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Khalil al-Zahawi, RIP
May 29, 2007 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Famed Arabic calligrapher Khalil al-Zahawi murdered. (Arabic: خليل الزهاوي‎; 1946 - 25 May 2007) Khalil al-Zahawi was the most famous practitioner in Iraq of the art of writing classical Arabic script. He was shot to death Friday as he left his home.
posted by psmealey (54 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first and last links seem to go to the same article.

Who would target a calligrapher, for fuck's sake?
posted by lekvar at 3:22 PM on May 29, 2007


Sorry... I blew the last link, was to another news source, but screwed it up when I was rearranging the post.
posted by psmealey at 3:24 PM on May 29, 2007


Dammit. Fixed the link but it ate the arabic. Email me the original, psmealey?
posted by cortex at 3:28 PM on May 29, 2007


Can't decide whether typing a simple period would be appropriate or ironic.
posted by hal9k at 3:28 PM on May 29, 2007


خليل الزهاوي‎
posted by psmealey at 3:35 PM on May 29, 2007


Who would target a calligrapher, for fuck's sake?

Yeah, neither news story even makes a guess as to why this happened. Every time you think it can't get any more insane...
posted by languagehat at 3:36 PM on May 29, 2007


"For nearly 14 centuries, calligraphy has been the most important medium of artistic expression in Islamic culture. This is due to it being the noblest of the visual arts in the world of Islam, for it is the writing of the Qur'an that is sacred art par excellence. It plays a part more or less analogous to that of the icon in Christian art, for it represents the visible body of the Divine word." [here]

The title "calligrapher" hardly does him justice.
اَللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَهُ اَللَّهُمَّ ثَبِّتْهُُ
posted by Liosliath at 3:39 PM on May 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Amen, Liosliath.
posted by psmealey at 3:41 PM on May 29, 2007


Yeah, neither news story even makes a guess as to why this happened.

The BBC piece speculates a little: "His death will be seen as another attack on culture and learning by insurgent groups and militias in Iraq who in the past have targeted scientists, doctors and academics."
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2007


Great, now the calligraphers are going to start bombing people.
posted by gsteff at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2007


Bizzare. I'm surprised he hadn't already left.
posted by delmoi at 3:50 PM on May 29, 2007


The Law of Unintended Consequences, m- f-s . . . The Law of Unintended Consequences. Learn it, live it.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:50 PM on May 29, 2007


It's the Khmer Rouge all over again. Fuck.
posted by anthill at 3:50 PM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


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posted by Scoo at 4:03 PM on May 29, 2007


He was lookin' to move back to Irbil soon -- ethnic Kurd. I don't see how wasting the intelligentsia is going to settle things down or get the furriners -- that's the coalition, i.e., the US -- out any sooner.

Was he speaking out? I'm having a hard time picturing how or why a calligraphic artist and teacher would be politically active given the Zeitgeist, but as Riverbend pointed out before she and her family fled the country, you can get killed over there for having the wrong name. Not quite Khmer Rouge; maybe a little closer to Hatfield vs. McCoy, and about as sensible as either.
posted by pax digita at 4:08 PM on May 29, 2007


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posted by miss lynnster at 4:33 PM on May 29, 2007


Sickening.

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posted by tepidmonkey at 4:44 PM on May 29, 2007


I know we've all overdosed on pithy Vonnegut quotes lately but, goddamn it, you've got to be kind!

Since I'm both a professional scribe and a visual poet, I can't help but feel like I've lost a colleague. If the third link above is to an example of his work, well... he was an amazing artist.
posted by Kattullus at 4:47 PM on May 29, 2007


Who would target a calligrapher, for fuck's sake?

As Lioslaith alludes to, because of the history of iconoclasm in Islamic culture and the resulting important placed on the calligraphers' art. Mosques aren't decorated with big statues of Fatima Zahra or giant paintings of Allah giving Muhammad a high five. Instead, the walls themselves are decorated with the highly stylized words of the Qur'an.

First they kill the teachers, then the doctors, the artists... they're just killing the civilization out of the fucking place.

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posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:48 PM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


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posted by amberglow at 4:51 PM on May 29, 2007


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posted by Rumple at 5:08 PM on May 29, 2007


I'm taking an arabic calligraphy class right now and it's really fascinating. What other people have said is true, calligraphy plays a huge role in muslim culture, it's not just pretty writing. In mosques, they aren't supposed to display images of people or animals, so much of the art is a meticulously created flow of shapes and patterns that actually contain words and phrases (generally from the Quran). Sometimes I'll look at something and think it's just an insanely intricate piece of art, but soon realize that actually there is an entire block of scripture hidden in it. There are many different forms and styles of the scripts, and the designs are so intricate... it's really a high art form. Losing this man is a tragic loss for their culture.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:10 PM on May 29, 2007


In addition to Civil_Disobedient's fine comment, I'd like to add a question -- given the bloodbath that's going on there right now, do you really think anyone needs a reason to grease somebody else right now?

(I mean, on an ethical level they do. But in reality? Welcome to the occupation.)
posted by bardic at 5:10 PM on May 29, 2007


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posted by russilwvong at 5:13 PM on May 29, 2007


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posted by Sticherbeast at 5:23 PM on May 29, 2007


they're just killing the civilization out of the fucking place.

I agree that that's technically correct, but one thing that gives me pause is this use of the word "insurgent" to describe those who carry out such activities. There's no concerted "they" working systemically to rid the country of intellectuals (in the case of the Khmer Rouge) and implement Shari'a. It just seems like every asshole with a grudge or nutboy political view is just acting on impulse.

Oh, yeah, America. Remember when a few of us warned you in 2003 that invading Iraq and toppling Saddam would inevitably unleash the anarchic and unforgiving forces of civil war. Well, this is it.
posted by psmealey at 5:29 PM on May 29, 2007


Oh, yeah, America. Remember when a few of us warned you in 2003 that invading Iraq and toppling Saddam would inevitably unleash the anarchic and unforgiving forces of civil war. Well, this is it.

You could say the same thing about Colin Powell and Jim Baker back in 1991 when adults ran American foreign policy, not magical thinkers.
posted by bardic at 5:35 PM on May 29, 2007


one thing that gives me pause is this use of the word "insurgent"

Agreed. Back in March 2003, I naturally gravitated toward the word "extremist", though to be honest I did not have a fully-formed idea of what this would actually become:

"Where are we going to find compliant Iraqis who will be our friends? Who's going to protect their throats from being slit by extremists in the middle of the night? The best this Iraq thing is going to turn out will be like Afghanistan, where we have a friendly bunch of quasi-friendly folks ensconced in the capital, but who can't go out at night."
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:38 PM on May 29, 2007


Khalil al-Zahawi was an incredible artist -- I've been a fan of his work for years. He will be very, very missed.
posted by Jairus at 5:39 PM on May 29, 2007


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posted by rtha at 6:28 PM on May 29, 2007


Radical fundamentalists tend to prefer exterminating anyone who is or is preceived to be an intellectual. Why bother trying to refute them when it's easier to just shoot them (rhyme unintended).

Unfortunately it's nothing new. The same scenario has repeated itself countless times in human history. The best way to maintain an iron grip on a society is to make sure that the people remain ignorant and promote the idea that intellectuals are evil. Ignorance is bliss, or so they say.
posted by mstefan at 6:28 PM on May 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


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posted by etaoin at 6:31 PM on May 29, 2007


I don't think this is a fundamentalist thing -- it looks more like Shia vs. Sunni ethnic cleansing (according to Wikipedia al-Zahawi was living in the Shia area of Baghdad).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:44 PM on May 29, 2007


"His death will be seen as another attack on culture and learning by insurgent groups and militias in Iraq who in the past have targeted scientists, doctors and academics."

Parts of the religious south US would do the same in a heartbeat -- hell, do do the same, if you count abortion clinic bombings.

If this world is to survive, religionists have simply got to get on board with tolerance for differing opinions and behaviours.

Unfortunately, most of the extremist religionists figure there's an apocalypse just waiting around the corner, so they can't be arsed to play nice.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:20 PM on May 29, 2007


Often in wartime intellectuals are targeted. Intellectuals might suggest a way to end the war, or to heal rifts long thought irredeemable. A great many do not see benefit from an end to war, and for those, benefit in the hand is worth the destruction of any number of possible brighter futures.
posted by SaintCynr at 7:21 PM on May 29, 2007


Beautiful calligraphy like his was among the treasures that brought me to Islam. This is not good news at all. May his soul rest in peace.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:26 PM on May 29, 2007


This may be an unpopular thought, but in light of the psychopath thread elsewhere on MeFi, I have to wonder how many charismatic leaders are psychopaths. If you can do the act, it's one helluva profitable enterprise.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:36 PM on May 29, 2007


And come to think of it, psychopaths do really well when chaos reigns supreme. They must love war.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:37 PM on May 29, 2007


Parts of the religious south US would do the same in a heartbeat

Wow. Someone as far from reality as our president.
posted by dw at 7:48 PM on May 29, 2007



When will this typsetter on calligrapher violence end.
I am glad I live in a country where people just insult the piss out of you when they don't like what you write.
posted by MapGuy at 7:56 PM on May 29, 2007


When will this typsetter on calligrapher violence end.
I am glad I live in a country where people just insult the piss out of you when they don't like what you write.


Sorry, that comment is pretty much worthless. I won't insult the piss out of you, though, because it's best not to go around soiled.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:38 PM on May 29, 2007


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posted by BostonJake at 9:05 PM on May 29, 2007


Parts of the religious south US would do the same in a heartbeat

Sorry, then. How about "some self-proclaimed 'Christian' evangels and/or their followers have done the same, and it seems to me it was especially popular in the south-east part of the USA"

Or do you think that a group that shoots/bombs doctors (BATF tallies 167 attacks against abortion clinics over the past 15 years) and bans science from the science classroom isn't capable of going further?

Y'know, this is going to turn into a bad derail. I think I've expressed as much as I care to.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:13 PM on May 29, 2007


I don't think this is a fundamentalist thing -- it looks more like Shia vs. Sunni ethnic cleansing...

But who's doing the "cleansing"? Certainly not religious moderates or secular Iraqis (most of them have fled the country already). It's radical fundamentalists, on both sides of the fence.

While we can't be absolutely certain of the motives in this case, generally speaking, religious fundamentalists do distrust - even despise - intellectuals. First because, by definition, they tend to have a more complex, evolved and nuanced worldview. This is something which is diametrically opposed to fundamentalist dogma, which tries to frame every issue in simplistic absolutes of good v. evil (and that's the primary appeal of fundamentalism, particularly to the less educated: seemingly simple answers to incredibly challenging, complex questions). Second, because intellectuals are the ones most capable of short-circuiting that message and educating those around them. They become the fly in the ointment, so to speak.

You can't seperate the issues of radical fundamentalism and sectarianism in Iraq; they are intricately intertwined. Both sides see the other as heretical, and therefore worthy of killing in the name of Allah.
posted by mstefan at 11:22 PM on May 29, 2007


I created the Wikipedia article, and it's gotten so much better in just a couple of days. Wow.
posted by dhartung at 1:00 AM on May 30, 2007


"Purity of writing proceeds from purity of heart."
posted by Abiezer at 1:54 AM on May 30, 2007


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posted by forwebsites at 3:53 AM on May 30, 2007


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posted by ninthart at 5:04 AM on May 30, 2007


Burhanistan Thanks for not soiling yourself, no one likes stinky robes. My comment was to point out the senselessness of the act. Hell it probably would have made more sense for a typesetter to do this than the current perversion of conviction that exists in that place. The second part was obviously a reference to the first, that one can speak or create something of value (or not) and be judged with words not swords. And who knew you were going to give me a Naco Libre opening? Was that a nod to the sad satire or reference to the pious height upon which or distance from which you/we view this abomination of human tragedy?

What evil lies in men’s hearts that seek to murder beauty? What beauty, what seduction do they find in this destruction? Are civil wars inherently mired in senseless acts of abhorrent behavior? Finally was he killed because he worshiped his own engraven images more than the words of the prophet? Because others did, or did he write something that would offend the sensibilities of one of these warring factions? Whose fundamental disagreement, as I understand it, is which is more qualified to lead the faithful, a blood descendant of the prophet or a scholar of this particular take on the path to a righteous existence.

Personally I could wrap my mind around this mindless insanity a bit better if he had been gunned down by a pissed off typesetter.

What they need are some words of strength to settle them down such as, “We have nothing to fear….” Oh wait; they have already been treated to that drunken sod’s pen. Nice borders asshole. Well mended fences make good neighbors. Or maybe a little green frog sitting on a log singing a song… oh wait Kermit has already had his stinky little finger in this as well. Thanks Mr. Newman. Seriously does anyone know what it is going to take for me to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning without reading about human beings acting like retarded apes? There is nothing like a severed ears to curb moral courage.

But what does this profit me? Nothing, for I have no sugar for my Kehlog’s;
Then an eccentric looking man said,
Speak to us of Art.
And he said:
It might as easily be said that man could live without Art as that man could live without water.
Look upon the innocent scribblings of little children.
Doubt not that each of us emerged from the womb an artist.
Art is freedom.
That which is called Art, yet is made subservient to commerce is not Art.
That which is called Art, yet is made subservient to a Nation or State is not Art.
That which is called Art, yet is hanging in the Museum of Modern Art is not Art. That crap my six year old son could do, the Master explained.

I was inspired a long time ago by an article that I read about Flip Wilson sitting in that park everyday in D.C. reading جبران خليل جبران story of Almustafa. I wonder if Khalil al-Zahawi ever had a chance to write that down. I would love to see that.
posted by MapGuy at 6:17 AM on May 30, 2007


Or do you think that a group that shoots/bombs doctors (BATF tallies 167 attacks against abortion clinics over the past 15 years) and bans science from the science classroom isn't capable of going further?

The short answer: The reality and truth of the situation is nowhere near the ghost stories. It's also disturbing, but in a number of different ways.

The long answer: Well, that's the derail part of things.
posted by dw at 10:08 AM on May 30, 2007


I know Arabic is written from right to left but, oddly, when I copied the script above, I could only copy from right to left, as well.
posted by etaoin at 11:28 AM on May 30, 2007


Hey, I feel like I'm missing part of your story here, MapGuy.

First off, your Arabic script is entirely in initials, not words... so I was trying to figure it out but I'm not sure what you were referring to. You were inspired by a story about Flip Wilson sitting in a DC park reading The Prophet? Or are you saying he was sitting in a park reading writings of Muhammed? I'm just wondering what were you trying to talk about.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:05 PM on May 30, 2007


MapGuy's script says "Jibran Khalil Jibran" and Al Mustafa isn't necessarily synonymous with "The Prophet" (Gibran was a Christian, by the way). But that still was about as convoluted as anything I've read this week including spam auto-text.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:19 PM on May 30, 2007


Can anyone put Saddam's back??

God??
posted by zouhair at 8:10 PM on May 30, 2007


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