“What Christine Fair et al are proposing is to educate Pakistanis about what the US thinks is good for them. For these political scientists, the right kind of Pakistani possesses the right kind of knowledge: Drone strikes are for his or her own good. It is with US intervention, through drones and propaganda, that Pakistanis can be saved from their backwardness, their tribalism, their Islamism, their nationalism — in short, themselves. But this kind of imperial experiment has been tried out before in South Asia. […] According to Fair et al, this is because not enough Pakistanis know that having their children, their houses and their funeral processions blown up by US drone strikes is actually a good thing for them. The reason they don’t know is because they don’t know English.”—Sarah Waheed - Drones, US Propaganda and Imperial Hubris (via mehreenkasana)
[Some Indian and “Western” commentators] have reduced India’s rape crisis to a cultural problem. Men, we are told – specifically, Indian men – are culturally lacking and barbaric. They have no concept of women’s rights or equality. They are born and bred to sexually assault and degrade women. This is a familiar phenomenon, and an outgrowth of colonialism. When horrible crimes happen, specifically to women, we reduce the culture, in this case, of about 1 billion people, to a gang-bang-enabling society of rapists. And of course, by blaming Indian culture specifically, Western sexism is brushed under the table. We arrive at Gayatri Spivak’s formula explaining the colonial exploitation of anti-woman violence in colonized societies: “white men saving brown women from brown men”.
The process of reducing brown men to savages has been all too familiar in recent years. We have seen Egyptian men reduced to “animals” and “beasts” by the New York Post because a mob high on a combination of stupidity and jubilation about Mubarak’s downfall brutally assaulted white reporter Lara Logan. We have seen a number of “native informants,” from Mona Eltahawaly to Hirsi Ali, tell us that Arab and Muslim men “hate” women. In typical colonial fashion, gender dynamics, including real crimes and acts of brutality, are reduced to “cultural” problems in which we can reduce entire societies to large gang-bang parties predicated on savage men who simply prey on women.
“Drones Kill So Malala Can Live”—How does western media use women to justify violence in Pakistan? What are the realities for women on the ground?
Madiha Tahir is an independent journalist reporting on conflict, culture and politics in Pakistan. She has travelled extensively through the FATA areas of Pakistan, reaching many areas that are inaccessible to many journalists to report on victims of drone violence.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing her on the intersections of Pakistani society, gender and American drone strikes. Listen by clicking the area, or read a slightly edited transcript below.
How is Pakistani society—particularly in the FATA-controlled areas most affected by drone strikes—gendered? Does this make it so that women are affected differently by drone strikes than men?
Madiha Tahir: It is difficult to know what the precise gender relations are, particularly in North Waziristan, which is where most of the drone strikes have been happening. Before I start talking about this, I do want to say that the tribal areas are subject to three forms of violence: American drones, the Pakistani Army which conducts operations there, and lastly criminal gangs like the TTP who also kill people and conduct their own form of terror in these areas.
The thing that I have heard from psychiatrists is that women are harder hit by some of the psychiatric issues that result from these conditions, partly because they do not have the same kind of support networks that the men do. Each of these homes, which are called “compounds” and have dozens of family members living there—often as much as 50, 60, 70 family members and related family living in a particular home. So women have access to this group. Still, they’re not able to move around in society in the same way that the men do. They’re isolated for a variety of reasons. They don’t have people to talk to in the same way that men do about dealing with whatever issues they might be dealing with—dealing with stress, etc. So, they exhibit particularly severe forms of trauma and psychological stress from all of these forms of violence.
The particular thing about drones is that they cause a very particular form of anxiety. The thing about violence from the militancy, like gangs and the TTP, is that there is some sense—whether it is true or not—that to some extent, they control their interactions, so as long as they don’t bother them, they will not be subject to violence. Irrespective of whether that’s true or not, that is a thing in peoples’ minds.
However, with drones they have no control. The drones are not part of society in anyway, they are not interacting with society in anyway. They are hovering overhead 24/7 and they make a constant buzzing sound which is incredibly unsettling to people. You don’t know when these drones are actually going to strike. There is an uncertainty that produces a particular form of anxiety that the other forms of violence do not.
You mentioned the differences between representations of Afghan women and Pakistani women in the American press. While Afghan women needed to be saved, Pakistani women are called Terrorist Mammas and Terrorist Wives. Can you talk about this difference?
MT: A common trope of imperial wars has been the idea of white men saving brown women from brown men. This is certainly part of the war effort we see in Afghanistan. Major mainstream American feminist organizations supported the war in Afghanistan as a war for women’s rights—never mind that Malalai Joya, a feminist and an activist in Afghanistan, has spoken about how women’s rights have taken a turn for the worse since the United States invaded Afghanistan.
In Pakistan, however, in the tribal areas where the drone attacks are happening, that has not come to the fore as a justification. You have moments of it where you see, for example, that when the school girl Malala Yousafzai attacked and shot by the Taliban, you saw that she was being used to mobilize pro-War sentiments.
In general, what you see in the triabal areas is that when women are caught and killed as part of a targeting effort by the US. So when drones kill women in the tribal areas, lots of so-called experts write that off as collateral damage, or, they say that these women, by consenting to be the wives of these militants. That is another question altogether, what makes a militant—but to the extent that women were wives to these people, they were complicit in whatever alleged crimes that these people may have committed and therefore deserved to die. So they’ve been called “Terror Mammas” and other such terms.
So, you don’t see the same kind of discourse happening in Pakistan around the saving of women. To the extent that it happens, the saving of women in other parts of Pakistan is that women in tribal areas are deemed as complicit if they end up being killed in a drone strike.
Can you talk about Malala Yousafzai and how this was treated as the question of education in Pakistan and ignored as a foreign policy issue?
MT: It’s horrific what happened with Malala, and certainly a cause for concern. So the fact that people were able to be horrified by what happened to Malala is—in the case of Pakistanis who are written off as terrorists or open to terrorist tendencies—the fact that Pakistanis exhibited horror at Malala Yousafzai’s shooting is a testament to the fact that Pakistanis are, by and large, opposed to this form of terrorism. It’s sad to actually have to make that comment, and to have that be a political comment, but given the rhetoric in the United States around Pakistan, even saying something as basic as “most Pakistanis are not terrorists” has become a political statement.
The other thing is that we saw around Malala was a certain mobilization of sentiment around Malala to justify the war. Within Pakistan, we saw protests happening. In one case there was a photo circulated of a woman at a protest in Pakistan holding a sign that said, “Drones Kill So Malala Can Live.”
But the larger political question is: why are we so horrified by the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, but not the killings of children who are being killed by drone strikes?
Certainly we should be horrified by the Taliban shooting Malala Yousafzai, but we should equally be horrified by children being killed by drone strikes. Those things barely make the wire service reports, never mind an entire news article on any child. We barely know their names. That’s what I find really troubling—and that’s where the politics comes out: this emotion that comes out around Malala Yousafzai is a certain kind of politics that only feels horror for a particular kind of violence and doesn’t feel horror for another kind of violence that is also killing children, and used to justify the killing of those children on the basis of shooting of another child.
Writers such as Gyanendra Pandey have noted that despite the systematic nature of Indian state’s violence against its Muslim minority, such violence is always deceptively depicted as an aberration, “aberration in the sense that violence is seen as something removed from the general run of Indian history: a distorted form, an exceptional moment, not the “real” history of India at all.” This is a fitting commentary on Friedman’s own whitewash of the history of India. This is, of course, not to mention India’s short stint as a dictatorship, from 1975-1977, when Indian leader Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, jailed political opponents, dramatically limited freedom of the press, and began a campaign of forced sterilization against the poor—following a court ruling that she had broken the law during her election. Furthermore, there is India’s declaration of war against jungle tribes within India itself: peoples that have been dispossessed and robbed of their lands, only to be massacred by helicopter gunships as they try desperately to resist. Nevertheless, Friedman somehow manages to ignore these glaring problems in favor of highlighting a token Muslim appointee as proof of Indian cosmopolitanism.
Such omissions are only the beginning of Friedman’s absurd musings. He asks if Egypt, under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, might become like Pakistan, opting for strict military rule and intolerance against minorities. In the process of posing and exploring the question, he makes another glaring omission: the role of the United States. In both Pakistan and Egypt, US policy has been a major determinant in the outcome of internal power struggles, especially those which concern military-civilian relations. Pakistan did not become a militarized (near-failed) state without the active intervention of the United States. A major Cold War ally against the non-aligned India, the United States backed Pakistan with billions of dollars in military aid since its founding in order to contain the alleged threat of communism. This carried over and was intensified during the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan.
The massive and unbalanced aid flow to Pakistan’s military establishment has resulted in the weakening of Pakistan’s civilian institutions, creating a nuclear military power that can and does ignore the rule of law with the blessing of heavy US support. In the process, the United States has enriched a core of Pakistani military officers who have used the billions of dollars to fund various pet projects, while preventing any serious oversight from the Pakistani civilian government. This continues even as Pakistan’s military and intelligence services back al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. There should be no doubt that the United States has underwritten the Pakistani military’s domineering, lawless hand in Pakistan’s domestic affairs so as to quell any real or alleged threats from other regional powers.
“Two images of India that are recognisable to people today in both Britain and the USA are those of poverty and mystery. What ‘sells’ a country like India to the West, as seen in tourism advertisements for example, is its ‘exotic culture’ in the context of its economic poverty. In her exoticism and her misery, the ‘Indian woman’ has embodied the subcontinent itself: attracting and repelling at the same time, she is as absent in the construction of her image as India has been. As Said says: “in discussions of the orient, the orient is all absence, whereas one feels the orientalist and what he [sic] says as presence”. Said’s quote is significant because, as Billie Melman has shown, although he uses examples of the construction of women in literature as descriptive illustrations of orientalist discourses, he does not incorporate an analysis of gender into his conceptual approach. Liddle and Joshi, for example, show how gender formed one of the pillars on which imperialism was built, and that the divisions of gender mediated the structure of imperialism; and Sangari and Vaid demonstrate that both the coloniser and the colonised used the image of Indian women and the notion of Indian tradition in relation to gender to contain political and cultural change in both Britain and India. Although this orientalist discourse was largely constructed by men, Western women also contributed to it.”—
Feminism, Imperialism and Orientalism: The Challenge of the ‘Indian Woman’
Ramusack identifies the approach of most Western feminists of the time as “maternal imperialists”, including those who supported Indian nationalism but still believed that the colonial government improved the condition of women. As Jayawardena makes clear, they saw Indian women as their special burden, and saw themselves as the agents of progress and civilisation. The subject Indian woman in a decaying colonised society was the model of everything they were struggling against and was thus the measure of Western feminists’ own progress. British feminists saw Britain as the centre of both democracy and feminism, and when they claimed political rights they also claimed the right to participate in the empire, seeing female influence as crucial for the empire’s preservation. They sought power for themselves in the imperial project, and used the opportunities and privileges of empire as a means of resisting patriarchal constraints and creating their own independence.
“I could venture into the deep thesis of Orientalism, but let me not. A simpler explanation is because the editors at these foreign publications demand a certain style. The foreign correspondents reporting from “exotic” locations, where a “life is cheaper than the bullet that takes it”, have to conform to corporate demands. Many have internalised this style, while others let the desk editors do the Stylebook adjectivisation. Some foreign correspondents have spent enough time in Pakistan to know its nuanced life, while other “parachute journalists” use adjectives as crutches to bolster their “fact-challenged” reportage. […] The result is a colourful picture of Pakistan for the world to read. Here “moustachioed” and “turbaned” men rub shoulders with “powerbrokers in pin-striped suits”, who are always fighting a losing battle with brass-laden generals who always “swagger”. […] Yes, this is a war we fight on a daily basis. It is a war of adjectives that slash like a whip and cut like a scimitar. At the end, the poor Pakistani journalists can only look at the foreign correspondent and say with a resigned shrug: “Saala angraizy kee maar dey giya” (He vanquished me with the English language).”—
“The degree to which the US approach to human rights has shifted during President Obama’s administration is a highly controversial matter. Notwithstanding the extent to which Obama’s administration has followed or changed his predecessor’s lines of action, President Obama’s foreign policies increasingly rely on his rhetorical commitment to the promotion of human rights, freedom and democracy across the world. Whereas the administration of President Bush justified US interventions in a much more overtly imperialist and self-defensive manner, President Obama bases his policies on allegedly humanitarian solidarity with the wellbeing of the Other. […] A critical reader may well ask, does President Obama make the same demands of the Tea Party and the fundamentalist Christian right in his home country? The flagrant gap between the diligent vigilance he selectively shows towards sexual rights violations abroad and the lack of concern about what happens at home is indeed striking.”—
As Jasbir Puar puts it, ‘homosexual subjects who have limited legal rights in the US civil context gain significant representational currency when situated within the global scene of the war on terror’.
“The American media has falsely convinced its viewers that Malala was shot because she wanted to go to school. It is unfortunate that most viewers have accepted this narrative and failed to ask simple questions like, “Is Malala the only girl in all of Pakistan who goes to school?” The average Muslim woman, or even the average Pakistani woman, does not get shot on a daily basis; millions of girls and women go to school daily, even if there are still many families who deny education to their daughters. Yet, for the American media, Malala has become a stand-in for the condition of the generic Muslim woman. Yes, there are issues in the Muslim world—including Pakistan—but many of the experiences of women in the Muslim world are shared by our sisters in the non-Muslim world. Highlighting one Pakistani girl’s case, and misrepresenting it as an attack on any Muslim woman who wants to go to school, not only trivializes the issue but also diverts attention from women’s mistreatment in the rest of the world—including the so-called Western world.”—
An excellent article by Orbala who argues that while criticizing US drone strikes is extremely important, one should not forget to criticize and bring attention to the ongoing attacks by the Pakistani military in the tribal agencies as part of being an ally in the so-called US “War on Terrorism.”
“While Western readers of Hosseini’s The Kite Runner are led to believe that they are creating a “bridge of understanding” between themselves and Afghan culture, they are actually identifying with a stereotypical way of understanding the relationship between the East and the West. This is in part assisted by the fact that these “foreign” characters with which the Western reader identifies are in reality not “foreign” at all: despite their background, they have been constructed in accordance with Western political and psychological needs. Additionally, the novelistic genre of the bildungsroman also addresses these Western needs in two ways: by providing Western readers with a familiar structure that assists them in understanding the “otherness” of the Orient, and providing a gateway that makes it easy to impose Orientalist stereotypes on the characters. Therefore it becomes clear why Western readers connect so readily to this novel. Both the political and psychological needs of the West are fulfilled by Hosseini’s use of Orientalist stereotypes and binary opposition, and the literary vessel in which they are delivered is familiar, humanizing, and palatable. Yet this imposition of Western needs on Hosseini’s text raises a central question for all readers of apparently “non-Western” texts: can the West ever read the non-West, or must it only read itself and its reflections?”—
This is an important piece outlining why and how The Kite Runner is as problematic as it is. It might seem like an innocent tale about loyalty and friendship at first, but upon further analysis, you’ll see how it is yet another way of perpetuating stereotypical binaries, Orientalism, and a perpetual celebration of the West and its ideologies, culture and existence.
She further states:
“In addition to government practices that defined Americans and Arabs/Muslims as binary opposites, government and media discourses relied on old Orientalist tropes that positioned American national identity as democratic, modern, and free and the Middle East as primitive, barbaric, and oppressive” (Alsultany 594). I will make the point that the same occurs within Hosseini’s novel: that despite its attempts to challenge these stereotypic binaries, the novel only ends up reinforcing them.
Lebanese government to sue American TV hit over Beirut portrayal
By Joe Dyke on October 17, 2012
Two cars of men carrying AK-47s pull into a tight alleyway, jump out and threaten hijab-cladded women. Another car arrives and out steps a shady Hezbollah leader, the cue for special agents of the Central Intelligence Agency spring their ambush.
All this takes place on Beirut’s ‘Hamra Street’ in the latest episode of the multiple award-winning American TV series ‘Homeland.’ This episode of the show aired over the weekend in the West and portrayed the Lebanese capital as a hotbed of terrorists and random attacks on foreigners.
For those unacquainted with Beirut, the real Hamra Street is a bustling cosmopolitan artery where days spent shopping and chatting in cafes give way to a nightlife of drinking and cavorting in local bars. A hub of modern city life, it is Beirut’s much smaller version of London’s Tottenham Court Road or New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Unsurprisingly, the misrepresentation has sparked more than a little ire in the Lebanese government. Speaking exclusively to EXECUTIVE, Lebanese Tourism Minister Fady Abboud has promised to take legal action over the “lies” in the show.
“This kind of film damages the image of Lebanon — it is not fair to us and it’s not true, it is not portraying reality,” he said. “We want to take action, we want to write to the filmmakers and producers and demand an apology. And we are planning to raise a lawsuit against the director and the producer.”
Abboud stressed that he was studying potential legal routes the government could take, but added that he would be willing to take action personally if necessary.
The first series of Homeland, which aired last year, was both a critical and a ratings success, with high viewing figures followed by recognition at almost every major television awards event. The shows stars Claire Danes and Damien Lewis, who won the best actor and actress Emmys, respectively, while the show also took home the coveted Outstanding Drama Series award.
It focuses around a female CIA agent (Danes) who believes that a United States soldier who was captured in Iraq and returned home a war hero has been turned into an informant by Al Qaeda. During the episode in Beirut, Danes is seeking to kill a senior figure in Hezbollah allied with Al Qaeda (despite the fact that, in reality, there is likely more animosity between these two groups than there is between either of them and America).
Minister Abboud said the reach of the show made the misrepresentation even more problematic. “This series has a lot of viewers and if you are promoting Lebanon as a non-secure zone it will affect tourism. It will mean a lot of foreigners stay away if they are convinced by what they see,” he said. “Beirut is one of the most secure capitals in the world, more secure than London or New York.”
The show was not filmed in Lebanon at all, but was shot instead in the Israeli city of Haifa. For Abboud the fact that it was filmed in a state with which Lebanon is technically at war was an added insult. “We would like to welcome the crews here to film in this city — we were offended by the fact that they filmed the thing in Israel and said it was Beirut,” he said.
Misrepresentation’s long history
Lebanese have long complained about the misrepresentation of their country in the Western media. Jad Melki, director of the Media Studies Program at the American University of Beirut, said the portrayal was disappointing but not surprising.
“We have been dealing with this for over a century, the portrayal of Arabs in the US is that we are all Islamists living in the desert, evil and angry all the time,” he said. “If you look at US media, racist stereotypes of African Americans have all but disappeared but it is still acceptable to stereotype Arabs.”
Melki said that because the civil war made Lebanon, and particularly Beirut, synonymous with violence, trying to convince Westerners that the city is a prosperous, diverse place is much more difficult than playing on people’s preconceptions. Even the title of the episode, “Beirut is Back”, appears to be a reference to the city’s troubled years in the 1980s, when car bombings and kidnappings were rampant.
“The civil war version of Beirut is still portrayed,” said Melki. “There is a frame of mind and a stereotype of a certain group of people or place and it doesn’t make sense if we break away from that as the audience won’t understand. So we look for the version we know.”
British Ambassador Tom Fletcher, who has campaigned for Westerners to reassess their perception of the country, admitted to being a big fan of the show but said it was a misleading portrayal.
“Homeland is one of life’s joys, but Lebanon tends to get a rough time from filmmakers — I’d encourage people to see the real Beirut,” he told EXECUTIVE.
Beyond legal action the Lebanese government’s options for responding to the show are relatively few. Abboud said his office was considering a counter-video in which footage from the show would be inter-spliced with daily images from Hamra Street.
“We also have a campaign to promote Lebanon on CNN which is starting next month,” he said. “It features all the tourism sectors in Lebanon, what Lebanon has and a real picture about Lebanon.”
Melki suggested that if the country were serious about countering Western perceptions then they should spend money on hosting a major American film in the country. In the most recent Mission Impossible film Tom Cruise scales the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa in Dubai — in the kind of advertising deal which costs millions of dollars but can help change perceptions in the West.
“It would be expensive but effective,” said Melki. “Currently the Ministry of Tourism produces videos about Lebanon with lots of shots of the mountains – its not storytelling, its not entertaining. A movie does that, a TV show does that.”
For some years now I have followed reports of any Arabic literature translated into European languages, particularly English, French and German, as well as the recipients of Arabic literary prizes that receive attention from the translation industry.
I would receive these reports in good faith and with an appreciation for those in the West who involve themselves in translating a literature that enjoys no great global popularity.
Today, however, after much observation, I find myself posing two pressing questions: Is it really important that Arabic literature be translated into foreign languages and do these translations honestly lead to the spread of Arabic literature among readers of other languages? I write this as someone whose own work, The Smiles of the Saints, has been translated into English.
My response to these two questions is, I fear, a definite, unequivocal “No”.
Taking together all of the Arabic literature we see translated and celebrated today, it is my view that nothing has changed.
These translations have failed to give expression to the true nature of the Arab world’s literary output and they have proved unable to bring about any sort of audience for this literature.
Nor do I anticipate this happening in the future, as long as the existing mechanisms for translation continue to operate as they do. In particular, the greatest obstacle facing the translation of Arabic literature is the absence of Arab institutions to fund, publicise and frame a systematic process of translation.
Perhaps it is necessary at this point to remind myself that we are living in what the French philosopher Guy Debord terms “the society of the spectacle”; that profiteering, capitalist imperatives shape values throughout the world, both West and East; that institutions for propagating all-powerful consumer images strive to create markets for generating profit no matter the product and that, as it seems to me, the market for publishing and translation in both Europe and the Arab world is unfortunately no longer an exception to this rule.
But as an Arab author, my purpose here is to state that the Arabic book - exported outside its borders by means of translation, a representative of the Arab society that sent it - has become a victim twice over.
Once, of the superficial, commercial media, concerned with image at the expense of essence, which operates in its Arab country of origin and then again a victim of the image of the “eastern” book which the European literary class attempts to present to the world.
It is quite clear that there is a focus on the topics and not the techniques of writing on the part of publishers today, usually concentrating around subjects such as corruption, the role of Arab women in their societies and sexual relations (particularly in closed societies).
This appears to be driven by a publishing market which offers the western reader an image that says that, while such countries may not possess any “global” writers (in any case, a concept midwifed by Eurocentrism), they nevertheless possess societies that the reader can enjoy getting to know.
The Arab countries, the publishers seem to say, are closed, incomprehensible societies, producers of terrorism and violence, whose inhabitants live through numberless manifestations of corruption and persecution, whose women suffer sexual and social victimisation - and these books will open the door to this world for you.
In fact, this phenomenon has provoked comment from many Arab writers.
I quote here from an article by the Egyptian critic and academic Gaber Asfour, a professor at the University of Cairo and (briefly) Egypt’s minister for culture, published in Al Hayat, in which he examines this phenomenon and states that it is driven by what he calls “a neo-orientalist tendency”.
“A globally prevalent neo-orientalist tendency espouses a set of literary and artistic works from the Third World in general, and the Middle East in particular, abounding with denunciations and exposes of a ubiquitous vile backwardness and rampant corruption at every level, with the aim of marketing these works after translating, distributing and promoting them in the media to an unprecedented degree.
“This gave rise to the phenomenon of the modish, scandalising novel of limited creative value that lets no corruption, oppression, perversion or deviance pass unmentioned, playing up portrayals quite dreadful in their backwardness.”
Asfour believes that this is no coincidence, pointing out the “the orientalist trend is coupled to a parallel ideology of hegemony associated with the rise of the ideology of globalisation, which aims to achieve two things.
“The first, is to perpetuate in the minds of westerners an image of an East in decline, simultaneously alien, fantastical, backward and oppressed, to justify the need for colonialist dominance of the region.
“The second, is to convince the inhabitants of this wondrous East of their abiding retardation, itself the source of the admiration they receive and their fascination. By keeping the backward East backward, this makes it a source of wealth to be plundered; a display case of human wonders and the prodigal rewards they bring.”
The literary critic and Arabist Stefan Weidner is one of those who lauded these limited works - in this case Khalid Al Khameesi’s Taxi - when he wrote:
“Some critics in the West might ask, ‘But is this book in fact not literary enough?’ Yet it is incumbent upon us to cast off a traditional western understanding of literature if we are to comprehend what the author has accomplished here. We must admit that with a single, decisive blow, Al Khameesi has severed the Gordian knot of contemporary Arabic literature, to wit: that the problems these authors should be addressing in their works are too big for literature to solve.”
Personally speaking, I do not understand why a literary text must be transformed into a sociological treatise stripped of its literary value, nor why stories of this sort are promoted as literature in the first place.
In place of the purely commercial Taxi, the Lebanese researcher Dalal Al Bazri has written Politics is Stronger than Modernity, an important book more capable of giving us a masterful explanation of the political and social changes through which Egypt has passed.
Or take the exaggerated praise meted out to Saudi author Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh, a book of limited artistic value to which no conscientious reader of literature would pay a moment’s notice.
This, despite the existence of another book by a female Saudi writer by the name of Saba Al Hirz, who published an important and stylistically sublime novel about the minority Shia community in Saudi Arabia and the love affairs of its young women, demonstrating the author’s considerable narrative skills.
It was called The Others and no one paid it the slightest attention.
For the sake of fairness, I should stress that many publishing houses, sometimes private or small and generally in Europe, outdo themselves in identifying the most important Arabic novels, ably assisted by noble knights from the ranks of translators. But their task is not an easy one.
The problem is that books translated by major Arab writers such as Gamal Al Ghitani, Mohamed El Bisatie, Abdel Rahman Mounif and so on, are not praised as highly as other, mediocre works.
When I visited the Philippines two years ago, authors there recommended a novel by a young man who had won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008. The book was Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco.
I was overawed by the novel’s quality, by its language, its construction and its skill. To my mind, this is the true purpose of prizes, to praise books for the manner in which they are written, not for their subject matter alone.
I believe this literary aspect is missing in the process of translating Arabic into foreign languages. Literary worth must be made the primary, indeed the sole, criterion for selection. At the moment, the process is based on a political consideration: an attempt to get to know a culture that exports the problems of its own backwardness to the West.
Implicating literature in this process may benefit it in some ways but in the end it is likely to do it more harm than good.
Ibrahim Farghali is an Egyptian novelist, journalist and literary critic. Further Arabic literary works can be read in English at Qisas Ukhra: qisasukhra.wordpress.com
“The girls may have put the “jab” into “hijab,” but fighting with morality police or private individuals telling women to cover up is rare in small towns. It’s more common in larger cities, where women are more likely to take a stand.”—"Jab" in "hijab." That’d be a cool name for a hijabi hip-hop group.
Just read your post on Mali on the 21st of August. 2012. I sincerly ask how as someone in the USA I am supposed to reposnd to what appears to me a dreadful set set of circumstance. How dpes one balance a people right to choose vs invividual rights? I could never support any group that would tell me what to drink or believe or tell others. Yet Mali seems to have surrendered a good portion of their country to people who do just that.
It’s not strictly about supporting or denouncing a certain group that does x or y. It’s about framework, context, perspective, and using basic methodological tools. That article we posted as a submission from one of our readers wasn’t posted because we disagree with the Malian’s right to determine their own circumstances. It was posted because of its framework. When the article mentions “women still walk through the streets without veils” or that “beer and wine are still served in restaurants” and that “minarets have become a symbol of violence,” this perpetuates a dichotomy that suggests societies are defined by what their women wear, what their people drink, how their people act, where their people pray, etc. This also assumes that the writer’s values and ideals are/should be applied universally.
There is little regard to the historical context with Mali being a former French colony. There is little regard to the geographical context with Mali being located in a region that is experiencing significant transitional junctures. There is little regard to the political economic context with Mali being one of the poorest countries in the world, partly due to the structural adjustment programs that enriched a small portion of the population, and dire environmental conditions that have made the agricultural sector an inconsistent source of income. There is little regard to the cultural context with the initial uprising being one that strived to establish a state by a group long-oppressed by the region’s powerful actors.
The author tops it all off by conflating the situation in Mali with the situation in Somalia. The post did not serve to inform, but rather it served to reproduce the dominant narrative which feeds into existing power structures. Consider the above before responding to what you deem to be a “dreadful set of circumstances.”
“It’s a lose-lose situation, really. If the Iranians are straight-forward, they’re made out to be rude, demanding and irrational; it they are polite and courteous, they’re made out to be mischievous and two-faced. This is not to say that Iranians should be in any way expected to change their cultural norms just to conform and fit into a Western perception of what is right and convenient. Who is to say, after all, that being direct, straight-forward and to “prize efficiency, frankness, and informality” is always the correct and right way to go about things? It is merely an Orientalist idea that everything Western is proper and correct and that everything from the “Other” irrational, primitive and wrong.”—
In his piece in The Atlantic, de Bellaigue talks about how “mischievously” an Iranian official holds open the door for his European counter-parts, in an attempt to “wrong-foot” them. I mean, really, you sneaky, sneaky Iranian, what business do you have holding open the door for others?
I was outraged. So I wrote a reply. The above excerpt is from it. So is the following —
This is yet another piece, along with the movie Argo and many, many essays and articles that are appearing trying to express how “different”, “shady, “ambiguous”, “hypocritical” and “mischievous” Iranians supposedly are. All of this then turns into a backdrop against which Iranians as a whole are demonized and through which war-mongering rhetoric is only further fueled.
Mopti is the last free city on the road to occupied northern Mali. Women still walk through the streets without veils, and beer and wine are still served in bars and restaurants. Music rattles from loudspeakers set up at stalls near the old mosque.
But only about 100 kilometers (60 miles) farther north, the crescent on the minarets has become a symbol of violence, despotism and repression. The jihadists have already threatened that Mopti will be their next target.
Does Mali threaten to turn into another Somalia, a country in which militias and power-hungry cliques struggle for control, and where anarchy prevails and people are starving to death? French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has already hinted that the international community will probably have to intervene.
Found this gem. Thought it was appropriate for your blog.
Apparently, the historical conditions in East & West Africa are exactly the same.
I applaud the writer for his creativity. ‘Somali Virus’ is a great euphemism for the ‘Islamic menace’ in Mali. How can we ignore those evil minarets of hate?
I don’t see an inkling of tolerance, decency in a rule of law that was oppressive, racist, expansionist-based and, most importantly, illegal. I am just amazed to know that this man and Ferguson and others like them are still regarded as “authentic historians” in the US and the UK.
“Niall Ferguson is an intellectual fraud whose job, for years, has been to impress dumb rich Americans with his accent and flatter them with his writings. It’s a pretty easy con, honestly, if you’re born shameless and British (or French). His main argument is that Western Civilization as embodied by the British Empire is awesome and wonderful even though it traditionally involved quite a bit of killing and enslaving of non-Westerners. Since becoming an insufferable American political commentator he’s decided that America needs to cut Medicare and spend the savings on fighting neo-imperialist wars with an army made up of “the illegal immigrants, the jobless and the convicts.””—
For a largely Arab country it’s a bizarre thing that in Lebanon (Beirut specifically), women care more about their appearance than men. Males lead a rather sullied existence, priming their closely cut mini-beards and, from my own observations, eating rather a lot. The formula in Lebanon’s capital for women is fashion-forward, from their choice of cloth to the decisions they make surgically.
Fashion and religion, they’ve never led a happy existence. Muslim, Christian and Druze women in Beirut dress surprisingly skimpy. There are vests and silks and bikinis and cashmere and come-hither off-the-shoulder numbers. Then there are the fashionable alterations to the body: lifts, tucks, laser etc. which is evident everywhere. The female body is the greatest canvas, the sculptor’s workable clay to which they can add/remove, inject/suck-out. Beirut is glitz and glamour through money and surgery. The exploration for eternal youth.
And drum roll please:
Beirut has now overtaken both LA and Miami as the plastic surgery capital of the world. Yes, Beirut. On the cusp of the Mediterranean, in the Arabian hinterland (??), where women’s fashion largely consists of this black burka or that black burka (?!?!). Yet thousands of women are now visiting their doctors and clinics for some very personal alterations.
“But who really cares what happened behind closed doors. More importantly: [Hina Rabbani Khar] got high marks for wearing Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, classic pearl and diamond jewelry, a blue designer dress, and toting an Hermes Birkin bag. And thus ladies and gentleman, a glamour icon is born. We give it three months before Vogue comes calling… wait, maybe two. [Goswami said] She could be Pakistan’s new weapon of mass destruction.”—
“Pakistan’s new weapon of mass destruction.” I’m not even commenting on that.
Let’s just limit a Pakistani female politician to her fashion taste because obviously a Pakistani female politician is only about her fashion taste. Great journalism going on there, Zeliger. You should win an internationally acclaimed medal for your astute and totally serious analysis coming from the West on an Eastern female political figure.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking about our retreat from the topic as sadly typical of the double-edged sword problem faced by many of us who write and teach about the Middle East and/or Islam: how can we produce honestly critical work about gender and sexuality without fueling racist stereotypes? One hopes that shedding light on an issue will dispel stereotypes, as they thrive on ambiguity and categorical judgments, but fears that audiences will hear only what they are listening for. This is an old problem, one that has graced myriad conversations at conferences and workshops, the kind of simultaneously ethical, contextual, and methodological problem that refuses to expire. It’s also a multi-faceted problem, where orientalist exoticism, Islamophobia, colonial feminism, and the limits of political alliance combine into a repulsive and sometimes paralyzing mix.”—
Arguably the most vile Orientalism I have read in a long time: “Sheherazade took me through Damascus; in the dark early-evening streets, I felt uneasy. Mustached men stood in our path, wearing shoes from the 1980s and curiously ill-fitting leather jackets over thick sweaters.” My biggest fear is that the fashion writer’s aesthetic sensibilities were insulted by the poor people’s shoes. I mean how inhospitable of us Arabs to walk in a rich westerner’s presence looking poor. And they weren’t even vintage 80s! Vulgarians. The real gems though were these musings: “”Syria. The name itself sounded sinister, like syringe, or hiss….Syria gave off a toxic aura…I met the devil and his wife…” So vile is the piece of incoherent racist rubbish that even mainstream journos like CNN’s Hala Gorani have criticized it. The piece has even spawned a new hashtag on Twitter— #countriesbyvoguewriters—which parodies the article with such priceless tweets as “#countriesbyVoguewriters “They tried to make me go to Riyadh, I said, no no no.” And this one “#countriesbyvoguewriters Norway. Neither do they have the will.”
“It is Friday – holy day – in Kabul. Near the checkpoint barrier a woman begs, her burka hiding her shame, but the only thing she receives is a spattering of dirt cast up by the passing trucks. The barrier lifts. Soldiers in dark green uniforms, rifles slung over their shoulders, wave me through. As I climb out of the car a thousand eyes burn into me, but I am careful not to return anyone’s gaze. Such brazen conduct from a foreign woman would be sure to get me into trouble.”—