Tag Archives Culture

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

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Tom Hanks doesn’t much act in his movies and is not type-cast. He is just a naturally good human being! That’s the simple fact, and his writing completely confirms this too.

As I read his stories in Uncommon Type, I was almost urging him to put in some drama at this point, or do a plot twist there, to no avail though, as the stories are just “nice”, and some would say rather bland.

We’re trained to expect and demand drama in fiction and that’s what’s dished out to us. However, reading beyond that expectation in the first two or three stories, I find myself accepting that yes, the world indeed has more good than bad, and people are naturally kind. By then, I was cringing whenever I came across a cuss word – sparingly used through his text as they are – I actually felt that he was compelled to use them to show some form or “badness”. I’m happy to say that even with those, he can’t be, not with his kind and trusting nature.

Later on by the fifth or sixth story, the pace was picking up, and my realization that no earth-shattering drama is about to happen, made me relax even more. That relaxation led to sinking even deeper in my seat as I continued reading this nice book. Even his attempts at injecting a twist on the story, almost always at the very end with the last sentence, didn’t shake that sense of goodness in the world.

Uncommon Type is light reading that doesn’t tax one’s brain much, and some of its stories would certainly benefit from better plot twists and drama to make them even more enjoyable.

What you get with this book, I guess, is the calming influence one might expect from Xanax.

Thank you Mr Hanks.

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Art. As a utility to fill space.

Art. As a utility to fill space.

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Art is in the eye of the beholder. True. No one can define what is and what is not art either as it is a very subjective and emotive thing.

To me, art must serve a purpose. And it must raise more questions than provide answers. It is this particular faculty that elevates a society; when even just one person within it starts questioning accepted norms as a result of witnessing, interacting or engaging with art.

Will society change because of this occurrence? Maybe. The butterfly effect might take years to accumulate the momentum necessary to effect change, but those little reverberations are needed to start the process. Those frequencies are amplified by art. Mature art. One that compels its observers to ask the difficult questions.

That was not the case with the latest exhibition at the Art Centre by the National Museum.

Nashaz – an Arabic word signifying the lack of harmony between sounds – is an exhibition by a group of Bahraini creatives who produced “art installations reflecting dissonance in societies through social norms and attitudes often overseen in daily lives” but falls short of its title and objectives, simply because all the exhibits are predictable, lack depth and sophistication and are glaringly obvious. None of the art displayed prompts a question in a viewer’s mind, and most certainly don’t provide any answers either.

I left acutely aware of the immaturity of the experience, and honestly wishing them well in their future.

The artists participating in this display shouldn’t feel dismayed though, and they most certainly celebrate this failure. Taking this as constructive criticism, they might well evolve into more sophisticated artists at some point in the future whose art can actually serve a purpose other than just filling space.

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The fallacy of the “Pure Race”

The fallacy of the “Pure Race”

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Being of a “pure race” is a myth. A fallacy. Something that is imprinted in us; however, to perpetuate our mistaken sense of superiority. What that did – and still does – is just make us prejudiced and antagonistic toward each other. Being humble and inclusive is more important than living that fallacy.

Watch this video. It’ll open your eyes and hopefully make you think a little kinder to all those around you. After all, there is a good probability that you share an ancestor or two with them.

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Reel Bad Arabs. The propagation of discrimination

Reel Bad Arabs. The propagation of discrimination

Reel Bad Arabs book by Jack ShaheenMy son Arif’s Christmas gift to me was the book “Reel Bad Arabs, how Hollywood vilifies a people” by Jack Shaheen (it was made into a film as well – vimeo). It is a fascinating reference which took the author more than two decades to compile. In it, he reviewed over 1,000 Hollywood films which have denigrated Arabs, our culture and traditions, religion and way of life. The films reviewed were from the start of the age of cinema through to the present day. The amount of hate carried through these films – sometimes un-intentioned – is mind-boggling.

The book poses many important questions and premises which are worthy of consideration. The author’s considerable work was primarily to challenge stereotypes propagated by Hollywood because this challenge is extremely important. Left unchallenged, these stereotypes can devolve into violence against a whole people whose numbers exceed 300 million and the vast majority of which are “normal” human beings who want a “normal” life and who abhor violence. The vast majority are peace loving and peaceful and do not deserve to be singled out discriminated against.

He proposes that lobbying is necessary to correct this situation, just as others have successfully done like African Americans, Jews and other minorities who stood up to Hollywood’s vilification.

The author notes that:

Damaging portraits, notably those presenting Arabs as America’s enemy, affect all people, influencing world public opinion and policy. Given the pervasive stereotype, it comes as not surprise that some of us – and the US State Department – find it difficult to accept Egyptians, Moroccans, Palestinians, and other Arabs as friends.

Not only do these violence news images of extremists reinforce and exacerbate already prevalent stereotypes, but they serve as both a source and excuse for continued Arab-bashing by those filmmakers eager to exploit the issue. In particular, the news programs are used by some producers and directors to deny they are actually engaged in stereotyping. “We’re not stereotyping,” they object. “Just look at your television set. Those are real Arabs.”

Such responses are disingenuous and dishonest. As we know, news reports by their very nature cover extraordinary events. We should not expect reporters to inundate the airwaves with lives of ordinary Arabs. But filmmakers have a moral obligation not to advance the news media’s sins of omission and commission, not to tar an entire group of people on the basis of the crimes and the alleged crimes of a few.

Taken together, news and movie images wrench the truth out of shape to influence billions of people. Regrettably, gross misrepresentation abound and continue to plaster on movie screens those distorted “pictures in our heads” that Walter Lippmann bemoaned some 70 years ago.

I agree with this assessment. I have come across this prejudice in this very blog across many threads. My intention right from when I started blogging was to try to address this issue and to show that we Arabs are just regular folks. We have the good and the bad. We have the same aspirations and dreams. And we have the same basic human needs. No more and no less.

I’ve tried to provide a platform to bring our cultures together on the same platform so that people from both camps can come to this conclusion. I’ll leave it to you to decide wether I have succeeded. In fact, success is not really relevant as the issue is immense. What I would be happy with is if I had engendered conversations that allowed people to see the other’s point of view and accept them as human beings and view them as they too could be seen as possible friends.

I highly recommend reading the book and going through some of its observations in the film reference section. You will soon realise how big this vilification problem is to this day in Hollywood and other productions against Arabs.

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Nasfah Halawa – ناصفة حلاوة and Ramadan Kareem

Nasfah Halawa – ناصفة حلاوة and Ramadan Kareem

The Nasfah, a celebration conducted on the night of the 15th of Shaaban, is a happy occasion in Bahrain and the rest of the Muslim world. It is an occasion to celebrate the pending onset of Ramadan – which is only half a month away, and also the birthday of Imam Mahdi, the 12th apostle of Shi’a Islam and who is one of the grandsons of the Prophet. He is highly revered by Shi’a muslims.

The word “Nasfah” loosely means “half” or the divisor, pertaining to it’s occurrence in mid-Shaaban, the month immediately preceding Ramadan.

On the Nasfah, children put on fine clothes and go to as many houses in the neighbourhood as they could to collect sweets, nuts and some coins too but they have to sing for them first. The traditional song they sing is “Nasfah Halawah” which means “give me sweets” basically!

Here’s a nice manicured example of the celebration, courtesy of du in the Emirates:

And here’s my coverage of the celebration in Duraz in 2007 that I covered for one of my vlogs:

On the Nasfah, people also tend to distribute sweets to their neighbourhoods across many communities in Bahrain. The sweet which is very particular to this time of the year is called Zalabia. It’s pure sugar. Just one little bite will last you the whole day, believe me! Tasty as it is, it must be taken a little at a time if you don’t want to overdose.

My son Arif was visiting his grandmother’s in the old neighbourhood and was fortunate enough to be there by when the Zalabia distribution was taking place in that neighbourhood. He got some, but to complete the typical Bahraini experience, he also got Sun Top from the nearby cold store and brought them home to us to enjoy after lunch 🙂

zalabiya-and-suntop-01

 

Here’s how Zalabia is made (with a lovely Iraqi accent) if you feel so inclined as to make your own:

 

Bon appetite and Ramadan Kareem.

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The reality of doing business in the Middle East

The reality of doing business in the Middle East

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I’m doing some research into the small business environment in the Middle East with the view of introducing an innovative program to help Bahraini youth to make entrepreneurship their choice, their preferred career path. The program is part of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. It’s the Global Student Entrepreneur Award, or GSEA for short. Reading some of the resources online, I came across this painful piece:

Let’s get one thing straight: doing business in the Middle East is not about enhancing profit margins or improving your skills base.

Unlike emerging markets in Asia and Eastern Europe, this region does not have a ready supply of well-trained, hard-working people – nor are employees cheap – so if outsourcing’s your game you’d better look elsewhere. The reason? In oil-rich states around the Gulf coast government handouts and a ‘not what you know but who you know’ business ethic have removed incentives to work hard or take risks as an entrepreneur. [ source ]

Ouch!

The article is from Startup.co.uk which defines itself as

the UK’s leading independent, online resource for anyone starting and growing a business.

The article continues to rip the culture of “deservedness” in the Gulf in particular while offering grounded glimpses of what the future might hold, as emphasis is shifting in the area – supposedly – in the education field and governments are now preferring technical skills over religion in formal study. I’m skeptical about this assertion in particular. I truly believe that the best way to fix a wrong is to recognise that it’s wrong in the first place.

Anyway, I encourage you to read the article. It’s a good wake up call and provides a good platform for us to start fixing things. If not for us, at least it will be for future generations.

I hope that by EO Bahrain introducing GSEA, that’s a good step in that direction. Let me know if you know a young enterprising Bahraini who is in university and has been running his or her own business for the last six months. I’d love to talk to them. Hopefully they’ll qualify for GSEA and a future that is less bleak than that article provides.

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Time for the soul

Time for the soul

Today. I spent a little time with inspiration. Today. I felt humble. Today. I swam in the mists of contemplative philosophy. Today. I got to know myself a little better. Today. I rubbed shoulders with giants. Today.

I remembered my father.

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All Atheists are Muslim!

All Atheists are Muslim!

Huh?

I know, that title alone grabs the attention doesn’t it? So imagine my surprise when browsing through what’s going on in New York to find something to decide on the day’s program when I came upon it in the FringeNYC show listings. I decided that with a title like that, it’s a must-see. As the show was less than 24 hours away, we couldn’t buy tickets online so we decided to just go to the venue and hope that a few tickets would be available at the theatre. The Cherry Lane Theatre is a quaint little theatre tucked into a picturesque lane in New York’s Greenwich Village. The area teams with theaters and excellent restaurants in which a person can spend many happy a day imbibing culture and various inebriating drinks should one chooses. Arriving at the theatre in plenty of time, we stood in line to get tickets, and even though we were early, there was already another person in front of us. But, as luck would have it, they had only four tickets left when the box office opened! We got the last three tickets which left a few in the queue with disappointment for not making it. That was the last showing in NY too. Lucky 🙂

Zahra_Flyer_NYfringe_HLThe writer and performer, Zahra Noorbakhsh whose parents emigrated from Iran to the US in the 70s, yet just as almost all émigrés, continue to hold on to their origin’s culture in many ways. Them being Muslim, they come with some extra baggage which might not fit very well in their new chosen home, resulting in a number of challenges and heart-wrenching decisions which must be made, or foisted on them to make, in their daily lives and more importantly with their children who have grown up with a tenuous link to their parents’ origin which probably does not extend beyond a romantic notion of them “originally” and “culturally” belonging to that far away land. The children being born and/or raised in the US or Western culture and having been immersed into that culture are no more Eastern than George Bush Jr, who might also enjoy a plate of Chillo Sultani once in a while.

This cultural push/pull cannot be more amplified than when those children choose to have relationships their compatriots view as normal; while to them, it’s an extremely big production, owing not to their parent’s stance on such relationships. This is the dilemma that Zahra found herself in when she chose to have a relationship with a “whitey white Atheist American” and live together. Trying to explain this relationship to her parents, her father mainly, and get their blessing is a journey of hilarity and heart-ache. Add to that the “complication” that she didn’t think of marriage nor wanted it but just wanted them to live together, as people do in the West, and you get a glimpse of the frustration that her parents have been through in trying to come to terms with this reality, and to find even a tenuous way in which they can make this relationship somewhat Islamically sanctified in order to satisfy their own cultural upbringing.

With the amount of immigrations which have taken place from Muslim countries into the West, Zahra’s parents apprehensions are not unique and some people deal with it by internalizing their own anger and frustrations, others get to terms with their reality and let go, while others find these differences so overwhelming that they resort to either quickly marrying off their daughters to relatives from the old country and “nipping the problem in the bud”, or at worst, on discovery of their daughters contradictory behavior to their religion or cultural norms, they kill them – in the name of honor. How they view the murder of another human being, their very own daughter, sister or relative, honorable, is a mind-boggling conclusion.

There is no way that Zahra can address all of these cultural issues in 90 minutes of course; however, putting her own experiences in such a frame allows people to connect with issues most émigrés go through in turbulent silence and allows “foreigners” to be empathetic to their situation through the understanding gained through shows such as “All Atheists are Muslim”.

Here’s a taster:

 

So how did that assertion that “all Atheists are Muslim” come about then? Well, a non-Muslim man cannot marry a Muslim woman. End of story. Full stop. So how would one go about that? The man must convert to Islam. In Zahra’s case there is an added complication which is that Duncan, her boyfriend, is an Atheist. Her father couldn’t accept that. That is, he doesn’t accept the concept of Atheism in the first place, but found an expedient way around that in stating that Islam is the submission to God, everything else is subsidiary, and as everything is the creation of Allah, if one believes in His creations then they believe in Him. That is, if one believes in gravity, then essentially that is tantamount to “submission” to the will of Allah and thus recognition of Him and His religion; therefore, one who believes in this is necessarily a Muslim! End of that “Atheist” crap! Hence, the ready solution offered by Zahra’s father to enter both of them into a “Seegha” (milcha) or nuptial agreement recognizable by Islam!

Thank you Zahra for being brave enough to give the world a glimpse of what you have gone through, and I hope that through your efforts these thorny issues will be discussed at large to gain good mutual cultural understanding.

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Khobiz!

What unites a country? What unites people? What unites a family? Food, probably, is one of the most uniting factors known to man!

So in celebration of Bahrain and its people, in an attempt to show that we are all really one with the same passions, needs and aspirations. In an attempt to show that what unites us, are actually an awful lot more than what could ever drive us apart, this is a small offering from all of us at Gulf Broadcast, to the great people of Bahrain…

Please come with us on a journey of discovery of the most dextrous and loved of Bahrain cuisine. Follow the story of the simple (or not so simple!) Khobiz from its raw material to the mouth-watering varieties on offer.

Now go and buy a couple of khobiz and share it with a friend, an acquaintance or even a stranger.

Go ahead. Be bold!

Be Bahraini!

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Beyond the 5-star hotels

My good friend and uber creative person Mohammed Buhasan visited this afternoon and presented me with his latest books; this one in his hands is FUNtastic Bahrain – a brilliant project in which he explores various aspects and secrets that only locals are privvy to. Things like how we negotiate, how we order our khubiz, what we normally have for breakfast, how to become a real Bahraini by partaking in some Aloo Basheer and the like…

The other two books he brought with him were fabulous too, both funded by the Abu Dhabi Culture & Heritage, the first is about the local worry beads – the Misbah – and the second is about Arabian Swords and their makers in Bahrain.

What a fantastic effort by Mohammed and his company Al-Waraqoon. Well done indeed!

If you have a chance, buy his pictorial books, they will be – and should be – the centerpieces of any coffee table, home or office.

UPDATE 101221: This book (and others published by Mohammed) is available at Jashenmal’s. The retail price is BD15. Well worth getting and giving as Christmas or corporate gifts.

This is what the box looks like, for those who asked. It's available at Jashenmal's in City Centre

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