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Sunday, March 20, 2005

New Culture in the Islamic World

Grim weather here in New York today, but I'm gonna go out and shoot some pictures for a new photoblog entry. Anyways, just quickly, here's a couple of things I've seen recently that I've thought were interesting.

First, from the Christian Science Monitor, "Pakistan's Antidote to Extremism: First Art's School":

Last month, President Pervez Musharraf made an announcement that many here say could reshape the cultural landscape.

No, he didn't trumpet the capture of some one-eyed mullah. He opened Pakistan's first-ever performing-arts academy. This might seem frivolous in a country with endemic poverty and thousands of hard-line Islamist seminaries. But many liberal Pakistanis say this small step is downright revolutionary.


Pakistan's arts scene has been at a low point for decades, but reached its nadir during the 1977-88 dictatorship of Gen. Zia-ul Haq. Citing national security needs during the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, General Zia curbed artistic expression. Many artists went underground for fear of being declared "un-Islamic."

Changing Pakistan's cultural mindset and weakening the grip of Islamists will not be easy, Mr. Mohyeddin admits. "This Islamic influence is the sword of Damocles that hangs over our heads. Dancing, singing, these are anathema to the Islamists, for they can only lead to the further de-Islamization of our souls. The biggest thing is the stigma, the prejudice. This is still seen as disreputable work."

Also, there's two documentaries that have been made recently rap music in the context of the, uh, 'difficult relations' between Palestinians and Israelis. One is called 'Channels of Rage' about two rappers from Israel, one a Jewish mc named Subliminal and the other an Arab named Tamer Nafer. The documentary is about how their one-time friendship becomes strained and collapses during the intifada. The other one that is coming out is by an Arab-American director named Jackie Salloum, and it's called Slingshot Hip-Hop. It follows several different Palestinian rap groups in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. On the basis of the trailer on the site I'd be very interested in seeing this when it comes out.

Oh, and Lebanon has withdrawn from the Eurovision song contest because of a law on the books that prevents Lebanese television from showing anything involving Israel (as far as I can tell, the article is kind of vague as to what the problem is exactly). I don't really have any comments beyond the fact that I think that the Lebanese people could survive being exposed to a cheesily-grinning Israeli Jew singing a tacky song. For those you who are reading from outside Europe and are unfamiliar with it, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual cheesefest bringing together young people from all over Europe in musical competition. It is a wonderfully kitschy institution, responsible for, among other things, bring Abba to international attention after they represented Sweden in 1974. Israel itself has had one of the wilder winners, the transexual chanteuse Dana International, who won in 1998.

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