Poem: Dry Fruit and Nuts

by Amjad Majid

When you are away
I see the night running
away with my days
In oblivion seasons change
and tell me it is time
to harvest and gather.

From orchard to orchard,
I strain my poise in gloom,
branches pat my head,
consoling me obtrusively,
as I garner what they bear,
morosely I am stealing
what some call taking
for the giving,
but not for the sale…

Continue reading “Poem: Dry Fruit and Nuts”

The Other Pole

Rime Allaf has an unmissable piece in the Guardian. As a counterpoint to the sectarian war scenario we’re hearing so much about, Rime offers the other pole.

From 1946, spoiled by the US-sponsored coup of 1949 which first brought military rule to the region, Syria witnessed a shortlived parliamentary democracy, a vibrant civil society and a brief period of a free press, and it elected leaders whose names remain embedded in the national memory as examples of the Syria it can be, and it should be. While perhaps initially elitist in nature, unlike the current varied spectrum of opposition groups and revolutionary committees, it is a logical inspiration for the future.

The whole article is well worth reading. There are good observations on how the supposed fractiousness of the ‘opposition’ is not necessarily a bad thing, and important commentary on the future ramifications of Iranian miscalculations.

One major issue may change in the post-Assad era: relations with Iran and Hezbollah. The strategic alliance with Iran since the Islamic revolution flourished under Bashar al-Assad’s reign, especially following the invasion of Iraq, but Iranian support in repressing the current protests won’t easily be forgotten. Likewise, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s support for the Syrian regime has incensed many, especially after his praise for every other Arab uprising; only last year, it would have been unimaginable to see Hezbollah’s flag burned in Syria, as it has been recently.


The first issue of Critical Muslim, a quarterly magazine in book form co-edited by Ziauddin Sardar and me, will be in the shops in January. More on that at a later date. Today I’m finishing off a long essay on Syria, Iraq and sectarian hatred for Critical Muslim’s third issue. Amongst the books I review in the essay are Fanar Haddad’s indispensable “Sectarianism in Iraq” and Nir Rosen’s “Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World,” which is also indispensable, in a different way. As a taster, here’s the section on “Aftermath.”

For a mix of contextual analysis and gripping reportage, the reader will find no better book than Nir Rosen’s magisterial “Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s wars in the Muslim World”.

Most Western correspondents were flown into Iraq unable to speak Arabic, largely ignorant of the context, to pass their time attending coalition press briefings or embedded with the US military. Their reports were heavy with simplistic labels (‘the Sunni triangle’, for instance) and ignored non-sectarian nationalism and class issues. Rosen’s writing on Iraq is the polar opposite of such parachute journalism. He speaks Arabic for a start, and blends in physically as a result of the “melanin advantage” bequeathed by his Iranian father. More to the point, he is courageous and energetic, going where few outsiders would dare, whatever their skin tone. He’s a reporter of the best kind, capable of locating pattern behind the copious detail. So he doesn’t merely report the mosque sermons he attended, or his encounters with militiamen and their victims, but accurately interprets and reads between the lines. His descriptions of time, place and personality are vivid, with not an ounce of orientalism added. His lack of sentimentality combined with his obvious sympathy for the people of the region make him the perfect candidate to voyage into the sectarian heart of darkness.

Continue reading “Aftermath”

Turn It Up

For Syrians it’s an exhilarating experience simply to express honest political opinions out loud in a public place. For decades anti-regime gripes have been expressed in private, in whispers. Many were frightened to speak even in the home, lest the children repeat what they’d heard at school. But now people are screaming and singing against the regime every morning, afternoon and night. The sense of solidarity amongst the revolutionaries – breaking the fear barrier together, facing possible torture and death together – is enormous. These two films demonstrate the sometimes carnivalesque quality of the revolution as well as the Syrian people’s musicality. In the first, filmed in Da’el in the Hawran, a romantic tune is turned into an  anti-Asad anthem. In the second, filmed in the Baba Amro neighbourhood of Homs, the authorities cut electricity to a protesting area; the protestors illumine their mobile phone screens and keep on going. Both films should be watched with the volume on maximum.

Continue reading “Turn It Up”

Revolutionary Alawis

Samar Yazbeck

Novelist, screenwriter and journalist Samar Yazbeck in interview: “The regime has indeed destroyed the Alawite religion, a peaceful religion, as it engaged in things foreign to the faith, leading some to become its Alawite thugs. But many of us are opponents, in jail, in exile, or banned from travel. The regime is playing with sectarianism to terrify “its” minority and get support. A game that will end, but first, I fear, there will be clashes between the communities.

In this interview an Alawite member of the Syrian Revolution General Council based in Homs argues, “We need to break down the myth that the regime is the defender of Alawites and other minorities. It is just defending itself, and using us for its own ends.”

And in this interview actress Fadwa Sulaiman explains why she’s thrown her lot in with revolutionaries in a besieged area of Homs (she’s currently on hunger strike): – “I just wanted to go just to say we Syrians are one people. I wanted to contradict the narrative of the regime.

The Criminalization of the Homeless in Hungary

by Kevin James Moore

A homeless shelter in Hungary

Cleared out of bridge underpasses, hiding in underground stations, finding refuge in forests, the homeless people of Budapest feel they are being treated as fugitives on the run. This has FEANSTA, the European Federation of Nation Organizations working with the homeless, expressing concerns over concerted attacks in Hungary. The country is seeking punitive measures against dumpster-diving and street sleeping and FEANTSA foresees this leading to the criminalization of the homeless.

Most of the focus on the growing trend to enforce laws that will lead to the imprisonment of the homeless is falling on the shoulders of István Tarlós, mayor of Budapest. Tarlós has said, “those who believe that all problems would be solved if homeless people were given housing […] are mistaken.”

The Mayor of Budapest believes his city is following the strict regulations set forth by other European nations that include Austria, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, and Holland. FEANSTA has countered with evidence that even though many European nations apply strict rules for services that grant the homeless funding and support, there are no laws in those countries that threaten significant fines or imprisonment as in Hungary.

Continue reading “The Criminalization of the Homeless in Hungary”

Support Today’s Freedom Riders by Ending U.S. Support for Israeli Apartheid

by Josh Ruebner

Fifty years ago, Freedom Riders braved beatings and arson by supremacists intent on maintaining apartheid in the Jim Crow South.  By challenging segregated transportation through nonviolent action, these African American and white activists set in motion a process that ultimately dismantled segregation. While the struggle for racial justice continues, at least this shameful chapter of formal racial discrimination is history.

Reflecting on this anniversary, Rep. John Lewis, one of the main organizers of the Freedom Rides, noted that they “changed America. Before the movement…people were afraid….That fear is gone. People can walk, live, work and play with a sense of dignity and a sense of pride.”

Fired by the same drive for dignity and pride, six Palestinian nonviolent activists boarded last week an Israeli settler bus to draw the world’s attention to the segregated transportation systems and apartheid conditions they endure living under Israel’s brutal 44-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem. Channeling Frederick Douglass, spokesperson Hurriyeh Ziadah asserted, “Our rights will not voluntarily be handed to us, so we are heading out to demand them.

While attempting to ride from the occupied West Bank into occupied East Jerusalem, nonviolently demanding their right to benefit from infrastructure created by Israel on their land,  Israeli military stopped the bus, physically removed and arrested the riders who held signs reading “Freedom,” “Dignity,” and “We Shall Overcome.”

Continue reading “Support Today’s Freedom Riders by Ending U.S. Support for Israeli Apartheid”

Stranger Magic

This review appeared in the Guardian.

The Arabian Nights (or the Thousand and One Nights, or the Arabian Nights Entertainments – there are so many versions) constitute, in Marina Warner’s words, “a polyvocal anthology of world myths, fables and fairytales.” The antecedents of these Arab-Islamic texts are Quranic, Biblical, Indian, Persian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Turkish and Egyptian. In them, oral and written traditions, poetry and prose, demotic folk tales and courtly high culture mutate and interpenetrate. In their long lifetime the Nights have influenced, amongst many others, Flaubert, Wilde, Marquez, Mahfouz, Elias Khoury, Douglas Fairbanks and the Ballets Russes.

The frame story, in which Shahrazad saves her life by telling King Shahryar tall tales, is only one such ransom. More than simple entertainment, then: throughout these stories within stories, and stories about stories, and stories metamorphosing like viruses, endlessly generative, narrative even claims for itself the power to defer death.

Continue reading “Stranger Magic”

%d bloggers like this: