A weird review of the new Penguin Nights (A faithful version of Islam! Which stories? The orgy in the garden? The wife who drugs her husband every night so she can go be a sex slave to a poor man in a trash heap? Genies in bottles?) - ???
"The Arabian Nights is that magical mirror that reflects Islam's genius, its vast cultural scale and its incalculable contribution to the arts and sciences. The tales celebrate life and the blessings it offers. Praising love, joy, courage, defiance, compassion, they negate the teachings of such death-worshippers as Khomeini, Al-Qaida, Taliban et al. For those wondering where the true voice of Islam is, be assured it is here in these 1,001 tales."
There are so many problems with the perception of the Nights I don't know where to begin. I suppose you can just slap whatever you believe onto the label "1001 Nights" and then go with it, nobody will prove you different because they can't prove anything about the Nights!
Here's the whole review from the Guardian:
The magical mirror of The Arabian Nights
Love, compassion, joy, defiance: the true voice of Islam sings out from Shahrazad's 1,001 tales
Moris Farhi Thursday November 27 2008 11.14 GMT
(Is the reviewer Moris Farhi the author? Even stranger!? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moris_Farhi)
A detail from a Victorian illustration of The Arabian Nights. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis
A new translation of The Arabian Nights, published this week, offers a definitive version, shorn of the confusing conflations which have dogged it since its transcription from oral tradition in ninth century Abbasid Baghdad.
Born and bred in Turkey, I grew up with these stories. Their tales of people facing adversity, particularly those on the margins of society, laced my mother's milk, elevated to heroes those who never doubted that somewhere, some sage, would discover the magical vessel that would transform life into Seventh Heaven.
Now, eagerly reacquainting myself with these fables, I feel compelled to speed up my journey as a writer. Benign exile can spawn complacency. Old age, with eyes at the back of its head in trepidation for children's future, has no time for philosophical questioning of the meanings of existence. Those meanings, whether rooted in necessity or chance or God, have long been hijacked by the overlords of politics, war, religion and economics. It is their armoured policies that must be defied, even if such defiance perishes in the wilderness.
Although The Arabian Nights became widely known in Europe after the Crusades and inspired countless artists and writers (from Chaucer to Dickens to Rushdie in Britain), Sir Richard Burton's translation in the late-19th century brought it a new level of popularity on these shores, not least because it was purported to expose the vagaries of the Muslim mentality and Arab way of life. Perhaps these injudicious perceptions, callusing over time, even laid the foundations for present-day Islamophobia.
The Arabian Nights is that magical mirror that reflects Islam's genius, its vast cultural scale and its incalculable contribution to the arts and sciences. The tales celebrate life and the blessings it offers. Praising love, joy, courage, defiance, compassion, they negate the teachings of such death-worshippers as Khomeini, Al-Qaida, Taliban et al. For those wondering where the true voice of Islam is, be assured it is here in these 1,001 tales.
But what of the brutality they contain? What about their obsession with death?
True, Death, "the destroyer of delights", is forever on the prowl. Indeed, even before Shahrazad, the teller of these tales, utters a word, it has claimed 3,000 virgins - all deflowered and executed, at the rate of one each day, by Sultan Shahryar, as punishment on womanhood for his wife's infidelity. However, when Shahrazad volunteers to be Shahryar's next victim, her intention is to defy Death, not to surrender to it meekly. And as she secures her daily reprieve with a fresh story, she denounces summary brutality and exalts the sanctity of life. Eluding Death is The Arabian Nights' raison-d'être.
These tales, however, present a disturbing aspect to the modern reader. Women in The Arabian Nights are often conniving and voraciously adulterous. We might wish to imagine Shahrazad's misrepresentation of women as facetious, but it is impossible to escape the fact that the original bards were invariably men.
Convinced that gender defamation conflicts with the tales' ethos, I can only interpret the misogyny as a projection from our patriarchal societies. "There's not a moment in the male mind that's not tumescent with sex", says an Arab adage. The creators of The Arabian Nights assumed that female minds possess the same trait, an assumption shared with the creators and enforcers of those implacable monotheisms Judaism, Christianity and Islam in their struggle to unsex women and commandeer their rights.
Though more than a millennium separates Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon from Abbasid Bagdad, they offer a germane spirit. When the Babylonians started building the Tower of Babel, an edifice designed to reach the Heavens and glorify humankind, God perceived this as a challenge to His authority; consequently, He decided to confuse them by making them speak in different tongues. Seen in the Bible as a calamity, this, in fact, proved a blessing. The different tongues unleashed our diversity - a diversity so strikingly reflected in The Arabian Nights - and delivered us from a monolithic culture which, unable to have intercourse with other cultures, would have otherwise condemned us to onanistic existence. This diversity of society also gave voice and stature to women, the perennial non-persons of our religions, just as The Arabian Nights gives voice to Shahrazad.
Oh, for more Towers of Babel bubbling with unbound women! That will stop the overlords from warring!