Category: Middle East

Mashrou’ Leila Disrupts Narrative on Muslim Women in Stunning New Video

 


Mashrou’ Leila’s latest video, Roman, will offend many.

It features dozens of hijabi women who don’t appear to be oppressed. One of these mesmerising women dances her way through a dilapidated building without the faintest care in the world. There’s nothing exotic or erotic about her dancing: the choreography consists of an amalgam of moves that can only be described as beautifully erratic, and the woman is dressed in a flowy, figure-concealing ‘abaya.

Crucially, there’s no Western gaze on the women. They’re busy peering at themselves, and momentarily, at the (male) members of the Lebanese band. And while some of the women may appear passive, by the end of the video we learn that what they’re actually doing is mobilising (possibly against a deeply-entrenched patriarchy in the Arab world). The oppressive landscape, the band said in a Facebook post when it released the video on Tuesday, is actually a “fertile ground from which resistance can be weaponised.”

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Salt Houses Review: Making Magic out of Exile

Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been woman-crushing on psychologist, poet and writer Hala Alyan for years now. So I was especially pleased to see the Palestinian-American’s debut novel, Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2017), receive heaps of well-deserved praise from everyone including the LA Review of Books to the National.

The book has garnered so much attention in literary circles, it’s even made it on to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s summer reading list. (Note that I interviewed Alyan about her book for Al Jazeera English. The Q&A, which I was ridiculously thrilled to put together, is here).

At its core, Salt Houses is a family drama about the multigenerational-trauma triggered by displacement. The novel, which starts in Nablus with the Six-Day War of 1967 and ends in Beirut with the Lebanon War of 2006, tells the story of the Palestinian diaspora through one well-to-do family, the Yacoubs.

Salt Houses takes us on multiple journeys with eight members of the family as Alyan expertly shifts generations and voice with each chapter. We move with the Yacoubs from Kuwait City and Amman to Boston and beyond, experiencing the intricacies of the aftermath of forced (or self-imposed) exile. Continue reading

UK Elects First MP of Palestinian Descent, Layla Moran

Credit: LibDem Website


There’s much to be pleased about regarding the results of yesterday’s snap election in the UK: the vindication of Jeremy Corbyn, the humiliation of a particularly smug conservative party under Theresa May and the crushing defeat of UKIP.

But in all of the ruckus came this important moment: the election of the UK’s first MP of Palestinian descent, Layla Moran. (The fact that the MP is a woman is even more reason to celebrate.) Moran, at just 34, stole the Oxford West and Abingdon seat from the Tories with a swing of about 15 percent. According to the BBC, she overturned a conservative majority of almost 10,000 votes to win the seat. A physics teacher by profession with a master’s degree in comparative education, Moran ran with the Liberal Democrats. Her father is British while her mother is Palestinian from Jerusalem.

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50 Books by Arab & Muslim Writers to Read This Year

Artwork by Etel Adnan


Earlier this month, I stumbled upon this fantastic, comprehensive list of recently published books by authors and poets of Arab, Middle Eastern and/or Muslim descent put together by Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar (originally posted on Facebook).

Akbar, whose poetry was published in the New Yorker’s special fiction issue, very graciously said I could repost the brilliant list here.

I’d like to think this compilation signals a new nahda in Arab & Muslim writing, with, as a friend recently put, Hisham Matar sitting up top (I tend to agree as I’m biased on Matar & his Pulitzer-prize winning book, THE RETURN.) Continue reading

The Jihadi Who Found Jesus, Lebanese Calligraffiti & Palestinian Hunger Strikes: Mideast Media Recs

Non-fake news stories on Muslims and the Middle East from around the web, (occasionally) curated by Florence of Arabia

The Economist's 1843 magazine ran a wonderful piece on Calligraffiti in the Arab world, featuring the works of French/Tunisian street artist eL Seed and Lebanon's Yazan Halwani

Patrick Kingsley, now at the New York Times after leaving the Guardian, wrote this staggering Saturday profile on a jihadi who apparently found Jesus

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The Guardian Temporarily ‘Removes’ Story on Palestinian Music Festival


** Updates to reflect that the Guardian has republished the article with editorial changes

The Guardian temporarily pulled a story on a historic expo featuring “trip-hop” and other artists in Palestine without explanation, saying it was “pending review.” The article was off the site for more than 12 hours and then put back up after being heavily edited. The edits, which I run through below, were quite clearly intended to tone down the language of the initial piece.

The newspaper notes the following at the bottom of the revised article:

This article was taken down for review on 12 April 2017, amended to correct and clarify details and republished on 13 April 2017.

Before the story was republished, I asked for an explanation on Twitter, but obviously received no response. The piece is authored by Tom Horan, a fantastic freelance journalist and culture critic who writes the occasional music story for the newspaper. (I reached out to Horan via email and didn’t hear back from him.)

I find the temporary ‘removal’ of the article fascinating on a number of levels, mostly because that sort of move couldn’t have just been a response to an army of trolls. From a journalistic perspective, an editorial decision like this never comes lightly. Continue reading

Hisham Matar Takes Home Pulitzer for ‘the Return’


YES. The inimitable Hisham Matar just nabbed the Pulitzer Prize in Biography or Autobiography for his exquisite book, the Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Random House).

The writer beat out some tough competition from Susan Faludi for In the Darkroom and the late Paul Kalanithi for When Breath Becomes Air.

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AlJazeera English Q&A With Lebanese Poet Zeina Hashem Beck


I put together this neat little interview with Lebanese poet Zeina Hashem Beck for AlJazeera English when I was back home a couple of weeks ago. I adore Zeina’s poetry, and am convinced her career will continue to flourish, so this was a real treat for me (we had a fantastic discussion — thank you, Zeina). I’ve pasted the entire interview below, but you can see it as it appeared on AlJazeera English here.


Beirut – To say Zeina Hashem Beck is an emerging poet would be an understatement. At 35, the Lebanese writer has already clinched multiple awards. To Live in Autumn, her first collection, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize.

This year, Hashem Beck won the Rattle Chapbook Prize for 3arabi Song, which fuses her passion for Middle Eastern culture with the destabilising forces of war and displacement in the region. She has also been praised by UK Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Rattle describes 3arabi Song as “a tribute to the Arab world and Arab singers, to refugees and refusal, to hope and home, to sorrow and song”, adding, “like no other collection we’ve read, these poems feel absolutely necessary”. Continue reading

The White Helmets: A Netflix Documentary Worth Watching


Documentary: White Helmets (2016)
Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Available on Netflix globally
★★★★

For all of the coverage of the White Helmets  in western media over the past few months, nothing comes close to this documentary brought to your living rooms by Netflix.

The short film explores the quiet yet remarkable group of some 3,000 Syrian volunteer rescue workers as they risk their lives to search for survivors at bomb sites across opposition-controlled areas of the country.

Over the past five years, the group is said to have saved more than 60,000 lives, capturing the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee (and, of course, conspiracy theorists/trolls*).

The makers of the documentary spent over five weeks with 30 White Helmets along the Syrian border in Turkey as they received first-responder training, filming intimate moments of their day-to-day lives. (Director and producer Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara document the experience in this piece for Indiewire.) Continue reading

The Middle East Has Lost a True Friend in Jo Cox


To so many people across the United Kingdom and indeed the world, the disturbing, tragic murder of Jo Cox still seems utterly incomprehensible.

This was a woman who very visibly cared deeply for others and whose altruism has been described by many as unblemished. Indeed, the more one learns about Jo Cox, the more one realises just how tremendous her compassion was.

Cox was a champion for the less fortunate; for the socially ostracised; for immigrants; for refugees; for women; and for diversity. She was also a genuine friend of the Middle East and the UK’s Muslim community. Continue reading

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