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Roundup of Recent Arab World News: A Mixed Bag

posted on: Oct 13, 2021

Roundup of Recent Arab World News: A Mixed Bag
Palestinians pray at Al-Aqsa mosque, where the Israeli court ruled Israeli visitors were forbidden from praying Photo Daily Sabah

By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

Our first story concerns Israeli Jewish visitors to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound who believe it is acceptable for them to offer Jewish prayers on that holy site. Second is a troubling story about the King of Jordan secretly purchasing over $100 million in overseas real estate. Third, and more rewarding, is a story of a Tampa Museum of Art exhibition of Arab abstract art from artists around the Middle East. Last is a disturbing story about a first-person shooter video game set during the Iraq War’s bloodiest battle, called ‘Six Days in Fallujah.

Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa compound banned by Israeli judge

Palestinians and much of the Muslim world were outraged by assertions that Jewish prayer at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound would be allowed. A lower Israeli court that had upheld rabbi Aryeh Lippo’s right to indulge in whispered prayer while on Al-Aqsa’s site. A higher court followed by upholding the ban on Jewish prayer.

Jews are allowed to visit the Al-Aqsa site but may not overtly pray or engage in rituals there. Agence Presse France reported, “The fact that there was someone who observed [Lippo] pray is evidence that his prayer was overt.” Dissent to the lower court decision was expressed not only by Palestinians but also by Jordanian, Egyptian, and Saudi officials.

At issue here is the sacred character of Al-Aqsa to Muslims, who rank it as the third-holiest site in Islam. Along with two ancient temples, the mosque and surrounding plaza are shared as sacred space, but it is a place that has been the object of flareups between Palestinians and Israelis.

Jordan’s King Abdullah in potential hot water with foreign aid agencies and his own countrymen for secret purchases of overseas properties

Roundup of Recent Arab World News: A Mixed Bag
King Abdullah of Jordan with half-brother Hamza ibn Hussain–in potential trouble over secret overseas investments Photo

King Abdullah II of Jordan has admitted to over $100 million in overseas real estate purchases, saying the need to hide them was because of family security concerns. He denied any wrongdoing, claiming the purchases were made with the King’s personal funds. In a case such as Jordan, however, which is considered a low-income, poor country, separating the monarch’s money from the public seems to be splitting hairs.

Release of findings on the King’s secret investments derived from a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Newsweek reported that the consortium’s report, called the Pandora Papers, “reported that hundreds of world leaders, celebrities, religious leaders, drug dealers, and others have been hiding investments in real estate and other assets over the past 25 years.”

The consortium’s investigation discovered that in the King’s case, dozens of “shell companies” had been set up over years and made purchases of 14 homes in England and America.

King Abdullah was already in a bit of trouble with his own people because of his treatment of his half-brother, Prince Hamza Ibn Hussain, who had accused government leaders of corruption. By innuendo, this leadership included Abdullah, who in the case of his overseas investments, avers that no public funds were used.

Beyond possible domestic repercussions, the report threatened to affect Jordan’s critical relationship with the international community. As Newsweek noted, “Jordan, seen as a stable, pro-Western bulwark in a volatile region, relies on billions of dollars of international aid.” Jordanian media, usually independent, have demurred on the issue of Abdullah’s overseas investments.

Art exhibit shows how abstraction comes naturally to many Arab artists

As a way of demonstrating the variety of activities people from the Arab Middle East are involved in, we highlight a news item from Tampa that describes an exhibit featuring abstract Arab art. Displaying the largest collection of Arab abstract art, the Tampa Museum of Art exhibition is the title ‘Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, the 1950s–1980s.’

According to Fox Channel 13 in Tampa, the exhibit “contains pieces from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation. It features abstract art from the Arab nations, including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.

While abstraction is in the mind of the beholder, in this sense both the artists and viewers, the art reflects the culture and history of the Arab artists. The exhibit description notes suggest that “Artists in the Middle East tend to do geometric shapes,” because “Really, it has a long history, centuries-old, and it’s mostly trying to avoid the depiction of individual figures.”

Roundup of Recent Arab World News: A Mixed Bag
Abstract art by Moroccan artist Mohamed Melehi– acrylic on wood Photo Tampa Museum of Art

While that interpretation about avoiding figures may be a bit simplistic, it does have a sense of reality given that the Quran says, since Allah is the originator of the heavens and the earth, there can be no likeness of him. Thus, the origin of the Islamic stricture on a human trying to capture the likeness of God, which also applied to depicting the Prophet Muhammed and any of the other prophets, including Jesus.

That stricture spread to the figurative depiction of living creatures, which leads to an interpretation of why Islamic art has tended towards the abstract or decorative. Important to know is that the exhibit in Tampa includes the abstract art of Christian Arabs, as well.

Iraq’s bloodiest battle to become a video game—Teaching tool or murder simulator?

A first-person shooter video game set during the Iraq War’s bloodiest battle has just been introduced. Called ‘Six Days in Fallujah,’ this game was developed by persons who believe that the game teaches history. It has not yet been distributed due to questions about its propriety, since not everyone agrees with that perspective. Critics call it an Arab murder simulator.

One of those who doubts the value of the Fallujah war game is Najla Bassim Abdulelah. A CNN report describes Abdulelah (herself a gamer) as growing up during the Iraqi war, where “The regular sight of dead bodies and the memory of her friend being shot next to her as they walked to school stained her childhood. Children’s laughter was replaced with an incessant soundtrack of exploding bombs, and she lived with a crippling fear of losing her family.”

Roundup of Recent Arab World News: A Mixed Bag
‘6 Days in Fallujah’–a video game based on the bloodiest battle in U.S.-Iraq war Photo Game Rant

When Abdulelah, who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, heard that “Six Days in Fallujah,” was being released she expressed her horror at the prospect. “I am disgusted that this is something that will be producing profit when people like me suffered the consequences of this war and will have to watch people play it for fun.” Abdulelah, 28, told CNN, “I just can’t get past the inhumanity.”

Furthermore, for Abdulelah and the many other Iraq War survivors, releasing the game will only “reopen old wounds and trivialize their pain.” They want the game pulled from the market. The game’s creator aver that it is “grossly misunderstood and that they’re merely using gameplay — the way players interact with a video game — to teach history.”

Criticisms go further, suggesting that the game represents a massive killing of Arabs, based on house-to-house hunting of suspected insurgents. The problem was that every person in the combat zone was considered an enemy combatant. 800 innocent Iraqis and 80 U.S. Marines were killed

Abdulelah calls ‘Six Days in Fallujah’ “a disgrace” to the gaming industry,” saying that “The trauma of Iraqis like herself should not be turned into a show and tell.” The distribution of the video game is still up in the air. Perhaps it should remain there.

“Israeli judge upholds ban on Jewish prayer at Al-Aqsa compound,” Agence Presse France, 10/8/2021

“Jordan King Abdullah II Says $100M in Real Estate Purchased Quietly Over Security Concerns,” Newsweek, 10/4/2021
“Tampa Museum of Art wants viewers to see themselves through artist’s eyes during Arabic art exhibit,” Fox 13, 10/9/2021
“Iraq’s bloodiest battle will be a video game ‘Six Days in Fallujah’”, CNN, 10/9/2021

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of the LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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