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Posts Tagged ‘“The Orientalist”

“Pain is more powerful than death”: Who is Lev Nussimbaum?

Pain is more powerful than life, more powerful than death, love, loyalty, and duty” wrote Lev Nussimbaum before he died in acute pain in the retreat village of Positano by the shore around Naples in 1942.

Lev Nussimbaum, (he signed his books and articles by Essad Bey in the first 8 years or Kurban Said in the last 4 years of his life), arrived from Vienna to Italy in full health at the age of 31, fleeing Nazi Germany that occupied Austria.  He was trying to obtain the rights to becoming Mussolini biographer.

Before 1938, Mussolini politics were against Hitler and the anti-semite or Aryan Nazi policies.  Lev ( a Jew by origin) was dropped from the writers syndicate in Germany, and his author’s rights from selling his already published 10 books were denied him.

He married for convenience sake a German baroness and signed Kurban Said so that he may receive money through his wife from different accounts in Europe.

By 1938, Mussolini sided with Hitler; it seems that Mussolini understood that Germany will not leave its southern front (Italy) unprotected by all means.  Thus, Italy started leisurely to tighten the grip on Jews.

Lev was suffering from Reynaud’s syndrome by 1940; it is a blood infection that asphyxiate the cells and your body witnesses internal gangrene.  Lev was amputated several times and he relied on morphine and hashish to secure short reprieves from pain.

Imagine you were born at the turn of the 20th century (say 1905) and had to witness genocides and two world wars before you reach the age of 30.

You experienced genocides against Armenians in Baku (Azerbaijan) and you had to flee persecutions with your father (since your mother committed suicide when you were only 9 years old) and you were kept on the run from Baku, to Turkmenistan, to Persia, to Georgia, to Constantinople, to Italy, Paris, Germany, and back to Italy.

Imagine that “revolutionary” gangs kidnapped people in your city for ransoms and that you had to be confined in your home for years.

Imagine that you witnessed the “Red Bolsheviks” invade your country and commit mass massacres.  You see the old world of lasting empires, monarchies, kingdoms, and dynasties falling apart and you have to get used to a new world of “barbaric” youth who are trying to live in a different changing culture, tradition, and set of values.

Trying to comprehend a world of totalitarian regimes, racial ideologies blatantly discriminating among race and religions, regimes intent on restricting freedom of opinions that you were used to and you have to juggle amid this world of upheaval while barely 20 of age.

Imagine you are mentally more mature than normal kids, that you could read in three languages and devoured all the novels in your rich library about the Orient of Sultans, Princes, and Khans, that you built an imaginary world of fast and pomp and luxury.

Imagine that you appreciated luxury and lived in luxury (your father is an oil baron in Baku and money is redundant) and then you are reduced to a life of poverty.

Imagine that you believed deep down that Islam and the Islamic world (for example, the Ottoman Empire) is the alternative political and social system to Bolshevism and racial segregation; that you converted to Islam and took the name of Essad Bey.

Suppose you could assimilate the culture of your environment and play the roles you desire; that you attended university courses in Orientalism (the history, literature, geography) of Islam and Central Asia nations (Ottoman, Mogul, Tatar, Persia) while still a high school kid.

Imagine that you started publishing big hit books at the age of 24 and that you published 15 books and 200 articles in renowned dailies and magazine within 12 years and you were hired and recognized an expert on the Orient.  Lev donned the Ottoman Fez and garments of the Caucasus regions in his home.  You earned plenty of money and recognition and then you were reduced to be penniless and mortally ill.

Imagine you had to play as many roles as countries you live in as immigrant and survived to keep a semblance of sanity in a fast changing world where liberty was doomed to disappear. Imagine that your father is living in Vienna and he is unable to travel and you know that Nazi Germany will most probably get hold of your father and send him to a concentration camp (which was done).

You are longing for a stable and tolerant society but are faced with a barbaric reality of total intolerance and totalitarian ideologies.

Then, you had to suffer the life of a prisoner, unable to travel and communicate freely in an isolated Italian village and had to deal with physical pain every minutes of your life.

Yet, Lev spent 15 hours a day writing and publishing.  His radio and typewriter were taken from him and Lev wrote on cigarette paper and on the marge of books for lack of paper.

It would have been nice to live confortably to an older age; but how else could you learn the secret of life: “Pain is more powerful than life, more powerful than death, love, loyalty, and duty”

Note: I have posted two articles on Lev Nussimbaum if you are interested in his biography.  The information were extracted from the “The Orientalist” by Tom Reiss.

Liova or Lev Nussimbaum (1905-1942), also known as Leo, or Kurban Said, or Essad Bey,wrote in German over 15 books and over 200 articles in several dailies and periodicals within 12 years.  He died in Italy at the age of 36 but he looked as old as a 70 years old man.

Among his books are “Blood and oil in the Orient”, “Ali and Nino”,  “The daughter of the Golden Horn”, “Twelve secrets of the Caucasus”, “Muhammad”, “History of Guepeou”,  “Soviet Union secret police”, “Stalin”, “Lenin”, “Tsar Nicholas II”, “Allah is Great”, “Epic of oil”, “White Russia: People without a land”, “Russia at a crossroad”, “The Caucasus: Mountains, people, and history”, “Reda Shah” and many other books.  He mostly signed his books under Kurban Said. Lev’s agent, Werner Schendell, asked Lev to ease up on publishing so often and to focus on publishing one book a year, at no avail.

Kurban Said was known in Germany of the 1920′s as Essad Bey (Assad is Lion in Arabic, just as Leo refers to Lion) after he converted to Islam by the Imam of the Ottoman Embassy in 1923.  He was the first to describe Stalin and Lenin in details and accounted for the tormenting period of Baku (Capital of Azerbaijan on the Black Sea or the “Zarathustra” land).

Lev was a Jew born in Baku of a rich oil baron living in Baku (Abraham was born in Tbilisi in Georgia) and a mother (Berta Sluzk, originally from Kiev).   Berta had left Zürich, headquarters of Russia revolutionaries, and ended up in a Baku prison.  Lev’s father noticed Berta who was serving a prison sentence at the Baku prison and arranged for her to be set free and married her. Berta resumed her “revolutionary” activities and extended money to the revolutionary groups (that will later be called Bolshevik) between 1905 and 1912.  Berta committed suicide by poison after she was found out of communicating with the revolutionary gangs and then, she became an embarrassment to her family.  Lev was then 9 years old. 

Lev was mostly forced to be secluded in his home and his large library because of the dangerous conditions outside.  In the rare outings, Lev was surrounded with body guards and a nurse: He was considered of fragile health. Lev and his father fled Baku in 1917 during the First World War: the armies of Tsar Nicholas II were defeated by Germany and Baku was becoming a hotbed for instability and chaos.  They crossed Turkmenistan and then Iran and had many adventures. 

Father and son returned to Baku as the Turks and Germans occupied it briefly before the English returned.  Azerbaijan experienced independence for less than a year before the Bolshevik returned in 1920 and Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union. Father and son managed to flee Baku, separately, in order to avoid close surveillance.

Lev spent some time in Tbilisi (Capital of Georgia) and then, boarded an Italian boat with his father in 1920 to Constantinople( Istanbul).  Istanbul was big and cosmopolitan and Lev fell in love with this city.  The French, English, Italian, and Japanese troops had headquarters in different quarters of Constantinople.  Father and son boarded an Italian boat and wandered a few months in Italy before landing in Paris.  A year later, Lev was sent to a boarding school on an island in Northern Germany and then they settled in Berlin by 1922.

Lev was attending university courses on the orient history, geography and literature while finishing his high school in a Russian school in Berlin.  Berlin was nicknamed the second Russian Capital because most Russian refugees ended up in that city after Lenin and Bolsheviks took over power. Willy Haas of the famous magazine “Literarische Welt” hired Lev as an expert of the Oriental matters at the age of 24.  Lev also published articles in the dailies and magazines of  “Deutsche Allgemeine”, “Prager Tageblatt”, “Asia”, “The living age”, and “Saturday Review of literature”.  Lev wrote about most monarchs and princes who visited Germany between the two wars, and the history , geography, and literature of the Oriental countries.  He wrote articles about Resa Shah (father of Shah of Iran), Ibn Saud and the Wahhabi sect, on Egypt, on Afghanistan, and mostly on Russia and the Caucasus region. You may have more details on Lev’s life in my post:

Note: This biography is extracted from “The Orientalist” by Tom Reiss.

Baku of 1901: Paris of the Orient Gate?

By 1900, Baku (Capital of Azerbaijan on the Black Sea) was the center of oil production and it supplied half the world’s demands.

The Swedish Alfred Nobel (inventor of dynamite) and his brother ran the first oil tanker named “Zarathustra”; a fitting name since Baku was then the main religious city of the Yazd sect that worshiped the sun and fire since antiquity.

Oil was known for thousands of years in this region, and Baku was the religious capital of the Zarathustra sect after Islam invaded Iran in around 650 AC.   And Azerbaijan became the main Islam Chiaa sect region before Iran adopted that sect in the 18th century.  Actually, many Persian monarchs and dynasties were originated from Azeri khans or tribal leaders in Azerbaijan.

For thousands of years, Baku was lighted at night from the burning oil on the surface of the Black Sea.  Burning waves lighted the night and hit the shores.  After kerosene was distilled in the 20th century, using kerosene lamps were common household appliances in Baku, Russia, and the neighboring regions of the Caucasus.

Baku was the richest city in the Caucasus and rivaled New York, London, and Paris in attracting immigrants and investors.

Baku became an Oriental city competing in its modernity with Paris: elegance in residences and fashion were widespread among all ethnic and religious minorities living in the ultimate of capitalist system of “laissez fair” mind of doing business.  It was a typical “frontier” city where millionaires and the poorest classes of oil workers cohabited.

Baku is a terrible windy city all year round and its soil is muddy black, soaked with oil; but wealth overcomes many climatic disadvantages.

In 1905, widespread revolts swept all over Russia to the borders with Korea.  Everyday, hundreds of politicians and civil servants were assassinated and pogroms were common.

Tsar Nicolas II decided on giving war to Japan in order to appease the revolts.  The Tsar imagined that a quick victory over “these tiny monkeys with short tails” will galvanize the Russian citizens into patriotic zeal.  Russia was quickly defeated; the entire Russian Pacific Navy sunk and hundreds of thousand of Russian soldiers were annihilated by Japanese machine guns in Mongolia.

The Russian revolts intensified.  The only remaining Russian Navy in the Black Sea was overrun my sailors and their officers slaughtered (the Potemkin debacle).  Tsar Nicolas promised a Constitution.  The Cossack cavalry understood Constitution to mean total freedom of doing what they pleased.  Hundreds of pogroms were daily occurrences in Belorussia and Ukraine (formerly belonging to the Catholic Polish Kingdom before 1772.)

The pogroms reached Baku.

The first minority victims were the Armenians who were well established and lived comfortably out of commerce and lending money.  For days, thousands of Armenians were massacred before the Cossacks managed to restore a semblance of security.

Between 1905 and 1917, Baku was kidnapped by a multitude of revolutionary groups that robbed banks, and asked for ransoms.  Joseph Stalin, under the code name of Koba and who was 28 years old, was leading the Bolshevik groups that asked ransoms in order to provide protection for minority ethnic groups.

The Communist Revolution of 1917 ruined Baku in 1920 as a prosperous city; mass transfers of population and assassinations were systematically applied.

Note:  Topic extracted from “The Orientalist” by Tom Reiss

“Culture et resistance” by Edward W. Said

(Written in April 18, 2008)

Culture and resistance is an interview conducted by David Barsamian with late Edward Said before the latter died of an incurable cancer.

Every page needs a review and much pondering.  Edward  is indeed said to be the narrator or the storyteller “hakawati” of the Palestinian cause because he manages to give a clever twist to the story in his books and conferences.

The book shows the geographic maps of how the Palestinian State has been transformed and subdivided since the British mandate that ended in 1947; a slicing scheme that the USA and European press never show.

There are maps of 1920, 1947, 1949, the Oslo II of 1995, the Wye Plantation of 1998, the Charm el-Cheikh of 1999, the Camp David map including Jerusalem, the Taba I and Taba II, the two Sharon’s plans of 2001, including Jerusalem.

No wonder that these maps are never displayed because these Swiss cheese subdivisions and the implantation of Jewish colonies would speak louder than any article.

Edward Said is an American Palestinian born in West Jerusalem  in 1935.

He pursued his schooling in Cairo before obtaining his Masters’ in Princeton and his PhD in Harvard.  He has been a tenured faculty member and professor of literature at Columbia University.

Professor Said suffered from cancer for nine years and his physician from India managed to extend his life for five years.  During his painful ailment, Edward never stopped teaching, writing and accepting to speak in conferences.

Edward Said was saying that you don’t find a single Arab university student studying about Africa, Latin America, or Japan; it is a sign of our delinquency, current cultural weakness, and our intellectual torpor.

What he is trying to say openly is that we need to change our attitude, to free our mental power from the archaic chains in order to be treated by the rest of the world as equals.

Professor Said plays the piano and is an accomplished connoisseur of classical music; he organized an evening with Daniel Barenboim, the famous pianist and chef of orchestra, in the Palestinian university of Beir Zeit.

This Beir Zeit university was closed for 4 years by Israel during the first Palestinian “Intifada” in 1996 when the Palestinians holding Israeli passport demonstrated against the social injustices; they were supported by all the other Palestinians as one people. The Indian Zubin Mehta, Israel’s Philharmonic chief orchestra, attended this cultural and musical event among the Palestinians.

The Arabs have been too long on the defensive, too complacent, paralyzed in their pain and bitterness.

Our lack of democracy in our institutions is the result of our lack of the citizenship spirit that permit tyranny, military plots, corruption, regimes of secret police, and the meddling of imperialist States in our affairs.

The only way to changing a situation is to get on with it, to start reading, interrogating, and meeting with the “Others” so that to starting knocking down the walls of the prisons we have incarcerated ourselves within.

Edward Said mentioned that Rabin, Israeli PM, said before the Oslo negotiations with the PLO that Israel wanted to get relieved from the services offered to the heavily populated areas in Palestine like Gaza and Ramallah.

Thus, the policing and health services and schools in the so-called areas under the PLO semi-autonomy that represented 22% of what Israel conquered in 1967 in Cis-Jordan were to be catered for by authority of Arafat.

Israel had no intention on negotiating the implanted colonies, the return of East Jerusalem or even relinquishing its rights for checking the entrances and exits at the borders with Jordan and Egypt.

Every Palestinian minister, deputy, and even Arafat had to obtain a permit to exit and enter Israel.  At the first opportunity, Israel destroyed the tiny airport in Gaza and whatever infrastructures that were built by European financing.

So far, since the creation of the Israeli State, the successive US administrations have donated over 135 billion of actual dollars to the State of Israel in financial and military aids.

The US vetoed every UN resolution condemning Israel’s colonial, apartheid, and racist activities.

The Israelis are conscious of the existence and presence of the Palestinians among them since they work in their hotels, in construction and drive taxis even though the Zionist movement has propagated the notion that they inhabited a desert land that was roamed by nomads.

Since 2004, Israel built the 900 miles of the Wall of Shame dividing the so-called 1967 borders with Jordan, and Israel established also hundreds of check points all over the West Bank.

Currently, most Israelis play the game of ignoring the presence of Palestinians living across town from them or across the wall: they are ashamed of this apartheid situation.

The danger to Israel is that:

1. the US Zionists sincerely do not believe that Palestinians exist;

2. that the Palestinian people is an abstraction in their imagination and thus,

3. they encourage and feel free to exert undue pressures on the Israelis to exercise the ultimate in anti-Semitism, racism and apartheid policies on the “insignificant” and lower status indigents.

The newer generations of Palestinians and Arabs have such disdain for the generations that permitted the creation of Israel that they refuse to draw any experience, knowledge and accumulated realizations from the previous generations; they are reduced to reinventing the wheel.

We do have a serious problem of relaying the previous achievements or analyzing profoundly our previous mistakes.

Professor Said is a frequent lecturer in conferences at various universities and he realized that the students and people in the USA and England are perfectly aware of the Palestinian issues and Zionists cruelty and racism.

What the Palestinian Authorities and Arab governments have to start doing is communicating with the Israeli people and the masses in the world.

Israel has already occupied the entire Jordan Valley which would prevent any link for any prospective Palestinian State to join directly any Arab country.

Since Palestine is tiny and Israel is not about to offer full self autonomy to a Palestinian State then Edward Said vision was a Federal State of Palestinians and Jews in the whole of Palestine as two people living together and sharing in the public institutions. Before this arrangement can take hold it was necessary that the Palestinians enjoy the recognition of a State of their own to administer and negotiate at parity for further arrangement that is more suited for reality.

The writer Milan Kundera said:

The struggle of man against the authority is the struggle of memory to forget (the injustices).”

Many Palestinians still hang on to bits and pieces of ancestors’ belonging in order never to forget their origins and the injustices forced upon them.

Keeping the same dialect and intonations of the grandfathers and grandmothers from generations to generations is one of the most powerful tools for memory rejuvenation.

Israel has many times invaded the cultural and archival locations of Palestinian institutions such as the Cultural Center of Khalil Sakakini in Ramallah and abroad like in Beirut, in order to steal and destroy any historical archives: Israel carried the Palestinian computers and their contents and destroyed the hard disks and the valuable manuscripts.

In his “Prison colony”, Kafka describes a system that functions 24 hours a day meant to break the will of any person so that he lose the drive to live.

Israel has instituted this monster system in the everyday life of a Palestinian, going to school, to work, to the market, to the hospital, control posts and presentation of identity cards.

Palestinians die before reaching the emergency entrance, schools are frequently closed, houses demolished, agricultural lands taken and the imprisonment of youth is common occurrence for no valid justifications. Gaza is one huge prison fenced by electrical barb wires.

The US media have the tendency to cut off persons expounding on the Palestinians’ problems and suffering.

The Zionist Michael Walzer cut off Said during a conference saying:

“It is best to stop talking about the past; just state your argument and let us move on.  The Palestinians should cease to behave as victims and start taking stock of their present.  The Palestinians have to ponder on the wounds they inflicted on one  aother”.

A listener, Hilda Silverstein, shouted at Michael Walzer and said: “How dare you ask a Palestinian not speak on his past?  Have you Jews stopped reminding the world of the holocaust and the miseries of the Jews in Europe?

Edward Said didn’t try to find balance among the different and multiple discords and lines of thinking in life but opted instead to live the differences. It is the discords and dissonances that teach us harmony and unity.

Lately Said was in hurry to deliver what he had to say


1. Edward Said wrote “The Orientalist“, “Culture and imperialism”, “Parallels and paradoxes”, “Freud and the extra-European world“, “The question of Palestine“, “Covering Islam“, “Representations of the intellectual“, “Reflections on exile and other essays”, “The end of the peace process” and finally his memoirs “Against traffic“.

2. David Barsamian, an Armenian by origin, is the founder of Alternative Radio (AR) at Boulder, Colorado. AR emits weekly and is diffused to the USA, Canada, Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Jamaica.

Ralph Nader said that AR is a beam of light in the darkness of the media because it let us hear suggestions that reinforce our democracy.




March 2023

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