A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, December 17, 2011

They Say Isis' Tears for Osiris Give Rise to the Nile Flood . . .

It's been a second, dark day in Qasr al-‘Aini and Tahrir. If the tears of Isis really give birth to the Nile flood, I fear there's high water coming in Egypt. (Though Denial, which apparently is a river in Egypt, seems to be rising as well.) The toll of the dead is rising, and the level of injuries is appalling. Two iconic images among many: the Institut d'Egypt/Scientific Society building burning (second photo), taking with it priceless documents dating to the Napoleonic expedition, and a woman demonstrator (first photo. at top) being beaten and partly stripped to reveal her bra in the  street by military police. The latter is already on tomorrow's front pages (the Sunday Times  of London for one, and the independent newspaper Tahrir for another: the Arabic headline reads "Liars!") on tomorrow's front pages, and is likely to outrage a great many people, as well as evoke memories of the notorious "virginity tests." Even so, some people are saying it's fake, though both stills and video exist. Some have even suggested the black garment may even be an abaya, the traditionalist covering.

The loss of the Institut d'Egypte may be due to a protester's molotov cocktail, but the vision of uniformed authority beating, kicking,. and stripping protesters is disturbing to say the least. Despite the usual declarations that the protesters are plotting against Egypt, one of those killed  yesterday was an Azhari sheikh.

The videos are also disturbing and clearly show the exposing of the young woman by the troops at the 0:58 second mark (warning, brutal violence):

Today the Army reportedly moved into Tahrir and broke up the encampment, also the field hospitals in the square, at ‘Umar Makram mosque and the Anglican Qasr al-Doubara church, and arrested some of the doctors. Western medias were reportedly ordered to stop broadcasting.

It's getting worse, despite the success of the elections. Outside of Cairo people may believe that SCAF is still on the side of the revolution, but the growing dichotomy between the revolutionaries and the broader society is as bothersome as the spreading hostility towards SCAF.

(Strong Language warning here. Actually, repeatedly so in the policy statement below.)

A second sad day; blogger Zeinobia has her usual collection of stills and videos,  and an unusually candid and profane title for her, "We are Fucked!!". 

Language policy addendum (strong and repeated and R-Rated language warning here):
A note on language policy to any offended readers on the uncensored language in the last sentence of this post: I originally used asterisks here (f**ked), which has been my policy up to now with exceptions; on reflection, I see that that was watering down the message Zeinobia, who doesn't normally use such language either, intended by using it to deliberately shock, so I've removed the asterisks to restore her powerful meaning. I'm going to explain in this excursus why, in the future, on rare occasions (as has actually been done previously) I may cite strong language uncensored and directly on the blog, which requires repeating the word "fuck" multiple times (not in its sexual but in its intensifying, expletive sense),  just this once. If that seriously offends you, don't read any further.  A search of Zeinobia's website suggests she's never previously used the word in any form, at least lately, and certainly not in a post title, so I undercut her deliberate transgressiveness.
People who use profanity constantly deplete it of all shock value. There are those who cuss like a longshoreman or a drunken sailor, for whom, as someone once said, "fucking" is just a sign that a noun is coming. I've worked as a journalist covering the military, and journalists and the military are among the most avid users of the word. (There's a story from some well known literary source that in WWII an RAF mechanic hit a propeller with a wrench and exclaimed, "Fuck! This fucking fucker's fucked!" Though spoiled by the intrusion of a non-obscene "this", the result is both joyously pure, or I guess impure.) That renders a word that used to shock rather anodyne, and makes the speaker seem vocabulary-challenged. But people who use taboo words only in extreme cases, when they're really, really angry or shocked (okay, really fucking angry: see the difference from "really, really angry"?), deserve to be heard with all the taboo letters in place: they chose the vocabulary not out of habit or lack of alternatives, but precisely for its effect.
If I'm going to quote Zeinobia's "We are fucked!!" at all, as seemed necessary to me here to show the despair and anger involved, I should quote exactly what she said.  Sorry if I offend those who preferred f**ked (and many doubtless found even that offensive), but I felt I was betraying her original intent to shock, and other than possibly "forked," I can't think of another word f**ked could be hiding.   It also strikes me as condescending to readers who, of course, know what the asterisks stand for, so they don't euphemize, they weaken. When you read "f**ked," do you say in your own mind, "F asterisk asterisk CK?" If you do, please seek professional help soon. The asterisks (or dashes, or saying "the F-word") conceal nothing from the reader, gut the author's effort to shock, and reveal my own timidity. On reflection, I feel I was cowardly. In fact, I fucked up here. I trust the difference in impact between that and "I made a mistake" is clear. The fact that I don't normally use the word (at least in print), that you're not used to seeing it here, adds to its power.
Be honest. "Fuck" fairly shouts and screams at the average reader, slaps you in the face like a challenge, demanding attention, especially if the author never or rarely uses it; as if your pastor or your grandmother or Mother Teresa suddenly said "Fuck you!" It may shock: in fact it's intended to shock, but you can't ignore it, unless it's part of that person's everyday vocabulary, in which case it's neutered by overuse and you filter it out. Since the word almost never appears on this blog, my overuse of it now may shock, but precisely because you don't see it here everyday. It gets your attention. You can watch a gangster movie and hear it hundreds of times without blinking, but when your eight year old says it, the reaction is quite different. Words are just words, so there's no word that should be banned always and everywhere, but words have power.  They are not magical (though they have an inner power); they are never beyond our control; they are our creatures and do not control us; but they do have power to move, to anger, to arouse. "Fuck" still, despite decades of pervasiveness in the media and daily argot, has a lot of power in all those areas (at least in print), and is too powerful a word for most casual discussions, and overuse robs it of its power, which is to rob it of its shock value.
But it's still just a word, not a magical talisman; it is our servant. When an author uses it deliberately and only once in a blue moon for that shock value, to euphemize or asterisk is to take away its power.(Anyone who will never, ever use "fuck" or any other English word is limiting their vocabulary just as surely as the person who uses it as their universal adjective. It has even appeared, once to my knowledge in The Middle East Journal. (No, I'm not telling you where or when.) It is giving a word that does have great power a magical and superstitious import. Don't fear the word. Respect it.)  Zeinobia is no drunken sailor. When she used it, I should have left it intact. 
On the other hand, "f**k" is a lot less urgent and screams "censored" (or "cowardice") rather than "shocking" (whereas "fuck" is fucking urgent, as it were); the asterisks let you know the user, or whoever censored the user, doesn't really mean it, and suggests the original author was as timid as I, and she wasn't. And besides, the unedited word has previously appeared in my blogposts, though in images of Twitter tweets, such as Mona Eltahawy's memorable "Just wait you fuckers" tweet after her sexual assault.
That was an image, which would have required Photoshopping, which is why I let it stand without editing, but with a language warning, but "you fuckers" conveys her mood at the time or she wouldn't have tweeted it, whereas "you f**kers" weakens the force. They'd just brutalized, beaten, groped her and otherwise abused her and sexually assaulted her. I'm pretty sure I would have been a lot more obscene than she. They'd earned the extra "uc."  Since the uncensored word has appeared here before, directly on the blog, unasterisked, and was used by the author(s) (I presume) for its shock value, I'll let it shock with the full force here as well, if I quote them at all. If you're not shocked, then you don't mind; if you are shocked, I think that was the intent. If you object profoundly, stop reading when you see my "language warning."
 I always said I'd keep this site rated PG-13, but if this Wikipedia entry is true, you can use the word one to four times (though this post exceeds that) and still be PG-13, particularly when used as an intensifier rather than its original explicitly sexual sense. (Which, if you think about it, constitutes a tiny percentage of the word's actual usage outside of erotica. The root meaning is almost forgotten.) Not that I plan to push that envelope. You probably won't see the word again for weeks or months, after this exposition. And in quotes, not from me, at least absent extreme anger or provocation.
So, precisely because overuse negates the word's shock power, I intend to limit using this and other strong words to direct quotes and links, not in my own voice (except in this post), and only when I feel a quote rather than a link is essential. Mona Eltahawy's is one example; Zeinobia's another. This isn't a new policy, but the earlier uses directly on the blog were asterisked or were shown in images. It and other imprecative, pejorative, sexual, transgressive, or obscene words that may appear in citations, will still very rarely appear on the blog itself; I'll link instead when I can. I will continue to give advance warning of rough language, as I always have, but unless higher authority overrules me on this, I'm done with the asterisks, the useless (fucking) asterisks. They hide nothing. (If the source uses asterisks, though, I'll keep them. I'm not going to be explicit when the source was not.)

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