Found Objects I: Rev Dr. Maulana Riff

Over the weekend, in Hyde Park, I received a flyer from a gentleman of indeterminate age. He was dressed in a garb unfamiliar to me. In his hand, he carried a strange device that, I later learned, recorded his words and deeds for his followers.

When he approached me, I was hesitant. And I tried to hurry myself around him. Yet, something in his eyes arrested me, as I slowed down and extended my hand to receive his flyer. He smiled and said, I have long planned our meeting, here. I nodded my head, as in agreement, though I had no comprehension. I didn’t read the flyer, stuffing it in my pocket, and wiping my fingers on my trousers. The ink left a small stain.

He briskly walked away before another word came out of my mouth. And I continued on to mine home.

I have read the flyer and found it to be an inspired work. I attach it below for my gentle readers. Perhaps I will try and find my new acquaintance, once again.

Scan of the Flyer: side 1 and side 2.

also, here:

Read this document on Scribd: riffflyer

Use the slider/zoom to read.

Kabul Transit

Thanks to Moacir, I watched the documentary Kabul Transit. Eschewing the usual talking heads approach – or even much of a linear narrative at all – it allows us to follow some people in Kabul for short periods of time. An entrepreneur, some government officials, some Canadian force members of NATO-ISAF, a yunani physician, some Kabul University students, either tell us directly what they think, what they remember and what they see in Kabul or we learn it from their conversation with others. 

It is a powerful work, though it takes a while before you sink into that world and I am undecided on whether the lack of narration and the lack of some explicit structure hurts or help. As someone who knows a little bit more about the history and languages of Afghanistan, I was soon immersed but the people I was viewing with had a harder time contextualizing what was on the screen. 

In the Director’s Statement, David Edwards concludes: “Kabul is an ancient city in which one is continually made aware of how the past shapes the present and intimates the future. History in the film had to seem to emerge out of psyche and experience, as it does when one lives in a place. We vowed not to impose a history upon the place as is done so often in many documentaries…Our goal was to allow insight to emerge out of experience, to reveal rather than describe, and to listen rather than speak.”

Well, sure. I agree. But, there are happy mediums. Since the documentary is indeed geared towards US audience, I don’t see any good reason not to, at least, locate their audience. Tell them what year it is, or why we only see Canadians giving out shovels and building sewage, or how much history lies buried in the rubbles of Kabul. As it is, the people remain nameless even – we only learn their names in the credits – and their personal histories unknown, except for those that share them. The camera obscures far more than it ever reveals.

In any event, it is something that you should try and catch. You can buy the DVD at their site. There are some clips that didn’t make the cut, and best of all, here is Alexandr Rozenbaum’s amazing Monolog Pilota – set to the best sequence in the whole documentary.

A Muslim Like Obama II

Having not heard or read this point anywhere in the cacophony over the New Yorker cover, let me add it myself.

The reactions to the cover have been in two camps: 1. It is satire. Grow a sense of humor. Or at least, recognize that this is a distillation of what red state people think (Obama/Osama). 2. It is humorless and crystallizes all the worst assumptions and offensive to Obama.

I am not going to debate with either of those. My post below, the “Finally”, refers instead to a different crystallization.

This cover, my gentle readers, renders absolutely the full melding of “terrorist” and “muslim” in American cultural conscience.

The rumors (or smears) on Obama were never that he was a terrorist but that he was a Muslim. Go back to early 2007 and trace it on freeper boards or hannity forums. You will only find insinuations about Obama attending madrasas or having been to mosques. As the rumor progressed, its apogee was reached in the NYT wherein Luttwack declared that the only thing mattered is that Muslims think he is a Muslim.

So here we are, in Bill Burton’s cover, and he starts from the assumption: Rumors are that Obama is a Muslim. Now examine that depiction; note how a “Muslim” is shown. Obama is clad in what seems to be Tabligh’i garb, there is a portrait of Osama b. Laden and a burning American flag. The transference of Obama to Muslim and Muslim to Terrorist is not only seamless, but, also immediate. The “terrorist fist jab” is another point in case. When that characterization took place (Hezbollah does that!), the readings on Debbie Schlussl and Michelle Malkin etc. was not that Obama or Michelle were terrorists. Taking my reading a tad further, the Michelle is obviously an add-on (Dear Wiki, if all Muslims are terrorists and which Black folks are also terrorist?).

Of course, I do think that the cover is funny – insofar as we all assume that all Muslims are terrorists. Which I habitually do. The New Yorker can elide all differences between a Muslim and a terrorist because those associations are realistically generalizable. Our rumor-based society gets what it deserves.

related: A Muslim Like Obama.

update: Via Juan Cole, I learn that CAIR does protest.

Reading List

Looking over the list (love that Excel Bible), I can’t help but think that any of the books mentioned in this older Middle East Greatest Hits list would be a far better choice.

Also, Juan Cole’s Napolean’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East just went paperback.

[List via Angry Arab]

ps. Only 30 copies of “Understanding Arabs: A Guide For Modern Times”? After all it has such excellent analysis (p. 57-58):

Among Arabs time is not as fixed and rigidly segmented as it tends to be among Westerners. It flows from past to present to future, and Arabs flow with it.

The Arabic word (and sentence) Ma’alish represents an entire way of looking at life and its frustrations. It means “Never mind” or “It doesn’t matter” or “Excuse me – it’s not that serious.” You will hear this said frequently when someone has had a delay, a disappointment, or an unfortunate experience. Rather than give in to pointless anger, Arabs often react to impersonally caused adversity with resignation and, to some extent, an acceptance of their fate.

Initial reactions by your Arab counterparts to your suggestions, ideas and proposals can be quite misleading if taken at face value. Arabs are not likely to criticize openly but are more likely to hint that changes are needed or to give more subtle indications that the proposal is unacceptable – by inaction, for instance.

If only Iraq was an impersonally caused adversity….

update: And another list…