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May 28, 2016
by mara.ahmed
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68 voces: The last dance: Maya

Andrew S. Vargas: As one of the world’s most linguistically diverse nations, Mexico is also ground zero for language extinction as grandparents and great-grandparents leave us, and younger generations bow to the necessity of cultural assimilation. Yet despite their precarious status, Mexico currently encompasses 364 indigenous dialects, belonging to 68 distinct languages which branch off from 11 language families — a legacy of Mesoamerica’s pre-Columbian golden age as the center of indigenous civilization in North America.

And thankfully some people are working not only to preserve these languages for future generations, but to empower those who speak them right now. Sesenta y Ocho Voces, Sesenta y Ocho Corazones (also known as 68 voces), is a new initiative from Mexico’s government Fund for The Culture and Arts (FONCA) that seeks to elevate Mexico’s 68 indigenous languages by preserving their myths, legends, poems, and stories in the form of beautifully animated short films. Their goal is to foment pride amongst speakers of these languages, and respect among those who don’t, under premise that “nadie puede amar lo que no conoce” (no one can love what they don’t know.)

There currently are seven of these short animated films available, covering dialects of the Huasteco, Maya, Mixteco, Náhuatl, Totonaco, Yaqui and Zapoteco languages. Ranging from two to three minutes, each film employs a different designer to give powerful expression to the wisdom contained in these indigenous languages. From reflections on life and death, to vividly recounted myths of the ancient times, these films give Mexico’s indigenous languages their due place amongst the great treasures of human civilization.

May 28, 2016
by mara.ahmed
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J. M. Coetzee speaking in Ramallah, at the 9th Palestine Festival of Literature

Nobel laureate JM Coetzee introduces his reading at the closing night of PalFest 2016:

“To speak of Jerusalem and the West Bank, we see a system of enforced segregation based on religion and ethnicity put in place by an exclusive self-defined group to consolidate a colonial conquest, in particular to maintain, and indeed extend, its hold on the land and its natural resources.”

May 27, 2016
by mara.ahmed
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Silencing America as It Prepares for War

John Pilger: Take Obama. As he prepares to leave office, the fawning has begun all over again. He is “cool”. One of the more violent presidents, Obama gave full reign to the Pentagon war-making apparatus of his discredited predecessor. He prosecuted more whistleblowers – truth-tellers – than any president. He pronounced Chelsea Manning guilty before she was tried. Today, Obama runs an unprecedented worldwide campaign of terrorism and murder by drone.

In 2009, Obama promised to help “rid the world of nuclear weapons” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No American president has built more nuclear warheads than Obama. He is “modernising” America’s doomsday arsenal, including a new “mini” nuclear weapon, whose size and “smart” technology, says a leading general, ensure its use is “no longer unthinkable”.

James Bradley, the best-selling author of Flags of Our Fathers and son of one of the US marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, said, “[One] great myth we’re seeing play out is that of Obama as some kind of peaceful guy who’s trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. He’s the biggest nuclear warrior there is. He’s committed us to a ruinous course of spending a trillion dollars on more nuclear weapons. Somehow, people live in this fantasy that because he gives vague news conferences and speeches and feel-good photo-ops that somehow that’s attached to actual policy. It isn’t.”

On Obama’s watch, a second cold war is under way. The Russian president is a pantomime villain; the Chinese are not yet back to their sinister pig-tailed caricature – when all Chinese were banned from the United States – but the media warriors are working on it.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders has mentioned any of this. More here.

May 26, 2016
by mara.ahmed
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the cosmos is a tree – quranic commentary on the symbolism of the tree

nazareth college just organized a wonderful conference on “sacred texts and human contexts: nature and environment in world religions.” i was able to attend one session and was fascinated by munjed murad’s lecture on “the cosmos is a tree – quranic commentary on the symbolism of the tree” which was based on “shajarat al-kawn” a 13th century treatise attributed (by most) to ibn al-arabi.

he started off by explaining how “ayah” is used to mean quranic verse. the literal translation of the word ayah is sign, evidence or symbol. interestingly enough, natural phenomena are also described as ayat (plural of ayah) meaning that nature, according to the quran, is also a revelation. nature is in constant dialogue with written scriptures.

shajarat al-kawn explains this conversation through the genesis of the tree. the cosmos is a multifaceted combination of everything seen and unseen, of both heaven and hell. it comes from the greek word for order and arrangement, for everything being in its proper place, hence the perfect imagery of the tree. verse (14:24) from surat ibrahim (abraham):

“seest thou not how allah coineth a similitude: a goodly saying, as a goodly tree, its root set firm, its branches reaching into heaven”

a good word is like a strong tree. the multiplicity of its seed manifests itself in the diversity of the tree. munjed didn’t have time to go into details but he mentioned how the word “kun” is the equivalent of “be” in the quran and how the treatise elaborates on what the kaaf stands for and what the noon stands for (in the word kun) and how they encompass the multiplicity and oneness of reality (how trees in heaven and hell are interconnected, how cool and warm breezes blend together).

the tree’s lower branches denote material concerns but its higher branches, reaching towards heaven, stand for spirituality. there is a right bough and a left bough but then there is an upright bough extending towards the sky. it represents communion with god, beyond right or wrong.

the sap of the tree is like the blood of a human being – unseen, yet the source of all life.

ibn al-arabi believed that our reason for existence is to come to know god: “i was a treasure, unknown, and i wanted to be known. i thus created the creatures, in order that they know Me.”

the knowledge of god is what makes us perfect or insaan ul kamil. this perfection is expressed in the tree’s leaves, flowers and fruit.

at the end of the lecture munjed urged us to see trees as more than firewood or paper products. they represent the multiplicity of the world within their singularity. they are a poetic theophany, a manifestation of god.

munjed murad is a thd student at the harvard divinity school and a junior fellow of the center for the study of world religions. he explores the concept of theophany in the natural world as explained by the islamic metaphysical traditions.

the cosmos is a tree

May 25, 2016
by mara.ahmed
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JLF brings ‘exotic India’ to your doorstep – who pays the price?

Kavita Bhanot: Vedanta as a sponsor is simply another facet of the colonialism that is at the heart of the festival, the neoliberal form that imperialism continues to take, as a British company (wearing an eastern garb, another collaboration between eastern upper caste elites and western elites) exploits in the name of profit, the people of “third world” countries, through deception, stripping of resources, pollution and displacement. More here.

May 23, 2016
by mara.ahmed
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jonesing for some lebanese nights

on sunday i was invited to a beautiful baby shower for a beautiful friend. her house was filled with arab and american friends, lots of music, dancing, and excellent food. i was particularly taken by a dessert called “lebanese nights” (or layali lubnan). it’s a semolina pudding topped with a layer of whipped cream and coarsely ground pistachios. u pour sugar syrup on top in order to impart just the right amount of sweetness. the dessert is flavored with orange blossom or rose water. the texture of the pudding has the same cool smoothness as panna cotta (might it be the use of mastika or arabic gum). the flavors are subtle and complex. must endeavor to make some at home.

Mara Ahmed's photo.

May 22, 2016
by mara.ahmed
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New Political Earthquake in Brazil: is it Now Time for Media Outlets to Call this a “Coup”?

The transcripts were published by the country’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, and reveal secret conversations that took place in March, just weeks before the impeachment vote in the lower House took place. They show explicit plotting between the new Planning Minister Romero Jucá and former oil executive Sergio Machado – both of whom are formal targets of the “Car Wash” corruption investigation – as they agree that removing Dilma is the only means for ending the corruption investigation. The conversations also include discussions of the important role played in Dilma’s removal by the most powerful national institutions, including – most importantly – Brazil’s military leaders.

[…] The second blockbuster revelation – perhaps even more significant – is Jucá’s statement that he spoke with and secured the involvement of numerous justices on Brazil’s Supreme Court, the institution that impeachment defenders have repeatedly pointed to as vesting the process with legitimacy and to deny that Dilma’s removal is a coup.

May 22, 2016
by mara.ahmed
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From Shahab Ahmed’s “What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic”

The intrinsic and instrumental social and human value of love is plainly stated in a long chapter entitled “On the Virtue of Love, By Means of Which Societies Are Bound Together,” in the most widely read work of political thought and social ethics in the history of societies of Muslims, the Persian-language Ethics of Nasir-ud-Din Tusi (1201–1274)—itself based on the chapter on “Love and Friendship” in the Arabic-language Refinement of Ethics of Miskawayh (d. 1030)—which presents love as a definitive constituent of a shared Muslim identity, and as a virtue superior even to justice:

The people of the Virtuous City, although they are different from one part of the world to another, are in reality in concord, for their hearts are upright one towards the other, and are adorned with love one towards the other. In their close-knit affection, they are like a single individual. As the shari?ah-giver, peace be upon him, says: “Muslims are a single hand against all others, and are as one soul.” The need for Justice . . . arises from the absence of love, for if love were to accrue between individuals, there would be no necessity for equity and impartiality . . . In this regard, the virtue of Love over Justice is obvious.