Hip hop and children’s voices: In Paris, migrant artists craft new future

Paintings by refugees displayed at the Agency for Artists in Exile in northern Paris on Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 29 December 2017
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Hip hop and children’s voices: In Paris, migrant artists craft new future

PARIS: In a bright white room in a building north of Paris, Syrian musician Karam Al-Zouhir impatiently clicks a mouse as he presses his headphones against his ears.
The 30-year-old artist, who left his country shortly after civil war broke out in 2011, is composing a musical show for children based on recordings of migrant children telling their stories, with support from French writer Claire Audhuy.
“In many ways, kids are more perceptive and adaptable than adults,” said Al-Zouhir, one of about 200 musicians, painters and sculptors from conflict-affected countries working alongside each other in the workshop in northern Paris.
“There’s so much we can learn from the way they experience a crisis,” he said, totally engrossed in overlaying sounds of clinging forks and crushed cans on quotes from children.
Giving artists from countries such as Syria, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo the chance to continue their work and rebuild their lives was the reason that former theater managers Ariel Cypel and Judith Depaule set up the Agency for Artists in Exile earlier this year.
With funding from the Paris authorities and a 1,000-square-meter space the size of four tennis courts provided by French charity Emmaüs Solidarite, artists need only pay a token one euro a year to work there, explained Cypel.
“Most of the people working here live in extremely precarious conditions,” he said. “So we try to take off some pressure and provide members with a bit of stability, if only in their work life.”
Artists come at all hours and can stay for as long as they want, Cypel added.
“When you’ve suffered torture, rape or forced exile, getting into work early is the last thing on your mind.”
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), about 400,000 refugees claimed asylum in Europe in 2017, fleeing the war in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as conflicts and poverty in Africa and Asia.
While France has been much less affected by Europe’s migrant crisis than neighboring Germany, thousands of asylum seekers use it as a transit point in the hope of reaching Britain.
Cypel said artists were particularly at risk of persecution from repressive regimes and often forced into exile, where their talent and knowledge too often go unnoticed.
The agency’s art ranges from hip hop workshops to help minors feel more comfortable, to doll collections by Afghan performance artist Kubra Khademi whose work focuses on “those girls who have no choice but to be born women.”
While the initiative is primarily about art, it also aims to facilitate members’ integration into society by introducing them to art professionals, helping them learn French, and even offering legal and psychological support.
“For me, success would actually be our artists leaving us and making it on their own,” said Cypel, a hesitant smile spreading across his face.
For Al-Zouhir, there is “absolutely no chance of going back to Syria, even if it means never seeing my parents again.”
“If however I can make something beautiful out of something so ugly, and help preserve my country’s culture, then I hope they can be proud of me,” he said.
Cypel knows the workspace may not last forever.


In Iraq, bloody tribal custom now classed as ‘terrorism’

A member of an Iraqi clan enters a straw tent in the town of Mishkhab, south of Najaf on November 15, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 47 min 54 sec ago
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In Iraq, bloody tribal custom now classed as ‘terrorism’

  • In Iraq, a country of 39 million people, clan origin and family name can carry weight in securing a job, finding romance, and gathering political support

BAGHDAD: A bloody, age-old custom used by Iraq’s powerful tribes to mete out justice has come under fire, with authorities classifying it as a “terrorist act” punishable by death.
For centuries, Iraqi clans have used their own system to resolve disputes, with tribal dignitaries bringing together opposing sides to mediate in de facto “hearings.”
If one side failed to attend such a meeting, the rival clan would fire on the absentee’s home or that of fellow tribesmen, a practice known as the “degga ashairiya” or “tribal warning.”
But in an age when Iraq’s vast rural areas and built-up cities alike are flooded with weapons outside state control, the “degga” may be deadlier than ever.
A recent dispute between two young men in a teashop in the capital’s eastern district of Sadr City escalated to near-fatal proportions, leaving a 40-year-old policeman with a broken hip and severely damaged abdomen.
His cousin Abu Tayba said the policeman was “wounded in a stray bullet during a ‘degga’ on a nearby home.”
“Weeks after the incident, he’s still in the hospital, hovering between life and death,” Tayba told AFP.
Even in Baghdad, disputes often involve machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the city’s military command warned a top Iraqi court recently.
That body, the country’s Superior Magistrate Council, issued a decision last week classifying “deggas” as “terrorist acts” — and therefore warranting the death penalty — because of their impact on public safety.
A few days later, it announced it would take legal action against three people accused of targeting a home in Al-Adhamiyah, north of Baghdad, with the deadly custom.

In Iraq, a country of 39 million people, clan origin and family name can carry weight in securing a job, finding romance, and gathering political support.
They can also interfere in the work of the state, as tribal structures in some areas can be more powerful than government institutions.
Last year, Iraq’s tribes and the ministries of interior and justice pledged to work closer together to impose the law, but “deggas” seem to have hindered such cooperation.
Raed Al-Fraiji, the head of a tribal council in the southern province of Basra, told AFP the warnings have become commonplace.
“This happens every day. Yesterday it happened twice. The day before, three times,” he said.
“Two months ago, a domestic dispute between a husband and wife turned into an armed attack on the husband’s home. The exchange of fire killed one person and wounded three.”
Fraiji said tribal influence and practices were growing because the state was seen as unreliable.
“For an Iraqi citizen, the law has become weak. Meanwhile, tribes impose themselves by force.”
“Iraq is like a jungle — so a citizen will turn to a tribe to find solutions to their problems.”
The country has been ravaged by years of conflict since the US-led invasion in 2003 that removed strongman Saddam Hussein and led to the rise of militias.
A decade later, the Daesh group overran much of Iraq and was only ousted from its urban strongholds across the country late last year.

Years of instability have left many of Iraq’s communities flush with weapons and largely out of the state’s reach, contributing to a preference for tribal mediation methods.
“The government is responsible for the increase in tribal conflict and of ‘degga’ cases,” said Adnan Al-Khazaali, a tribal leader in Baghdad’s Sadr City.
“Most of the young men today are armed and even the security forces cannot stand in their way.”
Tribal leaders and government officials alike are clinging to the hope that the new ruling could change things.
“These incidents are continually happening, and are often causing casualties,” interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan told AFP.
“Court rulings and their implementation,” Maan said, could be the only way to secure peace.
Back in Basra, the head of the local human rights commission estimated around a dozen people were wounded or killed in “deggas” last year.
“These incidents threatens social peace,” said Mahdi Al-Tamimi.
“It’s sad and worrying, and cannot be eliminated without a solid and effective law.”
But Fraiji, known in Basra for his relatively progressive views, feared the court’s ruling would not be enough to take on Iraq’s powerful clans.
“The decision will only remain ink on paper if the security forces do not enforce it on the tribes,” he said.