Thursday, September 29, 2011

Morning Passages

A self-image that reminds one of something that no longer is, the habit of the praying night falling prey to something oscillating between abandonment and genius, followed by the emptiness and noise of the beautiful mornings, the sinfulness of a precarious opulence filled with laughter and the stench of smoke blending in with a despair growing so weak, weak enough as to be converted into shallow nostalgia. Not the nostalgia of the years gone by or of the person transfigured into a postcard, it's more like the lust of the hours, of the previous hours, spent in an ill combination of antipathy and reflection.

One always wants to write, it's an eternal craving, an abject metaphysical object. Even the slowest moments, those free from rage and untouched by time, those moments feel like an overture, a different kind of writing so to speak. They're incomplete, shattered, wholly unfulfilled, a bad reflection on art, but how true essentially. It is only the absence of passion what makes them soar and grow into illness, deadened undertones, thin hues, invisible wasted hours. He re-reads himself, not absent from glee, not absent from contempt, but finds the words poetically dead, written for another time, succulent but too much inebriated. Not standing on their feet for long enough to shatter the mirror that reflects them.

Writing philosophy, you thought, what an obscene idea! A certain immaturity comes embedded with the thought, with philosophical ambition itself. The nights always a temple, a burden to relief, so ugly the mornings, perfect for oblivion, for deep sleep, unfit for conversations, completely deranged, impaired for truth. Devotion to philosophy alone is a form of vertical annihilation, one could possibly never write anything out of such self-defeating source. Poetics, philosophy, verbosity - it all works against the pursuit of truth that a writer is meant to convey, falsifies the source so to speak, tanning it with blood from another age, stealing whatever there is of life and thirst in the curious observation of the world. Real prose should be completely uninspiring, that's where its Messianic message is: the hatred for the step-mother, the stupidity of the brother, the failed love of the father, life in the village, the erotic encounter in dim light, the shadow of a man that this or that writer now is.

The selfless discovery, that pursued by science, the originality of philosophy, the claim of the exceptional, doesn't quite hold up for literature; that's why I entirely agree with the saying that the modern novel shouldn't be difficult to write at all. This easiness however is a bear trap, a cage, because there's a difference between poverty of language and deconstruction of expression: The language must be built up, step by step, in all its beauty, ecstatic in colors, opulent philosophical monster and then, only then, it must be slowly reduced to its minimal proportion in violent strokes. That's the only moment when modern literature happens, it is not something that you do, it's something that just happens.

There's more miracle than sculpture. Writing must live always outside of itself, it must be a pilgrim on its own skin, as if on Christian virtue, believing it's nothing but a loan less temporary than life, refraining from the use of existence as an actual word. It is that position of observation, even in the most personal and intimate matters, what can turn guilt into an absurd proposition to make on oneself, it's nothing but a philosophical trap, a semantic tribute to dead landscapes, to chemically dried fruits. Looking at a painting, that's to no avail when one's fishing for a trope; he's ought to await patiently the moment in which the painting grows legs of textile and they carpet the world, drowning the surplus of elaboration, saving the incidental detail, allowing the maggots to surface in majesty, overlooking the rotten body of the animal.

The imagination is a futile device, at a time when the tide has swept away the wild currents of the fictive characters that furnished the world with aesthetic independence; the barriers have been lifted in between the rivers and the cities and the oceans. The realities, political and historical, two words since ever forbidden in literature, run miles ahead of the most imaginative care-free childish mind, wrapping the ailments of desire and pushing them forward into a compunction, an obsessive absence of desire; the present, instead of rapid and beautiful, has turned into the ever so stultified image of events, unfolding without enough paucity to catch one's breath and begin anew as the pen demands. Art must be everything but silent, and pure thought, prolonged contemplation, too much time spent in the daily hour, have become forms of sin, forms of reckless silence, of muteness, incapability. Art must not sin, it must only sin without knowing. Knowledge, the curse of Eve, is already a treaty, an apology, an homily, and no longer the billboard in the train station turned into innocuous passion that is called in the other words, the modern novel.

A dead thing. Too quick to live, too quick to pass out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Things hadn't been what they were, but it is that, the sense of loss, soluble lossitude, the anger keeps soaring, it reaches the boiling point, but it's choked already, expressionless face, loud and without limbs - "The crisis has become permanent" -. The numbness is intimately absolute, and the mere existence of the other a fact that doesn't unfold. Friendship experienced like a trembling mannequin, the skin quite deadened, like a branch weary from the summer tide. The fury is extinguished. Exquisite Christian sin, ecstatic beauty, anonymous lawlessness, Protestant opposition to a warm bleeding Oriental delight. The logic itself transfigured into a swordly ailment; this landscape always the same: Murderous island.

How to make Bahrain shout into the Light?

First published at 5PMBAHRAIN 

How to make Bahrain shout into the Light?

When historian and political analyst J. E. Peterson published in 2009 his analysis of the promises and realities of the political reform that swept Bahrain all throughout the 2000’s, he opened with the thesis that since Bahrain is the first post-oil economy among the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, many of the stresses in Bahrain will soon be felt elsewhere in the Gulf. It only requires minimum familiarity with the social and political situation in the region to grasp that Peterson was right, but also, a little insight on the particulars of Bahrain is enough to reveal that he was also wrong.

Every country in the world can claim – and not without a measure of correctness – that it is unique and not similar to its neighbors; all communities thrive on idiosyncrasies of their own, derived from the fact that no human being is identical to the next fellowman. Bahrain, however, does stand as en exotic pearl in the Arabian Gulf where it stands for a dynamic paradigm of history and politics that makes it almost an island – which alas it is!

It is true that Bahrain is the first post-oil economy in the region and that this had pushed the country toward a more diverse economy, with all the social and political challenges involved. Where Peterson falls short is where the great Fuad Khuri was right, writing thirty years before Peterson that the peculiarity of Bahrain is the combination of civil society with relatively advanced bureaucracy pieced together onto a persisting syndrome of tribal politics.

Tribal politics belongs nowadays to a set of keywords universally applied to the Gulf and understandably so, however, civil society and advanced bureaucracy are not. Some sort of cosmopolitan civil society was established in the island long before the arrival of Al-Khalifa and the protectorate status in the British Empire; it is a natural consequence of its role as a trade center that goes back thousands of years before the spread of Islam.

Advanced bureaucracy was a necessary step in affirming British rule in the island because of its strategic location, and then was significantly expanded during the last years of colonial rule and even more during the early days of independence. In both respects – civil society and bureaucracy – Bahrain stands decades ahead of its richer, more powerful neighbors, at the same time that the outstanding tribal texture of its society lives in an open contradiction with the above, making modernization, liberalization and institutionalization a very painful process. Many of Bahrain’s greatest ills were built-in during colonial times and still not completely eroded.

Keeping with the times, it is paradoxical to realize that after the discovery of oil, Bahrain stepped back several decades by reverting from a diverse economy of fishing, pearl diving and dates with extensive international ties, to a monolithic oil-based economy as that of the neighbors; while this was translated into progress for the region, the exact opposite happened in Bahrain, where the oil economy fueled the decrease of equality and political participation. In this sense, Bahrain does not meet the definition of the Arab rentier state, so widespread among commentators on the affairs of the region.

An historical excursus seems unnecessary in times of upheaval since this information is widely available elsewhere and does not necessarily reflect the tensions of the present. My intention accordingly is not scholarly but rather points to what we can learn from this all in the Bahraini experience and out of it.
Hundreds of pages have been written as of this year about the uprisings that swept Bahrain almost exactly seven months ago and that though abated, have not entirely disappeared. One more article either praising the government or the protesters or discussing the unknown future on the basis of the present alone seems to me nothing but an exercise in intellectual status quo.

We’ve all grown weary by now from shouting in the dark. The politicians in the opposition find themselves with their hands tied, the government is exhausted and hence reforms will be very hard to come by in this climate, the international observers have turned their eyes toward the irresoluble situation in Syria and the delicate transitional politics of Egypt and Libya, not to mention the crucial threshold that should define Palestine’s bid for statehood and the regional isolation of Israel.

Lastly and more importantly, the citizens of Bahrain, the most important piece in this puzzle, they are themselves tired and although many in the protest movement are not readily accepting it, people desire to return to normalcy and voices of uneasiness and complaint are heard not only against the intervention of the security forces to clamp down small protests spread in the villages but also against the protesters.

Those of us who were thinking of Bahrain as a medieval primitive society where a small family rules over a fully disenfranchised majority, we were clearly getting our story out of a single source and probably did not even know Bahrain existed before the likes of Robert Fisk made the case for its protest movement.

The history of Bahrain and its contradictions serves the purpose of showing the extent to which we are not dealing here with a sudden awakening of an entire people against a regime. The tale of February 14 is the last straw in a century long struggle between several forces that are by no means limited to Shia against the rulers.
A complex texture of conflict pervades Bahrain’s modern history: Sunni vs. Shia, modernist vs. religionist, progressive vs. Islamist, left vs. reactionary, communist vs. traditionalist, urban vs. rural or village vs. city, tribal vs. urban, etc. not to forget the internal divisions inside the ruling family and their tribal allies that go back decades and centuries. Some of these conflicts are typical of a tribal society but the radical universals of much of this struggle are by no means tribal and they cut across the most varied segments of society, bearing the imprint of an early modernization of public life tainted by the tribal nature of private life.

At the Pearl Roundabout we witnessed the unleash of an incredible new political force that at once united Bahrain but that quickly bifurcated into the old pattern of Bahrain politics: At the evident lack of formal organization, the opposition became not only weakened by its own internal contradictions but made its age-old mistake manifest: Their great talent for gathering large crowds into peaceful organized protests and their just as great inability to control the same crowds when things turn violent.

This is not an isolated event of 2011 – it has happened over and over in the 1930’s, 1950’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s and now – with the felicitous consequence that whoever opposed reform inside and outside the government always found an excuse to delay on the ground of such regrettable events. The government on the other hand – and this means a lot more than the Al-Khalifa family alone – failed to understand the spirit of the times and acted out of a regional paranoia rather than local understanding.

That there were reasons to worry and act upon a revolutionary momentum that might be hijacked by resentment against the royalty, is justified and was soon enough proven right; that the proper manner to do it was destroying Pearl Roundabout and unleashing large-scale attacks against the civilian population was not justified and just as well, was soon enough proven tactically wrong.

Out of this conflict in which so much mischief was wrought on many innocent people and not only by the government, those involved acted out of selfish interest and forgot about the majority of Bahrainis who had been happy to join the protesters at the Pearl Roundabout but that were soon alienated by the way in which the opposition achieved unity: Through negative performance rejecting any type of compromise that would not meet all their demands immediately, and to which the government reacted with just as much stubbornness and immediacy.

Demands for human rights and calls for the overthrow of a regime fall under two different categories, and though they are obviously interrelated in the modern political scenario, they are not identical. The naïve belief that the success of the former will follow from the success of the latter has been proven wrong time and again.
When a regime is overthrown, the Leviathan is freed and then people realize that what they called ‘regime’ was only a symptom inside a corrupt system and not the system itself. Those who seize power through violence, noble revolutionaries are they may be, will turn into staunch conservatives the day after.

An attempt to overthrow the rulers of Bahrain is oblivious of many a thing: The fact that what they call Al-Khalifa is not only a ‘family’ but an extended tribal group with both strong and loose ties with tribes all over the region; that Sunnis were also part of the ethnic map of Bahrain before 1783, embodied in the Hawalas from Southern Iran that are part and parcel of Bahrain’s society with prominent families such as Kano, Khonji and Fakhro; that the claim of the Shia as the indigenous inhabitants of Bahrain is at best romantic for an island 
occupied by every world power since the 3rd millennium BC.

There is an idealized conception of Bahrain before Al-Khalifa that might be a mythical reaction to the agony that many endured during their rule, but that not only the Shia suffered and that by no means all the Shia suffered. Not to mention the fact that defining Bahrain as such Shia indigenous land would be the equivalent of understanding it as an organic national state which it has never been. A successful overthrow would not mean the transition to a national state but rather the split of Bahrain into several ethnic and tribal fractions, all of them claiming an ancient right to the island.

Bahrain is the land of the Bahrainis, regardless of their origin or when they arrived in the island; such is the fate of cosmopolitan trade centers with highly fluctuating populations. The time has arrived to let go of the tribal masks – a call which I make to government and opposition alike – and to make a choice between tribe and state. In order to achieve this not only violence and aggression of the symbolic and physical type must come to an end immediately, but also a new era in politics must be inaugurated.

By a new era I do not mean yet constitutions, national charters, parliaments and the like, which are obviously premature in Bahrain. A new era here means an era of transparency where politics is not the affair of a few majlis negotiating behind the scenes; politics is a public affair and as such every step taken must be a matter of public knowledge.

There is much to be discussed, old resentments against new challenges, and insofar as the future of this society – young and old at the same time – is at stake here, the palliative care of secret talks is to no avail. The time has come for sincerity, and sincerity means also hearing a lot of things we do not like, we are not prepared to hear, things we have never dared to say.

No matter how forward Bahrain society has come in a great deal of respects – for example the education and awareness of the young – there remains much to be done and in spite of its complex textures, Bahrain still remains part and parcel of the region where it stands in which the winds of change are hard to come by. The process of gradual reform is the best – realistically speaking – that a tiny country dependent on foreign forces and resources can aspire to. This being said, this calls not only for intelligence on the part of the government to listen to the people but also for a wiser leadership among the opposition which is at present obviously lacking insofar as it entrenched into its internal affairs, no less than what they are opposing.

No matter how dark the distant and recent past has been, the success of a revolution or reform does not depend on the number of martyrs – a figure that has lost all value in the Arab world – but on the willingness of a people to realize that Bahrain is still on time to return to a path of mild reform in which the selfishness of the personal is replaced by something much more difficult: Shouting into the light out of the darkest times.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Israel decides to break off all ties with Qatar

Translation of the article in Hebrew that originally appeared at
By Eli Brandenstein

Report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs establishes that the rich emirate harbors anti-Israel feelings and donated millions of dollars to Hamas. As a response the government has decided to implement a break-off of ties in all levels.

The government of Israel has taken off its gloves and is ready for a fight to defend its stance before Qatar, that regarding the settlements and Gaza, in Israel and the world. A classified report was prepared by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs detailing the consolidation of growing strong opinions against Qatar in the government of Israel. Israel considers actions in the near future against the emirate, defined as hostile to Israel.

The main reason behind the break-off with Qatar is its anti-Israel activities of Qatar in the world, stressing the great deal of political and legal assistance that Qatar provides to Palestinians from within the Arab league in preparation for the unilateral process of declaration of Palestinian statehood to take place at the UN in September.

It appears that the ministry in Jerusalem has worked in the last couple of months in halting the Qatari influence in the region, and thwarted a couple of projects with Qatari funding in Israel and the territories. Already before, the government had decided to close down in March the representation office in Doha. The closure of the office included a termination of the rental agreement and firing two local employees. According to the report, this action, exacerbated the tension about Israel. Additionally, Israel has also blocked access of Qatari officials to Israel or the Palestinian territories.

In the report it is stated that Qatar maintains deep connections with Hamas, that include among other things, frequent visits to Doha by the organization's leader, Khadel Mashal. According to a top Jerusalem official, 'We will not put up with Qatar's wide scope of anti-Israel actions'. Qatar today is one of the main actors in the boycott against Israel in the international scenario.

In December 2008, after operations in Gaza, Qatar decided among tensions in the Arab world, to break off ties with Israel. In January 2009 Qatar expelled Israeli diplomat Roy Rosenblatt, from the representative mission in Doha.

Nonetheless, Qatar still allowed Israel to keep its office and two local employees, in order to not cause further damage to the relations between the two countries. The ministry argues that the continued relationships had no other effect or purpose than that of allowing Qatar to be active in the Palestinian territories, creating only more tension for Israel.

After relations came to an end with Israel, the Qataris send a number of requests for renewal of ties in order to follow through with some projects in Gaza and to bring into Gaza construction supplies, and this way, clarified its position vis-a-vis affairs in the Middle East. The request was turned down by Netanyahu and Lieberman. A couple of months ago,the Israeli prime minister and his Qatari counterpart met in Paris together Sarkozy, however it seems that the meeting had no positive outcome. 

The decision of taking action against Qatar was received by the top level officials at the ministry, and by the minister himself. According to one official, 'We will not put up with Qatar's wide scope of anti-Israel actions'. Qatar today is one of the main actors in the boycott against Israel in the international scenario, hence it is not possible to continue unmolested and behave as if there were normal relations. 

A list of the measures taken against Qatar was consolidated after consultations with different experts in Israel, who agreed that Qatar is acting in detriment of Israel. According to the secret report, among Qatar's activities in the anti-Israel front include central influence in the legal arrangements prior to the bid for Palestine's statehood at the UN in September. Qatar, it seems, also maintains deep relationship with the Hamas movement, that includes visits by Hamas leader to Qatar. 

According to their information, Qatar is responsible for funding of projects in Gaza such as El-Fahoura, which is a place to provide assistance to students and also dormitories, in order to battle the Gaza blockade. However, through a charitable foundation Qatar also sends money to Hamas, and transferred over a million euros to the organization this year.

Other activities in which Qatar is engaged deal with strengthening anti-Israel activities connected to the Turkish flotilla. In this context, a congress was sponsored in which legal experts debated the possibilities and consequences of legal actions against Israel. Qatar has also promoted anti-Israel opinions through its TV network Al-Jazera. According to the ministry, Al-Jazera provides a platform for inflated anti-Israel opinions. It is also said that Qatar hosts multi-religious forums in which an anti-Israel agenda is promoted.

In compliance, because of the inclinations of Al-Jazera toward demonization of Israel, the government will not allow journalists from Al-Jazera to be active in Israel. As of today, journalists of the network can come to Israel only if they hold passports from countries with which Israel has normal relations. It seems that no more workers from the network will be allowed into Israel in the future.

The measures were not limited only to publicity, but also to security. From now on there will be no more cooperation between Qatar and the military industries in Israel. They had extensive contacts in the past and sold military equipment from Israeli industries. From now on no more sales weapons to Qatar.

The ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense, in a joint decision, decided lately not to withdraw the Qatar Foundation from the list of organizations that are not permitted to be active in the territories. The foundation is a large charitable fund, property of the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. In spite of a request from Qatar, Israel will no longer permit them to work in the Palestinian territories.

Until now, Israel used to allow Qatari officials to join certain events in Israel and the territories, under the cover of sponsors. These envoys visited on behalf of organization such as the Jordanian Foundation, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. The report states that it will be no longer allowed for Qatari officials to be part of such missions. Lately, for example, Israel did not allow the Qatari mobile phone company QTEL to enter the territories.

The last measures that was decided upon, according to the report, was action against the legitimacy of Qatar in the international scenario. It is not a simple challenge: This year Qatar won the bid for the Worldcup in 2022.

Books on Iranian Cinema

I had been in the past fascinated with the work of Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian-born American professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia who had written one polemic book about Islamic liberation theology, in which he argued that Islamic resistance to imperialism and colonialism of the American kind was a form of liberation theology, coupled with the rise of conservatism inside Shia Islam. A very arguable and radically controversial thesis that nonetheless is thought-provoking when proposed with wealth of materials and arguments. However I found out that he also wrote two very important texts on Iranian cinema, topic about which, I had been trying to locate materials for a long time. The books provide an unparalleled wealth of sources, critical commentary, interviews and historical material on Iranian cinema that will please, inform and entertain all of those who have come to love somehow the magic of Iranian film. 

Close Up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present & Future

Hamid Dabashi
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Verso (November 2001)
Language: English

Abbas Kiarostami planted Iran firmly on the map of world cinema when he won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival for his film A Taste of Cherry in 1997. In this book Hamid Dabashi examines the growing reputation of Iranian cinema from its origins in the films of Kimiyai and Mehrjui, through the work of established directors such as Kiarostami, Beyzai and Bani-Etemad, to young filmmakers like Samira Makhmalbaf and Bahman Qobadi, who triumphed at the Cannes 2000 festival. Dabashi combines exclusive interviews with directors, detailed and insightful commentary, critical cultural context, an extensive filmography, and generous illustration to provide an indispensable guide to a globally celebrated but little-studied cinematic genre. 

Masters & Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema

Hamid Dabashi
Hardcover: 456 pages
Publisher: Mage Publishers (May 15, 2007)
Language: English

The rise of Iranian cinema to world prominence over the last few decades is one of the most fascinating cultural stories of our time. There is scarcely an international film festival anywhere that does not honor the aesthetic and political explorations of Iranian artists. Three generations of filmmakers--from Bahram Beiza'i to Mohsen Makhmalbaf to his daughter Samira Makhmalbaf--are all active today, creating works of spectacular range and depth. In Europe and in North America, in Asia and in Latin America, in Australia and Africa, the thematic and narrative richness of Iranian cinema has met with tremendous acclaim. Indeed, its particular mode of realism--building on such cinematic antecedents as Italian, French and German neo-realism--has become truly trans-national, contributing a new visual vocabulary to filmmaking everywhere. "Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema is narrated around fifteen of the best Iranian filmmakers of the past half-century and takes a close look at both their lives and their greatest works. In his vivid account, Hamid Dabashi explains how--despite the censorship of both the Pahlavi monarchy and the Khomeini Islamic Republic--the creativity of these filmmakers has transcended national and cultural borders. The author explores the rise and ascendancy of Iranian cinema in the more general context of modern Iranian intellectual history. He delves into the roots of Iranian cinema in Persian poetry and fiction and examines ways in which a rich cinematic tradition has been nourished. The book also studies the role that prominent film festivals have played in fostering the global success of Iranian cinema and it investigates the reception of these films withinIran, an intriguing story in its own right.