Few reminders of our simplified readings and writings

This type of articles (The Case Against the Global Novel -By Pankaj Mishra) reminds me that the political analyses that comprises most of my reading material has –for the sake of clarity and presenting well-argued cases under the 700-1000 word limit — fallen in the trap of over simplification. Even the more sophisticated articles we read (and write) follow the traditional structure focusing on a single thread aimed at a conclusion. The layering of thoughts and ideas that often raise questions more than providing answers would be easily labeled as unclear and jumbled. In some cases, that could be true. But most writings available now lack the vigor that stimulates the mind beyond the obvious. This is not to say that the attached article is perfect. The writer’s choice of accumulating examples threw me off at times. It could be me accustomed to the traditional structure or maybe due to actual, but tiny, lapses in presenting the argument. Still, the language and the type of writing is more thought-provoking and inspiring than material available for daily consumption, even by my favorite writers. Sometimes lucid writing is not the best, but some wandering of the mind is required as well.
This also applies to Jonathan Franzen’s Guardian article What’s Wrong With the Modern World, despite the criticism it got.
**While reading, check this nod to literature’s role in pushing societies to conform to “traditions”, “realities” and “ideas” that don’t really exist except in their imagination or perception of how everyone else acts.

In many of the new nations that emerged in the 20th century, literary fictionists were often expected to supply the myths and legends that an insufficiently imagined community needed in order to become cohesive and coherent. The Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk complains that when he decided to become a writer “literature was allied to the future: its job was to work hand in hand with the state to build a happy and harmonious society, or even nation”.

عن كتاب مذكرات التحرير

ابتدى الكتاب بمقالات لجريدةCorriere della Sera   و كنت بانشرها في نفس الوقت هنا على المدونة، بعدها جائت فكرة كتاب يجمع قصة ال 18 يوم من خلال المدونات التي تم كتبتها في خلال ال 18 يوم أو بعدهم بوقت قصير. الكتاب تم نشره بالأيطالية (الناشر فاندنجو) وبعدها بالعربية (الناشر دار الشروق). المدونين المشاركين في الكتاب: أميرة صلاح أحمد، سارة السرجاني، ،نادية العوضي، محمد الدهشان، طارق شلبي، محمود سالم.

هنا مقال جريدة الشروق عن الكتاب.

وهذا حوار ليا أنا وأميرة مع برنامج نص ساعة عل أو تي في لايف.



Journalists, bloggers recount personal experience of Egypt’s revolution

The personal stories of Egypt’s 18-day uprising is the focus of a new book “I Diari Della Rivoluzione” (Diaries of the Revolution), launched in Italy this week.

The book tells the story of the January uprising through the eyes of six bloggers and journalists and the material they wrote during the 18 days or immediately after. A narrative evolves, as paths intersect and perspectives change, interweaving the personal experiences with the political upheaval and nationwide protests.

The story goes beyond Tahrir Square and the protests, to draw a broader picture of Cairo at the time. Spanning the period between Jan. 25 and Feb. 11, the book ends as another lengthier chapter in Egypt’s ongoing revolution starts.

It features activist and consultant Mahmoud Salem, aka Sandmonkey; journalist and development policy consultant Mohamed El-Dahshan; web designer and social media consultant Tarek Shalaby; science journalist and adventurer Nadia Al-Awady; business journalist and writer Amira Salah-Ahmed; and journalist Sarah El Sirgany.

El Sirgany and Ahmed are both editors at Daily News Egypt.

The book was compiled by El Sirgany. Italian journalist and editor at Corriere della Serra Viviana Mazza wrote the preface and Egyptian activist and journalist Hossam El-Hamalawy wrote the introduction.

Mazza, El Sirgany and El-Hamalawy celebrated the first launch of the book at the Internazionale Festival in Ferrara. Days earlier El-Hamalawy was awarded the Anna Politkovskaja journalism award at the same festival.

Internazionale, an Italian magazine, brings together journalists, writers and artists to the small north Italian city every year for a festival combining literature and world affairs. Its 2011 agenda featured a panel on Egypt’s political affairs post-Jan. 25, featuring El-Hamalawy, El Sirgany, journalist Issandr El Amrani and writer Ahmed Naje.

The launch of the book was also celebrated in Milan and Rome, where the publisher Fandango Libri is based.

The book had initially started as a series of columns written by El Sirgany in January and February 2011, for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Translated into Italian by Mazza, the columns were then developed, with the help of literary agent Maria Cristina Guerra, into the book’s current format, a multi-perspective personal narrative of Egypt’s iconic uprising.

As published by Daily News Egypt.

Buy the book.

Galal Amin on Sexual harassment and religion

Sexual harassment is definitely an issue in Egypt but it’s relatively tame, especially when compared to other countries; mainly due to religion; it stops people from getting too far. That was more or less was Galal Amin’s initial response to a question about sexual harassment during a discussion of his book Whatever Happened to the Egyptians this month.

Galal Amin

Galal Amin at his house in Maadi, October 2007. By Sarah El Sirgany.

But what I like about Galal Amin – who I hade the pleasure to interview twice – is that he’s willing to reconsider his opinions if presented with new evidence, factors or arguments. And that’s exactly what happened at the discussion.

Amy Mowafi, Enigma editor and author of Fe-mail: Trials and Tribulations of Being a Good Egyptian Girl, interjected, comparing London to Cairo. While catcalls are rare in the former, they are abundant in the latter. And it has nothing to do with clothes or neighborhood. Crossing the street to get coffee, she said, is an adventure.

After a bit of back and forth, with Amin saying that difference in social class could also be a factor in harassment, he finally agreed acknowledging that he might not have the full picture when it comes to sexual harassment.

However, the reason why I’m writing this is that I completely disagree with his initial answer. While I didn’t get the chance to discuss it with him that day and might do that later, let me explain it here first.

First of all, sexual harassment here isn’t tame, whether we are talking verbal or physical harassment.

Secondly, religion, or rather skewed religious discourse propagated by some ignorant “preachers”, is largely responsible for harassment.

Recently, many ‘sheikhs’ have become apologetic and reasonable about harassment – not in a good way. Suddenly, many have become sociological experts who can give many reasons why men resort to sexual harassment: decadent video clips, the internet (in the broad sense of the word), and most importantly what women are wearing. I remember reading an interview for one specifically blaming “jeans el mohgabat” (veiled women who wear jeans, presumably tight ones).

But rarely do I hear sheikhs saying harassment is haram, forbidden, un-Islamic, you do it you go straight to hell, etc.

What’s appalling is that many of these sheikhs frown on a handshake between a man and a woman. Some go as far as saying it’s haram. Well, a handshake is pretty much consensual and quite harmless, but there aren’t a lot of those spouts of reason or sociological analyses there.

Even if we go beyond the handshake to the issue to which pages of magazines and newspapers have been dedicated, the issue responsible for many bad Egyptian films that plagued the screens throughout the 1980s and the 1990s: urfi (unregistered) marriages.

Again, it’s consensual and has a well of social factors behind it. But there are no sociologist sheikhs here, trying to find reasons, or rather excuses for the young men and women involved. For the most part, there is a consensus that urfi marriages are haram, forbidden, un-Islamic, you do it you go straight to hell, etc.

Although such tone hasn’t brought down the number of such marriages or affairs, but still I can’t help but when wonder: Where’s this clear cut tone when it comes to harassment?

The logic is: if consensual non-sexual physical contact is haram or frowned upon (best case scenario), then non-consensual, sexual physical contact must be hell-material, right?

Teenagers that inspire the world

Over the past week, I came across two stories of two teenagers who battled the odds to bring innovative solutions to problems plaguing their communities.

The first is of William Kamkwamba, from Masitala, Malawi. At the age of 14, when he was forced to leave school because his family didn’t have the money to pay for his education, he built a windmill. He saw the picture in a book in the village library and used materials he found in a scrap yard to build the electricity-generating structure.

At the time Kamkwamba could barely understand English and mainly relied on diagrams to learn about sciences. At the time Malawi was hit by a famine that brought his village and his family to the brink of starvation.

Now at the age of 22, after receiving funds to finish his secondary education and helping build other windmills in his village, Kamkwamba has chronicled his journey in the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind with the help of journalist Bryan Mealer. Kamkwamba is now studying for his SAT to continue his education in the US.

Jon Stewart interviewed Kamkwamba about his book on Oct. 7.

The second story is of Babar Ali, a 16-year-old from Murshidabad in West Bengal, India. Ali is dubbed by BBC as the world’s youngest headmaster. Being one of the privileged few in his village to receive an education, Ali has decided since age 9 to share this privilege.

Every day after returning from school, he teaches other kids in the village, who can’t afford schooling, what he had learnt earlier in the day. Over the years, this project has sprawled to include 800 kids of all ages, sometimes illiterate adults, and 10 other student-teachers. The make shift school is Ali’s family’s backyard.

Here’s a link to the BBC story, part of the Hunger to Learn series.

It’s this evident ‘hunger to learn’ that was so inspiring in both stories. Kamkwamba wasn’t deterred by his family’s inability to pay for his education when he was 14. In India, 800 kids are seeking an education – not a degree – by going to this makeshift school, usually after a long day of work, thanks to an initiative by 16-year-old Ali.