Gaza’s growing pet population stretches scant vet resources these days because of a greater number of Palestinians turning to pets caring for emotional comfort is more and more noticeable in the minuscule strip. In effect, populations of the tightly enclosed Gaza strip appear to have discovered that dogs and pets generally can help one get through tough times.
GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinians in Gaza are increasingly turning to domestic pets for emotional comfort from the harsh realities of the economically-depressed enclave but the growing animal population is stretching ill-equipped veterinarian facilities.
Some 130 veterinarians work in Gaza but the lack of animal hospitals means most have to turn to regular medical facilities and even to Israel to help care for ailing pets.
At Imad Morad’s veterinary clinic, shelves are filled with pet food and medicine and his equipment includes an ultrasound machine. But for further care, he depends on human medical facilities.
“We send blood and urine samples to human labs for examination. It wasn’t until two years ago when they started taking our requests. We also use them for X-rays,” Morad said.
In some rare cases, cats have been sent for treatment in Israel, which maintains tight restrictions along its border with the Islamist Hamas-run territory.
Unlike cats, dogs are considered unclean in Islam and are usually kept outside, but there is no ban on them.
Dog ownership, however, is becoming more popular and pet food is increasingly available in shops. Owners walking their dogs on Gaza’s streets are now a common sight.
“When someone raises a pet he feels like getting a new friend in his or her life, a friend who cares for him or her more than usual human friends do,” said Saeed el-Aer, a retired civil servant who trawls the streets carrying a bag full of food and medicine, looking for abandoned cats and dogs.
At a Gaza pet shop, its owner, Baha Ghaben, said opening the business had been a risk.
But, he said: “We were surprised at the large number of people who raised pets at home. I sell between ten to twenty animals a month.”
This article is part of a series on academic freedom where leading academics from around the world write on the state of free speech and inquiry in their region.
Last year I was imprisoned for nearly seven months in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I was held predominantly in solitary confinement, endured heavy interrogations, with my human rights violated on a daily basis.
During my imprisonment, I was force fed drugs, battled depression and thoughts of self-harm. Later, having endured nearly half a year of isolation and mistreatment, I wrestled with thoughts of suicide.
Eventually, in a trial lacking all due process and disregard for international legal standards, I was handed a life sentence. My crime? Undertaking academic research for my doctoral thesis.
My research examines the evolving national security strategy of the UAE, and my knowledge has evolved from years of professional work and research in the UAE and the wider Middle East and North Africa.
I had no reservations about conducting research in the UAE. And I underwent a rigorous ethical and fieldwork assessment and was sure to follow established protocols before and during my trip.
I complied with the university’s requirement to remove all Emirati research subjects as it was assessed that these nationals would not be safe nor trusted when engaging in security-related academic research. And I was happy to go along with the university and the third-party risk firm employed to assess any other risks for researchers travelling overseas. But unfortunately, as my experience proved, this was simply not enough to protect me or my integrity as an academic.
A vulnerable position
It became clear there was a lack of understanding by the Emirati authorities about what a legitimate academic is, and about how research is carried out. Standard actions needed to complete field research – such as interviewing sources, researching books, articles and maps along with taking notes – were very quickly taken out of context and distorted by the UAE security authorities. I routinely battled to explain how information cited in my thesis was referenced from publicly available academic books and not from “secret intelligence sources” as the interrogators would often claim.
Following my release, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my experience. I have also been lucky to travel to academic institutions in the UK and US to discuss the ramifications of my experience upon academic research.
When discussing how academic fieldwork actually works, my main observation has been that beyond the academic community, there is a very limited understanding of what academic research actually consists of. As such, there is little understanding of the risks it entails.
This leaves academics engaging in fieldwork research in a particularly vulnerable position. It can even lead to a situation, like in my case, where their integrity and legitimacy as an academic is under question.
Indeed, I believe that this lack of information on academic practice exacerbated my situation. Trying to speak reason to the authorities holding me captive, and to those with the power to intervene diplomatically and politically on my behalf, went nowhere. And baseless accusations cast a shadow of doubt upon the legitimacy of my work.
Safety and security
For researchers and academics at all levels, the problem of misinformation has consequences extending to the very institutions to which they are affiliated. My experience demonstrates how bureaucracy-led universities are not equipping their students and staff with the appropriate skills and competencies needed to undertake their job in today’s world. Ultimately, effective instructions for fieldwork safety and security are lacking. Furthermore, as the technical capabilities of many states improve, there is an increased risk of deployed researchers falling victim to surveillance and unjust prosecution.
Another issue widely under-reported is that while researchers may be somewhat supported by their university, their human subjects are not. This leaves many academics, including myself, questioning whether it’s even possible or ethical to engage in fieldwork in the current age.
Having heard testimony from academics with diverse research backgrounds, it is abundantly clear that my experience was not isolated. Hundreds of scholars around the world are targeted and prosecuted for their research. Yet, while their cases are of great concern within the academic community, they continue to rest dormant in the public eye, the political arena and higher education boards.
If academics and universities are to continue to contribute to the generation of knowledge, then research practice and its risks must be acknowledged and respected. The freedom to research is paramount for knowledge creation. And if it is not protected, we risk being accomplices to those who wish to silence us.
Robert Malley in this article titled The Unwanted Wars published in September / October 2019 of Foreign Affairs gives some answers to this question that has been marauding everyone for millennia. Why the Middle East Is More Combustible Than Ever, would, sarcasm apart, be a good start to try to understand the multi-layered mess of all past and passing powers. Here are some excerpts of the article.
war that now looms largest is a war nobody apparently wants. During his
presidential campaign, Donald Trump railed against the United States’
entanglement in Middle Eastern wars, and since assuming office, he has not
changed his tune. Iran has no interest in a wide-ranging conflict that it knows
it could not win. Israel is satisfied with calibrated operations in Iraq,
Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza but fears a larger confrontation that
could expose it to thousands of rockets. Saudi Arabia is determined to
push back against Iran, but without confronting it militarily. Yet the
conditions for an all-out war in the Middle East are riper than at any time in
conflict could break out in any one of a number of places for any one of
a number of reasons. Consider the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities: it could
theoretically have been perpetrated by the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group,
as part of their war with the kingdom; by Iran, as a response to
debilitating U.S. sanctions; or by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq. If
Washington decided to take military action against Tehran, this could
in turn prompt Iranian retaliation against the United States’ Gulf allies,
an attack by Hezbollah on Israel, or a Shiite militia operation against U.S. personnel in Iraq.
Likewise, Israeli operations against Iranian allies anywhere in the Middle
East could trigger a regionwide chain reaction. Because any development
anywhere in the region can have ripple effects everywhere, narrowly containing
a crisis is fast becoming an exercise in futility.
it comes to the Middle East, Tip O’Neill, the storied
Democratic politician, had it backward: all politics—especially local
politics—is international. In Yemen, a war pitting the Houthis, until not
long ago a relatively unexceptional rebel group, against a debilitated central
government in the region’s poorest nation, one whose prior internal conflicts
barely caught the world’s notice, has become a focal point for the
Iranian-Saudi rivalry. It has also become a possible trigger for deeper
U.S. military involvement. The Syrian regime’s repression of a
popular uprising, far more brutal than prior crackdowns but hardly
the first in the region’s or even Syria’s modern history, morphed into an
international confrontation drawing in a dozen countries. It has resulted in
the largest number of Russians ever killed by the United States and
has thrust both Russia and Turkey and Iran and Israel to the brink of
war. Internal strife in Libya sucked in not just Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey,
and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but also Russia and the United States.
is a principal explanation for such risks. The Middle East has
become the world’s most polarized region and, paradoxically, its most
integrated. That combination—along with weak state structures, powerful nonstate
actors, and multiple transitions occurring almost simultaneously—also makes the
Middle East the world’s most volatile region. It further means that as long as
its regional posture remains as it is, the United States will be just one
poorly timed or dangerously aimed Houthi drone strike, or one particularly
effective Israeli operation against a Shiite militia, away from its next costly
regional entanglement. Ultimately, the question is not chiefly whether the
United States should disengage from the region. It is how it should choose to
engage: diplomatically or militarily, by exacerbating divides or mitigating
them, and by aligning itself fully with one side or seeking to achieve a sort
LOCALLY, THINK REGIONALLY
story of the contemporary Middle East is one of a succession of rifts, each new
one sitting atop its precursors, some taking momentary precedence over others,
none ever truly or fully resolved. Today, the three most important
rifts—between Israel and its foes, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and between
competing Sunni blocs—intersect in dangerous and potentially explosive ways.
current adversaries are chiefly represented by the so-called axis of
resistance: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and, although presently otherwise occupied,
Syria. The struggle is playing out in the traditional arenas of the West Bank
and Gaza but also in Syria, where Israel routinely strikes Iranian forces
and Iranian-affiliated groups; in cyberspace; in Lebanon, where Israel faces
the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah; and even in Iraq, where Israel has
reportedly begun to target Iranian allies. The absence of most Arab states from
this frontline makes it less prominent but no less dangerous.
those Arab states, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been nudged to the
sidelines by the two other battles. Saudi Arabia prioritizes its rivalry with
Iran. Both countries exploit the Shiite-Sunni rift to mobilize their
respective constituencies but are in reality moved by power politics, a
tug of war for regional influence unfolding in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and
the Gulf states.
there is the Sunni-Sunni rift, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE vying
with Qatar and Turkey. As Hussein Agha and I wrote in The New Yorker in March, this is the
more momentous, if least covered, of the divides, with both supremacy over the Sunni
world and the role of political Islam at stake. Whether in Egypt, Libya,
Syria, Tunisia, or as far afield as Sudan, this competition will largely define
the region’s future.
Together with the region’s polarization is a lack of effective communication, which makes things ever more perilous. There is no meaningful channel between Iran and Israel, no official one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and little real diplomacy beyond rhetorical jousting between the rival Sunni blocs.
The Brookings’ FUTURE DEVELOPMENT elaborated these 5 steps to reshape economic geography and rejuvenate the MENA this Friday, September 20, 2019, as a demonstration that it is possible to do so. The story is by Somik V. Lall and Ayah Mahgoub. Here it is.
The destinies of people in the Middle East and North Africa are shaped more by accidents of where they were born than in any other part of the world (Figure 1). This is considered a problem by governments in the region, and it should be. They have tried many ways to respond to the needs of people in lagging areas; much money has been spent on investment in these places. Thus, to add jobs in poorer areas, policymakers have tried to strong-arm new production facilities into these areas. To meet the need for decent homes and amenities in poor urban neighborhoods, money has been poured into massive housing projects.
Even so, spatial disparities continue to grow, or are closing more slowly than would be expected given the volume of investment directed to these locations. The main reason: the causes of spatial exclusion are not locational and physical but are economic and institutional.
Figure 1: With a few exceptions such as Jordan, spatial inequality is higher in MENA
WHY IS MENA SO FRAGMENTED?
Why is territorial convergence so difficult? In a report that we just completed at the World Bank, we identified four reasons.
Most lagging areas in MENA have not been able to leverage the full returns to their endowments because the business environment and infrastructure in their cities and towns makes it hard for new firms to start and grow (Figure 2). One reason is that outside the capital city in MENA countries, smaller cities invariably lack the authority to raise their own revenues and to manage local service provision.
Most residents in lagging areas are “stuck in place,” unable to take full advantage of jobs that more vibrant urban economies offer. Credentialist education systems may be most to blame for making people immobile.
In leading areas, rigid and outdated regulations distort land markets and stymie development. For example, regulations in Tunisia prohibit residential buildings more than three stories high, and regulations in Jordan impose a minimum lot size of 100 square meters—restricting the supply of affordable formal housing.
MENA’s governments have created formidable obstacles to trade and migration. The main barriers are limits on news and information and practical constraints on travel and trade (visa difficulties, weak infrastructure, logistics hurdles).
Figure 2: It’s tough for firms outside MENA’s capital cities
Notice that while they result in spatial inequalities of opportunity, the reasons for fragmentation are not themselves spatial.
ENGINEERING A CONVERGENCE MACHINE
Increasing the pace of integration and convergence will require fixing these problems. Governments in the region can reduce territorial disparities quickly and effectively by doing five things:
Strengthen coordination and complementarities across initiatives. Development strategies are more likely to succeed if they are multidimensional, including access to energy, transport, land, and markets—in the same place, whether sequentially or concurrently. A good place to start is by anchoring investments in and around cities. Complementary reforms that help get the prices right—for energy and for land—can go a long way in creating the conditions for job creation in lagging areas. The good news is that governments don’t have to pay more to see better results, because spatial coordination will generate cost savings in the medium to longer term.
Redistribute roles and responsibilities across tiers of government. Citizens in different parts of the country have varying needs, and local conditions require flexible service delivery models. Redistributing responsibilities for local revenue generation and local service provision to local governments can make them better equipped and more accountable.
Enable mobility of people between lagging and leading areas. On average, people in MENA are half as mobile domestically as people in other parts of the world (Figure 3). Our research shows that living standards of people moving internally to major cities can increase by an average of 37 percent in the region. Women are more likely to move and find jobs in urban areas, but they need support to do so. Education systems across the region need to be reoriented toward marketable skills.
Build dense and connected cities. Well-functioning cities offer a wide variety of jobs—for women and men. Making land markets in cities more efficient is critical for agglomeration and specialization—two dynamics that enhance job creation and economic prosperity. Whether in larger or in smaller (secondary) cities, agglomeration and specialization require the benefits from high economic density, which concentrates economic activity geographically. For this, the fabric of cities needs to be spatially connected, dense with people, and transit-oriented—not sprawling that perpetuates the dispersion of people and jobs. Planners and regulators can attract firms to invest in cities by reducing frictions such as zoning regulations, impediments to property acquisition and new construction (costs, height limits, density limits), challenges to local business registration and licensing, limits on news and information, and obstacles to developing local business networks.
Enhance market access nationally and regionally. Historically, MENA’s cities were part of economically important global trade networks. Many of these cities persisted into modern times as large urban areas. But governments in the region have managed to shrink the networks from global to local. These networks have, at a minimum, to be expanded to national and regional dimensions. A good place to start would be to improve the links across national borders—reducing tariffs, improving logistics, and facilitating trade, and instituting migration protocols. Such efforts will grow the economies, providing much-needed resources to redistribute in areas left behind.
Figure 3: Just 14 percent of MENA’s people have left their place of birth, compared with 28 percent in countries elsewhere
In other words, MENA’s governments have to start putting together a modern convergence machine. The main parts of the machine are institutions that integrate and infrastructure that connects. MENA is no longer a poor place: Last year, the region’s GDP per capita was nearly $7,000 placing it comfortably in upper middle-income levels. Its people should have access to quality basic services such as education, clinics, sanitation, and public security. Well-chosen infrastructure initiatives—roads, railways, ports and communication facilities—can provide its entrepreneurs access to the region’s sizeable markets (the region’s GDP is $3 trillion) and even bigger nearby markets to MENA’s north and east. Spatially targeted interventions might also be needed, but they are not the main components of the machine.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that governments have been making is to regard these interventions—programs to push economic activity into lagging areas while simultaneously favoring capital cities—as the mainstay of the machine. It’s time to stop these self-defeating measures that exacerbate fragmentation in MENA, and speed up efforts to engineer integration.
Somik V. Lall, Global Lead on Territorial Development Solutions and Lead Economist for Sustainable Development in Middle East and North Africa – World Bank. somikcities
Ayah Mahgoub, Senior Urban Development Specialist – World Bank
As a Friday essay: why traditional Persian music should be known to the world, Darius Sepehri, of University of Sydney goes through all aspects of why today’s Iran cultural heritage should be appreciated. The author confronting life in today’s world recalls the Traditional Persian Music through remembering his own personal origin rooted in the world’s first superpower that is the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great.
Weaving through the rooms of my Brisbane childhood home, carried on the languid, humid, sub-tropical air, was the sound of an Iranian tenor singing 800-year old Persian poems of love. I was in primary school, playing cricket in the streets, riding a BMX with the other boys, stuck at home reading during the heavy rains typical of Queensland.
I had an active, exterior life that was lived on Australian terms, suburban, grounded in English, and easy-going. At the same time, thanks to my mother’s listening habits, courtesy of the tapes and CDs she bought back from trips to Iran, my interior life was being invisibly nourished by something radically other, by a soundscape invoking a world beyond the mundane, and an aesthetic dimension rooted in a sense of transcendence and spiritual longing for the Divine.
I was listening to traditional Persian music (museghi-ye sonnati). This music is the indigenous music of Iran, although it is also performed and maintained in Persian-speaking countries such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It has ancient connections to traditional Indian music, as well as more recent ones to Arabic and Turkish modal music.
It is a world-class art that incorporates not only performance but also the science and theory of music and sound. It is, therefore, a body of knowledge, encoding a way of knowing the world and being. The following track is something of what I might have heard in my childhood:
Playing kamancheh, a bowed spike-fiddle, is Kayhān Kalhor, while the singer is the undisputed master of vocals in Persian music, ostād (meaning “maestro”) Mohammad Reza Shajarian. He is singing in the classical vocal style, āvāz, that is the heart of this music.
A non-metric style placing great creative demands on singers, āvāz is improvised along set melodic lines memorised by heart. Without a fixed beat, the vocalist sings with rhythms resembling speech, but speech heightened to an intensified state. This style bears great similarity to the sean-nos style of Ireland, which is also ornamented and non-rhythmic, although sean-nos is totally unaccompanied, unlike Persian āvāz in which the singer is often accompanied by a single stringed instrument.
A somewhat more unorthodox example of āvāz is the following, sung by Alireza Ghorbāni with a synthesised sound underneath his voice rather than any Persian instrument. It creates a hypnotic effect.
Even listeners unfamiliar with Persian music should be able to hear the intensity in the voices of Ghorbāni and Shajarian. Passion is paramount, but passion refined and sublimated so that longing and desire break through ordinary habituated consciousness to point to something unlimited, such as an overwhelming sense of the beyond.
Beyond media contrived images
The traditional poetry and music of Iran aim to create a threshold space, a zone of mystery; a psycho-emotional terrain of suffering, melancholy, death and loss, but also of authentic joy, ecstasy, and hope.
Traditional Persian music matters in this context of escalating aggression because it is a rich, creative artform, still living and cherished. It binds Iranians in a shared culture that constitutes the authentic life of the people and the country, as opposed to the contrived image of Iran presented in Western media that begins and ends with politics.
This is a thoroughly soulful music, akin not in form but in soulfulness with artists such as John Coltrane or Van Morrison. In the Persian tradition, music is not only for pleasure but has a transformative purpose. Sound is meant to effect a change in the listener’s consciousness, to bring them into a spiritual state (hāl).
Like other ancient systems, in the Persian tradition, the perfection of the formal structures of beautiful music is believed to come from God, as in the Pythagorean phrase, the “music of the spheres.”
Because traditional Persian music has been heavily influenced by Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam, many rhythmic performances (tasnif, as opposed to āvāz) can (distantly) recall the sounds of Sufi musical ceremonies (sama), with forceful, trance-inducing rhythms. (For instance in this Rumi performance by Alireza Eftekhari).
Even when slow, traditional Persian music is still passionate and ardent in mood, such as this performance of Rumi by Homayoun Shajarian, son of Mohammad-Reza:
Another link with traditional Celtic music is the grief that runs through Persian music, as can be heard in this instrumental by Kalhor.
Grief and sorrow always work in tandem with joy and ecstasy to create soundscapes that evoke longing and mystery.
Connections with classical poetry
The work of classical poets such as Rumi, Hāfez, Sa’di, Attār, and Omar Khayyām forms the lyrical basis of compositions in traditional Persian music. The rhythmic structure of the music is based on the prosodic system that poetry uses (aruz), a cycle of short and long syllables.
Singers must therefore, be masters not only at singing but know Persian poetry and its metrical aspects intimately. Skilled vocalists must be able to interpret poems. Lines or phrases can be extended or repeated, or enhanced with vocal ornaments.
Thus, even for a Persian speaker who knows the poems being sung, Persian music can still reveal new interpretations. Here, for example (from 10:00 to 25:00 mins) is another example of Rumi by M.R. Shajarian:
This is a charity concert from 2003 in Bam, Iran after a horrendous earthquake destroyed the town. Rumi’s poem is renowned among Persian speakers, but here Mohammad-Reza Shajarian sings it with such passion and emotional intensity that it sounds fresh and revelatory.
“Without everyone else it’s possible,” Rumi says, “Without you, life is not liveable.”
While such lines are originally drawn from the tradition of non-religious love poems, in Rumi’s poems the address to the beloved becomes mystical, otherworldly. After a tragedy such as the earthquake, these lyrics can take on special urgency in the present.
When people listen to traditional music, they, like the singers, remain still. Audiences are transfixed and transported.
According to Sufi cosmology, all melodious sounds erupt forth from a world of silence. In Sufism, silence is the condition of the innermost chambers of the human heart, its core (fuad), which is likened to a throne from which the Divine Presence radiates.
Because of this connection with the intelligence and awareness of the heart, many performers of traditional Persian music understand that it must be played through self-forgetting, as beautifully explained here by master Amir Koushkani:
Persian music has roughly twelve modal systems, each known as a dastgah. Each dastgah collects melodic models that are skeletal frameworks upon which performers improvise in the moment. The spiritual aspect of Persian music is made most manifest in this improvisation.
Shajarian has said that the core of traditional music is concentration (tamarkoz), by which he means not only the mind but the whole human awareness. It is a mystical and contemplative music.
The highly melodic nature of Persian music also facilitates expressiveness. Unlike Western classical music, there is very sparing use of harmony. This, and the fact that like other world musical traditions it includes microtonal intervals, may make traditional Persian music odd at first listen for Western audiences.
Solo performances are important to traditional Persian music. In a concert, soloists may be accompanied by another instrument with a series of call-and-response type echoes and recapitulations of melodic phrases.
Similarly, here playing the barbat, a Persian variant of the oud, maestro Hossein Behrooznia shows how percussion and plucked string instruments can forge interwoven melodic structures that create hypnotic soundscapes:
The roots of traditional Persian music go back to ancient pre-Islamic Persian civilisation, with archaeological evidence of arched harps (a harp in the shape of a bow with a sound box at the lower end), having been used in rituals in Iran as early as 3100BC.
Under the pre-Islamic Parthian (247BC-224AD) and Sasanian (224-651AD) kingdoms, in addition to musical performances on Zoroastrian holy days, music was elevated to an aristocratic art at royal courts.
Centuries after the Sasanians, after the Arab invasion of Iran, Sufi metaphysics brought a new spiritual intelligence to Persian music. Spiritual substance is transmitted through rhythm, metaphors and symbolism, melodies, vocal delivery, instrumentation, composition, and even the etiquette and co-ordination of performances.
The main instruments used today go back to ancient Iran. Among others, there is the tār, the six-stringed fretted lute; ney, the vertical reed flute that is important to Rumi’s poetry as a symbol of the human soul crying out in joy or grief; daf, a frame drum important in Sufi ritual; and the setār, a wooden four-stringed lute.
The tār, made of mulberry wood and stretch lambskin, is used to create vibrations that affect the heart and the body’s energies and a central instrument for composition. It is played here by master Hossein Alizadeh and here by master Dariush Talai.
Music, gardens, and beauty
Traditional Persian music not only cross-pollinates with poetry, but with other arts and crafts. At its simplest, this means performing with traditional dress and carpets on stage. In a more symphonic mode of production, an overflow of beauty can be created, such as in this popular and enchanting performance by the group Mahbanu:
They perform in a garden: of course. Iranians love gardens, which have a deeply symbolic and spiritual meaning as a sign or manifestation of Divine splendour. Our word paradise, in fact, comes from the Ancient Persian word, para-daiza, meaning “walled garden”. The walled garden tended and irrigated, represents in Persian tradition the cultivation of the soul, an inner garden or inner paradise.
The traditional costumes of the band (as with much folk dress around the world) are elegant, colourful, resplendent, yet also modest. The lyrics are tinged with Sufi thought, the poet-lover lamenting the distance of the beloved but proclaiming the sufficiency of staying in unconsumed desire.
As a young boy, I grasped the otherness of Persian music intuitively. I found its timeless spiritual beauty and interiority had no discernible connection with my quotidian, material Australian existence.
Persian music and arts, like other traditional systems, gives a kind of “food” for the soul and spirit that has been destroyed in the West by the dominance of rationalism and capitalism. For 20 years since my boyhood, traditional Persian culture has anchored my identity, healed and replenished my wounded heart, matured my soul, and allowed me to avoid the sense of being without roots in which so many unfortunately find themselves today.
It constitutes a world of beauty and wisdom that is a rich gift to the whole world, standing alongside Irano-Islamic architecture and Iranian garden design.
The problem is the difficulty of sharing this richness with the world. In an age of hyper-communication, why is the beauty of Persian music (or the beauty of traditional arts of many other cultures for that matter) so rarely disseminated? Much of the fault lies with corporate media.
Mahbanu, who can also be heard here performing a well-known Rumi poem, are mostly female. But readers will very likely not have heard about them, or any of the other rising female musicians and singers of Persian music. According to master-teachers such as Shajarian, there are now often as many female students as male in traditional music schools such as his.
Almost everyone has seen, however through corporate media, the same cliched images of an angry mob of Iranians chanting, soldiers goose-stepping, missile launches, or leaders in rhetorical flight denouncing something. Ordinary Iranian people themselves are almost never heard from directly, and their creativity rarely shown.
The lead singer of the Mahbanu group, Sahar Mohammadi, is a phenomenally talented singer of the āvāz style, as heard here when she performs in the mournful abu ata mode. She may, indeed, be the best contemporary female vocalist. Yet she is unheard of outside of Iran and small circles of connoisseurs mainly in Europe.
A list of outstanding modern Iranian women poets and musicians requires its own article. Here I will list some of the outstanding singers, very briefly. From an older generation we may mention the master Parisa (discussed below), and Afsaneh Rasaei. Current singers of great talent include, among others, Mahdieh Mohammadkhani, Homa Niknam, Mahileh Moradi, and the mesmerising Sepideh Raissadat.
Finally, one of my favourites is the marvellous Haleh Seifizadeh, whose enchanting singing in a Moscow church suits the space perfectly.
The beloved Shajarian
Tenor Mohammad-Reza Shajarian is by far the most beloved and renowned voice of traditional Persian music. To truly understand his prowess, we can listen to him performing a lyric of the 13th century poet Sa’di:
As heard here, traditional Persian music is at once heavy and serious in its intent, yet expansive and tranquil in its effect. Shajarian begins by singing the word Yār, meaning “beloved”, with an ornamental trill. These trills, called tahrir, are made by rapidly closing the glottis, effectively breaking the notes (the effect is reminiscent of Swiss yodeling).
By singing rapidly and high in the vocal range, a virtuoso display of vocal prowess is created imitating a nightingale, the symbol with whom the poet and singer are most compared in Persian traditional music and poetry. Nightingales symbolise the besotted, suffering, and faithful lover. (For those interested, Homayoun Shajarian, explains the technique in this video).
As with many singers, the great Parisa heard here in a wonderful concert from pre-revolutionary Iran, learned her command of tahrir partly from Shajarian. With her voice, in particular, the similarity to a nightingale’s trilling is clear.
Nourishing hearts and souls
The majority of Iran’s 80 million population are under 30 years of age. Not all are involved in traditional culture. Some prefer to make hip-hop or heavy-metal, or theatre or cinema. Still, there are many young Iranians expressing themselves through poetry (the country’s most important art form) and traditional music.
National and cultural identity for Iranians is marked by a sense of having a tradition, of being rooted in ancient origins, and of carrying something of great cultural significance from past generations, to be preserved for the future as repository of knowledge and wisdom. This precious thing that is handed down persists while political systems change.
Iran’s traditional music carries messages of beauty, joy, sorrow and love from the heart of the Iranian people to the world. These messages are not simply of a national character, but universally human, albeit inflected by Iranian history and mentality.
This is why traditional Persian music should be known to the world. Ever since its melodies first pierced my room in Brisbane, ever since it began to transport me to places of the spirit years ago, I’ve wondered if it could also perhaps nourish the hearts and souls of some of my fellow Australians, across the gulf of language, history, and time.
The Summary of this paper dated 9 September 2019 is reproduced for all intents and purposes below and the paper can be read online or as a Download PDF (opens in new window)
In the Middle East and North Africa, a growing number of internationally recognized (de jure) states with formal borders and governments lack de facto statehood. Often, governance vacuums are filled by alternative actors that perform state-like functions in place of, or alongside, weakened official institutions. This results in hybrid orders where the distinction between formal and informal actors in the state is blurred, as too are the lines between the formal, informal and illicit economies.
International policymakers have struggled to establish political settlements in these contexts. Would-be state-builders have mistakenly assumed a binary distinction between state failure and success. They have sought to recreate an idealized archetype of the ‘orderly’ state, critically failing to recognize the more complex networks of de facto actors on the ground. At times, international policymakers pick or support leaders who lack local legitimacy, capability and power. This stalls and fragments ongoing organic state transformations, and produces hybrid orders as de facto actors adapt by both capturing state institutions and creating parallel ones.
We propose a new model for understanding the fragmentary transformations of the state underway in Iraq and Yemen. It involves the concept of a multi-layered state, consisting of the executive, the formal bureaucracy, the de facto authorities and society at large. The gap in legitimacy, capability and power between the middle two layers in this model – the formal bureaucracy and the de facto authorities – is a critical source of instability and an impediment to reform. Bridging that gap is thus the key to effective peacebuilding and/or state-building.
This paper argues that all states lie along a chaos–order spectrum. No state is entirely chaotic or orderly. Even those that display many features of chaos – as in Iraq and Yemen – contain pockets of order that are all too often overlooked. The larger the gap between the formal bureaucracy and the de facto authorities, the more a state slides towards the chaos end of the spectrum. Effective state-building must find a way of institutionalizing improvised governance arrangements.
To achieve this, we advocate a ‘middle–out’ approach that aims to strengthen the connective tissues between the bureaucracy and de facto authorities. Simplified, this more inclusive approach entails reframing international involvement as playing the role of a ‘referee’ to monitor the transformations of the state while enforcing accountability, as opposed to the practice of picking ‘winners’ and integrating unfavoured actors into unpopular political settlements.