Survival and Oblivion: Egyptian Jews after the Second Exodus

23 Jun

Whenever Egypt is mentioned today in conversation, it is often with an assumed Islamic identity in mind. A minority of Christian Copts sometimes creeps into the discussion later on as an afterthought. This assumption is often accompanied by the rather unconscious or indirect presumption that there are few Jews in Egypt today, if any. This is not true.

It is easy to understand however why this is the mainstream account. The Second Exodus from Egypt occurred in 1956, under Colonel Nasser’s orders, stripping all Jews of their Egyptian citizenship and expelling them from Egypt. The vast majority of Egyptian Jews fled to one of three destinations of refuge: Israel, Mediterranean Europe (mainly France and Italy) and the Americas (primarily Argentina). This was, however, neither the beginning of trouble for Egyptian Jews in modern times, nor its end.

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Read more here

Article published in History Today on 8 May 2017.

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2 Way Street: Immigration, Integration, and Terrorism

4 Jun

There is no justification to any of these atrocities as the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said. But in order to concentrate our efforts at preventing these kinds of attacks in the future we need to look into potential causes to the problem of radicalisation. In the UK, we have a big problem with our arms deals, morally void is not an exaggeration. Although much of this finds its way to Daesh, through the surrounding countries which are fighting a war by proxies, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, we shouldn’t confuse this with terrorist attacks whether on our soil or in other countries around the world. There is another more potent cause to this crisis.

we are failing at integrating immigrants in our society, which seems to be one of the chief elements in a radicalised person’s life.  I’m not talking about first generation immigrants here on whom news outlets tend to unfairly put the whole responsibility of integrating. I’m talking mainly about children and grandchildren of immigrants who CAN grow up feeling alienated from both their society as well as their parents’ and easily fall prey to radicalisation. I’m saying ‘can’ here, because I’m not talking about everyone who comes under this category, I’m talking about the likelihood of this happening as in the case of the Manchester bomber, the Westminister attacker, and others. Highlighting again, there is no excuse or justification for terrorism, but there are reasons, causes and symptoms which we can analyse in order to root out the problem.

There is a good report on integration which I read recently, based mainly on the profiles of the terrorists who led the attacks on the French Capital, but as I have not been able to find a copy of it that I could share, I am sharing instead this article from the Washington Post which is in agreement with this point on “The generation in between,” which “is anchored neither in the old or in the new. They often are searching for self or identity beyond self.” Hence, better integration mechanisms for their parents and consequently for them should help prevent this problem and reducing the likelihood of this dangerous void. Many immigrants are well-integrated, they and their children are good citizens, and it is also worth pointing out that not every unintegrated immigrant or son of an immigrant is going to turn this way. Nevertheless, this does not mean we cower away from addressing our failure at, and responsibility of, integrating those we can.

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We need to treat integration as a two-way Street. The immigrant cannot shake hands with someone whose hands remain casually lurking in their pockets, even though we continue to expect immigrants to have this kind of superpower.

We’re sorry Isis, we got it wrong…again!

2 May

 

The atrocities committed by ISIS are known to the vast majority of people. In the UK we have recently been exposed to yet another terrorist attack which ISIS claimed ‘responsibility’ for. We have seen it on the news, we have read numerous analyses of it in the papers and listened to radio reports on security measures in and around Westminister Palace. Nevertheless, none of ISIS’ atrocities are new to us, their crimes against humanity are well observed by media outlets. Yet not many of us realise that ISIS is a name we made up, that unlike al-Qaeda which is a direct transliteration of the older terrorist organisation’s name, ISIS is something unrelated to this relatively new monstrosity.

Their name is Daesh, which we in the Anglophone world, translated into the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’ then created the acronym ISIS out of this translation. Some poeple would shrug their shoulders at this and say we call them whatever we call them, it doesn’t matter. But as a matter of fact it matters, because by making up an incorrect name we have also created a confusion between two entirely unrelated entities. Isis is the goddess of fertility and motherhood in ancient Egypt. Her iconography alongside her son Horus has a direct influence on the development of the iconography of Mary and Jesus. ISIS, or Daesh as we should appropriately call it, on the other hand, claim themselves to be Muslim (though many Muslims would disagree with this) and if they could they would destroy all traces of ancient Egyptian heritage as they have done and continue to do with world heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, needless to mention their recent attacks in Egypt.

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Mislabelling anything is misleading enough, but mislabelling evil can lead to bigger horrors by allowing it to disguise itself in forms we revere and cherish.

So once again… We are sorry Isis, goddess and mother of mothers!

isisnursinghorus

Three for Three

21 Mar

Today is the first day of Spring and it happens also to be World Poetry Day and Mother’s Day (in Egypt and the US and several other places in the world, in the UK, however it falls on Sunday 26/03). For this triple occasion, I chose three short but potent poems, which are Victorian in the broader sense of the word. The first two poems are Ionic and Anna Dalassini by the renowned Alexandrian Poet, C. P. Cavafy, whose birth and death were in the Springs of 1863 and 1933. The third poem is by Ann Mary Evans (1819-1880), whose pen name is George Eliot. Evans is an internationally-renowned Victorian novelist but she is less known for her poetry. Her poem Roses is such a delightful one and well-fitted for a sunny Spring day like today.

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Ionic

That we’ve broken their statues,
that we’ve driven them out of their temples,
doesn’t mean at all that the gods are dead.
O land of Ionia, they’re still in love with you,
their souls still keep your memory.
When an August dawn wakes over you,
your atmosphere is potent with their life,
and sometimes a young ethereal figure,
indistinct, in rapid flight,
wings across your hills.

 

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated from Modern Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

 

Anna Dalassini

In the royal decree that Alexios Komninos
put out especially to honor his mother—
the very intelligent Lady Anna Dalassini,
noteworthy in both her works and her manners—
much is said in praise of her.
Here let me offer one phrase only,
a phrase that is beautiful, sublime:
“She never uttered those cold words ‘mine’ or ‘yours.’ ”

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated from Modern Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

 

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Roses

You love the roses – so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!

(George Eliot, 1819-1880, The complete poetical works of George Eliot. New York, F.A. Stokes & brother, 1888)

On Darwin’s Birthday

12 Feb

I have not posted much lately, but couldn’t miss the occasion of Darwin’s birthday to briefly remind my readers of his main achievements and his racial views.

On this day, in 1809, Charles Darwin was born. His evolutionary theory of natural selection has been the cause of great controversy since its publication in his On the Origin of Species in 1859. Despite Darwin’s large body of evidence which is based on years of gathering data and analysing various species, his ideas were as hard for many to accept in Victorian times as they are ironically hard for many to accept today (it would be superfluous to even mention the recent US presidential campaign here and a similar argument could be easily drawn on Climate Change).

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Darwin, by John Collier 1883

In spite of the apparent novelty of Darwin’s ideas at the time, Darwin’s findings were the culmination of accumulative research and a steady rise in atheism across Europe since the Enlightenment. Nevertheless, evolution was known outside Europe 600 years before Darwin’s publication. A Persian scientist called Nasir Tusi (1201-74), who was in the fashion of his day a Renaissance man even before the Renaissance, arrived at the same conclusion, acknowledging that Humans have evolved from superior primates in Africa, such as apes. Tusi’s evolutionary theories, revolutionary as they were, did not induce as much change as Darwin’s. The Mongol invasion of West Asia brought a halt to the scientific and cultural boom of his age, and vast quantities of manuscripts were destroyed and/or forgotten in the turmoil.

Between 1959 and the publication of The Descent of Man in 1971, Darwin embraced racist theories which claimed the racial superiority of White Europeans over the rest of Humankind. How ironic for a six-hundred-year-old late new-comer to the evolutionary debate!

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan

26 Mar

Retro Me Sathana (1848) or Get Thee Behind Me, Satan, was initially a painting project which Dante Gabriel Rossetti started in 1947 and later had to abandon. The curator of the National Gallery, Charles Eastlake, did not favour the project, perhaps due to its Satanic invocations. It is worth mentioning here that ‘Retro Me Sathana’ is a latin quotation from the Gospel of St Luke; it’s English translation is from King James’ Bible. Somehow the unfinished painting has been transformed into this beautiful Sonnet XLII, first published in the House of Life (1869).

Get thee behind me. Even as, heavy-curled,
Stooping against the wind, a charioteer
Is snatched from out his chariot by the hair,
So shall Time be; and as the void car, hurled
Abroad by reinless steeds, even so the world:
Yea, even as chariot-dust upon the air,
It shall be sought and not found anywhere.
Get thee behind me, Satan. Oft unfurled,

Thy perilous wings can beat and break like lath
Much mightiness of men to win thee praise.
Leave these weak feet to tread in narrow ways.
Thou still, upon the broad vine-sheltered path,
Mayst wait the turning of the phials of wrath
For certain years, for certain months and days.

Haythem Bastawy – Translations of ‘A Thousand and One Nights’

8 Mar

LTU Explorers

Sheherazade

18th Century Translations

The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments (1706-21) is the very first translation in English of A Thousand and One Nights. It was translated from Antoine Galland’s Les Mille et Une Nuits (1704-17) by an anonymous ‘Grub Street’ translator. Antoine Galland, a French scholar well-read in languages, is generally considered the European discoverer of the Arabic manuscript which was itself a translation of combined tales in Persian, Indian and other languages.

The English translator, despite producing a superb translation lasting unchallenged for over a century, remains anonymous to this day. His choice of title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, rather than A Thousand and One Nights, is very significant as it from the start represented the book as something very different from what it really was. This also began a naming tradition of the book that all succeeding nineteenth-century translators have preserved even though each of them claimed…

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