Friday, April 18, 2014

Farewell Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez...

“To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else's heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.”― Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezLove in the Time of Cholera

I thought the letter  was written by him however this: was brought to my attention by kind readers of this blog... thank you !

Sunday, April 13, 2014

To Understand The Crisis In The CAR, Beware Of Familiar Narratives...

The Central African Republic’s interim president and rebel leader, Michel Djotodia, was forced to resign today at a two-day summit in the Chadian capital, Ndjamena. Djotodia, who seized power through a violent coup last march, has been under immense pressure by former colonial power France and the regional kingmaker Chad for failing to stop bloodshed and establish order in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Until recently, very few Americans had reason to pay attention to the CAR, an impoverished, landlocked country about the size of Texas with 4.4 million people. Shocking reports of mass killings and beheadings of children have opened a small window into the CAR’s most recent upheaval. Unfortunately, the international press has not provided a full and accurate view of the conflict. Observers are explaining the violence in terms of religious polarization between Muslims and Christians. While some of the killings are indeed motivated by religious identity, casting the conflict as principally religious oversimplifies a complex crisis and risks further polarization of an already divided society.

Institutional decay

The CAR has been a scene of both domestic instability and international neglect. It has seen five military coups and several rebellions since gaining independence from France in 1960. In 1966, Jean-Bedel Bokassa — a self-proclaimed emperor and president for life — deposed David Dacko, the country’s first president, and instituted a rule that was emblematic of the hyperpatrimonial African dictators of 1960s and ’70s. The decades that followed brought more military misrule, shallow democratization and a hollowing out of the state, which put the CAR on a downward development spiral. As a result, despite its mineral riches, the country stagnates near the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index, which measures the level of development around the world using economic and social data. The CAR ranks 180th out of 186 countries on the index.
Years of institutional decay have left most Central Africans at the state’s margins, creating fertile ground for recurrent rebellion and violent coups. But the CAR crisis is not simply the result of domestic failures. External actors have repeatedly destabilized the country by exploiting its institutional weakness and political fault lines. France has consistently influenced political events in the CAR. On several occasions, it deployed French military forces to restore order, to safeguard its economic interests and install friendly regimes. Similarly, in order to serve their economic and regional security interests, neighboring Chad and Sudan had an equally long history of meddling in the CAR’s political affairs through direct military intervention and political support for warring factions. In 2003, Chad deployed soldiers from the elite presidential guard to help its erstwhile ally Francois Bozize overthrow President Ange-Felix Patasse, bringing an end to 10 years of relatively democratic rule — the first relatively stable regime in the CAR’s history.
Last March, the Seleka rebels, a 16-month-old coalition of five rebel groups from the marginalized northern part of the country, supported by mercenary fighters from Sudan and Chad, ousted Bozize without much effort. In a few months, the rebels threw out Bozize’s weak authoritarian regime. But the Seleka did not achieve total victory. To make matters worse, after remaining unrecognized as the CAR’s head of state, Djotodia stepped down amid emerging cracks in his Seleka rebel ranks. The rickety state before the Seleka’s arrival in the capital, Bangui, has now given way to total collapse despite the arrival of French troops and African Union peacekeepers.

Simplistic narrative

Out of this collapse emerges an easy-to-understand story of sectarian violence that pits “Muslim” Seleka rebels against “Christian” self-defense groups. To be sure, distilling complex phenomena down to a few components is journalism’s stock in trade. And the CAR fits a familiar formula — another frothing shambles on the Dark Continent giving in to its supposed primordial violent urges, creating vast numbers of refugees in need of international aid.
The problem here is not so much that these depictions confirm stereotypes of Africa. Of course they do. And it’s not even the intellectual laziness of the comfortable Muslims-versus-Christians narrative. The problem is that these stories risk fueling sectarian violence in a country where, historically, Muslims and Christians have coexisted in relative peace. They also obscure the underlying causes of multiple, overlapping conflicts and their solutions. Ending the “religious” fighting is a minor part of any strategy that would create long-term stability in the CAR.
The Seleka rebels do have some Muslim fighters in their ranks. Djotodia is a Muslim who spent seven years in Darfur as a CAR official under his predecessor before their fallout. While in Darfur, Djotodia forged alliances with powerful locals who would later help mobilize mercenary fighters to support his advance toward Bangui. But even while the violence in the CAR is taking on religious contours, it is a mistake to see religion as the only dimension of this conflict, as it is currently portrayed by the Western media.
The CAR crisis is caused not by religion but by shifting power dynamics in the region. On the one hand, individual motivations for Seleka rebel fighters range from grievances against central authority to promises of economic rewards from looting. Opposing them, a Christian defense militia known as the anti-balaka (“anti-machete” in a local language) has coalesced over the last several months. They, too, are neither motivated nor united by religion. Their purpose, rather, is to protect their villages from plundering rebels and government soldiers alike. In fact, such self-defense groups — typically armed with simple weapons such as bows and arrows and single-shot hunting rifles — are common across the central African region. For example, the Arrow Boys in South Sudan and northern Uganda gradually formed throughout the 1990s to protect their villages from the Lord’s Resistance Army. Similar auto-defense groups exist in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While not all anti-balaka militias are attacking Muslim communities in the CAR, in some towns, Muslims were targeted to avenge atrocities committed by undisciplined Seleka rebels. In the CAR, as in many cases of civil war, what appear to be major ethnic or religious cleavages are in fact outcomes rather than causes. The looting and vendetta killings seen over the last several months are only consequences of the overarching motives of the conflict’s main actors: domestic political grievances and regional security concerns.

Failed state

To be sure, the concern for the crisis in the CAR is warranted. International awareness could prompt action to stop systematic, widespread atrocities against ordinary people and to meet dire humanitarian needs for those affected by the fighting. To that effect, despite logistical constraints and the challenges of establishing order where there is none, the French army, along with African Union forces, has taken the lead. Organizations such as the French humanitarian aid organization Doctors Without Borders are on the scene saving lives and providing much-needed emergency aid.
With Djotodia gone, it is time to move away from the simplistic religious conflict storyline and address the underlining fundamental problems in the country: state implosion, center-periphery relations and regional security interests. There will be no quick fixes to solve this messy crisis. Instead of invoking stock narratives, a thorough analysis of the complex causes driving the violence, combined with long-term strategies to address them, are good starting points to end the CAR’s downward spiral. 
Christopher Day is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of Charleston & Kasper Agger is a Uganda based Field Researcher with the Enough Project.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Bedouin Woman...

                          United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Syrian Artists Set Guinness Record By Building World's Largest Mural Out Of Recycled Goods

DAMASCUS, March 31 (Reuters) - A group of Syrian artists in Damascus has created the world's biggest mural made of recycled materials, a rare work aimed at brightening public space in a city sapped by war and sanctions.

The brightly coloured, 720-sq metre work was constructed from aluminum cans, broken mirrors, bicycle wheels and other scrap objects and displayed on a street outside a primary school in the centre of the Syrian capital.

The mural's lead artist, Syrian artist Moaffak Makhoul, said the idea behind the project was to give ordinary people a chance to experience art and relieve some of the pressures of daily life as the country's three-year-old conflict grinds on.

"In the difficult conditions that the country is going through, we wanted to give a smile to the people, joy to the children, and show people that the Syrian people love life, love beauty, love creativity," he said.

Guinness World Records has declared the work the world's largest mural made of recycled materials.

Syria is sunk in a civil war that has killed over 140,000 people, forced millions more to flee their homes and devastated much of the country's infrastructure, economic activity and urban life.

Central Damascus has been relatively shielded from the worst fighting, although a little over a year ago rebels controlled a ring of suburbs and were launching incursions that threatened government control over parts of the city centre.

Gains over the past few months by President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Damascus' outskirts and along the nearby Lebanese border have strengthened the government's grip on the capital.

Makhoul said he saw the mural as a fitting project for the times because it could help ease the frustrations of normal people. "I found it to be the most appropriate time for this. Now is when we need to do something," he said.

"I've been sad to see a lot of my colleagues, artists, all traveling abroad and leaving. God be with them and give them luck - but the country also needs all of us."

The mural took about six months to complete and was finished in January with the help of about six artists.

Students at the school nearby said they were happy with the completed work. "It's really great - it's made me more excited to come to school," said one student, Shams Khidir.

Mohamed, another passerby, said he had watched the project develop from its beginning while passing by the wall.

"It's really great work. It made me feel we can benefit a lot from things we aren't using," he said.
louai beshara
Syrian Moaffak Makhoul and a team of six artists pose with their Guinness World Record awards for the largest mural made from recycled material, on March 31, 2014 in Damascus's al-Mazzeh neighborhood. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
louai beshara
A close up of a decorated wall that won the Guinness World Record in Damascus's al-Mazzeh neighborhood, on March 31, 2014. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
louai beshara
Syrians walk through a decorated wall that won the Guinness World Record for the largest mural made from recycled material, on March 31, 2014 in Damascus's al-Mazzeh neighborhood. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
louai beshara
Syrian artist Moaffak Makhoul poses near his decorated wall after it won the Guinness World Record for the largest mural made from recycled material, on March 31, 2014 in Damascus's al-Mazzeh neighborhood. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
louai beshara
Syrians walk through a gate on a decorated wall that won the Guinness World Record in Damascus's al-Mazzeh neighborhood on March 31, 2014. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
louai beshara
Syrians walk past a decorated wall that won the Guinness World Record for the largest mural made from recycled material, on March 31, 2014 in Damascus's al-Mazzeh neighborhood. (LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)


Monday, March 31, 2014

Does The Koran Allow Wife-beating? Not If Muslims Don't Want It To...

Muslims have a problem with domestic violence. Let me be clear – most think it’s a terrible thing. But the troubling fact remains that it’s difficult for Muslims to argue that all forms of domestic violence are religiously prohibited. That is because a verse in our sacred scripture can be interpreted as allowing husbands to hit their wives.
This verse, found in Chapter 4, Verse 34, has been historically understood as saying that husbands can admonish disobedient wives, abandon them in bed and even strike them physically. This verse creates a conundrum for modern Muslims who believe in gender equality and do not believe that husbands have the right to discipline their wives at all, never mind hit them. How can devout Muslims both speak out against domestic violence and be faithful to a religious text that permits wife-beating?
As it turns out, the way out of this problem lies not only in the Koran itself – but in the very verse.
Many Islamic scholars have quietly been offering compelling non-violent and non-hierarchical interpretations of 4:34 for years. One alternate reading posits that if a couple experiences marital troubles, they should first discuss the matter reasonably. If that does not resolve the problem, the couple should experiment with a trial separation. If that fails, the couple ought to separate, but if it works, then they should have makeup sex. This alternate interpretation works with the Koran’s original Arabic, which lends itself to multiple, equally valid readings.

But if it is so easy to come up with new interpretations, why have the non-violent ones not gained more widespread acceptance?
The answer lies in a key truth: Religious texts mean what their communities say they mean. Texts do not have a voice of their own. They speak only through their community of readers. So, with a community so large (1.3 billion) and so old (1,400 years), Islamic religious texts necessarily speak with many voices to reflect the varied histories and experiences of the many communities that call themselves Muslim.
The fact is that 4:34 can legitimately be read both ways – violently and non-violently, either as sanctioning violence against wives or as offering a non-violent, non-hierarchical means for resolving marital conflict. Muslims may follow whichever interpretation they choose, and the inescapable truth is that the interpretation chosen says more about the Muslim in question than it does about the verse. This marvellous agency comes with a heavy responsibility: Rather than holding 4:34 responsible for what it means, Muslims can and must hold themselves responsible for their interpretations.
Needless to say, this problem is not unique to Islam. Believers from every religious tradition rooted in patriarchal texts must find ways to reconcile evolving notions of gender equality and justice with religious traditions that were interpreted to sanction gender discrimination, social inequality and religious intolerance.
An essential characteristic of religion is that it must be made relevant to the modern day and yet remain rooted in the past; this, after all, is what gives believers a sense of belonging to a “tradition” that is longer and more permanent than themselves. So, in each attempt to bring religious beliefs in line with developing notions of justice, believers must renegotiate their relationship with a tradition that did not hold these same values.
An indispensable step in this process of reinterpretation is an honest and unflinching examination of the religious tradition. Believers need not apologize or be ashamed of their history, but they must certainly not defend and perpetuate aspects of their religious tradition that are oppressive and tyrannical.
Religious traditions are shaped by their own social and historical contexts and it’s only natural that given the evolving notions of justice and gender equality, modern Muslims will look to the Koran to protect women against gendered violence. They have begun doing so, and the rest of us, Muslims or other, must use our power to give these interpretations the authority they deserve.
Ayesha S. Chaudhry is author of the new book Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition. She is assistant professor of Islamic and gender studies with the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice and the department of classical, Near Eastern and religious studies at the University of British Columbia.