Gay bullying: the dead

Last week I heard of a number of young gay men who had committed suicide lately as a result of cyber-bullying, but the only name I could google up was that of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi. Now the other names have emerged.

Tyler Clementi
Seth Walsh
Justin Aaberg
Raymond Chase
Asher Brown
Billy Lucas

[Thanks, Jason Derrick of  Wear Purple Day on Oct 20 --but careful, site may be NSFW as it keeps filling up with hate comments]

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More names of the dead from the Facebook page:

“Please add Victoria Carmen White to your thoughts/prayers. Victoria was a transgender woman that was murdered last week. Her gender was then disrespected by the police reports and her death was largely ignored by the media.”

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“I think the worst part is that this didn’t just stem from school bullying… RIP
A week after attending a Norman City Council meeting where a heated debate played out in public, 19-year-old Zach Harrington took own life after week of ‘toxic’ comments…

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Nizar Qabbani

I shall write of my girlfriends,
of inmates’ lives sucked dry by jail,
and magazine pages that consume women’s time,
and of the doors that fail to open.

So Rajaa Alsanea (Girls of Riyadh) quotes Nizar Qabbani, “the women’s poet, and if anyone doesn’t like my saying so they can go drink from the sea.”

[image: wikipedia]

The poet Nizar Qabbani, whose sister killed herself when he was 14 rather than marry a man she didn’t want, is perhaps best known for his love poems:

Love Compared

I do not resemble your other lovers, my lady
should another give you a cloud
I give you rain
Should he give you a lantern, I
will give you the moon
Should he give you a branch
I will give you the trees
And if another gives you a ship
I shall give you the journey.

I have tried to find this in Arabic, and it simply isn’t to be found, although it gets quoted in English on enough forums.

But there are some other poems in Arabic and English, a rather astonishing assortment,  including the severe البغي The Whore, and his controversial Bread, Hashish and Moonlight, here (via google books).

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Koran 13:11

Does Allah help those who help themselves? This Koranic ayah was cited in Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh. I have used it as the subject of a small Sura Koran, the framed calligraphy art favored by a people whose religion discourages graven images.  You find the framed verses in homes, always over the door leading outside. The Arabic text is: إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا۟ مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ

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Verily, Allah does not change a people’s condition until they change what is in themselves.
QUR’AN, SURAT AL-RA’D
(The Chapter of Thunder), Verse 11

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Banned in Riyadh

Last week I saw a copy of Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh at the local thrift shop and couldn’t resist. I read the first five chapters at one sitting, and was reminded again of one of the things I like least about the Arab culture–what one American described as the bubblegum aspect–a sort of lack of depth or focus on superficialities.  (By way of illustration, as I recall, the administrators of a program I knew of in Jordan were called Gucci and Channel behind their backs.) But Alsanea tells the stories engagingly and you are very quickly swept into her world, and believe you have met her characters somewhere before–perhaps on the Majoob forums.

Today I was googling something completely different and was gratified to find out the book had been banned in Riyadh. It was later unbanned, but no matter, so was Huckleberry Finn.  I love to read banned books.

In an interview Rajaa Alsanea talked about her book:

“There was always a gap between intellectuals and readers, whether it was due to the very sophisticated language used in the books or the fact that young people in Saudi preferred to read blogs. The more sophisticated you sound, the more intellectual you were. That was the attitude. Also novels written in Saudi were mostly written by older male authors.

“I was criticised for using Saudi dialect in the novel but I did that on purpose as I didn’t have that urge to be distant from my readers. I wanted to write a novel that I saw myself in as a young girl in Saudi Arabia. I was also criticised for the title that was very general, but I wanted something that describes many of the different types of women I see on a daily basis in my country.”

People often ask her which one of the four girls, five if you count the narrator, represents herself. They also want to know if she is still friends with the others.

“Actually, there were no girlfriends in real life. It’s all fiction. The stories do happen. These were more than four characters. The stories were gathered from 50 or 100 girls in Saudi. I did put parts of my personality in each one of them and I do relate with the stories that I wrote about. Most girls in Saudi relate to one or other of them. The book is not about a personal experience – it’s about a generation’s experiences.”

The book was originally published in Lebanon, in Arabic as Banat Al-Riyadh. According to the author’s note in the front of the book, “In my Arabic version of the novel I interspersed the classical Arabic with languages that reflects the mongrel Arabic of the modern world–there was Saudi dialect (several of them), and Lebanese-Arabic, English-Arabic and more.”
The interview is no longer available online and can only be accessed by google cache.  The interview in its entirety is below the fold.

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Dead bread

You can tell Halloween is approaching. Yesterday I found dead bread in the supermarket. This is the traditional Mexican bread, pan de muerto, made for Dia de los Muertos. I think this one is meant to be bones. The Mexican bakeries will also have bread in the shape of a man. Like much Mexican bread this one is slightly sweet and unremarkable, except for the addition of nuts.

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Universe

If one must go downtown for some unpleasant bureaucratic purpose, Chicago still has some delights to compensate.  One of these is Calder’s “The Universe”, a mechanical sculpture inside the entrance of the Willis building.

Years ago, when this was still called the Sears Tower, there was a bizarre air current on the west side of the building, and on windy days people could barely walk past.  You could see them bent nearly horizontal as they battled the wind.

Then an additional curved entrance was built and the wind currents seemed to be defeated.

When I returned to Chicago, this building was surrounded by Jersey barriers.  As the tallest building in Chicago, someone was convinced there was a terrorist threat against it.  Now the barriers are gone, and while this has never been a well-loved building, it does have its charm.

The Calder is down the stairs.

Calder himself was said to have been in town for the grand unveiling of his sculpture.  His reported words, “Shall we crank it up?”

Update: the sculpture is apparently the subject of a lawsuit.

October 5, 2010
In July, officials with Sears notified the investor group that they were moving to buy back the multi-piece mobile at half its appraised value as allowed under a 1994 agreement, according to the lawsuit filed by the owners last week in Cook County Circuit Court.

Chicago attorney George Collins, who represents the investor group, indicated that Sears officials said they wanted to move the sculpture out of the tower but would not specify where it might be relocated. The group has asked a judge to block the purchase, arguing that the buy-back agreement was terminated long ago.

“We believe it is part of the building and part of Chicago,” declared Collins, who said the Willis owners estimate it would cost roughly $250,000 to remove the artwork.

“This is not like picking up a suitcase. This is quite a big thing,” Collins said.

Fishing in unclear water

I learned a new expression in Arabic today: يصطاد في الماء العكر pronounced “yastahd fee al-mah al-aker”, meaning “fishing in unclear water.”

Say your boss is giving you a hard time. Then, say someone who doesn’t like your boss gets promoted above her. Now your boss is reporting to someone who won’t listen to her, who won’t take her seriously or be on her side. Now you are in a position to push back on your boss because she can’t go and complain to her own boss and get action. If things were “clear” between them you would be fishing in clear water and you would not have any leverage, but because of the conflict between them, you are “fishing in unclear water” and have influence you would not have otherwise, and can more easily enforce expectations of professional behavior.

Posted in Arabic. 1 Comment »
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