Monday, April 28, 2008

Lyrical Fonts at ALBA (Lebanon)

By Antoine Abi Aad

Under the supervision of Aurore Abi Nader Beaini, The Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts, ALBA, University of Balamand, explored typography, untraditionally. 30 students of advertising, after four sessions spread on four weeks, presented their work to the jury on the 18th of April.
The purpose of the project was to perceive typography beyond mere printing of traditional graphic exercises. The class was divided into 5 groups of student, each one exploring one typeface through one piece of music: Times/ Pieces for Bandoneon, Evan Lurie; Bodoni/New Soul, Yael Naim; Helvetica/Magic Flute, Mozart; Gill/Take Five, Dave Brubeck; and Frutiger/Orly, Jacques Brel. The students were: GHAZZAOUI Marya, HANNA Ramy, KHOURY Elyse, KOLEILAT Wissameddine, MOUSSA Carmen for Times; HAJJ Elsy, NOHRA Maya, RMEILY Rana, TANNOUS Tonie, TENN Georges for Bodoni; ABDELSAMAD Rayan, ABDO Daniella, ABOU SAAD Nancy, ACHKOUTI Stéphanie, ASMAR Christian, BOUSTANI Yasmina for Helvetica; CHALHOUB Joseph, EID Wissam, HADDAD Leslie, HADDAD Pia, HAIDAMOUS Cyril, HAMED Linda for Gill; and BASSIL Zeina, BOUSTANY Myriam, BOUSTANY Naël, FADDOUL Rana, GHALI Michèle for Frutiger.

Through amusing sequences of interacting games, the group of Times (picture 1 & 2) treated a song without lyrics, Pieces for Bandoneon. Though inspired by movie the way things go, the final project was far different from the original inspiration, since all tricks were done through/by typography.

The group of Bodoni travelled through a 3d typographical animation with the song New Soul. Back to reality, they transcribed the animation into an installation were people can also travel in it, feeling typographical spaces.

Helvetica group pointed to the usage of Arial by Microsoft instead of Helvetica used by Mac Apple. They interpreted the matter as a crime, where Helvetica assassinates Arial with an apple in a parody of Hitchcock’s Psycho; it was a creative and funny way of connecting it to the crime of the Magic Flute. The whole animation was done with typography. After the animation, the students moved the public to the crime scene, all done with typography as well.

Gill typeface was illustrated as an orchestra, where each instrument was a letter. Executed in 3d, the arrangement of letters permits a sphere to travel for a short time, passing in/on/through the letters to land on the electricity switch and light up the word idea. The concept symbolizes the brainstorming process to arrive to an idea and it also points to the 5 minutes break when Dave Brubeck and his group composed the song Take 5.

Frutiger/Orly based their concept on a key-sentence of the song “la vie ne fait pas de cadeaux”, which means “life does not offer gifts”. The students chose a Christmas tree where the gifts best lie, and the same time, the tree symbolizes the best place for lovers to meet. The whole tree was covered by Frutiger letters “v”, “i” and “e” composing the word “vie” (life).

ALBA is looking forward to exhibiting this project in the near future.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Fear of the Muslim Doctor

The following article in the British Medical Journal created controversy. Based on the report ‘Scientific Training and Radical Islam’ published by an Organisation called Centre for Islamic Pluralism it rings alarm bells over the so-called radicalisation of professionals of Muslim background working in the West. It specifically highlights doctors for the nature of the caring professions and the privileged standing they enjoy in traditional societies. It also places its concerns in the context of the attacks on Glasgow airport carried out by a small group of junior doctors in training at British hospitals which coincided with the preparation of the report. The BMJ article received passionate responses from medical professionals, some praising it and others criticizing its premise and its conclusions while a third group felt it did not go far enough in challenging the religious dogma. Whatever your views it makes for interesting reading.

Radical Muslim doctors and
what they mean for the NHS
Irfan Al-Alawi, International Director (London),
Stephen Schwartz, Executive Director (Washington, DC)
Centre for Islamic Pluralism
BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL [London] Views & Reviews

The disclosure that the leading alleged conspirators in last year’s bombing attempts in London and Glasgow were Muslim doctors sent a shockwave through the worldwide non-Muslim public. The same question was asked everywhere: how can those who are trained to heal turn to terrorism?
Our organisation, the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, has compiled a report, Scientific Training and Radical Islam, which we were preparing when the London and Glasgow events occurred.
The report is now complete and available as a free download at It is a distillation of field research, interpretation of major source materials in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and English, and collation of individual perspectives from a team of Muslim researchers. All members of the team are experienced in the observation of Islamist movements throughout the world. The report offers answers to the questions asked by personnel in the NHS, which employed three of the suspects in the London and Glasgow incidents. Firstly, did the doctors who were alleged to have been involved in such a conspiracy represent a freak phenomenon, marginal and uncharacteristic of Muslim medical staff? And secondly, were they radicalised before or after coming to Britain?

Our replies to both questions, based on our observations, are discomfiting. Many Muslim doctors, in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, have embraced the extremist doctrines of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi Wahhabis, and the Pakistani jihadists. Such trends are also filtered through such groups as al-Muhajiroun, now banned in the United Kingdom but which recruited medical students, and Tabligh-i Jama’at, an Islamist movement that is particularly prominent in the UK. Also, radicalisation of elite professionals is more a product of conflict within Islam itself than of social conditions in Britain. But the problem is not one of religion: rather, it is ideological.
Two explanations for the radicalisation of the Muslim doctors have gained currency. Firstly, that it is due to the same forces that are said to motivate other radical Islamists: deprivation and corruption in countries with a Muslim majority and the humiliation of the Palestinians and Iraqis at the hands of Israel and the European and US powers. Secondly, that it has been due to the overproduction and unemployment of doctors in countries like Egypt and Pakistan. That view was elaborated mainly by observers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, after the group’s success in penetrating and taking over professional associations, including those representing engineers, lawyers, and journalists, as well as doctors.
Our report suggests that neither of these explanations is adequate. The politics of victimised peoples and the economics of professional underemployment cannot account for radicalisation of professionals in Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudi kingdom and Iran have remained independent of foreign rule, and neither has trouble employing its doctors; yet in both countries radical ideology is common among medical and other professionals.
Most of the world’s Muslims, including doctors, are neither fundamentalists nor followers of radical sharia and do not become tainted with Islamist prejudices. But our report suggests that many Muslim doctors and other professionals are attracted to an ideology that projects a solution to all human problems in a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, along with a demand for exclusive governance that is based on the radical Wahhabi and related forms of religious law or sharia.
Medical and other professionals represent an elite in Muslim societies and have become an important component in the intra-Islamic "jihad" to impose an ultra-militant outlook on more than a billion Sunni Muslims across the globe. Such professionals have a moral and social standing that can influence others to stray from mainstream Islam, which sees itself as one faith among many.
Furthermore, some Muslim doctors working in non-Muslim countries may bring from their native environments a propensity for radical ideology. In Muslim societies the physician is often seen as something very like a religious scholar—just as clerics are often consulted for physical ailments. Medical education, even if conducted in Western institutions, may not break down belief in this paradigm.
Indeed, the ordinary Muslim may consider the successful Muslim doctor to be superior to the mainstream cleric, and the radical Islamist doctor may easily usurp religious authority from a traditional imam. This disturbing phenomenon is visibly growing. A member of our centre, Khaleel Mohammed, has noted that in the Muslim diaspora in the English speaking countries "Muslim leaders have not traditionally been chosen for their Islamic knowledge but for their stature in society—a medical doctor, a computer scientist."
The role of Muslim doctors in taking extremist ideology to the Islamic masses has been well expressed by Mahmoud Abu Saud, an Islamist author active in several countries. He wrote, "The doctor has a big say and great weight in influencing his patients and in righteously guiding their orientation. Besides, he should be actively involved in propagating true Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims . . . the best missionary service to be rendered by a medical doctor is to behave at the time in accordance with his Islamic teachings."
Abu Saud offered these comments in his contribution to one of the most revealing sources on this topic, a volume titled Islamic Medicine, edited by Shahid Athar and published in Pakistan in 1989. Dr Athar is an endocrinologist. His work reflects an attitude also seen in the Islamic Code of Medical Ethics, published by the International Organization of Islamic Medicine in 1981, which states: "The Physician should be in possession of a threshold knowledge of jurisprudence, worship and essentials of Fiqh [Islamic religious law], enabling him to give counsel to patients seeking his guidance about health and body conditions, with a bearing on the rites of worship."
In an aspect of the problem that is little known or understood by Westerners, the version of Islam presented by radicals as "modern" and in keeping with the social status of the medical professional is one that is stripped of tradition and spirituality.
How, then, may medical professionals and the government in the UK, and the West in general, respond to this challenge? The Islamic Medical Association estimates that about 10 000 Muslim doctors and nurses practise in the UK. Vetting of Muslim doctors for radicalism may prove ineffective and will doubtless create a civil liberties problem. It is more important for the UK authorities to monitor closely the activities of radical Islamist groups and to act decisively against those that legitimise or incite violence. Most important of all is to strengthen the authentic and proven anti-extremist trends in the Muslim communities themselves. To that end, we call for the organisation of new professional associations of traditional and moderate Muslim medical personnel, engineers, and lawyers, to repudiate extremist ideology. The radical Islamist doctor may easily usurp religious authority from a traditional imam.

For more information on the centre go to
For the responses to the article go to

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Middle Eastern Egos

By Bachir Habib

Image: Courtesy of

“Khomeini chose Reagan, and freed the hostages the moment he was sworn in as president. Khaled Meshal, Ahmad Jabari and Muhamad Deif (of the Hamas military wing in Gaza) are now working for McCain. This may yet do some good for the hopes of peace”.
In Hamas for Mc Cain, Amir Oren, Haaretz, 22-04-2008

Arab Egos are always present in different shapes and forms in political salons. They sit around and watch political talk shows, analyze situations, move on to cafés and make statements as if they were bonafide members of think tanks or political science experts. If interviewed by a radio or news channel in the street, they rarely react as citizens but as prominent politicians. This is for the average citizen. If we step into the journalistic sphere things get even worse. The number of invalid analysis and unfounded pretentions fill tens of newspapers pages everyday.

But it seems this is not only an arab problem but one of an overinflated Middle Eastern Ego. From Tel Aviv to Teheran passing by Beirut, Ryadh and any Middle Eastern Arab capital, reading the local newspapers gives a false impression that the Middle East is having a major impact on every foreign elections results. The quote introducing this article is one example. We have seen many others and we will be reading many more. From those who claim that the Hezbollah supports Barack Obama in his race for the US presidency or that the Democrats would negotiate with Teheran in case they make it to the White House. Others in the 'political Market' hypothesize that Mc Cain will continue George Bush’s policy and will push towards tougher sanctions against Teheran. At the opposite end of the spectrun, as Oren said in his article “Meshal working for Mc Cain may yet do some good for the hopes of peace”.

The Middle East is definitely playing a role in the US elections on three specific levels:The first one is Israel’s Security.The second one is the American troops presence in Iraq.The third one is the policy to be adopted towards Iran’s nuclear program (which is an issue directly related to Israel’s security). However, these three levels are present in the US campaigns for presidency not because they are vital to Washington but because they have to be part of the debate between the candidates. Whether it is Mc Cain or a Democrat who wins, the Middle East will be dealt with as usual, via Congress Partisan and bipartisan commissions following a very stable lead lines in American foreign policy: US National Interest. It might disappoint those in the Middle East who think that a change in Washington will bring solutions to the Middle East problems, or will prolong the war many are profiting from. The reality is that,after November 2008, the task of the new president in the White House will be to deal with the economic crisis and its impact on the American Citizen.

In the Middle East and especially in our Arab Countries, governments and oppositions will have wasted much time and energy betting on elections happening thousands of miles away to find out that 'plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose' as the French say. In the meantime the problems in our societies, from Human and Political Rights to economical and social conditions remain, with no one to tackle them and most sadly with no sign yet of any serious alternative to our Monarchs, Oligarchs and Tyrants.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Valet Parking Republic

By Joseph El-Khoury

Picture: By Kate Brooks/Polaris for the New York Times

As the world economy sinks into recession one industry remains prosperous in the country of the Cedar. The recent controversy over the nightlife in the Beirut quarter of Gemmayze has highlighted how a horde of young men in dark uniforms and baseball caps can take over a neighborhood with the sole aim of … parking your car for you.

This phenomenon might seem completely alien to foreigners who would not dare to get behind the wheel of a car following a few drinks. But with the lack of public transport and the absence of consistent law enforcement drinking and driving on a night out is the norm. And when you consider that the average Lebanese youth is blessed with a car at the tender age of 17 providing easy access and parking facilities becomes a priority for any establishment in the competitive Beirut nightlife environment.

Enter the Valet! For a few dollars this young man (the fairer sex has not gotten on the job yet but given their recent track record it is only a matter of time) will bring you peace of mind and respectability while you get to enjoy the finer things in life, hopefully suitably accompanied. This service is offered outside nightclubs, bars, cafes, supermarkets, minimarkets, takeaway outlets and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The workforce is young, healthy and motivated but the advancement opportunities are not clear: Superintendant Valet? Head Valet? Interestingly their dress code has evolved over the years. The casual jeans and T-shirt look has been replaced by combat shoes, combat trousers and a matching top. The rumour has it that at least some networks of Valets are linked to political parties and sectarian militias who use the cover to train and organize recruits in preparation for the all but imminent confrontation.

Next time you hand him your keys be nice to your Valet. He is less likely to dent your car or put a bullet in your head.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Simpler Things in Life

By Bassem Hassan

Some things in life are quite simple. Their simplicity can range from the self-evident to the easily explainable, but the beauty of these simple things is that their simplicity does not take anything away from their sophistication or even complexity. Let’s take the address of this site,, as an example.

The parts (www) and (.com) immediately tell you that I am pointing you to a space on the ‘world wide web’ and that this space or is part of some sort of a non-profit public interest type concept. Simple! Now, the word democracy is also fairly simple. Of course it refers to a very complex concept, but that does not take away from its simplicity. We would all immediately understand that we are talking about a specific political system of government. Furthermore, none of us would really have much trouble recognizing, for instance, that most European countries are democracies and that most Arab countries are not. Simple! Finally, that leaves the word Arab. Arab, which despite referring- like any other identity label- to a very complex set of cultural, historical, geographical and political realities, nonetheless is an easily recognizable term. We can all agree that an Arab is someone who hails from one of the twenty one countries that make the Arab world, who speaks Arabic and who considers themselves a product of a largely Arabic-speaking cultural heritage. We would all realize that this is a blanket operating definition and that there are numerous exceptions to it and nuances within it. Yet, we would not have difficulty reaching consensus around it, such that we can agree to call someone an Arab. Quite simple really.

Being a Lebanese leftist is an equally simple thing! Yes, yes…I know. There are many lefts and various forms of each and…and…and…but its still simple. Here’s the deal: if you are a leftist-or at least if you became a leftist anytime after the late 1800’s- then there are three basic principles you adhere to and they define you as a leftist. You don’t just wake up one day and decide you’re a leftist because you wore a red T-shirt with Che’s picture on it. You also don’t get to deviate fundamentally from these principles and retain your exclusive rights to being a Lebanese, or Arab, leftist. You would display more moral courage to simply do the democratic thing and accept that you are not a leftist anymore!! So what are these three principles? Well, they’re simple really.

First, a Lebanese leftist, like any other leftist, is a historical materialist. This means she believes that history is driven by forces defined chiefly- but not exclusively- by the interaction of the different socio-economic classes of society, and the logic of the distribution of economic power among them. In this context, a Leftist has very few illusions about what she means when she speaks about equality and social justice. Second, a Lebanese leftist is a staunch secularist and a sworn enemy of sectarianism. She does not accept that a sectarian political structure is a necessary evil because “that’s how we Lebanese are” or because “we first have to convert all Lebanese to secularism before we dismantle the sectarian institutions”. This is a deceptive and pathetic excuse. A leftist would generally be intelligent enough to realize that, in fact, it works precisely the other way round! You dismantle the institutions that rob humans of their rights as individual citizens, in order to break the vicious cycle that binds them, like slaves, to the sectarian chieftains. As such a Lebanese leftist knows that she has no business being in an alliance of sectarian factions, regardless of which day in the month of March they happen to prefer! Third, a leftist, in a Lebanese context, has very little confusion about her position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. She has a very clear idea of the history of Israeli aggression against her country and the countries of fellow Arabs. Yet her opposition to Israel is deeper than that still. She understands that this struggle is not simply about one army occupying the country of another. It is also not about the conflict of two ethnic groups or an eternal enmity between two mythologies. Rather, she knows fully well that Israel is an apartheid state and an entity built upon a mixture of self-styled ethnic and religious exclusionary racism, and by a continuing process of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

The bottom line is this: if you decide that a liberal free market economy is “cool”; that secularism is just one option in a multiple choice sectarian question; that a brutal oligarchy you- rightly- bitterly oppose is a greater threat than an enemy whose openly advertised goal is the obliteration of your identity and the destruction of your possible future, then you are not a leftist. Period.

Obviously, you are free to make this choice. Who knows, you might even be right… but you’re certainly not left.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

You, Facebook and National Security

Facebook is by far the most popular social networking site on the net. On it, one can socialize, find old friends from a distant past, advertise events and gather support for causes. Unless you are technophobic it can be a very useful tool.
However, the fast spread of Facebook raises a number of questions; two of them worthy of debate.

The first issue is reconnecting with people from our past. If we managed to live for years and thrive without talking to and hearing from someone, what’s the purpose of suddenly pretending that the are indeed part of your present. And they are still unlikely to be part of your future. How many of you readers have on their Facebook list contacts they do not actually contact!

The second issue is more important, it is about blurring the boundaries between the professional and the private. While employees and companies have set up Facebook networks to promote a friendly image, the drawback is that random colleagues now access our personal picture albums, our family life and our social environment. It gets even more complicated when the colleague is your manager. Would you dare to ignore his 'friendship' request? Or would you risk it to protect your privacy?

Along these lines, Facebook has now become a national security threat in Israel where the military has recently introduced restrictive measures banning soldiers from posting on their pages pictures showing sensitive military subjects .
The following article by BBC Journalist Martin Asser gives some insight into the problematic relationship between the Israeli Army and Facebook.

Bachir Habib

Israeli army in Facebook clampdown

Martin Asser, BBC, Jerusalem

Israeli defence chiefs have moved to tighten internet social networking rules after photographs appeared showing sensitive military subjects.
A review of Facebook pages belonging to Israeli troops found that some had posted detailed pictures of air bases, operations rooms and submarines. "These are things we don't want the public to see for security reasons," an official source told the BBC.
Posting photos of troops in uniform - a popular pastime - is still allowed.
The new set of rules - which has not been made public - includes a ban on images of pilots and members of special units, and anything that shows specific military manoeuvres.
The defence ministry launched its inquiry earlier in the year to check the potential security risk in the dozens of social networking groups dedicated to life in the Israeli military. Compulsory military service is a rite of passage experienced by large numbers of young Israelis and in recent years they have shared their experiences through photos and web-posted accounts of their activities.
"There's a lot of illegal photography inside the Israeli Defence Forces, including the Israeli Air Force," a source inside the air force told the BBC.
"Most of the soldiers don't understand how much damage it may cause," the source added. The military source, who cannot be identified, says a few of his comrades are authorised to take pictures at their bases and to post them on Flickr.
Every photo is vetted by military censors, and the ones considered appropriate are assured a warm reception by the many enthusiasts of military hardware in the Flickr community.
But the defence ministry says military tribunals have investigated and disciplined about 100 soldiers who broke the rules and unwittingly helped the enemy this year.
It may seem a large number, but the defence ministry source said: "Considering the number of soldiers there are with social networking websites, it is a tiny proportion."
The worst offenders were punished with a month in jail for particularly egregious posts, while others were warned they would face similar punishment if they re-offended.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

These Terrorists who resemble us

By Joseph El-Khoury

I was at the gym the other day. Cycling hard next to other Middle-Class fitness enthusiasts while watching the continuous news broadcast on Sky News. Flashing again and again on the screen were portraits of those accused of the plot to blow up transatlantic flights using concealed liquid explosives. I wasn’t particularly interested in the plot itself, depicted in a series of cartoons, which seemed to involve diet coke and a prolonged stay in the aircraft’s toilet. What I found myself doing instead was checking the reactions of fellow gym goers to my right and left. 'Did I look suspicious to them?!' Was my first thought. After all didn’t all Middle-Eastern men look similar to the untrained Caucasian eye? And was that Racism? It is rarely said that we are all more adept at distinguishing subtle differences within our own ethnic group: A fact that was first highlighted to me by a friend from Botswana many years ago when she unemotionally threw in my face ‘All white men look the same’ and that included me apparently. But she was right, I find it hard to distinguish between a Japanese, a Korean and a Chinese. Similarly I could easily pick up a Saudi, an Egyptian and a Syrian in a crowd while for most Americans they are all “A-rabs” (with emphasis on the A) with no distinguishing features between them. So going back to my gym session, I felt slightly uneasy and paranoid. I say paranoid because frankly these guys on screen were from a South Asian background and bore no resemblance to me. In normal times I should have dismissed my fears completely, but these are not normal times. And after being stopped at numerous airports and even driving my car on a central London Street for ‘random’ police checks my suspicions that I do stand out have unfortunately been confirmed.
Let’s face it! It is a bad time to be a young Arab male. But what for me has been a mere nuisance, has the potential of a humiliating damaging effect on the self-esteem of generations of young Middle Eastern, Asian, African men who from a young age are bombarded with images of ‘evil men’ who look like their fathers, uncles and them. Moreover, this phenomenon is not new and precedes 9/11, the 1980s and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether in works of fiction or on the 10 o'clok news these dark skinned men are almost always depicted as evil, unreliable, deceitful, untrustworthy, irrational, fanatic, immoral. Whenever in addition, the script require them to be attractive, the character is played by a European actor with European features, suitably dressed and tanned for the occasion. The problem is so extensive that someone managed to write a book about it in 2001(Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood vilifies a people by Jack G.Shaheen).And if Hollywood has the power to create such an image then it has the power to modify it. What a better way to contribute to the ‘war on terror’ than to release an Arab Batman or a Pakistani Spiderman. Or even better… just tell the truth!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Lebanon: Student Housing with a Touch of Design

Lebanese Universities graduate hundreds of Architecture students on a yearly basis. They do not lack enthusiasm but opportunity. Creativity is sacrificed in the interest of quick profit. As a result Beirut and other cities from a hilltop view, helped by the absence of state regulation, have become urban sprawls that lack harmony. In our efforts to promote homegrown talent we present The USEK Student housing project developed by the team of Henry and Samer Eid. It is certainly visually stunning while blending in the chaotic architectural environment of the Zouk locality, North of Beirut. Following is a presentation of the project in the words of the people behind it.

It is a 9000-square-meter residence, delivered in 2007, it has a capacity of about 200 young female students coming from all over Lebanon, and its U-shaped layout includes a sheltered atrium with space for studying, meeting and socializing.
At first, the chaotic urban environment of the site was a real challenge. However, with an elegant modernism, the architects managed to invest, to the utmost, the potential of a difficult plot of land, brilliantly solving the issues of intimacy and community, investing the site’s negative constraints to support a positive reality.

Moreover, the project combines, through bits and pieces, numerous architectural themes of the USEK campus. Nevertheless, the edifice maintains a formal autonomy and originality within the context. Despite a contemporary aesthetics and a spirit of independence, this building is well-rooted in its milieu and reflects a certain relationship with the functional architecture of the overall campus.
Therefore, the project astutely responds to the challenges of scale, context and function, with an effect of contrasts, coupling monumentality and refined details, mass and lightness, compactness and openings. The edifice directly conveys its message and converses with the scenery, offering selective views of its environment.
Furthermore, lights and colours add life to the premises. A rich array of colours with luminous hues undoubtedly enhances the beauty of the edifice, which symbolically borrows some conceptual patterns, incarnated through a nautical metaphor.
With this new building, the designers succeeded in giving a degraded urban site a new lease of life, hence joining the campus with its surroundings by reshaping the university’s identity without compromising its historical and architectural value, providing an architectural solution that is lively, measured, and definitely contemporary. Finally, this residential housing illustrates a singular portal into another world free of worries, a gateway to freedom, a true dreamlike journey, a unique place, indeed, that is suitable for rest and study.

• At the ground floor, public activities are available. The collective space is thus composed and animated by the following functions: welcoming desk, administrative offices, visiting room, lounge, cafeteria and chapel.
• At the six upper floors, the privative space comprises the vertical circulation elements, the floor kitchens and the rooms. Each room has an entrance, built-in wardrobe, bathroom, sleeping area and study corner.
• Three underground levels comprise parking and general utilities.

The Student Housing project at the USEK campus in Lebanon was developed by Henry Eid Architect + SE.Arch Samer Eid Architect.

Picrures: Courtesy of Samer Eid / SE.Arch © 2007
All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Fools of April (and 11 other months)

By Bassem Hassan


Seriously, now, who doesn’t love a good lie? Especially if it is one of those lies that you tell to get people all worked up about something only to burst out laughing when they realize the joke’s on them. In fact we homo sapiens sapiens (yes, that’s our official name) love lies so much that we dedicate a specific day in the year- this very day, April 1st- to lie and laugh about it. And you know what…good for us! As long as it’s all in good fun, why not?

As long as it’s for fun…that’s the key. There are some lies you just don’t tell, even on April 1st. You don’t tell a father, for instance, that his child has just been taken to hospital after being hit by a car; or a woman that you just saw her partner kissing someone else (unless you really did of course!). You get the point; you don’t tell lies that can have profound effects on people’s lives. The vast majority of humans abide by this rule. It is strange then to see that when it is no longer a personal issue the very same decent people seem to have no qualms telling the types of lies that can ruin the lives entire generations. I refer of course to the profound lies we are told on a daily basis by a whole herd of neo-liberal Arab ‘intellectuals’, whose numbers- and the numbers of media outlets they speak through- seem to be rising exponentially by the second. Of course what is terribly funny-sad about this (and “the worst of evils is what makes you laugh”, as the beautifully elegant Arabic saying goes), is that the vast majority of these people used to be leftists until that well dried up and was replaced by oil-well media outlets.

Here’s a small sample of neo-liberal “April Fools” I personally experienced. The individuals perpetrating this nonsense shall remain anonymous, of course.

1- The American project in the Middle East is to support democracy in the region: Obviously, these pundits must be referring to the havens of democracy such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia… the list of US supported Arab democracies seems endless!

2- If Palestinians (or Lebanese) stop “attacking” Israel, it will stop “retaliating”: here our neo-liberal geniuses are referring to the brutal occupation of Israeli land by the nuclearly armed Palestinian State and the constant bombings of the civilian population, including 20 day-old infants, by the heavily armed Palestinian army and its fearsome air force. Truly…what are we thinking?!

3- Continued resistance undermines nation building: quoth the raven of the Vichy government during the Nazi occupation of France! Need I say more?

4- The problem is not sectarianism, the problem is the lack of democracy: this is of course why our neo-liberal friends oppose free and fair elections when they bring radical Islamists to power. What the neo-liberal does not seem to understand is that he cannot have it both ways. Yes, sectarianism is exactly the problem and it is exactly what the neoconservative fascist thugs running America’s military and foreign policy are encouraging in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf.

And now my top three favorites. Drum roll please…

5- At least Israel is a democracy: oh, yes, of course, because people vote there. Never mind that Israel is (not was, is), by its very definition, an apartheid state based on a racist ideology, founded on the transformation of a mythological religious narrative into a pseudo-national identity. But, wait a second, people vote there! They also vote in Iran, Morocco and Pakistan, you know, but we don’t call those democracies…do we?

6- We should accept any peace we are offered because it allows us to build our economic prosperity: why didn’t I think of that one?! I mean look at the prosperity that peace brought to Egypt resulting in a huge increase in per capita income, decreased infant mortality rates and the almost complete abolition of unemployment and foreign debt…or not!

7- Attracting foreign capital investment will trickle down to the rest of the population: Are you not in awe of the limitless genius of the neo-liberal brain? Trickle-down, supply-side, economics reinven…I mean photocopied (again!). Obviously since these policies failed miserably in Europe and the United States in the 80’s, they must- by definition really- succeed in the far more advanced, much less corrupt Arab world.

By now, you are wondering “what is it about the neo-liberal mind that allows it to be so insightful?” Of course, we silly leftists are incapable of fathoming the depth of the neo-liberal intellect. However, as some of us can actually read- and occasionally do- we have been able to gather clues to share with you. First, neo-liberals de-contextualize the problem. Second, they substitute analysis and evidence with example and anecdote. The combination of these two tricks is what brings out the most powerful neo-liberal voodoo: the irresistibly delicious, magnetically inviting, GENERALIZATION. You see, it is their capacity to generalize ahistoric, nonscientific nonsense that allows them to come up with theories like the “clash of civilizations”. Islam vs. the West they call it. Religion vs. Geography: good one! Or the “inherent irrationality of the Arab/Eastern mind” as if Al-Razi, Ibn Arabi, Ibn Al Haytham, Jaber Bin Hayyan, Al Khawarizmy and Ibn Sina, or the hundreds of modern Arab scientists, from Ahmed Zuweil on down, who practice their craft all around the world, hailed from Norway, Poland, Wales and South Dakota. Or better yet, their favorite baby “Globalization” as if it were a new thing. They forget that Capital has always been globalized and has always attempted to extend its global reach. From Marx and Engels to Teddy Roosevelt, thinkers and politicians across the spectrum have written about this fact more than a hundred years ago. Then again, I forget that the neo-liberal is the master of reinventing the squeaky wheel, because he does not bother reading the manual. Oh, the list of their “theories” is inexhaustible, but enough is enough.

So, the next time you come across neo-liberal venom spewing in your face, remember the old Arabic saying “the wise is not bitten by the same snake twice”. Or better yet, just pretend its April 1st and have a good laugh.