Small is beautiful: Gaza’s toned-down coronavirus-era weddings

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A veiled Palestinian bride covers her face as she leaves a beauty salon in the northern Gaza Strip on November 13, 2020, ahead of her wedding ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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A veiled Palestinian bride leaves a beauty salon in the northern Gaza Strip on November 13, 2020, ahead of her wedding ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Palestinian groom Ahmed Omar Khallah (L) dances with male relatives and friends while waiting for his bride outside a beauty salon in the northern Gaza Strip on November 13, 2020, ahead of their wedding ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
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Palestinian groom Mohammed Ahmed Ashour (C) dances with male relatives and friends while waiting for his bride during his wedding ceremony amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in Gaza City on November 12, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Small is beautiful: Gaza’s toned-down coronavirus-era weddings

  • Pandemic-era weddings in Gaza are small because of strict crowd limits and finish early to beat the curfews
  • Weddings in the Palestinian coastal enclave are usually extravagant affairs, held in large halls that dot the Mediterranean coastline

GAZA CITY: To the sound of drums and flutes, a freshly coiffed Palestinian groom dances with his brothers, cousins and friends, anxiously waiting for his veiled bride to arrive in her shimmering gown.
It might have been a normal Gaza wedding, except for the venue — not a luxurious seaside hall, but a narrow alley in the Al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City.
Welcome to Gaza’s new pandemic-era weddings: they are small because of strict crowd limits, they are held outdoors, and they finish early to beat the curfews.
And they are a whole lot cheaper than usual.
“I’m not entirely happy because I would have preferred to celebrate it in a wedding hall,” said the groom, Mohammed Ahmed Ashour, wearing a blazer and burgundy tie.
But for his family, the 24-year-old merchant told AFP between dances, the pared-down nuptials have also brought welcome savings at a time of economic hardship.
Weddings in the Palestinian coastal enclave are usually extravagant affairs, held in large halls that dot the Mediterranean coastline.
Despite staggering poverty and unemployment rates of around 50 percent even before the pandemic, many Gazans spend several thousand dollars on weddings.
This year the virus has further impacted the economy in the strip, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007, and is currently spreading rapidly across Gaza.
In recent weeks infections have multiplied and “the situation is getting out of control,” warned Doctor Ahmad Al-Jadba of Gaza City’s Shifa hospital.
On Friday, the Palestinian health ministry announced 922 new cases for the last 24 hours in Gaza, a daily record which takes the total number of people known to have been infected with the virus in the enclave to 18,333, including 86 deaths.
Hamas, the group that runs the strip, has banned large indoor gatherings to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Families have been forced to hold smaller weddings in less-than-fairytale settings — like alleys and backyards — but saved bundles in the process.
Ashour said these days many couples opt for scaled-back daytime nuptials which take “a little over an hour.”
Once the Ashours’ wedding was over, the musicians — three percussionists and a player of the traditional reed flute called a ney — headed home before the evening curfew.
They had more performances booked for the next day, as their small, traveling business is now thriving.
A few days later they were in Jabaliya, a town in the north of the strip, for the wedding of Ahmed Omar Khallah, a 28-year-old postman.
Khallah said that for him, too, the timing is good: “There is no work, no money, but we have saved a lot by marrying now,” he told AFP.
He was picking up his bride from a beauty salon.
Its proprietor, Fadwi, confirmed that “many young couples prefer to get married during the corona period because the costs are lower. They don’t have to rent wedding halls or pay for large buffets.”
Fadwi has changed his business hours to accommodate the new routine as Hamas police patrols enforce the night-time curfews.
“We now start work around 7:00 am,” he said, “because people only get married in ceremonies until 5:00 pm.”


What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Updated 23 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Author: Ahmet Erdi Ozturk

This recently published book explores, from a historical perspective, Turkey’s current political maneuvers and religious leverages in the Balkans under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It presents Albania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia as case studies of Turkey using soft and hard policy instruments in the region.

Author Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, an associate professor at London Metropolitan University and Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow at Coventry University in the UK and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, wrote the book after a study in several Balkan countries that took more than three years to complete and included interviews with almost 130 high-ranking individuals.

It suggests that Turkey insistently interferes in Balkan politics using religion, state power and imaginary identities, dubbed by some as neo-Ottomanism, and that this presence gradually becomes a threat to the secularism and sovereignty of the countries it targets.

The book, published by Edinburgh University Press, not only aids understanding of Turkish-Balkan diplomatic relations, but also the complex relationship between the regime in Ankara under Erdogan and the Muslim communities in the three countries.

Beyond that, it is about more than just Turkey and the Balkans; it also deepens our understanding of how religion can be used as a form of soft power in global affairs. It examines a number of political parties, for example Besa in Macedonia, that are linked to the regime in Ankara and the ways in which they interact with Turkish state apparatus.

The underlying strategy behind the construction of new mosques across the Balkans as a way to turn these countries toward Turkey rather than West is also examined in detail.
 


Britain's Princess Eugenie and husband pick a name for their baby son

Updated 20 February 2021

Britain's Princess Eugenie and husband pick a name for their baby son

  • The baby — a ninth great-grandchild for Queen Elizabeth II — was born Feb. 9 at London’s Portland Hospital
  • Eugenie, 30, is the younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York and a granddaughter of the queen

LONDON: Britain’s Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank have named their baby boy August Philip Hawke Brooksbank, Buckingham Palace said Saturday.
The baby — a ninth great-grandchild for Queen Elizabeth II — was born Feb. 9 at London’s Portland Hospital.
Eugenie, 30, is the younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York and a granddaughter of the queen. The baby, who weighed 8 pounds, 1 ounce, is her first child and is 11th in line to the British throne.
Eugenie said on Instagram that the baby is named after his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who had Augustus as a middle name.
One of his middle names pays tribute to Eugenie’s grandfather, Prince Philip. The queen’s 99-year-old husband is currently in a London hospital where he was admitted on Tuesday after feeling ill. Hawke is a Brooksbank family name.
The baby is not expected to get a royal title and will be known as Master August Brooksbank.
Eugenie married 35-year-old Brooksbank, a businessman, in October 2018 at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Eugenie posted a picture on Instagram of the couple holding their son, who is swaddled in a blue blanket with a matching cap.
“Thank you for so many wonderful messages. Our hearts are full of love for this little human, words can’t express,” she wrote, adding that the photo was taken “by our wonderful midwife.”
“Thank you to the wonderful essential workers including our midwife who came to discharge our boy,” she said.
The queen and Prince Philip have two more great-grandchildren on the way. Both Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Princess Anne’s daughter Zoe Tindall are due to give birth this year.
The child of Meghan and her husband Prince Harry will become eighth in line to the throne after elder brother Archie, and will push baby August down to 12th in the line of succession.
Harry and Meghan gave up official royal duties last year and moved to California. On Friday the palace announced that the split will be final, with the couple giving up military and charitable patronages they held on behalf of the queen.


Kim Kardashian files for divorce from Kanye West

Updated 20 February 2021

Kim Kardashian files for divorce from Kanye West

  • Kardashian is asking for joint custody of the couple’s four children

LOS ANGELES: Reality TV star Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce from rapper Kanye West after almost seven years of marriage, her publicist told AFP Friday.
The mega-celebrity couple’s divorce proceedings come just weeks after US media reported the pair were living separately and going through counseling dealing with “regular relationship issues.”
Celebrity gossip site TMZ — which broke the news Friday — said the separation was “as amicable as a divorce can be.”
Kardashian, 40, is asking for joint custody of the couple’s four children, it added, with her lawyer Laura Wasser reportedly handing in the divorce papers Friday.
Kardashian’s publicist confirmed the divorce filing but did not provide further details.
The pair, who began dating in 2012 and married in a lavish ceremony in Italy two years later, rapidly became one of the world’s most instantly recognizable couples.
But their union has been dogged for months by reports in the gossip press that their marriage was on the rocks as West has battled with mental health issues and launched an improbable and controversial foray into US politics.
West, 43, has opened up about his struggles with bipolar disorder.
In July last year the mercurial entertainment mogul launched a bid for the US presidency with a rambling speech during which he revealed he had wanted to abort his daughter, and broke down in tears.
He also posted a series of tweets, later deleted, that accused his wife and mother-in-law of trying to lock him up, and suggested he was seeking a divorce.
Kardashian called on the media and public to show “compassion and empathy” following her husband’s erratic behavior.
“Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor,” Kardashian said in her lengthy Instagram post in July.
The couple have four children: seven-year-old daughter North, son Saint, five, daughter Chicago, three, and 21-month-old son Psalm.
Aside from family visits, West has been living at his sprawling ranch in Wyoming in recent months, while Kardashian and the children stayed in California.
It would be the first divorce for West and the third for Kardashian, who came to fame with the US reality TV series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” which followed the lives of her family members in Los Angeles.
Chicago-raised rapper and record producer West has won 21 Grammys. He burst onto the rap scene on his production chops, before delivering a string of critically acclaimed studio albums, selling over 20 million copies.
He has made a very public turn to Christian evangelism in recent years, finally releasing his long-awaited gospel album.
The pair began dating in 2012 while Kardashian was going through divorce proceedings with second husband Kris Humphries.
First child North was born in June 2013, and the couple married the following year at a 16th-century fortress in Florence, Italy after a pre-wedding celebration held at Versailles palace in France.

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What We Are Reading Today: Painting by Numbers by Diana Seave Greenwald

Updated 20 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Painting by Numbers by Diana Seave Greenwald

Painting by Numbers presents a groundbreaking blend of art historical and social scientific methods to chart, for the first time, the sheer scale of 19th-century artistic production.
With new quantitative evidence for more than 500,000 works of art, Diana Seave Greenwald provides fresh insights into the 19th century, and the extent to which art historians have focused on a limited — and potentially biased — sample of artwork from that time.
She addresses long-standing questions about the effects of industrialization, gender, and empire on the art world, and she models more expansive approaches for studying art history in the age of the digital humanities, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Examining art in France, the US, and the UK, Greenwald features datasets created from indices and exhibition catalogs that — to date — have been used primarily as finding aids.
From this body of information, she reveals the importance of access to the countryside for painters showing images of nature at the Paris Salon, the ways in which time-consuming domestic responsibilities pushed women artists in the US to work in lower-prestige genres.

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Bestselling new book tells story of Europe’s forgotten Muslims

Updated 19 February 2021

Bestselling new book tells story of Europe’s forgotten Muslims

  • “Minarets in the Mountains” highlights continent’s “indigenous Muslim heritage,” Hussain said
  • It is among Amazon’s bestselling travel books on pre-sales alone

LONDON: “Minarets in the Mountains” traces the roots of Europe’s little-known native Muslim populations, and in telling their story cuts to the heart of what it means to be a European and a Muslim in the 21st century.
Acclaimed travel writer Tharik Hussain made a name for himself covering Saudi Arabia’s hidden touristic treasures and tracing Britain’s ancient Islamic heritage, but his latest book tells a very different story.
He told Arab News that his new book is the very human tale of his family holiday across the Balkans — a fun and light-hearted trip taken with his wife and children, but one that prompts readers to contemplate and confront longstanding myths about European and Muslim identity, and the relationship between the two.
“I wanted to bring to the attention of the mainstream the idea that Europe has an indigenous Muslim heritage,” Hussain said.
He and his family toured Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo, meeting locals and exploring the roots of Muslim populations that date back centuries.
But unlike his previous European trips, such as to the south of Spain to write about the long-lost Islamic civilization of what was then called Al-Andalus, this trip was very different — it explored a Muslim culture “that’s alive and thriving today,” Hussain said.


“The common, accepted wisdom is that Europe is Judeo-Christian with pagan elements. That’s a fallacy. Islam has been here in Europe since the very first century of Islam.”
He said indigenous Muslims in the Balkans have been “kept at arm’s length” by being labeled East European and thus excluded from the accepted European mainstream.
“Eastern Europe,” to Hussain, is nearly synonymous with “Other Europe.” This, he said, has contributed to the misconception that the continent does not have native and indigenous Muslim populations. Ultimately, his book dispels that myth.
“As a British Muslim, I’ve had to listen to political opportunists in veiled and sometimes explicit ways saying that Muslims aren’t a part of the European landscape and that there’s an ongoing invasion of Muslim refugees. That’s just utter nonsense. There have been Muslims in Europe since the seventh century,” he said.
“Minarets in the Mountains” will be released on June 21, but in pre-sales alone it has already become a bestselling travel book on Amazon.
Hussain attributes this success to a combination of public hunger for travel writers outside the mainstream, white, middle-class and male-dominated field, as well as an appetite for work that provides an insight into untold stories and novel takes on the continent’s history.
“I’m not denying that there’s a Judeo-Christian heritage, nor that there’s a pagan heritage. I’m saying this is also a history that needs to be brought forward and understood,” he said. “The book’s success shows that people are responding to that.”