Egypt. Again.

Some Egypt commentary.

Game Over: The Chance for Democracy in Egypt is Lost” asserts that the military is firmly in control, and Egypt’s future, now that Mubarak’s civilian  son Gamal is out of the picture, will be “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”:

The threat to the military’s control of the Egyptian political system is passing. Millions of demonstrators in the street have not broken the chain of command over which President Mubarak presides. Paradoxically the popular uprising has even ensured that the presidential succession will not only be engineered by the military, but that an officer will succeed Mubarak. The only possible civilian candidate, Gamal Mubarak, has been chased into exile, thereby clearing the path for the new vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman….

The last challenge remaining is economic. Even before demonstrations broke out a few weeks ago, the economy was just limping along. It is now broken. Even in the best-case scenario of a rapid return to stability, Egypt faces a cash crunch. Capital flight, loss of foreign direct investment, drying up of tourist revenues, downgrading of sovereign debt and commensurate increase in interest, and lost earnings from interrupted production will all hammer the revenue side of the balance sheet. The expenditure side will be placed under yet more stress by acceleration of inflation already running at 10 percent, devaluation of the currency, and need to repair damage resulting from the clashes. Egypt will have to turn to its “friends” if it is to avert economic disaster and if the regime that just narrowly survived defeat is not to be challenged yet again.

Game Over!” views the protests as an outgrowth of exponential population growth

Nothing symbolizes the fact that this is Generation Next Rising more than the widely used slogan “Game Over!” The generation who grew up playing video games and whose language incorporates international-video-game-English is turning against the gerontocracy.

In 50 years, less than two generations, Egypt’s population has exploded from less than 30 million to close to 75 million. Its population pyramid looks like a pyramid sitting on a huge raised dais as the vast majority of the population are under 30 years old, with a median age of 24….

I spoke with many highly educated young people who chafe at their economic marginalization, who are alternately depressed and angry about the fact that their talents, ambitions and best years are going to waste and who want out, nothing more than out.

Without wanting to compare Iran and Egypt in any way, population pressure is real across much of the Middle East, and indeed the global South, and it has generated masses of angry, frustrated and largely hopeless youths….

To date, the marginalized youths of the global South have mostly been kept at bay by plying them with video games and virtual worlds – the social equivalent to parenting-by-TV. English has been part and parcel of those virtual worlds….

The most sensible analysis comes from “Why Mubarak is out“:

Many international media commentators – and some academic and political analysts – are having a hard time understanding the complexity of forces driving and responding to these momentous events. This confusion is driven by the binary “good guys versus bad guys” lenses most use to view this uprising. Such perspectives obscure more than they illuminate. There are three prominent binary models out there and each one carries its own baggage:  (1) People versus Dictatorship: This perspective leads to liberal naïveté and confusion about the active role of military and elites in this uprising. (2) Seculars versus Islamists: This model leads to a 1980s-style call for “stability” and Islamophobic fears about the containment of the supposedly extremist “Arab street.” Or, (3) Old Guard versus Frustrated Youth: This lens imposes a 1960s-style romance on the protests but cannot begin to explain the structural and institutional dynamics driving the uprising, nor account for the key roles played by many 70-year-old Nasser-era figures.

The dynamics of the power groups are then explained, the police, the gangs, the divided military, the generals who are not allowed to fight wars any more, but are “granted concessions to run shopping malls in Egypt, develop gated cities in the desert and beach resorts on the coasts” and “are encouraged to sit around in cheap social clubs.” The same generals are “blood rivals of the neoliberal ‘crony capitalists’ associated with Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal who have privatized anything they can get their hands on and sold the country’s assets off to China, the US, and Persian Gulf capital.” A group of “new businessmen” whose interests overlap somewhat with the business generals, labor movements, and “new leftist political parties that have no relation to the Muslim Brotherhood” have joined the “new nationalist capital alliance”, along with the “new leftist, feminist, rural and worker social movements,” all aligning themselves with the protesters.

Mubarak is already out of power. The new cabinet is composed of chiefs of Intelligence, Air Force and the prison authority, as well as one International Labor Organization official. This group embodies a hard-core “stability coalition” that will work to bring together the interests of new military, national capital and labor, all the while reassuring the United States. Yes, this is a reshuffling of the cabinet, but one which reflects a very significant change in political direction. But none of it will count as a democratic transition until the vast new coalition of local social movements and internationalist Egyptians break into this circle and insist on setting the terms and agenda for transition.

So why do they continue to demonstrate? It seems like a fast transition would only consolidate the military (and U.S, influence) in power, while a slower transition with Mubarak as a weakened lame duck president until September elections would give the smaller groups time to jockey for a democratic niche in the New World Order.

And via Marginal Revolution:

Hernando de Soto on Egypt:

• Egypt’s underground economy was the nation’s biggest employer. The legal private sector employed 6.8 million people and the public sector employed 5.9 million, while 9.6 million people worked in the extralegal sector.

• As far as real estate is concerned, 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title.

• We estimated the value of all these extralegal businesses and property, rural as well as urban, to be $248 billion—30 times greater than the market value of the companies registered on the Cairo Stock Exchange and 55 times greater than the value of foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon invaded—including the financing of the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. (Those same extralegal assets would be worth more than $400 billion in today’s dollars.)

Egypt Links

Events in Egypt have clearly gone past the “average Friday after mosque jihad” stage.

For tracking the events in Egypt, al-Jazeera seems to be the main TV coverage. [“Game over” image left-Tunisia, right-Egypt via al-Jazeera]

Live-blogging Egypt from a variety of sources.

The military has reportedly tried to stop the looting but has struggled on account of the chaos in the streets.  Al Jazeera has run what appears to be instantly iconic footage of a military officer standing on a tank, telling protesters that they are “honest men” and assuring them that he would gladly take off his uniform and join them, but he needs them to clear the streets after dark: “Demonstrate and express yourselves as much as you want, but at night clear the streets and let us handle the thugs.”

People in neighborhoods are forming volunteer protection committees and wearing white arm bands to identify each other. Pictures from Danny Ramadan, Syrian journalist in Cairo.  Sandmonkey is calling tweets to a friend in another country.

women carry sticks &join volunteer protection committees on the streets of Heliopolis. Ppl saluting army. It’s great. #Jan25 about 3 hours ago via web

Google transparency report detects internet blocking.  Egypt remains blocked.

Hillary’s statement. (Hillary is scheduled to speak about Egypt on 5 Sunday morning news programs tomorrow.)

…”We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications. These protests underscore that there are deep grievances within Egyptian society and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away….”

Was there a conspiracy at the State Department to depose Mubarak?  Oh, those Wikileaks!…

The US government has previously been a supporter of Mr Mubarak’s regime. But the leaked documents show the extent to which America was offering support to pro-democracy activists in Egypt while publicly praising Mr Mubarak as an important ally in the Middle East.

In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year.

The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.”

Economist’s viewpoint of cutting off communications networks:

The government in Egypt is cutting off communications networks, including mobile phones and the Internet.

The decision to get out and protest is a strategic one.  It’s privately costly and it pays off only if there is a critical mass of others who make the same commitment.  It can be very costly if that critical mass doesn’t materialize.

Communications networks affect coordination.  Before committing yourself you can talk to others, check Facebook and Twitter, and try to gauge the momentum of the protest.  These media aggregate private information about the rewards to a protest but its important to remember that this cuts two ways.

If it looks underwhelming you stay home.  And therefore so does everybody who gets similar information as you.  All of you benefit from avoiding protesting when the protest is likely to be unsuccessful.  What’s more, in these cases even the regime benefits enabling from private communication, because the protest loses steam.

Now consider the strategic situation when you lines of communication are cut and you are acting in ignorance of the will of others.  The first observation is that in these cases when the protest would have fizzled, without advance knowledge of this many people will go out and protest.  Many are worse off, including the regime.

The second observation is that even in those cases when protest coordination would have been amplified by private communication, shutting down communication may nevertheless have the same effect, perhaps even a stronger one.  There are two reasons for this. First, the regime’s decision to shut down communications networks is an informed one.  They wouldn’t bother taking such a costly and face-losing move if they didn’t think that a protest was a real threat.  The inference therefore, when you are in your home and you can’t call your friends and the internet is shut down is that the protest has a real chance of being effective.  The signal you get from this act by the regime substitutes for the positive signal you would have gotten had they not acted.

The other reason is that this signal is public.  Everyone knows that everyone knows … that the internet has shut down.  Instead of relying on the noisy private signal that you get from talking to your friends, now you know that everybody is seeing exactly the same thing and are emboldened in exactly the same way.  This removes a lot of the coordination uncertainty and strengthens your resolve to protest.


Posted in Middle East. Comments Off on Egypt Links

List of Arabia Explorers

Jean Louis Burckhardt and Sir Richard Burton are well known as explorers of Arabia, but there are a handful of less known ones as well.  This list comes from the out-of-print Explorers of Arabia by Zahra Freeth and Victor Winstone:

Lodovico Varthema – c. 1470-1517, an Italian traveler and writer, the first European non-Muslim known to have entered Mecca as a pilgrim.

Joseph Pitts – a cabin boy captured by pirates, visited Mecca as a slave in the 1680s, then escaped to write a book: True and Faithful Account of the Religion and Manners of the Mohametans (1704).

Carsten Niebuhr – a German mathematician, cartographer, and explorer who joined the expedition which was being sent out by Frederick V of Denmark for the scientific exploration of Egypt, Arabia and Syria in 1761.

Jean Louis Burckhardt – (1784 – 1817) Among other things, rediscovered Petra.

Sir Richard F. Burton – (1821 – 1890) Traveled to Mecca in disguise.

William Gifford Palgrave (1826–1888) An Arabic scholar. [image: wikipedia]

Carlo Guarmani – born in Italy in 1828 and left for the East in 1850 where he worked for the Imperial French Postal Service and traveled extensively among the Bedouin tribes.  Wrote Al Kamsa: The Purebred Arabian Horse; a Study of Sixteen Years in Syria, Palestine, Egypt and The Arabian Deserts; Journey From Jerusalem to Northern Najd .

Charles Doughty – “He is best known for his 1888 travel book Travels in Arabia Deserta, a work in two volumes which, though it had little immediate influence upon its publication, slowly became a kind of touchstone of ambitious travel writing, one valued as much for its language as for its content. T. E. Lawrence rediscovered the book and caused it to be republished in the 1920s, contributing an admiring introduction of his own.”

The Blunts – Wilfrid and Lady Anne (1837 – 1917) – Arabian horses.

[image; wikipedia.  Lady Anne Blunt, in Bedouin attire, with her favourite riding mare, Kasida.]

Arabia Explorers

When you think of exploring Arabia you usually think of Sir Richard Burton and Johann Burkhardt, or maybe T.E. Lawrence or even Gertrude Bell. These are all on wikipedia’s list.

Here is another list from Zahra Dickson Freeth’s out of print Explorers of Arabia from the Renaissance to the end of the Victorian era, along with any wikipedia links that exist.

Lodovico Varthema, gentleman of Rome (entered Mecca 1503)
Joseph Pitts (captured English sailor in Mecca c 1685) [google books limited view]
Carsten Niebuhr (cartographer)
Jean Louis Burckhardt (rediscovered Petra)
Richard Burton
William Palgrave spy, former Jesuit and British diplomat (1826–1888)
Carlo Guarmani (Italian) author of 1864-1866 Classic Works ‘Al Kamsa’ (about the Arabian horse) and ‘Journey from Jerusalem to Northern Najd’
Charles Doughty author of 1888 travel book Travels in Arabia Deserta republished by T.E. Lawrence
The Blunts Anne Isabella Noel Blunt and her husband Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Arabian horse aficionados


Top, William Palgrave’s map of Arabia;

Bottom, Lady Anne Blunt, in Bedouin attire

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Oud at last

This week Chicago Public Radio has a series about Islamic reform. Earlier there was a teaser about an oud program later in the week. The promised oud segment has finally arrived, complete with an in-studio recital.

[image source: wikipedia]

Here are the links to the rest of the series too:


American Muslim Movements: The Civil Rights Model
Yaser Tabbara and Ahmed Rehab are activists in the American-Muslim community and Co-founders of civil rights organization CAIR-Chicago.
Muslim Engagement through the Arts
Asad Jafri is the director of Arts and Culture at the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN). He’s also known as DJ Man-o-Wax.
Professor Ramadan speaks to Muslim Americans
Tariq Ramadan is a Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University and one of leading voices for Islamic reform in the world today. He spoke recently at a gathering of American Muslims in Chicago.
Performance Artist on Muslim Identity and Art
Anida Yoeu Ali is an international performance artist and writer who was born in Cambodia and raised in Chicago.
Bioethics in Islam
Ebrahim Moosa is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University and directs the Ford Foundation funded project, “Mapping Knowledge, Shaping Muslim Ethics” at the Center for the Study of Muslim Networks.
Muslim Health Clinic Goes Beyond Muslim Identity
Islamic clinics are giving back.
Islamic Philosophy: From Ghazali to Khomeini
Laith Al Saud teaches Islamic philosophy in the Islamic World Studies department at DePaul University.
The Myth of the Islamic State
Abdullahi A. An-Na’im, originally from Sudan, is an internationally recognized scholar of Islam and human rights. He is a professor of law at Emory Law School and author of the book, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shariah.
Global Notes: Chicago Oud Masters Perform in Studio
Majed Abu Ajmia is a traditional oud player, teacher, and composer. Issa Boulos is one of the world’s leading Arab classical composers, lyricists and songwriters. Jerome and Tony Sarabia, host of WBEZ’s Radio M, talk with Majed and Issa about the history of the oud and get an in-studio concert.
Iran: Beyond the Veil
Vermont Public Radio’s Steve Zind traveled to Iran to explore how the tensions between tradition and modernity play out. This piece was provided by the Public Radio Exchange.
Muslim Women’s Leadership
Dr. Ingrid Mattson is Director of Islamic Chaplaincy at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. She was elected the first female President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in 2006.
Moroccan Morchidates
Independent reporter Sarah Kramer brings us the story of female preachers from Morocco. This peice was provided by the Public Radio Exchange.
Women in the Quran: Alternative Interpretations
Amina Wadud is an Islamic scholar and author of the book, “Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam.”
The History of Reform and the Future of Islam
John Esposito is Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. His latest book is The Future of Islam.
Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think
Dalia Mogahed is Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and Co-author of the book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.
Voices and Faces of the Adhan: Cairo
Anna Kipervaser is the writer and producer of “Voices and Faces of the Adhan: Cairo.” Miguel Silveira is the film’s director. The project is produced by On Look Films.
Posted in Middle East. Comments Off on Oud at last

Near and far

Yes, the languagehat blog is still dark.  Languagehat reports that  “Discussions with Gandi (the hosting service) are ongoing.”  In commiseration with suffering LHians, including the 149,649 other subscribers who like me read it on google reader, today again I’m writing something about language.

I usually work Friday night, but this week is spring break, so last Friday I took a train downtown for a Good Friday church service.  To read on the train, I brought Bernard Lewis’s The Political Language of Islam.  I’m not sure what I expected, maybe something about political rhetoric, but Lewis does actually talk about language–words. Interesting, interesting stuff–and you have to wonder how many misunderstandings and missed opportunities there have been when the East and the West do not understand each others’ usage of concepts that seem like they should be similar but are not.

In the chapter about metaphor and allusion, Lewis talks about how the meaning of metaphors can be buried.

When we use the English word “government” few of us think of its origins in an ancient Greek word meaning “rudder” and an ancient Greek verb meaning “to steer”; but when we–that is, the verbally less gifted or fastidious among us–speak of the man [sic] at the helm steering the ship of state, there is still some faint awareness of a maritime metaphor contained in these words.

The east and in the west spacial metaphors–denoting position and direction in space–are common but have a different meaning in the east.

But while Western language, from the earliest time, makes extensive use of up-down and front-back imagery to indicate domination and subordination, early Arabic political language makes very little use of these images.  Where they do occur, they are often specific allusions rather than metaphors.  thus, the common use of verbs from the roots qdm and ‘mm, both with a root meaning “in front of” or “before,” to  indicate precedence or authority, derive from leadership in battle or in prayer. In ancient, in contrast to modern times, both kinds of leadership were necessarily exercised from the front, not from the rear, and the use of these terms thus represented facts on the ground, not metaphors in the mind….

Power relationships are more commonly indicated in Islamic usage by the imagery of near and far, in and out, or, to borrow a social science expression, center and periphery, and of course, movement in either direction. Thus, according to an early text, the caliph ‘Umar explained his refusal to employ Christians in positions of power in these words: “I will not honor them when God has degraded them;  I will not glorify them when God has humiliated them;  I will not bring them near when God has set them far.” A Western speaker or writer would almost certainly have expressed this idea by saying that he would not raise them up when God had  cast them down….

Clearly the centrality of the ruler, and the importance of nearness and access to him, is reflected in this language….

One of the roots most frequently used to connote power and authority, the treliteral wly, whence come such familiar terms as vali and vilâyet from Turkey, mollah from Iran, and maulvi and maulana from India, has the primary meaning of “to be near.”….

Changes in power relationships are indicated by the same metaphors.  In Western language contenders for power may rise or fall.  If they rise, it may be as climbers or as rebels, engaged in an uprising.  In Islam, verbs meaning “to rise” are commonly used to convey religious, especially mystical, experience, but rarely political ascent.  Ambitious Muslims move inward rather than upward; rebellious Muslims secede from, rather than rise against, the existing order.  The earliest–indeed the paradigmatic–movement of rebellion against the existing order was that of the Khawārij, “those who go out.”  Significantly, their movement was expressed as horizontal, not vertical; even more remarkably, it was outward, not inward.  The same concept is expressed in the extensive social and political use of the two verbs jama’a, “to gather or join,” and faraqa, “to separate or divide.”  Gathering is good–hence the jamā‘a, “the community,” ruled by ijmā, “consensus.” Separation is bad, and gives rise to firqa, “sect,” and other forms of disunity.

Posted in Arabic, language, Middle East. Comments Off on Near and far

Black seeds

Black seeds are supposed to be good for the respiratory system, in particular nigella sativa, the seeds mentioned (in a hadith?) by the Prophet. These came from the Yemenis’ store, so I’m sure they’re authentic.

Google tells me I can make a tea by pouring boiling water over a tablespoon of the seeds, covering the cup while it steeps, and adding honey. This is the same method I learned in Jordan when one of my students made me a cup of zaatar (fresh thyme leaves, not the dried “zait and zatter” type) for a cold. The taste seemed a bit weak, so this morning I decided to try a seed method I learned in Amman using anise seeds for bronchitis. The herb is boiled in a small espresso pan for several minutes and poured into the glass though a tea strainer. Here it is in an everyday casset shai (tea glass).


Biblical and Koranic mentions from wiki:

When they have leveled the surface,
do they not sow caraway (“fitches?”… “black poppy?”) and scatter cumin?
Do they not plant wheat in its place,
barley in its plot,
and spelt in its field?…

Caraway is not threshed with a sledge,
nor is a cartwheel rolled over cumin;
caraway is beaten out with a rod,
and cumin with a stick.

Isaiah 28:25,27


[Sahih Muslim : Book 26 Kitab As-Salam, Number 5489]
Abu Huraira (Radi Allah Anhu) reported that he heard Allah’s Messenger as saying: Nigella seed is a remedy for every disease except death.

Narrated Khalid bin Sa’d :We went out and Ghalib bin Abjar R.A was accompanying us. He fell ill on the way and when we arrived at Medina he was still sick. Ibn Abi ‘Atiq came to visit him and said to us, “Treat him with black cumin. Take five or seven seeds and crush them (mix the powder with oil) and drop the resulting mixture into both nostrils, for ‘Aisha has narrated to me that she heard the Prophet (sallalhu-alaihewasallam) saying, ‘This black cumin is healing for all diseases except As-Sam.’ ‘Aisha said, ‘What is As-Sam?’ He said, ‘Death.’ ” (Bukhari)


Avicenna, most famous for his volumes called The Canon of Medicine, refers to nigella as the seed that stimulates the body’s energy and helps recovery from fatigue and dispiritedness. It is also included in the list of natural drugs of ‘Tibb-e-Nabavi’, or “Medicine of the Prophet”, according to the tradition “hold onto* the use of the black seeds for in it is healing for all diseases except death” (Sahih Bukhari vol. 7 book 71 # 592).

*hold onto indicates long term use; studies have reported changes in blood chemistry after several weeks

Al Hurra

For those interested in journalism, Zogby has a worthwhile article about the U.S. government-funded 24-hour Arabic cable TV network Al Hurra. Says Zogby, “It was a bad idea when it was launched in 2004. It has failed, and yet it won’t die any time soon.  Two weeks ago, the US Senate and House of Representative appropriated another $112,000,000 to fund al Hurra operations for 2010, making the ‘bad idea’s’ cost, to date, to American taxpayer over $650,000,000.”  All those zeros make it look pretty expensive, but it only adds up to a hundred million a year, about the same as the foreign aide tab for a very small country. Still, as they say, a million here and a million there….

Zogby makes additional points about Arab viewers not being denied access to western media and I can vouch for that.  CNN is pretty popular in Jordan, so is BBC News. Add to that the details Zogby has unearthed that “the head its of news operations was a former leader of a partisan right wing Lebanese group and one of its featured weekly shows is hosted by a leading official in a pro-Israel think tank,” and sprinkle in some details from Wikipedia that “the station is forbidden from broadcasting within the U.S. itself under the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act concerning the broadcast of propaganda,” “on several occasions, Alhurra had broadcast terrorist messages, including “a 68-minute call to arms against Israelis by a senior figure of Hezbollah,” and “Alhurra has hired Tom Dine, a former head of Radio Free Europe and former director of AIPAC, the American-Israeli lobby group, as a consultant” (hoo boy!!) and you get a picture of an organization lacking in direction and credibility.

While they’re totaling up the costs of that program, they might as well take a look at Voice of America as well.  I once heard a representative from the Arabic VOA speak in Amman, but during the whole time I lived there, I  never heard the radio station even once.  My desktop radio was long wave and medium wave–whatever that is.  It got BBC and the pop stations just fine, but not VOA.  One of my students took the VOA guy out to his car and tried to get VOA on the AM car radio–it was supposed to be broadcasting on an AM frequency–but they never did hear it. The annual price tag for VOA was $15.5 million and for its successor, Radio Sawa, $22 million.

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“Machiavelli was not Machiavellian”, said Salman Rushdie today. “His writing has levels of irony and sarcasm that we have lost.”


Case in point: Machiavelli was imprisoned and tortured repeatedly, so when he wrote about whether a ruler should be kind or cruel, he (ironically) recommended cruelty, since everyone remembers cruelty but no one remembers kindness.

This might be the passage here in Chapter XVII Cruelty and compassion; and whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse:

So on this question of being loved or feared, I conclude that since some men love as they please but fear when the prince pleases, a wise prince should rely on what he controls, not on what he cannot control.

Rereading various passages of The Prince as irony, it really is quite snarky. From the chapter on “how flatteres must be shunned”:

…the only way to safeguard yourself against flatterers is by letting people undertand that you are not offended by the truth; but if everyone can speak the truth to you then you lose respect.  So a shrewd prince should adopt a middle way, choosing wise men for his government and allowing only those the freedom to speak the truth to him, and then only concerning matters on which he asks their opinion, and nothing else.

Too bad they didn’t have emoticons back then so Machiavelli could have made it clear which parts were supposed to be  sarcastic.

More Rushdie nuggets:

  • When you read a book: “a curious act of intimacy between strangers”.
  • Why he stopped writing the NYT syndicated column  1) he’d rather be “putting my energy where I wanted to put it which is making shit up.” 2) the idea of having to have a strong opinion once a month–it’s the nature of the column.  People like Friedman and Dowd who can have opinions he admires, but the column format doesn’t have room for nuanced ideas. “What they want to read is WRONG! RIGHT! YES! NO!” 3)The world’s attention span is short, you can’t write a column ahead of time because the subject is dead.  He would write his column the day before the deadline, looking in the paper for that day to find something current to write about (but a good exercise to learn this type of writing.)
  • Why Rushdie is so hard on his characters (they get tortured and die a lot) and in particular why no one has good love relationships: “Boy meets girl, they live happily ever after, the end.  There’s nothing there to write about.”
  • Writing explicit sex: Henry Miller and Philip Roth could write explicit sex without being embarrassing. Rushdie has always had his sex scenes take place off camera, but in his latest book it’s explicit, because of the explicit nature of the cultures he is writing about.
  • Dickens-admires Dickens very much, because his “surrealist elements grow out of closely observed reality“. More examples of closely observed reality: “100 years of solitude” (?) a railway train that takes forever to go past a town. The “Circumlocution Office” a government agency that exist to do nothing. (Emily Dickinson?)
  • How to finish writing a book: “if you keep beating your head against it it will probably give in in the end.”
  • The Two great tests of when book is finished: embarrassment and exhaustion 1) you’re not embarrassed to show it because you already know it isn’t right 2) you’re not making things better, you’re just pushing them around and making them different.  It’s not going to be perfect–perfection doesn’t exist.
  • The latest book The Enchantress of Florence, is based on “early crossings of what was then called ‘the ocean sea’; if you could avoid the leviathan, which you couldn’t, but if you did you would run into mud; if you could avoid the mud, which you couldn’t, but if you did, you would fall off the end of the earth.” Not written through a “narrow perspective like is it feminist or not”.  Original witches/enchantresses were old and ugly, idea can be taken from Durer painting.  Then going back in history found Circe, a beautiful enchantress, in Renaissance the enchantress was also a seductress.  Both physical beauty and the believed ability to do actual magic increases her power.  Of course, getting accused of witchcraft wouldn’t be a good idea, so she walks a fine line…
Posted in Middle East. Comments Off on Machiavellian

Obama Cairo speech link

Here is the link to the Obama speech delivered at Cairo University June 4, 2009 (official White House transcript). Here is a link to the YouTube version (55 minutes).



Complete text:

Read the rest of this entry »

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