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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for December 2010

Wrong Target for a Pretend Philosopher

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French Zionist and celebrity Islamophobe Bernard-Henri Levy recently accused Susan Abulhawa’s novel Mornings in Jenin of contributing to anti-Semitism. Levy picked the wrong target. Abulhawa has already proved herself more than a match for the ranting Alan Dershowitz. In the Huffington Post she responds to Levy’s anti-Semitism charge: “This word — with its profound gravity of marginalization, humiliation, dispossession, oppression, and ultimately, genocide of human beings for no other reason but their religion — is so irresponsibly used by the likes of Levy that it truly besmirches the memory of those who were murdered in death camps solely for being Jewish.” Then she reminds us that “the people who today are being marginalized, humiliated, dispossessed, and oppressed for the sole reason of their religion are Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

The entire, excellent rejoinder to Levy’s attempt at intimidation is over the fold. Meanwhile, if you haven’t yet bought a copy of Abulhawa’s wonderful novel, do so. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 26, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Posted in Zionism

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The Awakening According to Antonius

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Damascus after French Bombardment, 1925

Originally published at the Muslim Institute.

I never managed to finish T.E. Lawrence’s vastly overrated “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. It’s a poorly written, narrowly partial and self-dramatising account of the Arab Revolt against Turkish rule during World War One, as poor a rendering of history as one would expect from Lawrence, with his poor Arabic, poor knowledge of the Arab nationalist movement, and his strange belief that he could pass as an Arab, despite his blond hair and stumbling speech.I got as far as his description of the Syrians as “an ape-like race.”

A far, far better book on early Arab nationalism is George Antonius’s “The Arab Awakening,” which covers the period from Muhammad Ali’s brief unification of Egypt and Syria in the 1830s to the struggle for Palestine in the 1930s.

Writing in 1938, Antonius is much too optimistic about the Saudi takeover of Asir, the Shammari lands and the holy cities in the Hejaz. “It re-established the ascendancy of Moslem ethics and Arab traditions,” he says, paying only slight attention to the massacres and cultural vandalism which attended the Sauds’ arrival. Antonius didn’t forsee the immense power that oil wealth and the client relationship with America would bring, and he incorrectly expected that Wahhabism would moderate through contact with the world.

But that’s my only quibble. He’s excellent on events in the northern Arab countries and on the linguistic and cultural origins of Arabism. He notes the interesting role of American Protestant missions in re-establishing the study of Arabic and its literature, and the key part played by Arab Christians in the burgeoning movement.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm

“Coffee with Hezbollah”

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Here’s a strange and sparkly, jumpy and tightly-packed little book by PULSE’s own Belen Fernandez, in which our heroines (Belen and the photographer Amelia Opalinska) hitch-hike through Lebanon and Syria a few weeks after the war of summer 2006, consuming far more caffeine than is good for them.

Beyond Gonzo, it doesn’t pretend to journalism at all. Instead it recounts a fairly lunatic, fairly random sight-seeing tour towards ‘the dark force’ Hezbollah. The setting, of course, is an Israeli-devastated landscape, and the ‘dark force’ tag, like all the book’s other appropriations of mendacious political language, is ironic. “Coffee with Hebollah” is, as Norman Finkelstein writes in his recommendation, “simultaneously serious and silly.” It’s also quick witted and very well informed, sensitive to the discourses and stereotypes of Lebanon’s 18 sects, the country’s tortured history, as well as the fantastic representations of Lebanon that have emerged from Israeli and Western power centres. This makes the book a new kind of journalism as well as a parody of the mainstream version.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm

An Animal of Colossal Proportions

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This review first appeared at the new Muslim Institute website (worth watching)..

These days it seems that almost everyone sees the apocalypse bearing down. This is the age of Kali Yag and the oncoming rapture, the arrival of the triumphant Mehdi, of catastrophic climate change and resource shortage. This is the age in which Beduin compete to build the taller towers, in which fog appears above cities as a sign of their evil.

2666’ is a vast apocalypse-in-motion novel set in the 1990s. It was written by a poet who turned to novel writing in his forties only in order to support his young family. He died at 50.

Roberto Bolano wrote ‘2666’ in five books. Before he died he asked that each book be published separately, because he believed that would leave more cash for his loved ones. His publishers decided to ignore this directive, for each book feeds thematically and by plot tangent into the others. The novel has a cumulative, total effect.

The first book – effortlessly cosmopolitan, densely detailed, persistently digressive – centres on a menage a trois between three European academics who also share an obsession with a reclusive German writer called Archimboldi. When a British-Pakistani cab driver expresses his outrage at the academics’ unorthodox relationship, the two men of the trio beat him to a pulp. Afterwards, “they were convinced that it was the Pakistani who was the real reactionary and misogynist, the violent one, the intolerant and offensive one, that the Pakistani had asked for it a thousand times over.” Almost in passing, the episode diagnoses a very contemporary European disease, but also contributes to some of the novel’s central themes, of violence, anonymity, senselessness and the failure of imagination.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Posted in book review

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