Assignment: Reading Review

“Since Max Weber, it is customary to view modern life as disenchanted, freed of gods and myth. but what was colonial Bombay if not enchanted? The physical, social, and political geography forged by colonization in the double sense became its “natural” landscape. To its inhabitants, the city looked, felt and smelled like a new environment. it was different from the towns and urban life that most immigrants had encountered elsewhere. The modern city’s infrastructure, technology, institutions, neighborhoods, society and daily life presented a novel sight and experience. The newness of its second nature, the everyday reality that its institutions and the built environment had forged, became objects of wonder and reflection. Bombay’s rapidly changing visual landscape fostered a form of urban writing that described the city in terms of images.”

Source: Urban Pictures, Chapter 2 The Colonial Gothic, Mumbai Fables by Gayan Prakash

In support of the passage above, I would first like to share the following pictures in order to portray the idea of colonial Bombay.

1940_muriel_collett_national_games_bombay_2nd_left-2 bf6798a6-85e1-4788-a696-2b24a525caa4old_glory_bombay_28 BOMBAY_C_1890 breakfast1858 ca3a6264-e47a-4ddb-a4a3-267a55cf6a2dOld_Mumbai_Apollo_Bunder ca4ded44-6475-4095-a659-eca042003524Old_Mumbai_Walkeshwar_Road cad92c87-864b-4215-a6f9-03fa87c9bf269058747 ea869dcf-1889-4826-8e88-35472d7d91b8188863590_bebc7df406_o f803e05e-a16c-4671-8565-6586a3af5fa2Old_Mumbai_Cuff_Parade mumbai_train_1940

images source: Rare old Mumbai pictures: idleclick.com

Now I will post pictures of the present transformation of Bombay into Aamchi Mumbai:

mylifesince1978.wordpress.com
mylifesince1978.wordpress.com
source: austinnoronha.wordpress.com
source: austinnoronha.wordpress.com

Through the images above, I have tried to capture the comparison of colonial Bombay and the present Aamchi Mumbai. In light of, what Gayan Prakash has highlighted colonial Bombay as the city of enchantment, we observe a somewhat gradual-radical decline in its quality of life. I would particularly like to refer to Salman Rushdie, whose description of Mumbai in his novels as a lived space is a mixture of nostalgia, alienation and misery of aesthetics.

In modern day Mumbai, people seem to be deprived of their sense of belonging to home. As a busy metropolitan the city only serves as a clinging point where people pause and move forward. Their food, shelter and clothing, everything depicts shabbiness for a majority of middle and lower middle class citizenry. People are living in imaginary homelands.

Final Research Paper: Utopian vs. Dystopian Specters of Mecca and Medina

Rabia Rahim

Utopian vs. Dystopian Specters of Mecca and Medina

Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology

 

Abstract

The paper focuses on the binary opposition Utopia versus Dystopia based on the study of Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina. The paper attempts to discuss the Utopian specters of the holy cities as the custodian of Islam and on the other hand attempt to reveal the Dystopian specters of the lived life Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.

Introduction

 traveling-to-saudi-arabiathe-holy-mosque-of-prophet-in-madina-Saudi-Arabia-651x309

Mecca                                                                          Medina

Source: travellingo.com                                              Source: skyscrapercity.com

Men have to destroy if they want to create anew.

                                                                                -Joseph Goebbels, Michael

Cities mostly fall under criticism when presented as built versions of Leviathan and Mammon. Charting the powers of the bureaucratic machinery under the former concept, while exerting social pressures of money under the latter concept (Zukin, 1995); these dystopic tone representations of  associated with cities is are oftenconcealed by highlighting the utopian elements of culture in any human  the society. In the Saudi holy cities of Mecca and Medina in particular, culture can easily be replaced by religion which lifts up a majority of the cities’ populace from their everyday lives and puts them into the sacred spaces of ritualized pleasures. These sacred spaces invite a distinct architectural display which offers symbols of ‘belonging’, ‘heritage’ and ‘preservation’; thus creating a unique competitive edge for cities through attractive religious tourism (Zukin, 1995).

But the question arises, how much this architectural display is maintaining the utopian essence of religion for the huge Muslim populace coming to Mecca and Medina from all over the world? Because with the above mentioned symbols at work under religious tourism, there is a symbolic economy created which controls the city through the traditional economic factors of land, labor and capital. The manifestation of this concept can be easily observed by the residents or visitors in Mecca and Medina in how the politically empowered members of the monarchic society who are running the State are often opportune enough to control the social and religious encounters of the public through controlling the building and demolishing of stone and concrete public spaces of the cities. The decisions of control also revolve around what should and should not be visible; revealing their use of aesthetic power.

In an attempt to transform Mecca and Medina as modern cities, the symbolic economy appears to be more wildly influenced by monetary aspects and involvement of entrepreneurs, investors and officials to yield real growth results, real estate development, businesses and jobs.

This paper focuses on the two Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina and analyzes their Utopian versus Dystopian specters.

 Personal Account

On my Umrah visit to Saudia Arabia in March 2015, I could not ignore the visible specters of the cities of Mecca and Medina.  Because as for me, and for a majority of Muslims viewing Ka’aba and Masjid-un-Nabwi remains extensively a utopian experience either on television, in photographs, through internet or in publications; therefore the notions of the holy places are determined by these media. The physical shift right in front of the eyes, by being in Mecca and Medina, enhances the experience of pilgrims of witnessing the otherwise dystopic perspectives too about the sacred sites.

But this dystopic exposure cannot be generalized as there are still a majority of pilgrims who remain oblivious to multiple aspects of Mecca and Medina’s lived life. Pilgrims arrive in the city with varied senses and aims, mainly expressed are the willingness to transform into a pure being acceptable to Allah and also to seek His protection against evil and worldly harms. Thus the seeking of afterworld in best possible way remains the overarching purpose. Newborns, toddlers, teenagers, adults, middle aged, and old people, all could be seen throughout the space, reflecting the cultures and aesthetics of their individual homelands. Mecca and Medina appear to serve as a Utopian space for uniting the diversity of cultures under its flag of religion.

The pilgrims eat, pray and share the sacredness with their loved ones, give alms to the less fortunate and resist sleep and rest to enjoy each moment in seeking closeness to their Creator. They witness robust cleanliness, efficient medical attendants, Asian butchers, hundreds of military and undercover servicemen, markets filled with goods and services and least possible conflicts on sectarian issues or problems of theft or terrorism. Thus, this utopian layout let the pilgrims cherish each moment of their once in a lifetime journey to the holy land even after years of returning to their homes. They may have eased into the daily rhythm of lives in home countries oblivious of the city’s dystopic machinery at work back in the pilgrimage cities.

In order to focus on the dystopic machinery of the cities of Mecca and Medina, I would like to refer to ‘Dutch Disease’ inflicting oil economies of countries like Saudia Arab.

 Here, the idea of Dutch Disease arrives

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                                                    Source: collapseofindustrialcivilization.com

 

All in all, I wish we had discovered water.

                                                        -Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, a former Saudi oil minister

 

Dutch Disease refers to the unwanted dependency on the resource sector of oil which hampers the development of non-resource sectors like industrial output, human development, education and technology. Saudia Arabia is home to 26% of the world’s total oil reserves. Despite its massive oil and natural gas reserves, strategic location and religious status, it is argued that these strengths have played against the regional stability and development of this imperialist oil economy. To gain a deeper insight into the country’s economy, it would be important to know that before Saudia Arabia’s transformation into a major oil based economy in the early 1950s, the country had a primitive and fragmented economy that struggled to meet the basic needs for survival. The state exploited its status as the custodian of the two Holy Mosques to boost its national income from pilgrimage revenues. The four diverse geographic as well as key economic regions of the country are: the central region (Najd) which was populated by nomadic people in search of water and food due to harsh weather and scarcity of natural resources, the western region (Hijaz) carries the buzzing port of Jeddah and the cities of Mecca and Medina offering a much valued commercial life, the eastern region (Al-Hasa) is home to some of the world’s largest oil companies and oil exporting ports, whereas the southern region of Asir attracts some good rainfall and holds landscape suitable for agricultural activities ( Kayed & Hassan, 2013).

Peter Baofu (2011) has written about the Saudi region by using the t phrases, ‘Arab post-colonial incompetence’ and ‘Western neocolonial imperialism’. He argues that the dutch disease  has disabled Saudi Arabia from transforming itself into a major industrial power. In post-colonial era, the country has long associated with Western powers which care more about the oil resources and the strategic usefulness of the region,  than about the well-being of ordinary Arabs. Baofu (2011) also stresses that many Arab states in the post-colonial era have long used their oil resources for the luxurious comfort of the elites and for the endless military spending sprees (which have much benefited Western military suppliers over the years, especially in regard to the American, British, and French armed sales to the region).

Continued Dystopia in the lands of Mecca and Medina

It was a long and tiring search for a suitable fast food point in the streets of Medina. On settling down on one of the tables, a Pakistani national working as an accountant in a small Saudi firm started conversing from the next table. He seemed eager to share the dullness of everyday life, work and leisure going on in his life there. There was a clear reference in his narrative to what Li Zhang has referred to as the social marginalization and dislocation of the working class in what is known as the ‘rustbelt’. The young man was used to face insult and hypocrisy by his supervisors when asking for fair wages. He was also dissatisfied with his life as a bachelor in the city as he shared the least possible options of recreation or socialization in the city. And also that, towns with single men, mostly living for job purpose, are regularly raided upon by the police to check on any illegal activity of drugs or prostitution; which according to him creates disturbance for innocent young men like him.

In a second incident, as I was eating at a food outlet right outside the gates of Masjid-un-Nabwi, I witnessed a Pakistani middle-aged mosque’s sweeper asking for food from the pilgrims sitting there. I called him and offered food. On being further inquired he shared about his well running garment shop back in his village in Pakistan which he shut off, sold for Rs. 6 lacs and gave the money to buy the utopian dream of working at the Holy mosque in Medina. But he never knew that he will be given a sweeper’s job and now that he is stranded. He earns enough money to send back home but is that all? He feels betrayed by the holy land’s promise of an ‘iron rice bowl’. Unfortunately, these workers have started to interpret their failure as one of their own inabilities to finance and self-enterprise and look for a better future. Thus, there is penetration of a neoliberal popular mindset of expanding capitalism about the self, responsibility, and success/failure among the workers. Therefore probably, we do not witness any large-scale labour protests in Saudia Arabia.

Emerging Architectural Capitalism

Pg-32-mecca-1

albawaba.com

Source: albawaba.com

Sharon Zukin (1995) in “Whose Culture? Whose City?” has posed three important questions:

  • How do cities use culture as an economic base?
  • How does capitalizing on culture spill over into the privatization and militarization of public space?
  • How the power of culture is related to aesthetics of fear?

These questions are relevant to support the following discussion on the rising architectural capitalism as Dystopic specter in Mecca and Medina.

Saudi imperial messages appear to present this capitalism as modernity. A debatable question is whether we witness modernity on the streets of Mecca and Medina? Gyan Prakash, the urban theorist, refers to the high-culture expression of the city in its streets as modernity. As opposed to Prakash’s definition, Mecca and Medina seem to be the target of world’s largest commercial development schemes with little evidences of high culture expression, owing to the excessive powers of petro-capital.

Over a hundred buildings are under construction around the two Holy mosques, replacing the historical, architectural and socioeconomic landscape of the rapidly ongoing re-constructed cities. There is always a next largest shopping mall, hotel or luxury residential building under way. There are skyscrapers hovering over the mosque, while cranes and smog can be clearly seen above the heads. There are no physical archives of the Prophet’s time left in the central area or close by areas of the two holy mosques. In Mecca and Medina, commercial development is appearing to take precedence over the preservation of the religious historical sites.  Capital gain seems to be shaping the skyline of these cities. The specters of sanctity and reflections of a sacred past have been suppressed under the overhauling projections of wealth and consumerism.

The Saudi government claims that the multi-billion dollar overhaul of Mecca and Medina, and the accompanied measures are necessary to accommodate the increasing numbers of Muslim pilgrims and to enhance hajj and umra services. The questions arises, should this concern be limited to only a two-kilometer radius around the holy mosques, as the rest of the city remains neglected?

Marx wrote insightfully about commodity fetishism, but it was Walter Benjamin who developed this insight into the idea of the phantasmagoria as an allegory of modernity, viewing commodity culture as “a projection—not a reflection—of the economy.” Therefore, if the Saudi government is continuously adding symbols of modernity creating a projection image life of the holy cities, it may turn out to reflect only the experience of urban crisis.

Ziauddin Sardar in his book ‘Mecca: The Sacred City’, has listed down the destruction of sites of immeasurable historical and religious significance in Mecca’s new built environment.  The Bilal mosque, which dates to the Prophet’s (P.B.U.H.) time, is one example. The house belonging to Mohammed’s most revered wife Khadijah (R.A.) is another. The latter is now a public lavatory. The Mecca Royal Clock Tower stands on an estimated 400 sites of cultural and historical importance. Saudi clerics want to demolish the Prophet’s house for fear that Muslims could start praying to Mohammed rather than Allah. Sardar points out in his book that if Abu Bakr’s (R.A.) house, Mohammed’s (P.B.U.H.) closest companion and the first caliph of the Muslim empire, is searched for, one will find instead the Makkah Hilton, a garish edifice overlooking Kaaba. The commercial interest of accommodating more and more pilgrims each year seems to be the overarching purpose of development in Mecca and Medina (Marozzi, 2014).

The contractor designed construction projects have gained the ability to absorb tens of thousands of people simultaneously at exorbitant rents but left the roads more like jigsaw puzzles, without parking, revealing poor planning and coordination (Bsheer, 2010).

Critics have questioned the Saudi government’s claims of addressing  the actual needs of an average pilgrim or visitor who cannot afford a hotel room that starts at $700 per night. Above all of this state of affairs, Mecca’s newest landmark, the “Muslim Big Ben”, illustrates much of the spectacular development in the city with its adornment of gold crescent and the central Saudi coat of arms, making it a clock worth $800 million (Bsheer, 2010).

 Conclusion

The unique petro-capitalism at work through the symbolic economy of Mecca and Medina has permeated the urban planning and cultural policies of the two Muslim holy cities of Saudia Arab. The excessive and spectacular petro-modern accumulation has distorted many of the utopian religious perspectives and affected the holy practices. Due to which the Islamic universality to which Mecca and Medina are central, can potentially start suffering from divided and conflicted dystopian perspectives among the Muslims.

References

Zukin (1995). Whose Culture? Whose City? LeGates R. T. & Stout F. (ed.). (2000). The City Reader; pp. 131-142. Routledge. London

KayedHassan. (2013). Islamic Entreprenurship; Routledge

Peter Baofu (2011). Arab Post-Colonial Incompetence and Western Neo-Colonial Imperialism: http://english.pravda.ru/opinion/columnists/29-03-2011/117355-arab_western-0/

 

Rosie Bhseer (2010). Choking Mecca in the Name of Beauty–and Development (Part I)http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/251/choking-mecca-in-the-name-of-beauty_and-development

Justin Marozzi (2014). Mecca: the greatest paradox of the Islamic world: http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/books-feature/9387692/mecca-from-shrine-to-shopping-mall/

Entrepreneurial economy busy in social mapping of Muslims?

As I am engaged in studying about the ‘Dutch disease’ which the Arab world is seemingly inflicted from, the purpose of which is to analyze how the Arab cities are functioning in terms of their religious tendency, fusion with and dominance by western media, investment in the only resource sector of oil and construction, and ignoring the non-resource sectors and education and science.

Dutch Disease is a reference to problems the Netherlands faced in the 1960s when its economy slumped after the discovery of natural gas. A boom in the resource sector usually leads to a real appreciation in the currency, either through higher inflation or a stronger currency (or both). This typically damages the competitiveness of other sectors and deprives non-resource sectors of necessary investment.

During this study I became interested in observing how the muslim world (arab or non-arab) is shaping up in the post-colonial scenario. But as a binary opposition to Dutch Disease, the non-arab muslim world has taken keen interest in the development of social and human capital through innovative Entrepreneurship.

The following article will provide the details about unique startups being run by muslims all over the world, which I found interesting to portray the modern day specters of muslim world.

View story at Medium.com

Assignment 3: Specters of Mecca _ Umrah episode 1

IMG_20150301_171647

I could, strongly, not ignore the specters of Mecca City in terms of the convergence of space and time for the people coming from every corner of the world, of how the religious site of Ka’aba has benefitted the city giving it a divine dignity and simultaneously a commercial value. I said convergence of space and time because for majority of Muslims viewing Mecca and Ka’aba is extensively an experience either on Television, photographs, internet or in publications; therefore their notions of the holy place are determined by the context of the medium. But the shift right in front of the eyes is somewhat which makes them go through realistic realizations.

It is interesting to hear around, “Hum tou waisa samajhtay thai, Allah ke liye to aisa hai.”

IMG_20150302_085245

Pilgrims arrive in the city with varied senses and aims, mainly expressed are thewillingness to transform into a pure being acceptable to Allah and also to seek his protection against evil and worldly harms. Thus the seeking of afterworld in best possible way remains the overhauling purpose. Newborns, toddlers, teenagers, adults, middle aged, and old people, all could be seen throughout the space. Interestingly, all these people display similar activities, obviously with exceptions for the little age groups, reflecting the cultures and aesthetics of their lands. Mecca appears to serve as a space for uniting the diversity of cultures under it flag of religion.

With the above last statement, I would like to share that in Mecca our prejudices of culture, caste, rich economy, dignified family background, all seemed to be lost when I saw the convergence of the rawness and refined attitudes of people all at one place with no fear or hesitation towards each other.

Ek hi saf main kharay hogaye Mehmood O Ayaz,

Na koi banda raha na koi banda nawaz.

IMG_20150301_211854

Reaching there on Thursday night exposed me to a majority of Arabs coming from the entire kingdom because of the weekend holiday. It was hard to find Urdu speaking people. Bumped into a 6 to 7 year old Arab girl who was decently sitting in a corner as her mother was praying. As I poked her, maybe I was looking for a moment’s distraction, she gave a reserved smile. But after a short pause she was chatting with me in Arabic non-stop, of course it was a monologue as I was not even able to make her understand that I don’t know Arabic same as English was in her case. But I guess she was happy with one way conversation only, may be men are right what they say about women and their ability to talk.

IMG_20150302_091438 IMG_20150302_135345

Somehow, for me language and the communication is the basis of everything. But Arabs appeared reluctant to adopt the language of the West, the posed universal language. May be their oil is enough for them to stand in front of the world, not only that but also host the world. It is unique, how a nation is not dependent on the universal language to stay accepted? In order to explore the depth of this fact, I believe, I should see China, France, Germany. If anyone of my fellows would like to share their experience regarding language and independency, I would be pleased.

Assignment 2: Review, Analysis and Response on the movie ‘Metropolis’

Summary:

In general consideration, Metropolis (1927), restored and recreated in 1984, has been the first science fiction film to present the images of a futuristic city as a hell of scientific progress and human despair; these two key terms actually define the two separate worlds presented in the movie. First is the above ground Utopian world where wealthy people live a carefree life; whereas below the ground there is a world of workers who are keeping the machinery of the utopian world functioning in horrifying state of despair.

In the movie, this underground world is owned by Joh Frederson. The character of Maria is a mediator between the underground world and the utopian world. When Joh’s son Freder discovers the horrifying reality of a world beneath, he wants to help the plight of the workers. He initiates a cause with the help of Maria. But when Joh learns about this supposed uprising, he includes Rotwang (the evil inventor) in order to suppress any such cause.

The underground world is a representation of ‘hands’ with those who can only act, while the utopian world is the ‘head’ with those who are thinkers. What Maria espouses in the movie is that she tries to keep the morale of the workers high by predicting that someone will come who will utilize both hands and head to become a ‘heart’ and bring relief for the workers.

And in the end, it is this mediating heart which is shown to be a triumph.

Analysis:

By seeing Metropolis, it appears that today’s world has always been so easily predictable. By picking any of the youtube’s video on the labour machinery working in all developed far eastern, American, Middle Eastern and Asian regions reveal startlingly similar state of affairs as shown in Metropolis, almost a century back. The good roads, well to do people, pleasant buildings, busy activities of the utopian world shown in the movie is what our modern consumer culture and modern city living depicts. Yet, there are debatable questions of to what extent have we achieved this utopia? Can we regard the living conditions of our modern consumers up to the mark (this involves their physical and mental state both)?

The role of the ‘heart’ as mediator too kind of confuses me. If we choose our politics, academics, culture, social work or other segments as playing the role of mediators, but they are too overshadowed with commercialism in various ways. The revolutionists simply want to stop the machinery run by workers in order to protest, but that invites a collapse in its entirety. All these aspects lead to another ambiguous level of thinking, yet I suppose each one of us by pursuing excellence in whatever we do may create a better world around us.

Response:

Batman's Gotham City
Batman’s Gotham City
Cover image of movie ‘Dark City’

These two movies made later in time convey a similar demon model of modern city based on anti-technology and anti-science notions. ‘Saving the humans’ has been shown as an antidote notion in all these initatives.

Response: Karachi in terms of Urban Development

Here is a list of articles I went through after going through the paper ‘Producing cosmopolitan Karachi: freedom, security and urban redevelopment in the post-colonial metropolis’ by Nausheen H. Anwar and Sarwat Viqar.

All of these articles are based on the intention of cultivating a better physical environment of Karachi. The mention aesthetics and colonial flavour is important in these articles. Hope you guys enjoy reading them.

Karachi – Struggling to survive as a viable urban entity

http://tribune.com.pk/story/771920/karachi-struggling-to-survive-as-a-viable-urban-entity/

Architects, Local Government and Karachi’s Buildings and Public Spaces by Arif Hassan

http://arifhasan.org/articles/architects-local-government-and-karachis-buildings-and-public-spaces

Art and Environmental Activism: Expanding Artistic Discourse in Pakistan

By Shahana Rajani

http://www.nuktaartmag.com/Nukta/GeneralContent/View/166

Assignment 1 – Counter-cultures arising from Orientalism!

Review of Orientalism by Edward Said

Orientalism by Edward Said appears as one of the foundational attempts to describe the artificial difference between East and West, created by the West (Europeans). In the article under review, Said has started off with particular reference to Libya (in context of Gulf war and Middle East as a hub of orientalism under American political hegemony). He has tried to establish the significance of the scope of orientalism as a science which involves everything including the way people live, behave, and respond to, both in the East and the West. This is so because, with European colonization in the East (Middle East, Asia, and North Africa), they found these cultures and civilizations very exotic and introduced orientalism to define the interpret this exoticism on their own terms. Thus, according to Said, Europeans divided the world into occident and the orient; civilized and uncivilized.

Edward Said has taken multiple approaches; particularly the academic one, to explain how the West has exploited their self-made notions of orientalism to describe Occidentalism and in what ways the latter is better and superior to the former. The social scientists conducting the studies on orientals in the academic world appeared to be prejudiced and biased; causing the current world problems of power imbalance.

Response:

2011-12-23-3t16

In the U.S., the poster movement has an immediate impact on the graphic artists of the counterculture, the anti-war movements, and the radical turns taken by numerous student and campus organizations. Although the greater activities of the Civil Rights movement precede the American poster renaissance, the Black Power Movement and the various political Solidarity movements that emerge in the late 1960s tap the talents of visual artists and their wielding of the medium’s popularity to great propagandistic effect. Left lithography eventually impacts even on the artworld, where artists, and in recent decades, museums and critics, recognize the vital link supplied by the political poster renaissance between the social and political artists of early generations — Käthe Kollwitz, Diego Rivera, John Heartfield, Kurt Schwitters, Elizabeth Catlett–and a new generation of political artists working in myriad art world venues, such as Alfredo Jaar, Hans Haake, the Guerrilla Girls, Barbara Kruger, Keith Haring, General Idea, Gran Fury, Kara Walker, Glen Ligon, and numerous others.

Reference: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/g-roger-denson/you-say-you-want-a-revolu_4_b_1167215.html