Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Casual Cliocide (to Oud Accompaniment)

Clio was the Greek muse whose job it was to watch over history. To suppress, destroy, rewrite, deny or otherwise mess with history is to commit cliocide. With respect to the history of the Middle East in particular, in the mass media of this country alone, acts of cliocide are perpetrated on a daily basis without let or hindrance. The perpetrators are liable to pop up anywhere, at any time, and despatch poor Clio in the most casual manner imaginable, even while engaged in the most relaxed conversation, and no one, not even their interlocutor, even blinks an eyelid. Scariest of all - even the perpetrator is generally completely unaware of what he's doing. A case in point:

In the context of an interview on ABC Radio National's Breakfast yesterday, the young Australian oud virtuoso, Joseph Tawadros, mentioned that his family were of Egyptian Coptic origin. Unfortunately, however, by way of explaining who the Copts are, he committed an act of cliocide. Today's Christian Copts, he said, are the "descendents of the ancient people of Egypt," the "original inhabitants" of the country. "The Arabs came later."

The implication being, I'm afraid, that Egypt's Muslim majority are one and all direct descendents of the Muslim Arab invaders who conquered Egypt in the 7th century AD, and therefore, not the descendents of the ancient Egyptians, not indigenous to the country, and so not real Egyptians like the Copts. This, of course, is complete rubbish and I'm blowing the whistle:

"Today there are more people in the tiny Nile delta than in the vast area of the Arabian peninsula. In the 7th century, the population of Egypt probably exceeded that of all the peninsula. Yet, as we have seen, the people of Arabia at that time were not only engaged in Egypt, but also, and simultaneously, in Persia, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Soon they were to spread over North Africa also and up into Spain and France. Thus, at the time of the [Arab] conquest, the number of the inhabitants of Arabia were quite inadequate to effect much change in the population of a country like Egypt. Moreover, at that time the Arabs who migrated were almost entirely bedouin tribesmen, to whom the deep, muddy soil, innumerable water channels and damp enervating heat of Egypt were utterly uncongenial. Such tribes, in certain cases, turned southwards into the desert towards Sudan, or crossing the Nile, migrated westwards into Libya. The bedouin from Arabia today will find it difficult to understand the dialect of of the delta, but in Libya and the Northern Sudan will recognize many of the terms of speech in familiar use in his own tribe in the peninsula.

"The principal source of intermixture of Arab blood in Egypt after the conquest would doubtless arise from the garrison of Fustat. According to the social customs of the time, the Arab troops would acquire many Egyptian wives and concubines. The offspring of such unions would, of course, claim to be Arabs as their fathers were, but would themselves marry Egyptian wives in the like manner, so that even the descendants of the Prophet's Companions would, in a few generations, be very nearly pure Egyptians. In addition, however, the historians tell us that at the time of the ratification of the treaty concerning Alexandria [642], many Coptic Christians decided to adopt Islam, thereby not only securing a lighter system of taxation but also social equality with their formidable conquerors. Such as became Muslims tended to be regarded as Arabs, a confusion of thought between race and religion." (The Great Arab Conquests, John Bagot Glubb, 1963, pp 246-247)

I wish that were the end of it as far as Joseph is concerned, but it isn't. An ignorance of history can trip one up terribly. The same young oud player and composer, whose ignorance of 7th century Egyptian history seems to extend to modern Palestinian history, has reportedly fallen victim to a certain dodgy siren call, prompting the following letter from Australian Artists Against Apartheid:

"Dear Joseph Tawadros, We are writing in advance of your planned performance in the apartheid state of Israel, which we hope you will cancel. The Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival (RSWJF) is sponsored by the Israeli government, which additionally sponsors the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, and many laws discriminating against 'non-Jews' in a segregated and undemocratic apartheid system. State-culture propaganda initiatives, such as the RSWJF, serve to brand Israel to the world as a 'vibrant cultural hub', while it continues its profitable human rights violations and colonialism on the ground. In response to decades of oppression under Israeli apartheid, coupled with the failure of international institutions to support their quest for equal rights and justice, the Palestinian people have called for Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) until Israel is in compliance with international law and human rights conventions. Given Israel's extensive use of cultural propaganda, the BDS movement includes a campaign for cultural boycott. A multitude of artists, including renowned musicians such as Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, and Santana, have heeded the boycott call and cancelled planned performances in Israel. All international artists appearing at the RSWJF would violate two key criteria of the cultural boycott of Israel: (1) By performing at a state-sponsored event and (2) By performing at an apartheid venue in Israel. Please cancel your upcoming appearance at RSWJF and help to realise equal rights and justice in Palestine-Israel. By heeding the Palestinian call for international solidarity we can stop entertaining apartheid." (justiceforpalestinebrisbane.org, 29/12/10)


Anonymous said...

Clio turns in his grave: or, oud, radio interview and the politics of history.

As an academic scholar as well as avid ABC Radio National listener I am somewhat taken aback by the assertions in this blog, in light of hearing the morning interview with the maestro oud player Joseph Tawadros (10/1/2011) and Julian Morrow.

My concerns about the contents of this blog are fourfold: -

Firstly, I wonder whether, or, not, Merc and I actually heard the same interview as my interpretations of what was said differs from what is purported herein. The propositions of Mr Tawadros expressed in the interview acknowledge the links between the Copts and the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt and, moreover, he correctly states that they were the original inhabitants as the Arabs arrived later in Egypt.

To anyone who actually cares about this radio interview I would like to suggest that you listen for yourself to discover what actually transpired in the interview.


Secondly, any critical thinker is aware that history is neither, fixed, or, complete, as the blogger seems to suggest. A case in point:

Indigenous Australians will attest that history is indeed suppressed, destroyed, rewritten, denied and distorted for political, economic, and societal as well as cultural reasons so that the majority of people are able to promote as well as maintain their privileged interests in this country at the expense of minority groups, including Aboriginal people.

The relevance of this case resonates in this blog: for instance, various historical materials do link the Coptic Christians to the ancient Egyptians, although there are some writers who dismiss these historical links for various reasons, including political motivations. Additionally, historical materials do indicate that the arrival of Arabic people occurred later on in Egypt. The follow on assertions by Merc regarding what he alleges Mr Tawadros said during the interview did not occur.

Again, if anyone is interested in pursuing historical accounts of links between the Copts and the Pharaohs in Egypt and is seeking information about the arrival of the Arabs in Egypt they might wish to read the following text:

J. Kamil, (2002), Christianity in the Land of the Pharaohs, Routledge: London.

And, quoting from the opening chapter of this book:

"Copt...the word derives from the ancient Hikaptah ('house of the ka or spirit of Ptah...’) via the Greek 'Aigyptious' and the Arabic 'Qibt' to the Copt'”...

"The Arabs called Egypt 'dar-al-Qibt' (home of the Copts)”....

"The Coptic language is the ancient Egyptian vernacular written in the Greek alphabet...[and] hieroglyphics"....

In other words Coptic language does include ancient Egyptian writings as well as symbols and, the meaningfulness of these links are recognised historically by Greek as well as Arabic cultures and knowledge’s.

Thirdly, I suspect that the real reason behind this blog is to draw attention to the point that Mr Tawadros is participating in the upcoming Red Sea Jazz Festival – as indicated by reference to this towards the end of the comments posted. I am rather perplexed by this inclusion for a number of reasons however, as the instigator of this blog refers to Clio and warns of the dangers of using the mass media to promote errors in recounting history one must question the raison d’ĂȘtre of this blog for that which is being criticised (Cliocide) is being replicated by the writer himself.

Finally, I would like to close this response with the following quotes that are intended to build on to the musings of Clio in order to champion history with knowledge, love and peace: -

All men (sic) by nature desire knowledge (Aristotle)

The greatest pleasure of life is love (Euripides) and,

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace (Jimi Hendrix).

MERC said...

Dear Zillah,

1)Clio is a she, not a "he."

2)Mr Tawadros is perfectly correct about the Copts being the descendents of the ancient Egyptians. I didn't say he wasn't. My point was solely that ALL Egyptians, whether Copt or Muslim, are the descendents of the ancient Egyptians.

3) My premise was that when he said "The Arabs came later," he was IMPLYING that said Arabs were therefore the exclusive ancestors of today's Muslim Egyptians. Only Mr Tawadros would be able to confirm or deny my alleged implication.

4) No, the purpose of this post was not simply to draw attention to Mr Tawadros' intention to participate in the RSWJF. However, I do hope you're not suggesting that that is a subject I should have left out.

5) Thank you for your response.

Anonymous said...

Dear MERC,

Thank you for posting my response to your blog and for the comments in reply: an open dialogue is always the best way forward with differing opinions.

Firstly, as a woman who masculinised Clio I stand humbly corrected.

Secondly, of course there would have been some Arabic people living in ancient Egypt, alongside peoples of other denominations. The historical point remains however, that the mass of Arabic peoples arrived in ancient Egypt after the Copts.

Thirdly, the logic of what you think someone is / might be / could be / should be implying is inherently flawed I’m afraid – and it is the basis of misunderstandings between people throughout the ages. My suggestion is that you revisit the radio interview and with an open heart and mind listen to what was actually said by Mr Tawadros at the time. Moreover, have you considered that the interview might have been edited? In which case perhaps what we heard on radio was a grab of what Mr Tawadros had to say to the interviewer.

Tied to this point is the fact that part of my problem with this blog is the inflammatory language used in relation to this particular artist and I quote: “his (Tawadros) comments are complete rubbish and I’m [MERC] blowing the whistle…his (Tawadros) ignorance…[referred to more than once], he (Tawadros) has reportedly fallen victim to a certain dodgy siren call…”. In short, one of my major concerns about the contents of this blog has to do with the derogatory terms that one is using to refer to another person, when it is admitted that what he had to say in the interview was correct (despite what you think he meant at the time). In my opinion this type of blog actually stifles constructive dialogue and this saddens me as a humanist who believes in open as well as reasonable discussions as the way forward to develop understanding between people.

Lastly, I still do wonder what the intended purpose of this blog might be when you are focusing on a particular artist who undertook a brief radio interview and which was interspersed with oud playing, while advertising that persons up-coming performances overseas.

Wishing you history, knowledge, love and peace always.

Signed, Zillah.

MERC said...

Dear Zillah,

1) As a historian, what precisely do you mean by "some Arabic people living in ancient Egypt"? Was Arabic around then? Was Islam? Clearly not. Moreover, who is this "mass of Arabic peoples [which] arrived in ancient Egypt after the Copts"? Do you contest Glubb's conclusions as quoted in my post?

2) If my attribution of an implication to JT's statement, "The Arabs arrived later," is "inherently flawed," what then do you feel he meant/was trying to say by adding it?

3) Is it possible that one woman's "infammatory language" is another's plain-speaking?

4) I did not write that JT's "comments" in general were rubbish, I was referring solely to his implication (or what I took to be his implication) that Muslim Egyptians are not equally the indigenous inhabitants of Egypt. What is your position on this?

5) Re my "fallen victim to a certain dodgy siren call": Would 'succumbed to the blandishments of Israeli PR people' have been more to your taste? If so, even though you may prefer that wording, it means exactly the same. Do you believe that Israel is SIMPLY holding a jazz festival, nothing more. Do you not concede the propaganda benefits in this to a state which is justifiably regarded as a pariah by the rest of the world, except for its few 'friends'? Do you support the BDS strategy against Israel?


brian said...

'he correctly states that they were the original inhabitants as the Arabs arrived later in Egypt'

a bit like the palestinian were the original inhabitants of palestine and the zionists arrived later...

Anonymous said...

Dear MERC and Brian,

So, Joseph Tawadros was misquoted on this blog in relation to the ABC radio interview....

and, in relation to Palestinian people you are correct - however,

in terms of original inhabitants should artists boycott Australia due to its history of invasion

Or, is it more constructive to consider these issues in terms of all peoples be they Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Australian people?

Inclusiveness rather than separateness could be a way forward you know and Tawadros performing in Israel 'brother to brother' is a musical step toward these desirable outcomes.

signed, Zillah.

MERC said...

Zillah, would you mind answering my questions?

Anonymous said...


I will get back to you regarding your questions....

But for now since participating on your blog I've checked out Tawadros' website and it seems that he has performed in support of Palestine and Arabic peoples - interesting - so while I'm going through your questions here is one for you to think about before getting back to me, also - why do you think that Tawadros has supported Palestine / Arabic people?

Peace and love, Zillah.