Forthcoming

"Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another." author Toni Morrison (1931- 05.08.2019)

“If I tell the story, I control the version. Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me”; Nora Ephron, author/comedian

"Make your story count". Michelle Obama

"Social pain is understood through the lens of racial animus". Researcher/author Sean McElwee writing in Salon, 2016

"We are citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear."  Chelsea Manning; activist/whisleblower

“My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you, And no fascist minded people, like you, will drive me from it. Is that clear?” Paul Robeson; activist/singer

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent”. from civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?” Frederick Douglass, WHAT TO THE SLAVE IS 4TH JULY? 07.05.1852 (full text in blog)

Senator Elizabeth Warren "We're a country that is built on our differences; that is our strength, not our weakness"

 

"We are more alike than we are different"v  Maya Angelou

As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer.      James Baldwin

I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?   

         Harry Belafonte, activist and singer at 89

 

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.

Mark Twain

 

You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.

Mary Tyler Moore

 

 You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions

Pope Francis:

 

"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali

"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure"  attributed to Tibetan sources

Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.

 

Our Endless Wars: Re-reading Naguib Mahfouz

2014-11-11

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Thankfully, browsing bookshelves still can be an adventure.

There’s no end to new books worth reading, and those of us who enjoy literature constantly add to our ‘must-read’ list. Best sellers compete for our leisure hours; literary prizes point us to new talent. It’s hard to keep abreast. But rather than prepare myself for conversations about this year’s Nobel author (Patrick Modiano) my hand rests at a volume by 1988 Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

Hmm; how did I miss this? “The Journey of Ibn Fattouma” by the acclaimed Egyptian writer is new to me. Eclipsed by Mahfouz’s popular Cairo series and missing from many online biographies, here is an overlooked masterpiece. So timely. This simple parable resonates poignantly as we innocent mortals traverse our 2014 world of endless wars.

The universal relevance of Mahfouz’s 1983, “The Journey…” is surely affirmation of his genius as a writer and political philosopher

Layers of morality thread through this short yet complex story: there are traveler-merchants, protected and untouched, journeying through a series of cultures and wars, profiting as they proceed, unconcerned with conflicts underway or any suffering they witness. They glide amorally onto their next marketplace. (For me, together with family protocols, they are Mahfouz’ primary target for criticism.) Accompanying the travelers is Qindil, a young man who left home after betrayal by his teacher and his family. He shares his companions’ immunity but he is curious. So he dallies. Doing so, he encounters manifestations of justice and freedom.

Qindil’s ultimate goal is Gebel, a land of purported purity. Although he knows nothing of its merits and meets no one who’s been there. In the course of his journey Qindil, himself from an unidentified, fuzzy land-of-Islam, confronts a series of civilizations— in its individual way each appears to be a utopia. Each claims spiritual integrity. Blind to any of its deficits, none doubts its own superiority which, in the end, proves its demise.

Each nation lures Qindil with irresistible hospitality. (Is Mahfouz remarking on his society’s values? or Are those warm receptions a means of moving his protagonist through history? I’m uncertain.)

Qindil’s first dalliance is in Mishraq, a moon-worshipping land of free love where he joins a household and fathers four sons. He’s ultimately driven from there to Haira –he is welcome here too--which likewise claims it embodies everything humans desire and need. The same in Halba, the hero’s next destiny. Then on to Aman, and finally to Ghuroub. Readers may identify Mishraq as a primordial society, Halba a capitalist haven, and Aman a socialistic utopia. Regardless, each people believe theirs is the zenith of human existence (although it awards an unseen ruler unquestioned rights and powers over it).

War seems to prevail wherever Qindil finds himself. Haira is compelled to conquer Mishraq; then Halba is drawn into war and takes control of Aman, then Ghuroub must be subdued. Each conquest seems inevitable and morally wholesome as well. Wars are acts of grace rather than of ambition or ill will.

Qindil moves naively through these lands, withholding judgment whether or not he is mistreated. Whatever attachments or hostility he encounters, he is able to move on. His sole aim, he claims, is knowledge and thus seeks out sages at every stop.

Predictably, our traveler never reaches Gebel, his purported goal. He also seems to never acquire the knowledge he asserts is his noble ambition.

Reading this story, you’re sure to find meanings beyond those that I record. And you’ll grasp Mahfouz’ message on how humans rationalize our endless wars.

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