Thursday, January 20, 2011 1:11 PM
Middle Eastern affairs and conflicts are, to say the least, mired in complexity. America’s fingers are dipped in many of the region’s interests—halting the spread of terrorism, securing oil reserves, ensuring non-proliferation of nuclear technology, and controlling the opium trade, just to name a few. Getting the story straight is difficult for seasoned reporters and exponentially harder for a blogger in the comfortable embrace of his Midwestern cubicle. After world-rattling events, newshounds balk at our country’s feeble grasp of Middle Eastern contexts and lack of strategic intelligence and foresight.
Well, that need-to-know information can’t always be collected and those highly-sought experts shouldn’t necessarily be trusted, according to Columbia Journalism Review—especially in a country like Afghanistan, where professional journalism is a fairly new institution. “Afghan journalists are relatively new to their work, and they have been criticized for lacking professionalism,” writes CJR’s Vanessa M. Gezari. “But Afghan journalists describe the world they see: a complex place, littered with overlapping, conflicting accounts. There are no reliable sources here.” The other issue faced by Afghan journalists is that their mission—uncovering truth in a burgeoning democracy—is relatively similar to that of Western military intelligence officers. According to Gezari, “For Afghan journalists, the methodological similarity between reporting and intelligence work is problematic. Journalism has little institutional standing in Afghanistan, and many Afghan reporters told me that ordinary people suspect journalists of spying.”
All solid journalism clearly requires proper training. Eager to test out the tools of their trade, journalism professor Diane Winston’s students put themselves in harm’s way and took up a religious beat in Palestine by actually reporting on the spiritual landscape from the West Bank. Winston recounts the class’s introductory experience in The Chronicle Review:
Then came the moment when the airport van left us inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Punchy after a 14-hour plane ride, we dragged duffel bags and camera equipment through narrow, cobblestone streets and winding pathways until we found our way to the Lutheran Guest House and sleep. Several hours later, jet lag proved no match for religious authority as a muezzin’s predawn chant led the call to prayer.
Being there made all the difference. The intensive preparation cohered when students, faced with breaking news, drew on multiple skill sets to report and write stories—to practice journalism for real. Students covered protests and demonstrations that could have been dangerous but were crucial for readers worldwide.
We in the magazine world know that not all reporting needs to be serious or completely objective. The nuances of obscure culture can be just as revelatory, thrilling, disheartening, or impactful. In a bit of meta-reporting, Bidoun—a quarterly, experimental-format Middle Eastern arts-and-culture magazine—interviewed two reporters from the long-running educational publication Saudi Aramco World. The publication’s editorial mission is quite different from, say, a newspaper or prime-time broadcast; one of the reporters states that“Aramco World really saw itself as a cultural interface between the Middle East and the United States. I think there was prescience in that, the idea that greater understanding of the people and the issues of the Middle East would be important in the future.”
And speaking of Saudi Aramco World, the January-February 2011 features a very different type of dispatch from the Middle East: light-hearted photography. The magazine spotlights Iraqi photographer Jamal Penjweny’s project “Iraq is Flying” (pictures all over this post), in which he captured everyday Iraqi citizens in mid-air. Penjweny’s images remind the outside world of something we often take for granted: Iraq’s diverse people can transcend their portrayal by mainstream media, even with a permanent backdrop of war.
Bidoun,Chronicle Review, Columbia Journalism Review, Saudi Aramco World
Images courtesy of Jamal Penjweny.
Friday, September 10, 2010 8:57 AM
Bidoun has a great interview with band members of Hypernova in their latest issue. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? The four rockers from Iran talked about the music scene in Tehran, what it was like to discover other bands in their country, and coming to the United States. Here’s a great snippet where Raam explains his theory about popular musical artists in Iran:
Raam: I remember my first cassette was a Queen tape. A lot of Pink Floyd, obviously. I was a huge fan, and I still am.
Negar Azimi: Why is Pink Floyd so big in Iran?
Raam: Pink Floyd is so big. And Dire Straits, they’re huge in Iran.
Negar Azimi: Dire Staits?
Raam: I have this stupid theory that someone came to Iran in, like 1985, with a box full of cassette tapes. And that tape collection was all we had until satellite TV came. I think it’s as simple as that. Then the internet came along, and suddenly we were up to date with the rest of the world.
Source: Bidoun (article not available online)
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 3:30 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25, at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C., and post them online the following Monday. We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees.
The following eight magazines are our 2010 nominees in the category of arts coverage.
A celebration of handmade objects and the people who create them, American Craft brings to life the work of glassblowers, woodworkers, jewelry makers, and artisans of all stripes. Published by the American Craft Council, it covers its inspiring subjects from workbench to gallery. www.americancraftmag.org
An arts magazine with a decidedly literary bent, The Believer covers books, film, music, and pop culture with barely contained intellectual glee. Part of the McSweeney’s empire founded by author Dave Eggers, it constantly finds new ways to showcase the creative impulse. www.believermag.com
The arts, culture, and fashion of the Middle Eastern region are fertile ground for the writers and artists of Bidoun, who traverse their territory with wit and irreverence. Whether they’re living in the region or are part of the diaspora, their dispatches are crucial intelligence. www.bidoun.com
Each issue of Creative Review is eye-popping, showing some of the best work from worldwide advertising, design, and visual culture. Its articles add depth to this dazzle, profiling scenes, people, and creative work that you wouldn’t hear about any other way. www.creativereview.co.uk
Esopus is a visual feast, showcasing the work of contemporary artists alongside critical writing, fiction, poetry, interviews, and even a themed CD. The very definition of “labor of love,” it comes out only twice a year, but it’s always worth the wait. www.esopusmag.com
Forget box-office battles and vapid celebrity chatter: Film Comment focuses its lens on cinema’s substance. Drawing on a deep, experienced pool of critics and feature writers, the magazine gets off the red carpet to explore the wonderfully diverse film omniverse. www.filmlinc.com/fcm/fcm.htm
Published in Ireland but covering the entire world of music, The Journal of Music uses actual musicians as writers. The resulting coverage, which runs the gamut from folk to classical to pop, is arresting reading for both casual fans and aficionados. www.journalofmusic.com
Poets & Writers is targeted at wordsmiths, yet appeals to anyone who loves to get lost in a bookstore. And if you’re yet another hopeful unpublished author—come on, admit it—you’ll find good advice on finding an agent and a deal. www.pw.org
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 11:36 AM
“People are literally fleeing this place, to date leaving 3000 cars stranded at the airport with keys still in the ignition.”
—David Galbraith, “Goodbye Dubai” from Smashing Telly
“The greatest liberal of our time, I mean Barack Obama, is colluding in one of the worst sins against the liberal order in America, which is the slow death of the American newspaper.”
—Leon Wieseltier, “Washington Diarist” from The New Republic
“In a new place, everything from car horns to doorknobs is fascinating. The shape of public restroom urinals is something I always notice. Every place has urinals, but no place has urinals that look alike.”
—Tom Bissell, “An Interview with Tom Bissell” from Make (not available online)
“It pisses me off when I see people from South America, Australia, Florida, or the Middle East trying to pretend they’re Vikings. I respect Norse mythology—I’m a cosmopolitan person. But you also have a rich culture. Try to celebrate that.
—Ashmedi, “Rocking the Cradle of Civilization” from Bidoun (not available online)
The New Republic
Wednesday, July 09, 2008 2:16 PM
Anyone who’s tried to conquer a foreign language at a certain age is familiar with the requisite textbook formula: You follow a few characters on adventures that somehow expose you to the vocabulary for fruits, polite greetings, and how to get medical help all within a simple, tidy storyline. (“Excuse me,” said Heidi, “I don’t mean to bother you, but I ate a poisonous apple and require emergency care.”)
In a recent Washington Post opinion piece, Harvard Law student Joel B. Pollak rails against the narratives available for the 24,000 students of Arabic in the United States. His main gripe is a political one—there’s too much Gamal Abdel Nasser-loving and too much Israel/America-bashing in his class materials—but it’s his description of the forlorn protagonist of his textbook that struck me:
We learn in Chapter 1 that Maha is desperately lonely. In later chapters, we are told that she hates New York, has no boyfriend, and resents her mother.
Soon we encounter her equally depressing relatives in Egypt—such as her first cousin Khalid, whose mother died in a car accident and who was forced to study business administration after his father told him literature "has no future."
The characterization jogged my memory to one of my favorite readings in the last year, a piece by Anand Balakrishnan in the Summer 2007 issue of Bidoun. In it, Balakrishnan recalls the primary theme of his Arabic studies in Cairo: failure (or fashil).
The Arabic word for failure is built from the tripartite root of f-sh-l to become fashil, the harshest, most damaging word in the language, at least the way my Arabic teacher pronounced it. The word often twisted his dyspeptic mouth, spattering our lessons like ordnance from a cluster bomb. Everything was fashil. Me as a student, himself as a teacher, Cairo as a city, Egypt as a state, the Middle East as a region, Asia as a continent, communism as a theory, democracy as an ideal, Islam as it was practiced, humanity as a species, and, in the summer when the smog congealed, the sun as a source of light.
Balakrishnan’s is a beautiful meditation on the theme of failure throughout Arab literature and Arab society. Pollak may or may not have a legitimate beef regarding his own lessons, but his polemical demand for a language neutered of politics and feeling rings hollow after reading Balakrishnan’s “Muse of Failure.” More important than the sterile reformulation of one language into another is the transcendent project of cultural translation.
Image by “Dr. Yuri Andreievich Zhivago,” licensed under Creative Commons.
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