Thursday, February 09, 2006

NY Event: Democracy in the Middle East: To Whom Is It Important And Why? - March 2nd, 2006

Dankwart Rustow Commemorative Lectures

Contemporary Dilemmas in the
Middle East

proudly presents

Democracy in the Middle East:

To Whom Is It Important And Why?

A Lecture by
Lisa Anderson

Dean of the School of International Affairs at Columbia University


James T. Shotwell Professor of International Relations

Thursday, March 2, 2006

6:30-8:00 p.m.

Skylight Room (Room 9100)

The Graduate Center

The City University of New York

365 Fifth Avenue

New York City

FREE and OPEN to the Public

Cosponsored by the PhD Program in Political Science and the Office of Continuing Education and Public Programs.

The Dankwart Rustow Commemorative Lectures are made possible thanks to the generous donation of Dr. Margrit Wreschner Rustow.

Thanks to MEMEAC (the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center) for logistical support.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

CAIR condemns Iranian Holocaust cartoon contest

Doesn't the title of this posting just make you laugh? I mean just the thought of a Holocaust cartoon contest is amusing to me. Wasn't it just a generation ago when Jews were mercillessly killed all over the European continent? Are these things so easy to forget? And are Iranian authorities so callous - and so foolish - to indulge in such activities?

At first, I thought Ahmedinejad was a cool guy to finally show America there was someone to question its power. But the more I see and hear of him in the international media, the more I think he's a man who lives beyond his means - mentally. He's a real bozo to think he can get away with his lofty plans!

Anyway, copied below is something I found out from my friends at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)...


(WASHINGTON, D.C., 2/8/06) - The Council on American-Islamic Relations today condemned a plan by an Iranian newspaper to solicit cartoons denying the Nazi Holocaust.

Iran's Hamshahri newspaper says the contest is in reaction to the publication in Europe of cartoons mocking Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The controversy over those cartoon sparked worldwide protests.

In a statement, CAIR said:

"Now is the time for responsible people of all faiths to avoid inflammatory actions that are clearly designed to incite hatred. We call on Hamshahri newspaper to drop its plans to denigrate the immense suffering caused by the Nazi Holocaust and urge the Iranian government to repudiate such an insensitive proposal.

"The Quran, Islam's revealed text, states: 'Goodness and evil cannot be equal.
Repel (evil) with something that is better. Then you will see that he with whom you had enmity will become your close friend. And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint.' (41:34-35)

"The Holocaust, like all other acts of genocide, represents one of the lowest moments in human history and should not be the subject of derogatory cartoons. One cannot demand responsible behavior from others while at the same time acting irresponsibly."

Previously, CAIR and other American Muslim groups rejected the use of violence in response to the defamatory caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in European newspapers.

In reaction to the cartoon controversy, CAIR officials met with the Norwegian and Danish ambassadors to express the Muslim community's concerns about the caricatures and urged American Muslims to educate others about the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.

CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 31 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

CONTACT: Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail:; Rabiah Ahmed, 202-488-8787 or 202-439-1441, E-Mail:

Monday, February 06, 2006

"Veils" exhibit at the CUNY Graduate Center on till Feb. 28th

I had the good fortune of attending yet another wonderful event that Dr. Anny Bakalian of the Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) organized last week. The title is Veil(s) and is a photographic exhibition showing veiled women of the Middle East from different time periods in history. The exhibition is going on until Feb. 28th and is a must see if you are in the New York area.

Copied below are comments that Prof. Christa Salamandra of Lehman College-CUNY delivered at the Opening Ceremony a few nights ago. I found them so insightful and comprehensive, I couldnt resist requesting her permission to reprint them and then share them here.
(References available upon request!)

In English, the term “veil” serves as a metonym of a whole fantasized world of repression and voluptuousness, exoticism and severity. It is an image commodified in French colonial postcards, Hollywood epics and, more recently, the academic book market where, as Faegheh Shirazi notes, publishers advise would-be authors to include “veil” in their titles (2001: 6). The ultimate symbol of Islamic otherness, the veil has been used to vilify a religion and justify military intervention.

Yet in the Middle East, “veil” means very little. It has no literal equivalent in Arabic, but glosses an array of styles and practices, from the local traditions like the barrakān of Libya, the milāyaEgypt, and burqa of Afghanistan, to the transnational hijāb, or contemporary Islamic dress. of Veil can refer to a skimpy, sheer scarf worn at the crown of the head, or to the face enveloping niqāb.

In contemporary Western discourses, the veil has come to be associated with Islam, and specifically, with its so-called extremist or militant practitioners. Yet, as this exhibit shows, the covering of either the hair or head and face has ancient roots, and is practiced by Christians and Jews. I am old enough to remember a time when women were required to cover their heads in Catholic churches—indeed the Iraqi churchgoers in their long lace head coverings remind me of those we used to wear.

As Shirazi notes, the garment often becomes a force in and of itself (2001: 8). Yet it is important to emphasize women’s own use of the veil to do certain kinds of symbolic work, to convey carefully chosen messages. Questions about the meaning of the veil must be asked and answered in specific historical and cultural contexts. From feminist Hoda Sharawi’s dramatic 1923 unveiling in Cairo Station, to the headscarf donning student activists of the Iranian revolution, to the professional women working their way through treacherous public spaces, the veil is at once personal and political. Its meanings and uses vary as widely as the women who wear it. It may be an embodied religious practice, an expression of ethnic, sectarian or regional or national identity, or a display of cultural authenticity. Or all of these.

It is not so much invisibility as managed visibility. Elite women once veiled to signify the privilege of leisure, working women now veil to negotiate their way in a newly defined public sphere. The veil has the power to transform public space into private space. It can become, a form of portable seclusion, as Hana Papanek argues or, as Lila Abu-Lughod sees it, a mobile home (2002).

The reinvented tradition of the hijb in particular is an aesthetic, consumptive and moral choice an increasing number of women are making, often as tactic for navigating the rough waters of Middle Eastern modernity, with all its ruptures, tensions, and contradictions. It can be seen as an empowering option for women operating in conditions not of their own choosing. It becomes eloquent protest against objectification, a demand to be taken seriously. Veiling is a practice young women often adopt in defiance rather than submission, disobeying the wishes of secular parents.

Often understood as a denial of sexuality, the veil is a way for women to take control of sexuality. It can be used to attract the desired kind, or amount of attention. This aspect of veiling emerges in Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah’s documentary On Boys, Girls and the Veil. Towards the end of the film, two young muhaggibāt discuss the effect of the hijāb their interactions with men:

I did not wear the veil, and I was respectable [one of the women argued]. Now that I do, I get teased just as much, perhaps a little less. When I showed my hair, I attracted attention….the veil doesn’t keep people away… [her companion interjects]—nothing will stop a man from chatting women up—girls who don’t get chatted up get complexes.

Nasrallah’s film confounds any notion we have that we can ever know the meaning of the veil. Part of what makes the collection of images in this exhibit so powerful is that they focuses our attention away from questions of meaning, and towards color, self-expression and creativity.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

NY Event: The U.S. Intelligence System: Will Reforms Work this Time?

My friend Annelies Kamran at the CUNY Graduate Center is organizing this great endeavor. I'm sure the topic is of relevance to any of us not living under a rock.
Spread the word!

The Student-Led Distinguished Political Science Speaker Series Presents:

Dr. Richard Betts

Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of War and Peace Studies


Director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies,

Columbia University

"The U.S. Intelligence System: Will Reforms Work this Time?"

Wednesday, February 22

6:30pm, Room 9206/9207

The Graduate Center/CUNY

365 Fifth Ave.

Syriana and the Muslim Image

After getting some much appreciated encouragement from my cousin Tashfeen Mahmood, i'm going ahead and posting some more stuff on the Hollywood film, Syriana.

I intended on publishing it as an article, but instead, it got publushed as a Letter to the Editor. In any case, it speaks to issues people dont really discuss and considering the political climate we live in, these discussions are even more important.

The name of the publication is Muslims Weekly, which I have blogged about in the past.

Syriana and the Muslim Image

George Clooney's "Syriana" is yet another movie to show Muslims in a negative light. For once, one would love to see movies about your "average" Muslim. Not the suicide bomber, the soldier, or the new immigrant. Where has the entire Muslimmiddle/upper-middle class gone? The ones who make society go forward? They've got stories to tell. People want to listen to and see them. Why can't Hollywood take a small risk and show those Muslims? But alas. Hollywood, like most of capitalist America, wants to make money. Lots of it. Who cares about what people want? Make a good enough product, and the demand can be automatically created. George Clooney did just that. He knew people wanted to know more about the Middle East, so he showed oil, sand dunes, men in white clothing, and women in black clothing. That's all we really need to know about those people, right?


With more of these movies being churned out, society will continue to view an entire population of people as un-civilized and savage. And it doesn't help that not one, but several such movies are being churned out by Hollywood. While sitting in the movie theater, waiting for Syriana to start, a trailer for an upcoming movie showed actor Albert Brooks trying to find what made Muslims laugh. How sad. The title of the movie is "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World." My friend Annette at the Center for Constitutional Rights was right when she said I shouldn't be surprised if there were protests and demonstrations outside theatres nationwide.

After viewing the trailer, I wasn't too offended, honestly speaking. I just felt that there were some scenes that lacked humor and did have the potential of upsetting people. Then again, a trailer only shows a few minutes of the entire film. Will it bring people into theatres? Sure. Will they laugh? Yes - at the expense of potentially offending an entire race.

While I am being critical of films like Syriana, I must say it is a well made film. It had a good plot, was realistic and at least brought the touchy subject of US Government involvement in foreign countries to the fore. Like other films being made around the subject of Middle Eastern politics and US foreign policy vis-à-vis the region, Syriana touches upon suicide bombing. Without pointing fingers and showing any violence, it also showed how easy it was to become hostile and antagonistic enough to US interference in the Middle East that sacrificing one's life was but child's play.

Having studied the Middle East and currently being a student of International Relations, it troubles me to see so much importance being given to the study of suicide bombings and bombers, but nothing on what jihad actually is. Jihad cannot be done without a parent or guardian's permission. More importantly, jihad must begin within one's own heart and soul. Jihad is about controlling the devil within - and later, the one outside. Before young teenagers become ecstatic about giving up their life to harm America (or any neo-imperialist/colonialist), they must realize there is a greater jihad that awaits them in the depths of their beings.

My only wish is that the media realize that peace in the Middle East cannot be attained without its cooperation. All the people in the world cannot do anything, if the media doesn't echo their sentiments. It is a cause worth fighting for, but the battle - and war - cannot be won easily.

Danish satirist, a Muslim, sees laughs ebbing away

This International Herald Tribune article shows a lighter side to the whole cartoons of Muhammad (pbuh) fiasco. I've been down with a fever for the past few days, so I havent been able to post my views and comments on the issue, but will soon.
I think I should get back to studying for my classes, now that i'm feeling a bit better...