Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hacked Again!

Update: Fixed!

 The account associated with this blog (see Contact information) has been hacked, and a message sent about my "new and improved" dire financial straits, and the miraculous solution to everyone's financial problems.

Please ignore.

So far the account itself stays the same, though I have changed the password and will take further security steps ASAP.

Based on past experience you may receive this type of false messaging on Yahoo Chat, Facebook, or Twitter (more about that later).

My sincerest apologies to all who have received or may receive these messages.


Related Post:
Email Accounts Hacked!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day 2012: Saying It with Words--Your Own, or Those of Syrian Poet Nizar Qabbani نزار توفيق قباني‎

I have written posts previously on the origins, and cultural practices of Valentine's Day, including the traditional gifts of cards, flowers, chocolates, and jewellery. Regular readers are familiar with my (as yet) still unfulfilled quest for the gift of a ruby tiara, in fact this tiara:

However, I have also written about the importance of the sentiments of love, affection, fondness, and friendship at the core of Valentine's Day, and that make it a day of celebration for all those who wish to express their special feelings on this particular day. Though Valentine's celebrations are forbidden in certain countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and now Uzbekistan, in fact people in these countries find ways to celebrate, through forethought and creativity.

Another aspect of celebrating one's feelings for another, whether romantic, platonic, or amicable, is through the words one says or writes. Some are more eloquent than others; for all, poetry can be a source of inspiration, or a way of saying what one may not have the facility to say. A gift of a poem, whether written or sung as a lyric, can be very special, and not easily censored.

I asked a Saudi friend if she had an Arabic love poem to recommend for this post, and she sent the following one by 20th century Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani نزار توفيق قباني‎ (21 March 1923 – 30 April 1998):

اكرهها واشتهي وصلها
وانني احب كرهي لها
احب هذا المكر في عينها
وزورها ان زورت قولها
اكرهها عين كعين الذئب محتاة
طافت اكاذيب الهوى حولها
قد سكن الجنون احداقها
واطفات ثورتها عقلها
اشك في شكي اذا اقبلت باكية
شارحة ذلها
فان ترفقت بها استكبرت
وجررت ضاحكة ذيلها
ان عانقتني كسرت اضلعي
وافرغت على فمي غلها
يحبها حقدي و يا طالما وددت اذ طوقتها قتلها

Although I had heard the name before, this suggestion sent me looking for more information, and further examples of Qabbani's poetry. Nizar Qabbani was not only a poet, but a lawyer, a diplomat, and a feminist, progressive intellectual, whose poetry evolved from love poetry, often erotic, to more political themes for the Arab cause, often expressed through love metaphors. He was an exquisite writer, from age 16 to his death at 75. No one loved Damascus more, as his 1998 book of poems Alphabet of Jasmine / أبجدية الياسمين attests.

It seems fitting then on this particular Valentine's Day, when Syria and Syrians are suffering so greatly, to invoke the love poetry of one of Syria's greatest national and nationalist love poets. The 3 poems that follow are ones I chose from a site that presents Qabbani's poems in translation. Another site presents longer poems in both Arabic and the English translation. Of course an internet search in either Arabic or English will reveal many more.


Do not say my love was
A ring or a bracelet.
My love is a siege,
Is the daring and headstrong.
Who, searching sail out to their death.

Do not say my love was
A moon.
My love is a burst of sparks.

In The Summer

In the summer
I stretch out on the shore
And think of you
Had I told the sea
What I felt for you,
It would have left its shores,
Its shells,
Its fish,
And followed me.


When a man is in love
how can he use old words?
Should a woman
desiring her lover
lie down with
grammarians and linguists?

I said nothing
to the woman I loved
but gathered
love's adjectives into a suitcase
and fled from all languages.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Related Posts:
St Valentine, His Day, and Its Celebration
Valentine's Day 2011: "El Día del amor y la amistad" or "Love and Friendship Day"

See Also:
For Valentine’s Day: Give Me Great Love, Give Me Great Passion, and Give Me Great Darkness, Too (Arabic Literature in Translation)

Qabbani translated to English:
On Entering the Sea (1998)
Arabian Love Poems (1998) translated by Bassam Frangieh and Clementina R. Brown
Republic of Love (2002) translated by Nayef al-Kalali

What are your favourite love poems (in any language)?
What poem would you most like to receive, give?
Other thoughts, comments, impressions, experiences?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saudi Arabian Writer Hamza Kashgari: Clemency and the 23-year-old brain

Hamza Kashgari is a 23-year-old Saudi writer (poet and local journalist), who, on the occasion of the Prophet Mohamed's birthday wrote a series of tweets that were imaginative, yet crossed a line for appropriate discourse within Islam and particularly within more conservative approaches, and especially within the religion and culture of Saudi Arabia.
Those who know Kashgari were worried about his safety but tried to distance themselves from him. Saudi blogger Fouad al-Farhan described the high emotions in the Kingdom, saying “There was an amazing anger. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I think it’s because this is an extremely unique case. We’ve never had our own Salman Rushdie before. We’ve never had a case as extreme as this one of someone crossing the line.”-- Katerina Nikolas in The Digital Journal
The response was rapid, with a furious denunciation on Twitter, death threats to him as an apostate, and the organization of a Facebook petition calling for his arrest and punishment by death. More remarkably, given his relative obscurity and the Twitter format, the Saudi clerical establishment responded immediately with a fatwa and charges of blasphemy and apostasy, and King Abdullah ordered his arrest on these charges which carry the death penalty (by beheading). This was despite Hamza following the advice of his religious teachers, and deleting all tweets and issuing an apology. Also on the advice of friends he went into hiding and then fled the country. He was arrested at the airport in Malaysia, en route to New Zealand and is being held for extradition to Saudi Arabia.

All of this happened within 3 days of the publication of the tweets on the Prophet's birthday.

Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari was arrested at the airport in Malaysia, after he fled his country following outrage over his tweets that were deemed to be insulting to the prophet. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN

When I first learned about Hamza's plight, I immediately thought that he was caught up in the conservative turn Saudi has taken, and its increased and increasingly overt vigilance of social media that have accompanied the response by Saudi to the Arab Spring, and to national demonstrations--whether for women's right to drive, or for the release of prisoners, or regarding (sectarian support) for Bahrain in the Eastern Province.

As soon as I read that Hamza is 23, I spontaneously thought of current research in neuroscience imaging of the brain, which shows that the human brain continues to mature through adolescence to the age of 25, before which it isn't fully formed, nor fully capable of adult reasoning. Before that age men and women, but men in particular, are more likely to act impulsively, in negative ways, as they are less cognitively able than adults to fully appreciate the consequences of actions, to project into the future, or to resist the impulse to act on emotion.

Based on what I have read about, and by Hamza Kashgari, he is an intelligent, imaginative writer, with no past history of crossing lines, or disrespecting the religion in which he was raised, and to which he adheres. It seems that on the occasion of the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohamed, he took a flight of fancy, and shared it via Twitter. Unfortunately, he took a big step over the line, in such a manner as to become the perfect target to serve as a warning to others.

إتصال أم حمزة كشغري على برنامج البيان التالي
Saudi program, that includes comments by Hamza's mother

I sincerely hope that the religious and political authorities in both Malaysia and Saudi Arabia will avail themselves of the options available within Islam to allow Hamza to further repent, and to be spared. I also hope that other Muslims who have been offended and enraged will also find their way to humility and forgiveness. Ultimately, Hamza will be judged by Allah, who does allow for repentance and forgiveness.

In the meantime, I have signed a petition that had approximately 5,500 signatures when I signed earlier this morning. I don't usually sign petitions, but this one is organized via a third party, Care2, with good standards of seriousness of purpose, authenticity, and confidentiality (if the box stayed ticked through my iPod's battery lows, my name should not appear). More importantly, in this situation the stakes are very high. The petition is address to the Malaysian government to prevent Hamza's extradition to Saudi. Please take a look, and seriously consider signing. The petition is here.
When we spoke Wednesday, Kashgari asked that I not reveal where he was hiding or his plan of escape. Now that he has been detained, his friends hope publicity will build pressure on the Malaysian government not to extradite Kashgari to Saudi Arabia. Karpal Singh, a well-known Malaysian lawyer and member of parliament, is being encouraged to take Kashgari’s case. Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler has offered to serve as Kashgari’s international legal counsel. Cotler has served as legal counsel to such famous dissidents as Nelson Mandela, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Natan Sharansky and Maikel Nabil. Many have credited him with creating the international pressure that led to their release.--David Keyes, in The Daily Beast
See Also:

Saudi Writer Hamza Kashgari Flees Country After Controversy on Twitter (Saudi Jeans)
Hamza Kashghari (Crossroads Arabia)
Hamza Kashgari (Chapter One)
Hamza Kashgari (Qusay Today)

Ifta wants Kashghari tried for apostasy (Arab News)
Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari arrested for blasphemy (Digital Journal)
Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari faces charge of blasphemy after tweets about Muhammad (Washington Post)
Saudi Writer Hamza Kashgari Detained in Malaysia Over Muhammad Tweets (The Daily Beast) (includes tweets quoted in translation)

Save Hamza Kashgari (Facebook)

Again, please sign the petition to spare the life of this young person.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times": Charles Dickens and the Arab Uprisings

 Today is the bicentenary of the birth of the famous 19th century English novelist, social critic, and social activist Charles Dickens (February 7, 1812-June 9, 1870). It may be difficult from today's perspective to remember how much Dickens challenged Victorian society, and particularly its treatment of the poor, the working class, the indebted, and the orphaned. Motivated by his own experience at the age of 10--of being sent from school as child labour in a factory to earn money while the rest of his family was in debtors' prison--many of Dickens' most famous novels as well as his journalist work are a direct condemnation of these practices.

Dickens preferred to publish his novels as monthly serialized episodes in newspapers, writing them as he went along (rather than serializing a finished work). This allowed him to respond to current events and issues within the framework of an engaging story, often about the life of an unfortunate boy, and to reach a mass audience, thereby shifting public opinion. Dickens also acted through philanthropy and public readings of his works to shift the circumstances of the less fortunate in his society.

There are many celebrations of Dickens' work, and his bicentenary, ongoing and planned. Some focus around a particular work, chosen in light of the organizers' perspectives on the relevence of Dickens today, or his literary contribution. Some which I have heard referenced specifically are A Christmas Carol (over this past Christmas season), David Copperfield (his most autobiographical work), Great Expectations, and The Pickwick Papers--the latter two as somewhat of a compendium of Dickensian themes and characters.

Following recent events in the MENA these past few days (and longer), made me think immediately of Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. Set during the French Revolution, the novel describes the impact of that transformative period, with a particular focus on London and Paris. The novel famously begins, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...".

One may paraphrase and say that the Arab Uprisings throughout MENA have been the best of times, and the worst of times--energized times of standing up for long overdue rights and societal changes, violent times of physical and psychological repression; euphoric times of triumph over a dictator; dysphoric times of retaking physical or social ground, and of mourning the imprisoned, tortured, injured, and killed.

This past weekend the two main cities of this ongoing tale have been Homs and Cairo. In both there was cruel, unbridled repression of demonstrators resulting in more injured, more dead, and more disappeared. The resilience of the protesters is as admirable as the obstinancy of the governments in place in Syria and Egypt is reprehensible. I use the phrase "ongoing tale" not to disparage or minimize, but rather to remind that history occurs over time, is told and retold, and that like the French Revolution, the Arab Revolution(s) will take longer than a day, a week, a month, a season.

Protests near Egypt's Interior Ministry continued on February 3, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt with at least four people killed amid anger over the deaths of 74 football fans that were killed in clashes between rival fans in Port Said, Egypt. Three-days of mourning were announced and marches were scheduled to protest at the lack of protection provided by police who were at the stadium when the violence occurred. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

A woman embraces a child with a painted face during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy in London. The protest followed an overnight demonstration outside the embassy, amid reports from activists that Syrian forces had killed more than 200 people in an assault on the city of Homs, the bloodiest since the uprising began. FINBARR O'REILLY/REUTERS

There is much more that I would like to say about these events, and those ongoing in other MENA countries, but for now I will only say that I hope that reform will come as swiftly as possible, with the least damage possible, and that those guilty of crimes against their own people will be held accountable one way or another, even if they have to move perpetually through Dante's 2nd to 9th circles of Hell-- Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, Treachery. The 1st circle, Limbo, is too good for them.

Related Posts:
A Bastille Day Reminder: A Revolution Isn't Built In a Day--or a Spring
The Inevitability of a Victory for the Arab Spring--The Doha Debates Chez Chiara
Literature and Culture: 10 Literary Great Reads--Part I (# 1-5)
See also the Categories in the side bar: ArabiaHistory, GCC, Levant, MENA, NorthAfrica;
or search specific topics in the blog search function, also in the side bar.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

A protester suffering the effects of tear gas inhalation is treated in a triage unit February 2, 2012 in Cairo. (Ed Giles/Getty Images) More, and more graphic pictures can be seen at Egypt: protests over Port Said soccer deaths;

See source for full legend; See also interactive map of events of Syrian uprising since March 2011


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