Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Reading and Discussion: Moustafa Bayoumi, Max Blumenthal, Arun Gupta, Rashid Khalidi, on the Impact of the Gaza freedom Flotilla

Panel Discussion with Max Blumenthal, Moustafa Bayoumi, Arun Gupta, Adam Horowitz, Rashid Khalidi, Alia Malek and Phil Weiss on the Impact of Gaza Freedom Flotila Attack.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010
7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

Free and Open to the Public

This event is sponsored by OR Books and Haymarket Books and is a launch of the Haymarket Books ( edition.

Midnight on the Mavi Marmara
The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict
Moustafa Bayoumi, Editor

* * * * *

Eastern Mediterranean, Monday, May 31st, 2010, 4.30am: Israeli commandos, boarding from sea and air, attack the six boats of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla as it sails through international waters bringing humanitarian relief to the beleaguered Palestinians of Gaza. Within minutes, nine peace activists are dead, shot by the Israelis. Scores of others are injured. The 700 people on board the ships are arrested before being transported to detention centers in Israel and then deported.

Within hours, outrage at Israel’s action echoes around the world. Spontaneous demonstrations in Europe, the United States, Turkey, and Gaza itself denounce the attack. Turkey’s prime minister describes it as a “bloody massacre” and “state terrorism.” Lebanon’s prime minister calls it “a dangerous and crazy step that will exacerbate tensions in the region.”

In these pages, a range of activists, journalists, and analysts piece together the events that occurred that May night, unpicking their meanings for Israel’s illegal, three-year-long blockade of Gaza and the decades-long Israel/Palestine conflict more generally. Mixing together first-hand testimony, documentary record, and illustration, with hard-headed analysis and historical overview, Midnight on the Mavi Marmara reveals why the attack on Gaza Freedom Flotilla may just turn out to be Israel’s Selma, Alabama: the beginning of the end for an apartheid Palestine.

CONTRIBUTORS: Ali Abunimah, Eyad Al Sarraj, Lamis Andoni, Omar Barghouti, George Bisharat, Max Blumenthal, Noam Chomsky, Marsha B. Cohen, Juan Cole, Murat Dagli, Jamal Elshayyal, Sümeyye Ertekin, Norman Finkelstein, Neve Gordon, Glenn Greenwald, Arun Gupta, Amira Hass, Nadia Hijab, Adam Horowitz, Rashid Khalidi, Stephen Kinzer, Iara Lee, Henning Mankell, Paul Larudee, Gideon Levy, Alia Malek, Lubna Masarwa, Mike Marqusee, Yousef Munayyer, Ken O’Keefe, Daniel Luban, Kevin Ovenden, Ilan Pappé, Doron Rosenblum, Sara Roy, Ben Saul, Adam Shapiro, Raja Shehadeh, Henry Siegman, Ahdaf Soueif, Raji Sourani, Richard Tillinghast, Alice Walker, Stephen M. Walt, Philip Weiss, and Haneen Zoabi.

Alwan for the Arts

16 Beaver Street (between Broad and Broadway), 4th floor,
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732-3261

Saturday, September 25, 2010

CFP: The International Journal for Arab Studies

Next issue submission: Oct 31

The International Journal for Arab Studies is an electronic journal introduced by the Society of Arab & Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter (UK). We strive to publish foutstanding and unique research produced by young academics from around the world. Our eJournal will publish original, previously unpublished, work in both Arabic and English.

Through our website, and partner links and, we hope to expand our readership and access to the thousands of researchers with interest in the Arab World.

Our journal will be published twice a year. Our second issue, due out in January 2011, will establish both a broad audience and broad spectrum of contributors. We believe our eJournal will allow academics across disciplines the opportunity to discuss with our audience history and current affairs of Arab societies and the vital internal and external security issues of concerns. IJAS also welcomes Book Reviews.

Our deadline for submissions for this second issue will be 31 October 2010.


The International Journal for Arab Studies is a refereed journal and aims to promote genuine research in the field of Arab studies. The multi-disciplinary nature of this journal includes the following fields: politics and International Relations, sociology, history, linguistics, literature and anthropology. The journal also is interested in theories relevant to these disciplines. Thus, the journal presents itself to a wide readership interested in Arab studies. This is only an electronic journal, yet we seek to produce hard copies once resources are available by 2011.

Our publication will cover articles, reviews of books and short articles on recent issues relevant to the theme of each issue. The working languages will be English and Arabic. Yet, articles will only be published in English during the first year of the establishment. The e-journal will be published three times a year; April, August and December where it will include seven articles and four book reviews. Review of publications in Arabic and English are also welcome.

The International Journal for Arab Studies seeks to make a strong link between scholarly work published in Arabic and English; hence the latter seems to be dominant over the former. Therefore, we welcome contributors from any backgrounds.

Other special events and issues will be announced on the e-journal website. The website itself will be a forum for academic discussions related to theme of the e-journal. The editorial board includes several scholars representing different universities in Europe, the US and the Middle East.

Editor in Chief
Dr. Khalid Almezaini
Fernando Carvajal (University of Exeter)
You will find our guidelines for articles and book reviews on our

Electronic submission is the only format accepted by IJAS. Please submit your manuscript to

Sunday, September 19, 2010

High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music Sept 23-26

High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music

Sound Installations:
September 21st - 26th, 2010
@ Gallery Four
4th Floor / 405 W Franklin St., Baltimore

Main Concerts:
September 23rd - 26th, 2010
@ The Theatre Project
45 W Preston St., Baltimore

What is High Zero?

High Zero is the premier festival of Improvised, Experimental music on the East Coast, being fully devoted to new collaborations between the most inspired improvisers from around the world.

Lasting two weeks in total, the festival brings together 28 core musicians each year, but also involves a much larger subculture of musicians in Baltimore and on the East Coast. Unlike many related festivals, High Zero is not narrow in terms of sensibility or subculture, but rather widely inclusive of all the different types of experimental music-making in the moment. The fact that half of the festival's core participants are from Baltimore speaks to the depth of Baltimore's experimental music subculture, which in recent years has grown to be one of the richest cities in the country for experimental art.

The festival has a unique structure. HIGH ZERO is focused solely on new collaborations in freely improvised experimental music. Internationally famous musicians play side by side with younger "unknowns," united by their commitment to the musical imagination. Each year, Baltimore becomes a fertile meeting-ground for a large group of inspired players, drawn from a fascinating international subculture.

The festival exposes large audiences to this radical music in its pure form. Large-scale public concerts, recording sessions, workshops, and guerilla street performances are all part of the heady mix. The players are carefully selected by the festival's organizers for their intense, unique music, whether it is based around dramatic intensity, humor, specially designed instruments, original approach, raw sound, or nearly superhuman instrumental technique. The resulting collaborations challenge the limits of music and delight by their audacity, expressiveness, immediacy, and innovation. It isn't about stars or established projects; it is about the most uncompromising and stimulating new improvised music we can bring together.

To say the High Zero Festival is an unusual event is an understatement. Not only does the festival intend to provide the audience with extremely varied, inspired and ingenious experiences, it is also a major challenge for the improvisers, who are put in contexts where their stock personal musical languages may not work, pushing them into terra incognita.

This year's festival again promises to be the best yet, with more performers and more music. We hope to see you at High Zero 2010, and hope that you will spread the word to anyone you think might be interested!

Directions to main High Zero concerts at:

Theatre Project
45 W Preston St.
Baltimore 21201

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Performing Idea, Performance Matters

Adrian Heathfield, Co-Director of Performing Idea

Performing Idea public programme

2nd-9th October 2010
Whitechapel Gallery and Toynbee Studios, London

Performing Idea is a programme of events at Whitechapel Gallery and Toynbee Studios that investigate the shifting relations between performance practice and discourse, event and writing.

The public programme comprises a set of workshops led by three internationally acclaimed artists; a five day symposium with leading writers, thinkers and artists; a sound and video archive of seminal performance lectures; and a series of new performance lectures and redos by UK and international artists.

With contributions from: Janine Antoni, Ron Athey, Anne Bean, Wafaa Bilal, Maaike Bleeker, Silvia Bottiroli, Jonathan Burrows, Gavin Butt, Cabula 6, Augusto Corrieri, Robin Deacon, Rose English, Tim Etchells, Matthew Goulish, Adrian Heathfield, Hannah Hurtzig, Shannon Jackson, Janez Janša, Joe Kelleher, Tellervo Kalleinen, Lois Keidan, Ong Keng Sen, Bojana Kunst, Boyan Manchev, Fred Moten, Rabih Mroué, Giulia Palladini, Owen Parry, Peggy Phelan, Heike Roms, Lara Shalson, and Julie Tolentino.

To make a booking for the Performing Idea public programme click on How to book.

About Performing Idea

At a time when performance and live art have increased visibility in the worlds of art, theatre, dance and the academy, Performing Idea asks how such experimental performance forms signal changes in understandings of both art and the world beyond. The event pursues the multiple ways in which contemporary artists and thinkers have come to refashion not only understandings of art, but also the ways in which we produce and value the world of ‘ideas’.

Performing Idea seeks to explore the consequences for traditional understandings of knowledge when contemporary art actions, immaterial performances and social exchanges are routinely presented as valuable ways of knowing. What challenges do such practices present for the keepers, institutions and edifices of knowledge: the intellectuals and art arbiters, the academic institutions, and archives and libraries? Might the current forms of critical practice – of ‘creative research’ and ‘discursive events’ – represent new models of knowledge exchange and thoughtful relation, and suggest something more provisional and trans-active in the ways in which we might hold something dear?

Performing Idea is the first year of Performance Matters, a three-year creative research project rethinking why performance matters through the matter of performance. At a time when performance and live art have increased visibility in the worlds of art, theatre, dance and the academy, Performing Idea asks how such experimental performance forms signal changes in understandings of both art and the world beyond through a set of critical and creative exchanges and research processes.

For full details of the Performing Idea public programme and
information about the Performance Matters project, please visit:

- The Performing Idea Symposium (5th to 9th October, 3pm to 7.30pm)
and evening programme of performance lectures and redos (4th to 9th October,
8.30pm) take place at Toynbee Studios and bookings must be made through Artsadmin

Spaces are limited - early booking is advised.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Sunny Day in Glasgow to Give Away New Album Digitally

Via Pitchfork:

MP3: A Sunny Day in Glasgow: "Drink drank drunk"

When they were working on their 2009 album Ashes Grammar, Philadelphia dream-poppers A Sunny Day in Glasgow wrote a ton of songs, not all of which made it onto the final album. Some of those songs made their way onto Nitetime Rainbows, the EP that the band released earlier this year. And still more make up Autumn, Again, a brand new album that the band will release in October. Up above, you can download the woozy album track "Drink drank drunk".

On October 19, the band will give away the album on their website as a free download. They'll also press up 500 vinyl copies of the album, which they'll sell on their website and through Carrot Top Distribution.

A press release pounds points out that this isn't a sign of any new directions that the band might take. Rather, it's another souvenir from a particularly fertile period. Below, we've got the Autumn, Again tracklist.

Autumn, Again:

01 Autumn, again
02 Fall in love
03 Petition to refrain from repetition
04 Sigh, inhibitionist (Come all day with me)
05 Moments on the lawn
06 Drink drank drunk
07 Violet Mary haunts me OR Loss of forgetfulness on Renfrew Street
08 How does somebody say when they like you?
09 Calling it love isn't love (Don't fall in love)
10 This assclown eats ambien OR Nobody likes you (No Art)
11 100/0 (Snowdays forever)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hey Kids, Progressive Clichés!

Okay, here goes.

This summer I had an exchange with another blogger who'd tweeted something along the lines of "enough already, we all agree, America is NOT post-racial... can we move on now?" I love a cranky, self-aware tweet and I told him so. (For me this is the genius of Twitter: for every meaningless kernel of trivia that floats along the data-stream there is a shiny pearl, excellent for its brevity. The 140 character limit makes good writers better by forcing them to be brief and it keeps bad writers from going on for too long. In my book this is a win-win.) His point was that the "we are not post-racial" drumbeat had become meaningless through constant use and was perhaps taking the place of more substantive discussions about race. I'd thought the same thing but hadn't known how to articulate it... Not so much a meme as a punchline, it stops conversations rather than opening them. In other words, "America is not post-racial" is a progressive cliché .

This brief conversation really made me think and I realized that there are a lot of tropes like this clogging up the discourse, making us ("us" = folks who write critically about various systems of oppression like racism, orientalism, sexism, etc. etc.) lazy. I considered writing a series of essays on these progressive clichés, but I hesitated. The self-imposed pressure to "keep it in the family " and not give the Right, who have become simultaneously more vicious and media-savvy in the last decade, more ammunition is strong. And kyriarchy--the ways in which we oppress each other--worries me. I don't want to inadvertently contribute to the systems of oppression I am trying to critique vertically or horizontally. And of course, while "America is Not Post-Racial" is a cliché, it is also true.

The problem, as I see it, isn't that such statements aren't true, but with how they are used. Like comedians who pander to the audience to get them on his side, the ultimate effect of this language is reactionary. There is no there there. But... does it make sense to criticize people for saying something that is true, especially when they/we are under constant attack from the Right? Don't people have the right to just vent--even if the ultimate effect is reactionary? It seems to make more sense to just leave it alone, grit my teeth and complain to my friends who will understand where I'm coming from.

And yet... I can't seem to let go of this idea.

I returned to Twitter and asked my feed: What do yo think? And the response was overwhelmingly positive. (What's more, suggestions for other progressive clichés started pouring in. Like "Check Your Privilege", "The 'Insert-Bad-Thing-Here' Industrial Complex", "How To Be A True Ally" etc. etc. ... special thanks to @monshiprose). Self-selecting Twitter hive-mind notwithstanding, it seems I am not the only one frustrated with these intellectual non-starters. Huh. Okay then.

So I have decided to forge ahead.

I suppose it comes down to this: I don't believe that the best way to deal with overwhelming opposition from the Right is to prevent ourselves from holding each other accountable to do better. But I do believe that if we have any chance at all to contribute (for lack of a better term) progressive ideals to a larger social conversation we can't let the Right turn us into a self-silencing monolith in the name of solidarity. Agreeing in principle doesn't mean we can't disagree--productively--about the whys and wherefores. And/or even about the hows. Right? There must be a way to critique the usefulness of certain arguments without attacking the people who articulate them, as a way of lifting the level of the discourse for all of us. Right?

So. All of that is the long way around to say that I am announcing a series of posts on "progressive clichés." I don't expect everyone to support the idea or agree with the way I present it, but I think one of the strengths of this format is its immediacy. So if you question what I propose with these posts then speak up. I'll happily hear you out. And if you have clichés of your own to propose, let me know.

More soon.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book Reading: "Masculine Identity in the Fiction of the Arab East Since 1967"

Samira Aghacy

Alwan for the Arts

16 Beaver Street (between Broad and Broadway), 4th floor,
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732-3261

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Free and Open to the Public

While Western scholars and media notoriously scrutinize the role of women and feminine identity in Arab literature and culture, Samira Aghacy's new book is groundbreaking in exploring masculinity and male identity in Arab literature over the past four decades.

This book offers an exploration of masculinity in the literature of the Arab East (Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq) in the context of a specific set of anxieties about gender roles and sexuality in Arab societies. While gender studies in the area have focused primarily on the situation of women, the treatment of Arab men as gendered subjects has fallen behind. Samira Aghacy’s rich analysis presents gender relations not within a fixed biological mold, but rather as a complex phenomenon fraught with ambivalence and operating within particular historical and geopolitical settings.

Through a series of close readings of twenty contemporary Arabic novels, Aghacy presents a mosaic of masculinities that challenges the generally held view of an essentialized archetypal Arab man and mirrors a contested vision of manliness where men figure in diverse sociocultural environments. This groundbreaking work reveals the volatile nature of masculinity and its inextricability from femininity.

Samira Aghacy had her M.A. and Ph.D in English from the University of Exeter, England. She joined L.A.U. as Associate Professor in 1987. She was promoted to the rank of Professor in 1993. She chaired the Humanities Division between 1991 and 2003. In October 2003, she was appointed Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Aghacy has also taught at the University of Jordan, the Lebanese University and A.U.B. She has published a Bibliography and a book of poems as well as various articles in International literary journals and has participated in numerous international conferences.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

This Day, Again.

On the morning of 9/11/2001 I was headed in to work in midtown Manhattan. I was late. My train was constantly getting re-routed as they built a new line, which always made me late. Also, I hated my job. So when the first plane hit I was on the subway, reading the novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I'd never read it in school and I was bored stiff with my life so I wanted a fictional world completely different than my own to escape to. Just as I was reading about Becky Sharp tossing Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of Modern Life out of her coach the first plane crashed into Tower One: These two unrelated images became tangled up in my head. I never did finish the book. Every time I looked at it in the weeks after it made me queasy so I returned it to the library unread.

I exited the subway and walked toward my office while all around me business guys were looking at their phones, which had suddenly stopped working. They were like puppets with cut strings, blinking at their phones and looking quizzically at one another. I walked through a cloud of them who had begun to ask each other what was happening. A man rushing in the opposite direction muttered something about the towers in explanation and kept going. No one understood because none of us had heard yet. Fire trucks full of firemen who would be among the dead before the morning was over went screaming past me.

I got to work and a guy from another department was at my desk, covering the main phones. I said, "Geez... what, is the world ending?" and he looked at me. "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center," he said. We all still thought it was an accident. "Was anyone hurt?" still seemed like a reasonable question.

But when the second plane hit we knew.

I was working at a private foundation and we all crowded into the conference room to listen to a fancy Bose radio the VP brought from his office and set in the center of the table. (The sound quality on those things is really amazing...These are the things you remember, like the weird details in a dream) We were listening to a reporter who was live on the scene, trying to make sense of the confusion in a shaky but determined voice. We were completely silent.

And then the reporter screamed as Tower One collapsed on itself.

There was a meeting of the Board of Directors scheduled for that day and most of the board was in the wind, caught in the chaos of re-routed traffic. The staff scrambled as we tried to reach everyone and the Executive Director, a medical doctor, announced quietly that she had to head toward the World Trade Center (it wasn't called Ground Zero yet) to offer her help.

I got frantic emails from my ex and my brother demanding to know that I was alive. I responded but soon the server was overwhelmed and useless. The phone lines were jammed so I couldn't call my family long distance. Instead I called my friend Spiff in Harlem and asked him to try and reach them for me. When he talked to my aunt he told her his name was Steve.

Tower Two fell.

As we were standing there trying to understand what was happening our computers began bleeping with calendar overdue reminder messages... we were supposed to be at the restaurant Windows on the World at the top of Tower One for an office celebration. It was rescheduled at the last minute to accommodate the Board Meeting. The change was so recent it was still on the calendar. The HR director just pointed at the screen and we knew: It was blind luck that we weren't all dead.

When the first plane hit the people who worked in the restaurant were killed instantly. Yet the professional 9/11 mourners never talk about those people. They only ever mention the police and firemen who died--"our heroes," they always say. So I would like to ask, what about the busboys? The servers? What about the guys who worked in the kitchen? For that matter, what about the secretaries throughout the building? The janitors? What about me and the other grunts from my office who would have been there early to set up, just in time to be incinerated by the first plane?

Their work was invisible while they were alive and once the narrative became politicized they were forgotten. And if I had been in Windows on the World I would be dead and, aside from the people who love me, I would be forgotten too. There isn't much political capital to be gained in remembering the people who hated their jobs. The ones who fetched coffee and cleaned up. The entire point of their (our) lives is that they (we) weren't heroes. We were all just going to work that day.

There's a lot more to tell and the rest comes in flashes:

Fleeing Manhattan across the 59th St. Bridge a woman from my office slipped her hand into mine and awestruck we watched the massive plume of smoke, heavy with incinerated building materials and bodily remains, just hanging there obscenely in space.

The crazy blueness of the sky (the weather was so beautiful that day...).

Thousands of New Yorkers trudging along, stunned and quiet as planes zig-zagged overhead.

Women carrying high heels crowded into sporting goods stores to buy sneakers. A business guy in a suit whizzed by on a newly purchased bike.

The people with little cups of water at the other end of the bridge and every so often for the dozens of blocks I walked until I found a working subway.

Standing in the laundromat the following night and meeting eyes with a woman from my neighborhood who just shook her head.

The moment when local, New York news morphed into national news.

The moment when the solemn tenderness that suffused the city became became edged with race-hatred.

Shaving off my beard and lying to the VP with the fancy radio when he asked if it was because I was scared.

The Cuban guy in my office who got jumped because they thought he was an Arab.

The veiled women in my neighborhood who disappeared inside for months.

Hearing people discuss killing people like me and my family openly on the street, in restaurants, hallways, the subway.

Wondering aloud, "if they come for me, will anybody speak up?"


When media personalities like Sarah Palin, who is hosting a big 9/11 mourn-off with Glenn Beck in Alaska, use our grief for political ends it turns my head inside out. Not that the Democrats are any better. But unlike 99% of the people on TV talking about 9/11 today I lived through it. And here's the thing the professional scab-pickers do not seem to understand: No one who was really there wants to see it over and over on TV with scary music playing behind it. If I really wanted to see it again I could just close my eyes, it is right there. So, Republicans, Democrats and independents of all stripes, think twice before you rub yourself in the ashes of the dead. Were you here? Forget seeing it on TV... did you smell it? No? Then shut the fuck up immediately. Go about your business, it didn't happen to you. 9/11 is not yours.

It happened to New York City.

It happened to me.

And this year, I am taking it back.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Call for submissions: Between the Seas staged readings

Between the Seas is an initiative that aims to bring together performing artists of the Mediterranean and Mediterranean diaspora, explore Mediterranean cultural identity, its historical connections, commonalities and differences and share with New York audiences the
vibrancy of contemporary Mediterranean cultural production.

In anticipation of Between The Seas festival in 2011, we are hosting an evening of staged readings that will give the opportunity to NY based artists to connect, share their work and interests and exchange projects and ideas. The event will take place on Monday October 18th,
6-10 pm at Solas [232 East 9th St.]

We are inviting proposals from directors, writers and theater companies for staged readings of : new plays by contemporary Mediterranean playwrights [preferably that have not been staged in NY before]; new plays by US-based playwrights that engage in various ways with Mediterranean culture and identity; short stories by Mediterranean writers that artists are interested in adapting for the stage.

We welcome short or full-length plays, as well as scripts still in progress. Please note: it is the responsibility of the artist to put together a team for the reading- we will not be involved in casting and directing the works.

Please submit: resume, a brief cover letter and a 10-page sample of the script. Deadline: September 20th. Email your materials to

Between the Seas is curated by Aktina Stathaki and produced by Les Manouches, a theater
company focusing on the creation of original works, intercultural collaborations and on bridging research with performance practice on topics of identity and culture.

Aktina Stathaki, Ph. D.
Theatre Artist, Curator and Researcher
Artistic Director Les Manouches Theatre

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Victoria & Albert Museum Seeks Arabic Speaking Curator to Administer Jameel Prize

Afruz Amighi, winner of the Jameel Prize 2009.
Courtesy of Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, photo V&A images

The Victoria & Albert museum (London, UK) has an outstanding collection of Islamic art from the Middle East, and the main display for these holdings is the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art, which opened in July 2006. The new gallery was named in honour of Abdul Latif Jameel and his wife Nafisa, and our link with the Jameel family and the philanthropic organisations they support has continued. Our joint aim is to give new prominence to the Middle Eastern collection and to emphasise its value for the contemporary world.

As a result, the Asian Department at the V&A is now responsible for the Jameel Prize, an award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition, which was first presented in July 2009. The accompanying exhibition, which showed work by the nine finalists, was displayed at the Museum between July and September 2009 and is now on tour in the Middle East, sponsored by Abdul Latif Jameel Community Services Programs. In the meantime, the nomination process for the second Prize is beginning. The exhibition of work by the short-listed artists will open at the V&A in July 2011, and the Prize will be presented in the Autumn.

The Jameel Prize, an exhibition of contemporary artists and designers inspired by Islamic traditions of craft and design will now tour to five venues in the Middle East, including the National Museum, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (23 - 31 January 2010) and the Beit ed-Dine Palace, Lebanon (Summer 2010), plus venues in Damascus, Casablanca and Istanbul. It will be the first ever exhibition the V&A has sent on tour to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Morocco. The Jameel Prize is sponsored by Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, who conceived the idea after providing the financial support for the renovation of the V&A’s Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art, which opened in July 2006. The tour will be supported by Abdul Latif Jameel Community Service Programmes (ALJCSP) throughout. We now wish to appoint an Arabic-speaking curator with an interest in contemporary art and design. The post-holder’s primary tasks will be to act as administrator for the Jameel Prize, to project-manage the associated exhibition, and to take responsibility for the production of materials in English and Arabic on the Prize and on other aspects of the Museum’s work, for our website and for publication.

Contact: To apply online, please go to our website. If you have any queries regarding the recruitment process, you can email us at or telephone us on (+44) 020 7942 2937


Primary Category: Art and Art History

Secondary Categories: Asian History / Studies

Posting Date: 09/06/2010

Closing Date: 09/26/2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dear "Burn a Koran Day" Pastor Terry Jones: A Personal Message from A Syrian Catholic Priest

The "Pastor" Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center

The "Pastor" of Florida's Dove World Outreach Center Terry Jones has announced that he will go ahead with his plan to host "International Burn a Koran Day" on 9/11 this year, despite a warning from General Petraeus that this action will endanger US troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and criticism from the White House. Jones, who has also written a book titled Islam is of the Devil (which has a Facebook page and Twitter account) insisted he would not be deterred. In remarks published by Florida radio station WOKV on Tuesday morning, Jones said, "We think the message is that important. We can not back down just because of fear, because if we back down, it won't make Islam any more moderate."

Right. Because Terry Jones is clearly an authority on moderation, what with the Koran-burning and all.

It's easy to point fingers at nutballs like Jones (or Fred Phelps, the "Pastor" of the Westboro Baptist Church, who is famous for his--paging Fr. Freud-- obsession with homosexuality) but it is a mistake to dismiss such expressions of hate as fringe sentiments because they come from wackadoodles like these. The potent mix of Christianity (or a version of it in any case), American nationalism and conservatism that characterized the Bush presidency did not disappear with Obama's assumption of the office. On the contrary, this toxic mash of ideas has supplanted the arguments about the role of government that used to characterize the Republican party... And the Democrats aren't exactly breaking their necks to distinguish themselves from these ideological stink bombs either.

I'd argue that Islamophobia (and homophobia for that matter) are absolutely mainstream sentiments. As we have seen in the rancorous public debate around construction of the Park 51 Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan, while the racist nuts yell the loudest the echo of their message can be heard through the statements of putatively "liberal" politicians like Howard Dean. Times like these reveal the character of a people. That is what makes Obama's weak-kneed response to the Park 51 Islamic Center opposition so disappointing (if not entirely surprising) and Mayor Bloomberg's stunning moral leadership in support of the center so inspiring.

Of course, "moral leadership" brings us full circle to religion itself. Just when I lose patience with religious leaders of all stripes someone surprises me... in a good way.

The letter below, by a Syrian Catholic priest named Father Elias Zahlawi was written to Terry Jones in response to his insistence that burning Korans is a proper use of his position as a Christian leader. I love that Father Zahlawi responded to Jones as a fellow leader of a Christian faith community who is also an Arab. Arab Christians--like me--are virtually invisible in the discourses around the Middle East, despite the fact that we are the only indigenous Christians on the planet. Both Arab and Christian, we are in a unique position to weigh in on tensions between US Christians and Arab Muslims, so often racialized as White vs. Brown. It is also true that many Arab Christians in the West use their faith affiliation to construct assimilated, "White" identities and are very invested in articulating the differences between Arab Muslims and Christians. My own family is often like this. But without smoothing over such differences it is also possible to celebrate the possibilities suggested by an action like the release of this letter by an Arab Catholic priest.

In his letter Father Zahlawi articulated many of my own questions when"Christians" like Jones and Phelps preach hate. He writes, "Tell me, is there in the character of Jesus, in his words or in his actions anything that would remotely justify even a hint of promoting disdain and hatred among people?"


(Via The Ugly Truth)
"Respected Pastor Terry Jones,

I have read your worldwide call for the burning of the Quran on this coming 11th of September. Your message stated that you are a pastor of one of the churches in Florida in the United States of America.

As an Arab Catholic priest from Damascus (Syria), I wondered what would be your objective, as an American pastor, for such a call?

I wondered, and I ask you: What are your responsibilities as a pastor?

Are you really a Christian pastor serving God in a church in America?

Or are you merely a layperson from America who is pretending to be in the service of Christ?

Did you give in to your nationalism (Americanism) rather than giving in to your Christianity?

What is your aim with that call?

(Do you wish) to further fuel hatred among people? Is that consistent with (the teachings of) Jesus, whom you represent in your eyes and the eyes of many others?

Tell me, is there in the character of Jesus, in his words or in his actions anything that would remotely justify even a hint of promoting disdain and hatred among people?

Have you forgotten that Jesus was completely for love, forgiveness and peace? Have you forgotten what he taught us when he told his disciples and the people after them to tell God the heavenly Father of all to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who wrong us”? You overlooked or forgot that when Jesus was hanging on the cross and being subjected to insults and vile words, he raised his voice, saying, “O Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Who, then, do you represent or who are you trying to guide with this call of yours?

Isn’t it enough what has been happening since September 11, 2001: the killing, destruction, displacement and starvation of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world, from Palestine – the land of Jesus – by your leaders in particular, headed by George Bush, who was claiming direct communication with God?

Wouldn’t you agree with me that with your call (to burn the Quran), you have demonstrated that you are really unfamiliar with Jesus and that you desperately need to re-discover him again to be a true Christian pastor who calls, like Jesus, for the comprehensive love and full respect for every human being and a commitment to the full and wonderful teachings that call upon all believers, without exception, to always stand beside the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged?

My brother Pastor Terry Jones. Can you tell me, honestly, if Jesus came today, whose side would he take?

Is it the side of the powerful and arrogant oppressors who dominate the world and endlessly plunder its resources, violate its laws and international treaties, and kill people in their countries and destroy houses on top of their owners and turn them into refugees across the earth? Or is it the side of those who are oppressed, the disadvantaged, hungry, and homeless?

Did you forget what Jesus himself would say on the Day of Judgment to each person in front of him: “All that you did to one of my brothers, you actually did to me”?

I wonder if you have overlooked or forgotten that Jesus did not point in that speech on the Day of Judgment to the religion of any of those mistreated persons. He only referred to everyone as belonging to the human race and to his standing with the deprived, the weak, and the oppressed in this world.

So how could you as an American Christian pastor stand with the oppressors from your country whose injustice has spread around the world?

Aren’t you afraid of when you appear before Jesus on Judgment Day and you are burdened with a heavy conscience, like your leaders who are blinded by the gods of power, money, control and greed?

My brother Pastor Terry. Do you think I am being unfair if I conclude that your hatred toward Islam is what drove you to such a reprehensible call for the burning of Islam’s holy book, the Quran?

But let me ask you, as a Syrian Roman Catholic priest: What do you know about Islam? It appears to me from your call to burn the Quran that you are ignorant of Christ and Christianity, and that makes me believe that you are also ignorant of Islam and Muslims.

Believe me, it is not my intention to indict you and it is not my intention to engage with you in a religious debate about Christianity or Islam. However, after I prayed for a long time, let me suggest for both of us to make a joint effort on this coming September 11.

You might ask me what effort can we do jointly when you are in Florida and I’m in Damascus?

Here is my suggestion.

I invite you to visit Syria, where you will be my guest and the guest of many of my Muslim and Christian friends. Syria is a country populated mostly by Muslims and in which Christians are indigenous to the land and have lived side-by-side with Muslims for centuries and centuries.

Come and don’t worry about anything.

Come and you will find out about Islam and Muslims what will comfort you, please you, surprise you, and even lead you, from where you are today in Florida, to invite all people to live in respect, love and cooperation among all people.

This is what people need rather than the un-Christian call to fuel the sentiment of hatred and division.

Come to Syria and you will be amazed by the good nature of people and their faith, their relations, friendly cooperation and openness toward all strangers.

Come to Damascus to witness and live an experience that is not in your mind nor the mind or expectation of all the churches of the West or their bishops, pastors, and clergymen.

Come to see and hear two choruses, Christian and Muslim, singing together during Christian and Islamic holidays to praise Allah, the One God, who created us all, and to whom we all return.

My brother Pastor Terry.

I call you my brother and I am serious about calling you brother and about my invitation to you. I await a word (of reply) from you. Trust me that you will find a brother in Damascus, actually many brothers.

Please contact me and don’t delay. I am waiting for you in Damascus.

I ask God to make our anticipated meeting the beginning of a long and interesting path that we undertake together with other brothers in Damascus and around the world.

How desperate is the need of our world for bright roads.

Come, the road to Damascus is waiting for you.

Father Elias Zahlawi"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Call For Submissions: New York Arab & South Asian Short Video Slam

Thursday, September 30, 2010

11:30 pm at Alwan for the Arts


For the first annual New York Arab & South Asian Short Video Slam (NYA & SA SVS)

Deadline: September 30, 2010

Seeking new short videos (produced 2006 or later) by South Asian and Arab directors OR videos about those regions and their diasporas by filmmakers of all backgrounds.

Videos of all genres are welcome, including conceptual and political video art. Please limit these video to 20 mins or less Total Running Time.

The 2010 NYA&SA Short Video Slam will present the best in recent short videos that increase awareness of the creative vitality and sociopolitical realities of North Africa, the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and their diasporas. The NYA&SA Short Video Slam will take place in late October 2010 at the Alwan for the Arts Space at 16 Beaver Street in Lower Manhattan.

Alwan for the Arts & 3rd i NY have been co-presenting monthly film screenings and a combined film festival for over 3 years. These started at the now defunct Two Boots Pioneer Theater, where due to low costs and a basement venue for pizza and beer receptions after the screening, we were able to create a lively space for filmmakers and film enthusiasts to interact. While we have continued our monthly series and for two years our festival at the Tribeca Cinemas, the space does not accommodate these informal post-screening discussions and is more conducive to showing feature films from abroad than local independent and experimental work. We'd like to once again play a greater role as a showcase for aesthetically, politically, theoretically and/or technically innovative work as well serve as a meeting place filmmakers and film aficionados.

As a participating filmmaker you will benefit from the deep level of engagement provided by the audience members that Alwan & 3rd i NY has cultivated over the last few years of intense programming, who are more knowledgeable than general audiences about the history, languages, and cultures of the North African, Middle Eastern, and South and Central Asian regions. They enjoy healthy debate and cross-cultural learning. They are diverse in their ages, incomes, and professional backgrounds. They often come to many screenings or cultural events per year, and appreciate the opportunity to engage with artists, writers, thinkers, and cultural producers. Alwan's loft space's open layout makes it easy to quickly convert it from screening to social gathering, and it is close to numerous trains.

To submit please include:

1) DVD or VHS (NTSC or PAL) preview copy
2) Synopsis, running time, year, country and year of production
3) Director bio, cast/crew list
4) Screening history, Awards
5) All possible screening formats available
6) Contact email, phone #, website if available
7) If above info provided on CD, please also include film stills at 300 dpi as tiff or jpeg as part of the EPK


Video Slam Submissions
ATTN: Melissa Forstrom
Alwan for the Arts
16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
New York NY 10004

Tel.: 646.732.3261

Materials will be returned if prepaid from USA, self addressed envelope is
provided. If selected, you will be notified by October 30, 2010.

For questions or to submit electronically email:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hamas, the I.R.A. and US by Ali Abunimah

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams with Barack Obama

August 28, 2010

Hamas, the I.R.A. and Us


"GEORGE J. MITCHELL, the United States Middle East envoy, tried to counter low expectations for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations by harking back to his experience as a mediator in Northern Ireland.

At an Aug. 20 news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, announcing the talks that will begin this week, Mr. Mitchell reminded journalists that during difficult negotiations in Northern Ireland, “We had about 700 days of failure and one day of success” — the day in 1998 that the Belfast Agreement instituting power-sharing between pro-British unionists and Irish nationalists was signed.

Mr. Mitchell’s comparison is misleading at best. Success in the Irish talks was the result not just of determination and time, but also a very different United States approach to diplomacy.

The conflict in Northern Ireland had been intractable for decades. Unionists backed by the British government saw any political compromise with Irish nationalists as a danger, one that would lead to a united Ireland in which a Catholic majority would dominate minority Protestant unionists. The British government also refused to deal with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, despite its significant electoral mandate, because of its close ties to the Irish Republican Army, which had carried out violent acts in the United Kingdom.

A parallel can be seen with the American refusal to speak to the Palestinian party Hamas, which decisively won elections in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006. Asked what role Hamas would have in the renewed talks, Mr. Mitchell answered with one word: “None.” No serious analyst believes that peace can be made between Palestinians and Israelis without Hamas on board, any more than could have been the case in Northern Ireland without Sinn Fein and the I.R.A.

The United States insists that Hamas meet strict preconditions before it can take part in negotiations: recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which Hamas is not a member. These demands are unworkable. Why should Hamas or any Palestinian accept Israel’s political demands, like recognition, when Israel refuses to recognize basic Palestinian demands like the right of return for refugees?

As for violence, Hamas has inflicted a fraction of the harm on Israeli civilians that Israel inflicts on Palestinian civilians. If violence disqualifies Hamas, surely much greater violence should disqualify the Israelis?

It was only by breaking with one-sided demands that Mr. Mitchell was able to help bring peace to Northern Ireland. In 1994, for instance, Mr. Mitchell, then a Democratic senator from Maine, urged President Bill Clinton — against strenuous British objections — to grant a United States visa to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader. Mr. Mitchell later wrote that he believed the visa would enable Mr. Adams “to persuade the I.R.A. to declare a cease-fire, and permit Sinn Fein to enter into inclusive political negotiations.” As mediator, Mr. Mitchell insisted that a cease-fire apply to all parties equally, not just to the I.R.A.

Both the Irish and Middle Eastern conflicts figure prominently in American domestic politics — yet both have played out in very different ways. The United States allowed the Irish-American lobby to help steer policy toward the weaker side: the Irish government in Dublin and Sinn Fein and other nationalist parties in the north. At times, the United States put intense pressure on the British government, leveling the field so that negotiations could result in an agreement with broad support. By contrast, the American government let the Israel lobby shift the balance of United States support toward the stronger of the two parties: Israel.

This disparity has not gone unnoticed by those with firsthand knowledge of the Irish talks. In a 2009 letter to The Times of London, several British and Irish negotiators, including John Hume, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the Belfast Agreement, criticized the one-sided demands imposed solely on Hamas. “Engaging Hamas,” the negotiators wrote, “does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians. In fact, it is a precondition for security and for brokering a workable agreement.”

The resumption of peace talks without any Israeli commitment to freeze settlements is another significant victory for the Israel lobby and the Israeli government. It allows Israel to pose as a willing peacemaker while carrying on with business as usual.

As for Mr. Mitchell, since he was appointed Middle East envoy, he has so far enjoyed almost 600 days of failure. As long as the United States maintains the same hopeless approach, he can expect many more."

Ali Abunimah is the author of “One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse."

(A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 29, 2010, on page WK10 of the New York edition of the New York Times.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque Controversy

"The American River Ganges," Thomas Nast's 1875 cartoon
showing Catholic priests as crocodiles attacking the United States
to devour the nation's school children

Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque Controversy

"As historians of American Catholicism, and Catholics, we are concerned to see the revival of a strain of nativism in the current controversy over the establishment of an Islamic center some blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

For much of the nineteenth century Catholics in America were the unassimilated, sometimes violent “religious other.” Often they did not speak English or attend public schools. Some of their religious women—nuns—wore distinctive clothing. Their religious practices and beliefs—from rosaries to transubstantiation—seemed to many Americans superstitious nonsense.

Most worrisome, Catholics seemed insufficiently grateful for their ability to build churches and worship in a democracy, rights sometimes denied to Protestants and Jews in Catholic countries, notably Italy. In the 1840s and 1850s these anxieties about Catholicism in American society turned violent, including mob attacks on priests and churches as well as the formation of a major political party, the American Party, dedicated to combating Catholic influence. This led to novel claims that the US constitution demanded an absolute separation of church and state—claims that stem not from Thomas Jefferson and George Washington but from nineteenth-century politicians, ministers, and editors worried that adherents of a hierarchical Catholicism might destroy the hard-won achievements of American democracy. In 1875, a decade after accepting General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, President Ulysses S. Grant publicly warned that Catholicism might prove as divisive in American society as the Confederacy.

Like many American Muslims today, many American Catholics squirmed when their foreign-born religious leaders offered belligerent or tone-deaf pronouncements on the modern world. New York’s own Bishop John Hughes thundered in 1850 that the Church’s mission was to convert “the officers of the navy and the Marines, commander of the Army, the legislatures, the Senate, the Cabinet, the president and all.” The Syllabus of Errors, promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1864 denied that the Church had any duty to reconcile itself with “progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.”

But a Catholic president was elected in 1960, and today Catholics hold more seats in Congress than any other religious body. The Vice-President and Speaker of the House are Catholics, as are six of the nine Supreme Court justices.

It took Catholics more than a full century to attain their current level of acceptance and influence, and they made their share of mistakes along the way, occasionally by trying too hard to prove their patriotic bona fides. (Exhibit A: Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose name is now, paradoxically, a synonym for “un-American activities.”) But they earned their place, over the course of many decades, by serving (and dying for) their country, and building their own churches, schools and health care systems alongside public counterparts, which they also frequented and supported with their taxes.

Meanwhile, American Catholics helped transform parts of their own church that seemed at odds with the American freedoms they had come to cherish. An American Jesuit, John Courtney Murray, was decisive in shaping Dignitatis Humanae (1965)—the Declaration on Religious Liberty, in which the Second Vatican Council endorsed religious freedom for all people. In this sense, the American acceptance and encouragement of Catholic parishes and schools once seen as threatening, reshaped an international religious institution. The late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington once commented on how ironic it was that the papacy had become the greatest global champion of religious freedom in the final quarter of the twentieth century.

Historical comparisons are bound to be inexact; but American Muslims, like American Catholics, are now building their own religious and cultural institutions, and they are seeking guidance from a wide variety of religious sources—some few from jihadists, most from accommodationists.

Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam at the center of the New York controversy, is an accommodationist. He claims, correctly, that the vast majority of the nation’s Muslims abhor al-Qaeda. Moreover, Rauf seeks to demonstrate that Muslims are no less Americans than are their Christian and Jewish counterparts. They, too, pray for (and were among) the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorists and beg God’s forgiveness for atrocities committed in his name.

Is it imprudent for Rauf and his supporters to locate the proposed Islamic center so close to the site of terrible violence against Americans committed in the name of Islam? In fact the fault lies less with Rauf than with a debased effort to whip up partisan fervor around the issue. Must Muslims unequivocally reject all forms of terrorism—especially those Muslims who wish to promote full Muslim participation in American society? Of course. But if the Catholic experience in the United States holds any lesson it is that becoming American also means asserting one’s constitutional rights, fully and forcefully, even if that assertion is occasionally taken to be insulting. The genius of the American experiment in religious liberty is precisely this long-term confidence that equal rights for all religious groups builds the loyalty every democratic society needs. Certainly American Catholics learned that lesson long ago."

R. Scott Appleby is the John M. Regan, Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame. John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"The Ground Zero Synagogue"—Lebanon Becoming More American than America

Beirut's Magen Abraham Synagogue

The Ground Zero Synagogue—Lebanon Becoming More American than America

By Gus Bridi (originally published on his blog Zero Party Politics)

"There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York
so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.
The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave
aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and
submission is over.”
Newt Gingrich

Has Lebanon officially become more tolerant and progressive than the United States?

Let's talk about Lebanon’s Ground Zero and you can decide for yourself.

One must first understand what “Ground Zero” means to most Lebanese.

In a country with about the same land mass as Los Angeles County which has been at war off and on for nearly four decades, “Ground Zero” for the Lebanese is arguably their entire country—and at the center of their Ground Zero is downtown Beirut, captured and occupied by the Israeli Defense Force in 1982 and which was almost entirely reduced to rubble from Muslim West Beirut to Christian East Beirut, and all points in between.

Once upon a time not too long ago, there was scarcely a building left standing or unscarred by shrapnel in all of Beirut. I know, because I was in Beirut in 1991, and witnessed first hand a city once described as "the Paris of the Middle East" reduced to ruins, pot marked with unexploded munitions and a haphazard "network" of open sewers.

Miraculously, Beirut was rebuilt and reclaimed its prominence. It once again became the jewel of the Arab world, remarkably able to bridge the ancient mystique of the east with the modern allure of the west.

Upon the first completion of its "rebuilding" process however--after 15 years and tens of billions of dollars spent on reconstructing Lebanon and its Ground Zero from rubble to splendor, Israel did what Israel does...

In July and August of 2006, Israel again followed through on its promise to “bomb Lebanon back into the Stone Age,” and in so doing displaced 1,000,000 Lebanese civilians (nearly a quarter of the country’s population), completely destroyed the country’s infrastructure (again), its only airport, at least 64 bridges, leveled entire buildings and neighborhoods to rubble (again), including the country's largest milk factory, a food factory, two pharmaceutical plants, water treatment centers, power plants, grain silos, a Greek Orthodox Church, several mosques, and a handful of hospitals (in a country which only had a handful of hospitals to begin with).

Over 1,200 hundred Lebanese civilians were killed and over 5,000 wounded.

Israel routinely talks about “proportionality” when comparing their “terrorism deaths” to American 9/11 deaths. In order to shock the sensibilities of a gullible American public, they portray a figure “in American terms,” by multiplying their dead by a number which reflects their population in comparison to the American population.

Well, what’s good for the Israeli goose is good for the Lebanese gander. I will play their game: 1,200 dead Lebanese civilians are the “proportional equivalent” to 90,000 American dead when accounting for the two countries’ population differences. Therefore, according to Israeli goose math, that’s the equivalent of roughly thirty 9/11’s Israel exacted on Lebanon in July and August 2006 over the course of 34 days—nearly one 9/11 a day for an entire month without relent.

Incidentally, July and August of 2006 only tell a small part of the story when it comes to Israeli aggression against Lebanon. There have been decades of invasion, devastation, and occupation which predated 2006. Several thousands of Lebanese have been killed at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force. Tens of billions of dollars of damage have been levied on the Lebanese infrastructure and private and public property courtesy of the IDF over the course of decades.

“Ground Zero” for Lebanon is an ever expanding, never ending, open wound that never heals.

So what now Newt?

Should you expect the Lebanese to allow a synagogue to be built on their Ground Zero, in the aftermath of a 9/11 that occurred 5 years after ours and which, “proportionately” speaking, was 30 times the size of ours?

Well guess what you hateful, misguided, twit?


In the process of re-building Beirut yet again, in 2008, renovations began and have now been completed on the Maghden Abraham Synagogue located in the middle of newly renovated downtown Beirut in an area known as the “Solidere" which has become the focal point and showcase of Lebanon’s rebirth.

This isn’t some hole in the wall, nondescript, “excuse me” synagogue hidden out of view so as to not “offend” Lebanese non-Jews—this is an elaborate, ornate, beautifully designed, cathedral-style house of worship built for a Lebanese Jewish population that totals less than 500 in a country of more than 4,000,000 (in stark contrast to the eight million American Muslims living in the United States).

And wait until you hear Hezbollah’s response to the building of this Ground Zero Synagogue.

(To those expecting a Newt Gingrich equivalent response, prepare to be woefully disappointed).

Courtesy of Hassan Nasrallah himself: "We respect Judaism, just as we respect Christianity. Our only problem is with Israel."

Did you hear that Newt (and the rest of you idiots)?

An Arab democracy, with a Muslim Prime Minister and a Christian President, allowed the building of a synagogue, squarely in the center of their “Ground Zero” in the heart and pride of downtown Beirut which used to be a dumping ground for Israeli military ordinances.

An Arab democracy allowed this, without so much as a protest being made by its citizens, or allegations by politicians that this was sacrilege, or hateful commentary by the media that the Jewish faith was barbaric, or any of the other stupidity I have seen and heard plastered all over American television, talk radio, and internet-blogs regarding a certain “Ground Zero Mosque” and the Islamic faith.

Regardless of whether you perceive Israel to be justified in perpetrating the devastation it did on Lebanon is irrelevant. The purpose of this article is not to debate that. What cannot be debated, is that Israel (a Jewish State, flying a Jewish flag) unleashed hell on Lebanon for 34 straight days in July and August of 2006 (and for decades prior in its wars against Lebanon). Regardless of whether or not you feel Israel had a right to do that, you cannot deny that Lebanese civilians harbored, and continue to harbor, a very real resentment against the government of Israel—this Jewish state—for those actions and the devestation those actions caused.

Yet these very Lebanese, who are so quickly labeled as “blood thirsty terrorists” by Newt Gingrich and his army of xenophobic morons, were able to draw a distinction between the Jews “flying those planes” in July and August of 2006 working at the behest of the Israeli government, and the Jews whom are citizens of Lebanon who had no connection with those attacks.

Lebanon rebuilt that Ground Zero Synagogue for its Jews.

Not for Israel. Not for the world’s Jewry. Not as a monument to mark a “Jewish victory” over Lebanon.

Lebanon rebuilt that Ground Zero Synagogue because its Jews lived in that neighborhood and they had every right to build a house of worship in a place they called home.

For crying out loud, Hassan Nassrallah and Hezbollah can even draw the distinction between a Lebanese Jew and an Israeli soldier who happens to be a Jew. So how is it that Americans can’t distinguish between American Muslims who were victims of 9/11 and Saudi Muslims who were the perpetrators of 9/11?

Thank you Mr. Gingrich for allowing Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah to outclass you and the Republican Party (and you Democrats aren't too far behind--yes Harry Reid, I'm talking to you). When the former Republican Speaker of the House and the current Democratic Senate Majority Leader start sounding less tolerant and less reasonable than a "terrorist," we need to start sounding the alarm bells.

What a sad state of affairs for America.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Juan James: "Burka Board" + "Prayer Board"

Prayer Board + Burka Board by Juan James
(Sebastian Errazuriz and J. Carlton Dewoody) (2010)

These skateboards were designed by Chilean-born New York-based artist and designer Sebastian Errazuriz in collaboration with NYC artist and musician J. Carlton Dewoody, an artistic union they have dubbed "Juan James." The provocative designs, which feature a stylized prayer mat and covered woman's face respectively, were created for a fundraiser for Skateistan, an Afghan NGO that founded the first co-ed skateboarding school in the world in Afghanistan. The exhibition and fundraising event, held on August 20th at Red Bull Space in Soho NY, included more than 50 different customized boards. While the exhibition is passed the boards themselves are available for auction on eBay and 100% of the final bids will go directly towards Skateistan’s efforts to provide skateboarding and educational opportunities to the boys and girls of Afghanistan.

Over 70 artists and designers contributed skate decks for the auction. I didn't attend the exhibition but none of the designs pictured on eBay feature overtly Islamic themes. Nevertheless, the "Juan James" designs were the ones that represented the entire exhibition online at various design blogs (like DesignBoom and Lost In A Supermarket for e.g.) There's a lot going on here that is worth talking about (and I've written about Skateistan before) but I'd like to focus on these particular designs:

I can't help but think of a female Muslim colleague who has called for an official moratorium on the use of heavily kohl-eyed women peering out from behind veils as a signifier. (Try and get through a week without seeing a version of this image somewhere, I dare you) Of course she is right, although the graphic appeal of the eye-veil combo is undeniable from a design perspective. While you can get versions of the same thing within Arabo-Islamic cultures--in some Palestinian revolutionary art, for example--it is safe to say that Burka Board is squarely within the tradition of Western/Non-Muslim depictions of Islamic women.

...But maybe arguments about the veil, which are exhausting in and of themselves, aren't really a productive way to think about this image. Since this is at once an art and design object it's appropriate to think about it not only aesthetically, but in terms of its use. Inescapably this object is defined by its relationship to a potential user, who is being invited to stand on the face of the woman pictured on its surface. Once you proceed from that realization what she is wearing and why become secondary. If we assume that the graphic represents an Afghan woman--famous in the West as victims of the misogynistic excesses of the Taliban--then the resonance of this distasteful dynamic only deepens. There is no guarantee that this deck will ever be used to skate because sometimes such "designer decks" are displayed as art objects instead. But even still, the conceptual difficulty remains: the relationship suggested by this design is "woman under your feet."

For me, if I consider the Prayer Board separately it becomes more interesting and less culturally tone-deaf. As a New Yorker I see Muslims praying throughout the day-- sometimes in dedicated prayer rooms, sometimes in hallways, sometimes tucked away in corners-- so I already have an understanding of prayer rugs as mobile. Using this motif on a skateboard doesn't seem to degrade the sacred intent of the original objects it references. (Does it? I'm curious to hear from Muslim readers on the subject). It is playful, yes--but not derogatory.

The history of Islamic art, which developed largely without representing human forms, is full of stylized decoration like those on this board. So, whether it was intentional or not, Prayer Board references the artistic tradition of the community it was designed to support through its sale. And unlike its companion Burka Board, it is free of nasty colonial associations--at least to my non-Muslim eye.

I have no specific objection to non-Muslim artists using Islamic aesthetics in their work--there are lots of examples of cultural borrowing that yields artistically interesting results. But it does make me wonder: why reference Islam at all when skateboarding is the focus of the school and the exhibition?