This week marks my third month as an honorary Wassenaarian and though pictures have been taken, they flop at doing the Institute, and its surroundings, justice.


Verbal accounts are either fantastical (“It’s Rivendell-on-Sea!”) or underwhelming (“It’s so damn pretty. No really. The trees.”*).

The Dunes

Luckily, Amrita Das has succeeded on all counts via her recent post on a visit to NIAS this month, so click here, for an insightful and evocative account of this glorious place.

Wassenaar Beach

*To be fair, they are mighty behemoths that arch into arboreal cathedrals and are worthy of names, such as ‘Yggdrasil’ or ‘Fangaorne’. Too much? Piffle.

>> Burnesha

A truly arresting project by Jill Peters, Sworn Virgins of Albania captures the women who have chosen at a young age to take on the male identity for life.

Image by Jill Peters, via PetaPixel

The centuries-old tradition of taking on the male identity is rooted in an act of empowerment that sought to elevate women to the higher social status occupied by men:

The Kanun states that women are the property of their husbands. The freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants was traditionally the exclusive province of men. Young girls were commonly forced into arranged marriages, often with much older men in distant villages. A family suddenly without a patriarch or male heir would find themselves in jeopardy of losing everything.

As an alternative, becoming a Sworn Virgin, or ‘burnesha” elevated a woman to the status of a man and granted her all the rights and privileges of the male population. In order to manifest the transition such a woman cut her hair, donned male clothing and sometimes even changed her name. Male gestures and swaggers were practiced until they became second nature. Most importantly of all, she took a vow of celibacy to remain chaste for life. She became a “he”.

The project is not only a superb insight into an Albanian tradition, but also raises questions along lines of gender, identity, masculinity and femininity.

To view the project in full, visit Jill Peters Photography, as well as Michael Zhang’s piece at PetaPixel.

>> Portrait of a Syrian Fighter

Image via the Washington Post_APTOPIX_Mideast_SyriaAs the Syrian conflict rumbles on, grassroots narratives abound, heart-breaking, compelling and insightful by turn.

If you must read but one (to start or even for today), let it be Yassin al-Haj Saleh‘s interview with Abu Qusay, a tailor from al-Ghizlaniya who traded in his scissors and tape for the tools of revolution.

Starting in early 2011 amid street protests, Abu Qusay’s account charts the acceleration of violence and mortality, as well as the shift in tempo and focus of the fighting.

A particularly poignant observation is the lack of dedication to the primary objective of the uprising:

Since the start of this year things have started to stagnate. People are in pursuit of slogans and financiers; every wise guy is out to make a name of himself, forgetting that Bashar is not gone yet. The whole thing is so long and drawn-out, life is expensive, food and ammunition are scarce, and some groups now swear their allegiance to outside forces; to Saudi Arabia, to Qatar, and to Kuwait.

The current death toll stands at over 100,000, with over 1,548 foreign civilians killed.

Over 3,000,000 Syrians have been displaced, more than 1,204,707 are currently registered as refugees and over 130,000 are ‘missing’.

The factions multiply and loyalties are placed along ambiguous lines, but for folks such as Abu Qusay, the reason for taking up arms and continuing to do so after almost two and a half years remains the same – uncomfortable, yet necessary:

We took to the streets precisely because we are against power-hungry despots. We want to be normal, and a quarter of the people are like us. It is true that some opposed the regime because they were after power and political positions, but there are many noble people out there, and they will no-doubt prevail.

Read the article in its entirety in English here, and in Arabic, here.


An insightful piece on graffiti in Afghanistan and the pluck of Shamsia Hassani.

Originally posted on Steal | this | Hijab دزدیدن این حجاب:

by Nagmani

After Tunisia and Egypt, it was Afghanistan’s turn to be covered in the bold and beautiful colors of graffiti. It all became possible because of one young woman’s unflinching determination. She stood up and vowed to help her country; she is Afghanistan’s first female graffiti artist. Her cry for freedom is an example of the serious changes she wants to see across the Middle East. But it was not an easy ride for the twenty-four year-old Shamsia Hassani—who highlights injustices against women in conservative Afghan society. 

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