Archive for June, 2006

Weirdos Welcome

Friday, June 30th, 2006

I swear, I must have a big sign on my forehead that says: Weirdos Welcome. I had barely sat down in my seat on the plane back from DC than the man to my left turned to me and said, clearly enunciating every word as though I was slow or something: “Hello. My name is Adam. We can talk during the flight if you want. But if you don’t want to, then we don’t have to.” I hadn’t even fastened my seatbelt yet! I mean, what is it about me that I always get the crazy ones? He talked about himself for three hours and forty-five minutes.



Thursday, June 29th, 2006

I am still in orientation or I should say, in my case, re-orientation here in Washington for my December trip to Morocco. I met some of the other fellows, scholars, and students, and of course, I’ve already found at least three personal connections back in Al-Maghrib: One student knows a college buddy of mine, another fellow has worked closely with an acquaintance, and yet another has taught English to the childen of a good friend. It’s a small world.

In Our Nation’s Capital

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

I am in Washington, DC, this week, for the Fulbright Fellowship orientation. On the plane over here, seated between a white-bearded man who kept offering me his bars of chocolate and his glass of orange juice, and a woman who kept telling her already-quiet baby to be quiet or she’d spank her, I caught up on my magazine reading.

I stopped subscribing to The Atlantic, but I bought it this month to read the cover story by Mary Anne Weaver about Zarqawi. It turned out to be a thoroughly researched, well-written and very engaging piece. There’s also a short piece by Nadya Labi about a young man who frequented Jihadi websites under the handle Irhabi 007. (Irhabi means ‘terrorist’ in Arabic.) He was eventually caught not because law enforcement came looking for him, but because individuals offered tips and had to be persistent in getting those tips to the right people. But there’s a disturbing aspect that could have been mined further in this piece, which is the work done by contractors/vigilantes like SITE, people who clearly have an agenda and don’t answer to anyone but themselves. The best part of the magazine remains its “critics” section. There’s a great, great piece by Sandra Tsing-Loh about American women and their finances, and also an excellent essay by Christopher Hitchens on Iranian literature, specifically the anthology Strange Times, My Dear, which I’ve mentioned frequently on this blog.

Speaking of Iran, Harper’s has a long piece by Christopher de Bellaigue on the current nuclear crisis. It’s filed from Tehran, where de Bellaigue lives, and it provides a much needed account of what ordinary Iranians think of the situation. There’s also a very thoughtful review by Robert Boyers of John Updike’s new novel, Terrorist. If you read only one piece of critical writing about that novel, make it this one. And of course reading Harper’s Index is always informative. Did you know that Americans rank atheists at the top of the list of people whom they are least willing to allow their children to marry? Muslims were second, African Americans were third. Hey, look at the bright side. The faithful are not as hated as the faithless.

As our plane was landing, the white-bearded man turned to me and told me that God blessed me, and that he wished all my dreams came true. I wondered if he’d still say that if he knew I was Number 2 on that list. But Amen anyway, brother.

Summer Reading List

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Last Friday, Annie Reed, blogging at Maud Newton’s, requested summer reading suggestions. I haven’t sent mine in yet, mostly because what I’ll be reading this summer is probably not going to be the kind of book you take to the beach or the pool. I’m trying to focus on books that will be of use to me with my current novel, for example by helping me to understand certain aspects of political Islam (and, more broadly, the way that religious/political ideologies gain followers.)

For example, I plan to read Fawaz Gerges’ Journey of the Jihadist, which is based on extensive interviews with militants, and chronicles one man’s descent–and possibly his return from–Jihadist ideology. (I do not recommend taking this book with you on the airplane to whatever faraway destination you’re headed to.)

I am also planning to read Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah. I didn’t like the excerpt from the book that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly a while back, but I am curious how Bowden will address the co-opting by the Ayatollah of the students who took over the American embassy. We’ll see.

Then there is Ismail Kadare’s The Successor. Several discerning readers, including my husband, have recommended this book very highly. I haven’t read Kadare in years–since my teens, I think–and I have never read him in English. So this should be a very special treat.

Another book that came highly recommended–from readers as far away as my hometown of Rabat, Morocco–is Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française. Everyone is praising it to the high heavens. I hope it lives up to the recommendations.

Can you believe I haven’t yet gotten to Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss? I had just started it a couple of months ago when I was assigned something to review and had to set it aside. So I’m hoping to get into it for good this time.

Every summer I try to read older books–classics, really–that I’ve missed out on, and correct my ignorance. This year, I’m hoping to finally read Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear, Buchi Emecheta’s Head Above Water and Mongo Beti’s Mission to Kala.

And of course summer is also a good time to check out galleys of fall 2006 releases. The ones I have set aside to read are Leila Aboulela’s The Translator, Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun and Ahmed Alaidy’s Being Abbas El-Abd.

Moment in Balboa

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

This month, photographer Ibarionex Perello sends in this picture, taken in Balboa Park, in San Diego.


I like the juxtaposition of the different lines and shapes in the photo, and the sharpness of the nenuphar. One could almost touch it.

Ramadan Wins Court Case

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan, who had been denied a U.S. visa that would have enabled him to start teaching at Notre Dame last year, has just won a court case that essentially forces the government to process his application. The case was brought on by Professor Ramadan in conjunction with PEN American center, the ACLU, the American Academy of Religion, and the American Association of University Professors, to challenge a provision of the PATRIOT Act that had barred him from entering the U.S. to teach or to take part in PEN’s World Voices festival.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty ruled that:

while the Executive may exclude an alien for almost any reason, it cannot do so solely because the Executive disagrees with the content of the alien’s speech and therefore wants to prevent the alien from sharing this speech with a willing American audience.

A good day’s work. You can read all about it on PEN’s website.

Portland Event: Jami Attenberg

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Tonight I will be cheering on Jami Attenberg as she reads from her debut novel, Instant Love:

Jami Attenberg reads from Instant Love
Powell’s City of Books
10th and Burnside
7:30 pm

See you there!

Djebbar In L’Académie

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Assia Djebbar, who earlier this year was elected to the Académie Française, has officially joined ‘Les Immortels’ at a ceremony last Thursday. She will take over fauteuil numéro 5 from Georges Revel. You can read her (very moving) speech here.

L’Afrique du Nord, du temps de l’Empire français, – comme le reste de l’Afrique de la part de ses coloniaux anglais, portugais ou belges – a subi, un siècle et demi durant, dépossession de ses richesses naturelles, déstructuration de ses assises sociales, et, pour l’Algérie, exclusion dans l’enseignement de ses deux langues identitaires, le berbère séculaire, et la langue arabe dont la qualité poétique ne pouvait alors, pour moi, être perçue que dans les versets coraniques qui me restent chers.

Mesdames et Messieurs, le colonialisme vécu au jour le jour par nos ancêtres, sur quatre générations au moins, a été une immense plaie ! Une plaie dont certains ont rouvert récemment la mémoire, trop légèrement et par dérisoire calcul électoraliste. En 1950 déjà, dans son “Discours sur le Colonialisme” le grand poète Aimé Césaire avait montré, avec le souffle puissant de sa parole, comment les guerres coloniales en Afrique et en Asie ont, en fait, “décivilisé” et “ensauvagé”, dit-il, l’Europe. (…)

La langue française, la vôtre, Mesdames et Messieurs, devenue la mienne, tout au moins en écriture, le français donc est lieu de creusement de mon travail, espace de ma méditation ou de ma rêverie, cible de mon utopie peut-être, je dirai même ; tempo de ma respiration, au jour le jour : ce que je voudrais esquisser, en cet instant où je demeure silhouette dressée sur votre seuil.

Je me souviens, l’an dernier, en Juin 2005, le jour où vous m’avez élue à votre Académie, aux journalistes qui quêtaient ma réaction, j’avais répondu que “J’étais contente pour la francophonie du Maghreb”. La sobriété s’imposait, car m’avait saisie la sensation presque physique que vos portes ne s’ouvraient pas pour moi seule, ni pour mes seuls livres, mais pour les ombres encore vives de mes confrères – écrivains, journalistes, intellectuels, femmes et hommes d’Algérie qui, dans la décennie quatre-vingt-dix ont payé de leur vie le fait d’écrire, d’exposer leurs idées ou tout simplement d’enseigner… en langue française.

Depuis, grâce à Dieu, mon pays cautérise peu à peu ses blessures.

‘Faith & Reason’ on PBS

Monday, June 26th, 2006

As has been widely reported, Bill Moyers is doing a series of interviews on faith and reason for PBS. His first guest was Salman Rushdie, and I was lucky enough to catch the show on TV the other day. Rushdie’s answers were, as usual, quite thoughtful, and I agreed with much of what he said (though I disagreed with a couple of his positions, particularly in regards to women.) Other interviewees will include Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, David Grossman and Jeanette Winterson, and the shows will be aired throughout the summer.

Help, There Are Illegal Immigrants Under My Bed!!

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Novelist Lionel Shriver is pissed off at illegal immigrants because, among other things,

3) Having followed the rules on immigration – and complicated rules they are – I resent folks who cheat and get away with it. 4) The entire world seems to believe they have a right to live in my country, but it doesn’t work the other way around; other countries are as defensive of their borders as they are oblivious of mine, and I bristle at the double standard.

The problem here is that Shriver conflates two responsibilities. Migration from one country to another happens as a result of individuals’ actions, while border control–whether in countries that receive or send immigrants–falls under the purview of government action. Being angry at illegal immigrants here in the U.S. because of the way their home countries’ governments act toward immigrants from a third country is silly. If these illegal immigrants could control their governments, they probably would have forced them to create jobs so they wouldn’t have had to come here in the first place.

Shriver’s aversion to illegal immigration has worsened, she says, since visiting the U.S. recently:

I have got the immigration bug worse than usual since I flew into JFK this week, where the jumble of foreigners queuing at passport control was indistinguishable from the jumble of foreigners – taxi drivers, fast-food vendors – on the other side of customs.

What’s with the assumption that the taxi drivers and fast-food vendors in New York are ‘foreigners’? How does she know whether they are native born American, naturalized Americans, or immigrants–let alone legal or illegal? Or is it their skin color that pegs them as foreigners?

The rest of the article is an indignant denunciation of the American system, which Shriver believes encourages illegal immigration because of loopholes in the law, and because the law itself is never applied. Rather than direct her anger at illegal immigrants, Shriver would do well to ask why those loopholes exist. I’ll tell you why: Because this government is quite happy to have cheap labor who a) will do the babysitting, elderly care, washing, cooking, cleaning, and oh yes, even fire-fighting, b) will contribute millions of dollars in sales taxes and other taxes, c) has no representation in Congress and cannot vote and, most important, d) can be used to ‘wag the dog’ when something else goes wrong–an illegal and immoral war for example.

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