Thursday, February 26, 2009

Natives in Palestine

At Ben Gurion International airport, travellers are suggested to buy local souvenirs. Among them, “Ethnic sweets” packs of pastries which say with a lot of straightforwardness that Palestinians are now considered like the “Native Americans”: an almost disappeared population, without even a name.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The keffieh as a symbol

Since a previous post post written two years ago (and not translated into English), about the "globalisation" of the Palestinian keffieh and its transformation, in Western societies, to a fashion accessoire, the phenomenon has spread to the Arab world where the keffieh has been adopted by many young men and women with its trendy look (with all sort of colors and sometimes a modification of the patterns). In the “historical Palestine” for instance, Israeli Jews may wear the “new” keffieh, something unbearable for many Palestinians who see it as another spoliation of their national heritage (as it has been the case before with the hommous and the falafel).

In Lebanon too, the (now) fashionable keffieh has made a noticed apparition in the streets of Achrafieh and Ayn al-Rumaneh, areas of Beirut whose people were not precisely well known as supporters of the Palestinian cause. Thus, the traditional keffieh still to be found in the refugees camps faces the challenge of two different versions of the Palestinian symbol : that of the trendy globalised keffieh but, also, that of the Shiite Lebanese who have adopted a different similar in patterns but where the black color dominates.

For old people, the rejection of the modernized keffieh transformed in a accessoire à la mode could be less a political question than a “moral” one, as the keffieh has always been traditionally associated to masculine values. Something Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum made very clear in her famous “Keffieh” – presented at her last personal exhibit in Amman – were the apparently usual headscarf interweaves strands of women's hair with the Arab symbol of machismo.

In Palestine as in other places, the keffieh is a reliable barometer of the public opinion. After the bombardments of Gaza, the classical keffieh has made a noticeable come back on the shoulders of many stars of the Arab screen as around the neck of many demonstrators in the streets.

Is it still possible for the classical keffieh to reaffirm itself as the symbol of the Palestinian identity? Whatever is the answer, it is worth to consider that the last local keffieh factories are on the verge to disappear after the market has been flooded with cheaper products made in Asia.

Is this symbolic of the Palestinian fate?

(On the last Palestinian keffieh factory, there is wonderful – and short video - made by a French journalist, Benoit Faveley, which I founded on Hawgblawg, an always very interesting blog, in English.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Singing politics: Gaza

The consequences of the Israeli bombardments on Gaza are difficult to appreciate but, with the exception a few opinion leaders like Adel Imam pretending to defend an untenable position, most of the Arab intellectuals and artists have lined up with the Arab victims.

Nothing exceptional regarding a singer like Abdel-Rahim “Shaaboula” Shaaban whose speciality is to give “live comments” on the political actuality of the area, but something much more unusual for popular singers : Nancy Ajram for instance, whose last video-clip have been modified in order to fit with the last events, or even Tamer Hosny.

Before he paid a visit to Gaza’s hospitals, the heartbreaking star of the Arab teenagers gave a new song, officially called “All together” (Kulluna wahed) but apparently known as “I don’t know what to do” (Mesh aref a3mel haga).

Such a title may be a clear indication of the prevailing mood in the Arab opinion and many articles have been published in the press to critic the too compassionate and lachrymal tone of most of the songs, especially with regard to Michael Heart’s song for Gaza, entitled “We will not go down”.

People go even further and say that many singers are going political just to surf on the wave and to benefit from the media coverage of everything related to the Gaza events. It could be true but one has to remember that songs have been, and remain, a powerful tool for political mobilization in the Arab history which various dramatic stages are connected, in the Arab popular imagination.

Thus, the poor quality of most of the political songs written about Gaza reflects the regional political crisis as much as it is a consequence of the general transformation of the local cultural practices dominated by global mass-production patterns.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Adel Imam's star is falling when he speaks his mind on Gaza

Adel Imam, probably the most popular Arab comic actor, has publicly criticized not only the Hamas party but all the Egyptians who have demonstrated in support to it. In his opinion, Hamas was to be blamed for its senseless provocation of the Israeli forces.

Taking such a stance, at the beginning of the Israeli shelling on Gaza, the actor was adding his voice, well-known to be close to President Mubarak’s family, to that of the “Arabs moderates” who were not so unpleased to see the Israeli army doing the dirty job.

But with more and more bombardments and victims, his declarations have aroused considerable reactions. To the point that the leader of an extremist group based in Algeria and supposed to be closed to Al-Qaida has issued a fatwa saying that the killing of the “traitor” was legitimate.

An opportunity for the actor to correct the awful impression made by his first declarations, and to explain that he always considered Hamas resistance legitimate and that his critics were addressed to the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood (although there are not so many ideological differences between the two political movements).

Once a courageous defender of the Arab feelings, Adel Imam seems to have lost his political beliefs but may be also his popularity. The issue is not only that of a movie star getting older, but that of his whole generation, born in the Nasserite era, raised at Sadate’s time and active during Mubarak’s regime, whose fate seems to be sealed.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.