Archives: Current Fellows

Do Whales Like it Hot?

I’m at the bottom of the ocean, and I hear singing.

I can’t see them, but their voices are clear, like a bird calling in the night. I wait motionless on the sand bottom under twenty feet of water as reef fish dart around me. I’m listening for whales. The sounds I hear are not deep, slow baritones: the whales chirp like a baby trying out its voice in gurgles and giggles. It sounds like a conversation between whales, talking in rising and falling coos and blips. I can’t help but grin behind my mask. read more

Jonathan Guyer Published in Rolling Stone

Drawing on research from his ICWA Fellowship, Fellow Jonathan Guyer’s current feature in Rolling Stone explains how a young Egyptian writer ended up on the wrong side of the law. “Inside the Strange Saga of a Cairo Novelist Imprisoned for Obscenity” investigates the case of Ahmed Naji, a thirty-year-old writer whose struggle reveals the state …

Twice as Hard for Half the Credit

A year ago, the Walikota [mayor] of Banda Aceh made headlines by declaring Valentine’s Day haram [forbidden]. “Many Muslim youth in Banda Aceh are sending Valentine’s day greetings via social media. And it is the responsibility of the city government to ensure this does not happen again…Muslim youth should certainly not be celebrating non-Islamic culture,” said Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal.[1]

You might recognize that name from a footnote in my last Newsletter. Illiza is the exception to male dominance in the political class of syariah law-observant Banda Aceh. After serving for seven years as vice mayor under Mawardy Nurdin, who died of kidney failure, Illiza was appointed mayor in 2014. She and Jakarta governor Ahok thus share two commonalities: neither fit the Muslim male mold that typifies Indonesian leadership, and neither was democratically elected. This could all change when residents in their respective cities go to the polls this Wednesday – the day after Valentine’s Day.

In the run-up to Democratic elections, it is not uncommon for politicians to deliberately create media events in an attempt to shape public impressions. Indonesians call this “pencitraan” – though I’ve always liked the slightly less politically charged phrase “cari muka” [looking for face], which describes going to seemingly absurd lengths to draw attention to oneself.

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At the Cairo Book Fair

“Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, and Baghdad reads,” goes the adage. At the Cairo International Book Fair, where hundreds of publishers and thousands of readers gather each winter, everybody writes, publishes, and reads.

While the sclerotic institutions of state-funded culture remain conservative forces with an outsized role in Egyptian letters, independent publishers continue to push the limits and introduce new voices from within and without the Arab region. At the fair, you can find the latest catalogues of free presses from across the Arab and Muslim world, periodicals from a century ago, or quirky delights like contemporary children’s books from Syria or Yemen—that is, if you can find your way around the colossal fairgrounds. Since there is no map or guide—at least not one that’s of any use—let me give you a tour.
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The (Dis)Harmonies of Islam

Like any other spiritual or human endeavor, Islam is a plurality resounding in harmonies and, at times, disharmonies. I began learning about this faith and its people as a college freshman in 2001. As a journalism student at the University of Missouri, I was asked to reflect critically on media packages that paired footage of the terror attacks with …

Jonathan Guyer in the Media

In the January issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, Fellow Jonathan Guyer examines the connections between fine and comic art in Egypt and the wider Middle East. “On the Arab Page” “That comics are often dismissed as childish gives contemporary artists more space to address politically disruptive topics,” he writes. The richly illustrated …

A Bright Spot in an Otherwise Darkened Egypt

In The Art Newspaper, Fellow Jonathan Guyer reviews Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla’s new show “On the Silk Road.” The 60 mixed-media works are inspired by fairy tales and mythology, and exhibited at the ministry of culture’s premier space. In his review, Guyer situates Abla’s practice within the broader politics of art in Egypt …

A Coast with No Water

All I can see are breaking waves. I stand up on the lazarette and lean onto the dodger to steady the binoculars. There is supposed to be a channel clearly marked with lighted buoys, our first entrance to Nicaragua. We left Honduras early and had a favorable current pushing us south from the Gulf of Fonseca, but we had planned to arrive at dark and use …