Jan 30, 2012

Âlâ magazine: is 'Islamic fashion' un-Islamic?

There has been an explosion of websites, magazines, fashion houses and events that showcase what can be described as "Islamic fashion." Yet there are those in the Islamic community who see the term as an oxymoron. They believe fashion and Islam are incompatible or an uneasy mix.

A new Turkish women's magazine Âlâ - roughly translated as 'superb, excellent' - features models in headscarves wearing Islamic-style dress. Some of the inspiration for Âlâ came from the British magazine Emel. One of the founders of Âlâ, Volkan Atay, has reservations about the term "Islamic fashion" preferring "fashion details" as a way of describing what the magazine is about. His reasoning is that fashion is trend-driven and what is "in" one year is out the next. This in his view is unIslamic.

It's a fine line that not everyone might get. On the surface Âlâ presents pretty much like a western fashion magazine. Some of the photo shoots are similar to the type of spread you might find in Vogue or Elle. Even though the models are wearing Islamic dress there is still sex-appeal, although less overt.

Since its launch Âlâ has been a hot item. According to Turkish media reports it has been outselling Vogue and Elle in that country.

Der Spiegel has a photo gallery of the inside world of Âlâ - here.

Criticism of Âlâ has come from some religious quarters. Journalist Ihsan Eliacik claims that the magazine caters to the "nouveau riche." He takes issue with putting women on display, something he considers un-Islamic. He says that even though the women are wearing headscarves they are still being objectified in the same manner as models 'wearing bikinis.'

An article in The Atlantic mentions Tekbir Giyim, CEO of a Turkish textile company, who argues that fashion and Islam are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

A look at some of the better known magazines catering to Muslim women that feature stylish hijabs and designer outfits suggest that "Islamic fashion" is a real and happening fashion curve. There certainly seems to be growing interest. Blogs dedicated to hijab styles are just one example with names like Hijabulous, Hijabi Couture, Hijabs High, Hijabib Style, Random Hijabi and Stylish Muslimah.

More about Âlâ and reactions to it in the video beneath:

Jan 28, 2012

South Africa: interracial poster generates heat

Even with apartheid gone racial sensitivities still run deep in South Africa. There is nothing like a provocative photo to trigger a reaction.

A political poster put out by the student wing of the Democratic Alliance - the main opposition party - is guaranteed to push a lot of buttons. It shows a studly white dude who looks as though he's fresh out of the shower in a loving embrace with a stripped down black woman. The accompanying tagline reads: "In OUR future, you wouldn't look twice."

So what's the big deal? A snapshot in time - sweet and personal - in which considerations of race take a backseat to togetherness. Ideally what the "rainbow nation" should be all about. Right? Not exactly. While most S. Africans like or are okay with the ad, others are less impressed.

Not long after the posters went up the media reaction kicked in. The story went viral on social networking sites in SA and became a talking point on radio and TV shows. The reactions of detractors ranged from accusations of racism to complaints about "pornography."

A statement by the ruling ANC party reflects their view that the Democratic Alliance is a white-controlled party with "token" blacks. It said the DA poster followed the “Irish coffee” principle of “sprinkling darkies on white foam.”

The ANC characterization of the Democratic Alliance is a bit harsh. The DA recently elected a black woman, Lindiwe Mazibuko, as leader of its parliamentary wing. Its predecessor - The Progressive Party in its various manifestations - included many well known anti-Apartheid activists such as Helen Suzman and Harry Schwarz.

On another level the ANC response is understandable. The couple represented in the poster is still a bit of a fantasy in a S. Africa marked by deep racial and socio-economic divides. The bulk of blacks live in crowded townships while whites mostly live in well-to-do suburban neighborhoods. It is this underlying reality that could understandably trigger a negative reaction to an image that some may see as out-of-touch.

A similar heated reaction greeted the story about a white South African actor, Carolyn Forword, who had problems kissing a black actor on-stage in the course of the Riverside Theatre Company's production of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Race and the inequities associated with it still strike a deep chord in South Africa.

The DA says it is pleased with the wide ranging reaction to the poster. An insightful comment I read on the related Facebook page came from Jhandre Bredenkamp who said: "Well done in drawing reaction! Time for many people to stop and think: What does my reaction to this photo really say about me?"

More on story from Huffington Post and Mail and Guardian

Jan 23, 2012

CasaPound: Ezra Pound's daughter defends fascist papa

Top: Ezra Pound/Mary de Rachewiltz

The daughter of the American poet, Ezra Pound, is demanding that the Italian extremist organization CasaPound stop using her father's name.

Mary de Rachewiltz was spurred to take legal action by the Christmas killing of two Senegalese traders in Florence. The perpetrator, Gianluca Casseri - who committed suicide following the killings - was known to have ties with CasaPound.


Ms Rachewiltz takes exception to what she describes as a "politically compromised organization" using the name of Pound. Hardly surprising CasaPound found the poet so inspirational. Her equally "compromised" father was a fascist supporter in WW2 - and a very vocal one.

Ezra Pound was a highly accomplished poet, but his reputation has been marred by his fascism. What is odd about Pound is the stark contrast between the disciplined use-of-language in his poetry and the fascist shill who at times came off like the worst type of soap box demagogue.

Pound's broadcasts on Italian radio during WW2 included frequent attacks on Jews. During the same period he wrote for Italian newspapers - apparently he needed the coin. His pro-fascist writings also showed up in Action, a newspaper put out by British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. On its pages he stated his bizarre belief that the Third Reich was "the natural civilizer of Russia."

Even on the day of Germany's surrender, Pound had high words of praise for Hitler. On May 8, 1945, he told a reporter from the Philadelphia Record that Hitler was "a Jeanne d'Arc, a saint."

He was arrested by American troops and transferred to the US Disciplinary Training Center north of Pisa. There he was consigned to a six-by-six outdoor steel cage or "death cell" for three weeks. The experience contributed to a mental breakdown.

The steel cages in Pisa.

On his return to the US Pound was charged with treason. He was judged to be mentally ill and confined in St Elizabeth's hospital in Washington D.C. Following his release from the hospital in 1958, he returned to Italy where he died in 1972.

Given Ezra Pound's very public fascist allegiances and extensive connections with Italy, it's little surprise that a new far-right in that country identifies with him.

Jan 21, 2012

Breivik's manifesto 2083 to be adapted for stage by Cafe Teatret

The manifesto of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is headed for a dramatic makeover. The artistic director of the Copenhagen based Cafe Teatret, Christian Lollike, has plans to adapt the 1,500 page manifesto for the stage.

Lollike said that the views espoused by Breivik aren't unique and that it's possible a similar type of tragedy could happen again. He believes it is important to understand where Breivik was coming from - "What I'm afraid of is that Breivik's way of thinking will be left alone and will not be probed and reflected on..."

Christian Lollike

A cynical view might be that the project is an attempt to exploit Breivik's infamy. That certainly seems to be the view of Erik Ulfsby, director of The Norwegian Theatre. He called Lollike's rationale "a bad excuse to draw attention to his project."

Per Balch Soerensen, the father of one of those murdered by Breivik said the play - Manifesto 2083 - is an "acceptance of his (Breivik's) acts."

Lollike is right about one thing - it is important to examin Breivik's ideas. It is important to look beyond the manifesto as Breivik's "creation" to the sources, connections and individuals that helped inspire and motivate him. He may have acted alone, but he was heavily influenced by the "crusading" conspiracy theorists who, however inadvertently, helped place a metaphorical gun in his hand. There was nothing spontaneous about Breivik's actions, the massacre was preceded by meticulous planning and extensive online communications.

A Guardian article titled Anders Breivik's spider web of hate includes maps that show the web pages Breivik linked to and the ways in which those pages link back to Breivik's manifesto:

More Breivik mind maps from the Guardian here.

Breivik's manifesto is heavily derivative with borrowings from some of the better known online "defenders of the gates." Names that come up include the pseudonymous Fjordman and Jihad Watch's Robert Spence. Breivik also seemed impressed with a site called Gates of Vienna run by American Edward May. Other pundits mentioned include Daniel Pipes, Mark Steyn and Melanie Phillips.

In common with a lot of right wing alarmists Breivik blames the "downfall" of Western culture on "cultural Marxists" and "multiculturalism." His obsessions are tediously predictable - vikings, Templars, crusaders... all the epic stuff that fed into his sense of being white, Christian and superior. He says at one point "I am very proud of my Viking heritage. My name, Breivik, is a place name from Northern Norway, dating back to before the Viking era..."

It's the type of mono-minded writing of the cut-and-paste variety that seems eerily familiar. Some pundits have noted a similarity in style between Breivik's manifesto and jihadist instruction manuals.

Some on the right argue that Breivik was a madman and that calling him an "Islamophobe" shouldn't really apply because he went after his "neighbors" and no mosque was targeted. The need to believe that since Breivik was deranged those who he cites as authorities are somehow absolved of any taint of association, however tangential, is understandable. These pundits are keen to put as much mileage between themselves and the atrocity as possible. Labeling Breivik as unhinged is one way of doing that. Unfortunately for them, twisted though Breivik's thinking may be a recent diagnosis determined that he is not insane.

UK Independent:

Psychiatrists who are monitoring Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik say that he is not psychotic, contradicting an earlier diagnosis by experts.

A court filing by the public prosecutor said four experts at Ila Prison in Oslo had not observed any signs that Breivik was insane.

It was also revealed that he was not receiving any medication and the prison had not seen any need to move him to another facility.

His manifesto although derivative was carefully crafted, even compelling reading in parts. A crusader on a mission and it's clear where he drew his inspiration from.

One way to do a dramatic reworking of the manifesto would be to get behind the crusader's mask and justifications to expose the web of hate-driven thinking that was a prime motivator. A theatrical adaptation of Breivik's manifesto just might succeed in doing that. Whether Cafe Teatret's monologue, Manifesto 2083, will come even close is another question.

Jan 15, 2012

Etam lingerie models flash Renoir

The French lingerie company Etam has been using "flash flash" ad campaigns to get the message out. Judging from the coverage of their recent unofficial "show" at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris it's grabbing attention.

Museum visitors had their afternoon interrupted when three Etam models dropped their trench coats to reveal colorful lingerie. The trio took off running through galleries hung with works by impressionist heavies such as Renoir, Monet, Seurat, and Cézanne.

Museum officials were not amused. Musee d'Orsay has a strict no-filming policy without prior authorization. Director Guy Cogeval has threatened legal action if Etam doesn't remove the video from its website. A bit late since the video has gone viral.

The museum released a statement calling the impromptu flash show "a serious infringement of the Orsay's rights and the rights of others."

Etam clearly thinks it's worth the risk. After all a stunt like this gets picked up and relayed across the net with lightning speed - free. Outraged officialdom and threats of lawsuits just add to the hype.

The company has staged similar events before. Lingerie models were filmed in their skimpies skating at the Eiffel Tower ice rink. In another shoot the models stripped down to bare essentials to go through security at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Flash ad campaigns pull major coverage by turning product promotion into a show stopping event... a news story. In a culture already ad-saturated it just pushes advertising further into the public sphere in ways that can be well... annoying. An example is T-Mobile's flash mob ads.

Flash mobs have drawn criticism from transport police in the UK for obvious reasons - hundreds of dancing, strutting people can be a major hassle at the peak of rush hour. Pushing product in public spaces in an effort to grab some cheap publicity isn't something everyone wants to celebrate. In the case of a publicity campaign for a worthwhile cause that takes it to the street - different story.

Video of the Musee d'Orsay event from Huffington Post

Jan 14, 2012

Sarah Ferguson orphanage film: Turkish court files charges

The Duchess of York aka Fergie has been charged by a Turkish court in connection with an ITV documentary she participated in that investigated conditions in Turkish orphanages.

She has been charged with breaching Turkey's laws by acquiring secret undercover footage and of violating the privacy of five children. In the case of a conviction the charges carry a maximum jail term of more than 22-years. A British interior ministry source says there is no prospect of her being extradited to face the charges.

The Duchess was accompanied by her daughter Eugenie during the trip.

While making the documentary Fergie posed as a potential charitable donor and when the occasion required disguised her appearance with a wig and large headscarf. She kept her royal status under wraps going by only the name "Sarah".

The documentary Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission was broadcast on the UK's ITV show, Tonight, in November 2008. Disturbing scenes showing disabled children provoked an angry reaction from Turkish authorities. The Duchess was accused of smearing Turkey. This is a country where there is an actual law against insulting Turkishness. Article 301 of the penal code makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish ethnicity, or Turkish government institutions.

The Duchess who claims she is "apolitical" said she undertook the project "as a mom" and a human rights activist for children - but since we're talking about the notorious Fergie some skepticism has been expressed about her motivations.

Fergie has been known to do a number of newsworthy things over the years that have left people scratching their heads. All the way from being photographed having her toes sucked by "financial adviser" John Bryan... to being caught in a sting operation trying to sell access to her husband, the Duke of York, for $500,000.

It could be argued that Fergie's royal status brought a celebrity angle into play and so helped highlight a human rights issue. If the documentary has helped spur reform then so much the better. However Turkish authorities may not have seen it quite like that. They are no doubt aware of Fergie's reputation and being "outed" by someone who has spent much of her adult life being outed mightn't have gone over too well. Also it isn't as though the situation facing children in care in the UK is beyond reproach.

Some Turkish politicians take the view that the undercover documentary was an effort to hurt the country's chances of joining the EU. The minister responsible for child protections, Nimet Cubukcu, said it was known that Fergie was opposed to Turkey's EU ambitions. Turkish Foreign minister, Ali Babican, has also been critical saying the documentary involved " a breach of privacy".

There is little argument that there are human rights issues in Turkey that need to be addressed. As far back as 2005, Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) released a report - Behind Closed Doors: Human Rights Abuses in Psychiatric Facilities, Orphanages and Rehabilitation Centers of Turkey. In response to the criticism in the report Turkey's largest psychiatric hospital, the Bakırköy state hospital in Istanbul, abolished the use of "unmodified" ECT procedures.

To what extent Fergie's undercover op has helped the larger cause of bettering the lot of kids in care is hard to gauge. One thing you have to say for her though... unlike many royals who have most in common with Madam Tussaud's lookalikes, Fergie isn't afraid to give it a go.

Jan 12, 2012

Bashar al-Assad: denial and defiance

I've had reservations about writing about Syria because frankly it's hard to know exactly what is going on at ground level. I'm opposed to American intervention, so although criticism can be leveled at Bashar al-Assad's regime, engaging in it is invariably read as support for a western "solution."

In the intervening months there has been a descent into domestic turmoil in Syria, fomented according to Assad by "terrorists", "traitors" and a "foreign conspiracy".

There is truth to Assad's claim. There has been big time foreign interference and meddling by regional players. But the main impetus for change has come and is coming from the Syrian people. Years of stagnation, a tenth five-year plan that didn't deliver, concentration of wealth and power in the hands of those with regime connections, the lack of a social security net ... just some of the reasons why Bashar al-Assad is facing anger in the streets.

However I don't believe the uprising by the people is a call for western intervention or any type of American-led "solution." Attempts to try and exploit the situation in Syria by American proxies in the region will backfire and very possibly lead to a broader war.

See also - The Guardian

Jan 9, 2012

Ed Young: 'bed-in' to promote sex in Christian marriages

Pastor Ed and wife Lisa

The Beatles have been inspiring people in unusual ways lately.

During his New Year's Eve Times Square performance Cee Lo Green changed the lyrics of the John Lennon tune Imagine. Instead of "nothing to kill or die for and no religion too" Green delivered "nothing to kill or die for and all religion's true." Just about the polar opposite of Lennon's meaning.

Now news of a "bed-in" to be staged by megachurch evangelist Ed Young and wife Lisa. The event brings to mind John and Yoko's bed-ins in Amsterdam and Montreal back in the 60's.

Whereas John and Yoko's hotel room bed-ins were in the interests world peace, the Youngs' 24 hour bed-in (to be staged on the rooftop of a Texas church) aims to promote regular sex in Christian marriages. Whole different vision.

The event will be streamed live on Young's website. He says he will answer "relationship questions and teaching about God's purpose for intimacy in marriage". No accompanying sex action mercifully - just talk.

Ed and bed

Ed Young and St Paul might have locked horns. If the New Testament can be relied upon the apostle's attitude to sex is best expressed as "better marry than burn"... marriage is seen as a last resort for the helplessly horny. Sex kind of gets in the way. Paul considered the unmarried state the better option, at least if you go along with words attributed to him in Corinthians:
He that is without a wife, is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please God. But he that is with a wife, is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife: and he is divided.

Young's sexifying of Christian marriage as expressed in his book "Sexperiment" with its "seven day sex challenge" would probably not have been a big hit with Christians in the NT era. Might not even be a big hit with stressed-out Christians today who may end up finding the pastor's sex schedule a bit grueling.

Link to The Guardian for more.

Jan 6, 2012

Trenitalia ad blasted as 'racist'

Italy's state-owned railway Trenitalia has decided to replace first and second class on its high speed trains with four categories - executive, business, premium and standard.

The move by Trenitalia raised a few eyebrows because the passengers in fourth-class are so obviously at the bottom-end of the passenger pecking order... according to a Guardian article not permitted to use the on-board cafeteria and even prohibited from entering the more upscale carriages. The new arrangement drew complaints that the company was promoting segregation.

Matters took a turn for the worse when Trenitalia's web commercial appeared. Executive class showed a group of corporate looking white people settling in. Business class showed empty seats with an open tabletop ready for briefcases and laptops. Premium class showed a smiling white passenger chatting with an attendant pushing a trolley full of goodies. At the bottom of the class ladder -standard - the passengers were represented by a black family.

The ad drew a lot of negative commentary when it was profiled on the L'Espresso site.


Attention was first drawn to Trenitalia's video by a blogger, Alessandro Gilioli, on the website of the weekly L'Espresso, and it soon triggered a torrent of complaints. "Grotesque" and "This is called racial discrimination" were among the more polite comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

It isn't the first time concerns about segregation - or the perception of it - have made the news in Italy. Over the past few years there has been a strong anti-immigrant backlash, some of it blatantly racist. In 2009 a Berlusconi ally, Matteo Silvani - Milan secretary of the anti-immigrant Northern League - said he wanted "seats and carriages reserved for the Milanese" on local transport.

Since sensitivities are high it's surprising that Trenitalia was OK with an ad that was pretty much guaranteed to provoke a negative reaction.

Following the outrage generated by the ad, the video was quickly withdrawn and replaced by a new one that shows a white family in standard class. In addition, two non-white women now feature in the executive class group.

Jan 3, 2012

Mitt Romney: Lies and lies-about-lies

Mitt Romney has been accused by his detractors, Democrat and Republican alike, of being a flip flopper. I'm not sure if the term "flip flopper" adequately describes the chameleon like transformations-of-convenience that mark Romney's political history.

Issue shifting and volte face switcheroos that would embarrass many a candidate seem natural for Romney. It's so much a part of the man, it's almost second nature. Of course he's never without a gloss or rationalization to explain his ever-changing mind - the deeply felt convictions that prompted yet another reconsideration on issues as various as abortion, healthcare, climate change, gun control, immigration, tax pledges, Ronald Reagan and the auto industry... to name a few.

Romney's checkered past makes you wonder if playing fast and loose is part of an actual strategy of sorts. Take the ad the Romney campaign ran that willfully distorted a quote by President Obama.

In the ad, Obama is heard saying "If we keep talking about the economy. we're going to lose."

The Romney ad conveniently ignores the context in which those comments were made during the 2008 presidential campaign. Obama in fact stated:

Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’

Obama was referencing a quote by a McCain adviser that appeared in the New York Daily News. The spin in the Romney ad deliberately engages in misrepresentation. Not that a bit of flimflammery bothers Mitt and his team. In a New York Times article titled "The Reinvention of Political Morality" a Romney operative passed off the ad deception as propaganda: "We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business…. Ads are agitprop…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing."

The shift in Romney's positions on some issues is so stark and self-serving it speaks to a level of political cynicism that is breathtaking. Take his positions on abortion as an example, bearing in mind that in his latest pro-life incarnation he claims he never adopted the term "pro-choice."

I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time when my Mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it, and I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.
Senatorial debate (1994)

I respect and willfully protect a woman's right to choose. That choice is a deeply personal one, and the women of our state should make it based on their beliefs, not mine and not the government's.
GOP acceptance speech (2002)

I've never called myself pro-choice.
Redstate interview (2006)

He attributed his right-to-choose convictions to a family tragedy. A young relative named Ann Keenan died as a result of a botched abortion. Following that in 1994 Romney told voters he had switched from anti-abortion to pro-choice. It didn't last long. In 2005 when he was looking at a run on the GOP ticket he reversed positions and declared that he was anti-abortion.

Romney has also been falsifying Obama's policies and record. He claims the President wants to create "an entitlement society" in which everyone gets "the same rewards." Obama is way too much of a capitalist to propose anything of the sort or enact policies with any such stated objective. Even as hyperbole it fails.

None of this stuff is new. In the 2008 campaign Romney was caught out on a few fast ones. There was the story about how he and his dad marched with the late Martin Luther King - here. Even when the story was debunked he persisted in digging deeper.

Other incidents from a few years back raise questions about character, for example the Obama/Osama and dog box incidents - here.

With respect to tall tales, Romney shares a few traits with Joseph Smith, the prophet who helped pave the way for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints aka the Mormons.

Flip flop king