These are all the Blogs posted on Monday, 10, 2012.
Monday, 10 December 2012
Trailer: The Innocent Prophet
This film is going to be released online on Friday. The movie's maker, Imran Firasat, has received word from the Spanish government informing him that if he or Stand Up America Now continue on and release the film on December 14 in Madrid Spain, then his residency status will be revoked. He will be detained, locked in prison under the excuse of being a danger to national security, then deported back to Pakistan where he would be killed because he is facing a death sentence due to his criticism of Islam.
Birds of a feather flock together: and if birds could be tweedy rather than feathery, I would be of that genus or species. With others of my ageing type, I assemble outside provincial book fairs waiting tremulously for them to open, as drinkers waited outside pubs in the days when they still had opening and closing hours. We all rush in, hopeful of finding something special and fearful that others will find it first. It isn’t only fish that get away.
How many hours, among the happiest of my life, have I spent in the dusty, damp or dismal purlieus of second-hand bookshops, where mummified silverfish, faded pressed flowers and very occasionally love letters are to be found in books long undisturbed on their shelves. With what delight do I find the word ''scarce’’ pencilled in on the flyleaf by the bookseller, though the fact that the book has remained unsold for years, possibly decades, suggests that purchasers are scarcer still.
Alas, second-hand bookshops are closing daily, driven out of business by the combination of a general decline in reading, the internet and that most characteristic of all modern British institutions, the charity shop. Booksellers tell me that 90 per cent of their overheads arise from their shops, and 90 per cent of their sales from the internet. Except for the true antiquarian dealers, whose customers are aficionados of the first state and the misprint on page 287, second-hand bookshops make less and less economic sense.
Second-hand booksellers are not in it for the money, of course: it is probably easier to make a good living on social security. The booksellers love books, though not necessarily their purchasers, and in their way are learned men. When they have been in the trade for many years they know everything about books except, possibly, their content. Possessed of astonishing memories, they say things like “I haven’t seen another copy since 1978”. Some of them seem destined to be mummified among their books like the silverfish, and probably cannot conceive of a better way to die.
Neither can I. The Rev Thomas Dibdin tells the story in his book The Bibliomania, or Book-Madness: History, Symptoms and Cure of this Fatal Disease (first edition 1809, 87 pages; second edition 1811, 782 pages) of a bibliomaniac who, on his deathbed, excitedly sent out for books from the catalogue of a bookseller, his obsession keeping him happy until the very moment of his death. Alas, his library of 50,000 books was sold posthumously for a third of what it cost him; but if the really important business of life is to die well, then no better death could be imagined.
Booksellers tell stories that they regard as tall when they are in the mouths of others of their trade: they are a jealous and envious lot. But they all say that libraries around the country are disembarrassing themselves of 17th- to 19th-century books because, rarely consulted, they are deemed to waste space that could more usefully be devoted to computer stations and multiple copies of Dan Brown, much in demand.
Certainly, those of us who like ancient books on arcane subjects have noticed that many of our purchases emanate from institutions of learning. It makes no difference that Mrs Theobald Smedley-Wilkins left Lead Poisoning in the Later Roman Empire to an institution in perpetuity in memory of her late husband, Alderman Theobald Smedley-Wilkins. The librarian takes his revenge upon the now redundant work by stamping it sadistically with a large and ugly “withdrawn”, thus successfully reducing its resale value. This means that those of us who would like to leave books to public institutions as being exceptionally rare or even unique now think twice about doing so.
Customers of second-hand booksellers, such as I, are also a rum lot. What kind of person spends two-and-a-half hours in a shop and then havers indecisively over whether he really wants a copy of Augustine Birrell’s (unjustly) forgotten essays marked at £3? If he fails to buy it, he will regret it the moment the shop has closed or he can’t get back to it. If, on the other hand, he (and customers are almost always he) buys a book that his wife will find outrageously expensive by comparison, say, with a pair of shoes, or even a single shoe, he will ask the bookseller to rub out the price. All booksellers are so familiar with this pattern that they are ready with their rubbers even as their customers buy.
Browsing among the shelves is rewarding in a way that surfing the internet (the largest second-hand books website searches through 140 million volumes for sale, or says it does – I haven’t counted) can never be. Of course, if there is a particular book that you want urgently, the internet is a wonder: you type in the title, you pay by credit card, the book arrives the next day. There is no need any longer to resort to the bookfinder, that strange professional searcher after needles in haystacks, who guards his sources more jealously than any journalist and, I suspect, would not reveal them under torture.
But serendipity is the greatest pleasure of browsing, and there is no substitute for being able to hold the physical book in one’s hand. Among other things to be found in books are the markings of previous readers. When I first started buying antiquarian books I rejected those that had been marked, but now I find the markings sometimes more interesting than the books, and certainly revealing of the byways of human psychology.
There are, for example, those who seem to read hundreds of pages with the express purpose of finding the single spelling mistake or misprint contained in them and underlining it, putting a triumphant exclamation mark in the margin, as though finding the error established their intellectual superiority to the author. (Of course, they attribute all errors to the author and none to the printer.)
Then there are the underliners. The majority of these rarely get past the first chapter or two; some underline things so banal – Smith then went to London, for example, or The snow fell in flakes – that one wonders what kind of mind wants to commit such things to memory. Philosophy books of the Forties and Fifties, meanwhile, tend to smell strongly of tobacco.
The joy of finding something that one did not know existed, and that is deeply interesting or connected in a totally unexpected way with one’s intellectual interests of the moment, is one of the great serendipitous rewards of browsing, and one unknown to those who take a purely instrumental view of bookshops, leaving them the moment they discover that they do not have the very book that they want.
As for us aficionados, the strange thing is that one is guided by a kind of instinct to the right shelf. For example, in Manchester recently I found a small bookshop with so little stock that I wondered how it survived. For some reason I picked from the shelf a slim paperback entitled Making Sense of the NHS Complaints and Disciplinary Procedures – an illustration of an important literary principle, namely that there is no subject so boring that no one has written a book about it.
This little book had so many bullet points that one felt one’s brain had been attacked by a Maxim gun; in the foreword, Sir Donald Irvine, erstwhile president of the General Medical Council, wrote the following one: “The early recognition of dysfunctional doctors, adequate public protection, and the chance of effective mediation before damage dependent on sound local self-regulation in which doctors know what their duties and responsibilities are, and how to make the system work.”
Why on earth did I hone in on this book, so dull and tedious? There was a slip of paper in the book. It was a review copy, and had been sent out by a medical publication to a doctor for review. The doctor in question was Dr Harold Shipman, and the book had obviously been read thoroughly. I bought it for £5, not as a memento mori but as a reminder of the irony of human existence.
Officials in Sudan say they have captured an electronically-tagged vulture suspected of being dispatched by Israel on a spying mission.
The avian discovery was made in Kereinek, a town in the Darfur region of western Sudan, Sudanese officials are said to have concluded that the bird was a secret agent after discovering it was fitted with GPS and solar-powered equipment . . . The vulture also had a tag attached to its leg with "Israel Nature Service" and "Hebrew University, Jerusalem", leading to accusations that it was on an Israeli surveillance mission.
Israeli officials have acknowledged that the bird, which can fly up to 375 miles a day, had been tagged with Israeli equipment but insisted it was being used to study migration patterns.
Ohad Hazofe, an ecologist with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, told the website, Ynet, that it was one of 100 vultures fitted in October with a GPS system equipped to take distance and altitude readings but not surveillance images. "That's the only way we knew something had happened to the bird – all of a sudden it stopped flying and started travelling on the ground," he said.
I have a news letter from Magen David Adom UK (Israels emergency medical service) who have been asked to help the new country of South Sudan (the Christian bit which separated from the persecution of the Muslim north earlier this year after years of civil war) with medical aid. I wish both the South Sudanese and the Israelis all the best.
How An Arab Analyst Misunderstands Ba'athism, Because He Fails To Grasp The Effect Of Islam
Hijacking the people’s voice without postponement
By Eyad Abu Shakra
10 December 2012
“In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place”
(the Mahatma Gandhi)
The vices of the pre-Arab Spring regimes were numerous, but one of the most salient was that they almost conceiled the probable vices of the incoming regimes.
The reliance of the former regimes of Tunisia, Egypt and, as well as the outgoing Bahar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria, on their security agencies in dealing with their peoples, created suitable conditions for plunder, corruption and nepotism under the aegis of voracious and unscrupulous ruling families.
The “family - controlled police states” managed to govern for several decades during which political life stagnated, and citizens fell easy prey to despair, over-expectations and confusion in visions and priorities.
Throughout the Arab world, the last four decades have been a period of the collapse and demise of several ambitions and slogans. It has also witnessed the end of what were unquestioned preconceptions that the people lived through questioning neither their nature nor their repercussions.
After 1967 - i.e. the Arab defeat in the Five Days’ War - the nationalist option was shaken. It soon collapsed in the aftermath of the “Black September” 1970 events in Jordan; and eventually, died with the Camp David Accords. Then, by 1989 when the Soviet Bloc disintegrated, the socialist and progressive Arab option disintegrated too.
In fact, what for a while had looked like radical regimes of “struggle” against the Israeli occupation of Palestine later metamorphosed into “police states” whose primary aim was to domesticate their citizens, and “occupy” their own countries rather than “liberate” Palestine. They also deserted their loose “progressive” slogans to become confessional, tribal, clannish and “mafia-style” entities.
Is it not interesting that a political party like the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party, which has long preached “one Arab nation” that extends from Mauritania to Somalia and Eritrea (!) has failed to unify the twin states of Iraq and Syria, in spite of being in power in the two states, simultaneously, for around 40 years? Why did it fail?
For three reasons: First, it has ceased to be a party following a series of break ups and splinters. Second, it has moved away from “Arab Renaissance” (i.e. Arab Ba’th) to become warring confessional, clannish and territorial factions. Third, it has turned away from its socialist ideal when its ruling “mafia families” amassed huge fortunes.
[The author, Eyad Abu Shakra, fails to grasp that Ba'athism, originally an attempt by non-Sunnis -- the two founders were a Christian and a Shia Muslim -- to fit into the Sunni Arab political universe -- soon was used as a "Pan-Arab" camouflage for two different kinds of despotisms. In Syria, it was the despotism of the Alawites, who are 12% of the population and must hold in check Sunni Arabs who constitute 70% of the population. In Iraq, it was the despotism of the Sunni Arabs, who constituted less than 20% of the population of Iraq, and wanted to disguise their Sunni Arab rule over non-Arab Kurds, Christians and, especially, the Shi'a Arabs who outnumbered the Sunnis three to one. But to recognize this, the author of this piece would have to grasp how Islam, and the fear (by Chriistians, Shi'a and even some secular Sunnis) of fanatical Sunni Islam , or the fear of Sunni Muslimswho understood that violence and aggression comes naturally to Muslims, and that includes the Shi'a Muslims whom, in Iraq, they continued to dominate.]
Qaddafi’s Libya suffered the systematic destruction of the “state apparatus”, in addition to exploiting tribal and territorial sensitivities within the country, even within one governorate such as Misrata Governorate, where old tensions still engulf its two major towns Misrata and Beni Walid.
With Tunisia and Egypt, however, the situation is quite different. In both countries the “state” institutions are still there, manifested by strong unified army and police, advanced trades unions’ base, and westernised cosmopolitan elites, in spite of the fact that both countries lived under the aura of the two “historical” leaderships of Bourguiba and Nasser.
Islam has also been prominent and ever present in both countries thanks to Az-Zeitouna and Al-Azhar, which makes it obvious that “political islam” should seek to play a leading political role after the demise of regimes that for a long period used it as a bogeyman against their liberal and modernist critics. Actually, it has been noticeable that the attempts by the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes to ostracize and isolate pragmatic Islamist movements, like Ennahda of Tunisia and the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, only managed to make these movements more flexible, adept, and experienced in maneuvering and mobilisation.
The two aforementioned movements, while being the true incubators for more extremists Islamic groups, have also been able to use the increasing strength of the more hardline fundamentalists, jihadists and “takfirists”, to pose as “centrists” and “moderates” capable of co-existing with the “opposite opinion”; indeed, as an obvious and indispensable partner to those in the “opposite” camp.
Since the early days of 2011 both Tunisia’s Ennahda and Egypt’s Muslim Brothers have presented themselves as “revolutionaries” who are willing to be partners in their respective revolutions, and subsequently, the democratic process which is based in all democracies on the principle that “the people are source of legitimacy and government power”. This is quite a serious challenge for two religion-based movements guided by Shari’a. Cutting corners in vibrant societies like those in Tunisia and Egypt is not an easy matter, which is why perhaps, we are witnessing the teething problems suffered at present by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.
The two major Islamic movements were until then successful in avoiding any serious rifts with their partners in their respective revolutions. However, wise observers seem to have been convinced from the start that such interest-based partnership are bound to be short-lived. Divorce would take place once the old regime is toppled.
In Tunisia Ennahda emerged as a winner in the first post-Ben Ali elections, but was unable able to gain an absolute majority, thus, it had to seek a governing coalition with its major leftist and liberal rivals. What happened in Egypt was different; the Muslim Brothers and other Islamist groups managed to win around two thirds of the parliamentary seats thanks to the fragmented no-Islamist camp.
Such a scene is very interesting when one tries to explain how the two Islamist movements are dealing with the current revolutionary realities.
Ennahda, already heading the government, have been embarrassed by the excesses of the Tunisian fundamentalist groups. Due to their keenness not to allow their liberal and leftist rivals enough time to come together in a broad front against “political islam”, they have decides to pick a fight with the powerful Tunisian Trades Union.
In Egypt, on the other hand, the Islamist president Dr Mohammed Mursi only won his re-run presidential election by less than 2 % of the vote, a significant drop in support from the parliamentary elections. But in spite of his slender victory he managed to commit a series of political mistakes all of which show that it is unlikely that the Muslim Brothers are willing tof share power with anybody. The justifications readily used for every mistake have been “government by numerical majority” and “protecting the revolution.”
President Musri seems to have forgotten that a good percentage of those who voted for him in the re-run presidential election were actually voting against his rival (Ahmed Shafiq, a former Mubarak’s friend Gen) rather than endorsing Musri and his Islamist agenda. In fact many of those are now demonstrating against him.
Mursi must have also forgotten that constitutions are based on broad national consensus not temporary majorities. Last but not least, in a country which claims that it has chosen the path of democracy the people must be the source of authority nor the Supremr Guide of The Muslim Brotherhood.
What majority is president Mursi talking about? Is it that majority that allows Binyamin Netanyahu to sabotage within Israel the two-states solution to the Palestinian Problem? Is it the past majorities of segregationist American politicians in pre-civil right Southern U.S. states?
If President Musri is really eager to hear the voice of the people - the whole people - then he must realise that the people’s wishes will not totally change in a month. Thus, would it so bad if the voting on a dubious, discriminatory and potentially divisive constitution is postponed?
(The writer is a columnist at the London-based Asharq al-Awsat, where this article was published on Dec. 10, 2012)