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Friday, November 17, 2006

Samir Kassir's: "Being Arab". Will we get out of the "Malaise"?

Recently, a friend of mine and I were discussing the sad state of affairs that the cultural world of the arabs finds itself in. We noted how a vibrant nahda period around the late 19th and early 20th century when arab writers, poets and artists were extremely productive has become - 100 years later - nothing more than a thing of the past. We tried to understand what brought that sorry state of affairs about, and I suggested that the rise of Arabia (as in the gulf), after the discovery of oil, allowed countries that had previously been on the fringes of culture (and more or less political influence) to exert much more influence on their more cultured neighbours.

More recently, I started reading Samir Kassir's "Being Arab" (published after his death) which in one of its chapters forwards a similar argument. He supplies various examples of how the mini-renaissance (he doesnt call it that) that was being experienced in various arab cities around and after the late 19th century, was eventually turned back due to the rising "cultural" influence of the arabs of Arabia proper.

In any case, the moral of the story (if there is one) is that the rising tide of political Islam (a product exported largely from the gulf) is a danger that threatens to nip the cultural development of the arabs. In fact, it has already done extensive damage to all forms of expression, be it cinema, literature, music (to a lesser extent), theatre... However, it is not too late to salvage the dying renaissance and to present it as an alternative to the fanaticism of politicized religion on one hand, and to complete subjugation to the West on the other. The idea is to promote the evolution of a modern cultural identity that is not un-necessarily confrontational and simultaneously a source of pride to people. What better than a flurry of writers, painters, poets, directors, artists, and sculptors producing high quality works that appeals to people, to rid us of the backwardness and despair that political-religion brings.
So... pull out a piece of paper and start writing, or a canvas and start painting. Its time to get to work!

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