Category Archives: Sinai

Time we had a little talk Mr. Freedom of Speech.

It’s time we had a little talk. Yes, you, little Mr. Freedom of Speech. Mr. I’ll say anything I please, wet my bed, consequences be darned. You little Borat, you. The Williamses are coming over, and I want you to promise you won’t use that word we talked about. You are too young to understand this now, but one day you will. Perhaps you will visit New York. And in Harlem, say, right outside St. Nicks you are going to shout the N-word at the top of your lungs. If you’re anything like your daddy, I know you’ll want to.

If you have any money or teeth left, you might buy yourself a ticket to Tel Aviv. Let’s just say it’s a place far, far away. Perhaps you will hop on a funny little bus to Jerusalem, like baby Jesus did. Take a stroll around the orthodox neighbourhood wearing freedom pants that expose your god-given right to tanned knees. No need to say anything really. No need to light up what mommie and daddy call a doobie to get stoned either. Please take your feet off the couch, honey. It’s not because you CAN stand on an expensive leather antique that you have to do it. You will learn this when you grow up. Or maybe not.

And no, you cannot drive the car until you are eighteen years old. You want to watch some more Mickey Mouse? You love cartoons, don’t you. Cartoons are funny, and easy to understand. But you have to know something, honey. When Pluto, or Goofy, of whatever they’re called, are hit by a truck, they really should be dead. Likewise, when you cross the street, we’d like you to be very careful. Not everybody is as smart and prudent as yourself.

Speaking of prudent, a pederast is– we’ll explain later. Let’s just say you want to stay away from Catholic priests. Now, your aunt Barbara is very religious, but she is okay. Luckily the newspaper people don’t generalize about white people. Perhaps it’s good to know that in the seventh century… ugh. Let’s just say things were very different when mommy and daddy were your age. And when your grandma’s grandma’s grandma’s grandma was your age, things were pretty terrible everywhere. People didn’t grow very old. And… There were lots of wars, terrible diseases, people blaming other people for everything that was going wrong, especially if they owed you money. A bit like… well, today. Honey, did you spill orange juice on the carpet?

No, I’m not angry like those people you saw on TV.. I told daddy not to let you watch the news. How do I explain this? A government is a bit like your mommy and daddy. We work to have a house, and eat and buy some nice things, and the rest we give to you. You don’t always understand all the strange things we do, so we tell you a simple story to explain the difficult thing. Mostly we prefer to just put you in front of the television. You watch a simple version of what grownups call ‘re-a-li-ty’. Sometimes it’s almost true. Very often it isn’t. People who are really angry on TV are mostly actors, or poor people who are getting paid to help governments or people who also want to play government get a point across. Only few can tell the difference. They are called a scientist.

Scientists say funny things. And they are always investigating stuff like chemicals, planets, electric things, or Muslims. Some say none of these things really exist, that matter is just a form of energy and ‘Muslim’ is like a group name for more than a billion very different people. Like Christian, or Jew, or left-handed. It means everything and nothing at the same time, subscribing fully to Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty. You either look at the thing as a whole, or you look at the individual. The more you zoom in on the particle, the less you know about the group. And the more you zoom out, the less likely you can say anything meaningful. Not to mention, your observation fundamentally influences the observed. It is very complicated. For now, just remember to eat with your mouth closed, wash your hands, and –oh, there goes the bell. Remember what I told you! Try to act like a grown-up. Then again. Perhaps not.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Belgium, Christianity, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Revolution, seismic changes, Sinai

Nein! 11

It’s eleven September. The American presidentials are heating up. I’m in a street-side coffee shop in Fez, Morocco where your humble host will be residing for the coming three weeks. Means I pretty much have to write something. Anything. How many years has it been now? One forgets. Move on. Time to get a life, America. Something along those lines. Yes, yes, evil never sleeps. Remain vigilant and all that. Of course. Ask Norway. Get it?

Perhaps, for once, I’ll forgo my feeble attempts at analysis. It behooves one to take a breather every so and again. Every now and often. See what I just did there? Neat. I’ll just look at the donkeys cart past laden with cardamon and animal hides, kids and their iPhones, and the ubiquitous CCTV eyes dotting the medina. Interesting times, my friends. Interesting times. “Tanneries this way!” “Thank you.” Visited one yesterday. I’ve never seen such a terrible thing.

Guy selling ostrich eggs to guys, promising easier access to tits

Meanwhile the coffee shop is filling up. Not sure how long I can impose my big-ass laptop on these smallish tables. Then again, whatever. I’m sure there’s a swell juxtaposition here, albeit I wouldn’t be doing justice to all the other poetic whathaveyou’s. Tradition meets computer. Good old coffee meets Power Horse and this huge can-shaped RedBull fridge cramping twelve hundred years of history. Ample-chested, deep-cut-dressed Moroccan anchor lady explains a French industrialist’s shameful tax evasion -to Belgium if my Fusha serves me right, half-naked Israeli teenagers huddled around a single gas mask ready to pounce should Iran or Hezbollah do the uber-likely unthinkable. Update: they switched to bikini beach shots now. Cars, soap, global affairs. Nothing sells that shit like tits. Lots of them. Big ones, small ones. Covered from the nose down, or fully exposed. It does not matter. Man-kind will be hanging from that teet for some time to come. While that may be unavoidable like hair on three week-old yoghurt, guys, let’s not forget they’re not ours. Behave a little. Chill on the war against women. From the streets of Cairo to the US Republican party, back to the souq in Fez where, needless to say, your authors is having the time of his life.

Nobody is free until everybody is free. Nobody is safe until everybody is safe. Oh, and everybody is poor until nobody is poor. Perhaps that’s more slogan than analysis. I sure as shit hope so, because I wasn’t going to analyze, compare, or lecture. And that worked out well, didn’t it. Now a moment of silence, please, in respect for the dead. All of them.

Bush lied. Blair lied. There, I said it. Our generation will see the likes of you in court. Let’s not forget that Saddam, although not the type to fuck you in the asshole and do you the courtesy of reaching around to help a feller’ out as they say, had nothing to do with them towers coming down. A million souls will haunt you. Analyze that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Al-Qaeda, Arab Spring, Cairo, democracy, Sinai

A lot to learn..

Egypt’s parliament dissolved. “What is this, 19th century Europe?” I said to Jalal. “Dissolving is not a solution.” Then again, maybe it is. I never paid much attention in high school chemistry. Jokes aside, it’s not like the parliament was very active. In fact, the Brotherhood was fast losing street cred over its elected members’ laisser-gouverner attitude. “There’s something fishy about the whole thing,” Jalal opined. Lord knows who’s plotting what against whom. Is Mubarak’s heir apparent Shafiq planning to rule by decree should he win today’s presidentials? Will a Mursi Brotherhood victory overturn the high court’s decision, further complicating the constitutional quagmire?

Lord knows I haven’t a clue. Egyptians are slogging it the hard way it seems. As is their right. But what is right in the stark floodlight of might, be it noun or verb? If all this sounds confusing it’s because your humble host has been evaluating French development aid to Palestine, drinking too much coffee, and sleeping way too little. This aid business is a tough racket. I’m not even talking about the deserving, downtrodden beneficiaries. Of which, one hastens to add, there are many. Just ask the sandwich guy catering the workshops, board meetings, steering committees, wrap-up sessions, and focus groups. Cynicism aside, these things are unavoidable, if at times a bit annoying. A bit like Parisians when the rent is late, if you’ll excuse my French.

What has all this to do with Egypt, or the Sinai, you may ask? Well, the Hebrews crossed the latter before falling on the Canaanites, did they not? And, if I may quote the ever grandiose Lebowski: “Given the nature of all this new shit, that, uh, instead of running around blaming me, this whole thing might be a whole lot more uh, uh complex. It might not be, you know, just such a simple– You know?”

I blame the coffee. Especially the iced derivative so liberally domed with whipped cream by Jerusalem’s Austrian Hospice’s hirelings. And if not the coffee, I’ll denounce time itself, or the scruffy cat at the restaurant that may or may not have been a shapeshifting time traveler from the Andromeda Galaxy bent on inter-civilizational tomfoolery. Did I mention it’s 35 degrees in the shade? Perhaps the Temple Mount security people were temporarily suffering from melting eyeball syndrome (unknown in medical circles as M.E.S.) when they unwittingly let a certain falafel sandwich-munching foreigner onto the grounds this afternoon. Relaxing in the shade, watching kids kick around a pigskin,  parents relaxing hither and tither, I could feel ten days of endless, horribly essential palaver subside.

“Muslim, in sh’Allah?” the waqf guy inquired politely. “No,” I answered in truth. Just a person looking around, trying to learn a thing or two about this crazy place we call the world, understanding ever less.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arab Spring, Christianity, Egypt, Islam, Middle East, Palestine, Sinai

The Arab Spring… some awkward questions

If Al-Qaeda supports the Syrian armed opposition, as Iraqi journalist and writer Hamid Alkifaey asserts in a Bitter Lemons op-ed, have they in fact, unlike the abstemious western powers, achieved the moral high ground, reminiscent of international jihadi fighters supporting Bosnian Muslims against Serb atrocities in the nineties? Or was it never that black and white? Is it today?

Was Bin Laden’s aim really to strike at the American freedoms he so despised, or did he in fact mean to destroy the Saudi-American duopoly holding back the freedoms Arabs have had to live without ever since the rise of the global petro-economy? Concomitant to that question, do Arab revolutions form the apogee of political islam or the beginning? If political islam is a problem for western observers, why have western observers and actors to this day condoned and supported the worst examples of such regimes like Wahhabi Saudi-Arabia, ever-regressing Pakistan and pre-9/11 Taliban?

Did the American invasion of Iraq, the rhetoric of which at least was premised on Arabs’ readiness for western-style democracy, augur the Arab spring, or delay it? As bloody as the Syrian uprising is and undoubtedly will be, will it ever be as costly in human lives as the American wars against Iraq and the American-sparked Iraqi civil war was?

When the Arab spring arrives in Palestine, and it seems finally to be doing just that, which regime will it topple? The glorified municipal committee called the Palestinian Authority, or the real determinant of Palestinians’ everyday lives? Will Arabs living inside Israel stay on the sidelines? In other words, will the revolution transcend the multiple administrative strata imposed on Palestinians, to wit: Palestinians inside Israel -almost the same rights as Jewish Israelis, Palestinians in annexed East-Jerusalem -significantly less rights than Jewish Israelis, Palestinians in the West Bank -right to receive foreign aid, Gaza Palestinians -full rights to do whatever they please except to leave the 360 square kilometer ghetto by sea, land, or air? Have fears regarding the coming storm played a role in the surprise shaping of Netanyahu’s national-unity government?

Leave a comment

Filed under Al-Qaeda, Arab Spring, democracy, Islam, Middle East, Revolution, seismic changes, Sinai

Religions of the cross-road

The Sinai, bridge between Africa and Asia, has always held a strategic position. Countless wars were fought here. Countless armies past through it on their way to victory or defeat elsewhere. The north east boundary, a 200 kilometer stretch of Mediterranean coastline, also known as the ancient Via Maris, was a route used by conquerors, traders and travelers. And with those conquerors, traders, and travelers the beliefs that shape the world to this day, moved back and forth, shaped and re-shaped by the endless tides.

It all starts with the name of the place. ‘Sinai’ is derived from one of many ancient Sumerian gods called ‘Nanna’ or ‘Sin’, a.k.a. the moon god, father of Shamash, the sun, and Ishtar, Venus. A sort of holy trinity if you will. The Sumerian pantheon, containing numerous other deities, dates back to the third millennium BC. Perhaps early inhabitants likened the Sinai’s desolate rocky scapes to the distant lunar terrain. Between c.2600-2400 BC, when the city of Ur (literally: the abode of ‘Sin’) held sway over the Euphrates valley, Sin was regarded as head of the pantheon. It is to this period that we must trace such designations as ‘father of the gods’, ‘chief of the gods’, ‘creator of all things’, and the so on and so forth. In other words, an early form of the three monotheistic faiths had arisen. The Sinai itself is named after the prototype of the one true God that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship to this day.

Later, the crescent moon came to symbolize not only the stretch of fertile land formed by the Euphrates and Tigris river and the coastal areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and Nile valley, but Islam itself. The stringent monotheism of Islam -there is no God but [the one] God- as well as Judaism can be construed as a necessary effort to distance themselves from the original large cast of divine entities. When Israel fell into idolatry, it was usually to the cult of the moon god, subject of constant rebukes in the Old Testament. Muhammad too scarcely left a sura of the Qur’an untouched by vehement condemnation of those who continued to worship the hundreds of pre-Islamci gods of the Kaaba in Mecca, chief of which had always been the moon god, represented as an old man with a flowing beard, wise and unfathomable.

Christianity was always more accommodating to the god-like status of other than the one true god himself. Beside the holy trinity, followers of Jesus borrowed a host of pre-monotheistic concepts. The Egyptian god Horus for instance was born from a virgin, announced by angels and heralded by a star in the East, baptized at 30, had a foster-father called Joseph, fled out of Egypt (through the Sinai of all places) from a homicidal king called Herut, and performed miracles including raising a man from the dead. The list of parallels goes on by the way. And on. Later the Sinai would once again, ironically perhaps, figure as a place of refuge, this time for heretics from Byzantine orthodoxy.

In ‘Sinai’ a new heretic will try to forge a new syncretism, (re-)uniting all of the monotheistic faiths. Her premise is a shaky one indeed. Not to mention very dangerous. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Egypt, Islam, Judaism, Messianic Judaism, Middle East, Sinai

The Bosnia equation

To intervene or not to intervene. Among Syria’s neighbors, the question looms ever larger. Turkish talk of humanitarian corridors and the Red Cross’s pleas for access to Homs and other flashpoint cities is reminiscent of timid Western attempts at stemming the Bosnian civil war. In addition, the example of military intervention in Libya, which I opposed exactly a year ago and still do, as well as the Iraq war, although a different animal entirely, towers over the debate.

No one wants to stick their head into a hornet’s nest, as Western media more or less rightly portray Syria. You don’t mess with a patchwork of ethno-religious groups and not expect unexpected, i.e. unpleasant results. We have learned this the hard way. There is never a clear-cut case for intervention. But sometimes there are clear-cut reasons not to intervene, as the 2003-2011 US war in Iraq shows. To this day, the long black shadow of that disaster skews the debate in the sense that we forget the human imperative of stopping the slaughter of thousands, as is currently happening in Syria. The question is, how to go about this?

Again, Libya looms large as a how-not-to. One of the problems with the West, and certain Arab regimes’ intervention in Libya was that it was emphatically not a humanitarian action that happened to topple a dictator. Rather it was a regime change sold to skeptical western audiences as a humanitarian necessity. Let’s not forget that at the end of the day Libyan rebels, aided by NATO air power, received critical training and direct logistical and tactical support from Qatari boots on the ground. Not to mention arms. Lots of arms, which are currently causing havoc among local groups vying for influence and power as well as elsewhere in the region flooded with cheap hardware. In short, we fucked up. Kinda.

What’s the alternative then to letting thousands die at the hands of a brutal regime? Is there a middle-ground between respect for state sovereignty and intervention for humanitarian reasons? Is there a way, in other words, that sovereignty-spastics like Russia and China might be swayed in favor of protecting the lives of countless innocents? To a humanist, anything is better than doing absolutely squat all against slaughtering unarmed men, women, and children. To Russia and China anything -absolutely anything- is preferable to the mere idea of a well-armed bully rolling into their respective backyards or worse, and laying claim by military means to natural resources or the countries sitting on top. Hence their recent veto in the Security Council against sanctioning the Syrian regime. Again, the US adventure in Iraq has destroyed a lot more than that country’s infrastructure. Its diplomatic fall-out will likely hobble the cause of not-killing-folks for years to come.

Again, what then? How do we stop the butchering? The answer perhaps lies in the question itself. The main goal as well as the extent of any action or mediation should be to stop the killing. Nothing short of it and nothing more. Bearing in mind Western duplicity in its handling of Libya, talking protection but gunning for the regime, it might be difficult to convince opponents of intervention of the veracity of such a mandate. Yet it is a course that must be pursued nonetheless. In essence, the international community should devise a way to grind the war down to a non-combative stalemate. For example one would prohibit Assad’s regime from continuing to commit wide scale atrocities, but also inhibit a hurriedly armed disparate group of non-professional opposition fighters to become a security threat themselves as we are currently witnessing in Libya.

Needless to say bringing about and enforcing such a stalemate is easier said than done. The Arab League’s observer mission was a good albeit timid start. Diplomacy should work to identify and propose a quid-pro-quo to the Russians who might be able to induce the Syrian regime into accepting a new, expanded observer mission. Trucking in food and medical supplies, hardly a threat to the government’s hold on power, nonetheless increases a perceived outsider presence, a psychological factor that should not be underestimated. Bearing in mind the atrocities that occurred in UN-patrolled Bosnia, one shivers to imagine what might have happened had we turned the other way entirely. In short, quixotic as it might seem, an unarmed outsider presence, in any shape or form, and the diplomatic pressure to maintain it, should be the lodestar of interventionist thinking as the court of global public opinion is increasingly complemented by actual international court rooms.

Of course, unarmed observers, truck drivers, journalists, and medical personnel are a vulnerable asset. Pressuring a regime into protecting them, or at least not outright shooting at them, is alas, a lot more easily achieved, given all permanent UN Security Council members are on board, than having them not shoot its own civilians. It follows that the mere presence of said observers, truckers, journos and medics becomes an impediment to all-out war. With Syria’s death toll creeping up to 10.000, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. But until there are people trapped still in Homs and elsewhere any opportunity, however tenuous, is worth considering.

Whether a regime is able to provide for its people and if not, how it might be changed, is really not in the purview of other regimes, be they democratic or otherwise.  Full stop. The international community however has a duty to prevent the deaths of thousands of civilians, be they a victim of a natural disaster or the wrath of authority.

In Sinai, a fictional story, trapped tourists elicit a widening international chorus to ‘go in there and sort out the the mess’. The region teeters on the brink of war...

Leave a comment

Filed under Arab Spring, democracy, Gadhafi, Libya, Middle East, minorities, Revolution, seismic changes, Sinai, Uncategorized

Sinai-Fiction

“One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin.” 

This is a story outline by Jonathan Dotse from Accra, Ghana, who blogs under the name of Afrocyberpunk about the future of African science-fiction. If indulging in (self)reflection about the future of society impacted by scientific development signifies a forward look, in fear or hope, then Africa has come into its own. In the wake of District 9, which mixed distinct Afro-centric backdrop and themes with an audacious inversion of such common sci-fi notions as ‘advanced’ and ‘earthly’, a bevy of African books and movies jostle for attention.

It’s not a stretch to connect these leaps of the imagination to a continent buoyed by a thriving resource trade, enormous but often unequal economic growth, and the advent of the 100 Gbit/s Wasace fibre-optic cable connecting Africa with the rest of the world. While authoritarian-run Rwanda aspires to become the next India, Silicon Valley and Japan all rolled into one, Nigerian cyber-scammers leave no gullible inbox unspammed. Throw in rare earth metals and pirates and you’re left wondering how any writer can resist the lure of the continent’s infinite possibilities.

But I’m drifting off. This blog is about plugging ‘Sinai’, an Arabian tale of old powers, nostalgic dictators and oil, not to mention 3000 years of Abrahamic lunacy. The contrast couldn’t be greater. Here’s a land looking back. Back to Islam as Muhammad meant it. Back to the secular, progressive fifties Middle East where skirts were short and the sky was the limit. Back to the glorious thirteenth century when Arabs invented science-fiction for crying out loud. Not that this is a new lament. Arabs never recovered from the discovery of America and the global trade shift toward the Western water ways. Only a handful of elites reaped the dividends of the oil age. Everyone else got fucked. No need to envision a dystopian future when that future is now.

Sinai is not science-fiction. While questioning the past, the future has largely caught up with it. The old order is thrown out, reluctant. Shackles are broken, that sort of thing. The future is left untouched, and is in any case not for me, a closet orientalist, to envision. 

1 Comment

Filed under Arab Spring, Egypt, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, Revolution, Sinai, Uncategorized