Sunday, February 28, 2016

Weekly Report 3: Fairuz

One of the most famous musicians in Arab history is Fairuz. She was born on November 21st, 1935 in Jabal Al Arz, Lebanon. At a young age, her and her family moved to Beirut because her father obtained a job at a print house. Early in her youth, she realized her love for music; she loved singing along with the songs that would come on the radio. She especially enjoyed the songs of Asmahan and Layla Mourad. She often would surprise her community at social gatherings with her beautiful voice. Although her family was very poor, her father put aside money for Fairuz’s education, allowing her to go to school. Upon her arrival, she immediately decided to join her school’s choir. Many took notice of her talent.

In the early 1940s two veteran composers in charge of a radio program came to Fairuz’s school, searching for young talent to join their choir. After listening to the choir, they selected a few students, including Fairuz, to join the team. She enjoyed singing for the choir, and when they offered her the chance to try out for a solo performance she took full advantage of it. One of the stations managers, Halam Elrumi, realized Fairuz’s potential and started to give her songs of he composed to perform. Elrumi then presented her to Assy and Mansour Rahbani, the brothers in charge of the station. Assy also saw the potential in Fairuz, and by the year 1951, she had sung songs written by a multitude of famous composers. Then Assy started composing songs for her. A relationship blossomed between the two, and in July of 1954 they got married.

Fairuz and the Rahbani brothers’ fame started to rise around the entire Arab World. Showcasing the song “Itab,” they were invited to numerous radio stations across the Middle East to present their work, most notably the Damascus and Sawet Elarab radio stations. In 1955, the trio went to Cairo and wrote “Rajioun,” which is still considered one of the most important musical pieces of the time period. After returning to Beirut, on January 1st, 1956 Fairuz gave birth to her first son, naming him Ziad. From this point forward, she adhered to a very conservative lifestyle, preferring the idea of staying home with her son rather than going out to social gatherings.   

In 1957, Fairuz sang “Libnan ya Akhder Helou” in Baalbek, Lebanon. This sparked a string of incredible works, leading the trio to the significant venues such as the Damascus festival, Casino Du Liban, Piccadilly Theater, and Cedars. Fairuz also hit the big screen, starring in three motion pictures in the 1960s. In 1971 she went on a successful tour in the United States, even gracing the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York City. She also went on a tour that touched down on every continent. However, in the late 1970s, her work relationship with the Rahbani brothers was broken, and she moved on to singing the works of her son, Ziad, Zaki Nassif, or Mohamed Mohsen.

During the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990, Fairuz decided to remain in Beirut. She did not sing any songs in a public setting, refusing to show bias to any sides. A few years after the conclusion of the war, in 1994, she held a concert in Beirut. In 1998 she had some successful concerts in Baalbek. She continues to perform and remains a national symbol for Lebanon.

  1. Boulos, Sargon. “Origins of a Legend.” Al Accessed February 28, 2016.
  2. “Fairuz’s Biography.” Accessed February 28, 2016.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reflection 2: The Islamic Legacy of Spain

Spain has a lasting Islamic legacy, starting in 711 when the Muslims invaded Spain and rapidly conquered the entire peninsula. Cordova is one of the most important cities in history, specifically prominent in the 8th-11th centuries. Abd-al-Rahman, one of the most fascinating characters of the time period, established the Umayyad Emirate in 756 that lasted until 929. Earlier in his life, al-Rahman escaped persecution and death in Damascus and then wandered from tribe to tribe until he came across Syrian troops across the strait from Ceuta. They accepted him as their leader, eventually leading to the successful Umayyad Emirate. Abd-al-Rahman III changed the Emirate to a Caliphate in 929, and in the coming years Cordova became one of the strongest centers in the world. Cordova’s library housed more than 400,000 books, and the city saw economic and industrial advances as well.
The city of Cordova
Sevilla was the most relevant city in Spain from the 11th-13th centuries. This time period was known as taifa, or a period of small city-states. By 1085, through their reconquest, the Christians had reconquered the northern half of Spain down to the former capital of Toledo. The Muslims, panicking about their losses, gained reinforcements from Africa through the Almohads and Almoravids. During this time period, the famous Spanish-Christian warrior El Cid rose to prominence as well.

The city of Granada, and the Granada Nasrid dynasty were of major importance from 1031-1492. Under the scholarship of Alfonso X, chess was introduced to society by the Muslims. Advances in the math, literature, and language were all seen. Furthermore, the first vernacular text was written in Spanish. The glorious palace/fortress of Alhambra was also at its peak during the time, its many fountains symbolizing the wealth and pride of the dynasty.

The Court of Lions at the Alhambra
Eventually, a treaty was signed that was meant to allow cohesive living between the Moriscos and the Christians. However, the Christians broke the treaty and persecuted the Moriscos because they would not convert to Christianity. Desiring a homogeneous country, in 1609 the Spanish expelled the Moriscos from Spain. The effects of the expulsion were serious, as ⅓ of the population of Valencia left, devastating the agriculture in the area.

Hence, through Dr. Deveny’s lecture, I learned how much of a lasting impact the Islamic presence has in Spain. Although it only lasted from 711-1492, the effects are still displayed today through lenses such as language. I look forward to conducting more research on this aspect of Islamic history. 



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Weekly Report 2: Yasser Arafat

“Now, as we celebrate the reawakening of creative forces within us and restore the war-torn home that overlooks the neighbors' where our children shall play together and compete to pick flowers, now, I feel national and human pride in my Palestinian Arab People whose powers of patience and giving, of retaining a never-ending bond between homeland, history and people, have added a new chapter to the homelands' ancient legends, that of The Epic of Hope. To them, to the sons and daughters of that kind enduring nation, that nation of Yew and dew, of fire and sweat, I dedicate this Nobel Prize. I shall bear it to those children who have been promised freedom, safety and security in a homeland free of the threats of external occupation or internal exploitation.” - Yasser Arafat, from his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in 1994

Yasser Arafat was born on August 24, 1929 in Cairo, Egypt. After losing his mother at the age of five, he was sent to live with his uncle in Jerusalem. According to, one of Arafat’s earliest memories occurred when British soldiers raided his uncle’s house and beat many of the members of his family. He moved back to Cairo four years later, and before the age of seventeen was smuggling arms into Palestine to be used against the British and Jews. Two years later, he left the University of Faud to fight against the Jews in Gaza. Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, an unsatisfied Arafat returned to the University of Faud where he became a leader of the Palestinian students.

In 1958, he helped to found Al-Fatah, an underground network of cells encouraging an armed struggle against Israel. Al-Fatah took over the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1969 when Arafat became the chairman of the PLO executive committee. Under his leadership, PLO morphed into an independent nationalist organisation. The PLO also developed into its own state within Jordan, forcing King Hussein to expel the PLO from his country. Following the organisation’s displacement from Jordan, Arafat moved the PLO from place to place, dodging assassination attempts and raids from Israeli intelligence and military. He continued to promote the Palestinian cause throughout his travels. In 1974, the United Nations declared the PLO as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” In his address to the General Assembly, Arafat said “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun, do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

In 1987, the intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, occurred. Arafat came to the limelight through a speech at the United Nations. He proclaimed that the PLO rejected  terrorism and instead supported the Middle East’s right to live in peace. Peace appeared to be on the horizon, leading to the Oslo Accords in 1993. Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his efforts to promote the Oslo Accords and generate peace within Palestine, Israel, and the entire Middle East. In his lecture he proclaimed,
Peace is in our interest: as only in an atmosphere of just peace shall the Palestinian people achieve their legitimate ambition for independence and sovereignty, and be able to develop their national and cultural identity, as well as enjoy sound neighborly relations, mutual respect and cooperation with the Israeli people.

In 1996 Arafat was elected President of the Palestine Authority. However, conservative politician Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in the same year, 1996. The peace process slowed down greatly following his election. In October of 2004, Arafat fell ill and died on November 11, 2004. To this day, Yasser Arafat remains a symbol of political legitimacy and independence to the Palestinian national movement.

  1. Editors. “Yasser Arafat Biography.” Accessed February 14, 2016.

  1. Irwin Abrams. “Yasser Arafat-Biographical.” Accessed February 14, 2016.

  1. “Who was Yasser Arafat?” Al Jazeera America. Last modified November 6, 2013.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Weekly Report 1: Syria

The Syrian crisis is one of the most confusing and catastrophic conflicts of our time. Over 11 million Syrians have either been killed or forced to flee their homes, leading to a migrant crisis across Europe. There are many existing players in the conflict, including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syrian President Assad, the Free Syrian Army (rebels) and ISIL. In short, Russia supports supports President Assad and his regime, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia support the Free Syrian Army, and ISIL and other jihadists have created chaos and blurred the entire conflict.

According to Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia is prepared to deploy ground troops in order to held Syrian troops in their battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). The deal is pending the approval of the United States. At the moment, it appears that the United States will support the installation of Saudi troops. Ashton Carter, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, believes that it will be be of major benefit, hoping that it will speed up the fight against ISIL. However, the offer is still very young, as Saudi military officials are still unsure of how many troops they can even deploy. It will be discussed next week in Brussels, where the U.S. will hold a meeting with the defense ministers of the coalition countries combatting ISIL.

The deployment of troops on the ground will not be Saudi Arabia’s first involvement with the Syrian crisis. Saudi’s air force has been conducting airstrikes against ISIL since 2014. Why establish troops on the ground now then? This sudden shift of interests may come as a surprise to many due to Saudi Arabia’s major involvement in Yemen. Many of the states located around the Persian Gulf have stopped supporting the efforts in Syria due to their focus on Yemen. The Saudis are part of a coalition against the rebel Houthis, and their efforts are comparable to those of the United States in Vietnam, as the war has drained much of their military resources. However, according to Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, the deployment of troops in Syria is coming due to the experience the Saudi military has gained in Yemen. Saudi forces believe both airstrikes and a ground operation are necessary in order to defeat ISIL.

Saudi troops on the ground may also pressure Russia, a major supporter of Syrian President Assad, to return to the Geneva peace negotiations. Saudi Arabia, like the U.S., supports and aids the rebels in Syria. Putting Saudi troops on the ground will enhance the rebel’s effort. The additional military support may finally push President Assad and Russia to agree to a ceasefire aimed at ending the civil war in Syria.