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.