Letter to the Ambassador of Indonesia

Some days ago a good friend and a Mezrab regular posted a note on our Facebook about an Indonesian man arrested for writing online that god does not exist. First he was beaten up and now he faces a potential jail sentence of 5 years. Since at the Mezrab we don’t stand for such nonsense we decided not to just sign an online petition, but to rather mail the ambassador of Indonesia in the Netherlands. Here’s a copy of what we wrote. And of course, we urge you to take action as well. Have a read, and if you like it, pass it on.

To: Her Excellency Ambassador of Indonesia Retno L.M. Marsudi
Embassy of Indonesia
Tobias Asserlaan 8
2517 KC Den Haag
bidpol@indonesia.nl

Your Excellency,

I would like to visit your beautiful country soon, but I am troubled by a recent development that has given me second thoughts and made me postpone my visit.

I refer to my concerns for one of the citizens of Indonesia. Alexander Aan. I’m sure your excellency is familiar with his case: for declaring online his non-belief in a deity he was beaten up and arrested and will potentially receive a harsh prison sentence. It seems that renouncing (his personal) faith was an insult to religion.

These events and the handling of it by local government has confused me. If mr. Aan is without faith, and the Indonesian law requires of people to have a faith, isn’t it more prudent to allow him to speak of his non-belief? If not, how will you know if the religion that’s stated in one’s identity card is the religion of one’s heart or simply what one pretends to be out of fear of retribition and prosecution?

I am also confused by Mr. Aan’s accusation of insulting religion by stating god does not exist. If he said that to a God he believed existed it would be a foolish and paradoxical act. Unless he was a devout Jew who lived through the Holocaust and witnessed the destruction of friends and family members and tried to insult exactly the almighty he believed in but held responsible for the senseless inhumanity in his life. Luckily Judaism is not one of the six accepted religions in Indonesia so we can avoid that theological conundrum. Another foolish act would be to state god exists by one who doesn’t believe, and luckily that is, as far as I know, not something that’s required by Indonesian law, as mr. Aan’s troubles started when he started to voice his unbelief.

But how is it an insult to state God does not exist if that is what one feels? If a blind person goes to the eye-doctor in Indonesia and the doctor holds out his fingers. Is the blind person required to guess the amount of fingers out of fear of being beaten up and locked up for stating he does not see the fingers? Or is he rather encouraged to say to the doctor what he does or doesn’t see so he can be helped with his condition (either by curing it through operation or helping him live with his condition)?

If unbelief lives in the brain, in synapses not having formed the constructions that allow belief in a deity, isn’t it the humane, or dare I say moderate Indonesian way to examine the unbeliever to see whether his brain is incapable of belief, in which case you shouldn’t punish him but rather declare him an invalid in religious matters and pay him some kind of monthly relief, or whether he is capable but presently doesn’t do so, in which case you could treat and educate him.

In reading about Indonesia to prepare for my upcoming trip I found out that Indonesia is a modern and moderate country that allows its citizens one of six religions. This is great news for mr. Aan. If your country decides to treat him rather than punish him, priests of various sects and religions could educate him, and surely realizing how rich the world of religion is he would come to his senses and follow one of the beliefs.

Mr. Aan could then start to believe that while Jesus was a great prophet it is blasphemy to think he is the son of god (as Muslims are allowed to believe in Indonesia), or that while Jesus was the son of god the Catholic church is a false church that leads true believers astray (as many protestants believe in Indonesia), or that the first principle of faith is the belief in one god and believing in more such as the Hindus do is sinful (such as Muslims and Christians alike profess in Indonesia) or that while you can have a favorite god it is foolish to deny the millions others (as many Hindus think in Indonesia). All of these convictions and many more are protected by Indonesian law.

I hope your excellency can clarify these matters to me, as I hope to visit your beautiful country soon and would not like to cause trouble with its laws simply by discussing my own personal thoughts on religion. Which as Ambassador to the Netherlands your excellency knows is not stated on our identity cards allowing for all kinds of confusion.

Warm Regards,

Sahand Sahebdivani
director of Mezrab Center for Philosophical Experimentation
Domselaerstraat 120
1093 MB Amsterdam

Music Monday #3: Rod Ben Zeev’s Top Five

Rod Ben Zeev is not only one of Amsterdam’s most talented improv actors, he’s also the initiator of one of Mezrab’s hottest nights, the “My Real Story” second Friday of the month storytelling event. Since he’s traveling the world for a while and we do miss him, we’ve asked him to give us his favorite pieces of music. Not only did he take time off from trekking the Australian desert to write this, he showed us that he’s a man with big cojones. Who else would dare to include the Backstreet Boys in his top 5? Enjoy!

5. I Got a Man! / Positive K.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvYIpa1Ulvw&w=420&h=315]

This Positive K duet cracks me up while I’m dancing which cracks other people up. So it’s just a good time all around. I always wanted to tell someone: “Are you a chef? Cause you keep feedin’ me soup!”
4. Too Much Love Will Kill You / Queen
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKFEjZ98Q4s&w=420&h=315]
Freddy is amazing. Never try to Karaoke anything by him if you’re not a professional. This song always makes me break down on the inside. It’s so beautiful and represents all the beauty about being passionate about something you love.
3. Breathe Me / Sia
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSH7fblcGWM]
I recently “discovered” this song because I watch Six Feet Under and this is the soundtrack to the most incredible montage I have ever seen in the final episode of the show. I don’t think you need to watch all 63 episode of the show to appreciate the layering of this but it’s a nice payoff if you do.
2. I Want it that Way / Backstreet Boys
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBlCtqsat-w&w=420&h=315]
Yes, I know I’m publicly saying that I love this Backstreet Boys song. But who doesn’t, really. When I listen to this ballad, I’m just like the Chinese boys doing the video with so much emotion in their dorm room. It’s a guilty pleasure like so many other songs we love so let’s just admit it and end all this war and hunger.
1. Graceland / Paul Simon
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6fS_7Yp0hY&w=420&h=315]
This is Paul Simon’s title song from my favorite album… ever. It takes me back to a time when I was a kid in the back of my dad’s Citroen, singing along to the entire album on long drives and dreaming of being able to sit in the front seat one day. I realized that dream and my new dream is to sing the entire album in a live concert in front of real people.

Storytime #2: What is storytelling?

What is storytelling? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times. I believe it’s an important question, if we are to revive or reinvent the art of storytelling, as Mezrab is trying to do. For me personally, storytelling was taking long walks with my dad in the streets Amsterdam while he told tales about his father and grandfathers, heroes and scoundrels who could compete with the heroes of old. For me the storyteller was not someone who had studied theater or writing, it was someone (my father) who had lived, and while living had absorbed events and stories around him, to pass them on later with passion and excitement.

My father, the great storyteller, disagreed. In his stories a storyteller is a serious profession. A special breed of men who studied for years and traveled to make their living. They knew how to entertain a crowd, how preserve and string together the old stories. They would tell their stories in squares and in tea houses. For years I had a mental image of these storytellers without meeting them, until I found some last year. Not in Iran, but in documentary shot in Morocco. Watching these storytellers who populate the squares of many cities in Morocco, together with snake charmers, fortune tellers, strongmen and other miracle workers, provides the mental imagery to go with the stories my dad told me many years ago. But more moving still is the way it portrays the protagonist, a young boy who tries to become a storyteller like his father.

If you speak Dutch, a TV version of the documentary is available online.

If you don’t speak Dutch, look at this trailer in Youtube:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9i8kSUDtFk]

Music Monday #2: Revolution Playlist

Mezrab maitre d’, Sahand Sahebdivani, brings us this week’s Music Monday Mixtape. He’s chosen the theme of “music for the revolution”.

Sahand says:

Revolutions are fought with blood and tears, but also with the creativity of artists. There isn’t a struggle that doesn’t have songs to stir the emotions, and urge young and old to join the fight and not to despair, even if the situation seems hopeless. With the Middle East in turmoil Mezrab brings you our personal pick of songs of defiance to start your week with.

Egypt / Ya El Meydan / Cairokee

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umlJJFVgYVI]

Tahrir Square, or simply “the Square” (El Meydan) has become the symbol of the Egyptian revolution. It gave the world a great visual image of the struggle. Al Jazeera cameras showed us day and night how people gathered on the square to camp and shout slogans, share food, sing songs and even get engaged and married, all the time while risking attack by police and military (and in one instance thugs on the backs of horses and camels). A year has passed since Mubarak was driven off, but many Egyptians unsatisfied with how the revolution has progressed so far, have taken to the Square again.

Ya El Meydan (Oh Square!) is a song about the hopes and dreams of a nation, wrapped in a love song for a square.

Syria / Yalla Get Out Bashar! / Ibrahim Qashoush

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xCS8SsFOBAI]

When Ibrahim Qashoush, fireman, part-time poet and father of three wrote this energetic, emotional and sometimes funny song against the rule of Syria’s Basher Assad he had no idea it would become the anthem of a revolution that’s still ongoing today. The government’s response was brutal. Qashoush reportedly was found with his throat cut and his vocal chords ripped out. His song’s still sung however, wherever people gather to protest.

Kurdistan / Kine Em? / Sivan Perver

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5wtlIaMseQ]

Kine Em? Who Are We? asks Sivan Perver, the voice of a struggle that’s centuries old. In the song he gives the answer himself: a lively volcano, fire and dynamite in the face of our enemies: corrupt Shahs, Mullahs and military Juntas. It’s a powerful image, seeing him perform in front of a sea of listeners.

Iran / Agha Negah Dar! (Hey Man, Pull Over!) / Kiosk

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmH6JxEiIu8]

For Iran, the country we know best, it was hard to pick a revolutionary song. When in 2009 the people took to the streets to contest the crooked elections the scenes were similar to what people remembered of the 1979 revolution. Subsequently the songs they sang at protests where the same as a generation before, bearing titles like “Winter has come to an end”, “Bird of Spring” and “Come join this road”, While they evoke memories for Iranians, the songs might not be so exciting to listen to by someone who doesn’t understand the language. Instead we’ve picked one of the works of Kiosk, a band that comments current affairs in clever lyrics mounted on a musical style everyone can relate to.

Iran / Allah Allah / Saman Arbabi Remix

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfcHBtZYj4A]

The final song is a very personal choice and one that’s very hard to listen to by anyone who grew up in Iran. It also needs some context: The most popular Iranian television show of the moment is Parazit, An Iranian “Daily Show” recorded in the US which comically comments on Iranian politics. When the Iranian government started beating up, arresting and killing protesters in 2009 the guys from Parazit made one of their least funny but most powerful episodes, one in which they directly talked to the militias, asking them to think about their revolutionary ideals, and how they feel about them while beating up old men and women and young boys and girls. This episode opened with the song Allah Allah, a song that was blasted over the airwaves almost daily by the religious regime in the early years of the revolution. By mixing this propagandistic song with images of the revolution and a hypnotic groove Parazit producer Saman Arbabi has created a strange but powerful song that reminds us of the cyclical nature of revolutions.

Make sure to listen to this with your speakers full blast.

Storytime #1: Molly’s Wedding

Mezrab champions storytelling. Long in the future, when our present has passed from history into myth, Mezrab will be a stocky young hero who rides across the kingdom showing the people the wonders in the world. He will open eyes, comfort hearts and make grown men cry. And our hero will be a popular one because he quests across borders and gathers wonderous treasures from every corner of the globe to share with his chosen people.

Those of you who’ve been to one of our storytelling nights will know that this is true. To become truly legendary, we need to share beyond our whitewashed walls in Oost.

So, here is the first installment of our Storytime series. We’ll be posting audio and videos of some of our favourite stories from our (soon to be) legendary tellers.

So, for a step toward immortality and, more importantly, five minutes well spent, we heartily recommend you listen to the following story, be the lovely Molly.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/34640785″ iframe=”true” /]

We’d also like to give a special thanks to Moein Mosleh for the wonderful photographs in this post.

Connecting Power / Visualizing Change

The past year saw great turmoil and change in the Arab world. We saw the fall of the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and there’s unrest still in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and to a lesser extent in many other countries of the region. Mezrab has been working on a video that emphasizes the need to continue and strengthen the struggle by connecting and spreading information in between the countries. The idea isn’t just to watch the video and spread it with your friends and contacts (though that’s a good start), but to visit our list of identified hubs and also spread the links of the sites and hubs that inform or inspire you.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1orXkjHxV5c]

The list of Hubs can be found here.

This video is also available in Arabic:
on Youtube.
and on Vimeo.

and in Persian:
on Youtube.
on Vimeo.

and here are the links in English:
on Youtube.
on Vimeo.

Music Monday #1: Julia’s Top Ten

Who’s old enough to remember making mix-tapes for the boy or girl you have a crush on? There’s a delicate art to it. You don’t want to be too obvious in your choices, but also not overly pretentious. You want the mix to be cool, yet sensitive. On Mondays, we’re going to relive those days by giving you a load of our favorite songs to start your week with. And we’re not doing it alone. We’re asking some of our regulars and people we admire to send in their lists.

When Julia walked into the Mezrab a few years ago to write an article about us for a local paper we knew we wanted her to stay. She had short hair, great tattoos and told us her Masters degree was in feminism in cult vampire films. Ever since she’s been a member of the team, making sure the website is updated, information is sent out and coming up with plans for new events. Currently she’s planning her second trip to the Philippines, where she will help exploited workers in the garment industry to tell their own stories.

JULIA SAYS:

This is my top 10 of youtube songs at the moment.

If youtube was even more expanded it might have looked a little different with for example Shirley Collin’s ‘Hares on the mountain’ or Elizabeth Cotton’s ‘Jesus lifted me’. All strong women making beautiful songs with a bite. Of course you’d have to place them in time since wearing worker’s pants as a woman in the 50’s was already quite daring and progressive.

Peggy SeegerGonna Be An Engineer

So let’s start with this song then. Peggy Seeger ( sister of Pete Seeger) was a American folk singer and activist from the 50’s. She was married to folk singer, activist and songwriter Ewan MacColl. She identifies as bisexual and written an essay about it (Voices of Bisexuals Around the World).Great, feminist song of a very special lady.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCRRe72mwwY&w=560&h=315]

Elizabeth CottenFreight Train

She was an American blues and folk musician, singer and songwriter Her self-taught left-handed guitar style (holding a right-handed guitar upside down) become known as “Cotten picking”. Amazing woman played the guitar till she died..

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6PA3_xeDI8&w=560&h=315]

Daniel JohnstonThe Story Of An Artist

Very special person with a sad song, also a little funny at the same time and recognizable and cliché and…. If you have time watch this documentary about him: ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_RbSAwMa3U&w=560&h=315]

Diamanda GalasLet My People Go

American musician, AIDS activist and philosopher. Listen to this amazing dark song based on and old American Negro Spiritual called ‘Go down Moses’. Now, Diamanda made it into something different:  “ the eight legs of the devil now, are crawling up my spine”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6NOeHm0ru8&w=560&h=315]

Current 93A Gothic Love Song

To follow up the sudden darkness in this list; a gothic, sad and actually quite depressing song by the fanstastic Storytellers of Current 93.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln5A1o-0x4A&w=560&h=315]

LowLa La La Song

Now we’re into love songs anyway, so here’s another one. I think it’s the most intimate and daring lovesong I know to open to the world. Don’t think I could ever do that but happy to be able to listen to this one from Low.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPvYFZfnKWg&w=560&h=315]

Amanda Palmer –  Vegemite (The Black Death)

Strong woman, good performer and so so funny!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVKPrQv1H8I&w=560&h=315]

The Secret SistersWhy Dont You Love Me

These sisters are so cute and lovely. I missed them playing in Paradiso this year, such a shame

I love to sing this song and overdo it 😉

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76Ew-GN8HS0&w=560&h=315]

Yarah BravoBluebird

This little lady started as a surprise act of underground hiphop master DJ Vadim but soon enough left her tracks in hiphop-land and blows you away from stage. Look at her! http://www.britishhiphop.co.uk/features/articles/yarah_bravo_-_biography.html

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gBBKxdMMhI&w=560&h=315]

Wanda JacksonFujiama Mama

Last year I went to see this woman playing at Patronaat in Haarlem. She’s74(!) years old and I was blown away! She told the audience about her first tour after highschool together with Elvis. They were both ‘spoiled brats’ as she said and went on their first date together. Isn’t that great?! Listen to this very very cool song of this rockin momma:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVs3iwkAP0k&w=560&h=315]

Welcome to the new Mezrab blog!

Dear friends and lovers of Mezrab,

As some of you already know, this year will see a great number of changes for Mezrab. As part of those changes, we wanted to create a space where we could share ideas. This blog is that space.

We want to share the things we love with you. Here we’ll be posting everything, from articles and activism to stories and poems to videos and audio recordings from our events.

Every Monday, we’ll have our regular new music feature, where a chosen Mezrabite will create a special mixtape of music they think you should hear. We’ll also be updating throughout the week with news and our picks of the best literature on the web, alongside anything else we feel you’d enjoy.

Our current website, Mezrab.nl, will continue keeping you informed about our upcoming events. For everything else, there’s Mezrablog!

Love from us all,

Team Mezrab.