Explosive Cartoon on the Holocaust Memorial Day

Political cartoons have always been capable of inciting several controversies and even led to marches of protest and violence in some cases (like the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad). The justification ‘package’ has always been readily available: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of press.

The newest case cannot resort to these excuses because it messes with one of the global taboos that no one wants to touch: anti-Semitism. This time the author of the cartoons is the legendary Gerald Scarfe (famous for the animations and graphics he did for Pink Floyd’s The Wall). Scarfe ventured a cartoon that caused all hell to break loose: it shows a ruthless Netanyahu building the Israeli apartheid wall over the bodies of Palestinian civilians, with the title ‘Israeli Elections: Will Cementing Peace Continue’?

This sounds purely political, where does ‘anti-Semitism’ fit into the picture? Well, two things: first, it was published on the Holocause Memorial Day (bad coincidence?) and, second, it was interpreted by the Jewish lobby(s) as alluding to the blood libel attributed to the Jews (ritual murder of kids for Jewish rituals), a horrible medieval accusation that lacked (and still lacks) any evidence.

The interesting part is how Robert Murdoch pathetically ‘washed his hands’ from the ‘crime’ of Scarfe: “Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.” I say ‘interesting’ because his reaction was the exact opposite to that of the Danish newspaper that refused to apologize over Prophet Muhammad’s cartoon (with a bomb in his head, as a terrorist, also attached below) on the grounds of freedom of expression. It has to be remembered that fostering Islamophobia is not -yet- a crime or a taboo.

Anyway, and regardless of what I think of Netanyahu and the Israeli government, I share the cartoon because, Holocaust and Blood Libel apart, it is an interesting case on the far-from-resolved clash between freedom of expression and respect for different religious, ethnic and racial groups.

Will cementing peace continue
Prophet Muhammad's cartoon

Quotes from ‘The God Delusion’

“Far from pointing to a designer, the illusion of design in the living world is explained with far greater economy and with devastating elegance by Darwinian natural selection.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

It’s the age-old (well, not that old) argument between theists and atheists. Natural selection is the atheists’ Trojan horse, while intelligent design is the ultimate defense line of the believers. Evolutionists vs. Creationists…scientists vs. clergymen? Dawkins wants it to seem like that. In his book, he criticizes the very idea of belief, regardless of its religious label:
“False beliefs can be every bit as consoling as true ones, right up until the moment of disillusionment.”

He also explains a very important point about Darwinism that so many people miss: natural selection is not equivalent to ‘chance’, it is actually the very opposite! He draws a picture of atheists leading a stress-free life:
“The atheist view is life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking, or the whingeing self-pity of those who feel life owes them something.”

He also explains that, if some scientists refer to God, it’s because:
“The metaphorical God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of the priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language.”

The book is a great read; it is an eye-opener and a manifesto that breaks many of the stereotypes that we have about believers and atheists alike. Dawkins also quotes other people in his book. Below is a selection of quotes:

“Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”
–Thomas Jefferson

“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion.” – Robert Pirsig

“The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“God and Country are an unbeatable team; they break all records for oppression and bloodshed.” – Luis Buñuel

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” – Blaise Pascal

“If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” – Lenny Bruce

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” – Voltaire

Saint John the Baptist - Da Vinci

The God Delusion: Between Atheists and Humanists

I daresay that the word ‘humanist’ is one of the most abused words on earth. For one thing, many people label themselves humanists just because it sounds elegant and has become fashionable (like the word cultured). For another, many people tend to use the word as equivalent to other terms, one of which is…‘atheist’! Sounds strange? Not at all. For some reason, some atheists –specially scientists- tend to think of themselves as the coessential humanists that sympathize with –and revolt against- a specific human condition: the condition of intellectual slavery under the myth of religion, or as Richard Dawkins put it, under the ‘God Delusion’. Dawkins himself, an atheist evolution biologist whose religion is Darwinism, is the Vice President of the British Humanist Association, which represents “people who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs.” Again, atheists lurking behind the term ‘humanists.’

There is absolutely no contradiction between the two terms. They are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, Dawkins –and many other atheist intellectuals- think they have a monopoly of the title ‘humanist.’ These are not my words, but rather quotes from Dawkins’s bestseller titled ‘The God Delusion’ that ended in my hands a few days ago. In this very interesting book, Dawkins says: “Being an atheist is nothing to be apologetic about. On the contrary, it is something to be proud of (…), for atheism almost always indicates a healthy independence of the mind and, indeed, a healthy mind.”

Why is disbelief a sign of a good mind? Some may be tempted to think that an atheist is someone who worked his mind, reflected, refused to accept ideas lacking empirical evidence, and ended up rejecting the notion of God. However, one can also be tempted to think that an atheist is someone who took the easy way out, rejected the presence of God and freed himself from the duties and limits set by religion, including the central concept of a ‘last judgment.’ At this point, it would be necessary to stress that I am only toying with the idea and with both sides (and there are more sides) of the argument without necessarily adopting any.

But I would like to share with you more quotes from ‘The God Delusion’ because, even though it is intensely provocative, it remains to be highly entertaining. That will be another message.

the-god-delusion

Published: A walk around Sudan’s Nubian Pyramids

“Clearly visible from the Khartoum-Atbara highway, the pyramids of the Royal Cemetery of Meroe stand alone on a sandy ridge like a row of broken teeth.” – Paul Clammer

Excerpts from my travel account of the Sudan trip were published by Ahram Online yesterday in the form of an article (the first of three articles), in which I talk about the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Meroë, the last Kushite capital where I came face to face with tens of Nubian pyramids.
Here is the link to the article:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/62993.aspx

As I once mentioned, Sudan has over 200 pyramids, spread over the sites of Meroë, El Kurru, Nuri and Gebel Barkal. More on the issue in other articles.

Meroe 10Meroe 7

Femen and Aliaa ElMahdy, Feminism and Nudity

“No Islamism. Yes to Secularism.”

One thing is to hear this phrase or read it in a magazine; another thing is to see it written on a naked female body. You guessed right, an activist, but apart from your appetite (or lack of it) for nudity, the one part I find really mystifying is that the activists doing it are part of a feminist group, the Ukrainian Femen, with the ‘guest-appearance’ of Aliaa ElMahdy, already a name that rings many bells in Egypt.

Femen & Aliaa ElMahdy

This week, Femen hit again, this time against the Pope: a topless protest against the Catholic Church’s objection to same-sex marriage. This time, they had the phrase ‘Shut Up’ painted on their naked torso.

Femen against the Pope

Message(s) apart, why is nudity becoming a ‘shortcut’ for promoting feminist causes? Why do new-age feminists confuse activism for exhibitionism (and vice-versa)? To think that nudity is an immediate and assured way of attracting attention (specially media) and gain visibility is a no-brainer. To call this ‘art’ or ‘feminist activism’, that is a completely different story, because it usually ends up beating the whole purpose of feminism (by objectifying the female body once again).

The naked female body can and did serve as a brilliant medium (rather than object or subject) of art and gender activism; and the examples are anything but lacking: Marina Abramovic, Carolee Schneeman, Rebecca Horn, and the list goes on.

Back to Aliaa ElMahdy whose nude photo caused a scandal in Egypt when it was uploaded to the social networks, one can –again- trace the problem to a phrase that she herself said in labeling herself ‘Revolutionary Girl’, a very dangerous label in a country where hundreds of revolutionaries died down the streets while fighting for freedom and dignity. At the time, she claimed that she wanted to open a necessary debate about the taboos engendered in the society, specially those having to do with women. Sounds like a good thing to do, but in a country like Egypt, this type of ‘shock therapy’ is completely out of context, and more than anyone, she herself knew about it. In no time she started receiving both threats (from as far away as Iran) and messages of support from beyond the border (how about Israel for one?), and it all worked: the CNN interviewed her, followed by everyone on earth: visibility and publicity assured.

Aliaa ElMahdy's Photo that caused the controversy

One should pause here and wonder: ‘but revolution…it’s not just what happens on the streets…it’s also what happens in people’s minds as well, no?’ Of course, and one has to admit that, had it not been for the Arab Spring, it would be unthinkable to open such debates using such methods. Aliaa, too, is a product of the revolution, a cultural phenomenon (good or bad, that’s not my issue) among others that call for a thorough analysis. See how much we deviated from ‘feminism’ while tackling a supposedly feminist issue?

Published: al-Tartushi, the Andalusi Jurist of Alexandria

“A fair king should be to his people what the rain is to the thirsty plants, or even better, for the rain lasts for a while, while the blessings of justice are timeless.” – Al-Turtusi, Siraj al-Muluk

The eleventh-century Andalusi scholar and Islamic jurist, al-Tartushi (from Tortosa, Spain), wrote his book (Siraj al-Muluk) about the principle of good rule and governance centuries before Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’.

Al-Turtusi’s legacy is little known both in his hometown and in Alexandria where he lived, preached and died, having confronted one unfair ruler after another. This is an article of mine published about him in Ahram Online:
http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/62346.aspx

The manuscript of Siraj al-Muluk by Abu Bakr al-Turtusi, on display at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

The World’s Top Plundered Artifacts

Plundered Art fills many museums around the world (and constitutes the core of countless private collections). Time Magazine once issued a list of the Top 10 Plundered Artifacts, but the list included such ‘non-art’ artifacts as the Skull of Geronimo! Moreover, the list included artifacts that were already repatriated (given back) to their countries of origin, like the Egyptian Frescos at the Louvre, the Euphronios Crater given back to Italy by the MET, etc.

When I think of the most important plundered artifacts, five artifacts come to my mind, and I placed them all in the slide hereunder. I did not include the artifacts looted from Iraq because –supposedly- efforts are underway to recover them. Have a good look, and try to figure out the names of the artifacts in the slide before scrolling down to read their names.

Plundered Art

Here are the answers:

1. The Elgin Marbles (Greek – Currently at the British Museum)
2. The Rosetta Stone (Egyptian – Currently at the British Museum)
3. The Benin Bronzes (Nigerian – Currently in several museums around the world)
4. Nefertiti’s Bust (Egyptian – Currently at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin)
5. Priam’s Treasure (Turkish – Currently at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow)

Obviously, you can add to the list!