|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
7 - 13 March 2002
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Cartoon by Osama Qassim
The last free spiritSir- I will miss David Blake as much as I miss Frederico Fellini.
The world is full of pictures, full of words, but nearly all are empty -- not intellectually, but devoid of the vital energy necessary for a creative response which encompasses body, soul and spirit.
When David Blake wrote about the Bolshoi Ballet, he was a sculptor, carving out the muscles of the dancers in words, in special movements according to the music.
He was not writing as a journalist. He was an artist.
Polished professionalism, efficiency and intellectualism are not bad goals per se, but it is necessary to consider how much of life is excluded in the pursuit of these goals and to what extent they give one a distorted perception of the world. To keep out of this trend, one has to stay out of the establishment -- with its host of connections. One has to be single, without employment and free from a distinct society.
David Blake was the last homo ludens.
He lived a life outside utility and usefulness, working restlessly on free chains of associations, with a very high degree of psychical strength, which he would preserve through personal asceticism and by keeping an utmost distance from triviality. He had nearly no obligations towards other people's feelings, no luggage to hamper his voyage. These qualities enabled him to reach the very depths of things easily and cheerfully, and at a surprising speed. He was thus able to amass a fortune of knowledge and wisdom about all that matters. That this wisdom always included body and senses -- sensuality -- is something for which I was so thankful.
For 50 and later 75 piastres every Thursday, for so many years, we have been lucky to receive articles about music of a quality one cannot find in Paris or Vienna.
Interesting people gather in Egypt from abroad. They arrive in search of new dimensions in life, of spiritual liberation, trying to evade the concrete-lined materialistic life-track at home.
Egypt is still full of life, surprise, alternatives, colour. Spirituality is still included in everyday life. David Blake used to call Cairo the city of cities.
Near his end, in hospital, he told me all about Tosca. From his bed, circles of energy were emitted, wrapping the white, barren room in warm colours, velvet textiles and a glamorous flair of excitement: Tosca live.
You see, I told myself thankfully, the spirit is creating the reality.
He missed the music of Talaat Harb Square, he said, not the boring, monotonous music of Kasr El-Nil, but rather the cars encircling the midan (square), gaining speed, slowing down, how clear, how beautiful.
A rare bird is on his wings to heaven. Thank God he has paid us a long visit.
Forever youngSir- When I returned to Egypt from the United States in 1996, I became a regular reader of your pioneering and highly respected paper. I used to open the paper at the culture page, to start with Dr Mursi Saad El-Din's column and the David Blake review. Sometimes I would reverse the sequence. I won't be doing this anymore, after the sad departure of David Blake.
From his writing style, my mental image of Mr Blake's picture was of a young or middle-aged man, until I met him in the Opera House. I asked for him and was led to his seat in the last row of the auditorium and took the liberty of occupying the next seat. A few minutes later, an old gentleman took his hat off, greeted me very politely and occupied Mr Blake's seat. I was a little confused and thought I had been misled by the usher, who came over and pointed affirmatively at the old gentleman. "This is Mr Blake!" he said.
I introduced myself to him and expressed my admiration for his reviews. I suggested that they should be translated into Arabic and published in the daily Al-Ahram, to help build a wider audience for classical music and the opera. We became friends immediately. Mr Blake joined me for tea in Groppi's after the concert. We talked for a good two hours and I felt I was in the company of walking a music and opera encyclopedia!
For about five years, David and I met frequently and I would tell him jokes just to make him laugh and giggle so I could enjoy seeing a perfectly beautiful baby-face. He often called me "naughty!"
He went with me to Belbeis in the province of Sharqia, where I had organised a recital for soprano Niveen Allouba. He was astonished to see Egyptian farmers giving Neveen a standing ovation and said to me: "These farmers know Puccini and Verdi better than the Opera House audience!"
Once David Blake and I were in a concert featuring Beethoven's 9th, and a wind instrument section of the symphony was messed up. We looked at each other and he whispered to me: "Thank God Beethoven isn't here!" He ended his review with that very comment the following Thursday.
Mr Blake, I will miss you for as long as I live. Egyptian music lovers were honoured to have you among us.
Not a PalestinianSir- In regard to the article by Knesset member Azmi Bishara:
Dr Bishara cannot be called a "Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset" for the simple reason that he is in fact an Arab Israeli.
If he was, as you stated, a Palestinian, he would not be able to become a member of the Knesset, which is a position open only to Israeli citizens. Because of Israel's war crimes, and because of its failure to follow the Geneva Convention accords, the Palestinians are not citizens of Israel.
In regard to the article itself, I can only say that, as usual, Dr Bishara wrote a coherent, valid, and intelligent article. I have as yet to see a copy of it published in any of the Israeli newspapers. I can only hope.
Long way roundSir- I've just read with pleasure Edward Said's article, published in issue 575 of your paper. I find it ironic that, despite living in the same country as Said, I am forced to take this long way round to read his words. Thanks for making them available to the world and to me.
Keep it comingSir- I send you this letter on the occasion of Al- Ahram Weekly's 11th anniversary, to congratulate you and all of its staff. We have followed your great successes eagerly. We appreciate your depth of analysis and commentary. I wish you many more successes.
English language teacher
Close neighbourSir- I have had the chance to read an article in your newspaper for the first time and I would like to express my appreciation of its depth and intellectual strength. For me -- as an Israeli -- your paper is a window onto the thoughts and feelings of my neighbours, and I therefore thank you.
It is the first, but certainly not the last, visit I will pay to your Web site.
Politics and religionSir- Martha Brant's story, published in Newsweek, on the "Church and the President" is very disturbing. It seems as if the Christian right has hijacked the constitution of the United States. [US Attorney-General John] Ashcroft's recent derogatory comments about Islam, made to Cal Thomas while talking evangelically about Christianity, were equally disturbing. The remarks were in clear violation of the separation of Church and State. How can Muslims expect justice from such a biased source?
History goes onSir- Concerning "An accidental phenomenon?" by Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, let me first say that Mr Sid-Ahmed writes some of the most intelligent, well-reasoned editorials in your magazine. Even though I often disagree with him, no one presents their arguments better.
I do disagree with him on his reading of history and the causes of terrorism. But I agree that anti- Americanism and anti-globalisation were born from Marxism and are fed by neo-Marxism. I believe the reason Marxism is still so popular in much of the world (it's still very popular on college campuses in the US) is that the Soviet Union was unashamed of its ideology and promoted it aggressively, while the US has always been ambivalent about democracy and capitalism. During the 1960s and 1970s especially, while the USSR was promoting Marxism throughout the Third World, the US was promoting its music and its movies. In the end, I believe that both Marx and those who say that the end of history has come with democracy and freedom will be proved wrong.
If ancient Israel, Greece, Rome and the Islamic Empires are examples, the next phase in history will be one of chaos brought on by corruption and a breakdown in the rule of law. After that, new dictators will arise because people will exchange their freedom for a small piece of security and calm.
Roger D McKinney
Condolences from afarSir- May I express my condolences to the people of Egypt for the terrible fire and tragedy that occurred on train 832. I am sure that the safety of all citizens is very much on the mind of your government's officials and that they will do everything possible to ensure that a similar terrible loss is never repeated in your history.
I hope that if any alarm system exists to warn railway engineers of coach fires, that the US and the European countries will assist in retrofitting all your trains if it might save lives.
I am sorry for your loss, and I read your great paper online often to get a better perspective on the complex situation in the Middle East.
Legislating against warSir- Negar Azimi's article "Can of Worms" (21-27 February) opens the can, but fails to see the real worms. The main issue here is not the political context of individual cases, such as Pinochet, Habriyamana, or Sharon, but the legal context under which these cases can or cannot be brought to trial. Individual states that use domestic law to extend their jurisdiction throughout the world (for example Belgium) set a scary precedent. While few outside of Tel Aviv and Kinshasa have many qualms about the Belgian legal system's sense of moral equity, what happens when the US, Iraq, Israel, or Serbia decide to take their political enemies to trial based on such a model of jurisdiction? The relevant point is not whether Third World dictators are the scapegoats for bigger powers that get off scot-free, but who has the legal, let alone moral, authority to try any world leaders.
Perhaps, as Azimi points out, this will be the province of the nascent International Criminal Court (ICC). What she does not discuss, however, is the extremely tricky nature of such a body. She merely confines herself to criticising the US for not signing on. Like the UN that will oversee it, the ICC is bound to be hamstrung by politics and a lack of realistic standards for determining what makes a war criminal. No country has ever fought a war in strict accordance with the Geneva conventions, yet many countries have fought for just and necessary causes. These are not insurmountable obstacles, but they will remain major reasons behind America's (and Israel and the Arab world's) refusal to submit to the ICC's jurisdiction.
More importantly, the idea that world leaders should not enjoy impunity during their terms in office is presented in the article as a moral given, when in fact this bears careful thought. The chaos that could result from indicting national leaders, even by an international body, would cause the same sort of political destabilisation upon which brutal regimes thrive.
War is a nasty reality, and one that is not easily legislated against.
Dr Abdullah Roq
Individual burdensSir- On 11 January, 2002, the International Herald Tribune printed an article previously published by the Washington Post and written by Ms Mona Eltahawy, entitled "Why Muslims Need to Do A Little Soul-Searching". The Herald Tribune mentions that Ms Eltahawy was a journalist for ten years in Egypt and is now living in the United States of America.
The writer starts her article as follows:
"I am Muslim. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 shook my faith to its foundation. I am angry and ashamed that Muslims will forever be remembered for such horror... But being angry and ashamed is not enough. Muslims must ask ourselves, how did we get here... For starters, liberal, moderate and progressive Muslims must speak out."
Dear Muslim lady, you must not be ashamed for a Muslim is never ashamed of his faith, a faith which was revealed by Allah since he created Adam, then to Ibrahim (Abraham), Moussa (Moses) and Issa (Jesus), ending with Mohamed, peace be upon them all (The Holy Qur'an: Sura 2, Al-Baqara, verse 136).
An individual who believes in that God-sent message bears no responsibility for the actions of those of his fellows who seem to be believers, and do not follow the precepts of God. Therefore, no Muslim should be ashamed of these even when other Muslims perform them.
A Jewish believer, though not ashamed of his faith, can well refute the horrific actions carried out by Zionists who claim to be Jews, for in reality those Zionists are spreading mischief and crime; they destroy human lives, ruin crops and fruit trees, and kill cattle.
In another example, the Christian believer should not be ashamed of his Christianity, though he may well not have condoned the European invasion and colonisation of the Levant and Egypt under the pretext of the Crusades.
As for the Muslim believer he too must never be ashamed of his Muslim faith. Qur'an: Sura 41, Fussilat, verse 33, says the following:
"And who is better in speech than he who [says: 'My lord is Allah'] and does righteous deeds, and says: 'I am one of the Muslims.'"
By the Grace of Allah on his creatures, it is written that no bearer of burdens should bear the burden of another individual, for every individual is responsible for his own actions and not for the actions of others.
Were it not so, all Americans would be responsible for the death of more than a million Iraqi, since the Gulf war, among whom half a million were children. All Americans would also be responsible for the death of 20,000 citizens in Guatemala in 1954; the murder of 3,000 persons in the Dominican Republic in 1965; the murder of 30,000 persons among whom were some American citizens; in 1973, in Chile; the killing of 30,000 innocents in Nicaragua, of 80,000 in El Salvador in the eighties; of 70,000 Iranians during the reign of the Shah, 1952-1979.
Captain M B Mandour
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