Thursday, April 29, 2010

4 conversations in 1 Beiruti day

Lebanese gallerist ^ 10am-11.35am

Following the, now, (in)famous panel on Saadiyat's relationship to the traditional Arab world on Home Works 5, We spent a two hours discussing what could really happen. Beyond theorising who should say what to who, what could really happen?

We spoke about the three tools that can change societies;

1) Religion: An advisory opinion on an issue for change (fatwa) e.g. Al Azhar's fatwa that women's circumcision wasn't a religious requirement.

2) Politics: A break with existing policy e.g. King Abdullah establishment of KAUST as a mixed university.

3) Art

The difference with Art is that it's elitist which espouse a negative connotation to the literal. Yet it is this very elitist connotation due to the personal interpretive method of defining that art that makes it the vehicle where civic issues are debated before the it is possible with the above two. Moreover, it can be argued that Art prepares society for religious and political debate.

Belgian curator ^ 11.45am-1.15pm

We had a few days earlier and quickly found ourselves moving on from art to religion.

He explained that his interest in the Arab world stems from his curiosity in the Palestinian-Israeli situation. He couldn't understand how the Jews, a persecuted people, could become persecutors and in such a short time period; almost immediately he said. I said it made complete sense to me. Considering that they have been under the threat of extermination by several groups, it seems to me that, for Europe, giving the Jews Palestine was akin to their retirement plan, a pension of sorts. The Jews weren't going to risk losing it especially when you consider the Holocaust; it made them ruthless. He could agree but conceded that reality pointed towards my analysis.

After agreeing that no religious, philosophical or political group was going to dominate the world, we discussed the possibility of world peace in absence of tolerance of contradiction. This quickly led to us to the battle ground of Islam vs. the secular West. Van Laeken, being an atheist, said he believed in the goodness of the human soul. I told him that monotheists believe in the great human capacity for the opposite. Though romantic, we agreed this one pivotal point of different which affects expectation of both ends.

We then discussed where the battleground (of Islam vs the West) was and agreed that it was not in the Middle East nor was it in America or Afghanistan; it was in Europe. With what we called the 'Euro-Muslims' who, according to Van Laeken, were mostly muslim. He quoted an unknown who once said: "I want to conquer England but I want England to remain England". My immediate thought was that was probably why the Roman empire worked so well for so long, Carthage, Greece, Egypt and Anatolia were allowed to remain what they were but with a newfound Roman layer. This is where the Muslims of Europe have not succeeded; but why? We analysed, among others, the migration/arrival process, the failure of education, the end of the neighborhood and the legacy of migration. We discussed freedom of speech and the Danish sketches of the Prophet (PBUH) we made a very distinct analysis: According to Western secular values, the Danish paper - and its supporters - are not wrong philosophically. Yet, they have committed a massive error of strategic judgement. With the Euro-Muslim average birth rate over 3 times that of the average non-Muslim European, would it make sense to go to ideological war with them? They may have won this battle but at this rate they are certain to lose the war by way of extinction. We said that it is quite possible that Europe forgot how to be secular. But there was some hope: 1) Dutch authorities granting request of Muslim prisoners for Halal food. 2) Moroccan born, Ahmed Aboutaleb, who has dual citizenship, becoming first Muslim mayor of Rotterdam. He arrived to Europe at 18. <-- talk about a rising star!

What is needed is two fold;

1) A new Marshal plan. The Mohammed plan? No, just call it the M plan (M can refer to Michael, Mohammed or Moshe). Like the Marshal plan, the M plan would focus on rebuilding Europe again however it would recognise cultural and intellectual measures in addition to economic ones. The idea would be to be Europeans who are also Muslim. This would be the only viable way of building that Pax Europa layer that the Romans perfected so well (#random: Septimius Severus and his two sons were a black African Caesars.)

2) A coordination and canonisation of the works of proponents of moderate Islam (not Swiss-based Tariq Ramadan) that are based in the Middle East this would allow for a better understanding of a non-combative version of Islam in Europe.

We will stay in touch.

British-Lebanese technology and marketing executive 1.35pm-2.40pm

We discussed what the knowledge economy will really look like and I references my World Collaboration Manifesto piece as well as Danish Farhan's The Extinction of Specialisation. We discussed how it did not make sense to pay companies when the same expertise was out there. We acknowledged that the hardest part was convincing people interesting in freelancing that they could make a decent income and become independent. It was incredible how we got along and we saw things eye to eye, especially when it came to the idea that apprenticeship would return as the primary method of skill. Her understanding what Danish and I had in mind was more than accurate. We planned it all. She may be joining us for a project on that inshallah.

Tammam Yamout, PenguinCube design studio 3.05pm ^ 5pm

If I had studied design, lived in Beirut and opened my own practice my name would Tammam Yamout and my studio would be called PenguinCube. It took 5 mins. PenguinCube has by far the most interesting set up, approach and skill sets. They are 11 people. They do not do ads or below the line. They do not do circulate leaflets, brochures etc. They actually produce a product they give out to their 'existing' clients only. So what, right? This year's product is a cube with a battery powered screen that shows a penguin who's on loop; one action is added every 12 hours. It takes.... yes, 365 days to see the whole performance. It's on perpetual loop. No the batteries won't run out, they're especially ordered. Tammam showed me what they're toying with for next year's product: it makes this one look like VCD when the Blue-ray came out (yes, I intended to skip a generation or two). Penguin doesn't pitch not because they're snobs but because they like to have closer relationships with their clients. They spend 20% of their time spending their own money design projects they like (non-profits among others). They have some niche specialties like way finding signage design.

I spoke to him about what I wanted to work on and we saw eye to eye there too. We also shared the ideals what recreational activities mean and replacing work with vocation. I've asked him to come to Dubai soon so he can meet some tweeps. We will also collaborate on a few things in the future inshallah.


Blogger the real nick said...

why the Roman empire worked so well for so long[....]were allowed to remain what they were but with a newfound Roman layer. This is where the Muslims of Europe have not succeeded

This analogy is flawed. The Roman empire applied the maxim of 'divide et impera' - divide and rule. They installed Roman law and bureaucracy and even exploited their subjects but one thing they did not: impose religious values. Muslims, especially in Europe on the other hand are often called on by their religious leaders to practice "da'wa", i.e. proselytize - and that is the reason they'll fail to make an impact in laicist and increasingly a-religious Europe.

Sunday, May 09, 2010  

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