Saturday, June 30, 2007


The documentary Al-Arabia couldn't show:

Part 1

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Arabian Manga(stan) - Arab cartoons and Islamic 'culture'

Nathaniel Naddaf-Hafrey wonders: Can Comics Change the Arab World?

“I went back to my Arab heritage to draw from its design calligraphy, myths and legends, I tried to incorporate them all into the character. Manga usually features Japanese culture, and I wanted to introduce some Arabian mysticism to the market.”

Asia Alfasi has taken part in (and won) local and international competitions, landed a contract with Harry Potter's publishers, and is being celebrated as a "cool muslim" icon.

Apparently she was the the first female finalist on Hi8us competition, which I thought was interesting. Jazeera had a Japan season quite a while back, and one of Fadi Salama's reports was about the predominance of female manga artists, despite the 'machismo' of much of what they produced...

Anyway, Asia's achievements are just WONDERFUL, especially in light of her being a Libyan!

BUT (being nitpicking me) I've got... issues with cartoons based on Islamic 'culture'

This petty-peeve is actually about a completely different person, a Kuwaiti guy who created the 99 and recently featured on Witness. First off he did the whole revolutionary "first comic based on Islamic culture" thing, which is simply untrue.

My experience would confirm the Fulla-hype for example, in that none of my girl-cousins whine for a Barbie doll/bag/skipping rope - in fact I haven't heard anyone mention Barbie at all since the alternative hit the shelves...and the satellite channels.

But the 99 is more of an addition. It competes with Western imports like Majalit Mickey, and with 3ala'idin and Samir and the gazillion other Arabic comics I grew up reading in the 90s.

So basically the documentary gave me the impression (rightly or wrongly) that this Naif Al-Mutawa person was self importance on steroids personified.

Also obnoxious was the way he kept re-repeating the "comic based on Islamic culture which is NOTHING to do with religion" line, like he was afraid of being shoved into some CIA dungeon unless he transformed his dark materials into something as palatable as Tan's sugar-sister-hooded Chinatown.

About the characters:"there's nothing fundamentally Islamic or non-Islamic about them"

Asked about a muhajaba he says "well is that Islamic, or is that just part of being human?" (yep, he actually used those words) "nuns dress like that, and some orthodox Jews cover their hair or wear wigs "

Which is true, but doesn't alter the fact that the character is a muslim girl wearing a hijab. And that shouldn't be too bitter a pill to swallow unless sugar coated.

Except if your from the Planet of the Chimps, whose comments on Mangastanis include:

Invocations to the Spartan 300:
There is nothing like the spectacle of defenders of Western Civilization slaughtering tyrannical Persian invaders...
And various ever-so-original suggestions for FUNdamental characters, followed by the observation that it was "Sad how these kids are brought up as if terrorist were heroes"

More puzzling was this complaint:
Once again, proof positive that Muslims are completely incapable of original
thought or idea. They copy EVERYTHING from the culture that they so despise,
sprinkle large helpings of Islam all over it...
Bush's endless WWII and Cold War analogies had left me with the distinct impression that we were supposed to copy-cat...

Somebody had a somewhat similar reaction:
I actually like this idea. Assuming these Superheroes are really "Good" guys and fairly Western, and aren't like roaming the globe, forcing conversions to Islam, beating women, and cutting off infidel's heads, killing Jews, then I think it would be good role models for muslim youth. It would give them something to look up to, and perhaps keep them out of the madrasas... maybe.. well, one can hope...

Despite the long string of ifs and buts, and the implications of "really 'Good' guys and fairly Western", in it's context I suppose the above exemplifies tolerance, multiculturalism and all that zift.

AT A LATER DATE: closer inspection reveals the ABC article they're commenting on (which managed to get the "intricate backstory" wrong) mentions a FATWA!!! Make way for Sir Naif Al-Mutawa...

Chamomile Cleanser

Gentle enough for eye-area + reduces panda-effect
Will keep for a few days in the fridge

What to do:
1 cup milk + handful dried chamomile in something small and heat resistant, like a coffepot
Put small pot/pan in a larger pan full of water on medium heat
Keep checking that the milk is only simmering gently and doesn't boil
After 30 minutes turn off and leave to steep for a couple of hours, then strain

How to use:
like regular cleanser, apply with cotton and blot with tissue

Monday, June 25, 2007

Abrak: stuffed vine leaves

FILLING (enough for around 30 Abrak pieces- lots of time consuming chopping)
3/4 cup uncooked short grain rice
2 cups finely chopped parsley
1 cup finely chopped spring onion (green stuff too)
1 tomato, diced
1 chili pepper, diced
1 headed tablespoon tomato puree
1 teaspoon turmeric
1tsp salt
1 tsp red/chili pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 a cup of oil (or 2 spoons of ghee, for more authentic taste but less healthiness)
250g finely diced mutton should have some fat- like minced meat (which can be used as a hassle-free alternative)

Make rice nice & glossy with the oil or ghee first, add the other stuff and mix.

if you're using pickled vine leaves just rinse.Fresh (must be young) vine leaves need to be dipped in boiling water for a few secs.Remove any big stalks & trim into roughly square shapes...and you're ready to roll: place about a tsp of filling at the edge of the leaf, roll it up neatly and fold in the edges to make a tight parcel - this should be about finger width.

Cover the bottom of a non-stick pan with potato slices.Pack the Abrak into the pan.Pour 1/2 a cup of hot water (+ 1 tbsp oil + 1/2 tsp salt + 1/2 tsp mixed spice) on the Abrak.Cover with a plate and press so it keeps them tightly packed.Cover the pan and put on medium heat till most of the water has evaporated, then on very low.Total cooking time can be 45mins-1hr, so keep tasting!!

Mahshi Krumb:
The blanching in hot water goes for cabbage leaves too, only you have to add cumin to the filling.
Stuff the Abrak filling into pretty much any veggies you want (potatoes, onions, baby aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes, chili & bell peppers..).
Cook like Abrak, or use the oven. In the latter case cover with foil till cooked, then grill for a bit of colour.

Sufra dayma

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sabe’a Sabaya - Libyan Folktale Retold

There were (oh the things there were!) in a time long past…two brothers who married two sisters.

The elder brother Zaid’s wife Nafisa was a wise and clever woman, who looked like most women do. His younger brother Zeyad married Jamila, who was what her name meant (a beauty). She was tall and slender as a palm tree; she had skin as delicate as jasmine, hair as dark and glossy as roub (date syrup) and the eyes of a gazelle. Her husband was as handsome as she was beautiful, and they were suited in character too, for one was as stupid and greedy as the other.

When the brothers’ father died and his debts were paid only two small farms were left. The brothers and their wives worked hard, but though they were never very poor they were never very rich.

One day Zaid decided to go to the ghawals’ palace and bring home some of their food and treasure. He told his wife of his plan, knowing that she would know how to help him.

“Elsabah rabah” (profit is in the morning) she said, "I’ll tell you what to do tomorrow.

"Next morning Nafisa was awake long before dawn. First she took a gas’a to the storeroom and filled it with wheat.

Then she picked the juiciest cucumbers from the farm and the biggest eggs from the henhouse. In the kitchen she ground some of the wheat into flour, and then she started making sfinz. Sfinz, as we all know, is better than wedding drums at waking up lazy lie abeds. And true enough when the aroma of his favourite breakfast reached him Zaid jumped out of bed and - without even washing his face - he rushed to the kitchen.

“Good morning” he said cheerfully.

“A morning of carnation and jasmine” Nafisa replied, “you had better hurry if you don’t want to miss dawn prayer at the mosque”

But, remembering that this wasn’t a day like any other, Zaid looked at his smiling wife in consternation; how could she sing at her tahouna and make sfinz when he was going on a quest as dangerous as any feat ‘Antar ibn Shadad had performed?”

“You’ve forgotten what I told you yesterday…” he protested indignantly, but before he could really begin to grumble he was interrupted by the first Adhan and had to hurry away.

Nafisa finished frying the sfinz and wrapped them in a cloth to keep warm while she prayed. Then she made date paste balls stuffed with almonds, cooked them in olive oil and put them into a leather pouch. Half the sfinz she sprinkled with salt and wrapped into a parcel, and this she packed into a gufa with hard-boiled eggs and cucumbers.

She was filling a second gufa with wheat kernels when a slightly shamefaced Zaid came back, but Nafisa was too prudent a woman to warm up cooling arguments, and they sat down to breakfast.

While they were eating sfinz with honey and sipping sage tea Nafisa gave her husband the advice he had asked for, and this is what she said:

“I’ll give you a gufa of wheat to mark your trail, because the ghawals’ magic will mislead you, and a pouch of date balls to eat on the journey, so you’re not hungry when you reach the palace. There’s a giant fig tree in their garden, you must climb up as soon as you arrive, and stay there all day and all night. The ghawal will shake it on their way in and out but if you do as I say God will keep you safe. At dawn the ghawal will set out on their hunt: eat the food in the gufa I will give you and then climb down and enter the palace from the back door. You will pass through six rooms, but you must not touch anything in them. Each room will have a table laid as if for a Sultan’s banquet, but you must not taste the food. Each room will be full of jewels and fine clothes, but you must not try them on. Each room will contain a mirror, but you must not see your reflection in it. From the seventh room you may take what you want, but remember the ghawal will come back at sunset.”

He promised to follow her instructions, and she gave him a water skin and the two gfaf, making a hole in the one full of wheat. So before the sun had had time to warm the world, Zaid set off towards the ghawals’ palace. Although he could see it far off their spells confused him and he found he was walking in circles, but he never took the same path twice because the wheat marked where he had been.

He reached the palace some time after noon and climbed into the fig tree, taking with him his two gfaf and his waterskin. He stayed in the tree all day, munching the rest of his dates. At sunset the ghawal came home, singing:

Sabe’a sabaya fi gesbaya

Sa’ad elghulah takelhen

(Seven girls, in a bowl

Happy the ghulah that eats them)

Before they went into their palace, each ghulah took hold of the tree and shook it, but Zaid was ready for them: he held on and did not fall.

Next morning, the ghawal got up early, and came out of the palace at first light. Again, each ghulah shook the tree, but Zaid held on and did not fall.

When they had gone, Zaid ate some sfinz with the eggs and cucumber his wife had packed in the gufa; then he climbed down, walked around to the back and entered the palace.

He walked quickly through the first six rooms despite the tantalizing smells and glittering sights, and when he reached the seventh he put down his two empty gfaf, and with his knife made an opening in the waterskin.

First he filled the water skin with rubies and emeralds and sapphires; with amethysts and turquoise and coral and strings of pearls…. and when it was full he tied it securely and strapped it on.

Next he put gold into a gufa: dinars and bracelets and rings; armbands and necklaces and anklets and earrings …and when it was as heavy as he could manage he covered it with the most magnificent r’da he could find: a cream and pale blue silk, shot with threads of white gold, it had taken two hundred women two hundred nights and two hundred days to weave in Samarkand.

And then he filled the last one with food. There were saffron strands and ginger roots and nutmegs; crystallized Aleppo pistachio and coconut and pine nuts; guava and mangoes and honeydew melons…When this last gufa was packed it was a little before noon.

Zaid put on a suriya of the finest linen and a jard woven from the hair of white camels, and then he picked up his gfaf and waterskin and set off home, following the wheat trail.

Nafisa had been waiting as if on hot coals for her husbands return and welcomed him home with zaghareed. That night they dined better than the Sultan in Turkey, whose cook was in a bad mood.

A few days later Jamila visited her sister. She noticed her wearing six heavy gold bangles and went home with her head full of nothing else. When her husband heard he too wondered how his brother could afford to buy jewelry, especially when he had told him that he was planning to buy more stock for his farm. So Zeyad went to his brother and asked him where this sudden wealth came from.

Now Zaid loved his brother but he knew his faults well, so he did not want him to go to the ghawals’ palace. At first he only told him that he had been lucky, and would share his good fortune with his brother. Zeyad however insisted that he should be told were the money came from, and this was how their argument went:

Zaid said: "I'll give you a quarter."

But Zeyad refused

Zaid said: "I'll give you half."

But Zeyad refused

Zaid said: "I'll give you all"

But Zeyad still refused

“You must tell me where you got all this” he said "so I can get more than you."

So Zaid told him exactly what he had done, and before they parted repeated his instructions to make sure he remembered:

"make a trail, take food with you, stay in the fig tree for a night and a day, hold tight to the tree when the ghawal come, enter the palace from the back, don’t touch anything in the first six rooms, don't look into the ghawals’ mirror, and don't eat their food when you are in the palace."

Zeyd took a bucket, bored holes in it and filled it with chalk. He did not take any food with him, thinking that his brother was just maliciously complicating his task.

"There is food where I am going," he thought, "why take any with me?" So early next morning he set off, but of course the chalk was difficult to see and he had a hard time reaching the palace as he kept going round in circles. When he finally reached it he went in straight away because it was getting dark and he was hungry.

Ravenous, he saw a feast fit for an Emir ready spread in the first room he entered, so he sat down to eat. The first sip of pomegranate sherbet, the first bite of roast lamb was in his mouth, and he was made mute. Then the fool dressed in rich clothes - the first glance in the mirror to see what he looked like in his new outfit, and he was struck blind. The first word of the ghawals’ song in the distance heard while he was still in the palace, and he was deaf.

Terrified he hurried out, found the fig tree and clambered up just as the ghawal came home, singing:

Sabe’a sabaya fi gesbaya

Sa’ad elghulah takelhen

(Seven girls, in a bowl

Happy the ghulah that eats them)

As they passed under the tree, they shook it. Blind, scared, and weighed down with the food he had eaten, Zeyad fell quickly. So the ghawal ate him, except for his head, which they kept.

Next day, worried, his older brother decided to go after him. Nafisa thought for a while, and then sat down and sewed her husband a brightly coloured costume with bells everywhere. When he wore it he looked like the ghoulish jester Bu Sa’adiya, and when he moved he made enough noise to wake the dead. Again, she gave him food for the journey and a gufa of wheat kernels. Early next day, he set off, singing:

Kulma gutlak ya'ebn umi khud rub’aa gutli la

Kulma gutlak ya'ebn umi khud nusa gutli la

Kulma gutlak ya'ebn umi khud kulla gutli la

(Whenever I told you o son of my mother, take quarter- you said no

Whenever I told you o son of my mother, take half - you said no

Whenever I told you o son of my mother, take all - you said no)

So he sang, until he reached the palace. The ghawal heard his song and his bells, and as ghawal like Bu Sa’adiya, they welcomed him joyfully. He came closer and saw that they were playing with his brother's head, throwing it from one to the other.

He approached a ghulah and asked her “honoured sister, whose head are you playing with, and how did you get it?”

She replied, “When we came back from our hunt yesterday the first mirror told us of a fool who broke into our palace, drank and ate at our table, and wore our clothes.”

“Indeed to act so he must have been as you call him (a fool).”

“So he was, it took us less time to gobble him up than it would take you to think up a new song.”

Then all the ghawal invited him to sing and dance for them. In return he asked that they allow him to join their game and, when he had finished his songs, to take the head away with him. They agreed, saying they had no more use for a fool’s head. So Zaid sang for the ghawa,l and they were so pleased with his songs that they sent him off with many precious gifts. When he returned to the village he went to Jamila and gave her his brother's head, and the gifts that came with it.

And that was the end of greed!

published in the Tripoli Post

Mixed Middle East Metaphors

was blog-grazing when I stumbled across the above at the this blog....

Last summer Rice's be-laboured metaphor generated lot's of ME midwife jokes, and made regular apperances in Hizb'Allah's Divine Victory Ad-campign (no really) ...anyway so they're all being renovated in light of recent events in Gaza, which actually is not a major mess, courtesy Dayton's gang of Dahlan thugs, but the birth of a new dawn, the rise of a new statelet, and the deification of another moderate....and the prelude to another another hug-and-kiss to death fest
(In)conclusion: 07 suffering a sever case of 06 repetitiosis, what with the second shrine bombing and all

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Can pop music make the Arab world love us?

American book publishers can tell you that American men between 18 and 30 don't read a lot of books. The Arab street reads even fewer—just one book, mostly: the Quran.

The United States should have followed the lead of Arab governments, which know that music is the region's most powerful form of expression. That's why they use it for propaganda—and also why they
ban so much of it.
What the State Department ought to have done to reach those underemployed young men, then, is call Miles Copeland [who] became interested in Arab culture while... growing up in the Middle East, where [his] father worked for the CIA.
(how appropriate...)

Maybe Copeland can start turning out Arab-American fusion hits for another federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees... Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language news and entertainment station with frequencies throughout the Middle East.
Genuine Query: on what basis fusing Britney/Haifa imagined to have an effect different from alternating Britney/Haifa?

Arab Muslims still mostly experience the Quran that way and listen to it all day long, in taxis, coffee shops, stores. Quranic reciters are something like pop stars.

Long before the Quran, classical poetry in Arabic issued from an oral tradition; it wasn't written down until well after the text of the Quran was established.

6aha Husain says the Hanged Poems....were mp3 files festooning the ka3ba
The Arabic language itself, its rich vocabulary, argues for the overwhelming pleasure of sound in a culture that was not very visually interesting...
Such monochrome dreariness backed up by eskimo textbook example linguistic evidence:
There are, I believe, nine different words for "desert" in classical Arabic—which reminds you that 1,500 years ago most Arabs were looking at desert most of the time.

and a native guide who is said to have said:

so we stay at home and listen to the music of singers like Umm Kulthoum, marveling at her perfect diction, piecing out the phrasing, the repetitions, the variations.
Cairenes = streetlife. He must have taken the joke kul yuom el masri yif6ar foul, wi yitghada kora, wi yit3asha Um Kulthum too seriously

Landet som icke är

Jag längtar till landet som icke är,
Ty allting som är, är jag trött att begära.
Månen berättar mig i silverne runorom ländet som icke är.
Landet, där all vår önskan blir underbart uppfylld,
landet, där alla våra kedjor falla, landet,
där vi svalka vår sargrade pannaI månens dagg.
Mitt liv var en het villa.
Men ett har jag funnit och ett har jag verkligen vunnit—
Vägen till landet som icke är.

Edith Södergran

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mathalu Nurihi

God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth, The likeness of his Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp: The lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a brilliant star, Kindled from a blessed tree, An olive that is neither of the east, nor of the west, Whose oil would almost glow forth, though no fire touched it.
Light upon light, God guides whom He wills to His Light

Surah An-Nur (Q 24:35)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Literary Journalism - an oxymoron?

"In the region's cultural history, journalism evolved from the French tradition of partisan journalism married to the Levantine fondness for belles lettres "adab" literature rather than the alternative Arab literary tradition of "hadith"…sacred reporting, with its seemingly obsessive stress on reliable sourcing and research to ensure objective accounts of what the Prophet Muhammed really said and did." Arab Talk Shows and TV Journalism, a TBS article by S. Abdallah Schleifer

What a delightfully Fatima Mernissi-esque idea!! It’s a fascinating way of classifying the unclassifiable Arab media scene:

On the one hand, Levantine Adabies + Frenchies = partisan journalism where rhetorical considerations take precedence over fact.

And on Schleifer's other hand Khaleeji Hadithites + Anglo-Saxonites = Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia: Now supplanting Egypt and the Levant, the traditional providers of news gossip for old men in Qahwas to squabble about while playing tawla and sipping thick black coffee. i said, it's interesting, whether you agree with it or not. But why the dichotomy between objective journalism and adabi style?

For example, Yousri Fouda in Siri lil ghaya uses Riwaya language in what are essentially investigative reports about subjects such as Israel and Hizbullah's prisoner swap, the effects of Depleted Uranium in Iraq, Sufi brotherhoods in North Africa...

In Siri lil ghaya the Riwa’i narrative hasn't affected the journalism, it just added another dimension to it. As a conter-orientalising comment: Arab culture since the Jahiliya has always placed a high value on poetic style.

Another Egyptian who I think has a similar ‘hybridizing’ style is As3d Taha. His documentary series Yu7ka ana is definitely my favorite. Literally it means something like "it is related/told" but the phrase is actually used in the sense of "Once upon a time".

It has a definite folkloric quality as Taha draws on the repetitive, rhyming language of traditional fables to tell the story of the war in Kosovo, Venzeula's original inhabitants, religious oppression in Central Asia, the orange revolution in Ukraine and of Fort Makuna - where Morrocan political prisoners where held in secret for decades.

A lot of Arab TV journalists write in such a deadly booooooring way.... perhaps they fall into the western factual/literary divide ....or maybe it's just that they're working in a visual medium?

And (although irrelevant to the above) I couldn't resist the opening - this on the "arbiters of global opinion":

Looks are deceiving. Right now the mood among Western journalists taking a fleeting look at the new Arab public affairs talk shows that have become the hottest popular format throughout the region in all their variations is upbeat, amazingly positive. A new world of free speech is dawning in the region and according to the columns appearing in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and other arbiters of global opinion, most of the credit goes to Al-Jazeera channel. Well, there are a number of ironies right there

....multiplied to the power of ten in a post-9/11, post-Kabul, post-Baghdad, post-al-Hurrah world

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Bilingual Terrors

This post is really just an excuse to put up this cartoon by 3bd el-3al in Al-Arabi magazine, which for some reason I really really really like. As they don't say (or do they?) : simplicity is the mother of perfection.

Anyway so it's illustrating an article by Dr. Hamid Tahir, a Professor of Islamic Philosophy, intoning the usual doomsday litany: the degeneration of the language, the desperate need for regeneration, the danger of non-identification…etc, etc, etc

But this was interesting:

“One of the most important effects of the absence [of a living link with fus7a]…is the disconnection of young people from the balanced religious concepts which should prevail in society…”

hee ho humming & hummus