Article about Jonas Staal in Syria

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Closing ceremony of the New World Summit in Derik, Syria

I published this article in the December 2015 edition of The Art Newspaper – with first a ‘news’ story on page 3, and then a feature on pages 58-59.  Continue reading

The Rojava Revolution

Syrian Village

A unique experiment in ‘stateless democracy’ and effective armed resistance against ISIS in Northern Syria is led by Kurdish women. Could their innovative model for social organization, which has brought peace, stability and progress to their region over the past three years, provide a way out for the crisis in Syria and other minorities in the Middle East? A personal account of a ‘political tourism’ visit to Rojava.

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Art and Soft Power in the Gulf

Article published in Issue #47 of Afkar / Ideas published in October 2015 by the European Institute of the Mediterranean in Barcelona / French version / Spanish version

Ahmad Angawi: Ottoman Map of Mecca (detail), 2012

Ahmad Angawi: Ottoman Map of Mecca (detail), 2012

Art and Soft Power in the Gulf

Recently, there has been much news and debate about how the Gulf States are acquiring the icons of global culture, such as famous paintings, works by star artists, and even whole museums. This is seen as the exercise of ‘soft power’, defined by Joseph Nye as ‘the ability to get what you want through attraction, rather than coercion or payments’. One may wonder then, which objectives direct the Gulf’s investments in art? And, are they being achieved? Continue reading

New World Summit in Rojava – Day 1

The 5th edition of the New World Summit opened today in Derik / Al Malikiyyah in northwestern Syria. The Dutch artist Jonas Staal and his team, in tandem with the authorities of the autonomous canton of Cizire, drew full audiences with a thorough, two-day discussion of ‘Democratic Confederalism’ by international delegates and local specialists. Continue reading

Life and death in Rojava

Day 2 in Northwestern Syria

Commander Axin and soldier Haifa talking with our delegation

Commander A… and soldier H… of the YPJ talking with our Filipina delegation member Ilena, with our translator Nahla in the midst

Today we were confronted more squarely with the war being fought in Syria, and the intensity of life and death in a beleaguered war zone; although we also got the chance to visit the 4000 year old archaeological site of Urkesh, one of the earliest cities.

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Can we still believe in revolution?

Day 1 in Northwestern Syria

Street scene in village between Derik and Qamishlo

Street scene in village between Derik and Qamishlo

My first impression in Rojava, the autonomous Kurdish area in northeastern Syria, is that everything seems quite normal. For a small region still engaged in the fight against the Islamic State (although only three people die on the front per day, as compared to 20-30 a few months ago) and in the stranglehold of Erdogan’s Turkey, the area is remarkably quiet, and even seems prosperous, with shops full of goods and the fields and herds well-tended to.

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Crime Scene Yemen

J... and General Al Radhi and General Nagi, in one of our endless police reform strategy sessions

J… and General Al Radhi and General Nagi, in one of our endless and obviously pointless police reform strategy sessions

I wrote this while a member of a Police Reform mission in Sanaa in 2012. My team leader asked me to brainstorm with the Ministry of Interior’s Communication Department to see what could be done in terms of reform there. In contrast to the rest of the police, this department’s members were very reform-minded (as many socialist ex-South Yemenis officials are) and we had a fascinating exchange. After following up in subsequent meetings, I penned down my recommendations for a MoI comms strategy, in which producing a TV series played a central part. With the currently unfolding events in Yemen I feel free to share these recommendations with you.

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Lessons (Not) Learnt in Afghanistan

The Remnants of an Army, by Elizabeth Butler (1879 )

The Remnants of an Army, by Elizabeth Butler (1879 ). This photograph depicts the lone survivor of the massacre (and capture/desertion) of 16.000 British Empire troops and civilians as they fled from Kabul in the winter of 1842. What have we learnt since then?

I am posting the pdfs of my visual presentations for the course ‘Lessons (Not) Learnt in Afghanistan’, given at the Paris School of International Affairs in Feb-March 2015, here. My presentations serve as visual aid and to recap the main points about a given subject; so these documents do not contain all the course material and may be, at times, even confusing out of the class context. So handle with care! Continue reading

Unwinding the history of the UAE

Historic consciousness in the UAE and in the other GCC states goes back only a few centuries, at most; this is how far back most prominent Emirati families can reliably trace their genealogy.

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What happened in these lands before the advent of Islam is as alien to the current population, as if it had happened on another continent. Continue reading