Tag Archives: 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.”

Continue reading

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

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

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

Middle Eastern States Shed Crocodile Tears Over Orlando


In the few hours after Omar Mateen shot dead 50 innocent people at Pulse in Orlando a week ago, dozens of politicians and heads of states around the world rushed to condemn the grotesque hate crime.

The “condemnations” trickling in from the Middle East were particularly interesting and unique when placed in the context of these countries’  track records on LGBT rights and their mistreatment of homosexuals (Russia could potentially be added to this list, too, but for the sake of this post, we’re focusing on the Middle East).

To illustrate the stark contrast between the condemnations and the countries’ respective policies on homosexuality, Florence of Arabia has put together the below listicle featuring Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. (Please do send in more if I’ve missed any.)

[To jump straight to the listicle, click here.]

The contrast is quite humorous and hypocritical, but on a more serious level, it reaffirms just how rampant state-sponsored homophobia is in the region. It’s worth noting that the condemnations were similarly worded and omitted any mention of the attacks occurring at a gay club or targeting homosexuals. 

The condemnations are inherently problematic in that the states are essentially players that enable or fuel the sort of hatred which motivated the very crime they appear to have condemned.

Scholar and writer Samar Habib in this piece for the Washington Post argues that the condemnations are a “start,” whilst acknowledging they are somewhat troublesome. Continue reading

Sykes Picot as Explained by Jon Stewart & John Oliver


Western media have been aggressively commemorating the 100th anniversary of Sykes Picot, the “secret” agreement that saw British and French colonial powers carve up the Middle East into not nearly enough pieces.

The guilt-tinged coverage is understandable, considering what a blo*dy mess the region is in* (although the Economist recently [didactically] argued it’s time to move on from blaming the West for the Middle East’s ills. Definitely quite an original take.) Continue reading

Aleppo is Burning: Join the Worldwide RED Protest for Syria

red


On Tuesday, May 3, protestors in London will gather to demand action be taken for the innocent civilians of Aleppo, who are being crushed by the brutal Syrian regime.

If you live in the UK, join the Student Union of King’s College London at the Quad, Strand Campus, from 6 p.m. BST. For more details, visit the Facebook Event Page.

We’ll be there, and we’ll be wearing red.

Global protest destinations include NYC (in front of the UN, May 1), Beirut (also May 1),  Berlin (May 2) and Geneva (May 4). A demonstration was held in Paris today. Continue reading

Why Jordan’s Theeb Should Win That Oscar

theeb

(…assuming we should actually care about the Oscars — in the award ceremony’s current state — considering its “diversity” problems..)

Every so often, the Academy nominates foreign-language films that put some of the movies listed in the best-picture category to absolute shame. Theeb, directed by newcomer Naji Abu Nowar, is one such example (side note: Timbuktu, of 2015, and Omar, of 2014, are a couple of others).

Set in the the vast Hijaz province of the then Ottoman Empire during World War I, Theeb (Wolf in Arabic) portrays the complexities of colonialism, death, grief, survival, isolation and loyalty through the subtle lens of one curious Bedouin boy. Continue reading

Mashrou’ Leila Brings Beirut to the Barbican


 

Take a look at the third world,” Mashrou’ Leila front-man Hamed Sinno said to a crowd of Londoners intoxicated on his talent. “Look at those Arabs, ISISing.”

Sinno was, of course, being his cheeky and brilliant self. (I fully intend to use the word ISISing in the future).

Pointing to a live projection from the streets of Mar Mikhael in Beirut and footage of young Lebanese being, well, young and Lebanese, the bearded, dreamy singer said his band was bringing the Levantine city to London.

That was, perhaps, the theme of the group’s inaugural Barbican gig: Sinno’s presence was so infectious, so intense, so darn sexy, that the posh London concert hall ascended into an Arab rave about fifteen minutes in. Continue reading

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