Let’s Listen To Abdel Halim Hafez & Jay Z At The Same Time


Among the most popular Arab singers of all time (maybe even to be included into the club of the Great Four of Arabic music), Abdel Halim Hafez was and still very much is an icon. That kind of ‘icon’ whose songs influence revolutions, like the 2011 Egyptian revolution – 35 years after his death.

His early life and music career could have been that of a Edith Piaf – only he was an orphan living in extremely poor Cairo, and not Paris.

Abdel Halim Hafez, 1929 – 1977

Like Piaf, Hafez was rejected for his style of singing in the early days of his career but moved on to become enjoyed by all generations. Unlike the French icon, the ‘King of Arabic Music’ never or rarely recorded a studio album, always performing in sold-out arenas and stadiums; sometimes with him playing many different instruments as well.

You have heard him – not just on your trip to any part of the Middle East. You wonder when? Whenever you listen to Jay Z’s ‘Big Pimpin’, know that producer Timbaland used two complete bars from Hafez’ song ‘Khosara’. (In fact, Jay Z is currently facing legal drama over this.) Listen below.

You know I, thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em. Cause I don’t fucking need em“: The ode to the ‘pimping’ lifestyle, meaning sex with girls without becoming emotionally attached to them – I’m quoting rap genius – Jay Z’s ‘Big Pimpin’ is not unfamiliar to your ears.

Hafez used the same melody decades earlier. I translated (and summed up) the lyrics for you. Let’s see what meaning he gave to the song as opposed to his admirer. Listen below.

What a loss, what a loss
Your separation, oh neighbour
My eyes are weeping for you with bitterness
What a loss
Every day I’ve been searching for you
Only to find out that I see life through you
My eyes are sleepless
My tears are bewildered
What a loss, what a shame

We forgive Jay Z though. Jay has reportedly expressed embarrassment for and disclaimed the song’s subject in years since: “I can’t believe I said that, and kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing?” Hafez certainly wouldn’t.


How HellyLuv Risked It All

HellyLuv and her music video ‘Risk it all’ went viral in the Middle East. Ranja Faraj takes a closer look at it and explains what it means to be a female risktaker.

Before I start this article, I would like to address that I am for the happiness and freedom of all. This video I am using is perfect to bring a very interesting discourse forward. I believe music is subjective and I am not criticizing this particular song sonically or attacking the singer, HellyLuv. I am merely using the reaction this video caused as well as what this video represents in terms of the apparent progression of the Kurdish population.

Let’s Start

It is not a huge surprise that this song was musically designed to be commercially successful and contemporary. It does sound nice and it’s current exposure shows that there are likers and dislikers out there. Firstly, I want to magnify the issue of why some like it and some do not.

The Good, The Bad And The Passionate

Those who like the song, support what it represents and see it as a great platform to push Kurdistan forward have genuine reasons, though to what extent? On the other side you have people who dislike the song, see it as regressive for Kurds or even tarnishing and those who see it as a mere copycat of Western culture and the loss of our own. Both are right.

The reason why is because, here, we see a cross section of society, the immigrant in another country. A society living within someone living in a different society. The one who can feel at home in two places but is not perceived to be. The natural instinct would be to bring the two together because that is what one knows, what is embellished in their identity. So when HellyLuv, and many others, use a passion as a platform for their heritage you get a huge array of consequences, both good and bad.

I love culture and it is the differing cultures that makes one appreciate and distinguish one another. So, with the large generation of multi-culture kids, you face a fusion of culture already. Is this progression for society or is the preservation of each culture progression? Do we form a culture together and follow the dominating popular West in order to progress? Does it matter what culture we have as long as we do have culture?

The Wild Wild West

Another perspective is how the elite in South Kurdistan are encouraging foreign investment and with this you get foreign influence evidently and foreign products and demand for foreign goods increase with it and so on. Now, you would expect the younger generation in Kurdistan to desire Western culture when it is their investment which has seen the prosperity rise. So, what is wrong with HellyLuv playing to a strength she has and using it to unify an untapped generation that listen to the music that she makes? The elders in Kurdistan want money and with it came the culture. It seems that their hypocrisy denies their right to complain.

I am trying to figure out whether being three steps behind the West is better or worse. South Kurdistan are outsourcing resources and the West are outsourcing their culture. Who is winning and who is losing?

Are You Ready For This Jelly?

What about the Beyoncé Effect? There has been an increase of using women as empowering figures in the realm of the music industry. Your assumption may be why would that be relevant, let alone detrimental.

Look at it like this, the emphasis on independent women and fierceness and such for women exists and is marketed well and proven commercially successful. Now, when have you heard a song about an independent man who has to sing about issues to empower himself? It is a double standard. The reason why is because it’s marketable and you can create fandom. If a female wants to become successful right now, it has to target a following. So, when a female artist wants to achieve commercial success, they will target areas they can create a strong affinity with: females and issues of equality. It sounds very callous but it has become that and it is being recycled.

HellyLuv of Arabia

“A woman poses with two lions and a tight dress in a music video and suddenly women are equal.” No.

That is not the case and what is unfair to HellyLuv is how much responsibility has been put on her shoulders. She is doing what she loves yet there are people turning it into an international forum for the progression of the Kurdish population. Then there are people with vulgar comments from small villages consisting of 9 men to 1 women to 13 donkeys. Then there are death threats from self-righteous religious extremists. Then there are remarks from the ever so kind and thoughtful Kurdish women. There is a huge array of perspectives and arguments but let’s flip it on its head:

It’s a White Woman’s World

If an ordinary white woman sung this song, would there be this much outroar? If a white woman is free from any restrictions and implications when she wants to make music, why is HellyLuv different?

You can look at HellyLuv and see Arabification or you can snicker and gossip about HellyLuv trying to mimic MIA, Beyoncé, Shakira or Nicole Scherzinger. The parade of Kurdish flags in the video may show nationalism and pride, good or bad however you want to view it. Essentially, she is a bad person because she did what she did. That is the general view I have come across and it sickens me. HellyLuv will inspire a generation because she is a first.

Who Run The World? Girls?

What if a Kurdish man sung this song?

There would be no remarks that breach the wall of either “oh, he is trying to innovate Kurdish pop” or “he has sold his soul to the west”. Look at Darin, Swedish Pop Idol star, who was the first mediocre Western singer who had a Kurdish background. Darin was praised and idolised publicly. In similar circumstances, HellyLuv is in the crossfire of all kinds of judgement. Now, it simply cannot be because she is a woman… well no, maybe it is. All I can be certain of is that HellyLuv brought this up, unknowingly I assume, and now that it is recognised in a medium we can all see and discuss, there will be a push forward in this discourse.

Please, I want to hear your thoughts.

Hobby: Critical Thinking


More than a month ago, I created a Facebook page called “Dinge, die ein Politikstudent nicht sagt” (>3 500 fans), following the example of its successful English Version “Things Politics students don’t say” (>6 000 fans).

Among the most successful posts have been following posts:

The money is in studying Politics, you end up poor if you do Economics.

I have finally found a simple definition of politics that everyone can agree on!

or my favourite

My parents were so happy when I studied this instead of law.

As it is with all things, they’re funniest when they’re true. To anyone who has just finished his A-Levels, look for these pages on Facebook, relevant to your desired program. They will tell you more about your next three years in college studying – let’s say – politics than any student counselor.

When I first started studying Politics back in 2009, Facebook was not as popular in Germany as it is today. As there was nobody to truly tell me how it would be like to study what I had always had an interest in, I was left with my intuition, people’s opinions and experiences about studying Politics and my parents’ disapproval.

I dived in naively, not knowing the relatively unstable job market for political scientists-to-be. While it is true that most political scientists find Jobs within federal governments, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, political lobbying groups, and labor organizations. Now, three years later, I cannot stress enough that getting a job is highly dependent on one’s own efforts and luck to become a good job candidate.

I now understood why my parents were not particularly keen on seeing me sign up for three, and most likely, five years of studying Political Science.

But 2011 changed everything.

In 2011 within just a few months, “pretty stable” regimes collapsed, Japan’s nuclear catastrophe irreversibly changed Germany’s energy policy and Denmark returned to its infamous border controls. Nothing seemed safe, everything was unpredictable. Questions were asked, answers were needed. The more complex the news, the more necessary became those who could explain them: political scientists turned into overnight celebrities. What they were taught are what they can do best: organize chaos, explain mysteries, foresee hindrance. Explain the world.

Luckily, my parents now, too, understand.

Poison Penmanship and Politics: Twitter and The Armchair Activist


The ever growing number of online freedom fighters has been an issue since the advent of the notorious Kony campaign by Invisible Children. At first impression, you must be wondering why it would even be an issue. Why would the increase in conscious citizens using Twitter to tackle real world issues be an issue? Romance.

Freedom fighting has often been romanticised as something heroic and courageous, filled with grit and bloodshed, something noble. The camaraderie, the union of men and women bound by oppression and fighting for a single ideal, freedom. Now this may be a cinematic description of what the Syrian rebels or PKK soldiers may be doing but nonetheless it paints a picture that does not exist. Now I do not doubt nor am I talking ill of those around the world in these political positions – however the fusion of the Internet and the romance of anti-establishment has created a new battleground for these online Guevara-influenced guerillas.

Social media was at the forefront of the Arab Spring and the ones I speak of bear no resemblance to them. I am talking about those who tweet excerpts of The 48 Laws of Power, nationalistic views and the odd picture of Karl Marx or Fidel Castro smoking a cigar with an abstract comment like “the ashes fall like my comrades in battle”. For the readers who get the impression I am a right wing nut with a disdain for anything red or left – no, I am quite the opposite. I was born and bred in London to Kurdish refugee parents. I’ve been submerged in politics, completely out of my control, since I can remember. Now rather than parade what I believe in and what I have learnt, the point I am making is that these armchair activists take themselves too seriously and honestly believe they are waging a necessary war via the Internet.

One click of a hashtag on Twitter and you are sent into a warzone of regurgitated facts and angry polemicists seemingly trying to build a nation with 140 characters. The romance of it attracts the superficial ones. Some do like being oppressed, most may not know it but they are driven by it, they like fighting for a cause and without it, feel redundant. So what do they do? They fight fire with fire. An endless war that they initially tried to end by taking up arms online and as a result they unknowingly become a victim of their own circumstance. The oppressed and oppressors are no different in this case, just two sides of the same coin. For people who are supposed to believe in the welfare of mankind and basic human rights, they are very quick to incite violence on their oppressors or those who disagree with them.

Now I get the same response over and over: “They’re raising awareness, it counts for something”. Yes it does but where does awareness end and action begin? The internet is a great tool and a great tool must be utilised, it is not intended to just add ease. It is easy to tweet a 140 character war cry from your armchair. However, I am not suggesting you get the next flight to Tibet and spearhead an independence movement. My intention is for you to be critical of superficial tendencies that get in the way of something so integral as peace and safety for your neighbour.

There is an undeniable romantic appeal towards freedom fighters and anti-establishment. As a result, people become so concerned with the supposed flashy and glamourous life of a guerilla. They do not act like thinkers and builders on Twitter. They act like the very same soldiers they “fight” against. Thus the internet is another battlefield and everyone is equipped with weapons ranging from Twitter to Facebook. People need to understand that the revolution will not be Youtube-d. Actually, it already has.

Why You Should Listen To Stupid Ideas


There is a man that haunted, crippled and talked me down for years and his name is Earl Keith Miller. He is a successful cognitive neuroscientist who studied at Princeton University and taught at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). As a scientist, his work comprises of a lot of research. As a scientist, he serves humanity in the most honorable way: he collects information, analyses it and tells us what to do, not to do and what is wrong and right in a lot of cases.

In 2009, four years ago, I was in my first undergraduate semester – a freshman eager to do everything right from the beginning until the very end. 2009 was also the year when I read an article on the Ethiopian Review about him and his new, important findings.

This is where the drama begins.

Successes are more informative than failures”, Earl said, meaning: If you fail at something you probably know why. You got fired because you showed up late most of the time. Your spouse left because you showed up too many times at the wrong place, with the wrong person. You already know the reason you failed.

But “if you succeed, everything has gone right, so there’s a lot more information in successes than failures,” Miller continued, meaning: We learn more from success, not failure.

And this is where the climax begins.

Naturally I assumed I should study the successful if I wished to be successful. And I did. For years and years, and even until now, I read biographies of people who are held to be successful members of our society, in their own way, in their own niche – not telling me that most of them rarely talk about failures in their lives. Having founded a startup magazine myself, I regularly read about the successful startups that the Fortune magazine displays so heroically – not telling me that most startups don’t actually start up. And I studied night after night wanting to become like the average A – students – not knowing that there are a lot more reasons why I had not as many As as them than just my IQ. In short, because failure became invisible, the difference between failure and success became invisible, too.

In 2009, I firmly believed that there is an infinite number of ways to fail and only a few ways to succeed and in 2013, I must correct myself: there is an infinite number of ways to fail and an infinite number of ways to succeed.

But herein lies the difficulty: the hard part is pinning down the cause of success.

Most people just point at highly visible things, and make claims like

 “StartupX is successful because the founders worked extremely hard, the office culture was well-developed, and there were lots of team building activities.”


StudentX gets a lot of A grades because he studies a lot.”

The problem is that this ignores the 5,000 other startups and eager students that did all those same things, but failed. Perhaps it turns out that StartupX really succeeded because they had a sales guy with lots of good connections and et cetera. Or StudentX really had better grades because he studied with the right people, had the right routines and et cetera.

Causation is not relation, everybody knows that. But it is damn hard to figure out what and often the people themselves are biased and don’t really know why they have become successful. I would say a big percentage of tips you get are less useful than you might think, perhaps even harmful, but to figure out which one of them depends on your judgment.

In the words of one of my favorite journalists, David McRaney on his blog youarenotsosmart.com:

If you spend your life only learning from survivors, buying books about successful people and poring over the history of companies that shook the planet, your knowledge of the world will be strongly biased and enormously incomplete. As best I can tell, here is the trick: When looking for advice, you should look for what not to do, for what is missing, but don’t expect to find it among the quotes and biographical records of people whose signals rose above the noise. They may have no idea how or if they lucked up. What you can’t see, and what they can’t see, is that the successful tend to make it more probable that unlikely events will happen to them while trying to steer themselves into the positive side of randomness. They stick with it, remaining open to better opportunities that may require abandoning their current paths, and that’s something you can start doing right now without reading a single self-help proverb, maxim, or aphorism. Also, keep in mind that those who fail rarely get paid for advice on how not to fail, which is too bad because despite how it may seem, success boils down to serially avoiding catastrophic failure while routinely absorbing manageable damage.

Sites like Admitting Failure and events like FailFaireDC 2012 which have recently attempted to bring together stories of projects gone wrong, addressed the need to discuss failures. I will try to do that, too.

An Apology To Barbie


While a Barbie-themed restaurant opening was hailed with general delight and fanfare in Taipei earlier this year, the opening of the blonde doll’s new crib in Berlin revives a discussion that is long obsolete.

Left-wing feminists are protesting the Barbie Dreamhouse Experience – a 27,000-square-foot lifesized pink estate – opening in Berlin tomorrow on May 16.

For decades, the world’s new women have taken Barbie for granted. The consensus is: Barbie is evil. She is too sexy, they say. She is too thin, they claim. And above all, she reduces women to a domestic, sexual slave of today’s patriarchy. I mean, even Mattel, Inc., Barbie’s producer, sued the band Aqua for their song ‘Barbie Girl’, saying they violated the Barbie trademark and turned Barbie into a sex object, referring to her as a “Blonde Bimbo“.
On trial, judge Kozinski however dismissed the case by concluding: “The parties are advised to chill.

And I agree. I dare to go further: women owe Barbie an apology.

Plastic doll little Barbara is the epitome of early feminism. She was women’s first alternative to being a mother.

Let’s all remember the old standard dolls back in the days: that one toy girls were taught to take care of, change its diapers, feed and pay extra attention to. And then came the 60ies, and our long-lost best friend Barbie arrived.

Girls dressed Barbie because she has fun with fashion, not because she is helpless. Barbie bakes cakes because she invites girlfriends over, not because she has to feed her baby. The first women-self-help sit-ins were at her place. There is a Ken in each Barbie’s life but Ken is not her boss: he is an accessoire who has (way too much) fun wearing fashionable clothes and having tea parties with the other girls.

Barbie is everything an emancipated woman wants to be: grown up, emotionally independent, confident, financially and sexually free.

So, yes, you all need to chill.

Poems on War



Natural Phenomena 

In the beginning,

It was sticks and stones breaking bones but soon enough we grew smarter,

Like sultry whores we taught the bow to ejaculate the arrow,

Discarding it as soon as the prints on our fingers learnt to tread artfully, doing the danse macabre back and forth, along the worn metal trigger

All for the dirt beneath the fingernails,

The moon grimaces and the stars blink uncontrollably looking at the state of nature in nation states from trebuchets to torture,

Hearing the bugle and drums outplay each other in unison, the beat muting hearts,

The dead buried on top of the dead leaving debris and dust to be stored upon forgotten men of forgotten ages with forgotten names from forgotten battles,

Did it really matter?

Was it really worth it?

Does THAT even matter?

As the gas erodes the organs and the mouth froths crying its ghastly tears horrified at the pungent taste of extermination,

The broth of war boiling in passions of rage burning the base of humanity’s melting pot, spurts of blood and whisky, dripping out of the exit wound leaving mother Earth to guzzle it down as we do the wine,

Disease intruding on the ligaments of the Land slowly shredding our bonds and creating disability where once moved unity,

As the heart surrenders and the brain makes it final defiant stand,

The spears of thought stabbing at our soul,

All that could of been,

Never to be,

Because of old men and new desires.


The brain’s vile streak surrounded by white marble pillars erected in its honour,

Is this is what it means to be living?

The sea goes only as far as the shore and I’m sure if it had the chance it would drown the lakes that separated from its idea of unity,

I see beauty in the world only as an absence of evil…

Ask yourself what if right at the start our sin wasn’t forgiven?

That the sadistic demon of fire sought not to banish the existence of our two curious ancestors and torture two spirits endlessly but an eternity of souls for eternity

That we bred, and with it burnt bread, birthing brutality and bloodshed as Beezlebubs backyard bloated,

The pendulum of life thwacking upon you like the swing set would, with all the force and urgency of the vitality of youth bringing us

To our knees,

As it first splits the skin,

the fresh blood oozing gently onto the scraped surroundings of starved white pores and the physique trembles uncontrollably welcoming our first experience of misery,

With stumbling uncertainty we back onto the merry-go-round of life tortured & terrorised in a trail of routine,

vomiting whatever we can sacrifice to present our presence,

so we are remembered,

Dizzy, we wander aimlessly with Few flinging themselves onto the climbing frame  imprinting their fingerprints as hard as they can, gripping onto trivialities forgetting Life beneath them,

Then they fall,

Body on concrete,

Bones crunching and joints popping,

They fall,

All being privy to the irony of the slide as we climb time only to regress lower  and lower,

What if this was already hell?

and because it’s not pitiful pits of lava where pins pierce the eyes and the charred tongue becomes a blind palate in the toothless mouth leaving only the ears to be serenaded by an orchestra of wails and shrieks,

Is because Lucifer’s most coveted virtue is sloth and all other traits are pygmies in comparison to the magnificence of this one,

As he warms up singing holes in the ozone layer in what to him is foreplay,

An intricate game pulling the strings of his most rotten toys,

Wetting our lips with the brandy so we  slowly sink softly deeper into the lullaby of the last rites

Soon to be students in his class of Scholomance,

What if,

This has always been,

And will always be,

The Devil’s Playground.

Pity The Beautiful Nation



Half a year ago, I arrived in Beirut at a lovely family-led hostel, situated in the Eastern part of the metropolis very near to the historical Charles Helou Avenue, the motorway to Byblos along the coastline. Together with three friends of mine – all too different from one another – we had decided to come here for an Arabic language course at the Saifi Institute for Arabic language in Gemmayzeh, one of Beirut’s hip parts.

One week before departure, I had bought Robert Fisk’s “Pity the Nation – Lebanon at War” from 2004. The book is an excellent and detaillistic account of what atrocities had been committed here, by Israeli vengers as well as by religiously motivated militia beginning in the 1970s. Lebanon has been and is a platform of politics. This is why nearly everyone you talk to in Beirut – whether it is the taxi driver, bartender, tour guide, local students, entrepreneurs or film directors and artists – has a political opinion and is generally well acquainted with what has been happening in the Middle East. Everyone holds their own solution to the ‘problem’ and their own conspiracy theories – one quickly has the image of a very conscious and integrated civil society. There is absolutely no where you can’t discuss politics at – from complaints about human rights violations committed by the government to an honorary lecture about Nasrallah, the infamous head of Hizbollah while enjoying one of Lebanon’s finer wines.

Right outside our hostel, the jumble of history was everywhere. And inside it as well as our favorite café, right inside our hostel, ‘Em Nazih’ refused to play modern music and instead introduced us to classical Lebanese music that generally discusses topics such as nationalism, war, migration and gender.

Lebanese artists are the most stylistically diverse among the Arab world and their music has had an influence on the Arabic music scene of today and of the past that is worthy of mentioning. Drawn heavily on local musical traditions such as ‘Dabke’ – a form of line dance spread out in Greater Syria and Lebanon, comparable to Irish step dance maybe, Nasri Shemseddine’s  على عالي الدار is a perfect example. We would hear this every weekend at parties not just at Lebanese cafés but also in more seemingly Western restaurants. Wadih El-Safi’s and Sabah’s songs have distinctly nationalist tones, and in fact, one might not know this but many Lebanese people were among the first Arab nationalists back then, most particularly within the field of music: Mohammed Falafel, a servant of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, composed songs that became the national anthems of many Arabic nations. From the very beginning, nationalism and music have been intertwined in Lebanon – the Rahbani Brothers alongside Fairuz are to mention here. After World War I, Lebanon was occupied by France until 1946. Following independence, many Lebanese artists emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, carrying on a tradition that was born under the French mandate. Mixing Western and Oriental music styles and instruments, the Rahbani Brothers popularized local folk music and made Lebanese music a highly distinguishable and uniform genre. In the early 1970s, Fairuz also performed more Western songs with lyrics closer to European styles, such as ‘Habaytak Bi-Sayf‘, translated it means ‘I loved you in Summer’ and thus became better known in the West than any other Lebanese artist. A favorite of mine is sung by Samira Tawfik, ‘Balla Tsoubou Hal Kahwa‘, literally about drinking coffee and adding more cardamon to it. The 70s not only produced these goldmines but also singers, if you will, like the Bandaly Family with their infamous ‘Do you love me?‘. Noted, this is shortly before the Lebanese Civil War began. The ‘Civil War’ being the conflict lasting from 1975 up until the 1990ies, involved Lebanon, Israeli spill-over and Syria.

Together with Fisk’s account of Lebanese history and suffering, and with these beautiful, beautiful songs that I woke up to every morning, my Beirut trip could not have been any more perfect.