Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 13th, 2015

Double suicide-bomb attack in densely populated Borj Barajneh of Beirut

The hero of the day is Adel Termos. He tackled the second suspicious terrorist and prevented him from detonating his 2 kilos of C4 inside the Mosque.

The first terrorist was also carrying 2 kilos in addition to 7 kilos on his motor bike. He dropped the second terrorist 40 meters away. For some reason, the bike was detonated by control while the first terrorist was walking away in order to enter the mosque and was blasted with scores of bystanders.

Note that a kilo of C4 is equivalent to at least 6 times a kilo of TNT.

The 3 year old Haidar watched his 2 parents burning: He is now in intensive care.

The number of the fallen victims has been increasing steadily.  Many of the injured died. The current count is 43 dead and over 240 injured.

I’m sad to say that even after today this number will still mean nothing. We’re a country that never learned and will never learn. It’s just a bomb. It will always be just a bomb.

We call them martyrs. But they did not choose to die that way, burned bodies melting on the tarmac of a neighborhood they called home.

Their fault was to live in an area that demographics and politics dictated would be related to this faction or the other.

Bassam Jalgha shared a link.

We call them martyrs, because it’s easier to lump them under one title, to pretend they’re all the same, to pretend that knowing their names is not important, to make it easier for us to comprehend.

We call them martyrs to dehumanize them, even more than the dehumanization that occurs with the politicization of those victims that’s contingent upon the area targeted.

But they are people. And they are somebody’s loved ones.

And there are families tonight that were whole and complete a few hours ago, and they are sitting now maimed and shattered because of cowards, of abominations that dare to call themselves human beings.

Tonight, politics are irrelevant.

Tonight is about the people and this country whose people are dying, and burning, and whose lives are being lost for absolutely no purpose.


Haidar lost his mother and father.

Shawki Droubi and Khodr Aleddine, a nurse, were lost to their families.

Hussein Mostapha passed away with his wife, leaving their son behind.

Samer, a Syrian father of two who fled horrors in his country, was killed in what he had feared back home, and

Hussein, a Palestinian man whose family sought refuge here, also passed away.

Alaa Awad, a third year law student, was also among the victims.

Rawan Awad was a school teacher.

Hanady Joumaa, Bilal Hammoud, Ahmad Awwada, Rawan Atwi were among the victims too.

This is Adel Termos
Fatima Ibrahim's photo.
Fatima Ibrahim's photo.

Note 1: Daesh claimed 3 terrorists participating in the crime: 2 Palestinians and a Syrian who got their indoctrination in the Syrian city of Raqqa 5 months ago. The Palestinians are not from the refugees in Lebanon. The Palestinian camp of Borj Barajneh is 400 meters away from the scene of the blasts. Daesh purpose is to alienate Hezbollah with the Palestinian refugees.

Note 2: The security in Lebanon is tight and terrorist acts are no longer carried by cars. Scores of terrorist cells are being dismantled but a few will manage to get through the net.

Note 3: Nobody is dupe in Lebanon.

The USA is the main power broker behind these current terrorist activities in Lebanon, as well as the previous terrorist attacks of last year. The mercenary State of Israel is frequently behind the planning of the US decisions in destabilizing the region and Lebanon.

The surprised advances of the Syrian army, supported by the Russian air power, incited the US to revert to its terror tactics by targeting this hapless Lebanon and its citizens.


Best wishes for your Home: A displaced person kicked out of his property

In January of 1933, as he toured the US giving lectures, influential German-Jewish author Lion Feuchtwanger received word that Adolf Hitler, a man whose beliefs he had been publicly lambasting for the past decade, had risen to power back in Germany, his home and place of birth.

To return now would be suicide for both him and his wife, Marta; so, rather than risk imprisonment or worse, they travelled from the US to France to live in exile while their German home was looted by Hitler’s men, his books burnt and banned.

Two years later, Feuchtwanger wrote a letter to the new owner of his house and saw that it was printed in the Pariser Tageblatt, a newspaper written by and for the countless Germans exiled since the Nazi Party’s rule.

As it happens, the Feuchtwangers never saw their German home again.

They lived most of their remaining years in California.

(Letter taken from the More Letters of Note book. For more info and to read reviews of that book, go here.

Illustration by Here Design, for More Letters of Note.) (The symbol of a Key is the trademark of displaced Palestinians)

To the occupant of my house on Mahlstrasse in Berlin

I do not know your name or how you came into possession of my house. I only know that two years ago the police of the Third Reich seized all my property, personal and real, and handed it over to the stock company formed by the Reich for the confiscation of the properties of political adversaries (chairman of the board: Minister Goering).

I learned this through a letter from the mortgagees. They explained to me that under the laws of the Third Reich confiscations of property belonging to political opponents concern themselves only with credit balances. Although my house and my bank deposits, which had also been confiscated, greatly exceeded in value the amount of the mortgage, I would be obliged to continue the payment of interests on the mortgage, as well as my German taxes, from whatever money I might earn abroad.

Be that as it may, one thing is certain – you, Mr. X, are occupying my house and I, in the opinion of the German judges, must pay the costs.

How do you like my house, Mr. X? Do you find it pleasant to live in?

Did the silver-grey carpeting in the upper rooms suffer while the SA-men were looting? My concierge sought safety in these upper rooms, as, I being in America at the time, the gentlemen had decided to take it out on him. The carpet is very delicate, and red is a strong color, hard to clean out.

The rubber tiling in the stairway was also not primarily designed with the boots of SA-men in mind. Should it have suffered too badly, I recommend you contact the Baake company; the flooring is the same as on the staircases of the “Europa” and the “Bremen”, and this is the company which delivered it.

Have you any notion why I had the semi-enclosed roof terrace built? Mrs. Feuchtwanger and I used it for our morning exercise. Would you mind seeing to it that the pipes of the shower don’t freeze?

I wonder to what use you have put the two rooms which formerly contained my library. I have been told, Mr. X, that books are not very popular in the Reich in which you live, and whoever shows interest in them is likely to get into difficulties.

I, for instance, read your “Führer’s” book and guilelessly remarked that his 140,000 words were 140,000 offenses against the spirit of the German language. The result of this remark is that you are now living in my house. Sometimes I wonder to what uses bookcases can be put in the Third Reich.

In case you should decide to have them ripped out, be careful not to damage the wall. And did they rip out the round bench which was built into the library’s window loggia? One thing is for certain, Mr. X, there is a lot to rebuild and repair in the house.

May I suggest you contact the architect Slobotka for this purpose? I doubt whether this gentleman is allowed to practice in Berlin though since there aren’t many architects who know how to build in the city, yet there are many party members who want to build. Please, your connections permitting, do not hire a party member but rather a professional. It would be a pity about the house.

I would like to know what is going on with the buzz saw in the Grunewald forestry. Its noise has sometimes spoiled my enjoyment of the house, and it was only with great effort that I managed to achieve the removal of this nuisance. These days of course, noise will hardly be considered a disturbance in Berlin. However, it would be nice of you if you didn’t simply give up my hard won victory.

And what have you done with my terrarium which stood at one of the windows of my study? Did they actually kill my turtles and my lizards because their owner was of an “alien race”? And were the flower beds and the rock garden much damaged when the SA-men, shooting as they ran, pursued my sorely beaten concierge across the garden while he fled into the woods?

Doesn’t it sometimes seem odd to you that you should be living in my house? Your “Führer” is not generally considered a friend of Jewish literature. Isn’t it, therefore, astounding that he should have such a strong predilection for the Old Testament?

I myself have heard him quote with much fervor, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (by which he may have meant ‘A confiscation of property for literary criticism’). And now, through you, he has fulfilled a prophecy of the Old Testament – the saying, ‘Thou shalt dwell in houses thou hast not builded.’

Don’t let my house get into a mess, Mr. X. Building and furnishing it has taken Mrs. Feuchtwanger and myself a lot of effort. Running and maintaining it won’t take a lot of effort. Please take care of it a little. I’m also saying this in your own interest.

Your “Führer” has promised that his rule will last a thousand years: thus I’m assuming that you will soon be in the position of negotiating the houses’ return with me.

With many good wishes for our house,
Lion Feuchtwanger

P.S. By the way, do you agree that my statement that your “Führer” writes bad German is disproved by the fact that you are sitting in my house?

A world without religious conflict? What Ancient Egypt was telling us?

High above the atrium of the British Museum, in the Hotung Gallery that curves around the dome of the old Reading Room, you can – for the next four months – walk through 1,200 years of Egypt’s history: from Alexander’s conquest in 331BC to Salah al-Din’s takeover in AD1171.

Faith After the Pharaohs begins, appropriately, with three large, handsome – and strikingly similar – manuscript volumes: a ninth-century Tanakh, a fourth-century Bible and an eighth-century Qur’an.

Across the aisle, a tiny engraved stone shows Abraham (“Ibrahim” in Arabic) gripping his son ready for sacrifice while an angel holds him back. Beyond Abraham, the patriarch of the region’s Jews, Christians and Muslims, a vast landscape unfurls on the wall; its crowds and churches and mosques and fields rich with palm trees announce the locus of the show more clearly than any signpost.

What a fitting space and subject for the final triumph of Neil MacGregor, the museum’s outgoing director: to go back to the very beginning, the place and time where the great storms that swirl around us now all started.

For the aim of Faith After the Pharaohs is no less than to show the development of the idea of faith itself, how each of the three great monotheistic faiths emerged from what came before, how they ran into and alongside each other.

It aims to show how faith was articulated and expressed, and how it was used – at the level of the state, of institutional religion and of the people.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“It has always seemed to me that the default position is that people get along; that there is a huge area of our lives that we inhabit together without having to bump into irreconcilable differences.

That faith-based conflict is the aberrant position, and that it is always ignited by economic conditions or political obtuseness or manipulation.”

Neil MacGregor’s final triumph at the British Museum

The Roman state adopts the gods of Egypt: Horus and Anubis strike fancy-dress poses in Roman military costume.

A hawk-headed Roman on horseback carrying a lance is both the receding Horus and the yet-to-come St George. Christian iconography appropriates the image most popular in Egyptian devotion: the mother with the baby on her knee.

Then young Islam abstracts it all, grasps the old vivid colours and the motifs of plant and animal life and develops them into designs that will influence the look of the world from the great tapestries of Cluny to the facades with which the city states of Italy faced the Mediterranean.

As for the people, they will get help wherever they can; prayers and spells and amulets combine ankhs, crosses, old deities, 7-point diadems, the archangel Gabriel. The people will fashion talismans in hieroglyphs, Coptic, Greek and Arabic.

It is the commonality that the exhibition foregrounds.

The curators pull together objects and images from across 1,200 years and choreograph them to tell a story of what we would now call coexistence. Then, it was just how things were.

Egyptians, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, lived lives that were identical in almost everything except the details of worship and the jizya, the tax that Christians and Jews paid in lieu of conscription in the army.

They practised the same trades, used the same tools, cooked the same food, danced to the same music. They were born, married and died in roughly the same ways.

Until the hijab appeared on our streets in the late 1970s, women’s dress was an indicator only of urban/rural socioeconomic position. How, then, do you show – through a vase or a garment, a pen or a cooking pot – that families of different faiths lived more or less comfortably side by side?

Egypt lends itself well to the examination of life’s little details, however ancient.

The dry, warm climate, the clearly defined urban centres dictated by the Nile, the long and (relatively) stable history, the early establishment of bureaucracy and documentation all mean that there are a lot of objects to be found, and when found they’re well preserved.

I lingered in front of one small spell on a piece of paper; the man who had commissioned it was called Abdallah. In Arabic, that’s “God’s servant”, a name common to all: Jews, Christians and Muslims. You could not tell from the spell what religion he was and it didn’t matter; he was just a man, a mortal who needed help from a higher force.

It is precisely this idea of commonality, of shared experience and needs, that marks Faith After the Pharaohs as innovative.

I must admit I had not realised just how innovative until I saw the press notices and heard the comments of friends here in the UK. Our consciousness is shaped by our history.

The western notion that the “normal” condition of a state is to contain citizens of only one faith has for centuries been incomprehensible to the people of the “Middle East”.

First with their equable relations with their many deities, then – as this exhibition shows – with the first two monotheistic religions appearing and taking form, their prophets and stories crossing and recrossing between Egypt and Palestine, then the third religion picking up elements of the first two and achieving the political dominance to create a common language.

All these formations of faith were indigenous; the people who embraced – or were engulfed by – them had to find ways of living together. And they did.

In that old hub of the world, where ideas and communities were formed, and where prophets and gods performed, an organic equilibrium came to be. And yet, of course, the differences were there: fault lines where pressure could be exerted to divide people, to turn them against each other, to create instability that could be exploited.

And that fault line, when it was used, was invariably used politically, and used by power.

It is unbearably sad when a good and beautiful quality, in this case diversity, becomes a vulnerability used against its possessor.

Do I digress?

The founding principle of the act of parliament that set up the British Museum in 1753 was to allow visitors to address through objects, both ancient and more recent, questions of contemporary politics and international relations.

Visitors to Faith After the Pharaohs will, I think, find themselves doing very much what parliament intended. And even though the exhibition presents itself as being at a remove from politics, nothing really can be.

It has always seemed to me that the default position is that people get along; that there is a huge area of our lives that we inhabit together without having to bump into irreconcilable differences. That faith-based conflict is the aberrant position, and that it is always ignited by economic conditions or political obtuseness or manipulation.

Today, in the Hotung Gallery, I’m surrounded by reminders of this. A short introductory film shows scenes of young Christians protecting Muslims at prayer and young Muslims carefully encircling a church. It doesn’t tell you that this footage was shot in 2011, the year of the revolution.

On New Year’s Eve 2010, a bomb went off during midnight mass in a church in Alexandria. It killed more than 20 people. Christians, of course. The police arrested a young Muslim Salafi, tortured him to death and said he’d confessed.

Later, investigations proved what we had known all along: that police agents had planted the bomb. This was not a solitary incident. So, in the great spirit of the revolution, where people tried to take control of their lives and their destinies, both communities made a point of visibly protecting each other against the regime’s security apparatus, which was seeking to set them against each other.

I leave the film and tweet as I walk. We’re pushing a Twitter Storm for my nephew, Alaa Abd El Fattah, and several young activists serving sentences in President Sisi’s prisons – ostensibly for “protesting” but really to isolate and break them.

I stop in front of the great mural of the ceiling of the church in the Red Monastery. Just before I left Cairo I went to a service for the Martyrs of Maspero, the 27 men murdered by the regime in October 2011 on a peaceful protest in front of the Egyptian Radio and Television building.

Alaa first came to the attention of the generals when he and his comrades took over the morgue where the bodies of their friends were lying. Both the state and the church wanted to record “death from natural causes” and the young activists prevented them. While the massacre was happening, state television was screaming at viewers that Christians were attacking the Egyptian army and Muslims should come out and defend it. They didn’t

Consider how religions start out as revolutions, rising against the established regime and aristocracy. If they’re successful they’re adopted by the state. Then – if the citizens are lucky – part of the religious establishment will maintain independence and a distance from the state. In that distance there may be room for people to negotiate their lives.

A book in a case in the next room brings me back to the exhibition and a moment of pleasure: the wonderful horned, hairy, paunchy demon in the late 14th-century Kitab al-Bulhan could be straight out of a Manga comic of today, and triggers happier thoughts of shared and divergent imaginations

And then, on my phone screen, a young woman sits on the ground in Jerusalem. Ten – I count them – ten Israeli soldiers stand round her. She’ll be accused of trying to knife them.

In front of me a Hebrew bible in Arabic script and on the wall an image of the lost-to-Egypt treasure of the Jewish Geniza. Images of dead boys and girls come in all day long.

The Guardian letters page is taken over by arguments about the cultural boycott of Israel. There it is: the supreme, living, example – right in the heart of our world – of a political conflict masquerading as a faith war.

Why did old-style British colonialism, with its last bit of strength, drive wedges round the heart of the region and say: here – against the tradition of 2,000 years of history – here there will be a homeland for a people of only one religion?

If, as the useless caveat postulated, this would not be at the expense of the existing population, then what need was there for it?

Jewish Egyptians (as Faith After the Pharaohs shows), Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis already had their homes in the region – alongside Christian and Muslim Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians etc.

Perhaps the idea – the colonial idea in 1918 – was to settle European Jews in the region?

But, even so, where was the need for this special dispensation? The region had received Jewish refugees from the Spanish inquisition and various European persecutions across the ages.

In fact, when the first shiploads of European Jewish refugees arrived in Haifa in 1936, the Palestinians welcomed them as simply a new wave of an old phenomenon. What then? Just the last gasp of empire?

The creation of Israel in 1948, the actions leading up to it, the judiciously placed bombs of the infamous Lavon affair, the Suez war – all political events that tore the Jews out of the fabric of Egypt.

Early on in the exhibition there is a sixth-century manuscript fragment of Theophilus of Alexandria triumphantly sitting on top of the Temple of Serapis with the god still inside – and into my head immediately came an image I saw in Jerusalem: a glass display case, inside it a large model of the imagined Third Temple.

The case is positioned so you can, if you wish, gaze through it to the Dome of the Rock and imagine the seventh-century building razed to the ground, the Temple rising in its place. What will be the cost of that event, that sounds so outlandish but draws closer by the day?

The thoughts in my head are dark as I leave the gallery. But, against them, something out there – in the crowds in the museum’s atrium – something hopeful set itself.

Crowds of people, varied in dress and language and colour and age and economic ability, entering freely into this space, comfortable and engaged and talking and debating.

In his 13 years as director, MacGregor has brought together the talents of the BM’s brilliant staff and the scope of its extraordinary collection to position the museum firmly as “a museum of the world, for the world”. Global, not only in its audience, reputation and collection, but in its concerns. And in the museum’s visitors I see a notion of what a globalised society could look like, and what wisely led cultural institutions can do to enable it.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s personal. That we, in Egypt and in the Middle East that is so discussed and analysed and exhibited in the west, are fighting, personally, daily, not just our political battles, but the very powerful interests that would turn these political battles into zero-sum, faith-based warfare.

With the appearance of the post-postmodern nightmare of Daesh (I refuse to use the name Isis), these interests have scored a victory. But the battle is not the region’s alone. It belongs to the world.

Cultural interventions, such as Faith After the Pharaohs, that use top-drawer resources with goodwill and imagination are vital to any hope that contemplating the past will lead to informed and progressive attitudes to contemporary politics and international relations.

Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs is at the British Museum, London WC1B, until 7 February. The British Museum/The Guardian public forum: Coexistence and conflict: can Egypt’s past inform the future? is on 8 December at 7pm. Ahdaf Soueif is the author of Cairo: a City Transformed (Bloomsbury) and a trustee of the British Museum.





November 2015

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