Negative stories about the Middle East dominated Western news headlines in 2015. It’s easy for Americans, especially those who listen to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, to get the impression that the region is just one miserable homogeneous place of violence, terror, religious fanaticism and authoritarianism.
The website of Morocco’s National Tourist Office, a government organization, advertises the North African country as a land of cultural festivals and moussems (traditional fairs honoring a saint). According to the Ministry of Information, about 150 such festivals take place each year. The Ministry of Tourism describes these gatherings as occasions for Moroccans to celebrate the diverse cultural identities of the country as expressed in all artistic fields.
On September 8, 2011, just a few days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the intrepid rocker Patti Smith performed at Webster Hall in New York City.
Yaron Peleg, Israeli Culture Between the Two Intifadas: A Brief Romance (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2008).
As America’s standing with the Arab public continues to drop, many Americans ask just what the world’s greatest democracy must do to improve its image. The latest US venture in public diplomacy, a glossy monthly called Hi, is an exercise in American earnestness designed to answer precisely that question.
Rivka, the tragic protagonist of Amos Gitai's new film Kadosh, is unable to conceive a child. Her anxiety is acute. The ultra-Orthodox community of Me'ah She'arim in West Jerusalem, in which Rivka lives with her husband Meir, is known to ostracize its barren women. Seeking spiritual guidance, she leaves their home one evening to pray. The camera follows Rivka as she walks through the darkened streets of Me'ah She'arim, then cuts to her arrival in the spacious, well-lit courtyard of the Western Wall. Hands pressed against the stones, she seeks salvation.
“You are a Turk from Germany.” The words are from the song “Sen Turksun” (You Are a Turk) by German-Turkish rap group Cartel. Cartel shot to prominence in 1995 in Germany and Turkey with their album, “Cartel,” which within a month of its release sold 30,000 copies in Germany and 180,000 in Turkey. The “Cartel, Number One” video aired repeatedly on Turkish television and quickly hit the top of the Turkish pop charts. Every Turkish station and newspaper wanted to interview the group, which fascinated the Turkish public with its aggressive style, its ingenious music that combined rap with elements of Turkish musical genres, and its lyrics. For example:
Ironically, the latest junkets featuring liberal Israelis and recently domesticated Palestinians threaten to finally collapse the intricate history of Jews and Arabs in the Middle East into two streamlined, easily recognizable blocs: enlightened, idealistic and well-intentioned Zionists (“wounded spirits” as the title of a symposium on Israeli culture in New York had it); and articulate, mild-mannered, well-dressed Palestinians ready to interpret the desires of their less articulate, less well-dressed, stone-wielding and still somehow overly Arab constituents in the occupied territories.
Salman Rushdie’s story of Ismail Najmuddin — the former Bombay lunch-runner turned movie star, screen name Gibreel Farishta, the Muslim who played Hindu gods in numerous “theologicals,” migrant to London, victim of the bombing of flight AI-420, the man who fell from the sky and lived, only to dream of himself as Gibreel the revealing angel and sign over his dream-narratives to a movie mogul — is a tale whose Rabelaisian irreverence towards all fixed authorities, identities and truths offers an appropriate introduction to the question of contemporary popular culture in the Middle East.