On Being Tumblr

On Being Tumblr

On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
Avivah Zornberg spins a beautiful midrash of the Exodus story this week. Worth many many listens:

It seems to me that it’s a kind of storybook story, that Cecil B. DeMille story, in which there are the bad guys and the good guys, and the bad guys get it. You know, they get their comeuppance, and the good guys rejoice. And, somehow, it doesn’t seem to me to be a story for adults. What you find in the midrashic versions, many multiple narratives, is an emphasis on the complexity of the Israelite experience and the fact that, immediately they land on the other side, they begin to complain and sin, essentially to doubt the whole story of redemption. In other words, nothing is absolute. And the fact that the Israelites are witnessing the deaths of the Egyptians, that is something, according to a very famous and beautiful midrash, that means that the angels in heaven are not allowed to sing a song of praise. God stops them singing, because ‘the creatures of My hand, the work of My hands, are dying in the sea. How can you be singing a song of praise?’

Avivah Zornberg spins a beautiful midrash of the Exodus story this week. Worth many many listens:

It seems to me that it’s a kind of storybook story, that Cecil B. DeMille story, in which there are the bad guys and the good guys, and the bad guys get it. You know, they get their comeuppance, and the good guys rejoice. And, somehow, it doesn’t seem to me to be a story for adults. What you find in the midrashic versions, many multiple narratives, is an emphasis on the complexity of the Israelite experience and the fact that, immediately they land on the other side, they begin to complain and sin, essentially to doubt the whole story of redemption. In other words, nothing is absolute. And the fact that the Israelites are witnessing the deaths of the Egyptians, that is something, according to a very famous and beautiful midrash, that means that the angels in heaven are not allowed to sing a song of praise. God stops them singing, because ‘the creatures of My hand, the work of My hands, are dying in the sea. How can you be singing a song of praise?’

Comments
I can’t even imagine how grueling it must be having to wrestle sumo and fast for Ramadan. Big ups!
On the first day of Ramadan, Egyptian sumo wrestler Osunaarashi (right), whose real name is Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan, pushes Satoyama out of the ring during the second-day bout of the 15-day Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in Nagoya in Aichi prefecture in Japan. The Arab world’s first professional sumo wrestler says fasting for Ramadan will give him courage during his inaugural tournament in the famously weighty elite ranks of the sport.
(Photo by Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

I can’t even imagine how grueling it must be having to wrestle sumo and fast for Ramadan. Big ups!

On the first day of Ramadan, Egyptian sumo wrestler Osunaarashi (right), whose real name is Abdelrahman Ahmed Shaalan, pushes Satoyama out of the ring during the second-day bout of the 15-day Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament in Nagoya in Aichi prefecture in Japan. The Arab world’s first professional sumo wrestler says fasting for Ramadan will give him courage during his inaugural tournament in the famously weighty elite ranks of the sport.

(Photo by Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Comments

Call to Prayer at Sultan Hassan Mosque (video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

One of the largest mosques in the world, the Masjid al-Sultan Hassan is just one more reason to visit Cairo:

Built between 1356 and 1363 by the Mamluk ruler Sultan Hassan, the scale of the mosque is so colossal that it nearly emptied the vast Mamluk Treasury. Historians believe that the builders of this mosque may have used stone from thepyramids at Giza.

Early in construction, some design flaws in the colossal plans became apparent. There was going to be a minaret at each corner, but this was abandoned after the one directly above the entrance collapsed, killing 300 people. Another minaret toppled in 1659, then the weakened dome collapsed.

The early history witnessed by the mosque was as unstable as its architecture: Hassan was assassinated in 1391, two years before completion, and the roof was used as an artillery platform during coups against sultans Barquq (1391) and Tumanbey (1517).

Comments
The lights of the Nile River delta as seen from the International Space Station. These images from NASA never cease to amaze me.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The lights of the Nile River delta as seen from the International Space Station. These images from NASA never cease to amaze me.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Comments

Can Turkey Inspire Egypt as a Religious Role Model?

by Mustafa Abdelhalim, guest contributor

Turkey as a Role Model for Religion in Egypt

Last week, Egyptians went to the polls to participate in the first presidential election since Mubarak’s downfall in February 2011. Going forward, the new president, who will be elected in the second phase of elections in June, should look to examples from other countries that have undergone successful democratic transitions.

When asked what leader outside their own country they most admired, a recent poll from the University of Maryland found that 63 percent of Egyptians answered Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, indicating that Egyptians may be interested in learning from Turkey. Turkey can serve as a relevant model because it has successfully dealt with three key challenges facing Egypt — the relationship of the army to a civilian government, economic growth and fostering positive international relations.

Read More

Comments

An Islamic State in Egypt? The Muslim Brotherhood and the Presidential Elections

by Barbara Zollner, guest contributor

Banned Muslim Brotherhood CandidatesA composite photograph of Egyptian Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail (left), Khayrat al-Shater (center), and former Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Egypt’s election commission said on April 14, 2012 that the three men were among ten candidates barred from running for president. (Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

The battle over Egypt’s democratic future is at a significant crossroads. But while the fight for succession to Mubarak’s throne is fully under way, the rules of the competition seem to be constantly changing.

Only two weeks ago, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) announced their decision to field a candidate for the May presidential elections. They nominated businessman and multi-millionaire Khayrat al-Shater. Fostering deep-seated fears about Islamist regimes, the Washington Post expressed concern that, should Shater win the elections, Islamic law would be enforced.

Read More

Comments
Prayer on a Post
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Sherine Tados, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English, tweeted this incredible photo of a man praying atop a lamp post in Tahrir Square today — along with this image of a mass of people prostrating while performing salah:

Prayer on a Post

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Sherine Tados, a correspondent for Al Jazeera English, tweeted this incredible photo of a man praying atop a lamp post in Tahrir Square today — along with this image of a mass of people prostrating while performing salah:

Performing salah in Tahrir Square, Egypt

Comments

A Fundamental Rearranging of Societies, Hopes, and Dreams

by Krista Tippett, host

Scott Atrain in DamascusI love it when we can find a way into a story that is blanketing the news — and open it up in a revealing, humanizing way. I feel that listening to Scott Atran this week does just that.

I first heard him on the BBC in the middle of the night a few months ago. I wrote down his name in a kind of fog. He was talking about his book Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.

He has spent the last decade listening and conversing across a range of Muslim cultures with people implicated in suicide bombing attacks as well as political leaders and extended circles of friends and family beyond the radicalized young. The perspective he has gained is not uncontroversial, and not comfortable. But it is challenging in the best way: mind-opening and eye-opening.

And that is the kind of insight we need right now. For if there is any universal reaction I’m hearing to events on the streets of Tunisia, Yemen, and especially Egypt, it is the surprise of them. Behind that surprise, we’re aware that little of the last decade’s profusion of facts, news, and analysis about “the Middle East” and “the Arab world” prepared us to expect this very human democratic eruption. Nor do we know how to respond to it, it seems, either at the highest political levels or as citizens.

Talking to the Enemy:  Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists by Scott AtranScott Atran offers deep context for this picture of social upheaval. He came to study anthropology under the late great Margaret Mead, and spent the first part of his career studying Mayan Indians and the Druze people of the Middle East. Then a decade ago he turned his attention to the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism from Indonesia to Europe to the Middle East.

He sought to understand why some young people become radicalized, asking: Why do some of them become terrorists and suicide bombers? What makes young people in the extended circles of family and friendship around these people susceptible or immune?

What he has learned is a fascinating backdrop for hearing and seeing the young who are at the heart of the movement in Cairo and elsewhere. For their energies, anger, and dreams — fueled by the same frustrations that political analyses have labeled as breeding grounds for terrorism — are now surfacing as breeding grounds for democratic reform. They are doing so with impressive courage and civility.

Scott Atran also offers some sweeping ideas that become food for thought as we rearrange our view of how our world might unfold. Without denying the danger and devastation of terrorism, he points out that American minds, in particular, became convinced of a magnitude of terrorist threat that hasn’t been borne out beyond the 9/11 attacks.

Al Qaeda, he says with certainty, is not what it once was. More importantly, as Atran would have us see, this focus on Al Qaeda blinded us to the human and democratic possibilities alive in other cultures just as they are alive in our own. The “clash of civilizations” that so many feared, he offers, may really be a crash and potential rebirth of territorial cultures — a fundamental rearranging of societies, hopes, and dreams.

And surely one of the most galvanizing qualities of the voices from Tahrir Square is how they are echoing quintessential themes of American history. As someone who also knows the Muslim Brotherhood well, Scott Atran would have us resist catastrophizing about the unlikely possibility that they might come to power. At the same time and just as fervently, he would have us attend to the range of Muslim people and organizations that will help weave the fabric of a new democracy, if indeed a democracy emerges in Egypt — just as a whole range of fervently Christian people and organizations were integral threads in the fabric of American civil society from the very first.

About the top image: Scott Atran in Damascus to do follow-up interviews with Middle East leaders on the role of sacred values in seemingly intractable conflicts. (photo: Scott Atran)

Comments
What Does This Photo of Men and Women Praying Together in Tahrir Square Signify?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
On February 1st, this photograph was posted on Twitter with the caption:

"In Tahrir Square in Cairo, men and women pray together just like at the  Haram in Makkah, gender boundaries have been transcended and the only  thing that matters is that they are Egyptians who want freedom!”

To see Muslim women and men praying next to each other in an Egyptian public square is worthy of noting. We wonder what it suggests about bigger changes afoot in Egypt? We reached out to commentators Melody Moezzi and Mona Eltahawy via Twitter for some context and perspective.
Moezzi replied: “In the time of the Prophet, men and women prayed side by side. Today in Mecca, men and women pray side by side. This should be good enough for the rest of the world then — to end segregation in mosques and in prayer. That’s what the comment is getting at.”
Eltahaway reached out to her broad sphere of followers on Twitter. One of Eltahaway’s Twitter followers added (with a smiley emoticon appended to the end:  “The segregation angle comes into play only when you are inside a mosque. Believe it or not, Islam is a flexible religion.”
What do you see in the photograph that might add to our understanding? Do you have other insights that might train our eyes to see differently? Are there details to which we should pay greater attention, which, in turn, would add to its meaning and significance?
(photo: S. Habib/Twitpic)

What Does This Photo of Men and Women Praying Together in Tahrir Square Signify?

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

On February 1st, this photograph was posted on Twitter with the caption:

"In Tahrir Square in Cairo, men and women pray together just like at the Haram in Makkah, gender boundaries have been transcended and the only thing that matters is that they are Egyptians who want freedom!”

To see Muslim women and men praying next to each other in an Egyptian public square is worthy of noting. We wonder what it suggests about bigger changes afoot in Egypt? We reached out to commentators Melody Moezzi and Mona Eltahawy via Twitter for some context and perspective.

Moezzi replied: “In the time of the Prophet, men and women prayed side by side. Today in Mecca, men and women pray side by side. This should be good enough for the rest of the world then — to end segregation in mosques and in prayer. That’s what the comment is getting at.”

Eltahaway reached out to her broad sphere of followers on Twitter. One of Eltahaway’s Twitter followers added (with a smiley emoticon appended to the end: “The segregation angle comes into play only when you are inside a mosque. Believe it or not, Islam is a flexible religion.”

What do you see in the photograph that might add to our understanding? Do you have other insights that might train our eyes to see differently? Are there details to which we should pay greater attention, which, in turn, would add to its meaning and significance?

(photo: S. Habib/Twitpic)

Comments

How Do We Understand the Positions of Egypt’s Coptic Christians in All This Coverage?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Coptic Christians Support Mubarak
A delegation of Egyptian Coptic Christian supporters of President Hosni Mubarak march during a demonstration in Cairo’s Muhandisin district on February 2, 2011. (photo: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

"He’s the best of the worst. Whoever comes after him might want to destroy us."
— Sameh Joseph, a Copt who works at the Patriarch of the Orthodox Christians Church in Alexandria, Egypt.

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Times ran this article on the mixed reactions of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. According to the report, many Copts say they dislike President Hosni Mubarak but fear the alternative even more, the political leader who might replace him. People like Samya Hammoui, a woman who lost two sisters and two nieces in the January 1st bombing of a church in Alexandria, fears the situation wouldn’t improve with Mubarak’s ouster, “If one of the Islamic extremists took over, things for us would be much worse.”

I sense my lack of understanding of the complexity of the story, especially with all the loud voices shouting freedom and democracy and calling for Mubarak’s ouster. And, since I’m in the religious journalism business, I’m trying to understand what this means for Egypt’s minority religious community, which comprises more than 10 percent of the country’s population.

As I consume a bounty of news reports and tweets from the streets about Egypt and demonstrations in Tahrir Square, I sense that alternative viewpoints like the story above are being drowned out by events occurring “inside the bubble” of Tahrir Square.

Take, for example, the photos like the ones below. These stories inundated my news feeds yesterday: Egypt’s Copts and Muslims standing side by side, crucifixes and sacred texts in hands held high, as they call for Mubarak’s removal. They are striking and hopeful and needed. But these stories may be part of the picture that overwhelms the LA Times piece above.

Coptic Christian and Muslim Women Protest at Tahrir Square in Front of Egyptian Flag
An Egyptian Coptic Christian and a Muslim woman pause in front of their national flag during a joint communal gathering of anti-government protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on February 06, 2011. Writing on the flag reads in Arabic, “Christian and Muslim = Egypt”. (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt's Coptic Christians and Muslims in Tahrir Square
Calling for the end to President Hosni Mubarak’s government, Egypt’s Coptic Christians and Muslims raise a cross and a Qur’an on February 6, 2011 in Tahrir Square in central Cairo. (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Much like most other conversations on this program, I’m constantly reminded that there is no one truth in matters of identity, the heart, and the future of one’s community. The point is to keep looking and piecing together the many parts to this story, and the many other stories out there.

Comments

This Moment of Dynamic, Unfolding Human Change in the Middle East and the Interior American West

by Krista Tippett, host

It’s fascinating how we are always surprised when the world changes — though there is no more certain prediction than that it will. As we were producing this week’s show with Terry Tempest Williams, the latest installment in our "Civil Conversations Project," young people started flooding the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and beyond. Within a matter of days, they had unsettled regimes that have held unquestioned power for decades and set off other ripple effects that are far from over.

This is at once exhilarating, hopeful, terrifying, and painful to behold. And the question I want to ask is: What understanding is it asking of those who are watching? What context do we need to see the human dynamics and implications at play here? And what wise response can we offer?

Scott AtranWe are taking on these questions in next week’s show with Scott Atran. He has been listening to the hopes and dreams of young people from Indonesia to Egypt for a decade. As an anthropologist, he’s sought to understand the human impulses that drive them into, as well as away from, religious and political radicalism. He sees some of these same impulses now finding expression in movements for democracy.

In some sense, the current events in Egypt have completely overshadowed our recent domestic concerns about creating civility in a political life, which, by comparison, is extraordinarily vital and peaceful. And yet, my conversation with Scott Atran points at the way in which these two pursuits in fact are deeply connected.

Even as those young people are filled with hopes and dreams, they long for examples, for proof that it is possible to realize them. As much as they want our political leaders to engage their political leaders now, they want us to show them ways of being as a nation and civil society.

Vault Mosaics
The magnificent mosaics of the presbytery vault and apse Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. (photo: Holly Hayes/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

Terry Tempest Williams is a very different kind of voice to add to the list of people this series has offered: Frances Kissling, Richard Mouw, Elizabeth Alexander, and others to come in the spring. First of all, she is absolutely formed by the place she inhabits — Utah, the interior American West. One of the gifts of this interview is how she opens up the contours of geographic difference that we sometimes forget among all of our other differences as a nation, as a people.

Our conversation is full of lovely and useful images — from the natural world, from unlikely civic collaborations, and from Terry Tempest Williams’ own family, which is a kind of microcosm of American divides.

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest WilliamsJust as Elizabeth Alexander offered up words and questions from the medium of poetry, for example, Terry Tempest Williams opens up her own mediums of language and idea. Her book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, traces human fragmentation and its antidotes from her experiences in a village in Rwanda to her observations of white-tailed prairie dogs in the American desert, to a pilgrimage she took to the Italian city of Ravenna to learn the ancient art of mosaic.

Mosaic, she observes, is “a conversation between what is broken.” I find this a helpful, and more immediately realizable, aspiration than “healing” for our national and international lives in this moment of dynamic unfolding human change.

Comments

A Twitterscript with Terrorism Expert Scott Atran

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Scott AtranKrista first heard terrorism expert Scott Atran on the BBC and knew she wanted to book him as a guest. He interviews jihadis to understand what makes them want to live or die for a cause. Through the lens of psychology and culture, he also does extensive field work in both the Arab and Israeli Middle East. In fact, minutes before his interview with Krista, he had an extensive phone conversation with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and shared his thoughts with us about uncertainty and hope surrounding the uprising in Egypt.

Scott Atran is presidential scholar in sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, a visiting professor of Psychology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and research director in Anthropology at the National Center for Scientific Research in France. He has briefed Congress and national and homeland security staff at the White House on his research into terrorist groups. His latest book is called Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation, which we’re aggregating and reposting for those who weren’t able to follow along. Check out our Twitter stream next time at @BeingTweets.

  1. Krista is about to start conversing with Scott Atran - an expert on communicating with, and understanding, terrorists. http://bit.ly/hhb106 1:00 PM Feb 1st
  2. "I’m always interested in those people who are as different from me as possible." - Scott Atran on his interest in Jihadis 1:17 PM Feb 1st
  3. "If I can understand what moves these people, I can better understand what it means to be human." - Atran on his interest in terrorists 1:18 PM Feb 1st
  4. "The greatest predictor is if they belong to a soccer club or some other active group of friends." - Atran on who is a terrorist 1:19 PM Feb 1st
  5. "You too can cut off the head of Goliath with a papercutter." -Atran on the powerful message which attracts some to the Jihadi movement 1:25 PM Feb 1st
  6. "The young people…are trying to build a way forward that’s… idealistic, that talks to their hopes and dreams and is realizable." -Atran 1:36 PM Feb 1st
  7. "You really want to know who’s involved in a plot? Find one of the guys…Look at what he eats…and you’ll find the others." -Atran 1:49 PM Feb 1st
  8. "War…it is a violent attitude toward someone else because their thinking of the world is different than your own." -Scott Atran 2:03 PM Feb 1st
  9. "The principle of enmity: human beings are most mobilized when we have enemies. Can we lessen conflict without having enemies?" -S. Atran 2:20 PM Feb 1st
  10. "Wars are only won in two ways — you destroy your enemy or you make them your friends." -Scott Atran 2:22 PM Feb 1st
  11. "I recall Maximilien Robespierre, ‘No one loves armed missionaries.’" -Scott Atran 2:30 PM Feb 1st

About the image: Scott Atran stands in front of Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron (photo courtesy of Scott Atran).

Comments