Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tehran vs Gaza in the American Media

It is not news that the quality of American journalism had sunk to new lows during the Bush years. The fall to the bottom continues especially in TV and cable news with the obsession to be the first, the penchant to sensationalize even bits of unsubstantiated news and to over analyze everything. Witness the week-old feeding frenzy on Iran where, blurred pixilated cellphone videos are over interpreted by "experts" for the naive viewers and recycled endlessly as real news. These uninterpretable videos were accompanied by emotive language that was, most of time, not justified by the facts or the images shown thus exposing the broadcasters intrinsic biases.

To be clear, I never liked Ahmadinejad and fully sympathize with the demonstrators in Tehran. What bothers me is the stark difference between the media’s coverage of the Tehran demonstrations and the way the massacre in Gaza earlier this year was covered. As heart wrenching as the story and images of Neda Agha Soltan are, there were hundreds of Nedas in Gaza. These stories went largely unnoticed by the American media despite the presence of easily checked facts and very crisp videos documenting the unfolding horror. Just as the Iranina government did in Tehran, Israel limited journalists' access to the war zone. But whereas in Tehran the media shunned suspect government generated information in favor of citizen journalists, in Gaza information coming from Palestinians was treated as suspect and they relied on the drivel generated by the Israeli army as hard facts.

For the Arab observer, the disconnect does not stop there. In the absence of reliable news coming from Iran, the airwaves were jammed with -often ignorant- talking heads pontificating about the situation in Iran. Most outrageous was an interview with Netanyahu who exclaimed, without a hint of irony, that he is in favor of freedom for the people of Iran!!! Needless to say, the double standard extends to the politicians. Whereas Congress swiftly condemned the Iranian government's crackdown, during the war on Gaza they passed a resolution in support of Israel. Obama, wisely, kept quiet. Today, however, with mounting political pressure, he declared himself "appalled and horrified" at the loss of innocent lives in Tehran; but neither he nor his predecessor were moved by the hundreds of innocent men, women and children murdered in cold blood in Gaza.

The Oriental Music Ensemble

The story of the Oriental Music Ensemble is the story of every Palestinian:
NYT, June 21, 2009: Wisps of mournful tunes from a cane flute mingled with the plucking, jangling arabesques of the zitherlike qanun, the oud and gentle drums. The sounds arose from a quartet of Arab musicians who call themselves the Oriental Music Ensemble as they shared a precious moment of togetherness in the Miller Theater at Columbia University in March (more here)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Tahir Shah's Arabian Nights

Tahir Shah is a writer and filmmaker of mixed Afghani-British descent. In Arabian Nights, Shah, having recently moved to Casablanca from the UK, sets out to explore and understand the essence of Morocco through its storytellers. Shah believes in the power of the well told story, the folktale, the Sufi parable, not as mere entertainment but as mechanisms of transmitting wisdom and deeper meaning through the generations. He believes that whereas the West has forgotten this oral tradition, it is alive and well in the Middle East from the stories of the hapless Jeha to those of Mullah Nasruddin, his Afghani equivalent.

Shah sets out to find the storytellers and the stories of Morocco. On his often spontaneous journeys through Morocco he asks everyone he meets to tell him a story. From the small town policeman who takes him in for the night to the Casablanca cobbler who repairs his expensive shoes, they all, happily, oblige. The result is a masterful interweaving of the stories he was told with the events his daily life in Morocco and reminiscences of his childhood travels in Morocco with his revered father, Idris Shah. In his search for the oral traditions of Morocco, Tahir also begins to understand the value of the stories his father passed on to him.

Idris Shah figures prominently in the book with references to him on almost every page of the book. It is he who instilled in a young Tahir the love of the story and belief in their hidden powers. Idris Shah was a prominent, if sometimes controversial, figure in the West. He is credited with making Sufi philosophy understandable to Westerners. He was also fond of stories and wrote a number of books on the subject.

The book is both an informative travelogue of Morocco and a soulful reflection on larger existential questions brought out by the stories Moroccans tell him and those told to him by his father when he was a child. The book is peppered with asides where he explains "Oriental" habits and customs to the Western reader. I thought most were unnecessary and sometimes annoying but what puzzled me most is that these asides were often prefaced by "we, in the West...". Sure he was born in the UK of mixed parentage but his books, his intellectual pursuits have always pointed Eastward. Surely, his move from London to Casablanca with his Indian wife and young children is more than some Orientalist fantasy?

These asides do not, however, detract from the fact that Tahir Shah is a talented and captivating travel writer and I thouroughly enjoyed In Arabian Nights.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Tianamen and Palestine

Tianamen Square 20th Anniversary

Palestinian Nakba 60th Anniversary

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Israeli Right Wing Group Calls Obama Anti-Semitic

A right wing Israeli group wants to hang this poster all over Isreal.

In the words of a good friend of mine "How a nation that would not exist if it wasn't for America, that depends on American tax dollars, weapons, technology, satellite information, and constant vetoes and protection from the slightest criticism at the U.N., can bite, kick, and spit on the hand that feeds it and gets away with it is a historic anomaly."

What's the Yiddish word this .... Ah yes! Chutzpah.