Sunday, 18 July 2010

arabic zoomorphic calligraphy

Arabic calligraphy is an exquisite and complex art. Islamic teaching has traditionally dissuaded the depiction of life in art, but that doesn't mean art and creativity haven't flourished.

Here are some pieces of what is called zoomorphic calligraphy- animals depicted through calligraphy






  The first piece is by Ahmed Moustafa (2004)Tiger and knight pieces are by Hassan Musa

Survey: 88% of Egyptian households read no books

I was reading this week’s issue of The Economist which has a special country report on Egypt. The study provides some cause for optimism for Egypt’s future- a lower birth rate and increases in foreign investment, and the hope that Mubarak’s failing health might usher in some reform and improved civil rights when his successor takes centre stage.

But then I came across an astonishing fact...

“A government survey this year found that, apart from school textbooks, 88% of Egyptian households read no books, and three-quarters of families do not read any newspapers or magazines either. Of those who do read, 79% concentrate on religious subjects.”
-The Economist, July 17-23 2010

This fact might go some way in explaining the lack of any economic and social progress in the Arab, and the perpetual state of economic festering and stagnation in the Arab states. Future economies will be built on knowledge and innovation, with education and learning at the heart of developments.

Despite being famed for introducing chemistry, algebra, the astrolabe, the zero and a host of ancient knowledge that would have disappeared had not Arab intellectuals translated it more than a 1000 years ago, the modern Arab world has witnessed a general lack of intellectual achievement bar some notable exceptions especially among those living in the West where Arab doctors, scientists, bankers and artists thrive.

This raises another issue- the political environments in the Arab states are hardly conducive to open discussion, debate and publishing. The majority of newspapers are state-controlled and bland, with little analysis or comment. Books are likewise mundane and basic. In a bookshop in one Arab country, I once saw a number of books on anthropology, different periods of history and Islamic civilization all by the same author.

In any case, information is now more easily and freely available with blogs and other internet tools reaching the youth in particular. There is more good news. The literacy rate has been rising in the Arab world and technological and media innovation is now speeding ahead in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and the Gulf.

In Deutsche Welle’s international prize for the best 100 blogs, a Jordanian, Osama Romoh won first place for his daring and innovative blog. It is not before time that such stories become more frequent.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Advanced Arabic clauses: using الذي and forms of ما

In this lesson we will learn ways of dramatically improving the quality of our Arabic by using subordinate clauses and coordinating conjunctions to add greater detail and length. In other words, using that, which, with whom etc

Here is an example of what I mean in English:

Tom Smith is a member of the judges’ panel

­­­­­...Tom Smith, who is the acclaimed novelist behind Secret Doors, and (who) has won several international literary awards with which many are familiar, is a member of the judges’ panel.

In Arabic, the basic way to introduce subordinating clauses is by جملة صلة by using a form of الذي (which, that). But this rather limits what we can do and must be used with definite nouns in Arabic:

تعرفت على بنت تعمل في البنك I met a girl who works in the bank.

تعرفت على البنت التي تعمل في البنك I met the girl who works in the bank

Note that the Arabic requires both a definite noun and a form of الذي whilst English can just use the definite article ‘the’.

When using verbs that require a preposition, the pronoun is added to the proposition which results in English translations like with which, under which:

تعرفت على بنت في الجامعة التي التحقت بها I got to know a girl at the university in which I enrolled.

تبنّت أمريكا  هذه السياسة التي لن تتنازل عنها America has adopted this policy from which it will not back down.

Now, let’s look at how this technique can be applied to make intermediate level sentences into advanced ones by using advanced conjunctions such as الأمر الذي\مما\ بحيث\فضلا عن\ناهيك عن etc.

انكمش الاقتصاد الاردني بنسبة 0,4 بالمئة في السنة الماضية 
The Jordanian economy contracted by 0.4 percent last year  

The above sentence could be vastly improved (in terms of the mark a professor might give it) like this, for example:

انكمش الاقتصاد الاردني الذي يلعب فيه القطاع الخاص دورا هاما بنسبة 0,4 بالمئة في السنة الماضية, مما أدى إلى ازدياد طفيف من البطالة وانخفاض الرواتب كذلك, الأمر الذي أثار القلق بين الكثير من المواطنين.

The Jordanian economy, in which the private sector plays an important role, contracted last year by 0.4 percent, which led to a slight rise in unemployment as well as a decrease in salaries that has raised concern amongst many citizens.

 مما أدي إلى which led to

الذي.....فيه\ التي ....فيها in which

الأمر الذي also means ‘which’ but is used to mean the entire clause instead of a sentence. Compare the two following sentences:

 منظمة ناسا بصدد إطلاق مكوكها الفضائي الجديد الذي سوف يتمكن من حمل 5 ركاب. 1)

NASA is in the process of (is concerned/ preoccupied with) launching its new space shuttle which will be capable of carrying 5 passengers.

منظمة ناسا بصدد إطلاق مكوكها الفضائي الجديد إلى كوكب المريخ, الأمر الذي سيلفت الانتباه على نطاق واسع 2)

NASA is in the process of launching its new space shuttle to Mars, which will attract attention on a wide scale.

Notice that in the first sentence the word الذي can be used only to refer to one object (the space shuttle). However in the second sentence الأمر الذي is used to refer to the whole clause that preceded it. In the second sentence it the launching of the shuttle that attracts attention and not simply the shuttle itself. The scope of الأمر الذي is much wider than الذي although both are translated as ‘which’.

Note how variants of ما can also be used in the following examples:

انسحبت القوات المحتلة وفقا لما أفادت به الأنباء الواردة من كردستان.  (1)
The occupying forces have withdrawn according to news coming in from Kurdistan.

 انهارت صفقة الاندماج حسبما أعلن عنه المتحدث باسم الصفقة في  بورصة لندن(2)
The merger deal fell through (lit. collapsed) according to what the deal’s spokesperson announced in the London Stock Exchange.

 اتفقت الدول الاضاء في الاتحاد الأوروبي على تنفيذ إجراءات تقشقية, مما يعني أننا نستطيع أن نتوقع المزيد (3)
 من التظاهرات.  
The member states of the EU agreed to implement austerity measures, which means we can expect more demonstrations.

4) كل من هب ودب له جهاز الأيفون, مما يزيل قيمته الحقيقية)
Every Tom, Dick and Harry has an Iphone, which takes away its real worth

5) اشتمل التحقيق على كل التفاصيل, بما فيها مكان الجرائم المزعومة)
The investigation covered every detail including the location of the alleged crimes

6) فيما يتعلق بالمفاوضات المباشرة بين الطرفين, فلم تنته بعد)
Regarding the direct negotiations between the two sides, they have yet to finish

  بما أنه كان طبيبا, رافقها إلى المستشفى(7)
Being a doctor/ seeing that he was a doctor, he accompanied her to the hospital

    انفجرت سيارتان مفخختان وقتلتا ما لا يقل عن اربعين ضحايا (8)
Two car bombs (lit. booby-trapped cars) exploded, killing at least 40 victims

  مهما كان الأمر, فإن ....(9)
Whatever the case may be...

  استهدفت المروحية العسكرية قبائل موالة للقاعدة, مما أسفر عن مقتل العشرات.(10)
The military helicopter targeted tribes loyal to al-Qaeda, resulting in the death of dozens

                                                              Other conjunctions

Besides, let alone فضلا عن-  (1)

يشارك 9500 جندي بريطاني في أنشطة عشكرية في أفغنستان فضلا عن عدد غير محدد من القوات الخاصة
9500 British troops are taking part in military activities in Afghanistan besides an unspecified number of special forces

not to mention, let alone, notwithstanding - ناهيك عن (2)

يعاني الاقتصاد الامراتي من عدم الاستثمارات ناهيك عن الازمة المالية التي لا تظال أن تلقي بظلالها على اقتصاد العالم كله.
The Emirates’ economy is suffering from a lack of investment not to mention the economic crisis that is still casting its shadow over entire world economy.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Book review: Hezbollah, a short history by Augustus Richard Norton

This up-to-date book (latest edition 2009) on Hezbollah- the organisation primarily popular amongst the Shia in Lebanon is a timely and unpretentious, objective and comprehensive account of the group’s ascendancy and its place in contemporary Lebanon.

The book deals extensively with the historical socio-political situation of Lebanon’s Shia, with a chapter dedicated to the distinctive Shia perspective and way of life in Lebanon.

Enveloped in an impressive sleeve bearing the Hezbollah emblem on a yellow background (i.e. the Hezbollah flag), the book may not be a wise one to read in public view. It may, however, present a challenge to many who consider Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

The author, Augustus Richard Norton, who is a professor of International Relations and Anthropology, was a military observer in southern Lebanon with the UN when Hezbollah and other Shia groups such as Amal were formed. With expert authority and not a few personal anecdotes, he describes how the Shia minority in Lebanon (residing in the south as well as the southern suburbs al-Dahiya of Beirut and part of the Beqaa valley), remained marginalized and underdeveloped for many years in Lebanon’s multi-confessional political system, leaving a void which Hezbollah would eventually fill.

In chapter 5 the author describes how Israel and Hezbollah engaged unofficial ‘rules of the game’ during Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon. Under such rules, attacks on military targets were tolerated, and deals for prisoner swaps were common.

Of particular note is the way in which Norton throws light on the deep systems of patronage among the Shia of which Hezbollah is a part. This mechanism has sustained and advanced the community in the absence of any real attempts to do by the national government.

By an extensive network of charitable trusts, social services and funding from émigré communities and Iran, the Shia have single-handedly raised their quality of life, not to mention their profile and political aspirations.
Despite being known in the west for its paramilitary wing, Hezbollah is in fact a complex organisation that maintains media networks, hospitals, schools and other projects. After the devastating damage inflicted on Lebanon by Israel in 2006, Hezbollah has managed an efficient reconstruction project that has completely transformed the southern suburbs of Beirut, promising brand-spanking new apartments for all those who lost their homes in Israel’s onslaught- including any Sunni Muslims and Christians. In fact, Hezbollah institutions including hospitals will not turn a non-Muslim away from its doors.

Hezbollah, a short history correctly traces the origins and influences of Hezbollah and dispels the many stereotypes that often accompany western media coverage of the organisation. Whilst acknowledging influences from Iran, Norton is also keen to stress the role of Lebanese nationalism and the Shia struggle for political representation that had been gaining momentum before Hezbollah arrived on the scene.
Despite being written by an academic, the book is concise and approachable, an ideal introduction to the subject.


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Gaza export ban means easing of blockade is futile

Israel announced on 17 June that it would ‘liberalize’ the siege on Gaza and allow more items through. Having previously had a list of a few permitted items, Israel is now using a list of items that are forbidden because they are considered ‘dual-use’ since they may be adapted for military purposes, according to the Israeli government. Items that do not appear on the lists do not require specific permission to enter, and there are some building materials that may only be allowed entry if used by international organisations on projects authorised by the Palestinian Authority.

Instead of fully lifting the import ban to Gaza, Israel has retained a moderated version of its policy of restricting entry of goods into Gaza, saying that "the limitation on the transfer of goods is a central pillar in the means at the disposal of the State of Israel in the armed conflict between it and Hamas." . The import curbs are a reaction to the election of Hamas in Gaza in 2006 and the continued detention of Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit in the strip. However the statement above clearly demonstrates that the economic blockade on Gaza is a collective punishment aimed at destabilizing Hamas.

Israel came under international pressure to ease the blockade following its raid on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ in which 9 Turks were killed. A deal was brokered with the help of Middle East Quartet Tony Blair although the subsequent list of prohibited items was not published for another two weeks.

Having previously had a list of a few permitted items, the Israeli government has now compiled a list of prohibited items. These include ‘dual use’ items that Israel claims can be adapted for terrorist activities by Hamas. Bizarrely, these items are almost all construction materials that are vital for rebuilding Gaza after the Israeli war (Operation Cast Lead) that destroyed much of the infrastructure including schools, hospitals and houses.

The international community has applauded Israel for easing its horrific siege on the strip. However, the economic situation remains dire, and will increasingly worsen if Israel refuses to allow exports to leave Gaza. The goods now coming into Gaza are produced by Israel or the West Bank, and so the process only serves to benefit Israel economically and strengthen the rival Fatah movement in the West Bank.

The economic effect of Israel’s newest policy will not become fully clear as international organisations such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory have released reports. However, since the policy of prohibiting exports from Gaza remains unchanged, it is likely that the number of trucks leaving the area will not increase. Since December 2009, only 87 trucks, carrying cut flowers and strawberries have left Gaza , yet industrial and manufactured goods remain stranded. The lack of exports has reduced the number of industrial establishments to a minimum, with 70% closed and the others working at a significantly reduced capacity according to a report by the World Bank and the Palestine Trade centre.

The export of goods from Gaza and the accessibility of construction materials is what will raise living standards. According to Oxfam, the siege must be “fully lifted to enable Palestinians to engage in productive, dignified work. That would help restore hope in the future for Gazans and it would be an important step on the road to peace."
According to the UN, Gaza used to have around 3,800 businesses, trading with the West Bank, Israel and elsewhere. Less than one in six have survived the blockade and the war in 2008-9.

International reactions to Israel’s easing of the blockade indicate that the international community is expecting Israel to take further steps to lift the blockade completely. A British Foreign Office spokesman said, “It is good that Israel is giving serious consideration to resolving these issues, but further work is needed. We need to see the additional steps still to be announced."

In the mean more aid ships, including at least one prepared by Jewish groups in Germany are gearing up to break the siege on Gaza.

Portrayal of Arab and Muslim people in western media ‘typically stereotypical and negative’


Stereotypes of certain nationalities and ethnic groups have been present in film, anecdotes and other mediums of popular culture since time immemorial. “Americans are obese”, “Brits have bad teeth”, “Germans are very serious” and so on. Some stereotypes, such as these, are comical or innocent in nature, but what of those malicious stereotypes that present a negative, or even hateful image of a particular culture or people?
Thanks to the efforts of campaigners and the prevalence of education and international communication, many popular stereotypes have been dispelled. Yet negative preconceptions of the Arab world remain subtly imbedded in the popular imagination as well as in the media. Much intentional attention has been directed on the Middle East in recent years. Because of its strategic political, economic importance, the region often occupies a prevalent position in the media. Yet negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims routinely fill our television screens and newspapers.
The images that come to mind when we think about different ethnic groups are significant as they will affect how we treat them, or at the very least, out attitude towards them. Ultimately they will influence important decisions including foreign policy.
According to a study commissioned by the Kuwaiti government, western media coverage of the Middle East is overly preoccupied with, and dominated by negative stories typified by terrorism, anti-Americanism and the occupation of Iraq.
“The terms Islamic or Muslim are linked to extremism, militant, jihads, as if they belonged together inextricably and naturally (Muslim extremist, Islamic terror, Islamic war, Muslim time bomb).
"In many cases, the press talks and writes about Muslims in ways that would not be acceptable if the reference were to Jewish, black or fundamentalist Christians”, the report claims.
An important finding of the report is that television news and documentaries are the most influential sources for peoples’ general perceptions of Islam, followed by newspapers.
About 37% of those surveyed said they had very limited exposure to news and information about Islam, with almost 75% saying the media depicts Arab Muslims and Islam accurately only half the time.
In another revealing study, Jack Shaheen, a Lebanese-American professor, undertook a study of some 900 Hollywood films featuring Arab characters, which he rather wittily entitled ‘Reel Bad Arabs’. He accused the film-makers of "systematic, pervasive and unapologetic degradation and dehumanisation of a people".
Judith Brown, the director of Arab Media Watch, an independent media monitor in the United Kingdom, notes that the Lebanese writer Edward Said exposed how ‘19th-century Orientalist discourses created ideas about the Orient; its sensuality, its tendency to despotism, its aberrant mentality, its habits of inaccuracy, its backwardness’. She believes that ‘in the same manner, Arabs are displayed as inherently inferior to Westerners and benefiting from Western intervention.’
According to Mrs Brown, such notions of the eastern mind are ingrained in the westerner’s psyche, and are confirmed when he looks at the Middle East. Hence the average westerner does not look at the Arab world with impartiality, but becomes victim to the cynical images he already bears. The extent to which this affects the media varies on the aims and objectives of the media giants and their political agendas.
The images beamed from the Arab world to our tv screens will invariably show what is happening in the troubled region, and much of it is unpleasant. Yet, at the same time, it is imperative that western news consumers are exposed to images of highly educated Arab professionals, aspiring young people, cultural delightss, impressive development schemes and the national ambitions of the Arab world. Such a balance in the media coverage of the region would go a long way in dispelling stereotypes and in the minds of many.
Conversely, Arabs must take the initiative in fighting adverse ethnic presentations of themselves in the media. Since 9/11 and the ensuing ‘war on terror’, many Arabs have begun to question the treatment they receive in the media. They must showcase the increasing pool of talented, highly articulate Arab individuals to the wider world, and strive to occupy positions of influence in the media. Some media organisations including Aljazeera have adopted this stance, with high quality English language news and documentaries now broadcast globally.
Such efforts will go a long way in dispelling negative stereotypes of the Arab world and increasing objective, nonpartisan coverage that other ethnic groups already enjoy.