Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Moroccan Photographer Captures Readers on NYC's Subway

Here is an article from Fast Company about a website  Underground New York Public Library  where Ourit Ben- Haim , a Moroccan  photographer collects photos of people reading on the Subway along with information on the books they are reading. It's worth a visit.


Portraits From NYC’s Most Popular Reading Room: The Subway

Street photographer Ourit Ben-Haïm captures thousands of New Yorkers immersed in books of all sorts.

Reading on the subway is something of an art in New York, where elbows and inquisitive eyes--not to mention all manner of hijinks--can make reading in peace a challenge. Moroccan photographer and artist Ourit Ben-Haïm has made a sport out of watching subway-bound readers, collecting candid snapshots of commuters immersed in their books on her website, The Underground New York Public Library.

Ben-Haïm, who works under the handle She Said Unprintable Things (a phrase borrowed from Lolita), posts new images to the UNYPL on a daily basis. Along with each image, she includes the name of the book being read and the author. If she can’t identify the book, she’ll ask her Tumblr followers for help. “I’m an artist and a storyteller,” she says. “The NYC subway provides a constant metaphorical suggestion of the relationship between our stories and our journey.” Her subjects are old and young, couples and groups of readers whose relationships are ambiguous. Because she has over 10,000 followers, there’s an unusual feedback loop that often occurs with her postings--people will respond not only to help identify the books being read, but also to identify the subjects themselves.

Ben-Haïm studied comparative literature and history in college, but has always taken photographs. She shoots with a Canon 5D Mark II, a conspicuously large camera that doesn’t allow very much subtlety in a subway car. But the 29-year-old says that interacting with her subjects is one of the reasons she loves street photography. “Reactions tend to be curious or puzzled when I shoot, and in general very accepting and encouraging once I explain why I’m taking the photographs,” she explains over email. “I love the process of making these photographs in part because of the amazingly pleasant engagement with people.”

Given the growing prevalence of digital readers, UNPYL is a kind of ad hoc memorial to the increasingly rare printed word. “There is loss and gain with all change, and the shift to eReaders is no exception,” says Ben-Haïm. “An eReader is less visually vulnerable, and my perspective is that this is a social loss.” At the same time, she adds that she loves her own tablet, and wants to portray the shift between paper and reader, too. “I love when the shift is visually visible in my photographs, in the cases where there are people with print books and eReaders within the same frame.”
Above all, says the young photographer, the images are about "all aspects of Story"--capitalization intended. “I’m fascinated by how we apply ourselves to stories and discourse,” she explains on UNYPL. “This library freely lends out a reminder that we’re capable of traveling to great depths within ourselves and as a whole.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Demonstration Against Loyalty to the Monarchy Dispersed by Police

Here is an article from the AFP about a small  demonstration against Royal loyalty ceremony that ended with police forcefully dispersing the crowd.

Morocco police disperse demo against 'king loyalty' ritual

RABAT — Moroccan riot police forcefully dispersed a protest outside parliament Wednesday, where activists had gathered to call for the abolition of a ceremony of loyalty to the king, AFP journalists reported.

Dozens of activists, most of them from the February 20 reform movement, demonstrated on the main boulevard in Rabat, chanting "Dignity, freedom and social justice!"
The police responded aggressively, beating some of the protesters and journalists, including an AFP reporter, as they tried to scatter the crowd.

The demonstration took place just a day after hundreds of government officials pledged their devotion to King Mohammed VI by bowing down before the monarch at an annual "Celebration of loyalty and allegiance" at the palace.
Activists called Wednesday's protest, dubbed a "Celebration of loyalty to freedom and dignity," to denounce the royal event, which some say perpetuates a "backwardness" and "servitude" in Morocco that is inappropriate for the 21st century.

"We are calling for the abolition of this ceremony, because it undermines the dignity and freedom of Moroccans, and people want it to finish," said Montasser, a February 20 activist at the protest.
"Even pro-monarchy people acknowledge that this way of expressing allegiance to the king is in fact a display servitude," he said.

Speaking to AFP, the ministry of communication Mustapha Khalfi said he regretted the incident, and that the interior ministry had called for an inquiry into what happened, to clarify who was responsible.
The February 20 movement was born out of the wave of protests which took hold in the kingdom last year after pro-democracy revolts in Tunisia and Egypt toppled long-standing regimes.

King Mohammed VI, who has been on the throne for 13 years, moved to stifle the protest movement by introducing significant reforms that would curb his near-absolute powers.

The Moroccan authorities remain highly sensitive to public criticism of the king.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Little Sympathy in Morocco for Ramadan "Boycotters"

Here is an article from Radio Netherlands on reactions in Morocco to the nascent group of  Moroccan youth who are "boycotting" Ramadan.  For those of you who have "opted in" for Ramadan, wishing you the best of the last ten days.   Ramadan Mubarak!


Little sympathy in Morocco for Ramadan boycott group

Published on 11 August 2012 - 3:05pm 
The seats outside cafes are empty and streets eerily quiet in the hour before sunset, as Moroccans wait to break the day-long Ramadan fast. But one group is causing a stir by flouting religious convention.

Masayminch ("We're not fasting" in the local Arabic dialect) was founded last month by Moroccan youths seeking to defend individual liberties, starting with the right of non-believers to eat, drink or smoke in public during the Muslim holy month.
"The essential vision is to tell society that we are different, and that we shouldn't have to hide to live in peace," Imad Iddine Habib, 23, a co-founder of the group, told AFP.

Morocco has a reputation as a particularly tolerant Muslim country, where the form of Islam practised is distinctly moderate.
There are plenty of bars in the main cities, though they tend to close during Ramadan and some may refuse to serve Moroccans. Women enjoy relatively extensive freedoms.

But it remains a deeply religious society -- 89 percent of Moroccans consider religion to be "very important" in their lives, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Centre, a US think-tank.
For a Moroccan not to fast during Ramadan is viewed as something of a taboo.

"Most people are shocked if they see someone eating in the streets. There's a feeling of resentment, that they are not respecting society," said Omar Benjelloun, a human rights lawyer.
At the heart of the debate is article 222 of Morocco's penal code, which states that anyone "breaking the fast in a public place during Ramadan, without a reason accepted" in Islam, can be imprisoned for up to six months and fined.

Communication Minister Mustapha El Khalfi, of the PJD, the moderate Islamist party that came to power after winning the November elections, was quoted as saying last month that the government would be "firm in enforcing the law, as it has been since taking office."
Getting round the problem is straightforward enough -- most shops remain open during the day, so if your self-discipline weakens as your stomach starts to growl, there's no law to stop you going home for a bite to eat.

But people do get into trouble.
Local media reported last week that four youths, two men and two women, were arrested near the central town of Beni Mellal, northwest of Marrakesh, and are awaiting trial, after a farmer saw them eating and smoking by the roadside and informed the police.
Another incident highlighted the depth of feeling over the issue.

Two young men filed a complaint against the son of an MP, independent daily Al-Akhbar Al-Youm reported this month, accusing him of ramming into them in his car and causing injuries, after they criticised him for smoking in public.

Habib, the Masayminch activist, argues that although Morocco is a largely Islamic society, there are many non-practising Muslims who simply fast to avoid getting into trouble, and accuses those who defend the law of "hyprocrisy."
"People drink and smoke. There is prostitution everywhere. But then (during Ramadan), they don't tolerate that you are not a Muslim," he told AFP.

"We want to abrogate this law. We are not believers, and society has no right to impose its beliefs on us," he added.
But even for progressively-minded Moroccans who would like to see greater personal freedoms and who fear the kind of restrictions that a more Islamic government might impose, the Masayminch activists are barking up the wrong tree.

"Individual liberties and human rights are much more important than having a picnic during Ramadan," said Benjelloun, the lawyer.
"What Masayminch are doing doesn't serve the cause of secularism and modernity. This is a gift to their enemies," he added, referring to hardline Islamists.

At one of the few cafes open for business during the day in central Rabat, Jose, 46, believes it is simply a question of respecting the country's Islamic culture.

"Even if you are not a Muslim, if you want to smoke or eat, you should do so in private. These people are spitting on society," says the Spaniard, enjoying a coffee in the cafe's upstairs section that allows customers to be served out of sight.