Oriental(ist) Metal Music

Narjahanam

Cover for the most recent album Wa Ma Khufiya Kana A’atham (2013) by Bahrainian oriental metal band Narjahanam 

Metal music has gone global. It is a fact that is recognized by most fans and followers of this genre of popular music. Many documentary films, academic books, and media features have documented excitedly the globalization of metal music tracing it to the farthest corners of the globe.

One of the regions in which metal music has thrived in the past decade is the Middle East. Following the explosion of folk metal—a variety of metal music in which folk tunes, instruments, and themes are fused with conventional metal music—in European metal scenes some 15 years ago, many Middle Eastern bands have attempted to create their own version of folk metal. The term “oriental metal” has hence entered metal nomenclature to refer to bands that incorporate “oriental” sounds with metal music.

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From “the world’s ugliest woman” to one of the world’s most inspiring examples

Lizzie Velasquez, who speaks in the video above, is a writer and a motivational speaker. She was born with a very rare genetic condition that makes her unable to gain weight no matter how much she eats. She has never weighed more than 28 kg, and this makes her look very “ugly.” She narrates in this video (8:30) the pain and emotional trauma she experienced when she found out—as she was still in high school—that someone had posted a video of her on YouTube describing her as “the world’s ugliest woman.” One of the commentators told her: “Lizzie, please, please just do the world a favor, put a gun to your head, and kill yourself!”

She, however, never allowed herself to be imprisoned in the image the people wanted to impose on her. Instead of hiding behind closed doors, she decided to become a motivational speaker and confront people face to face. She also wanted to become a writer and now she is about to publish her third book at the age 24. I strongly recommend that you watch this video, which is not only about her story, and not only about “beauty” and “ugliness”, but also about how to define yourself as a person instead of letting other people define you.

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Upholding Tolerance is not only the Majority’s Resposibility: The Debate over the Color of Santa Claus

The penguin Santa proposed by Aisha Harris (Illustration by Mark Stamaty)

The penguin Santa proposed by Aisha Harris (Illustration by Mark Stamaty)

Recently a huge debate has spread all over the internet and mass media concerning the identity and color of Santa Claus: is he essentially a white character? I’m sure many of you have come across this debate on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network.

The debate started when Aisha Harris wrote a piece in which she recounts her confusion when she was a child over the color of Santa Claus. She, as an African American, had a black Santa Claus at home, but outside she saw a white Santa everywhere. Her father’s answer that Santa could be of any color didn’t satisfy her. She felt insecure and ashamed, because she thought her black Santa wasn’t the “real thing.” In order to “spare millions of nonwhite kids” feelings of insecurity and shame, she suggests that Santa is transformed into a Penguin. She thinks that a penguin can appeal to all people regardless of color and at the same time preserves as much as possible of the characteristics of the traditional Santa (such as coming from a snowy cold land).

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The Mechanical German Language

Book cover of the "Awful German Language" by Mark Twain (source: www.ebook.de)

Book cover of the “Awful German Language” by Mark Twain (source: ebook.de)

In 1880, American famous writer Mark Twain expressed his agonies of learning German in an essay titled The Awful German Language. The essay is a very enjoyable read, especially for German learners, as it satirizes brilliantly the German language and its perplexity. There are many memorable passages to quote. My favorite is this:

Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. Observe these examples:

Freundschaftsbezeigungen.
Dilettantenaufdringlichkeiten.
Stadtverordnetenversammlungen.

He adds:

Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape,—but at the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way; he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnel through it.

For more quotes by Mark Twain about German, see here.

Having been learning German for more than two years and a half (not very successfully, to my dismay), I think it is high time I wrote my own version of The Awful German Language. However, a blog post is too short to lay out “the several vices of this language,” to use one of Twain’s expressions. I will therefore limit this blog post to one single aspect of learning German; that is, why German may sound very mechanical for those who attempt to learn it.

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World War Z: A Bad Zombie Movie to Promote Racism

World War Z

Last Thursday (Halloween 2013) I finally decided to watch World War Z—one of the biggest movie productions of 2013, featuring Brad Pitt in the leading role. It is a zombie movie, so it kind of fits Halloween day, but that was a pure coincidence. I neither care about Halloween nor Zombie movies. When the film was being shown in local cinemas here in Leipzig a couple of months ago, a friend of mine suggested that we go together to see it, but I objected strongly on the grounds that it seemed very silly. This was confirmed later by one of my flatmates who described the movie as a debacle. Later, another flatmate of mine watched it and described it as too bad to the extent it is funny. This has aroused my curiosity, but not enough to bother watching it until I watched World War Zimmerman—the third episode of the new season of South Park—in which World War Z is bitterly ridiculed. I thought then that I must watch this film. The day before yesterday, which happened to be Halloween, I stayed in bed all day long because of being sick, so I had enough time to watch two movies—one of them was World War Z.

The film turned up to be very bad indeed, but, unfortunately, not to the extent it was funny, as my second flatemate had claimed before. From a cinematic perspective, I have nothing interesting to say about the film. It is simply a bad movie, and I don’t recommend it to anyone. World War Z, however, is not only cinematically bad, but also politically, and this is what I am going to talk about in this article.

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Atheist Criticism of Religion – Why does it often miss the point?

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On facebook one can see all types of “culture wars” raging on. I have some 400 friends from different parts of the world and with different opinions and cultural orientations. Recently, a friend of mine, who is atheist, I believe, posted the above photo from a facebook page called “Syrian Atheists.” I think the page is supposed to represent Syrian atheists who support the Syrian revolution, but it seems that it is now, like the bazillion other facebook pages dedicated to the Syrian revolution, busy with ideological and cultural conflicts more than toppling the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad.

I don’t consider myself to be part of this culture war between militant atheists and religious militants. I’m neither religious nor sympathetic to the “holy cause” of eradicating religion altogether. But, due to my academic and personal interests, I feel that I should comment on these cultural and ideological confrontations. I will comment on the atheist side in this post, but this doesn’t mean in any way that I sympathize with the other side of the conflict, especially when it becomes equally extreme and naïve in its statements.

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Heavy metal as religion and secularization as ideology: a sociological approach

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A promotional T-Shirt for the “Heavy Metal As A Religion Census Campaign” by British heavy metal magazine Metal Hammer.
Credit: facebook page of the campaign

This is an article that I wrote for the Religious Studies Project in response to their interview with Professor François Gauthier from the University of Fribourg.

Link to original article: http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2013/10/09/heavy-metal-as-religion-and-secularization-as-ideology-by-mohammad-magout/

Heavy metal as religion and secularization as ideology: a sociological approach

By Mohammad Magout, University of Leipzig, Germany

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 9 October 2013, in response to François Gauthier’s interview on Religion, Neoliberalism and Consumer Culture (7 October 2013).

In this thought-provoking interview, Professor François Gauthier from the University of Fribourg gives his remarks on a variety of theoretical, methodological, and empirical issues in social sciences. It would be impossible to cover even a tenth of those issues within the limits of this brief article, so I will restrict my response to two themes only: defining religion and critiquing secularization theory and post-secularity.

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Genius in Simplicity

ak-vs-m16

The best assault rifles in the world head to head (source: factpile.com)

The internet is filled with endless, unresolved, binary debates such as: blonde vs. brunette, Pele vs. Maradona, Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi, Lion vs. Tiger, Mercedes-Benz vs. BMW, etc. Fans hotly argue against each other, sometimes fanatically, with each side glorifying its “idol” and listing its undisputable merits, while disproving the opposite side’s arguments and mocking its self-evident “stupidity.” Sometimes during my long journeys of internet-surfing, I become locked up in these debates; not necessarily because I’m interested in the topic itself, but just for the fun of watching people tearing each other apart over it. Recently I became interested in the ultimate quarrel over the best assault rifle in the world: Is it the Russian/Soviet AK-47 (the Kalashnikov) or its American rival, the M-16?

I’m not by any means a gun enthusiast and I don’t claim any special expertise in this area. I did actually once shoot with the AK-47 during my military training in school (in Syria high school students used to receive lousy military training, but it was cancelled later. Now, tragically, many young Syrians do it for real!). I would like, however, to show that the contrast between the AK-47 and the M-16 is not merely a matter of technical features and performance, but of philosophy, i.e. philosophy of design.

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Vladimir Bartol’s Alamut and the Matrix

Hasan al-Sabbah, the Lord of Alamut, and Morpheus, from The Matrix

Hasan al-Sabbah, the Lord of Alamut, and Morpheus from The Matrix

Note: There might be few spoilers in this post!

Last week I finally finished reading Valdimir Bartol’s and Slovenia’s most well-known literary work: the novel of Alamut. As I mentioned in my previous post, the novel is based on the historical legend of the Assassins: the radical Muslim sect that terrorized in the 12th and 13th centuries the Crusaders and local Muslims rulers in Iran and Syria with their assassinating daggers. According to the legend, Hasan al-Sabbah—the sect’s founder, ideologue, and military commander—used hashish to trick his would-be assassins to believe that he held the keys to Paradise, which transformed them into blind followers willing to embrace death instantly and unconditionally. The novel, however, is not limited to themes of murder, sexual lust, and religious manipulation. It is also an intellectual work that delves deeply into human beings’ conflicting quests for faith and doubt; for meaning and knowledge; for power and morality. Bartol draws on his knowledge of various currents of thought ranging from the philosophies of ancient Greece, through Nietzsche and Freud, to totalitarianism.

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The Assassins’ Creed: “Nothing is True – Everything is Permitted”

An artist’s impression of Alamut for the movie “Prince of Persia, Sands of time” (credit: François Baranger)

When I started this blog, I didn’t mean to write exclusively about God, Nietzsche and the relationship between religion and reason. However, somehow this topic is coming again and again to me even when I don’t mean to approach it. Currently I’m reading the most popular work of modern Slovenian literature (according to Wikipedia): Vladimir Bartol’s novel Alamut. The novel is based on the orientalist legend of the Assassins; a radical Muslim sect that terrorized with their assassinations the Crusaders and local Muslim rulers in many parts of the Middle East throughout the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Assassins is the name given by Crusaders and some European travelers to the Nizari Ismaili sect, whose followers controlled a network of strongly fortified citadels and fortresses in Syria and Iran. They did not have an army in the proper sense of the word due to their small numbers and dispersion, but they trained special units of assassins, who could assassinate any king, prince, or military commander that dared to attack them or challenge their power. You may now intuitively think it’s no wonder they acquired the name Assassins; it is simply because they assassinated many people. The truth, however, is the other way around: The word assassinate in English and its etymological equivalents in other European languages are actually derived from their name, which is in turn derived from the Arabic word hashashin (“hashish users”). Their Muslim neighbors probably used the name only abusively meaning something like “bandits” or “pariahs” without accusing them seriously of adopting the practice of taking hashish. However, with the orientalist fantasies of European travelers the term became the source of an infamous legend of sexual lust, religious murder, and deception.

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