From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
El-Shami's encyclopaedia makes a fine job of addressing the lay reader, summarising as it does the principle constituents of Jewish religion, their implications for the creed of the present-day religious Jew, and their reverberations in modern history. He traces not only the historical-mythical and conceptual roots of these terms and their functions in Jewish social and political life in various historical eras, but also their development through the history of Judaism and the part they play in Jewish religious thought. This is intended to lead to a more or less complete understanding of the mentality of religious Jews, their hopes and fears, their collective aspirations and sense of identity and the bearing they have on 21st century international relations. The book also delineates how religious Jews live their lives, what the Jewish creed imposes on them and how they interpret its doctrines in their present, politically charged context. Such aims El-Shami admirably achieves, illuminating, in addition, the implications of the Jewish creed and the historical baggage Jews continue to carry for the Jewish perspective on the (Arab) Other. Indeed the terms on which his analysis relies could not have been more varied. They cover the full creedal and political spectrum, delving into religious traditions and conventions, rituals of worship like fasting and pilgrimage, social customs and rites, notions of death and the after-life and the full range of new and old sects. El-Shami also covers holy sites, synagogues, the religious judiciary, prophets, religious figures and internal points of contention. The picture that emerges, finally, is thorough and surprisingly varied, and it is in this context that the average "Arab intellectual" is unlikely to be familiar with it. In much the same way as El-Messiri's, El-Shami's book performs an educational as well as academic function; and its contents are so simply delineated, its concepts so clearly explained, it requires but a minimum of concentration on the part of the uninitiated lay reader. It is in this sense that it can be said to fill a crucial gap in Arabic literature on the topic.
Phew, not bad for 368 pages, but one can’t help but wonder if “literature” is a bit of an understatement here. Anyway, I’m sure this “simply delineated” encyclopedia of Jewish religious terms avoids the sorts of objectifying and dehumanizinig tendencies that everybody knows were the banes of (dare we say it?) Orientalism.
Also reviewed is Salaheddin Hafez’s 465-page tome Tazyeef Al-Waei: Aslihat Al-Tadlil Al-Shamel (Falsifying Consciousness: Weapons of Mass Deceit), published by Cairo’s Sutour Publications. Al-Ahram doesn’t mention that the author is a former deputy editor of the paper, but whatever (see: Al-Ahram, evidence of professional credibility (cf. Unicorns)). Of the two books, this is probably the one to take to the beach or to read out loud to your sweat heart.
Salaheddin Hafez's introduction to this book affords a more or less complete picture of its contents. "We rest content with complaints about American bias, grieving over the rubble of Israeli destruction and aggression in Palestine and groaning constantly as we speak of the hegemony of American globalisation over our affairs, and the Zionist Lobby's control of Western money, business and media," the author writes. "We forget, or pretend to forget, that we own much, with which we can build a free will and a strong resistance, if we manage to employ it properly. But what to do about [the Arabs'] limited vision, intellectual stasis and lack of imagination. The issue of mind formulation and consciousness creation has become one of the most important issues, receiving special attention throughout the world, as a result of the scientific realisation that it is crucial to policy-making, without which healthy, conscious minds, states and societies remain unable to make progress in any field. And there are conditions for building such minds, the first of which is the guarantee of freedoms: the freedom of thought and research, freedom of opinion and expression and the press, freedom of creed and innovation and the freedom to work and participate. To say anything else would mean either professing falsehood or falsifying." Such is the book's harsh message. Written in a somewhat overly rhetorical style, it calls for a direct confrontation with Arab failures and blunders, favouring relentless critique over optimism.
It’s nice to see the Secretary-General of the Association of Arab Journalists calling for a free press and all that. Indeed, I’m sure Hosni Mubarak, Bashar Assad, the Saudi Royal Family, King Abdullah II, and the rest of the gang will get right on it. If, for some reason, they don’t, see: Zionist entity, everything the fault of.