The sheer accessibility of Western culture
What seemed to threaten the fundamentalists most, reading between the lines of their rhetoric and behavior, was the sheer accessibility of western culture: the fact that everything a person could want, from consumer goods to emotional highs to sex to spirituality, was public and available to anyone. Nothing was hidden, nothing required serious effort to attain. In the West, anything that must be hidden is suspect; availability and honesty are interlinked. This clashes irreconcilably with Islam as it is practiced in the Middle East, where the things that are most precious, most perfect, and most holy are always hidden: the Kaaba, the faces of prophets and angels, a woman's body, Heaven. The fundamentalists, in their own way, were mourning the loss of legitimately beautiful ideas. They knew they could not make the ritualized, morally appraising culture of traditional Arab Islam - in which one must be worthy of truth, love and God to attain them - more attractive than the lifestyle endorsed in the West. So they demonized attraction itself.That seasonally relevant quote comes from The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson. This newly published book chronicles a young American woman's conversion to Islam and marriage to an Egyptian. Recent years have seen a rash of conversion memoirs, with most aimed at commercial rather than spiritual reward. But The Butterfly Mosque, despite an unhelpful title and even more unhelpful cover art, genuinely adds something to the debate.
Soundtrack for this post is Moneim Adwan's Once Upon a Time in Palestine. Despite the ubiquitous keffiyeh he is wearing in my header photo Moneim Adwan is far from being a fundamentalist and his previous albums include one of Sephardic Jewish songs with Francoise Attlan. Moneim Adwan lives in Rafah (do follow that link) in the southern Gaza Strip. But Once Upon a Time in Palestine features musicians from the West Bank Palestinian Authority, Gaza Strip and Egypt who could not work together in the Palestinian territories, so the album was recorded in Paris.
Moneim Adwan's settings are of contemporary and traditional poetry from Palestine. The CD comes from Accords Croisés and the Silvio Soave production credit guarantees sonic excellence. Every release from independent French label Accords Croisés illuminates and inspires: the quality is so consistent it is worth placing a standing order for their new releases. Let us be thankful that what G. Willow Wilson describes as 'legitimately beautiful ideas' can still cross political boundaries even if the musicians that express them cannot.
* More independent thinking from Accords Croisés here and here.
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