Monthly Archives: June 2010

Friday’s Foraged Blog Finds!

As I am supposed to be writing my dissertation at the moment, I find myself entertaining myself during breaks reading the most random blogs, articles and visiting some really cool sites . Now, I know they will come in handy one day and (I am trying to convince myself) they are contributing to my academic research in some way but for now, I am going to dump them on this blog! Enjoy!

#Eggs and Israelis

I absolutely looooveee the blog eyeteeth which is by Paul Schmelze,  a former editor at Adbusters and he recently posted a really great little blog about a Jerusalem street art stencil. Here’s what he says:

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the message. One Flickr user translates the text as “War isn’t cookies.” That is, it’s not a cake walk, a piece of cake, easy as pie. But the more direct read is that, like cookies chewed up and spat out by a hasty ravenous monster, soldiers are victims of war, too. In spite of the fact that, as an institution, the IDF is one of the world’s best-funded, most sophisticated fighting forces, the individual soldiers are, well, fragile. The sentiment brings to mind a speech by Haruki Murakami I often quote here. He used an egg and and a wall in a metaphor for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. One way to read the metaphor, he says, is that unarmed civilians are the eggs, while tanks, guns and white phosphorus shells are the wall. But he also offers a more nuanced interpretation:

Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others – coldly, efficiently, systematically.

#Why getting ripped off is really annoying

This was one of those rare interviews which had the right proportions of freedom and control to really bring out interesting stuff. It was in SEED Magazine which is a random science magazine which has some absolute gems of articles every now and then. Here are snippets of the interview with the Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom about   “essentialism”—a belief that there’s a deeper nature to things that makes them what they are.

Seed: You begin the book with an incredible story from the art world that, you say, illustrates the concept of essentialism.
Paul Bloom: Yes— the story of a famous Nazi, Herman Goering, who was Hitler’s favorite. Goering and his boss had this perpetual competition going over who could steal the most art. They went throughout Europe and pillaged, taking art from the people they conquered. Goering was a tremendous snob, and he bought a Vermeer from this art dealer, van Meegren. After the war, van Meegren was nabbed by investigators who discovered that he had sold all this art—including great Dutch treasures—to the Nazis. And they put him in prison. When van Meegren realized he was going to be executed for treason, he confessed. He said that he did sell the artwork to the Nazis, but that it wasn’t treason, because they were not actual Vermeers….He had defrauded the Nazis, he explained, because he’d painted them himself!

Now van Meegren, as you may know, was an absolute jerk. He was beset with petty jealousies; he was an alcoholic and a drug addict. He never got the respect he felt he deserved, so years earlier he had decided to start faking art as a way to get money. Not surprisingly, nobody believes his “I jipped the Nazis” story. So in court, while he was in detention, he offered to do another painting of the Vermeer, as a way to prove his innocence. As one Dutch tabloid put it, “He Paints for His Life!” His new work turned out far superior to the one he had sold Goering, and in the end, van Meegren was given a much lighter sentence. I like that story because it illustrates that who painted the artwork really mattered. And it mattered to everyone involved: It mattered to Goering—a guy who was responsible for the murder of millions and yet, according to his biographer, this was the first time in his life that he looked “as if he’d truly seen evil.” It mattered to all of the art critics who loved the Supper at Emmaus and several other paintings that turned out to be painted by van Meegren. They were horrified to discover that the paintings weren’t by Vermeer at all.

He also goes on to talk about this  syndrome called Capgras Syndrome, where people think that people they love have been replaced by exact duplicates because (proposes V.S. Ramachandran) the part of the brain responsible for intuitive feeling and familiarity doesn’t work.

“So you look at the person and you think, They have the same face as my wife or my boyfriend, but I don’t feel anything, so it can’t be them.”

So wierd. And kinda heart-breaking.

#Flourishing art scene but not one art gallery

Interesting (I use that word far too much) article on dissident art in Saudi Arabia published in Qantara.


Britain’s First Muslims: Yemen, Fred Halliday and British Colonial Rule

Although Muslims have been visiting the shores of Britain as merchants and traders for centuries, the Yemenis were the first Muslim community to settle  permanently in the UK back in the 1890s.

In his book, ‘Britain’s First Muslims: Portrait of an Arab Community’, Fred Halliday (who passed away in April 2010) chronicles the journey of this Arab community. I was particularly interested in this book as where I live (Eccles, Manchester) there is a sizeable Yemeni community and so it was great to read about those first sailors who left from Aden and decided to make a living in the harsh industrial cities of Britain.

The book is no masterpiece and didn’t have enough background information or personal insight for my liking but it is a historical record where before there was none.  It reads more like a collection of facts with interesting bits of information and explanations of the pull/push factors of migration into the UK.

Don’t get me wrong, all the major points are covered- such as the 1919 riots, workers organisations and the changing character of the community- but you only occasionally get a real glimpse of the community itself. This is all the more ironic as Halliday states that the Yemeni’s remain the ‘invisible Arabs’ of Britain as they have been clumped with larger migrants groups and have been known as everything from lascars, negroes, Adenis, Arabs, Mediterranean, Asians, Pakistanis and more recently as Muslims.

One interesting bit of insight was the Sojourner mentality of the Yemeni migrants- many of whom ironically lived and died in the UK- whilst this is accurate of the older Yemeni population, it doesn’t reflect the aspirations of second-generation Yemenis.

April 4 1967: A Northumberland Fusilier imposes order among Arab demonstrators during a disturbance in the Crater district in Aden, Yemen Photograph: Terry Fincher/Getty

One aspect which wasn’t covered in detail was the British rule of South Yemen.  Although it probably wasn’t part of brief of the book, I think it would have been interesting to get Yemenis view of the brutal British rule and the complex relationship of dependency and detestation that must have developed. Halliday was conspicuously silent about British rule and the resentment that many Yemenis must have harboured about the treatment of their fellow Yemenis back home.

Whilst it’s easy to forget, this absolutely must-see and quite shocking bit of great documentary dug up by Adam Curtis is a real testament the harsh realities of colonial rule.  When I first watched it, I was genuinely shocked about how British soldiers treated the locals and don’t think I’ll ever forget the repeated refrain of one Yemeni man who keep saying in broken english ‘I am  man’ as he gets a thorough kicking and beating.

Who told you America is imperialist? Tell me. Who?

Over the weekend I went to see The Time That Remains: Chronicles of a Present Absentee, a film by Elia Sulieman a Palestinian from Nazareth- it  was AMAZING.

Now this may come off a little unfair but films on Palestine don’t tend to be cinematic masterpieces as they expect the issue (ie. the Palestine-Israel conflict) to carry the film and in some ways that’s fine- because they are about getting the message across. But this is just a gem of a film with moments of bright brilliance.

The Time That Remains
is the third installment on Palestinians living in Israel and is the most personal so far- including Sulieman’s earliest memories as well as his father’s diaries to tell the story of the invasion of Nazareth in 1948 and the subsequent exile of his family. It’s darkly whimsical and without giving too much away, the first half follows his father’s story which gives way to Elia’s own experiences as  a silent observer into the absurd, paradoxical and nuanced complexities of being a Palestinian in Israel and returning from exile.

There are some really iconic moments such as Sulieman calmly pole-vaulting  across the Apartheid wall, stalking tanks, off-the-wall neighbours, blind-as-a-bat aunties whose plate of lentils are dumped straight into the bin but one scene which really stands out for me is Elia being scolded by his teacher in an Israeli  school who asks him:  ‘who told you that America is colonialist?  That it is imperialist?’

Doesn’t he know that kind of talk isn’t suitable for the classroom?

It’s a great scene which shows how the conflict and confusion starts at a young age and isn’t ever entirely shaken off. It also reminded me of an event I went to that was organised by the NUJ and the reaction of a Zimbabwean journalist Foster Dongozi- when he was asked about whether he was concerned about America’s imperial and colonialist agenda.

It clearly made him uncomfortable because for him, that was something that the Zimbabwean regime constantly spouts to hinder press freedom and so he wanted to clarify that they were routinely arrested for being the ‘running dogs of the imperial state of America’.  I guess Mugabe is going for the whole better-the-devil-you-know card…but just because it’s (ab)used as an excuse by an awful dictatorship does it become less valid? I don’t know.

Anyway, the whole film is littered with unfinished and silent scenes like this which recall events but leave  you to decide what to think. They seem to be waiting for the viewers reaction, their memory and attempts to make sense of it all.

If you get the chance, go and see this film!

Exodus Vs. Mavi Marmara: Two Ships that Changed Israel?

I have been thinking a lot about journalism recently and what kind of journalist I aspire to be- what medium I want to use, what role I want to play etc. The one thing I have decided on is that in essence a good journalist is someone who can bring something to story – an interesting view, a piece of history, a video, photo, a new testimony that makes you feel like you’re reading the news for the very first time.

Adam Curtis does it ALL the time. I simultaneously love him and completely hate him (in jealousy of course!) for his ability to consistently bring something unique to his reporting. For example, a lot has been written about the unforgivable Israeli assault on the aid ship, the Mavi Marmara that was heading to the besieged Gaza Strip, which left 9 aid workers dead. Was it acceptable (no!), was it piracy (not really), will Israel get away with it (most probably)..etc.

Curtis not only made the connection with a very similar event in 1947 but also dug up a documentary from the BBC’s archives about the event which is definitely worth a quick watch!

In 194,  Jewish refugees boarded a ship named the Exodus and tried to break the British blockade of Palestine. British soldiers boarded the ship 21 miles off the coast of Palestine killing 3 refugees- it was an international scandal and PR disaster for the UK. In fact, Curtis states that many credit this incident as one of the most significant events that led to the founding of the modern Israeli state.

Although the events are different in lots of ways, I wonder if the foundations of the Israeli nation- built on that of a ship full of people desperate for change- can be shaken by another, very similiar,  ship that sailed 60 years later?