Saturday, March 31, 2007

theses on political liberalism and human rights

We are trapped in a conversation with political Liberalism from which we cannot escape.

Frederick Leighton, "Captive Andromache" (1888)

In most conversations regarding human rights and the values of political Liberalism I have a tendency to hide behind the thoughts of others. I will explicate and defend Kant or Husserl. But at a certain point, one must step from behind the curtain and be honest in how one evaluates the current situation. As much as I am sympathetic to Kant and Husserl, and I have a great deal of admiration for them both, I do think there are limits to the Liberal tradition, not least of which is its own inability to recognize its status as a tradition. This is a critique around which the Right and the Left can usually find agreement. Liberalism, of necessity, fails to realize that it was born out of a certain historical moment and a certain cultural setting. It is the expression of emergent voices whose wishes, desires and ideals were formed in light of a host of cultural, political, social, religious and economic changes that gripped Europe in the transition from the Late Middle Ages to Early Modernity that have continued to find their fulfillment into the present where those voices are now culturally dominant.

Moreover, insofar as Liberalism has taken itself to be the established and eternal truth about humanity, it is simply another dogmatic fundamentalism. It insists that its principles be imposed universally on all humanity and seeks the legal codification of those principles. Those who question, those who ask if there might not be some point beyond Liberalism-Capitalism are declared to be heretics and enemies of humanity. They find themselves at the mercy of the legal powers of governments who view them as colluding with the enemy, in many cases they find their ability to travel restricted and in the most extreme cases find themselves literally criminalized.

All of that said in acknowledgement of Liberalism's limits and flaws, it must nonetheless be affirmed that the values of political liberalism did arise out of a real engagement with the meaning of being human and the human desire for wholeness or completeness. Any discussion of human rights has to remain rooted in that quest(ion) concerning the nature of the Good or it loses any real power to hold the imagination while it likewise loses its legitimacy as something more than the expression of power and imperial domination by Anglo and European governments over "lesser" and "sub-human" regimes.

Next, and more controversially, in the present historical moment, Liberalism is the only truly progressive political force in existence. This situation places Christians and Muslims (and Marxists, etc.) in a difficult position. Christianity by linking itself with the forces of domination and war in the late Middle Ages and stubbornly holding onto that alignment throughout the 19th and even 20th centuries quite rightly lost its legitimacy to guide the public discourse concerning the nature of socio-political life. For that reason it exists as a marginal moment within the larger entity that is Liberal Society. Moreover, in significant ways it has continued its legacy of identification with those in power and, with little fuss on its own part, has allowed itself to be absorbed into Liberal life, adapting itself to the new situation and thereby forfeiting any chance of offering an alternative. It has contented itself with being a purely civic institution. Liberalism is after all capable of tolerating and even using what it accepts as 'good-religion': religious civil institutions which are willing to accept their role in liberal society and the new and limited definition of religion as a private and interior matter.

It is this capitulation on the part of Christianity that many Muslims see and it quite appropriately leaves them skeptical. Islam remains the most adequate expression of humanity in large portions of the world. Islam remains, in a large portion of the world, the one living force capable of resisting real tyranny; a way of understanding their lives that does not capitulate to arbitrary powers and repressive and dehumanizing forces of government, but is instead felt and lived as their own. Therefore, when they see other ‘People of the Book’ losing their own identity to the point where Anglo-European Christianity is largely indistinguishable from the culture of Political Liberalism and Capitalism and when the greater Muslim world sees that Christianity has, within the dominant political climate, proven incapable of offering another vision or countering the most destructive effects of Liberal life, they are largely unimpressed with Liberalism and its so-called freedoms.

Nonetheless, it likewise seems to me that political Islam, as it has manifested itself in recent years has demonstrated itself inadequate to the demands of the historical moment and in fact has proven itself to be as socially and politically regressive as any clerico-cratic or ecclesiocratic (if refuse to call them theocratic states, because that suggests that somehow god is ruling and not human beings) might be expected to be. It too has been equally fundamentalist; it too has proven unable to ask about the future of humanity because it also has taken the discussion to be over, albeit settled in a past out of which humanity is now called to repeat rather than Liberalism’s timeless-eternal present. If there is to be a political Islam that will offer an alternative to the spread of Liberalism (and I must admit I have my doubts on this score at least for the moment), it will have to be one which does not look to the past, but one which, having been born of that past is able to hear the voice of God speaking anew. One can also say, on the reverse side, that Liberalism has failed to grasp, due to its own fundamentalist dogmatism, the manner in which Islam is in fact its natural ally against tyranny.

For the moment though, the truth is that neither Islam nor (to an even greater degree) Christianity find themselves in a position in which they can offer a realistic and progressive political alternative to the hegemony of the Liberal-Capitalist order. In fact the situation for many of us is that we are de facto liberals-against-the-letter. Even as we find ourselves standing "outside", there is, at the same time, no outside in which to stand. We are a people without a home. And in this homelessness, the possibility of dissent and advocacy for change resides in the maintenance of Liberalism. There is no place outside Liberalism within which we can make a stand. And so, we find ourselves having to make common cause, having to create a Popular Front, if you will, with Liberalism precisely because we have to recognize its progressive value even in the midst of its failures and limits.

If this is so, then we cannot fully separate ourselves from the discourse of Liberalism, even if, in our hands, the language of Liberalism is transformed and finds itself strained to limits that it cannot ultimately bear. The task of those who believe that the question of the human good remains open, that humanity has a Future, is to push the forces of progress to their limit so that it becomes clear where the contradictions are, in order that one might glimpse, in the fractures of the present, some hope that there will be a Future. To push Liberalism to the fullness of its possibilities so that it will be eventually (and I do not think we are close to being there yet) made aware of its own historicity and inability to fulfill itself. And finally we must constantly remind Liberalism of a truth that it would like to forget: namely, that insofar as it believes it has answered the question of the nature of the human good, it remains a form of religion; it tries to meet the human desire for the Good. Liberalism, in many cases, would like to forget this. It would like to say that it consigns the religious to the private sphere. But if it forgets that Liberalism was born out of an attempt to restate the nature of the good life, if it fails to discuss Human Rights as truths grounded in the very nature of being human, arising from the need of humanity to be whole, then liberalism will lose the very force that makes it a progressive reality. Liberalism will lose the very thing that makes it the manifestation of a broken-Truth.


Friday, March 30, 2007

problems with language; or, the war against ideas, part 2

Evelyn DeMorgan, "The Field of the Slain" (1916)

One wonders how much of the foreign policy failure of the United States in the Middle East is itself a failure of language. Do the Americans even understand what it is they are working for? The Crusade-for-Democracy has been and will continue to be a dismal failure because democracy is not really what America and the Europeans want to see in the middle east, even though they do not seem to realize it. Democracy, where it has been achieved has been an embarassment, and a wave of middle eastern democratization would only increase the problem. Palestine, in free elections, elected Hamas; elections in Lebanon have seen the increased political influence of Hizbillah; the broadening of elections in Egypt (Masr) demonstrated the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, while extending elections in Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Pakistan would weaken if not topple those who would be allies and partners of liberal governments.

Democracy is not the solution and is often a problem. It was a form of government spurned up until very recently because of how dangerous it was to hand over power to the mob. Democracy is always, taken on its own, mob rule. The failure, then, is the inability of the United States, among others, to recognize and articulate that it does not want democratization but liberalization in the Middle East: something that is not tied, initially in any case, to a particular form of choosing one's rulers. Monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies, etc. are all capable of being liberal, and it was only the liberal revolutions in France in and the United States that made democracy something more than the tyranny of the mob (and that only after a great deal of bloodshed at the hand of the mob in France). Liberalism, a word that Bush is seemingly incapable of speaking, is the commitment to the universal rule of law, the tradition of human and civil rights, a belief in universal human dignity, negative freedom (i.e., freedom from constraint) and the abstract equity of all before the law. These are the things that protect the socially vulnerable from the violence of tyrants, even when that tyrant is the demos (the mob/the people) itself.

Perhaps this failure is rooted in the American political situation. There has never been a flourishing right or left in the United States. Neither fascism nor Marxism were ever very successful on American soil, and so the term liberalism lost its distinguishing character relative to those other two movements against which it was so starkly defined on the European continent in the middle 20th century. And now 'liberal' is a curse in the mouth of social and economic conservatives, even though neither side, ironically enough, realizes that they are both liberal.

But whatever the case, the goal of the United States ought to be the broadening of liberal reforms in those countries with whom it is friendly in the middle east: the least and last of which would be "democratic" elections. High on the list must be freedom of speech and its relative, freedom of the press (something which is itself under increasing pressure in the United States): the ability of the government and thus also the public to tolerate speech with which it does not agree; the ability to show that violence is not the only way to handle disagreement. This would allow political parties to organize, to form their own voice and to learn how to operate in the public square. The places where we ought to be pushing for liberalization are Saudi Arabia (slowly), Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt (where the United States has exhibited failure on a massive scale in recent days) and encourage its further extension in Lebanon (which is at a critical moment), Qatar, and the UAE (especially Dubai), and Bahrain.

Instead, current American policy is alienating those whom it has the greatest ability to actually reach, and disrupting and further degrading the lives of those over whom it has the least influence. Democracy, without liberalization, is tyranny, and America is helping to bring that new tyranny to the Middle East at gun point.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

the war against ideas, part 1

Frederick Leighton, "Hercules Wrestling with Death for the Body of Alcestis" (1871)

Someone decided to make War on Terror. I am not sure - I have heard rumors about something called a constitution - but while the President asked for the power to fight Terror, I believe the Congress was the one with the power to declare war (which it didn't actually do) and overwhelmingly voted to provide said President with said powers. Rhetorically it has been a very effective ploy and has garnered for the chief executive of the United States a great deal of autonomy, not only in how he uses military troops against other sovereign countries (without, ironically enough, declaring war), or how he treats "enemy combatants" (another handy rhetorical term with no real legal standing, but clearly not the same as prisoners-of-war), but in how he can turn the intelligence powers (who did their job oh-so-effectively, by the way, before he used their intelligence to justify taking American troops into Iraq) against the citizens of his own country, using laws that (once again) Congress passed.

Making war against an idea: one is tempted to invite the military, or at least the national guard, into the bedrooms of children everywhere and let them empty everything they have at "the Dark", so children everywhere no longer have to be Afraid and can sleep more soundly. Maybe there are plans to put the Dark on a watch-list of Terror organizations; I am not privy to such information. We no longer make wars against countries, it has become awkward. After all the President's war powers would no doubt have been defunct by now if cowardly-Congress had been forced to declare war against Afghanistan or Iraq, as it ought to have done: concrete enemies providing concrete limits. It would also have made clear to everyone who was covered by the rules of war and who lay outside the bounds of war, properly speaking. Rhetorically, Terror is both more indefinite, and therefore more broad and more powerful. Will the President retain war powers until there is Peace? Until Kingdom come?

Today we make wars against ideas, while the cowardly-Congress grills administration officials over the perfectly legal actions of the President in firing and hiring prosecutors [ed.-It seems to me that, these days, if the President does something legal, we should throw a party, not Congressional hearings.], in an attempt to deflect its own role in a War-Without-End. With such category mistakes and demagoguery running rampant, it is no wonder that diplomacy has fallen into disrepute in Washington D.C.; after all, words-as-the-bearers-of-truth are to be met with arms and force according to the new rhetoric, until nothing is left other than emptiness and lies.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

wahdah and tawhid: arabic grammar for LoA

what is the difference between...
wahdat al-wajud
tawhid-i wajud.

To my relatively arabic illiterate eyes they both look like "unity of being" or "oneness of being".

The passage reads:
"It is not a question of the wahat al-wujud of the Sufis, but a tauhid-i wujud..."


Update: I got the most useful and wonderful reply from Yunus. I came away understanding so much more than when I started, and not just about Arabic grammar.

Yunus says:
As-salamu `alaykum

Wahdah is solitariness, singularity, being one.

Tawhid is commonly just thought of as 'God being One, only one God," but in fact it is a verbal noun of wahhada, seeing, perceiving, making one; unifying.

Tawhid is to perceive that Allah is one, even to remove multiplicities from your reality as an action. It is primarily an epistemological action that describes an ontological condition.

Wahdah asserts the simple fact: oneness.

So that's that. Now for the whole phrase, well, you probably know wahdat-i wujud or wahdat al-wujud is very controversial, including in the very basic sense of what does it refer to? William Chittick has a very good essay that tracks the term from it's appearance a few generations after Sidi Ibn al-'Arabi & into several splits it makes. "unity of being ("finding," indicating awareness)"

tawhid-i wujud would seem then to mean the perception of the unity of being, as opposed to the state of affairs, no matter what 'oneness of being' actually means, if anything other than what's great about islam or what those heretic Sufis are all moony about.

[oh, those poor sufis! -LoA]

[Koonj, I'm kidding! Stop throwing things!]

Monday, March 26, 2007

the struggle, part 10

Kimberly Dow, "Charity" (2006)

nudity combines within itself starkness and the voluptuous. this is to say that there is a blinding depth to the human person which is attached to the body. the attempt to separate them is sin: either as a militant war against the body in the name of purity of spirit (mortification), or as a gross consumption which impossibly attempts to reduce the self to fleshliness (decadence). what is truly revealed by the removal of clothing, enacted before the beloved, is that modesty is essentially attached to the body and cannot be overcome, even in an act of violence. the intimacy one has with the beloved is that they recognize this truth.

it is certainly true that fashion is the public language by which we interpret persons with respect to their sex, their gender, their public role, their sexuality, etc. the freedom to remove this before another is the freedom to be have someone recognize the extent to which you are inevitably hidden.

fashion is no mere outward sign. even in nudity, as we lay aside the clothes-of-the-day, they remain attached to us, drawing attention to themselves in their absence. precisely insofar as we find ourselves alienated from society, it will be consciously present to us, invading intimacy.

the role and promise of lingerie is this: that social conventions of sexuality will remain attached to her person. they want the acknowledgement that this interpretation of sexuality remains attached to her even in her nudity. to undress will no longer be an act of rebellion against the society which alienates us from ourselves, but a submission to it. intimacy will be a public act, even when alone. it is transformed into the ritual of eroding the distinction between the self and society.

despite all these failures we continue to pursue intimacy with the beloved because it is there that one finds hope that there will have been Peace, that somehow, everything can be reconciled.


Friday, March 23, 2007

this war...

Overheard: "But when it comes to adultery, it's 90 per cent the women's responsibility. Why? Because a woman possesses the weapon of seduction. It is she who takes off her clothes, shortens them, flirts, puts on make-up and powder and takes to the streets, God protect us, dallying. It's she who shortens, raises and lowers. Then it's a look, then a smile, then a conversation, a greeting, then a conversation, then a date, then a meeting, then a crime, then Long Bay jail. (laughs).
Then you get a judge, who has no mercy, and he gives you 65 years.
But when it comes to this disaster, who started it? In his literature, scholar al-Rafihi says: 'If I came across a rape crime – kidnap and violation of honour – I would discipline the man and order that the woman be arrested and jailed for life.' Why would you do this, Rafihi? He says because if she had not left the meat uncovered, the cat wouldn't have snatched it."

I have sat through this detestable sermon before. Girls and women should cover themselves, dress modestly, so they do not inspire undesirable thoughts and actions in boys and men. The sexual urges of men, the acts of objectification and violence that follow, these are the fault of women, the way they dress, and how they treat men. They bring it upon themselves. I grew up on it, a staple sermon, explicitly given from the pulpit, and implicitly repeated and affirmed by my mother. It is not just from conservative pulpits that one hears it, it is the attitude of frat boys and 'pimps' who take the dress of the woman as permission before a word is ever spoken, a statement of her wishes towards him. Show The Accused to a full room and are we so confident what the reaction will be? The film remains controversial twenty years later (which is not all that long really). So when this attitude, still prevalent, is heard from a Muslim pulpit, instead of the Christian pulpit which I sat in the shadow of, and it is met with outrage, one wonders where all the outrage is the rest of the time. Where are the denouncements of objectification and rape every other day? Why is it so quiet in here?

Rene Magritte, "Les Jours Gigantesques" (1928)

Overheard: “FIFA rules state that they are not going to let players play if they are going to put themselves or other players at risk…if it becomes untucked and the player is running on a breakaway, for example, and another player pulls on it, I would imagine it would be quite a jar to the neck and head of the player wearing the headgear.”

She imagines?! Is it not her complete inability to imagine, her completely inability to understand, why someone might wear a headscarf that is more than clear in her statement? This was the absurd statement given by the technical director of the Quebec Football Federation in response the ejection of an 11 year old Muslim girl from a soccer tournament for the sole reason that she was wearing a headscarf. Sadly, her team and four others that walked out of the tournament following the ruling seem to have a greater understanding of the issues at stake than did this woman who holds a position of authority in the sport. One is more than tempted to see the Western distrust of the hijab and, even more, niqaab, as little more than an insistence that women be made to recall that in the West they are public property who ought be readily and visibly available to the mal(e)-formed consumer. And in this case, its best they learn it while they are still young.

Rene Magritte, "La Grande Guerre" (1964)

Overheard: “The exercise of the right to castigate does not fulfill the hardship criteria as defined by Paragraph 1565 (of German federal law).”

Meanwhile, Continental Europe seems unable to shake off the ghosts of fascism that continue to walk the halls of government. France has passed a law banning women from wearing hijab in schools and while working in government buildings. This supposed effort to liberate women from their oppressors in fact seems nothing more than a statement that the French government does not think Muslim women are worth educating nor do they want them representing France. This disdain for Muslim women was again repeated in the past few weeks just next door in Germany when a German divorce court effectively ruled that it was permissible for a man to beat his Moroccan wife. Apparently what was so outrageous when spoken by a Muslim Australian cleric less than a year ago, is in fact the official position of the German state: women only have the rights that a mal(e)-formed culture is willing to give them.



...'cuz everyone else is doing it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

freedom beyond choice

LoA, "Gull on the Beach behind Fort Macon, the Tide Coming In" (Christmas 2006)

the freedom of light is to be seen;
the freedom of truth, to be embodied
so why do i stand here in this ambiguity
- a flickering light; an unstable meaning -
wavering between decisions which must be made
instead of losing myself in one of them
and becoming free:
the freedom of the infinite is found in the finite


Monday, March 19, 2007

academics don't do it for money...

She: So, do you get anything for being the editor of an edited volume?

LoA: The satisfaction of a job well done?


She: I hear the post-office is hiring.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I have been invited to move my writing over to, and I have agreed. Why they want this Christian gora I have no idea, but I do consider it a joy to be working alongside a group of people whose cause I believe to be a good one.

"Revolt in the Desert" will not be going away, at least for now, but I do hope you will come by and see how the "Revolt in the Desert" fits in with the work being done by others.

My thanks go to Ali, Willow and Thabet for extending this invitation,

Best wishes to everyone,

p.s. the long awaited (??) who-is-LoA post that Koonj requested before Christmas will be up tomorrow as 'the bio of LoA' on eteraz. you can find it by clicking on "About" at the top of the site.

p.p.s is now up.

Friday, March 16, 2007

the decision of the sabine women

why don’t you flee? They ask us -
You wrapped freedom in death, we say
in whispers no one understands.

Shabana Mir, from "Mute Freedom"

Nicolas Poussin, "The Rape of the Sabine Women" (1635)

Plutach tells us the myth of the Sabine women. Following the founding of Rome, the city increased its strength and population by granting citizenship to criminals. While this was very effective as a short-term plan, the leaders of Rome recognized that without wives with whom they could reproduce the city would not last. So they proposed to the nearby tribe, the Sabines, that the men of Rome marry their women, thereby binding the two groups together. The Sabines refused. So by means of a treacherous ruse, the Romans instead kidnapped the women in order to have them as their wives. This is the background for the many artistic portrayals of the “Rape of the Sabine Women”. The Sabine men did not stand idly by and prepared for war against Rome and eventually marched on the city. But when the two sides met for combat, the Sabine women intervened between their blood relatives and their new husbands in order to enforce a peace.

It has been suggested, more than once, that what one sees in this story is the male of fantasy of the woman falling in love with her rapist. Such fantasies are indeed common even, or perhaps, especially, today: one need only think of “Tie Me Up; Tie Me Down”. But is that really what is going on in the case of the Sabine women?

I would suggest that one need not think of the peacemaking efforts of the Sabine women as a masochistic capitulation to their rapists, or another example of neuroses, e.g., Stockholm Syndrome, but instead the recognition that the shedding of blood that was about to take place between their husbands and their brothers, no matter what the result, would not change the brutality of their situation. They would either return to being the property of their birth-families, or remain the property of their husbands; the men were fighting, not to liberate the women, but to guarantee their property rights. After all, the crime of rape perpetrated against these women was not one of sexual violence or even a violation of their will, but, in the language of the day, was really a crime against the owners and guardians of the women. The women were trade goods, vital for economic and political exchange and they had been raped, i.e., carried off without their men’s permission. Even a woman who had left voluntarily, for instance, who had eloped, would have been said to have been raped, for the crime had nothing to do with the person or the desires of women, and everything to do with the rights of her family to control her will.

And so the women made a decision to protect the one thing in which they were allowed some say and with respect to which they had some freedom: their children. David quite rightly puts the children in the center of the conflict alongside the women. Here, for the first time, the women had real intimacy beyond the community of women, a bond with men in which they were not merely economic machinery. While the biology of reproduction had been used against them to define their destiny and value, they embraced the living relations created by motherhood in order to create a space within which they were indeed allowed some love and autonomy. The intervention of the Sabine women was not, then, a pathetic refusal of liberation, but a recognition that what liberation that was available to them, limited though it was, would never be delivered by the sword of any man, and that neither their Roman husbands nor their Sabine brothers were fighting for their interests, let alone their freedom.


Jacques-Louis David, "The Intervention of the Sabine Women" (1799)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

so much for the categorical imperative

So act that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as a principle in a giving of universal law.
Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Practical Reaon

She: [entering the door] you have to go to this yoga class with me next week.

LoA: i can't; lectures start back next week.

She: but there was this guy hitting on me during yoga class. i shouldn't have to be harassed during yoga.

LoA: introduce MB as your partner. that should shut him down.

She: [ponders] i'm sure not she could handle that.

LoA: was he cute?

She: uh, no.

LoA: that's too bad; if he is going to harass you he ought to at least have the common decency to be attractive.

She: it isn't harassment if they are cute. [evil grin]

LoA: [ponders on where to begin....decides to go back to reading kant...]

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

thoughts inspired by sitemeter

1. the easiest way to get hits from the middle east, apparently, is to write posts on nancy ajram. new ajram posts will follow soon in an effort to pander to my newfound blurker community. :D

2. as a professor i have never been a fan of the internet. students seem to constantly mistake doing a google search for doing research. that said, i do hope all those college students who keep hitting my site by searching for critiques of the grand odalisque are giving me footnote credits. plagiarism is evil.

3. yes, oh ye evangelicals, the gospel of luke does in fact say that having money is bad bad bad. it will send you to hell. stopping looking for ways around it. on the bright-side, the gospel of matthew just says you should be poor in spirit. that should help your poor spirit sleep better at night.

4. second thought inspired by the number of hits on the "grand odalisque" post: wow, this whole 'islam and women' thing is a big deal isn't it? just imagine how many hits i would get if i actually wrote about it.

5. most disturbing google hit ever: [and i am not making this up] "eastern european male foot worship"

best wishes,

nancy ajram: life in the circus

life in the circus ain't easy
but the folks on the outside don't know
the tent goes up and the tent comes down
and all that they see is the show

-ani difranco, from "freakshow"

i refer the uninitiated back to the earlier "nancy ajram: pop and plot". "akhasmak aah" is especially important since it forms the backdrop against which the video for "ya salam" is set. recall that "akhasmak aah" was ajram's breakout single off the ya salam album and quickly turned her into a superstar in the arabic speaking world. the video was controversial in the middle east. sexually charged: the director made references back to a typical character within older egyptian films - the single female proprietor of a restaraunt who dances for the male customers in order to make more money. in the opening of "ya salam" she sings the closing bars of "akhasmak aah" looking very marilyn-monroe-like, and exits the stage smiling to thunderous applause and kisses from everyone backstage. but it quickly becomes clear that "ya salam" (english = 'how wonderful' or 'how fantastic') is meant to be incredibly ironic as the song and video reflect on the deformed nature of her new character and the social isolation that is involved. like many a young woman in her early 20s, she fantasizes, in her loneliness, about the comforts and initimacy of a real relationship beyond the circus-life. this certainly qualifies as one of, if not the, most powerful of her videos.

Nancy Ajram, "Ya Salam", Ya Salam (2002)

two other more recent videos pick up the same theme in a much more playful way. in both "yatabtab wa dellah" and "mohgaba" the setting is a circus in which she is a member. in "yatabtab" one should notice the character is played to the point of farse: she smiles, bright and innocent, and bounces her head side to side in ponytails like a young girl (something entirely absent from her early videos when she was in fact much younger and carried herself with a great deal of maturity), at once giving the audience what they expect but mocking the expectation itself. in "mohgaba" on the other hand there is again a concluding fantasy sequence with a young man, but in it the impossibility of an escape from the circus-life becomes even more evident when one realizes that this entire scene is quoted in one of her coke commercials. there the image of her, a persona, is used to sell the product: one commodity promoting another. the twisted nature of the circus life has lost all its ironic power, nor is one given the illusion of a peak behind the performer which would reveal her real desires. ajram is reduced to the pop star.

please sit back and enjoy.....nancy ajram


Nancy Ajram, "Ya Tabtab wa Dellah", Ya Tabtab wa Dellah (2006)

Nancy Ajram, "Mo3gaba", Ya Tabtab wa Dellah (2006)

Nancy Ajram, "Coca-Cola Commercial #4-Mo3gaba" (2006)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

height, part 2 (concerning destiny)

Morteza Katouzian, "Destiny" (xxxx)

destiny is the comforting weight of one's being, and resists the grasp of height. it asks that one give oneself over to the rootedness of what one is and find the full meaning of one's existence in that and in those, who like oneself, grow from the same root. it allows one to keep one's feet and know who one is. to resist even the staggering vertigo that one might feel at the realization of one's own inexplicable weightlessness, the feared-inability to keep one's grip. in destiny, one asserts, against the spinning vertigo, that one belongs to the earth: to blood, soil, culture; one is purely organic. one is thus assured of the solidity of one's life and its purpose; there are roots to provide one a destinal site in which to unfold. but this is little more than to glorify one's animality, which in a rational being is barbarity, as utopia.

the grasp of height is indeed a call, but it does not comfort one in the naturalness of one's humanity. it does not allow one solace in the organic nature of blood or language; there is not the peace of having a destinal space or a fate. the grasp of height uproots and calls us to be more and other than we are, to be more than our being would allow. height rips us away from everything comfortable to our nature and leaves us weightless: in an ek-static nothing beyond all being.


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

elissa: queen of pop

i have to admit, my brain is in neutral tonight. so i am going to post more music videos. this time it is elissa: the queen of arabic pop. like nancy ajram she is also from lebanon. i offer these mostly commentary free (don't get used to it ;) ). i would only like to note that, unlike the ajram videos from a few nights back, these for elissa are not plot driven in any way. instead they focus on her person. this is especially true in the recent "bastannak" where she is on the move and placed in a variety of settings. in each case the encounters she has with men (conjoined with the peripheral nature of the other women) only reinforces her iconic status allowing her to remain a direct object for the (implied male) viewer/listener.

enjoy the wonderful music of elissa.

Elissa, "Bastannak", Bastannak (2006)

I wait for you, my love
and..I wish to live my whole life by your side
I do not know how long love will keep your passions burning
But I never forgot all that was between us....

Elissa, "Aghmal Ehsas", Aishalak (2002)

The best feeling in the world is to love like crazy
and that is what is between me and you.
You made me live days full of longing and passion;
Your love dissolved me....

Elissa, "Aishalak", Aishalak (2002)

I am living for you the most beautiful years
of my life,.. oh gleam of my eye.
And in my heart, oh baby, there is desire
And passion ever since the first day of your love...


best contemporary theology meme

the goal here is to list what you consider to be the three most important books of theology in the last twenty-five years.

i was tagged for this back in january (see patrik hagman's
god in a shrinking universe) when i was on hiatus. i wouldn't even bother to do it now except when i sat down really quick and tried to think of the three i realized i was hard pressed to come up with a third.
the 1st was easy,

1. john milbank, theology and social theory: beyond secular reason (1990/ revised-2006)

the second was also easy, though when i went to check the date on it i realized it only barely qualifies...

2. jean-luc marion, god without being (1982!) [when i read this book i literally said to one of my colleagues..."that's the book i wanted to write; my academic career is over."]

and then i got stuck, suddenly realizing that while there were books that were good and contributed to the conversation of the last couple decades, there are only so many genuinely important authors at any one time. so, on the way to my third answer i will go down the list of honorable mentions (vaguely in the order i considered them)...

catherine pickstock, after writing: on the liturgical consummation of philosophy (1997)

jacques derrida, the gift of death (1992)

pannenberg's systematics, but i think the truly great work remains jesus: god and man which falls outside the time frame given...

ju:ngel's god as mystery of the world and god's being is in becoming both fall outside the time frame given...

levinas's lectures on god, death and time were published in 1983, but were actually delivered in 1970s, and let's face it, if i was going to include a non-christian author, derrida would have it hands down...

it would be remiss not to consider zizioulos's being as communion which is certainly one of better books of the last 25 years and by far the most important work by an orthodox theologian in recent memory...

at which point i seriously considered going with marion's in excess or being given but did not want to double up on an author if i did not have to...

so i feel like i cheated, even though technically i did not. i reached back a generation [the 3 greats of the twentieth century would have been easy in comparison to this topic b/c while there were a number of very important writers i think there were really only 3 true giants: barth, rahner and balthasar], and chose a von balthasar book. balthasar finished his monumental study of beauty, goodness and truth with his 3 volumes on truth published between 1985 and 1987, before his death in 1988....

3. hans urs von balthasar, theo-logic vol.2: the truth of god (1985)

whether marion or milbank will rise to the importance for the 21st century that barth, rahner or balthasar had for the 20th remains to be seen.


p.s. anyone should feel free to feel tagged. i am particularly interested in what muslim readers might have to say on the topic. what were the great works of islamic thought in the last 1/4 century?

the lies of conscience (forgetting lebanon)

tonight i am reading kant: kant who argued that one's love of god was shown in one's attentiveness to the moral law: kant for whom god never appeared to us directly but in whom we could not help but believe because humanity was driven by a desire for the infinite: kant who dreamt that perpetual peace was indeed possible, that it was our hope.

this post from last year recalls the horrific events in lebanon last summer.

best wishes to everyone this evening,

Chris DeBurgh and Elissa, "Lebanese Night" (2002)

We sleep peacefully
We sleep deeply, dreaming of
what we will do tomorrow
how we will spend our wealth
who we will love...
We sleep luxuriously, on a quiet night
with a clean conscience
wrapped warmly in the silken sheets of the blood of Others.


"The War in Lebanon - Listen" (July 2006)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

a message to my loved ones

"I am losing my voice calling you, speak to me, tell me the truth"
-Jacques Derrida, The Post Card

John Everett Millais, "Bubbles" (1886)

Postcards are alienations from life
the two-dimensionalization of existence

They are symbols of how beauty can be disconnected from context
until it is a superfluous gesture

They do not say, 'wish you were here'
but 'where are you?'
('where am I?')

I am trapped in flatness


Monday, March 5, 2007


Shahrad Malek Fazeli, "Retiring with the Qur'an" (2005)

1. In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
2. Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
3. Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
4. Master of the Day of Judgment
5. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
6. Show us the straight way,
7. The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose portion is not wrath, and who go not astray.

Quran Sunah 1 (The Opening)

Neil Bell, "A Recent Visit to Tehran" (May 2006)

Therefore if a man has in his heart that love to Allah which the law enjoins, it is perfectly lawful, nay, laudable in him to take part in exercises which promote it. On the other hand, if his heart is full of sensual desires, music and dancing will only increase them, and are therefore unlawful for him. While, if he listens to them merely as a matter of amusement, they are neither lawful nor unlawful, but indifferent. For the mere fact that they are pleasant does not make them unlawful any more than the pleasure of listening to the singing of birds or looking at green grass and running water is unlawful. The innocent character of music and dancing, regarded merely as a pastime, is also corroborated by an authentic tradition which we have from the Lady Ayesha, who narrates: "One festival-day some Africans were performing in a mosque. The Prophet said to me, 'Do you wish to see them?' I replied, 'Yes.' Accordingly he lifted me up with his own blessed hand, and I looked on so long that he said more than once, 'Have not you had enough of watching?"...
Al-Ghazali, The Alchemy of Happiness (11th century)

Iman Maleki, "Composing Music Secretly" (1996)


Sunday, March 4, 2007

nancy ajram: pop and plot

in 2002 a young lebanese woman with a handful of songs but no recognition to her credit burst onto the scene of arab-pop with "akhasmak aah". her director, a veteran of the egyptian movie industry turned to one of the popular tropes of his craft to define her, and to make an impression with the viewing audience: the female proprietor/manager of a bar, working alone, dancing for a little extra money, in front of an all-male audience. ajram was sexy, flirtatious, hard-working...and an elusive, independent figure. the story internal to the video matched its reception. ajram caused a controversy, especially in egypt, for being too sexual, but slipped away from the chaos herself (though she would be rather viciously pursued by critics over the next several years) and into stardom.

Nancy Ajram, "Akhasmak Aah", Ya Salam (2002)

i will upset you, yes!
i will leave you, no!

the next three are put together in order to form an over-arching story. this is indeed a characteristic of many ajram videos: the presence of a strong, clear, if simple, plot. the director is generally aided in this by the fact that arabic pop seems to have a more patient ear with each song pushing the five minute mark, if not beyond. even more, one can note here the development of larger storyline that progresses from her initial crush, through the excitement of a wedding to the challenges of marriage.

Nancy Ajram, "Yay sehr 3youno", Ah w Noss (2005)

Nancy Ajram, "Lawn 3younak"

the coup d'grace. plaintive and powerful in any language.

Nancy Ajram, "Enta Eih", Ah w Noss (2005)

What are you? Is it not enough
That you hurt me? Have pity. How cruel are you?


for mohammed will always be the face of Falastin for me.

Dusty Griffith, "Resurrection" (2007)

I see an image - which one is not important -
I see an image and I rush back, once again, to the desert
I rush back to the desert as I have done so often before
to the desert of Unknowing

And I wonder - do you wonder also? -
I wonder what has transpired over the distance

the distance of years, miles, languages
that have come to separate us in the land of the Real

We were children in the desert - little ones in the Kingdom of Heaven -
We were children, free in the desert before History grabbed hold
Before History made us aware of Injustice
and we were called to account

Do you also yearn - in the disquietude of your tired soul -
Do you also miss the desert of Unknowing
Have you returned there in your moments of confusion
and found the quiet Truth once again?


Saturday, March 3, 2007

uncensored fragment from babel

...and so, as the fourth circuit court of appeals refused to hear the suit of a man the united states government kidnapped and tortured in a case of mistaken identity, the court affirmed publically what we already knew: we are ruled by tyrants who have no regard for law or justice. the imposition of their will upon others, at whatever cost to friend or enemy, is the only goal. in order to accomplish this they will admit no wrong, recognize no guilt. they are pious, justified in the eyes of their god. the tyrants have claimed that allowing al-masry to pursue his case would have undermined national security. the truth is that the only thing it would have undermined is the legitimacy of the tyrants: something already in tatters.

from babel,
i am your fellow prisoner,


the struggle (part 4): reconstructions of karl barth's cd i/1 §1.1

Rina Castelnuovo, "Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Israel, 28 September 2005" (2005) [photograph]

if the struggle for Truth refuses to worship at the altar of the truths-of-the-present-moment, this is because one must take seriously the contradictions within human existence which modernity idolatrously tries to obscure: either through its blind trust in the saving power of technologies (whose accomplishments one has no wish to deny) or the ahistorical self-descriptions of political liberalism and capitalism. the struggle exists; desire drives humanity precisely because the world is not-yet-Whole. it is a response to human brokenness. thus we cannot presuppose we know, always, already, what constitutes wholeness short of its realization, which is our on-going task. and so, the struggle, born of this universal human brokenness and refusing to resign itself to the way things are, acts in the hope of reconciliation-to-come.

there are no secrets, no shortcuts. instead the question of Truth centers on a constant attentiveness to our own being, our own history, which cannot be judged by any external and transcendent standard. we do nothing else but describe ourselves, constantly, through our history, activity and in our brokenness, and in so doing seek the Whole, present-as-hope within those actions.