My review of Reza Aslan’s excellent No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam appeared in the Sunday Oregonian. Here is an excerpt:
Debates [between traditionalists and reformers], Aslan concludes, show that Islam is as ordinary in its development as Christianity or Judaism: It is going through the same tensions between traditionalists and reformers that its monotheistic predecessors have. At this moment in its history, Aslan says, the Ulama, or clerics, still wield an enormous amount of power over the interpretation of faith in most Muslim countries, as well as a large amount of control over matters of the state in places such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Afghanistan. But that is changing, with reformers in Iran, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and the United States speaking up and demanding changes.
In much of “No god but God,” Aslan castigates the Ulama for the powers they have retained. But Aslan himself is an alim of sorts. While he might claim to be a mere scholar of the Islamic Reformation, he is also one of its most articulate advocates.
Read it in full here.
Here’s an interesting (but somewhat disjointed) interview of Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose next novel, Desertion, is due out in the U.S. in the summer. And over at The Guardian, Adam Mars-Jones reviews the novel, of whose title he says that it “presides over the book from a strange distance, never quite attaching itself to the characters or their doings.”
The Guardian has a fascinating profile by Maya Jaggi of the legendary Senegalese novelist/screenwriter/director Ousmane Sembene. (His latest film, Moolade, was released in the U.S. late last year, and is opening in Britain this week.) Sembene started his career as a novelist, but turned to film in order to reach a wider audience in Africa. I was particularly interested in this tidbit about African cinema and how it is regressing due to many factors, including the obvious one: economics.
Sembene has always been uncomfortable with French sponsorship and patronage, though what is known as African cinema, Shiri points out, “was born out of France’s desire to retain cultural influence in the continent”, through subsidies to officially approved films. Sembene increasingly taps EU coffers. “I go everywhere, knock on all doors,” he says.
According to Talbot, he has “always been in total financial control of his work; he has all his negatives.” For Sembene, “Africa is my audience; the west and the rest are markets.” But he feels the chronic distribution problem in Africa (where many commercial cinemas offer a diet of Bollywood and kung fu) has “gone backwards not forwards, especially in francophone countries”. Outside festivals, Gadjigo says, “it is hard to see African films in Africa. African leaderships don’t see the role cinema can play in development,” and 90% of Senegalese cinemas have closed in the past 10 years. Shiri notes that under IMF belt-tightening in the 1980s and 90s, “governments weren’t given any leeway to support culture”.
Read the rest here.
Over at Egypt Today, Manal el-Jesri revisits last November’s Frankfurt Book Fair, where the Arab world was the guest of honor, and asks:
Did we expect too much from a five-day event? More importantly: Did we arm ourselves with the needed tools? Yes to the first, no to the second.
El-Jesri discusses coverage in German vs. Arab media, the poor efforts by publishers to sell their books’ rights to European presses, and the lack of content diversity in the Arab Publishers’ offerings. But the fair was not a lost opportunity, he says, and there is still time to act before the next edition.
You can read other recaps and articles about the 2004 Frankfurt Book Fair in Moorishgirl’s archives.
Colombian painter Botero will soon be showing a series of paintings inspired by the treatment of Iraqi detainees by U.S. troops in the Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq. (Caution: Graphic material.) You can view a selection here, where you can also read an interview with the artist. And here’s an interesting snippet, where Botero discusses what Abu-Ghraib meant to him and whether politically-inspired art is valid.
“En el momento de la gestacion o creacion de estas nuevas obras sintie que existia alguna similitud entre estos dos hechos de horror?
-No. La situacion es distinta. La violencia en Colombia casi siempre es producto de la ignorancia, la falta de educacion y la injusticia social. Lo de Abu Ghraib es un crimen cometido por la mas grande Armada del mundo olvidando la Convencion de Ginebra sobre el trato a los prisioneros.
“Espera que esta serie, que seguramente sera polemica, tenga efecto politico en el mundo?
-No. El arte nunca tuvo ese poder. El artista deja un testimonio que adquiere importancia a lo largo del tiempo si la obra es artisticamente valida.
The paintings are not for sale, and will remain part of Botero’s private collection.
The Washington Post‘s Marcia Davis catches up with Ha Jin, who recently won the PEN/Faulkner award for his novel War Trash.
He has come to accept the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for his work “War Trash,” a novel about a Chinese Army veteran of the Korean War who ends up in a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp.
Jin is honored, of course, pleased that others find his work deserving. But he is not fooled either, not caught up in the flash and glitter of the literati life or any idea that winning awards — and he’s captured quite a few in the relatively short time he’s been in the United States — means more than a moment of recognition. That is not his style.
“To become a winner is by luck,” he says in his soft-spoken and heavily accented English. “Among the finalists, many of them are winners of other awards. That shows [winning] depends on so many things, including the judges’ tastes. But a book has to be good to become a finalist.”
It’s simultaneously refreshing and sobering to hear Ha Jin say that he’s “still struggling” and that he “could fail at any moment.” Read on.
Link via Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.
Am I an eternal optimist or does it seem as though stories like this one, of artistic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, are becoming more common these days? A welcome trend, for sure:
The Palestinians and the Israelis get about equal stage time in Ms. Muskal’s version of “The Yellow Wind.” The piece features the vocalists Keren Hadar and Mira Awad singing in Hebrew and Arabic, and work by the Israeli poets Shaul Tchernichovsky, Natan Alterman and Natan Yonatan. The Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish’s “I Am From There,” featured in the composition, says: “I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: home.”
Brian Lehrer, the WNYC radio moderator and talk show host, will be the narrator.
Ms. Muskal took lessons in Arabic music and learned enough Arabic to set the words to music fluently.
Bassam Saba, a Long Island-based musician who plays the nay, an Arab flute, is onstage the whole time. He helped familiarize Ms. Muskal with Arabic music. “I saw how she thinks to force these two cultures together, composition-wise,” he said.
“It follows all the discovery and connections between people on earth now,” Mr. Saba continued. “People are looking for each other more. It represents this kind of cultural communication. For me, it was important to look for this marriage, coming from the Middle East.”
On a related note, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which emerged out of a cooperation between Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim, is still active and will tour again this summer.
The Casablanca bombings, which took the lives of 45 people, most of them Moroccans, happened two years ago today. There’s some coverage in the press, most of it filed from Sidi Moumen, the slum a few miles north of the city, where the suicide bombers lived prior to the attacks. In the L.A. Times Scheherazade Faramarzi speaks to the families of the two bombers who fled the scene without detonating their bombs, and who are now on death row. In the Boston Globe Charles Radin talks to the victims’ families and to organizers of several gatherings in commemoration of the events. In US News and World Report Thomas Omestad offers a more comprehensive view of how the country has changed since May 16, 2003, including the tensions between reformers and islamists, legal advances and setbacks, and what it means for the future. And in the Morocco Times, Karima Rhanem talks about the commemorative events planned this year in Casablanca. For those who can read French, I highly recommend the Moroccan weekly magazine Tel Quel, which has excellent investigative pieces and penetrating commentary by Moroccans about Morocco.
Thanks to Randa for minding the site on Friday. I posted a bunch of items for Monday, but things are awfully busy this week (in a good way) so posting may be sporadic.