Monday, February 28, 2005

Salon International du Livre de Tanger

For the last two days I have been attending lectures and roundtable discussions at the 9th annual Salon International du Livre a Tanger (International Book Fair in Tangier) where the speakers have been speaking heavily on the direction of the Koran in the 21st century. Yes, it was a pretty exclusive event, but there were Moroccan students from universities around Tangier present and the interest was enormous. The rooms were filled beyond capacity each time. This is proof of an audience, too, for a wider range of films in Tangier to be presented by the CdT (! Yipee!!

At the book fair they showed a documentary/interview with Edward Said before he died. The film was sponsored by Al-Jazeera. I also saw Driss Chraibi speak, kind of, on his writing, and other authors and thinkers.

Noteable quotes from the conference (translated from the french)

Film on Edward Said “Selves and Others” directed by Emanuel Hanon
“There may be more to being out of place than being in/having a place.”
“War hasn’t solved anything so far” (on Palestine/Israel)
The role of the intellectual is to always be critical of power and never to justify power. Power of the strong and power of the weak. By providing alternative models and controversy to make people think. To be against destiny and to point out choice. (paraphrase)

Driss Chraibi“Hash, the messiah of Washington.”
“I am not a demagogue”
Claude Geffre
Called for an imagination when reading and interpreting and translating the religious text-as if it were poetry-to the end of creating a new order of humanity and a contemporary idea of the texts.
“The best interpretation is the text as revelatory, for the beauty of the text and inspiration of the text, of the mysteries of god and the possibilities among us.”

A panel of artists spoke on Islam with the reoccuring theme: “Kill the marionette in yourself.” Which was a pleasant surprised as I have named a collage poem I have almost finished "Faith is a Marionette."

Debate between Hamid Barrada and Guy Sitbon (Interlocutors in the new book “The Arab and the Jew in War” (On Peace in Palestine/Israel or both using Political, Violent means or both)

Hamid Barrada:
In the beginning he says: “Violence isn’t politics.” In the end he says, “we can’t found stability on violence.” But in the middle he says:
“Why have arabs gained a reputation for violence in the last years?” (The room applauds)
“Violence can be revolutionary, it doesn’t always bring misfortune… Moroccan independence was won by politics, yes, but in combination with violence”
Referred to the Israel-Palestine conflict exclusively as a Jewish colonization of Palestinian land.
“Could Algeria have been liberated without the Algerian war?
Hamas was actually organized and funded by Israel as a political rival to Arafat.
“Bush and Sharon are the same person”
“Americans are powerful, but since Vietnam they no longer have the desire to die. If you have the luxury of California you don’t want to die.”

Sitbon: “Colonialism is not a crime. We are all sitting here as products of colonialism.”
Barrada: “And we’re not a pretty picture.”
Sitbon: Israel as a religious state is against the intentions of the Bible. The Bible says the Jews will have israel back when the messiah comes. In 1948 a rabbi called Baghdad against the formation of the Israeli-Jewish state. His point being Zionism is not a religious issue.

In my opinion this was a two-dimensional, demagogic and unsuccessful debate. Mr. Barrada was using rhetoric that was emotional over substantial in order to gain the favor of the room. They were not engaging each other and their discussion was disjunct. And Sitbon unforunately did not protest speaking in Barrada’s terms.

Islam in the 21st century
Rachid Benzine (Author of the “New Thinkers of Islam” )
“The Obesity of Religion”
“One thinks of a doxa these days ahead of time and looks for a justification in the Koran.”
“Interpretation is the result of the history of women and men.”
“ ‘Islam’ is a suite of interpretations of Islam. The project is to classify the ‘Islams’.”
“If the prophet had lived for 4 centuries he would not have had time to say all the words that people put in his mouth.”

Soumaya Naamane-Guessous
“I was trying to buy a plastic box at the market and I asked the man, ‘Is the plastic solid?’ And the man answered, ‘Only Allah himself is solid.’”

Mohamed-Cherif Ferjani
“Religion gave a direction and the prophet gave the religion legitimacy. We must recognize the direction in which it pointed us and recognize that this leadership is over.”

Mohamed Arkoun
Called for an Islamic Enlightenment of reason and intellectual spirit. “The Koran must be put to the test.”

I hope you found this synopsis interesting and not too long. Best to all around the world.

Sidi Bouabid Minaret in the Grand Socco across from the CDT Posted by Hello

Arriving ^v^

If you ever come to Tangier, the best way is through Gibraltar. Gibraltar is England’s military territory in the southern tip of Spain. The Strait of Gibraltar is approximately 8 miles wide at its narrowest point and seperates the European continent from Africa. Gibraltar is a funny place. I flew from New York to London, I spent two days in London where the Imperial War Museum has no mention of Imperialism but has an impressive display of antique weaponry painted in bright lego colors. And of course there’s the tate and more Cy Twombly to add to the Whitney’s show, which was you must see if you are anywhere near New York right now.
From London I took the tube to Heathrow and "deplaned" at the airport in Gibraltar from London and I spent about twenty minutes there.
Admiral Nelson, of Trafalgar Square fame (the man at the top of the column) died in the Battle of Trafalgar and washed up on the shores of Gibraltar. They pickled him in brandy and sent him back to the Mother Isle of Britain. I walked across the British/Spanish border with all my luggage, flashed my passport and we were in Spanish border town of La Línea de la Concepción. From there we took a bus to Algeciras. From Algeciras I took a two hour ferry ride across the narrow strait (etroit detroit). The first views of Morocco paints it as green and rolling as Ireland. Dreamlike because of the salt-splattered windows of the ferryboat. A mile off-shore of Tangier I spotted a camel galloping on the beach. Maya didn't believe me, though I could see it kicking up sand under its knobby, gnarled legs. I have good eyes. When we got off, there were three resting along the beach near the port.

We got off at the port and were helped by many plain-clothed foot-traffic directors-megalomaniacs or real employees of the port, we'll never know. Luckily, we were being met by Yto and Sean to take us to our new home. One young man asked us what hotel we were staying at and when we said we were reticent, and then finally said "we're staying with friends" he became defensive and spewed a long sentence about how he's not a terrorist and why do we stereotype and he is a policeman at the port and only trying to help. We gently explained that we would not tell any stranger what hotel we were staying at and it never crossed our mind that he would come to the hotel to blow us up. Simply, the overexageration and indiscriminate nature of the "war on terror" seems to have caused a whole race to see themselves as terrorists. What a mess.

First view of Tangier (The ferry is to the left, maya's hair is flying on the right) Posted by Hello

Candy is dandy but spice is nice Posted by Hello


My Milieu is Filling

Salutations from Tangier! I am here to fundraise and help in the transformation of the Cinema Rif in the main square (the Grand Socco) from a theater with exclusively Bollywood engagements where the people of the town come to smoke hash and lose themselves in the song, dance and romance of the Bollywood formula (it works every time) to a venue for Moroccan directors, documentaries, independent films, workshops on film, a media library, artists’ residences and editing suites—a new cultural center of the awakening port city. The most recent film at the cinema is a Bombay shocker called Proud to Be an Indian. The quote from the movie on all the posters is "You ain't white, you ain't rite" and the star has a large red swastika on his chest. Most of the movies are love stories, though. The office atmosphere is very nice as we have as background music, the starlings twittering at all times.

I have yet to decide what type of writing I will publish here. It will serve as a journal of sorts but being here this week has been intense and has made me forget myself and concentrate on the politics emerging here. They are embroiled in the private lives of the people on a noticeably daily level and in my daily life especially with my involvement with the cinematheque project and my close contact with a notoriously political family. So send questions on any subject and I will respond and there will definitely be stories and pictures galore. Just remember, I am also working 10 hour days. I am NOT a flaneur, nor am I here for pedophile tourism.

A fun little history lesson

Brief History of Morocco and Tangier

Mythology says Neptune’s son Anteus founded the city and named it after his wife Tingis (Tangeh in Arabic.) Hercules, who was also responsible for seperating the two continents at the Strait, slayed the giant Anteus. Anteus is buried under the Charf hills that line the coast. The paradisiacal garden of Hesperides is also supposedly somewhere nearby.

One dense past

The city belonged to the Pheonicians, then the Cartheginians, then the Roman empire in 42 AC. Diocletian made it the capital of Mauretania Tingitana, guarded by Celtic cavalry. The Vandals took over in 429AC and the Islamic Conquest conquered in 683. Tarik ibn Zyad from Spain claimed the territory in 705. It changed hands many times between then and when Spain lay claim to it in 1580 under Philip II of Spain when Spain and Portugal were united. It was passed to the English through Catherine of Braganza’s dowry to Charles the II om 1661. Seven years later Moulay Ismail beseiged the city and the British left, chumily burning the port and most of the city. The Berber Alaouite dynasty took over in 1684. The city remained an intense interest of most European countries until the treaty of Algeciras in 1906 that assuaged the Brits with Egypt and the Italians with Lybia. In 1923, because of its desirability and its tendency to make people fight over it (it was much like it became an international zone controlled by the diplomatic outposts of France, Spain, britain, Portugal, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Italy and the US. The Moroccan Sultan also had an agent representing. Finally, Morocco got its independence in 1956 and took Tangier under its wing. Still, the transition was anything but smooth and the city had its moments of anarchy, which bred the scenes it is famous for; artists, writers, pedophile tourism etc. The Berber tribes never stopped fighting for their independence and are a huge cultural presence here. Morocco is a “constitutional monarchy” but the monarchy has more power than the parliament because the parliament is usually divided.

In short, Tangier is as much of a melting pot as America and I feel right at home. Even my traveling companion, Maya, who has fair skin and has bright red hair, has been mistaken for a Berber. Apparently, red-hair is one of the race’s characteristics.

I had to put the history out front because it explains a lot about the openess of the city. Everyone here is atleast bilingual, usually tri-lingual and sometimes quadralingual. People try arabic first, then French or Spanish, then the one they didn’t try, and then English. Luckily I know French and English. If someone is harrassing me (not really maliciously, more like a fly trying to land on your honey) I just answer them in Russian and they say “dammit, I don’t know that one, but I will next time!” and they walk away.

Many people warned me before I came to beware of lechers, that women are treated poorly here, that a woman out alone gets a lot of stares, that you have to cover your face etc. Tangier is most definitely a strange place in the Arab world, but it is not at all what our communal consciousness has made the usual islam. The changes are very recent and only in their infance but the people of Tangier (or Tangerines) have all the reasons to be open-minded.

My favorite story so far:

How women gained equal rights in every respect of the law

Last year, May 16th, there was a suicide bombing in Casablanca. Ten young boys blew themselves up (actually one couldn’t do it in the end.) God knows why they did it or who sent them. Right after, the new king, as a slap in the face to fundamentalists, instated a petition he received from a feminist group and the vote passed in Parliament unanimously with even the fundamentalist groups voting for it. Yto, my boss, said for a week after women had a glint in their eyes and were exchanging silent, proud smiles with strangers in the street.

I can’t explain that except to say, the climate seems to have changed. With the heaviness and violence of the fundamentalist movement came a backlash from the everyman. The majority of muslims aren’t fundamentalists and up until now they have caved to the pressure of the fundamentalists. After the bombing, which was an anomaly in Morocco, everyone realized it was time to halt their malicious influence. Now conversations have started among academicians (who, it seems, are listened to much more than in the US though they are still “liberals”) and politicians, about what the role of Islam should have in their society and about the interpretation of the Koran. Yes, it has been conceded that the interpretions that exist were created in order to maintain power. The order was all backwards, people think of the message first and then look to the Koran to find a justifying passage; the age-old corruption of religious texts for personal/party advancement. And of course, you can find anything you want in these texts if you look for it.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

like a Simona in a candy store Posted by Hello