Allah Made Mesopotamia

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Thank you!

Everyone for the fun class – and the walks. As the weather gets nicer, if any of you are interested in doing some more walking – email me!


Next Class Thu Feb 9th

The next class will be on Thu Feb 9th and we will discuss Rory Stewart. IN the meantime, please email me what papers you wish to write for the class.

Meet at Hauptbahnhof

We will meet at Hauptbahnhof and walk up to Plötzensee around. Meet at 10 am by the north entrance.

Thesiger the Photographer

The Thesiger Collection.

And a bio:

1946 schafft Thesiger seine erste Durchquerung der Rub al-Chali. 1948, bei der zweiten Durchquerung, legt er 600 Kilometer zurück, ohne an eine Wasserstelle zu kommen. Wieder zieht er durch Gebiete, die noch nie ein Europäer gesehen hat. Sie erreichen nach qualvollen Märschen die Oase As Sulaijil. Dort schlägt ihnen offener Hass entgegen – dem Engländer, weil er Christ ist, und seinen Führern, weil sie vom Stamm der Mishqa sind. Die Älteren spucken aus, wenn sie an der Gruppe vorbeigehen. König Ibn Saud, so erfahren sie, hat offizielle Erlaubnis zu Überfällen auf die Mishqa gegeben. Von Thesigers Trip wusste er nichts. Als er nun davon erfährt, schäumt er vor Wut, will ein für alle Mal ein Exempel statuieren. Der Engländer wird wegen unbefugter Einreise verhaftet. Er kommt durch einen glücklichen Zufall wieder frei. Sein in Saudi-Arabien weilender Landsmann Philby erfährt von der Verhaftung und stimmt Ibn Saud wieder um.
So zieht Wilfred Thesiger weiter durch die Wüste, Hunderte von Kilometern, nun in Richtung Abu Dhabi. In der Oase Laila werden die Beduinen wieder beschimpft, weil sie einen Ungläubigen in die Stadt gebracht haben. Als Thesiger etwas kaufen will, sagen sie, das Geld müsse erst gewaschen werden. Niemand ist bereit, als Führer bis zur nächsten Oase mitzugehen. «Geht in die Wüste und sterbt!», rufen die Leute. «Kommt bloß nicht zurück!» Die Gruppe zieht nochmals durch das „Leere Viertel“ und überlebt auch den zweiten Horrormarsch.

Lowell Thomas and Lawrence of Arabia


T.E. Lawrence, a young British captain wearing Arab robes, helps lead a hodgepodge Arab army hundreds of miles across the desert to capture the port of Akaba. Lawrence is a complex, conflicted figure who accidentally shoots his own camel in the head during the climactic battle.

Lowell Thomas, who became one of America’s most famous journalists, transforms Lawrence’s story into a multimedia show seen after the war by more than four million people. In Thomas’ romanticized telling, for example, Lawrence’s camel is shot out from under him. Thomas’ show helps create the legend of “Lawrence of Arabia.” And, elevated by his fame, Lawrence plays a major role in the conferences that help create the modern Middle East.

Walking in Marzahn

To accompany our reading of Richard F Burton, we shall take a walk to Marzahn. Let us meet at the SBahn at 10:00 am. It is the S7. Since we discussed the eugenic/physiognomic reflections of Burton, the trip to Marzahn will allow us to walk to the Roma memorial. In 1936 Reich and Prussian ministry of Interior created a barbed wire camp where Sinti and Roma, arrested from all sites of Berlin, were kept under custody, and compelled to forced labor. Berenbaum and Peck note in their Holocaust and history that “anthropological measurements of the Roma and Sinti prisoners in Marzahn were made by Gerhard Stein, a student of the Frankfurt race scientist Otmar von Verschuer”. Stein used this research to finish his 1938 dissertation “The Physiology and Anthropology of Gypsies in Germany” in which he commented the the Gypsies were “dangerous hereditary criminals”.

Now, think about what we read in class from Burton’s Travel to Mecca & Medina :

The temperament of the Hijazi is not unfrequently the pure nervous, as the height of the forehead and the fine texture of the hair prove. Sometimes the bilious, and rarely the sanguine, elements predominate; the lymphomatic I never saw.

The voice is strong and clear, but rather barytone than bass: in anger it becomes a shrill chattering like the cry of a wild animal.

The ears are those of Arab horses, small, well-cut, “castey”//

The line from Burton – or von Humboldt – to Stein is a rather straight one. Neither is it over – read this account of a Roma camp site being burned in Italy this week. We shall discuss as we walk!

Walking Wedding

We will meet at the SBahn Gesundbrunnen on tomorrow at 10am. Outside at the platz!

Odd Tom in Ajmer

The Fakir of Ajmer
Text and photos: Jonathan Gil Harris, Hindustan

Sitting at his jharokha or public window in the Akbari Fort, Jahangir was sufficiently impressed by Coryate’s oration that he threw him a hundred silver coins – a not insubstantial sum at the time. Coryate’s luck seemed to have changed. And so did mine at the exact same location. The Akbari Fort had been converted by the British in the 19th century into a barracks called the Magazine; after Independence, it was turned into a museum. I had hoped to photograph the jharokha from which Jahangir heard Coryate’s oration, but I was disappointed to find it partially covered with a banner advertising an upcoming exhibition. Sitting within the fort were a group of men, whom I told about my plight. One of them, Deepak Sharma, turned out to be a professional photographer who had taken pictures of the uncovered jharokha, and he promised to email them to me (he was as good as his word). Deepak and his friends also offered me food – the most delicious kela I have ever eaten. The alms I received at the Akbari Fort may not have amounted to a hundred silver coins, but to me they were worth a crore of rupees. I was one lucky fakir.

Rory Stewart at TED

British MP Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan after 9/11, talking with citizens and warlords alike.