tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Canada mum on Darfur militant in Sudanese government

There’s been no official word yet from the Government of Canada in response to the Sudanese Arab government naming Musa Hilal – a janjaweed militia leader with known ties to the atrocities in Darfur – as a special advisor to the government in the Ministry of Federal (i.e. internal) Affairs.

First reported by the London-based Arabic daily asharq alawsat January 19, Musa Hilal’s official position in the government remains ambiguous, but his very presence underscores the level of commitment (or lack thereof) that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has toward resolving a conflict that has left more than 200,000 people dead in an ethnic cleansing in Darfur since 2003.

Human Rights Watch and international observers in Darfur accuse Musa Hilal of organizing raids on civilians and refugees in Darfur, and there is proof from eyewitness accounts that Hilal has been present at the scene of Darfur atrocities, as reported in the New York Times.

Hilal has also been implicated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the atrocities in Darfur, though not formally charged with war crimes.

According to the online edition of the English Sudan Tribune, Musa Hilal is a convicted felon (armed robbery, 1998) who was released from prison in 2003 by top Sudanese government officials, apparently (one may only infer) to provide his services to the government in suppressing the uprising by the Sudanese Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, both non-Arab parties from the Darfur region struggling for more autonomy in western Sudan.

The last official word from Canada about Sudan came only two weeks ago, when Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier commented (“Canada urges all parties to negotiate in a spirit of compromise conducive to ongoing dialogue and reconciliation…”) on the third anniversary of the Naivasha Agreement, which ended the 20-year Second Civil War between Sudan’s Arab government and the black-African (ethnic Dinkas and others) Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the south of the country.

The anniversary, January 9, came a day after suspected janjaweed units attacked a UN supply convoy in western Darfur.

Should someone with Darfur’s blood on his hands be advising the Sudanese government about its policy toward, er, Darfur?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Welcome to the Tuque Souq… what’s a tuque souq?

What is a Tuque Souq? Sadly, there isn’t such a thing, which is not to say I’ve given up looking. (Still waiting to hear from Chicoutimi, Trois Rivières, and of course the town of La Tuque, in Quebec; plus the Comoros Islands, Mauritania, Oman… so many places to explore.)

A “tuque” (pl. tuques; alt.sp. touque) is, of course, the quintessential Canadian winter stocking cap. A “souq” (Arabic sūq, pl. aswāq; alt.sp. souk) is the quintessential Arabic marketplace.

When yet another winter was descending on southern Ontario last November, my partner and I were out shopping for tuques. Our heads still bare and cold after a frustrating hour of fruitless shopping in boutique-land on Queen Street West, Toronto, I remarked that if we were in the Middle East we could just head to the tuque souq, and all of our problems of choice (or lack thereof) would be solved.

(Yes, I realize that in most places in the Middle East, wearing a tuque is superfluous at best and downright hazardous at worst; but try spending a January night in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert without one and then tell me I’m the Canadian equivalent of cultural imperialism.)

In ten years visiting and living in the Arab world, I came to admire the idea of the souq. Need a pair shoes? Head for the shoes souq. Gold bracelet? The gold souq. Spices? Cookware? A dishdasha? You got it. In a classical souq, all of the merchandise for a particular product is centralized; as a merchant, your twelve closest competitors are also your twelve closest neighbours.

One of the most phenomenal souqs I’ve ever seen is the carpentry souq in the Old City of Sfax in Tunisia. I hadn’t come looking for a wooden spoon – I was taking a long holiday weekend away from my teaching job in Sousse – but as I turned the corner from Rue de la Grande Mosque (the cobblers’ souq, by the way), there they were: 40,000 nearly identical carved wooden spoons, spilling out from the shops in long shadows onto the cobblestone street. Dozens of woodshops, thousands of spoons, one souq.

The tuque is an icon of Canada, a knit hat to keep us warm in winter. Invented, some say, by 18th-century French-Canadian trappers. Worn famously, others note, by Bob & Doug McKenzie. And infamously difficult to find – at least in adequate numbers and styles – on Queen Street West in Toronto.

Ergo, if I were starting a city tomorrow, I’d definitely go with the souq structure. Thanks to so-called multiculturalism and an appetite for low-skilled labour in a high-priced economy, in Toronto we’re not terribly inadequate in the souq department: we already have the Chinese-import-and-Dim-Sum souq on Spadina Avenue; the Linguiça-and-other-Portuguese-pork-products souq on Ossington Street; the Things-I’ll-never-afford souq at Bay and Bloor…

But I digress. The point of this blog is not to create a literal tuque souq (my tuque supply is now generous, souqs notwithstanding). Rather, to create a kind of a virtual intersection between things Canadian and the Middle East/Arab World. People, places, ideas, (bad ideas)… explorations in Arabic news, language, media, and philia.

The Tuque Souq also aims to be a collaborative effort. Your humble blogger is working on a couple of projects for which he needs to become better versed in the stories of Canada and Canadians in the Middle East (and vice versa). Got something to share under this broad topical umbrella? Ahlan wa sahlan. The souq is open. Send an email to:

- The Tuque Souq