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UAE spy arrest shows universities must do more

UAE spy arrest shows universities must do more

Matthew Hedges says: my UAE spy arrest shows universities must do more to protect academics working in the field.

The picture above is of UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, who was contacted by British diplomat Jeremy Hunt about the Matthew Hedges spying case as reported by UPI. Photo by Andre Pain/EPA-EFE.

Matthew Hedges with his wife Daniela Tejada. Author provided

Matthew Hedges, Durham University

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.

Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur economist, is serving a life sentence in China. He is held on separatism-related charges after his criticism of the Chinese government’s policies toward Uyghurs in Xinjiang. PEN International

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.

Niloufar Bayani, a researcher, conservationist, and scholar, was arrested in January 2018 on charges of espionage in Iran. She recently reported being subjected to torture. Twitter/@Omid_M

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.


Read more from our series on Academic Freedom.


Matthew Hedges, Doctoral Research Candidate in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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E-commerce for “Back to School” shopping for MENA parents

E-commerce for “Back to School” shopping for MENA parents

MENA online “Back to School” sales have grown 6 times and will continue to grow by Artem Rudyuk, would be an eye-opener on how certain countries of the MENA’s education systems related activities are evolving. As a matter of fact, E-commerce for “Back to School” shopping for MENA parents is, according to this article, increasing as demonstrated in actual happenings between 2017 through 2019.

MENA parents are attracted to e-commerce for the “Back to School” shopping, increasing their interests and buying habits at exponential levels between 2017 and 2019.

MENA online “Back to School” sales have grown 6 times and will continue to grow
  • The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August
  • In 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017
  • With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market competitive sellers, the Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern

ADMITAD analysts recently released an online sales report that shows Back To School shopping has grown 6 times since 2017. Analysts observed data over the course of 2 years measuring the buying trends in the Back To School categories across different countries in the MENA region.

The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August. However, in 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017. With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market’s competitive sellers, Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern, expecting to reach in August 2020 the highest level measured in the past years. 

“The growth we’ve seen in 2 years is indicative of MENA region developing into a more mature market in e-commerce, with giants like Amazon, Noon, Namshi creating outstanding value for the customers. Other factors are contributing too, such as the rise of social media influencers and the unparalleled cash value offers online shopping provides. Having said that, this is just the beginning as we estimate the growth to continue at a rapid rate in the next 2 years” said Artem Rudyuk, head of MENA Operations at ADMITAD

The convenience of fast-delivery, an abundance of offers and eye-catching promotions alongside a wider diversity of the products, are some of the top reasons why MENA region Back-To-School customers’ interest in online shopping is growing. 

One of the fastest-growing marketplace for parents, Sprii.com, is confirming the positive climb of the online sales during August, with a growth of 181% in the back to school category. Sarah Jones, CEO, and Founder of Sprii said: “Sprii has seen a 181% increase in sales in its back to school category over the last year. We see traffic fast moving away from your traditional bricks and mortar stores to online platforms as product ranges increase, prices are cheaper and delivery becomes easier. The leading contributor of growth in this category has been kids lunchboxes and healthy snacks, which we see in keeping with the regional movement towards healthy sustainable living, and the site-wide increase in organic product sales.”

The estimated increase in back-to-school spending represents an opportunity for MENA based e-commerce companies to capitalize on this new profit-making shopping season, together with Christmas, Ramadan, and Back Friday. The MENA region players have an unprecedented opportunity to convert customers with competitive advertising, offers, prices and bundles during the online browsing process.

Read: Cartlow: the UAE e-commerce app that sells top quality goods for less

Read: Back to School – Three priorities for Education IT Teams in the new academic year

Author

Artem Rudyuk is the Head of MENA Operations for Admitad, heading the Development of affiliate partnerships between e-commerce merchants and online publishers on cost per action basis and bringing affiliate marketing in MENA region to a new level with the most transparent and tech advanced platform.

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Greater Middle Eastern and North African representation on Yale campus

Greater Middle Eastern and North African representation on Yale campus

As Yalies continue to push for greater Middle Eastern and North African representation on Yale campus, the student organization advocating for the creation of a MENA Cultural Center held a launch event Thursday.

MENA students association holds launch event by Alayna Lee & Ella Goldblum on September 27, 2019.

Asha Prihar

While there are only four institutionalized cultural centers at Yale, the Middle Eastern and North African Students Association has advocated for MENA to become the fifth cultural center for the past two years. Spearheaded by members of the Arab Students Association and other cultural groups, the association is still in the midst of advocating for full-fledged cultural center status from the University. With support from the Yale College Council, the club plans to proceed in the meantime with programming similar to that of existing cultural centers.

Thursday’s MENA “Welcome Mixer” was intended to connect students and faculty who identify as Middle Eastern, as North African or who are interested in the region. The event was the club’s second official event since becoming a formally registered student organization last semester.

“[Last year], I started thinking about why a MENA house did not exist on campus to act as a [homey] umbrella for various students on campus who did not identify with the existing four institutionalized cultural centers,” MENA Co-Presidents Shady Qubaty ’20 and Yasmin Alamdeen ’21 said in a joint email to the News on Monday. “After all, breaking up the MENA region into an ‘Asian’ identifying region in the [Asian-American Cultural Center] and an ‘African’ identifying region in the [Afro-American] House disregards the social and cultural realities of Middle Eastern and North African identifying persons.”

Approximately 40 people attended the welcome mixer, including undergraduate Yale students, a student from Gateway Community College in New Haven and Jackson Institute World Fellows. They served a wide array of food, including treats from the MENA region such as baklava and grape leaves. The desserts came from Havenly, a startup bakery created by Yale students that employs refugee women in New Haven.

Qubaty and Alamdeen explained that the cultural house project first started to gain attention at the YCC Elections Debate in 2018, where Qubaty introduced the idea of a fifth cultural center to each of the candidates. They added that each candidate then incorporated the initiative into their platform, starting the YCC’s involvement in advocating for the MENA club.

According Qubaty and Alamdeen’s email, three questions related to the MENA club received a “nearly [unanimously]” positive reaction on the 2018-2019 YCC survey, motivating Qutaby and Alamdeen’s team to move forward with the project. Since then, they explained, the club has secured a base room at 305 Crown St., which is also next to the AACC and La Casa Cultural.

Qubaty and Alamdeen also emphasized that the momentum gained since receiving the official endorsement of the YCC signals that a MENA cultural center is “no longer just the demand of [their] association, but one concerning Yale’s official undergraduate student government.”

They added that this “huge step forward” has provided a YCC-based task force that has helped facilitate contact and advocacy on the prospective cultural center’s behalf.

“In addition, we have managed to garner the support of countless faculty members and are now in the process of forming an advisory board for the club consisting of Yale Alumni who are very passionate about this proposal,” the email said. “In that respect, we will have students, faculty and alumni all heading in the same direction.”

YCC President Kahlil Greene ’21 said that while MENA is “still in the process of advocacy that started last year,” the first step in establishing an official cultural center has already been achieved.

According to the email, Qubaty and Alamdeen characterized the process of achieving formal recognition as “very sticky” and one that “involves a lot of bureaucracy that is not just related to funding.”

They noted that the establishment of the other cultural houses took decades and that Yale administration has to be convinced that demand for a new cultural center is “real.” The email also explained that from there, the Administration will have to form a committee devoted to discussing its need and its feasibility “which takes time.”

Still, Qubaty and Alamdeen emphasized that formal recognition is “definitely possible” and that they “will not stop pushing” for a MENA house to be established.

Zakaria Gedi ’22, communications chair for the MENA Students Association, told the News that there is a large group of students who could be served by a MENA house and that this need applies “especially for a first-year who is trying to find their identity and make friends of similar heritage.”

Onur Burcak Belli, a Turkey-based journalist and Jackson Institute World Fellow at Yale, attended Thursday’s event and told the News that she was “really disappointed when [she] learned you don’t have a particular place to represent an area that has a lot to do with U.S. politics.”

She is proud of the students who have pushed for the establishment of the MENA Cultural Center and hopes to send a message that people living in the MENA region “are much more than victims.”

As the MENA Students Association does not currently have their own space, the Welcome Mixer took place on the first floor of the Asian-American Cultural Center.

Alayna Lee | alayna.lee@yale.edu

Ella Goldblum | ella.goldblum@yale.edu

What are the world’s best universities?

What are the world’s best universities?

The World Economic Forum posted an article dated September 12, 2019, that is an answer to What are the world’s best universities?

These are the best universities in the world

By Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content

So vital is education to the future of society, billionaire Jack Ma has just stepped down from Alibaba to focus on it. But does it matter where you go to be educated?

Graduates throw their mortar boards in the air after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University, in Oxford, Britain July 15, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay - RC1383346AE0
The University of Oxford topped the rankings for the fourth year in a row.
Image: REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The former teacher, who studied for a BA in English at Hangzhou Normal University, told the World Economic Forum he was rejected from Harvard Business School 10 times, but it didn’t deter him from building a world-beating company.

Like Alibaba, universities in Ma’s homeland China are starting to “expand their influence and presence on the world stage”, according to the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020.

Asia’s top two universities – Tsinghua (23rd) and Peking (24th) – are both in mainland China. With 81 institutions, China is also the fourth most-represented nation in the list for the fourth year in a row.

The ‘THE’ says: “Overall, China’s universities have improved in the areas of citation impact, share of international staff and share of international co-authorship over the past year, driven by higher levels of funding.”

There are 11 more Iranian universities ranked this year, taking its total up to 40, and new regions whose institutions join the list for the first time this year include Brunei, Cuba, Malta, Montenegro, Puerto Rico and Vietnam.

These are the top five:

1. University of Oxford

Topping the rankings for the fourth year in a row, Oxford prides itself on having an ‘international character’. It’s first overseas student, Emo of Friesland, was enrolled in 1190. Today, 40% of its faculty are from overseas.

Among its famous alumni are 30 modern world leaders, including Bill Clinton, Indira Ghandi and the current British prime minister, Boris Johnson.

2. California Institute of Technology

Despite having an unusual anti-growth model, Caltech has risen three places to take the second spot this year, thanks to an improvement in its score for international staff.

“We try to get better, not bigger,” says its president, Thomas F. Rosenbaum.

Along with MIT, it’s one of just two institutions in the ranking to achieve a score of more than 80 out of 100 in all five areas: teaching, research, citation impact, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

3. University of Cambridge

Like Oxford, Cambridge is a ‘good all-rounder’, but this year it slips from second to third place. It’s called home by more than 18,000 students – including 4,000 international students from more than 120 countries.

It also boasts more than 100 libraries, which hold 15 million books.

4. Stanford University

Stanford has also dropped one place this year, to fourth.

Like the other two US institutions in the top 5, MIT and Caltech, is known for its technology focus.

THE says: “Companies founded by Stanford affiliates and alumni generate more than $2.7 trillion annual revenue – which would be the 10th largest economy in the world.”

Among them are Google, Nike, Netflix, Hewlett-Packard and Instagram.

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT rounds off the top five this year. Major scientific discoveries and advances accredited to the university include the development of radar, the first chemical synthesis of penicillin, the discovery of quarks, and the invention of magnetic core memory, which enabled the development of digital computers.

Written by Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content

Education and Skills: Explore the latest strategic trends, research and analysis.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World

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.

Iranians have tasted much suffering throughout their history, and are wary of being stripped of their identity. Currently, economic sanctions are being re-applied to Iran’s entire civilian population, depriving millions of ordinary people of medicine and essentials.

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World
A Persian woman playing the Daf, a frame drum, from a painting on the walls of Chehel-sotoon palace, Isfahan, 17th century. Wikimedia Commons

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:

Ancient roots

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.

Why traditional Persian Music should be known to the World
A six-string fretted lute, known as a tār. Wikimedia Commons

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.

Brilliant women

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.

Darius Sepehri, Doctoral Candidate, Comparative Literature, Religion and History of Philosophy, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why media performance has declined in the MENA?

Why media performance has declined in the MENA?

Shehab Al Makahleh, a consultant, senior political, media adviser and the executive director of Geostrategic Media Centre-USA, wondered Why media performance has declined in the MENA? He contributed this article dated August 31, 2019, to The Jordan Times.

There are many challenges facing Arab media, starting with national newspapers, news sources, magazines to television stations due to digital incursion, which trespasses geographical boundaries, putting an end to monopoly in the fields of communication that were once the task of giant institutions operating on a global scale. Thus, it is highly recommended to help users and the audience identify false news that has become a phenomenon.

In the past decade, advertising resources for print media fell by two-thirds. The distribution of national newspapers dropped as well, either because of digital copies due to easy access to the Internet by the audience or because many advertisers prefer posting their ads online. Newspapers’ revenues as a result have dropped remarkably. Publishers rely on ads that have now been fully automated and based on traffic volume on news sites.

The question that arises is: Who is responsible for this decline of regional media and lack of professional craftsmanship? The dilemma lies in the collective responsibility of individuals and the media. For example, many people follow social media celebrities, who have millions of followers without providing any useful content. Thus, fame at present does not require people to appear on television and satellite channels, as some Youtubers and Instagrammers have millions of followers; more than TV channels and newspapers due to flip-flopped interests.

A major segment of the deterioration of Arab media lies on recipients or the audience. In other words, some media outlets which respond to audience requests and demands achieve tangible successes. Social media celebrities go by the whims of their followers to secure stardom.

In some countries, there is fear from the media, and this has created a psychological barrier that prevents journalists from dealing with vital issues. Extremist parties and other actors have also contributed to this decline in media and journalism. Lack of journalistic professionalism is a direct outcome of failure of media institutions to provide necessary training for journalists.

Over the past 25 years, the number of media channels, newspapers and websites have mushroomed. In other words, the quantity has not matched the quality due to lack of professional journalists who are well-trained to manage media institutions independently. If we look at the state of journalism now, there are more media outlets, but media independence and freedom of coverage had become less than before. Technological advances on social media have also led people to follow media that are consistent with their views.

Traditional Arab media has lost its role in the industry of opinion and has a marginal contribution to the formation of awareness of the Arab world, while social media has become more powerful and influential. Some media have moved away from traditional means and turned to social media as a better platform to address the public directly. Newspapers have become weak in many Arab countries, even those which are funded, and supported by governments, as the main issue is not related to funding but rather professionalism. Many newspapers do not have remarkable content to grab readers to purchase such newspapers due to citizens’ weak purchase power and absence of real professional journalism.

What these newspapers currently offer depends on news agencies and other sources of content. Very few still have strong journalistic topics that are presented to the reader. Unfortunately, the way such topics are covered and addressed have less freedom of expression and opinion in terms of analysis and prognosis. Since the basis in successful media work relies on science and information, absence of these two elements is one of the major loopholes of media coverage in the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Technological transformation in the world of media industry have raised concerns among the media industry, as this has adversely affected the media spectrum in the MENA.

Thus, we need to improve the horizons of high-level journalism and encourage new media models not only in terms of available technologies, but also in terms of innovation and creativity by hiring national press, digital media and advertising industry figures in order to restore a balance between news publishers and digital platforms that publish what they produce. This comes at a time when many changes in technology and consumer attitudes pose challenges for quality journalism in the region.

Government oversight should be effective from time to time in order for Internet news platforms to adhere to media standards and to enhance confidence in the news such platforms broadcast. The government should also consider direct support for local news sources and provide tax exemptions for media. Information authorities should provide more support to local publishers so that their coverage complements local news. Furthermore, governments concerned should set up independent institutes to provide news of public interest in the future.

Therefore, we should adhere to new standards to restore balance between publishers and online platforms. In addition, Internet platforms must exert an effort to improve their users’ access to news in a good manner.