Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Bo Kaap

The Bo Kaap District, Cape Town, South Africa. ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Mubarak!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Eavesdropping 2

Not really eavesdropping as the conversation involved myself but as there's already an 'Eavesdropping 1' post, why curtail a potentially highly successful and lucrative book deal?

Sat at a restaurant in Manchester's over-hyped self-christened curry mile AKA Wilmslow Road I don't know what overcame me but I decided to order a Chicken Toofan [sic] which had four chillis alongside its name to indicate capsaicin content (inversely proportional to actual flavour). When the chicken blocks smeared with tomato paste and chilli powder arrived, I rapidly realised that a carbonated beverage would be wise. Having ordered the drink I waited and waited whilst emptying the tanker of tap water alongside me.

As the amiable waiter (W) began clearing the table I (LA) made an enquiry:

LA - You forgot the Coke.
W - [Taking slightly longer than normal to compute a simple piece of information eventually breaks into a broad smile] Thank you sir. Thank you very much.

As he tidied away the crockery he stopped before leaving the table and turned,

W - Thank you. Dessert please?
LA - I'll have the bill please.

Lost in translation?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Lane's Lexicon

The prestigious (and prodigious) Lane's Lexicon - an extensive dictionary of the Arabic language started by Edward William Lane in 1863 and completed posthumously, by his nephew Professor S L Poole - is now online and avaialable for download.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Letter published in The Guardian Review

In response to Oliver Miles' review of Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation. It's a shame they edited the letter's original title: Pedants Unite!

Role of Fatima

In addition to being the cousin of the prophet, as Ahdaf Soueif rightly points out in her response to Oliver Miles's review of Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation ("The big picture", November 19), Imam Ali was also the prophet's son-in-law by virtue of marrying his only daughter, Fatima. Miles is quite correct: "mistakes undermine the reader's confidence".Link

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Legends of Cricket

Take a multimedia tour through the cricketing hall of fame at Cricket Clips. The Waqar Younis video clips bring tears to the eye.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Khat and Paste

The government is finally contemplating banning the drug of choice of African/Arab migrants - Khat ('qat, kat, khat, khut, qut or xat depending on which expert you talk to').

The leaves are imported on regular flights from Africa as they remain potent for only 36 hours after being picked.

In the Nacro study 49% of the 553 Somalis interviewed said they wanted to see khat made illegal and even 25% of those who regularly used the drug agreed it should be outlawed. But a substantial minority - 35% - felt that khat use helped to maintain cultural identity.

The home secretary has asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to report by next month on whether the drug should be banned. Khat leaves are legal in Britain but their active ingredients, cathinone and cathine, are listed as class C drugs. The leaves are already banned in America, Sweden, Canada and Norway. (Full story)
Matthew Fort, a Guardian journalist, wrote about his own Khat experience a couple of years ago.

The suspense is killing me

Two juicy snippets of gossip from the literary world about William Dalrymple:

TRAVEL writer William Dalrymple has moved to Bloomsbury, following his editor Michael Fishwick with whom he worked closely for nearly 20 years at HarperCollins. Fishwick has bought five new books via agent David Godwin, the first of which, The Last Moghul, will be published in October 2006. Fishwick said: “I am immensely happy to have brought William Dalrymple to Bloomsbury. I have worked with him ever since I took on his first travel book, In Xanadu, nearly 20 years ago, and am looking forward to a similar period of time working with one of the greatest, most brilliant and exciting people writing today.” (Publishing News)
And from the Guardian:

He is now at work on a Mughal Quartet, four books telling the story of the Great Mughals from the time of Babur to the last Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The first volume will be published by Bloomsbury next autumn.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Desert Camel Jockeys

Having teased several Arab friends (and acquaintances) with the above term of endearment it appears that even this task has been wrestled from their grasp. Enter the Robot Camel Jockeys!

Robots, designed in Switzerland, riding camels in the Arabian desert. Camel jockey robots, about 2 feet high, with a right hand to bear the whip and a left hand to pull the reins. Thirty-five pounds of aluminum and plastic, a 400-MHz processor running Linux and communicating at 2.4 GHz; GPS-enabled, heart rate-monitoring (the camel's heart, that is) robots. Mounted on tall, gangly blond animals, bouncing along in the sandy wastelands outside Doha, Qatar, in the 112-degree heat, with dozens of follow-cars behind them. I have seen them with my own eyes.
Here's the full story.

Bush - Exit stage left

George Bush tried to make a hasty retreat from a press conference in China - through a locked door.

What a moron. See the Channel 4 report here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Cricketing Supplication

Spotted this rather predatory invocation on a banner in the crowd on Day 2 of the Test in Faisalabad:

"Bab Waalmer v.v. good coch
We prey to Pakistan teem"

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine the furore if, for instance, a one-eyed, hook-for-hands had uttered the following, reported in yesterday's Guardian? Jovial Irish eccentricity?

A Democratic Unionist councillor who said hurricane Katrina was sent to the US by God to punish the New Orleans gay community yesterday stood by his views despite calls for his resignation.

Maurice Mills, twice mayor of Ballymena, said New Orleans was about to host an annual gay pride festival when God intervened through Katrina.

It was a warning to nations "where such wickedness is increasingly promoted and practised". Northern Ireland gay rights campaigners said he should be sacked. But he said: "This is me as an individual taking a stand for God."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Guardian pulls Chomsky interview

In response to a sorry excuse for an interview in The Guardian's G2 section (the original article has been removed from The Guardian's website but can be accessed here) Prof Noam Chomsky 'complained to the readers' editor over comments attributed to him about the Srebrenica massacre.'

The US academic and activist had complained that the October 31 interview, published in the newspaper and on Guardian Unlimited, falsely portrayed him as denying that massacres were committed there during the Bosnian war.

Professor Chomsky complained in particular about the headline for the interview which read: "Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated? A: My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough."

The Guardian's readers' editor, Ian Mayes, said today in a corrections and clarifications column printed in the paper, that no question in that form had been put by interviewer Emma Brockes to Prof Chomsky and that "the headline was wrong and unjustified by the text".

In an open letter dated November 13 on his official website, Prof Chomsky attacked the Guardian interview as a "scurrilous piece of journalism" where the reporter had a definite agenda.
Chomsky's letter is worth a read.


Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa. ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

Letter to The Guardian

In response to a text box accompanying an article in today's Guardian:

Dear Sir

The information box outlining the Iranian President's 'devotion to a mystical religious figure' (Second coming - The president's beliefs, November 18) implies that the belief in the Mahdi is a cultish and exclusively Shi'a construct. In fact, the Mahdi is an integral figure in Islamic eschatology such that several individuals have laid claim to the title for various ends. The main difference between the Shi'a and Sunni perspectives is whether the Mahdi has been born or not. The former believe he has, is in a period of occultation and await his reappearance.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Very Indian Outlook

A 10 year old boy from Nagpur, India, considers his rare birth defect to be an advantage:

Devender Harne, 10, was born with 25 fingers and toes -- six fingers on each hand, six toes on one foot and seven on the other.

Though it would be considered an abnormality to some, Devender says it allows him to work faster than the average child.

The extra digits on his hands and feet don't hinder his daily life. Like any normal 10-year-old, he goes to school, plays sports and spends time with his friends.

The Guinness Book of World Records has contacted the boy's family and is investigating whether he has the most useful fingers and toes in the world.

Rumi makes it into the BMJ!

From this week's British Medical Journal:

Medicine's need

Where lowland is, that's where water goes. All medicine wants is pain to cure.
Delicious laughter: rambunctious teaching stories from the Mathnawi of Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-73). Compiled and translated by Coleman Barks. Maypop, 1990
BMJ 2005;331:1142 (12 November), doi:10.1136/bmj.331.7525.1142

Friday, November 11, 2005

Moustapha Akkad dies

The Syrian born director/producer Moustapha Akkad and his daughter Rima have been confirmed as two of the victims of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's latest attrocity. The 68-year old directed the groundbreaking 1977 film 'The Message' starring Anthony Quinn that portrayed the life of the Prophet of Islam and introduced his history to a Western audience via the Silver screen for the first time.

BBC News Coverage.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

La Haine

Mathieu Kassovitz, director of the powerful French film La Haine (Hate) which I vividly recall first seeing, posted a statement about La Republique's fortnight of rioting on his website yesterday. The film itself 'detailed the aftermath of a riot on an impoverished Paris housing project' and graphically captures the explosive racial tensions between the Parisian elite and the immigrant French underclass by focusing on the shared experiences of a young ghetto trio comprising a second generation Arab, West African and Eastern European Jew.

The following is an extract (of an extract!) published in today's Guardian entitled 'It's hard not to cheer the rioters':

As much as I would like to distance myself from politics, it is difficult to remain distant in the face of the depravations of politicians. And when these depravations draw the hate of all youth, I have to restrain myself from encouraging the rioters.

Nicolas Sarkozy, who has appeared in the media like a starlet from American Idol and who for the past years has been showering us with details of his private life and political ambitions, cannot prevent himself from creating an event every time his ratings go down. This time, Sarkozy [who last week described the rioters as "scum"] has gone against everything the French republic stands for: the liberty, the equality and the fraternity of a people.

By acting like a warmonger, he has opened a breach that I hope will engulf him. Hate has kindled hate for centuries and yet Sarkozy still thinks that repression is the only way to prevent rebellion. History has proved to us that a lack of openness and philosophy between different communities engenders hate and confrontation. Sound and fury are the only means for many communities to make themselves heard.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam in 5 Bullet Points

  • A beautifully written novel that verges on the poetic throughout - the intoxicating red of the Cinnabar moth; the magnetic luring of snow towards the earth...

  • Very well researched and damn good story - probably did take him the 11 years he claims to have required

  • Portrays a seismic point of contact between two very different traditions of the Subcontinental Islamic World - the traditional Muslim outlook and the disillusioned if not outright atheistic outlook

  • Highlights the unchallenged inconsistencies in people's thought

  • Describes a world (an anonymnous English town given the pseudonym of Dasht-e-Tanhaii - Desert of Solitude) that is simultaneously familiar yet totally foreign to me.
  • Saturday, November 05, 2005

    Eid Mubarak!

    Eid Mubarak to you all.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005


    Something I posted in April. Here we go again...

    With the imminent advent of moonfighting committees to diffuse the havoc caused by moonsighting committees, and the launch of the new Conservative manifesto, perhaps it's time to borrow a Tory phrase and get 'back to basics'. The perennial drive to standardise the Islamic calendar may well be blinkering us from the actual ethos behind the act of moonsighting - regaining a sense of perspective.

    Hamza Yusuf touches on the issue in his commentary on Sachiko Murata and William Chittick's 'Vision of Islam' by quoting an unnamed Scottish phenomenologist:

    There are efforts to standardise the Islamic calendar so that Ramadhan can be started on the same day in different communities. But the relationship of the celestial bodies to the earth is a living thing and every location has its own sky. So why shouldn't religious festivals begin on dates peculiar to different places? The modern mind, however, wishes to generalise and abstract the situation so the phenomena are bypassed. As with the length of the day, the average is calculated and becomes the accepted truth to accommodate the limits of circular wheels in clocks, yet none of the celestial bodies moves in circles.
    You can listen to the relevant extract (in mp3 format) from Hamza Yusuf's commentary here.

    Some comments arising therefrom:

    Mohammed said...
    Yeah i just listened to that snippet yesterday on the zaytuna website. I found it to be insightful. I wish ppl would explain the system of moonsighting itself as well. I think 99.9% of muslims dont understand it, including me.

    10/04/2005 10:55 PM

    Anonymous said...
    Since Islam encourages the use of technology, I (even as a girl) would say it was quite simple to click on an obervatory website (Jodrell Bank for example) and in 2 seconds flat, you can find out if the moon has been sighted. They use these MASSIVE telescopes that are awfully complicated and surprisingly accurate. Easy as pie.

    11/02/2005 12:43 PM

    Leo_Africanus said...
    But where's the fun in that?!

    11/02/2005 1:08 PM

    Tuesday, November 01, 2005


    The Islamic Museum, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. ©Tauseef Mehrali 2005


    A couple of months ago I met up with my sister for a pizza in town. Sitting at the table adjacent to ours were a couple of college students: a waif-like girl (G) and a boy (B) who couldn't decide whether he was more interested in her or his mountain of pizza slices.

    B - Are you sure you don't want some pizza?
    G - Nah. I'm on a diet innit.

    [B proceeds to maul his buffet meal while G looks on, having ordered nothing.]

    B - So what's your favourite meal then?
    G - Oh that's a tricky one...hmmm...I don't know.
    B - If you had to choose something that was your number one food...
    G - Ok.Ok. It's gotta be Filet-o-Fish. Man, that is delicious. In fact, I love Filet-o-Fish.
    B - Really? Qasme I think it's rough. Why do you love it?
    G - Oh man. I can't explain it. It's different to liking something. Like, you know, I could like a guy cos he has a nice bag but you don't know why you love something. You just do. It just tastes so different.

    [Some silent munching ensues]

    B - Have you noticed me before?
    G - Yeah, in science innit.

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Pakistan Earthquake

    Two friends have headed out to Pakistan this evening to support the earthquake relief efforts. You can keep a track on their progress here.

    For further details regarding the quake try this portal.

    Image source: Reuters.

    Sunday, October 02, 2005

    Hotel Rwanda

    I'm finally making headway through my DVD catalogue by getting round to seeing Hotel Rwanda, an independent film released last year. It revisits the shocking Rwandan genocide of 1994. Don Cheadle is cast as Paul Rusesabagina, an African Oskar Schindler, who, as the semi-corrupt assistant manager of the Belgian-owned Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali uses every contact and franc at his disposal to secure the lives of over a thousand individuals who found themselves sheltered in the hotel/refugee camp.

    The streetscapes are convincing (as are the characters; unlike Ridley Scott's west African actors masquerading as Somalians in Black Hawk Down) and the brutal atmosphere that is ignited by the death of the Rwandan president and perpetuated by the acts of the Interhamwe militia is recreated in humbling detail. A particularly startling scene involves Paul and a colleague driving along a riverside road when they are engulfed by a thick mist. The van begins to sway and rock leading them to believe they have veered off-road. The mist clears to reveal a road littered with human corpses and remains.

    The geopolitical aspects of the whole affair are (perhaps understandably) rather simplistically portrayed and the tone at times too accusatory as in the strange exchange between Paul and Colonel Olivier (a fictionalised Roméo Dallaire):

    "The West, all the superpowers, they think you're dirt. They think you're dung. You're not even a nigger. You're African."
    The conventional ending does somewhat detract from the message by underming the event itself. But the film asks some poignant questions about the UN/Western response to the slaughter of almost a million people. It also makes you try and desperately recall what you were doing at the time.

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    Hadji Murat

    I recently completed Leo Tolstoy's Hadji Murat. At face value an apparently awesome feat bearing in mind the length of Tolstoy's other works. Fortunately, Hadji Murat is a fraction of the size of 'War & Peace' or 'Anna Karenina' but despite the brevity it propels Tolstoy to the foreground of my literary perspective.

    Hadji Murat chronicles the life of the eponymous hero who came to personify the resistance of the Caucasus to Russian imperialism. The work was published posthumously and reflects an anger and disillusionment with Czarism that perhaps explains why Tolstoy chose not to make the manuscript public.

    Tolstoy outlines his inspiration in a foreword to the piece:

    I gathered myself a large nosegay and was going home when I noticed in a ditch, in full bloom, a beautiful thistle plant of the crimson variety, which in our neighborhood they call 'Tartar' and carefully avoid when mowing -- or, if they do happen to cut it down, throw out from among the grass for fear of pricking their hands. Thinking to pick this thistle and put it in the center of my nosegay, I climbed down into the ditch, and after driving away a velvety bumble-bee that had penetrated deep into one of the flowers and had there fallen sweetly asleep, I set to work to pluck the flower. But this proved a very difficult task. Not only did the stalk prick on every side -- even through the handkerchief I wrapped round my hand -- but it was so tough that I had to struggle with it for nearly five minutes, breaking the fibers one by one; and when I had at last plucked it, the stalk was all frayed and the flower itself no longer seemed so fresh and beautiful. Moreover, owing to a coarseness and stiffness, it did not seem in place among the delicate blossoms of my nosegay. I threw it away feeling sorry to have vainly destroyed a flower that looked beautiful in its proper place.

    'But what energy and tenacity! With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold its life!' thought I, remembering the effort it had cost me to pluck the flower. The way home led across black-earth fields that had just been ploughed up. I ascended the dusty path. The ploughed field belonged to a landed proprietor and was so large that on both sides and before me to the top of the hill nothing was visible but evenly furrowed and moist earth. The land was well tilled and nowhere was there a blade of grass or any kind of plant to be seen, it was all black. 'Ah, what a destructive creature is man....How many different plant-lives he destroys to support his own existence!' thought I, involuntarily looking around for some living thing in this lifeless black field.

    In front of me to the right of the road I saw some kind of little clump, and drawing nearer I found it was the same kind of thistle as that which I had vainly plucked and thrown away. This 'Tartar' plant had three branches. One was broken and stuck out like the stump of a mutilated arm. Each of the other two bore a flower, once red but now blackened. One stalk was broken, and half of it hung down with a soiled flower at its tip. The other, though also soiled with black mud, still stood erect. Evidently a cartwheel had passed over the plant but it had risen again, and that was why, though erect, it stood twisted to one side, as if a piece of its body had been torn from it, its bowels drawn out, an arm torn off, and one of its eyes plucked out. Yet it stood firm and did not surrender to man who had destroyed all its brothers around it....

    'What vitality!' I thought. 'Man has conquered everything and destroyed millions of plants, yet this one won't submit.' And I remembered a Caucasian episode of years ago, which I had partly seen myself, partly heard of from eye-witnesses, and in part imagined.

    The episode, as it has taken shape in my memory and imagination, was as follows.
    What follows is an intense portrait of the period as well as the rival peoples. The narrative is gripping from the very onset and Tolstoy exhibits an unrivalled skill in creating wholly absorbing atmospheres and surroundings. He maintains a degree of conciseness that never borders on reductionist and in fact manages to take the reader on a circuitous moral tour of the characters - you cannot help but root for Hadji Murat and yet sympathise with the Russian infantrymen.

    A powerful and provocative novel.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    I'm back!

    The Datai Beach, Lankgawi, Malaysia. ©Tauseef Mehrali 2005

    Federal Mosque, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. ©Tauseef Mehrali 2005

    KLCC Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. ©Tauseef Mehrali 2005

    Wednesday, May 25, 2005

    You'll never walk alone

    Monday, May 23, 2005

    Another New (Testament) Diet

    It was only a matter of time.

    Five loaves, two fish and a goblet of red wine could be on the menu for Americans if a new diet takes off.

    Don Colbert, a Florida doctor, believes asking yourself "What would Jesus eat?" is the best way to stay fit, slim and trim.

    In his book, which gets its title from this question, he explores some of the Old Testament dietary laws and looks at foods mentioned in the Bible.
    Click here for the full story.

    Saturday, May 21, 2005

    Mr Lings & Mr Picot

    1. The Independent remembers the late Martin Lings.

    2. Robert Fisk, in the same paper, manages to make François Georges Picot (of the Sykes-Picot Agreement infamy) an even less likable character.
    Now to return to my espresso-fuelled Sudoku...

    Friday, May 13, 2005

    Masjid-e-Imam, Isfahan

    Masjid-e-Imam, Isfahan. ©Tauseef Mehrali 2001 Posted by Hello

    Sunday, May 08, 2005

    Kingdom of Hell

    Fate conspired to make me see 'Kingdom of Heaven' yesterday. I went to the cinema with the intention of catching 'The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy' so my conscience can breathe with an uneasy guiltlessness.

    If you've seen Kingdom of Heaven and enjoyed it you're either a) a pitiful decerebrate Hollywood junky or b) the lady sitting next to me in the cinema who was compelled to cry during the CGI-driven siege of Jerusalem. Very rarely have I ignored Peter Bradshaw's advice and will think long and hard before doing so again. In fact, he must have been in a most generous of moods to confer two stars upon this Old Testament-like plague of a film.

    My reservations may arise chiefly from the shocking 'cultural reference' mismanagement but I think these merely served to emphasise the vacuousness of the whole affair. For instance, in one scene as the Crusaders prepare to depart some innominate European shores to head for the Levant, we catch glimpse of some 'Saracens' praying on a beach. But this is no ordinary prayer. They are scattered along the shore, perhaps 20 yards from each other. Peppered like sandcastles at Blackpool along the expanse, bowing and prostrating, out of synch, with the adhan (call to prayer) blaring in the background. Now I'm no religious scholar but it doesn't take one to point out the ludicrity of the situation. As my friend pointedly remarked, 'perhaps there was a special dispensation at the time of war for people to finish praying before the call to prayer had even ended!' The ensuing merriment amongst us was a source of great consternation to the cinemaphile sitting alongside us who promptly turned around and shouted 'If you're going to laugh and talk you might as well leave. It's so frustrating.' You're not wrong there.

    Later on as the comically Oriental looking Salahaddin overlooks the burial of his soldiers lost during the attempt to regain Jerusalem, he holds his hands in the air and in a sombre tone begins to recite the Fatiha (opening chapter of the Qur'an). Midway through the recitation though, for reasons best known to Ridley Scott (and probably Salahaddin's bladder), the surah is curtailed (it's only 7 lines long anyway) and the statement of conclusion (sadaqAllahul adheem - Allah the Great has spoken the truth) is rapidly uttered by Salahaddin. Now that's a warrior in a hurry. He incidentally is shown going to war surrounded by the most ridiculous banners and standards I have ever seen. They seem to be without any historical precedent and wouldn't be out of place in an anti-war rally in Trafalgar square.

    The hiring of the improbably wooden Orlando Bloom must have placed severe restrictions on the coffers and meant employing a half-baked (but post 9/11 approved) islamic scholar. That's the only reason I can think of for these amazing oversights.

    In kneading the script into an unpalatable mish mash of humanistic drivel, Ridley Scott avoids stepping on Christian and Muslim toes but with the awful lack of attention to detail it's as if he came into my house with muddy shoes, asked for a beer and regaled everyone about how he voted for Roger Godsiff.

    Hari Kunzru on 'Do the Arts matter?'

    A response to the soon-to-be-released work entitled 'What Good Are the Arts?' by John Carey, emeritus professor of English Literature at Oxford university.

    After the performances of Bach in Birkenau it's hard to argue that the arts are automatically humanising. We know it's simultaneously possible to be a sadistic murderer and art-lover. The point is that the arts 'can' make us better people, not that they manage it every time. Art offers tools for living - to console or delight or enrage or challenge or revitalise dulled perception. Art, above all, is a collaboration between artist and audience. It demands work to create meaning, or even to extract pleasure. To me the Nazi commandant crying at the Cello Suites while sending other human beings to the gas chamber is both terrifying and intriguing. Is he just a snob, a more extreme version of the kind of person who buys opera tickets to confirm his sense of himself as a superior person? Or does he have a genuine sense of beauty? Or both? It seems to me that the answer lies in the idea of 'high art', which I hate. To me 'high art' is just art + power: art that is for whatever reason associated with social privilege, or which is valued by a dominant class or group. Your appreciation of Bach confirms you as a member of the master race. The others are lesser, in part because they don't appreciate Bach. So you can kill them.

    There is only good and bad art, and I agree with Carey that the difference lies in the response of the receiver. If I just hear a sawing noise, to me the Cello Suites are not art. If I cry and kill Jews, they are 'high art'. If I cry and feel some kind of connection with the rest of humanity, perhaps based on my wonder that it is possible to order sound in such a way as to produce this profound response in me, then I have experienced art - and am capable, maybe, of being an artist. Listen to Yo-Yo Ma playing the Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites and consider these things. I don't have a 'favourite work of art' in the 'My Funny Valentine' sense, but that will do very well as a starting point.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    'Windows is shutting down' by Clive James

    Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
    On their last leg. So what am we to do?
    A letter of complaint go just so far,
    Proving the only one in step are you.

    Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
    A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
    Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
    The meaning what it must of meant to had.

    The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
    But evolution do not stop for that.
    A mutant languages rise from the dead
    And all them rules is suddenly old hat.

    Too bad for we, us what has had so long
    The best seat from the only game in town.
    But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
    Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.

    The Guardian Review, 30 April 2005, 36

    Wednesday, May 04, 2005

    Liberation Theology

    No, not the showdown between the South American Communistas and the Papacy, but my very own bid for freedom. Two more nights to go and I finish my week of nights and emerge from the abyss.

    Saturday, April 23, 2005

    The Lizard

    Tariq Ali, the devout Pakistani atheist, seems to still be reeling from the beatings meted out by his over-zealous religious tutors as a youngster. His article in today's Guardian Review about 'Islamic cinema', plods along the same well trodden, yet fatally flawed, intellectual path - conflating and confusing Islam with Muslims. Yet his observations on Iranian cinema and the likes of Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf and Panahi are astute. In particular he highlights a film I've been trying to get hold of for a while - Marmoulak (The Lizard).

    A convict (known as "the Lizard") escapes from a prison hospital disguised as a mullah. He takes the train to a border town where they are expecting a new mullah. The Lizard has watched enough Iranian television to pick up the clerical style, but he becomes an ultra-humanist cleric, encouraging doubt, analysing Tarantino movies, both surprising and delighting his audience.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2005

    London Palestine Film Festival

    The annual London Palestine Film Festival is organized by the Palestine
    Film Foundation, a project of the Palestine Society at London University's
    School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

    The Festival kicks off on the 22nd of April (until the 6th of May) at the Barbican and SOAS itself. Click here for more details.

    The Guardian had this to say about the festival:

    This festival was created in 1999 to assist the development of Palestinian cinema and create an audience for it. And it certainly seems to be working. Not only are there more films this year, they've also expanded to take over the Barbican. There are documentaries aplenty but the dramas here are mostly drawn from personal, real-life experiences, making them just as relevant - with appearances from many of the film-makers to clear things up. Arna's Children has ex-pupils reminiscing about an important theatre school, acclaimed thriller Private sums up the Palestinian situation in one occupied house. Epic documentary Don't Touch My Holocaust tries to find method in cruel madness, Rana's Wedding redefines speed-dating and 2,000 Terrorists looks at a fear- induced genocide.

    Monday, April 18, 2005

    Time wasting

    Waste your time properly with these short films commisioned by BMW and directed by the likes of Ang Lee and Guy Ritchie.

    Image hosted by

    Sunday, April 17, 2005

    Saturday is Guardian Review day

    Yesterday's Guardian Review happened to serendipitously coincide with the launch of Chaikhana, a new cyber literary group that I was invited to join with the endearing

    You've passed a rigorous selection process and been specially selected to join Chaikhana! Umm, well I mean at some point you happen to have read a book I've also read... and this has resulted in this dubious honour...Inspired partly by the chaikhane in the Si o Seh Bridge in Esfahan, Iran, this tea house could equally be anywhere else between the Bosphorus and the Ganges ... When I read a good book, I wish that life were three thousand years long ~ courtesy Waterstones bookmarks
    So by way of inauguration, this week's Review features a glance at the second installment, The Hall of a Thousand Columns, of Tim Mackintosh-Smith's wonderful series following in the footnotes (and literal footsteps) of Ibn Batuttah the great medieval Tangerine traveler; Samir El-youssef, co-author of Gaza Blues, muses on attempts to explain what turns people into suicide bombers; Kamila Shamsie's Broken Verses is placed under the electron microscope AND most intriguingly, Tarquin Hall (a self-confessed public schoolboy coming from a family with middle-class habits) has his Salaam Brick Lane: A Year in the New East End feted as 'charming, brilliant, affectionate and quietly impassioned'. Here's an apertif:

    Mr Ali, however, is the star turn; an anti-hero who shovels himself full of halal fried chicken while Inland Revenue envelopes pile up unopened in his shambolic office, he is the ultimate cockney Muslim, announcing the message of his faith: "The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon 'im, yeah, 'e said, 'Be a worker; don't sit around on your arse, innit.'"

    Monday, April 11, 2005


    With the imminent advent of moonfighting committees to diffuse the havoc caused by moonsighting committees, and the launch of the new Conservative manifesto, perhaps it's time to borrow a Tory phrase and get 'back to basics'. The perennial drive to standardise the Islamic calendar may well be blinkering us from the actual ethos behind the act of moonsighting - regaining a sense of perspective.

    Hamza Yusuf touches on the issue in his commentary on Sachiko Murata and William Chittick's 'Vision of Islam' by quoting an unnamed Scottish phenomenologist:

    There are efforts to standardise the Islamic calendar so that Ramadhan can be started on the same day in different communities. But the relationship of the celestial bodies to the earth is a living thing and every location has its own sky. So why shouldn't religious festivals begin on dates peculiar to different places? The modern mind, however, wishes to generalise and abstract the situation so the phenomena are bypassed. As with the length of the day, the average is calculated and becomes the accepted truth to accommodate the limits of circular wheels in clocks, yet none of the celestial bodies moves in circles.
    You can listen to the relevant extract (in mp3 format) from Hamza Yusuf's commentary here.

    Is this some kind of joke?

    It's time to start thinking about exams once again! The next set will be Part 1 of the Membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health exam. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the £270 examination fee. Surely paying to sit for an exam must be classed as a form of masochism?

    Saturday, April 09, 2005

    Marburg Virus

    Here's a mugshot of the villain responsible for the recent outbreak in Angola. They say you can develop an impression of someone by knowing their friends and family; Marburg virus is a cousin of Ebola!

    An electron micrograph of the Marburg Virus (courtesy of I Love Science)

    An A-Z of English (without the X)

    Reading through this article on one of England's great literary figures, Dr Johnson, I couldn't help but smile in appreciation and admiration of his wit and undeniable talent.

    Here's a selection of entries from his dictionary of the english language:

    Cough A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity. It is pronounced coff

    Dunce A dullard; a dolt; a thickskull; a stupid indocile animal

    Excise A hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid

    Fart Wind from behind

    Strut To walk with affected dignity; to swell with stateliness

    Trance An ecstasy; a state in which the soul is rapt into visions

    Uxorious Submissively fond of a wife; infected with connubial dotage

    Vaticide A murderer of poets

    Witticism A mean attempt at wit

    Yawn To gape; to oscitate; to have the mouth opened involuntarily, as in sleepiness

    Zealot One passionately ardent in any cause. Generally used in dispraise

    Friday, April 08, 2005

    "You can send me to college, but you cannot make me think."

    Sarfraz Manzoor, columnist for The Guardian, cites the above (his favourite T-shirt slogan) in response to the Australian policy of compulsory voting.

    I used to feel the Australians had the right idea when they made voting compulsory. Now I am convinced that in the end all the media and the parties can do is put the facts, issues and information out there - what you cannot do is make people think.
    With the election date confirmed, the media (apologies for the totally non-Saidian use of the generic category) has focussed its attention on voter apathy. Only 59% of those eligible to vote did so last time round.

    Manzoor distinguishes the apathetic from the strategic non-voters:

    For those voters who are resigned to an inevitable Labour victory, or who want to give Tony Blair a kicking but cannot bring themselves to vote Liberal Democrat, or who find all three parties unpalatable, not voting is a wholly understandable and justified action...For them, withdrawing from the electoral process does not imply that they do not care about politics; instead they are choosing to express their priorities and concerns in other ways. These voters may decide that there are more effective ways to get their voice heard than through the ballot box: they might join a pressure group, get involved in local politics or, if they really want to make a difference, watch Jamie's School Dinners.
    Timothy Garton-Ash in the same paper, goes further in suggesting that it's not due to the palatability of the main parties' policies (or lack thereof) but the actual lack of any significant difference between them:

    In this post-ideological age, mainstream politics is not about systemic alternatives. It's about minor variations in the management of democratic capitalism - a system which, for the time being at least, faces no major ideological challenge in Europe. Unlike, let us remind ourselves, for most of the 20th century.

    The voters' choice is now more like that of shareholders (or is it stakeholders?) deciding which of two or three competing management teams seems more competent to run the company. Or, to adjust the metaphor slightly, it's about management teams pragmatically and opportunistically assembling rainbow coalitions of voters, by calculated appeals to specific interest groups, generations and so on.
    As for Sarfraz Manzoor's other group of voters,

    ...there is another section of apathetic voters - the ones who are just not interested, and not interested in becoming interested. It's this group who the politicians and the media are most desperate to reach. The argument is that these non-voters reflect the extent of public disenchantment with politicians and politics. The media and politicians, it is argued, need to do more to help connect politics with people's experiences.
    All of which brings us neatly to an analysis of liberal western democracy by none other than Winston Churchill:

    The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.
    Or in Sarfraz Manzoor's dystopian view:

    For those not bothering to vote, meanwhile, and who are dreading the saturation media coverage because they yearn for an election that has charismatic candidates, where their votes can make a real difference and which genuinely speaks to their hopes and fears, they can always look forward to this: three weeks after election day sees the return of Big Brother.
    Read Sarfraz Manzoor's article here.
    Read Timothy Garton-Ash's article here.

    Sunday, April 03, 2005

    Star Struck

    I sent the following email to the Shahenshah of modern travel writers, William Dalrymple, early last month:

    Dear Mr Dalrymple

    I hope this doesn’t come across as too stalker-like but now that I’ve read and re-read your existing books I think I’m beginning to develop withdrawal symptoms. Rumour has it you’re working on a new work focusing on Delhi’s twilight era looking at the likes of Bahadur Shah Zafar and Mirza Asadullah Ghalib.

    Is there any truth behind these rumours and if so when are they likely to materialise?

    Best regards

    I didn't hear from him throughout March and was beginning to draw parallels between the reliability of email delivery and the Royal Mail (or entertain the possibility that I may have actually frightened the poor man) when lo and behold on checking my emails today:

    Hello there Tauseef- and thanks so much for your note. Yes I am working away on Zafar and have just returned from a trip to Rangoon to see the place of his final exile (I loved Rangoon but can understand why he wouldn't share my feelings!) Please find attached an academic article I have just written on the British in 19th C Delhi which will show you the direction the book is heading... The book should be out the Autumn of next year- 2006.

    Khuda hafez and thanks for writing,

    William Dalrymple
    Now I just need to work my way through the 35-page article. Should keep me busy til Autumn 2006!

    Friday, April 01, 2005


    Yesterday was the day of Arba'een. Here's a Wikipedia stub that I've been involved with outlining the significance of the day:

    Arba'een (اربعين, Arabic "forty") is a Shi'a religious holiday that occurs forty days after Aashura, the commemoration of the martyrdom by beheading of Husayn bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Husayn and 72 supporters died in the Battle of Karbala in the year 61 AH (680 CE). Forty days is the usual length of the time of mourning in Islamic cultures.

    The occasion reminds the faithful of the core message behind Husayn's martyrdom: establishing justice and fighting injustice, no matter what its incarnation -- a message that strongly influenced subsequent Shi'a uprisings against the perceived tyranny of Umayyad and Abbasid rule.

    In the first Arba'een gathering in the year 62 AH, Jabir ibn Abdullah, a companion of the Prophet, was one of the people who performed a pilgrimage to the burial site of Husayn. Due to his infirmity and probably blindness, he was accompanied by Atiyya bin Saad. His visit coincided with that of the surviving female members of the Prophet's family and Husayn's son and heir Ali, who had all been held captive in Damascus by Yazid I, the Umayyad Caliph. Ali ibn Husayn had been too ill to participate in the Battle of Karbala, but looked on from the sidelines.

    The city of Karbala in Iraq, the third holy place of Shi'a Islam, is the center of the proceedings where in a show of humility, many crawl through the streets of the city while others fall on their hands and knees as they approach the Shrines of Husayn and his brother Abbas.

    As with all Muslim religious holidays, Arba'een follows the lunar Islamic calendar, not the Western solar Gregorian calendar. Arba'een fell on 31 March in the year 2005.
    You can help develop this entry by using the 'edit this page' function in Wikipedia.

    Wednesday, March 30, 2005

    Born in Barcelona

    Why can't the graffiti near my house look this good?

    The Born district of Barcelona (courtesy of Ogo's Attic).

    Intelligent Incarceration

    I'm not sure if it's the author's name or the actual content of the article that leads me to quote it. Perhaps both. Although you've got to admit that 'Marcus du Sautoy' adds a certain charm to any blog.

    In a comment piece for the Guardian, the professor of mathematics at Oxford University (boo!), takes an admittedly succint look at how the solitude of prison has in fact been instrumental in the development of mathematics.

    In 1940, the pacifist and mathematician André Weil, brother of the famous philosopher Simone Weil, found himself in prison awaiting trial for desertion. An Indian friend of Weil's had once joked that "if I could spend six months or a year in prison, I would most certainly be able to prove the Riemann hypothesis" - the greatest unsolved problem of mathematics. Now Weil had the chance to put the theory to the test.

    During those months in Rouen prison, Weil made a breakthrough on a problem closely linked to Riemann's conjecture. He wrote to his wife: "My mathematics work is proceeding beyond my wildest hopes, and I am even a bit worried - if it is only in prison that I work so well, will I have to arrange to spend two or three months locked up every year?" On hearing of his breakthrough, fellow mathematician Henri Cartan wrote back to Weil: "We're not all lucky enough to sit and work undisturbed like you..."

    Tuesday, March 29, 2005

    Yusuf Islam and Music

    I think most people admire Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) for his altruism but its his propensity for introspection that fascinates me. Since embracing Islam about a quarter of a century ago, he hasn't allowed himself to be pigeon-holed and continues to reassess his relationship with his faith. His evolving views about music serve to illustrate the case in hand. In fact, in this particular case he has felt it necessary to communicate these feelings via a document on his website entitled Music: A Question of Faith or Da'wah?.

    Regardless of all the other unnecessary controversies surrounding me at the moment, I was saddened to recently hear that some voices in the Muslim community have been criticising me because of various record companies re-releasing and advertising a DVD and other past music albums. They appear to be making it out to be a question of Faith; it seems they have not yet understood certain fundamental truths about these issues. So I decided to respond and pray for Allah’s assistance to make the matter clear.

    The issue of music within Islam is an ongoing debate amongst Muslim scholars; some argue that it is totally Haram (prohibited) and others argue that its allowance depends on the song’s conformity to Islamic values and norms. Whilst I agree that some songs and musical influences are haram, this judgement does not apply to every singer or every single note and crotchet played.

    Different opinions about music indicate that it is not to be taken as a question of faith (‘Aqidah), but is simply a matter of understanding (fiqh).
    He told Nigel Williamson of The Guardian:

    "I don't think I ever actually said music was blasphemous. But I needed that break. I had to get away from the business because I didn't want it to divert me from my chosen path. I found what I was looking for and the Koran gave me the answer to the big questions in life. It would have been hypocritical to go on as before and be a phoney imitation of myself. But I never said I'd never make music again. It was just that there were a lot of other things I had to get on with in my life."

    Yet he insists he has no regrets about cutting himself off from music for so long. "To be what you want to be, you must give up being what you are," he says. He still disapproves of the "negative aspects of what music encourages, like partying, drinking and sex". But at it's best he says music is a force for "healing".
    The article posted on his website does provide one of the most ironic references I have come across for a while though:

    Interestingly, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the ‘Ulema have recently decided that the songs I sang as Cat Stevens provides a good example for the youth, to show that there are positive aspects to some music and art. Maybe the ‘Ulema in other countries should take a closer look at what’s happening to their youth, before the gulf between them becomes irreparable and too wide to bridge. We must be able to provide an Islamic alternative.
    Who'd have thought? The Iranian theocracy being lauded for their liberalism!

    Jacques Peretti's down with the kids

    A friend of mine is due to be a father imminently. I hope he doesn't stumble across this - a painful read on child-related insomnia.

    But the lack of sleep? That's not a breeze. That's wrong. I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of insomnia. Over the years, I have sampled its many-splendoured tortures, but I have to say that baby-related sleep deprivation has a quality all of its own. It's far stranger and druggier than drug-induced insomnia, where you just lie there gibbering tediously and imagining you're Jesus on the cross or a giant fern tree.

    Or anxiety-based insomnia, where you lie there worrying about why yesterday Colin from accounts said, " SOME people are not pulling their weight round here," instead of simply, "Some people are not pulling their weight round here." Why " SOME people"? Who-some? Me-some? Play the phrase back 20 or 30,000 times, trying to decipher its infinite nuances, like Gene Hackman in The Conversation. You imagine Colin's face in slow-mo, stressing "some" in different ways, you imagine his head on a 50p piece, spinning in space, and then you kill him with an imaginary spike, and go to sleep. Except you don't go to sleep.

    For an alternative hell, you may wish to try insomnia-based insomnia, where you lie there worrying that you're not sleeping because you don't have anything to worry about. It's tedious, and worrying, and before long you have anxiety-based insomnia, which at least means you have a specific focus to your night.
    You can read the whole rant here.

    Monday, March 28, 2005

    On this day

    The new 'On this day' feature comes courtesy of New Links.

    Geometrical Cricket

    I must admit that while watching the final day's play in Bangalore today, the geometry of the fielders' placements wasn't something I was keeping an eye on. India Uncut's Amit Varma was though as his post entitled The Delights of Geometry testifies:

    One of the things I’m enjoying most about the Pakistan bowling performance today is the close-in field positions. The one with most symmetry was when Arshad Khan was bowling to Dinesh Karthik, with the wicketkeeper and the batsman being in the middle of a perfect hexagan [sic], with three close-in fielders on either side of the wicket. That became a pentagon when Shahid Afridi was bowling to Anil Kumble, with four men close-in on the off side, one man on the leg side. Danish Kaneria, meanwhile, has been bowling with an unequal heptagon, with five men on the off side – two slips, silly point, silly mid-off and short extra-cover – and two on the leg. Hexagons, pentagons, heptagons, fluid shapes with their corners moving as the batsmen change, or the bowlers change their tactics, and the two men in between, concentrating intently on that round piece of leather that follows a geometry of its own. This is Test cricket. Marvellous [sic].
    I can just see Geoff Botycott during his next commentating spell using the on-screen marker pen to highlight an innovative octagonal fielding arrangement!

    HRW International Film Festival 2005

    Human Rights Watch, the NGO with the somewhat oxymoronic accolade of being the 'largest human rights organization based in the United States', has just held its International Film Festival in London this year. Three more films to add to the list!

    ...the festival's program has toured throughout America and Canada, giving Western audiences a rare opportunity to see passionately political filmmaking with a truly global dimension.

    This year's event, held March 16-25 in venues across London, offered a trio of film on conflicts from the Middle East: Saverio Costanzo's "Private," Randa Chahal-Sabbag's "The Kite" and Margaret Loescher's "Pulled From the Rubble." Each respectively looked at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Lebanese-Israeli conflict and the human cost of the war in Iraq.
    Read Ali Jaafar's review in Beirut's Daily Star.

    BNP/Saudi Alliance!

    The following item currently headlining Indigo Jo's blog scores pretty highly on the "you cannot be serious" front:

    An investigation by the Sunday Telegraph (free registration may be required) reveals that the notoriously anti-Islamic British National Party (commonly called British Nazi Party, or as Amir Brooks memorably called them, Bigots with No Policies) has been using a Saudi-owned media company to publish their monthly newspaper, Voice of Freedom. The paper, which as the Telegraph points out, regularly calls Islam a “dangerous” religion, “is published at a printing works in Essex owned by a company in Saudi Arabia and staffed almost entirely by Muslims”.
    (To bypass the free-registration malarkey don't forget to use BugMeNot.)

    Sunday, March 27, 2005

    Don't Panic

    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy provided one of the leitmotifs of my childhood in the form of the number 42 - the answer to 'Life, the Universe, and Everything'. I was introduced to it by an uncle along with the gentle reiteration of the book's subtitle: Don't Panic. Douglas Adams' outrageous plot, eccentric characters and ridiculous philosophising meant the book lent itself to dramatisation with both television and radio serialisation.

    However, (the usually much maligned) conversion to film always provides a completely different challenge with Lord of the Rings being the only successful adaptation of recent times that comes to mind.

    The Hitchhiker's Guide may well be another to add to the list of successes though, if the trailer is anything to go by and Stephen Fry's casting as the voice of The Guide is inspired.

    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Trailer

    Pass me the vomit bowl

    I can barely bring myself to read this. My makeshift nemesis (and self-styled 'foremost Muslim intellectual') receives an award for 'excellence in Islamic thought'.

    Cumbria - 'most racist region'

    Today's Observer paints a gloomy picture of the state of race relations in England and Wales. The Macpherson report, published in 1999 in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence case, highlighted the problem of institutional racism but racism in general has been largely unaddressed. In fact, 'the main party leaders have been warned against inflaming racism during the forthcoming election campaign by Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality'.

    Some items that caught my eye:
    • Ethnic minorities living in parts of Britain are now four times more likely to have suffered from racism than they were before the last general election

    • In Cumbria, now statistically the most racist region in England and Wales, reports of racist incidents more than doubled, and have affected more than 6 per cent of the population. There is a similar picture in West Mercia, Cleveland, Hampshire and Staffordshire, all police areas with relatively small minority populations.

    • Scotland also saw a significant jump, from 2,242 incidents in 2000 to 3,800 last year, making it one of the 10 most dangerous regions of Britain.

    • By contrast, London, home to about 1.9 million of Britain's ethnic minorities, saw a decrease from more than 23,000 incidents in 2000 to just over 15,000 last year.

    Extreme Accounting

    The stale mediocrity of some peoples' existence can become overwhelming. Accountants are widely regarded as having the most stale and most mediocre of existences so it's actually quite encouraging to see that hot on the heels of extreme ironing comes extreme accounting. The brain child of Arnold Chiswick, self-proclaimed 'Major, 1st Airborne Insolvency Division and Founder and Sec., Extreme-Accounting' it's portrayed as an ejector seat for accountants from the sheer boredom that comprises their working lives.

    Extreme accounting is the latest - and unlikeliest - adrenaline sport. Accountants visit challenging locations like mountain tops, seabeds, caves and rollercoasters. And, inspired by the extreme ironing craze, they take their work with them...

    South African Keet Van Zyl [External Consultant specializing in Growth & Acquisition Finance, for Investec Private Bank, Cape Town] is the sport's reigning champion.

    A spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Management Accounting said: "It's a phenomenon that pushes accountants to their limits - and beyond."

    Saturday, March 26, 2005


    To whom it's relevant: Don't forget to put your clocks forward by 1 hour tonight! Click here for some more info on British Summer Time. You have William Willett (1857 - 1915), a builder from London, to thank for the initiative.

    Global Domination

    The Mehrali empire continues its relentless expansion as the Media finally succumbs. Well done Saajida!


    Call me naive but I found these revelations in yesterday's Guardian (based on an internal UN report) regarding the misdemeanours of UN peace-keeping troops quite shocking.

    The highly critical study, published by Jordan's ambassador to the UN assembly, was endorsed by the organisation's embattled secretary general, Kofi Annan, who condemned such "abhorrent acts" as a "violation of the fundamental duty of care".

    The embarrassment caused by the misconduct of UN forces in devastated communities around the world - including Haiti, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Cambodia , East Timor and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) - has become an increasingly high profile, political problem

    Wednesday, March 23, 2005

    The Road from Kashgar

    Check out this stunning shot from Kashgar. It's part of a great photographic series on China's Westernmost province, Xinjiang by 'themexican'.

    Monday, March 21, 2005


    My grandmother passed away last Friday and was buried yesterday. I'll remember her as the most patient person I ever knew, a living embodiment of the words of Imam Ali:

    A fool's mind is at the mercy of his tongue and a wise man's tongue is under the control of his mind.
    In her case, the words of Rabindranath Tagore ring true:

    Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come.
    May Allah envelop her in His mercy and elevate her station.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005


    I went to see Simone Bitton's Mur (Wall) yesterday. It's a documentary charting the growth of the wall/fence/obstacle/seam-zone (depending on who you are) being erected 'by the Sharon government to divide the Palestine territories from Israel'.

    The film's simplicity certainly makes it quite harrowing. Bitton converses with people either side of the wall in their respective tongues (she enjoys a Jewish and Arab heritage) and presents a stark and simultaneously bizarre state of affairs - many of the construction workers are Palestinians from local villages. The wall's futility is portrayed as perhaps only secondary to its cruelty.

    Here are a selection of critics' views on the film.

    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Today I shall be mostly supporting...

    An impartial member of the crowd at Mohali. Courtesy of the BBC.

    Quelle surprise!

    I'm entertaining (the admittedly belatedly cynical) idea that the publishing/critical review cartel is just as corrupt as any other operation in town. Reading through The Guardian's Special Report entitled 'A grand view', it's hard not to see it is as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Articles from The Observer

    Two articles caught my eye from yesterday's Observer:

    Beirut on the brink of an abyss
    There is foreboding in Lebanon after Hizbollah flexed its political muscles last week. Peter Beaumont reports from the group's stronghold in the Bekaa Valley.

    A new way of calculating the escalating crisis that has engulfed Lebanon since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a bomb blast last month has emerged on the streets of Beirut. It is not to be found in the sizes of the rival demonstrations that have blocked Beirut's streets, but in the price of an AK-47 assault rifle.

    Before Hariri's murder - blamed by many Lebanese on Syria, whose army and intelligence services have lingered in the country for 30 years - you could buy one for $100 (£52). These days, say Lebanese, you would be lucky to find a weapon for $700.
    Be afraid, perhaps. But very afraid? No
    The threat to Britain from Islamic militancy is far less serious than the government is telling us, says Jason Burke.

    As you read this, there are no 200 'Osama bin Laden-trained volunteers' stalking our streets, as is claimed by the government. Nor are there al-Qaeda networks 'spawning and festering' across the country. Nor are Islamic militants cooking up biological or chemical weapons.

    Nor indeed are there any 'terrorist organisations', as Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, calls them, nor are there 'hundreds of terrorists', as the Prime Minister told Woman's Hour. Nor are there legions of young British Muslims, enraged by perceived injustices in the Islamic world and by the supposed iniquities of Western policy towards their co-religionists, preparing to mount violent attacks.

    Muharram in Bahrain

    Chan'ad Bahraini offers some erudite insights into Muharram in general and its Bahraini incarnation in particular.

    Sunday, March 13, 2005

    The Puzzle of Aspirin and Sex

    In the latest issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine Dr Richard Levin takes a deeper look at the differential effect of aspirin in males and females brought to the fore by the publishing of the Women's Health Trial.

    To summarise, the Physicians' Health Trial conducted in the 1980s looked at an exclusively male population to see whether low-dose aspirin had any effect on reducing cardiovascular problems (e.g. heart attacks, strokes) and found "that aspirin significantly reduced the risk of myocardial infarction: the reduction was 44 percent in men 50 years of age or older who did not have clinical evidence of coronary disease. There was no significant effect on the risk of stroke and no effect on mortality from cardiovascular causes."

    The current Women’s Health Study shows, at least in women younger than 65 years of age who do not have a history of cardiovascular disease, that aspirin has no significant effect either on the risk of myocardial infarction or on the risk of death from cardiovascular causes but that it is associated with a 24 percent reduction in the risk of ischemic stroke and a 17 percent reduction in the risk of stroke overall...The findings in men and women are opposite. How can this be?
    This is not the first biological phenomenon wherein a gender bias has been noted. An association between autoimmune diseases and females has been long recognised and the differing hormonal millieux have been implicated.

    Some fascinating insights in the editorial:
    • "Concentrations of salicylate are higher in women than in men after identical doses of aspirin, and platelets from women and men who have ingested aspirin show different responses when tested in vitro."

    • "Women have smaller coronary arteries, and quite remarkably, when a man receives a woman’s heart through cardiac transplantation, the smaller female arteries grow larger in the male recipients, independently of body-surface area."

    • "The cardiovascular systems of women and men are not the same, differing expression of disease follows, and the disquieting results of the current study should not be a complete surprise."
    The article concludes:
    On the basis of the Women’s Health Study, for now it would appear reasonable to avoid prescribing “low-dose” aspirin, defined as a daily dose of 75 to 100 mg or so, as a preventative measure for coronary disease in women under the age of 65 years unless the global risk score is very high.

    But what about the prevention of stroke? Ridker and colleagues conclude, correctly, that the decision to prescribe aspirin for the primary prevention of stroke and other vascular events should be left to the patient and her physician, invoking an ancient truth. Hippocrates, dean of medicine on the island of Cos some 2400 years ago, popularized white-willow salicin, the precursor of aspirin, and wrote in the first of the Aphorisms, “Life is short, the art long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult.”
    Don't forget to use BugMeNot to get access to the full articles.

    Pistachios anyone?

    Cyrus Naseri, a senior Iranian negotiator, had this to say in response to George Bush's latest 'offer' regarding Iran's nuclear programme:

    "It is too ridiculous to be called an offer."

    "It is like trading a lion for a mouse," he told CNN. "Would the United States be prepared to give up its own nuclear fuel production against a cargo of pistachios delivered in truckloads?"


    Spices and herbs aren't exempt from cyclical fads. Turmeric is the new black. Amongst myriad other claims, it has been linked with slowing down the progression of Alzheimer's disease, the prevention of alcoholic liver disease, the treatment/prevention of leukaemia and, most recently, being an anti-malarial agent.

    The active ingredient is thought to be curcumin, the chemical that lends turmeric its distinctive yellow hue.

    Saturday, March 12, 2005


    A shameless link to a recent post (by me!) on the great city at Ibn Batuttah: The Muslim Travel Blog.

    Another Species of Cedar

    Despite Robert Fisk's acclaimed coverage of the conflict in Iraq, he appears most at home (for a foreign correspondent) when in Lebanon, where his finger remains well and truly on the political pulse. I naively believed that I had somehow passively secured a grip on Lebanese politics but recent events have rapidly remined me of the intricacies of the scene. I might dig out Pity the Nation and give it another go.

    It was a warning. They came in their tens of thousands, Lebanese Shia Muslim families with babies in arms and children in front, walking past my Beirut home. They reminded me of the tens of thousands of Iraqi Shia Muslims who walked with their families to the polls in Iraq, despite the gunfire and the suicide bombers.

    ...But only 100 yards from the Lebanese opposition protests, the half-million - for that was an approachable figure, given Hizbollah's extraordinary organisational abilities - stood for an hour with Lebanese flags, and posed a challenge to President George Bush's project in the Middle East. "America is the source of terrorism", one poster proclaimed. "All our disasters come from America".

    ...The Beirut demonstration yesterday was handled in the usual Hizbollah way: maximum security, lots of young men in black shirts with two-way radios, and frightening discipline. No one was allowed to carry a gun or a Hizbollah flag. There was no violence. When one man brandished a Syrian flag, it was immediately taken from him. Law and order, not "terrorism", was what Hizbollah wished. Syria had spoken. President Bashar Assad's sarcastic remark about the Hariri protesters needing a "zoom lens" to show their numbers had been answered by a demonstration of Shia power which needed no "zoom".

    ...Either way, Lebanon can no longer be taken for granted. The "cedar" revolution now has a larger dimension, one that does not necessarily favour America's plans. If the Shia of Iraq can be painted as defenders of democracy, the Shias of Lebanon cannot be portrayed as the defenders of "terrorism". So what does Washington make of yesterday's extraordinary events in Beirut?
    Click here for the full story.

    The great divide

    The baggage that accompanies hip-hop to produce 'hip-hop culture' (epitomised by the violent, mysogynistic US industry) unfortunately doesn't go missing on entering new countries as often as my luggage does. A full-scale lyrical (but bordering on physical) war is being waged between two of the leading lights of Israeli hip-hop: a rightwing Jew, Kobi Shimoni and his rival, the leftwing Arab, Tamer Nafar.

    Rappers feud with each other the world over. Sometimes there's a reason, such as a perceived slur or a business arrangement turned sour; other times it's simply a matter of colliding egos. And sometimes, it's about the future of the state of Israel.

    Kobi Shimoni and Tamer Nafar are both 25, both Israeli and both MCs. That's where the similarity ends. Shimoni, who calls himself Subliminal, lives in affluent Tel Aviv, where his business empire includes a studio, a record label, a publishing company and a clothing line. Nafar, who raps under the name TN in the trio DAM, lives in the dilapidated town of Lod, 10 miles to the south. Shimoni is a household name who has worked with US stars such as Wyclef Jean and whose last album went double platinum; Nafar has yet to secure a record deal. Shimoni gets calls from the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; Nafar gets stopped and searched in the street. Shimoni is Jewish; Nafar is an Arab.
    Click here for the full story. You are warned that some of the language is rather unsavoury but sparse.

    Friday, March 11, 2005

    A Blessing in Disguise: a Jungian Reflection on the Sunni-Shia Split

    My Tuareg-esque cyber wanderings have led me to a fascinating exposition of Jung's views as applied to the Shi'a-Sunni dichotomy in Islam courtesy of the group blog Ihsan.

    The article itself is lengthy (but well worth a read if you have a moment) so here's a partially culled version:

    One of the central concepts in Jungian psychology is the idea of the conscious and the unconscious. By the conscious, Jung meant the realm of our psyche that we know and are aware of...The area that we don’t see and know is our unconscious...The unconscious speaks to us in various ways, through our dreams, or by what we call ‘Freudian slips’, through accidents and illnesses, and even through people we like and dislike.

    Jung continued to say that just as each of us has these layers in our individual, personal psyche, the same thing can be said about a society, culture or civilization...Jung called these “collective” consciousness and “collective” unconscious, and distinguished them from the personal conscious and the unconscious. This collective unconscious finds a way to speak to us through fairytales and myths in a symbolic manner.

    ...Interestingly, von Franz applies the same concept to the Sunni and Shia issue in her book called Individuation in Fairytales (1977). She states:

    "In the Islamic world there is a terrific split between the Sunnite and the Shiite movement. The latter has always endeavored to be on the compensatory side of the unconscious and thus counteract the petrification of the Sunnite movement, the orthodox school which kept to the literal interpretation of the Koran and its rules. Within the Shiite sects alchemical symbolism flourished. Eighty percent of the great Arabian alchemists belonged to the Shiites, and not to the Sunnite sect, which for us is very revealing because alchemical symbolism, and alchemy in general, was not only, as Jung points out, a subterranean compensatory movement in Christian Europe, but had exactly the same function within the Arabic civilization. There too it belonged to the subterranean, more mystical complementary movements which counteracted the petrification of collective consciousness in a very similar way as it afterwards did in the Middle Ages for us. Particularly in Persia, these Shiite and Ismalian sects flourished, as did alchemy. It was the country where there was the greatest development, and one sees this mirrored even in such simple material as fairytales.... (p. 58)."

    ...Although von Franz only discusses about the Sunni movement benefiting from the presence of more subterranean Shia movement, it is obvious that the situation goes both ways. Both Sunni and Shia schools benefit from each other’s presence as each keeps the other in check and compensate for the imbalance. In The Tao of Islam, Murata (1992) talks about a similar interaction and compensatory functions between the two basic theological perspectives in Islam, i.e.) the external, legalistic approach of Kalam and the internal, sapiential approach of Sufism.

    ...From von Franz’s perspective, this ‘terrific split’ between the Sunni and Shia takes on a new light— what we often consider as a problem or at least a nuisance just may have been a blessing in disguise!


    Just came across BugMeNot, an ingenious way of side-stepping those irritating logins for web sites that require compulsory registration and/or the collection of personal/demographic information (such as the New York Times, The Economist etc.)

    If you're using Internet Explorer then Dean Wilson has created an IE context menu extension that will make your life vastly easier.

    Amazonian fight for Chezenya

    You've got to wonder why some people go to the trouble of churning out literary vomitus. The following is a reader's review of Tolstoy's Hadji Murat found on Amazon (quoted verbatim):

    According to Frederik Stork (who is he btw?) this book will explain more on Chezenya than a thousand hours of CNN. It is one of the four praises on the back cover. Another one is by famous philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Hadzji Moerat is a rebel, according to some, a hero, according to others. Which is exactly the point to me. A freedom fighter and a terrorist are no different, the only difference is how they are being percepted. If you think about it, it is true. I wonder if the US and their 'fight against terrorism' have thought about it.

    Moerat fights for freedom of the Cheznyans, oppressed by the Russians. The era we talk about is 1850, though it could have easily been written a century and a half later. This is one of the reasons I love reading Tolstoj. His books are never dated. War and peace, his 1800-page masterpiece talks about Napoleon invading Russia. It could have been about any war. Tolstoj, one of the great Russian authors, has a strong sense of justice. He criticises the church, even though he is a Christian himself, he doesn't like the aristocracy, though isn't exactly working class himself, and he dislikes (in this book) the Russians, his country.

    As an avid fan I have read quite a few books by Tolstoj. This is not my favourite. Not big enough, not deep enough, not compared to some of his classics. But that still means an extremely high level, that most authors will never reach.
    If you're still interested, here's a more measured account of Tolstoy's work and here's something less frugal in its praise:

    Hadji Murat is the real thing: a genuine classic, with an acute contemporary resonance. It speaks not only to Russia’s ongoing war with Chechen separatists but to the clash of East and West that concerns us all.

    Harold Bloom, in The Western Canon, elevates Hadji Murat to masterpiece status. It is my touchstone for the sublime in prose fiction, to me the best story in the world, or at least the best that I have ever read. Bloom read the story 40 years ago and has been haunted by it since. I read it just a few weeks ago and the haunting is still fresh.

    Thursday, March 10, 2005

    The oud man out

    A friend is (hopefully, actually probably) wowing an audience into awed submission as I type, with his oud playing prowess. I shan't name him for fear of driving him into further reclusiveness as he is the living embodiment of modesty - the rock and roll hermit if you like. Sufficeth to say that he is gifted.

    It also provides me with an opportunity to namedrop the likes of Anouar Brahem and Naseer Shamma and thereby exhaust my entire knowledge store on this particular subject. Short and sweet.

    Which conveniently leads me to a whole area of Coca-Cola appreciation that I have hitherto been totally ignorant of: the US vs Mexican brew debate. Apparently the US version uses corn syrup as the source of its sweetness whereas across the border cane sugar lends it an allegedly more palatable edge. There was a thriving industry in bootlegging Mexican coke into predominantly Hispanic US cities. The North American Free Trade Agreement has legalised the whole process and by doing so seriously dented US coke's profit margin. So forget Mecca and Qibla Cola, coke is putting itself out of business! (Or at least its filthy profits aren't as filthy as they could be).

    Middle East. Different Standards.

    A reader's letter in the The Guardian today:

    I think I've got the point (Bush sees Lebanon changes as move to free Middle East, March 9). There are good bombs and bad bombs and good armies of occupation and bad ones. Syria would be an example of a bad army of occupation, but the US and Israel would be good ones. Similarly, Iran's bomb, if it had one, would be bad, but Britain's, France's and Israel's are good. After all, we don't want to be encumbered with anything resembling a principle here.
    And an interesting opinion piece in the same paper by Daphna Baram [Senior Associate Member of St. Antony's College, Oxford. She was a fellow of the Reuters Foundation Program in Oxford University, and News Editor of Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha'ir], the author of Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel, wherein she claims that:
    "If my prime minister is a war criminal, so is Tony Blair....I agree that my prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is a war criminal. From the intentional killing of 69 civilians in the village of Qibya in 1953, through the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, all the way to the wild bombing of Palestinian cities in the last few years, his career is steeped in vile criminality."

    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    The 13th Shi'a Imam!

    Before the cyber fatwas come flying in, this is a tongue-in-cheek reference by some Iranians to describe President George Bush in light of his inadvertently(!) pro-Shi'a policies. The following article by William Beeman concisely considers the facts:

    Iran's security chief, Hassan Rowhani proclaimed in October, 2004 that it was in Iran's best interest for George W. Bush to be re-elected over John Kerry. His comment left American commentators stunned in disbelief. However, it is now clear that Rowhani was right: the Bush administration has done more than any other American leader to advance the interests of Shi'a Islamic political leadership in Iran and indeed, in the rest of the Middle East. Some groups of religious supporters in Iran are beginning to call President Bush "the 13th Imam," an ironic reference to the 12 historical Imams sacred to the branch of Shi'ism dominant in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

    President Bush's support for Shi'ism may be unintentional, to be sure, but there is no doubt about the effects of his administration's policies in boosting Shi'ite power throughout the region.

    William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. This year he is Visiting Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. His forthcoming book is The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs:" How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.
    Click here for the full story.

    Joe Sacco - Comic Genius

    I realised I couldn't draw quite early on in life so I'm not too bitter. In fact I'm even open to appreciating others' efforts. Joe Sacco's efforts are definitely worth appreciating. I read Palestine and learnt more about the conflict, including the narrative of human suffering, than any number of re-readings of Avi Shlaim's works could foster.

    Here are some excertpts from various sources eulogising the king of the genre.

    January Magazine:
    Comics have outgrown their superhero underpants, and cartoonist Joe Sacco specializes in one of their most dynamic young subgenres: the political comic book. Maltese by birth, Sacco grew up in Australia and the US, and chose comics as the unusual medium for putting his University of Oregon journalism degree to use. In his award-winning books, he unleashed the bad tidings he'd fetched from some of the messier parts of the world: the Occupied Territories during the first intifada, in Palestine, and war-ravaged Eastern Bosnia, in Safe Area: Gorazde. At this point, what's most surprising about the endeavor is not the choice of genre, but how wallopingly powerful it turns out to be in Sacco's hands.

    The BBC
    Sacco is currently constructing his next book, based on his experiences in the Gaza Strip, which will doubtless propel him further into the literary and indeed journalistic stratosphere.

    The Economist:
    JOE SACCO is the heir to Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman; a throwback cartoonist/reporter who uses comics and caricature to tell true-life tales, thus reaching out to an audience that might never otherwise be roused by politics, anarchy or foreign wars.

    Over the last 15 years, Joe Sacco's work has truly transcended the comic/cartooning genre, and he's produced some of the most moving and incisive visual journalism I've ever read on the world's trouble spots. This weekend's Guardian featured "Complacency Kills", an eight page diary of a trip to Iraq in the company of the Marines, and it's free to download here (36 MB, but really worth it if you have the bandwidth.)

    Tuesday, March 08, 2005

    Koftay and Candy Bars

    I don't necessarily agree with the the following (as the logic seems to fall apart in the last paragraph via the presumption of ignorance) but it's a well intentioned piece from AH Cemendtaur. You can literally taste the bile!

    Let me be very honest about this. While I am very easy to get along most of the time, I do have my pet peeves. And what irks me most are people who are not tasteful with their speech; that is, people that mix languages, and especially those who mix English in Urdu. You know the kind of people I'm talking about. People who would say, "Main wahan jaa raha thaa keh all of a sudden I saw a big truck coming my way. Achha, us truck kee khas baat yeh thee keh it was full of old lumber," and so on. Ugghhhh! Man, Do I barf at that?!

    I know that it is very common for my countrymen to speak that way, but that doesn't stop me from despising this lingua spurious. I am from the school of thought that believes that when you speak one language, you should speak just that language--when you speak Urdu you must only speak Urdu, and when you speak English you must say everything in English. And my position on this issue is not based on some queer ideas about safeguarding the purity of languages.

    As a student of linguistics I know that languages are constantly evolving, and that when a language stops evolving it dies. I know that languages become stronger when they borrow words from other languages. I understand all that. I am not against borrowing foreign words into Urdu. My objection is on speech that is just loose-tongued; my annoyance are the people who bastardize Urdu with English without giving any thought to what they are doing.
    Click here for the full text.

    Comedy films leave viewers in good heart, says cardiologist

    I suppose it means a lot more coming from a cardiologist but the godfather of hasya yoga (laughter yoga), Dr Madan Kataria, won't mind. The dollars just keep rolling in for this guy and there's no doubting he'll be laughing all the way to the bank. He's even advocating a Global Laughter Revolution (GLAR).

    Laughter may after all be the best medicine. Comedy can make the blood vessels expand, step up the blood flow and leave viewers in good heart, a US heart scientist said yesterday.

    Conversely a stressful film can cause a potentially unhealthy narrowing of the arteries.

    ..."Given the results, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease," Prof Miller said.
    Click here for the full story.