Everyday Hybridity

Dr Paul O'Connor
Anthropology/Sociology/Cultural Studies/
Hong Kong/Ethnicity/
Skateboarding/Everyday Life

Lecturing in Anthropology at CUHK

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cuhk.academia.edu/PaulOConnor
@peejayohhsee
everydayhybridity@gmail.com

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  1. In dealing with hybridity it is often the superficial elements of mix that get transmitted. People accommodate the clothing, food, and music of various cultures and ethnic groups because they are easily adapted. People don’t typically tend to celebrate Irish mercenaries fighting for Arab freedom in the Maghreb. 

    Hybrid identities encounter controversy and challenge, not least in the guise of authenticity. A popular term is that of cultural appropriation, using the symbols of another culture in a purely superficial way is deemed ignorant and offensive. Often the police of such cultural appropriation are hybrids themselves. Some may be on the periphery and articulate the cultural transgression as a means to re-affirm a boundary. Heated arguments persist about what is sacred and what is taboo. These can also be read as identity politics.

    Offence at an Ohm symbol on a t-shirt is arguably more testing for a South Asian urban teen in North America than it is for their counterpart in a Gujerati village. 

    These are issues that both John Hutnyk in Critique of Exotica and Jan Nederveen Pieterse in Globalization and Cutlure have explored. Hutnyk talks about superificial hybridity and questions why Mendhi on a white girl is deemed exotic but not ‘Levis in Lahore.’ He questions if an Indian rice farmer with a Peruvian made Kalashnikov is hybrid? Similarly Nederveen Pieterse asks about complex hybrid identities, why are Arab Israelis not presented as a serious example of hybridity, why do we always get the transient superficial presentations instead?

    So this brings me to my images above. The celebrated Libyan-Irish freedom fighter Mahdi al Harati has garnered some interesting press in the US, UK and Ireland for his role in the fight for Benghazi. He is once again in the spotlight after leaving his family in Dublin once more to fight alongside Syrian rebels. His band of followers Liwaa Al-Umma fights independently of the Syrian Free Army. There are numerous murmurings that Harati is funded by clandestine sources, that he is simply a celebrated mercenary. He appeals to the Western media as a character of hybrid European origins. He is also portrayed, importantly, not as a jihadist and Islamic extremist, but a good hearted freedom loving adventurer.

    So a new question is an Irish man fighting for Arab freedom in Syria hybrid?

     
     
  2. Why do they hate us?

    A great deal of interest has surrounded this article from Mona Eltahawy. It is a thought provoking piece and manages to get a strong point across because it doesn’t censure itself to tell the whole story. The issues that Eltahawy mentions are those that simply need addressing.

    It resonates with me today because I have just been going over the proofs for my book and I revisited accounts of young Muslims in Hong Kong reflecting on their freedoms in the territory. One young girls says that she is free to be religious, to wear what she wants. In Paksitan she has to wear her hijab. She is challenged and ridiculed if she doesn’t wear it, in the UK she is made to feel bad if she does wear it. 

    The level of freedom for women globally is a question. Just the other week I discussed this. However, that doesn’t mean that Eltahawy can’t ask these questions and can’t call for real change.

    The choice of Foreign Policy to present the article with the editorial photographs of the painted woman is questionable. I do wonder how Eltahawy feels about this uneasy mix.

    So to sum up the article and its debate I post a collection of links surrounding the story. Such is the interest in the story, it could be possible that Eltahawy might ultimately be a catalyst for further change.

    - Body paint controversy for Foreign Policy

    - List of responses

    - Mona you do not represent us

    - Everybody hates Mona

    - OpenDemocracy

    - (update) from the Guardian

    And also Mona’s own blog

     
     
  3. Despots and Popular Culture

    This week there was plenty of coverage of the unrest in Syria. One of the most curious pieces that I read was about Bashar Al-Asad’s musical tastes via his itunes purchases. If he already didn’t have a bad enough image, his choices of Chris Brown and Right Said Fred earmarked him as entirely out of touch with everyday life in his own country. The news report provided a very strange voyeuristic glimpse into how autrocratic leaders choose to unwind. Pop music as a background to death and torture. A very unsettling juxtaposition.

    Years ago I read Patrick Seale’s biography of Asad senior. His early life was very different to that experienced by Bashar. Hafez al-Asad was not someone you could imagine ever listening to Right Said Fred. But nevertheless all Middle East leaders and politicians need to relax and Said Aburush wrote that Arafat enjoyed Looney Tunes  and Tom and Jerry cartoons as a way to unwind from the pressures of the PLO and the fight for a Palestinian state.