrée Chedid in “Andrée Chedid: Celebrated French, Egyptian, and Lebanese, Poet, Novelist, and Critic of Wars,” and the Syrian artist Fateh al-Moudarres in “Marking the Centenary of Fateh al-Moudarres: Syrian Artist Who Fought for Justice with Brush, Pen.”
Finally, the Editor’s Notebook by Elie Chalala addresses the recent departure of former Lebanese president Michel Aoun from the presidency in “A Lebanese Journalist’s Harsh Parting Words to the Former President!” and pays tribute to Egyptian novelist Baha Taher in “Baha Taher: Noble Intellectual and Literary Phenomenon.”
Over the past nine years, Etab Hrieb (cover artwork: “Faces and Cities,” 2021) has lived and worked in Chicago as a painter. Originally from Syria, she graduated from the Damascus University of Fine Arts. The artistic style she uses expresses the innocence and imagination of her childhood, emphasizing both the real world and a fragile memory at the same time.
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