Saturday, November 22, 2014

Abu Dhabi Media Summit - قمة أبوظبي للإعلام

Listen to a most positive and inspiring speech given by Queen Rania of Jordan in English at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit...

Friday, November 07, 2014

The art of deciding by Rahal Eks

Painted black - too bad - time for you to imagine your own visuals here for a change!

"Yes and no!" But this ain't Ibn 'Arabi replying to Ibn Rushd's famous question in lovely Cordoba during the wonderful times of Al-Andalus. Instead it is just me in rough and rather surreal 2014 with a slightly unorthodox film review. And at the same time it is something else, aimed to be ambiguous, hopefully multi-layered, and with some luck breaking your preconceptions. Yes, I do like that. And no, I don't do it just for the sake to annoy. As a matter of fact, I'm coming from a very different corner. So try and catch my drift and decide for yourself. 

I had lunch with a dear Turkish friend who turned me on to the film in question. And instead of going through my current long what-to-do-list and be a good boy, I decided to blow my schedule after my holy siesta and spontaneously go to the cinema and check out the documentary thriller in question. 

At the end of an unexpected sunny Friday it turned out to be a very good decision. The film's impact makes you think and wonder. 

Yes, there is a worldwide problem with terrorism, extremism and fanaticism which needs to be addressed, dealt with and hopefully soon be transformed - and no, we definitely should not agree to say adios to privacy, civil rights and liberty. When everyone per se and at large is becoming a suspect and falls into automatic surveillance programs then there is something wrong and not just in the State of Denmark, as the saying goes. 

Technically I liked the editing, the camera work was not always truly enchanting (of course that's a matter of taste and I have a very peculiar idea on visual matters of presentation). So much about form. The content leaves you breathless. CITIZENFOUR is a well-made docu-thriller by the filmmaker Laura Poitras. The film is about Edward Snowden who contacted Laura via encrypted e-mails signed "citizen four". Later Laura and the journalist Glenn Greenwald fly to Hong Kong to meet the whistle-blower in person. This documentary is a successful cinematographic piece of journalism in action, and courageous at that! Not just because of Ed's decision to blow the whistle and come out of the surveillance closet but due to all people involved and their decision to collaborate. 

How would you decide when the rights of democracy are at stake? How would you decide when there is on the other hand a serious threat by extremists? Where is the limit? Are all legal boundaries now gone with the wind? 

Currently our world is being extremely polarized - all sorts of phobias are spreading, so his hatred, hysteria and fear on multiple fronts. 

So what's my solution? Actually I don't have one other than trying to be focused in the now, keeping my Sufi dhikr going, and aiming to remain positive and not allowing negativity to creep in under my skin. Hopefully with the result of impacting in some form or another in a slightly positive way if I can. 

Yes, I'm concerned. 

But no, I'm not indulging in negativity or allowing for fear to overwhelm all facets of reality. 

It is time for all of us to make some decisions, isn't it?

Below a link to the official trailer of CITIZENFOUR - check it out and decide for yourself...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The limitation of language by Rahal Eks

Digital art by Rahal Eks - tile pattern 5 for an imagined contemporary Sufi center

When "I and you" no longer exist,
what is mosque, church,
synagogue, or fire temple?

Once upon a time (it seems a long time ago from the perspective of my current "now"), I had a dear friend during the period I spent in San Francisco, whose goal was to become a poet and a writer. Actually he was quite poetic and a quite original writer in his own way, even though he had no idea of these facts. One of his punchline expressions was "words are dicey" and I didn't get his point at the moment of hearing or reading it. Meanwhile a lot of water has come down the Nile, I pondered about the issue and nowadays I utterly agree with this saying. Words can indeed be like dice, doing a random effect number or in other words: language can be precise or it can be misleading, it can surprise, have one or multiple levels of meaning or tell a lie or the truth. Language is just one means of communication and not always the best, it does have its limitations, and I say this as a writer. Luckily I'm also into music and visual art and therefore I won't always opt for verbal ways to get a point across and express myself. After having painted or done some digital art my writing will automatically be somewhat different than before, the same could be said when I engaged in music, dance or whatever else it may be. Please don't get me wrong, I'm far from wanting to put down words and writing - au contraire! Language(s) is/are a definite part of a person's vital identity which keeps growing and expanding in the course of one's life. 

Let's look at it in a very mundane way. For example when getting angry I prefer to bark in Spanish, or when I'm really upset in Arabic. French would not serve the purpose in such a situation. I'm sure different people with different languages have different relations and make different choices for diverse circumstances and that is good that way. The same is of course vital in which tongue you prefer to give a romantic rap (lesbian, gay, queer, trans, bi, straight or otherwise), express mysticism, write a scientific paper, do a political discussion, or crack a joke. In order to communicate successfully it all depends on the time, the place, the culture, and the people and above all selecting the right language and tone of voice. Yes, the world is sound, even music! Ideally speaking. 

I just finished the Thursday Mushkil Gusha Sufi night, the night of the famous Problem Dissolver, and I was reflecting on the difference between the essential meaning of religion and spirituality. There is a huge difference. Religion comes from the Latin ligare, meaning to bind, to connect, to reunite. Religion is used interchangeable with faith and belief. It also leads you right away to a set of rules, duties and dogma. Another meaning is having respect for what is considered sacred, moral obligation and worship of the Divine. 

As an example let's take Islam as a symbol of a religion and the Sufi Tradition as one form of spirituality. Some people say that the Sufi Tradition is the mystical core of Islam and that Sufis are also Muslims. 

Well, yes and no, it depends, this can be quite dicey. There are Sufis who are Muslims, some are Sunni, some are Shia, some are none of the above or Alevi/Alawi, or don't belong to any organized religion, or come from a Jewish, Christian, Shaman, Hindu or Buddhist background. Almost anything is possible among mystics. 

However, not all Muslims are automatically Sufis and certain Muslims are even strongly opposed to any manifestations of Sufism - so here seems to be one major difference to be considered and looked at. 

Spirituality, in contrast, seems to be more about the personal transformative work on the commanding self, the good old nafs, and yearning for ecstatic union with the Beloved, the Friend, with the aim to go through fana, annihilation, and reach eventually the maqam of baqa, subsistence in Allah/Khuda/Dios/Dieux/Gott/God/Hu/He/She/It or however you want to call or name the Divine who is at the same time transcendent and immanent. At least that is the position of those who follow Ibn 'Arabi's school of philosophy which has later coined the expression wahdat al-wujud, the unicity of being - also meaning hameh ust in Farsi

Other people say that the Sufi Tradition existed prior to Islam and has taken on the name Sufi since the time of Mohammed, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). 

We may as well ask: "What was first, the egg or the chicken?" Or try to crack the meaning of a Zen koan with the intellect...

The secret is to be found in the heart center, the Latifa Qalbiyya. It is the seat of the higher knowledge and the Divine who is closer to us than our jugular vein. 

Now in Islam we have the imam - male or female - whose function is to lead the prayers in a mosque, give religious advice and counsel people. He or she can also marry folks etc. 

While in the Sufi Tradition we have the Sufi murshid, guide, also called sheikh or pir, master, depending if you speak Arabic or Persian. While others prefer the more modest label "friend and teacher" and are not getting carried away by fancy titles in any tongues. After all the position of a Sufi teacher is a very practical and vital function on the Sufi Path, not always a popular one because he or she is often used as a projection screen and/or has to say not always pleasant things to help the student on the way. No matter what is said or pointed out, the Sufi teacher, including the one most malamati-like, will always function from a space of love - even if the student's nafs or commanding self is having another interpretation on the issue taking place. The Sufi path is not always just milk and honey, it is hard work and often not so easy to face the shadow and transform the lower ego qualities with patience and persistence and not get lost in the wilderness. 

There have been imams who have been Sufis and even Sufi teachers, but not all Sufi teachers are automatically imams. The combination is actually rather rare. It does exist though. One of my teachers was of that type, another was a malamati sheikh, those who walk the path of blame, and another came from a totally different spiritual corner and space. In my queer case all of them were vital on my personal path and I'm most grateful to all of them and everything they have said and done, even the most unorthodox at the time bewildering action to rattle my cage. It sure enough did the trick - as the Native Americans would say: "It grew corn!" 

Ishq bashad, saludos Rahal

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sabrina Jalees on Honesty and Happiness (VIDEO)

Film Review: Fatih Akın's "THE CUT"

Shot from Fatih Akın's "THE CUT"

Yesterday was one of those truly delightful sunny days where I was torn what to do: Should I stay home and write? I have plenty on my deadline list. Should I organize film footage for future editing? Here too I could get lost and ease the load. Should I compose music, paint or do some digital art? I was actually inspired for all of it. But there was another voice, like a little Iblis whispering into my ear: "What about not doing any creative work and instead hit the street? Call it a day, get some exercise on your bike and enjoy the sunshine! Be lazy!" 

Resisting the little devil in my ear, I opted for a combination of some alternatives on my work front and went out a little later. And I'm glad I did. After all it was a lovely day to be out and I wouldn't be sitting here writing these lines because by coincidence I passed a cinema on my bike. I stopped and saw that Fatih Akın's latest film was showing. Since I do like this director I spontaneously decided to go to the evening show. 

"THE CUT" is a dramatic movie inspired by the Armenian genocide and I can highly recommend watching it. Of course that's my personal opinion, suiting my taste in films. As we all know we can have passionate discussions and arguments in pro and con about art, films, literature, music, food and personal opinions. And yes, I'm quite opinionated, even judgemental when it comes to art, films, literature, music, and food. And I do delight in defending my opinion, LOL. Mind you, I also gladly listen to yours and I do accept pluralism and diversity, not just in regards of standpoints. 

Let's get this straight, without foggy hesitations I'm giving a thumbs up vote for this in my eyes well-made epic drama shot in various international and most contrasting locations. A fact I especially enjoyed because I know how it feels trying to survive in most diverse cultural circumstances. It resonated with my personal nomad's song. Besides I do like global films. 

"THE CUT" also deserves praise because the director dares to deal with a theme that has been a taboo in Turkey for such a long time. Now Fatih Akın fortunately resides in Germany, where he definitely enjoys freedom of expression and his film being the result of a quite global international collaboration. I sincerely hope in Turkey too it will be shown and that many people see it, as there is a definite need to deal with the shadow side of things and face some not so blissful facts of the historic past. Facing the shadow is always required for a successful healing process! Even though it seems the current political climate in the Republic of Turkey is not exactly the most promising, also given that the influence of conservatism and even retrograde Islamism is unfortunately on the rise, and I fear the reaction to the film might not be the best as far as certain popular Turkish denial positions are concerned. Time will show and we shall see. I hope to be wrong on that, nice it would be. 

The film's plot starts in 1915, towards the final phase and heading to the ultimate collapse of the Ottoman Empire, a most multicultural, multi-ethnic, and above all multi-religious society. The main protagonist is a young Armenian blacksmith, Nazaret Manoogian, a Christian, played by Tahar Rahim. Nazaret lives with his beautiful wife and his lovely twin daughters in Mardin. The Turkish Ottoman authorities deport all the Armenian men from their homes, among them Nazaret, supposedly to join a military conscription. However, it soon becomes very clear what the Ottomans had in mind instead was forced labor at its worst, to be precise: slavery style! Many men die. 

At some point an offer is made to the Christian Armenians: Those who convert to Islam would be liberated. A few accept, but the majority refuse to change religion. Soon they are facing death in a most brutal and barbaric way. This sounds strangely familiar when facing the latest horror news about the wider area of this neighborhood in contemporary times regarding what is done to Yazidis, Alevites / Alawis, Shia Muslims, Sufis, captured journalists and aid workers, and even to other Sunnis who don't share a criminal ideology of hatred and barbaric murder! 

The Turkish man who was ordered to cut Nazaret's throat refuses to do so, he pretends and only injures him on his neck. Nazaret survives, however, his vocal cords are damaged and from that moment on he is mute. The Turk later returns with water to help him escape and under dramatic circumstances Nazaret temporarily even joins a group of Ottoman deserters. Then he continues his way alone and meets an Arab Muslim from Aleppo who gives him some food and takes him home. Nazaret finds out that his wife was killed but his daughters survived. To find and reunite with his children becomes the obsessive driving force of his life and it gets him across diverse places of Mesopotamia. 

The plot thickens and next thing Nazaret is on a ship heading to Cuba where his daughters are believed to have gone. His capability to learn and adjust to new circumstances is truly amazing, Nazaret comes across as a natural nomad who will weather any scenario. It turns out his daughters are no longer in Cuba, instead they continued to the USA. Nazaret faces another challenge to arrive in Florida and from there to Minneapolis, finally arriving in North Dakota...

The film is literally dramatic and by its very nature heavy with beautiful cinematography. The film's subtext is: No matter how hopeless a given situation comes across, there will always be some helpful souls, regardless of their religious or ethnic background - and there will be some barbaric ones, trying to hurt and degrade people. So don't give up and keep up the vision! And God bless the helpful folks encountered on the way!

Check the official trailor: