What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack

What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack
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Updated 06 December 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack

What We Are Reading Today: Armies of Sand by Kenneth M. Pollack

In Armies of Sand, Kenneth M. Pollack’s powerful and riveting history of Arab armies from the end of WWII to the present, assesses these differing explanations and isolates the most important causes.

Over the course of the book, he examines the combat performance of fifteen Arab armies and air forces in virtually every Middle Eastern war.

He then compares these experiences to the performance of the Argentine, Chadian, Chinese, Cuban, North Korean, and South Vietnamese armed forces in their own combat operations during the twentieth century.

The patterns of behavior derived from the dominant Arab culture “was the most important factor of all.”

Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna joins Spotify program with new collaboration

Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna joins Spotify program with new collaboration
Updated 20 January 2022

Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna joins Spotify program with new collaboration

Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna joins Spotify program with new collaboration

DUBAI: Palestinian-Chilean singer and songwriter Elyanna has joined Spotify’s fourth Radar installment in the Middle East, the music streaming platform announced on Thursday.

Radar is an emerging-artist program spotlighting rising talent from around the globe. Some of the program’s most popular collaborations include “Is It On” by K-pop sensation AleXa and Kuwaiti-Saudi-based artist Bader Al-Shuaibi, and “Hadal Ahbek” by viral A-pop star Issam Alnajjar, featuring Canadian DJ duo Loud Luxury and Iraqi-Canadian singer and songwriter Ali Gatie.

The new collaboration sees the 19-year-old upcoming star team up with veteran Tunisian rapper and composer Balti on a single titled “Ghareeb Alay” (“A Stranger to Me”). The track, which fuses urban pop with reggae, will drop on Jan. 21.

In a statement, Elyanna said: “While ‘Ghareeb Alay’ characterizes the story of a love song, it’s much deeper than that. It reflects change, both around us and within.

“For me, it is about being an immigrant, an artist, and a young female at the beginning of my journey. Everything and everyone feels new and strange.”

On Tuesday, the singer teased 16-seconds of the song on her Instagram and wrote to her 440,000 followers, “who’s readyyyyyy?”

On his excitement about the collaboration, Tunisia’s rap pioneer said: “‘Ghareeb Alay’ is one of my all-time favorites. Together with Elyanna, we’ve managed to bring forward a new style of Arabic urban pop backed by Spotify’s vision for local talents.”

Saudi artists present new work at Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Saudi artists present new work at Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
Updated 20 January 2022

Saudi artists present new work at Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Saudi artists present new work at Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale
  • A selection of pieces specially commissioned for the Kingdom’s inaugural biennale, which runs until March 11 and includes work by Saudi and international artists

‘World Map’

Maha Malluh

The Jeddah-born artist’s piece is a continuation of one of her best-known series, “Food for Thought,” in which she uses found objects with a particular cultural resonance for Saudis to create images and/or words. Her “World Map” consists of 3,840 audio cassettes of religious readings, divided into 48 bread-baking trays. “Decades ago, people would gather to listen to these tapes, as if communing for a meal,” the show catalogue explains. “By incorporating cassettes, many works in this series also grapple with the shift in Arab society from the spoken word to a fast-paced, visual culture.” This particular piece, however, “alludes to new forms of global connectivity that emerged from the outbreak of COVID-19,” when — denied much of what constitutes our physical community — many of us found togetherness in the sharing of audiovisual media from across the world; from the streaming giants of Netflix and Amazon Prime to social media platforms such as Tik-Tok and YouTube.

‘Standing by the Ruins of Aleppo’

Dana Awartani

The Jeddah-born artist’s installation is typical of her focus on the destruction or erosion of cultural heritage. Its subject, the ancient Grand Mosque of Aleppo, was seriously damaged during the Syrian Civil War. Awartani has Syrian heritage (as well as Palestinian, Jordanian and Saudi) so the topic has a personal connection for her. She created a large-scale replica of the mosque’s courtyard using adobe bricks made from clay earth taken from across the Kingdom. She chose not to include a binding agent in the bricks, so her work will inevitably crack over time. “The work makes a lost piece of cultural heritage accessible again,” the catalogue states. “Meanwhile, Awartani’s use of adobe, a low-cost material suffused with meaning and collective memory through its role in vernacular architecture, suggests a note of hope and communal resilience.”

‘Birth of a Place’

Zahrah Al-Ghamdi

The Jeddah-based artist’s work “explores tensions between the country’s traditions and globalization, often through the lens of her hometown, Al-Baha,” according to the show catalogue. “She is inspired by the domestic architecture of the city as well as the natural beauty of the area, though her work also considers what is lost to the Kingdom as it undergoes breakneck urban development.” This particular piece, though, is based on the site of this biennial, Diriyah, and “serves as an elegy to the ancestral foundations of the town.” Al-Ghamdi spent time wandering the deserted clay houses in the area before creating the work, which consists of shapes that surely mimic the high-rise skylines typical of the rapid urban development witnessed in the Gulf in recent decades, and which Al-Ghamdi describes as “sky-high kicks of a fetus in a mother’s womb.”

‘Soft Machines/Far Away Engines’

Sarah Brahim

Brahim is a singer and dancer, and was commissioned to create this projection-mapped video performance — a “choreographic essay” — “to impart a sense of the transcendent.” The filmed performance consists of planned and improvised movements, and individual and group gestures. “As motion moves through the body to its border, there must be a point where it breaks through and becomes part of the social body, the transmission from individual to common territory,” the catalogue states. Brahim spoke to Arab News earlier this year about her use of “structured improvisation” in her work. “I use this approach because I care about capturing a specific feeling or experience and having it resonate in others,” she said. “Being open to the medium that works to communicate and being open enough to listen deeply to where things are coming from keeps me grounded.”

‘Manifesto: The Language & City’

Abdullah Al-Othman

Al-Othman is a poet as well as a multimedia artist. As such, he includes the written word in many of his artworks — often scripture from the Qur’an. “His work explores human struggles as he documents the people that inhabits the cities he visits,” the catalogue explains. This new piece is about his hometown, though — the Saudi capital city, Riyadh. Al-Othman used LED and neon lighting, lightboxes and found wooden signage from his city’s streets to create this fun, eye-catching large-scale installation in which he “condenses the city to its visual and architectural language. In this way, the work becomes an artistic manifesto of the city.”

‘This Sea Is Mine’ 

Marwah Al-Mugait

Al-Mugait’s work for the biennale is a video installation and performance-art piece that “uses vocals and movements to revive ancient practices and create a new form of transcultural solidarity in an era marked by geopolitical friction, mass migration, and diaspora.” The Riyadh-born artist uses traditional chants from three very different indigenous populations in this piece — one from the Far East, one from South Africa, and one from the Gulf. The latter — fijiri — is a traditional sea chant used as an “auspicious ritual” for sailors and pearl divers. “These disparate cultural forms come together to create unexpected human connections, highlighting the similarities between different cultures and proposing a metaphorical bond of solidarity between nations,” the catalogue states.

‘The Alphabet’

Lulwah Al-Homoud

Riyadh-born artist Al-Homoud presents a web of programmable LED neon strip lights which, when a visitor approaches, become brighter, beckoning them closer. The installation is, according to the catalogue “the culmination of Al-Homoud’s 20-year project investigating the relationship between geometry and the Arabic alphabet. Now a hallmark of her work, these patterns are made by deconstructing Arabic script and applying ancient mathematical principles to their forms, creating a new mode of expression within the revered tradition of calligraphy.” Al-Homoud has previously told Arab News that her calligraphy is not meant to be “read” in the straightforward traditional way: “It is not direct,” she said. “It will ask people to look more deeply to be able to figure out what is written.”

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region
Updated 20 January 2022

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region

THE ROUNDUP: Pop-culture highlights from across the region
  • From a new take on a medieval English ballad to a visual interpretation of a local folk tale

Nasser Almulhim

‘Contours on Collective Consciousness’

The Saudi painter and sculptor was announced last month as the winner of the inaugural Hayy Jameel Façade Commission. The annual contest — supported by Lexus KSA — invites artists to design a work for the 25-meter “canvas” on the front of the new Art Jameel headquarters in Jeddah.

Almulhim’s design was inspired by a regional folk tale called “The Dove, The Partridge and The Crow,” and, according to the press release, “recounts in vivid, primal colors and geometric sculptural compositions the story of birds in a time of famine and drought, employed by their owners to migrate south of the Arabian Peninsula in search of water.” Almulhim collaborated with architect and artist Tamara Kalo on his proposal.

“One moral of this fable is to want the betterment of one’s community as a whole, rather than being individualistic in one’s pursuit of well-being,” Kalo wrote on Instagram. “Myths are ways in which people find solace in troubling moments, by seeking refuge and comfort in stories, to cope with our changing circumstances. They are a way of collective sense-making.”

For Almulhim, the piece showed “the importance of collaboration in difficult times and the significance of a harmonious existence to reach collective awareness and achieve a higher goal, the purity of the soul within.”

“It is really honoring and humbling to be one of the first to share this project with our community,” the artist said in a statement. “I am grateful to Art Jameel and to all those who supported and encouraged me. I know that my participation in Hayy Jameel’s opening season will allow me to explore and push my practice; it is a great opportunity to learn more about and meet a wider circle of creatives. I hope that this work brings joy to the surrounding neighborhood of Hayy Jameel in Jeddah, and that the colors illuminate those who interact with it.”


‘Denia Dour’

The Tunisian duo — Sabrine Jenhani and Ramy Zoghlemi — will drop their hotly anticipated new album in March. Last month, they released this taster track; a typically melodic burst of bittersweet folk-pop in which the pair’s vocals play off each other beautifully. “After an eclipse that has now run its course, here comes the sun again and the rays of a new album,” the pair wrote on Instagram. “We worked hard, differently, with a team of generous and sensible people ... Your feedback was, as always, full of love and it is an honor for us. We will soon listen to more new songs together.”

‘Between the Sky and the Earth’

The Washington-based Middle East Institute, in partnership with the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, is hosting this exhibition of contemporary art from the UAE to mark the country’s 50-year anniversary.

The show — which runs until March 31 — was curated by Munira Al-Sayegh and features the work of 12 artists based in the Emirates, but hailing from the Gulf, the Levant, Southeast Asia and the US. It is intended, according to the MEI, to “challenge standard narratives about the Emirates through an intergenerational dialogue exploring their social, cultural, and natural landscapes. Through works focusing on subjects like the environment, consumerism, and the impact of rapid urbanization, the featured artists explore themes of permanence and transience, time and memory.”

Afra Al-Dhaheri’s “St Ives Hair Drawing 8,” pictured here, illustrates the artist’s fascination with “the tensions imbued in hair,” which regularly inspires her work, through which, according to the MEI, “she explores notions of time and adaptation, rigor and fragility.”


‘Scarborough Fair’

The Lebanese singer-songwriter recently released a haunting cover of this traditional English folk ballad. “I really like this song, it brings me back to my roots and my musical upbringing,” Pol told Arab News. “I also like layering multiple vocal tracks and harmonies, so Ramzi (Khalaf, synth player) and I decided to record it just for the fun of it, since we both like this song and enjoy spending time at the studio.”

Swerte & Nutella Riot

‘That’s Just The Thing’

Lucky Schild, aka Swerte, is best known for his work as one-third of UAE hip-hop pioneers The Recipe, but his solo work has a more vulnerable, melodic bent, and works really well for this acoustic performance recorded as the first in a series by Dubai’s MNK Studios called “Big Red Wall.” Swerte is accompanied by Nutella Riot, a duo comprising guitarist Niki Mukhi and vocalist and musician Noush Anand, aka Noush Like Sploosh, who plays acoustic bass and mouth organ here.

REVIEW: ‘After Life’ season 3 — Ricky Gervais crafts the perfect ending to his heartfelt meditation on grief

REVIEW: ‘After Life’ season 3 — Ricky Gervais crafts the perfect ending to his heartfelt meditation on grief
Updated 20 January 2022

REVIEW: ‘After Life’ season 3 — Ricky Gervais crafts the perfect ending to his heartfelt meditation on grief

REVIEW: ‘After Life’ season 3 — Ricky Gervais crafts the perfect ending to his heartfelt meditation on grief
  • In his best work since “The Office” and “Extras,” Gervais draws tears and laughter in equal measure

AMMAN: Ricky Gervais has built a career out of balancing acts. With David Brent in “The Office” he dug beneath the character’s cringeworthy lack of self-awareness to reveal the loneliness and longing for love that enabled audiences to connect with a man who could easily have been impossible to root for. In “Extras,” as Andy Millman, he turned an unattractive longing for fame and fortune into a realization that other things were more important. And in his standup, he regularly crosses the line of what is socially acceptable, but keeps audiences onside by — for the most part — being uproariously funny.

In “After Life,” the third and final season of which is now streaming on Netflix, Gervais turns the bleak story of Tony, a middle-aged man who loses the love of his life — and the will to keep on living — when his wife Lisa dies of cancer, into a powerful and moving exploration of grief, friendship, love and more.

The third season follows a similar trajectory to season two. (YouTube)

The third season follows a similar trajectory to season two, in which Tony realized that his presence was still valued by family, friends and colleagues and began to rethink his suicidal tendencies. There are those who will argue, with some justification, that the finale veers into mawkishness — attempting to neatly tie up circumstances that are often, in reality, too messy to ever be neatly concluded. But there’s an equally strong argument to be made that the show is so clearly heartfelt and genuine that the finale couldn’t go any other way: Yes, it’s idealistic in many ways, but it’s also the outcome the audience wanted and needed for the lovable bunch of misfits who surround Tony.

There are several truly heart-breaking moments in this final series — in which Tony’s loyal dog Brandy once again is his main reason to keep getting up in the mornings. But they mostly stem from Tony’s desire to do good and an optimism that that is possible, rather than — as in the first series — his utter devastation at losing Lisa. And there are several belly-shaking, laugh-out-loud moments too. It takes a special kind of talent to pull this off, and Gervais is once again ably assisted by his pitch-perfect ensemble cast.

For anyone who’s ever lost anyone they loved, there is comfort and reassurance (and plenty of much-needed humor) in seeing grief — in all its stages — portrayed so convincingly and empathetically on screen. And, yes, most importantly, there is hope in it too.

UK Muslims looking for love invited to halal speed dating events

UK Muslims looking for love invited to halal speed dating events
Updated 19 January 2022

UK Muslims looking for love invited to halal speed dating events

UK Muslims looking for love invited to halal speed dating events
  • Singlemuslim.com says get-togethers will be held in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds
  • Events open to all ages and chaperones are allowed

LONDON: A UK-based dating app is bringing back its halal speed dating events next month to help Muslims find their perfect partner.
The events, organized by singlemuslim.com, will be hosted by British-Moroccan comedian Fatiha El-Ghorri, and the organizers said that for the first time chaperones will also be able to attend.
“It’s been two years of single Muslims not really being able to meet or get out there and we’ve got a huge demand from the platform from people saying please bring your event back,” Adeem Younis, the app’s founder and chairman, told Arab News.
“A lot of our members — the prerequisite is that they are Muslim — still want to be able to meet people face to face in a halal environment that’s not going to be their living room or their home, and we facilitated a number of these pre-COVID and they were very successful,” he said.

Each of the full-day events — to be held in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds — will be open to up to 50 men and 50 women of all ages. The participants will have the option to take a chaperone and will meet in both formal and informal settings. Dinner and prayer facilities will also be provided.
“And you’ll have a world-class comedian who’s breaking the ice and compering and hosting the entire day, making it fun for everybody,” Younis said.
El-Ghorri, a Londoner who has appeared on the Jonathan Ross and Russell Howard shows, has a huge fan base within the Muslim community, but is also popular with mainstream audiences. She is also a member of the app.
“Finding the right partner when you are Muslim can be really challenging as culturally, we don’t really date,” she said.
“When we meet someone, it is expected that we will marry that person and it’s very important that your parents approve your choice of partner, so bringing your dad along to the event kills two birds with one stone.”

British-Moroccan comedian Fatiha El-Ghorri will be hosting and compering the entire day for the first time. (Supplied/Singlemuslim.com)

The event in London is expected to be particularly popular as it falls closest to Valentine’s Day.
“It’s a weekend of love and now, post-COVID, with a new year and fresh start, people have set their agenda.” Younis said.
“A lot of people are wanting to get married this year … what better way to do that than by attending a halal speed dating event?”
Singlemuslim.com was set up in 1999 and is one of the world’s world’s largest Muslim dating apps. Younis said the company had received a lot of requests from its members in Dubai, the UAE and Egypt to take halal speed dating to their countries.
He said the company would use the event formula as a roadmap to take it internationally, starting with the Arab market.
“Finding a life partner is difficult and challenging, especially within the Arab communities in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East as people have become more urbanized,” he said.
About 5 percent of the apps members are from Saudi Arabia, where there is huge demand, especially as its digital savvy market is opening up more.
“We want to empower not just Muslim females, but anybody who’s Muslim to choose their own marriage partner, and the halal speed dating event is somewhere they can come and do that,” Younis said.