Tuesday, December 27, 2005
In compiling the collection of personal reminiscences “Meetings with Remarkable Muslims”, editors Barnaby Rogerson and Rose Baring were driven by a wish to get away from the stereotyped images of the Islamic world all too prevalent in the Western media and to arrive at a broader, truer picture.
The resulting book, published by Eland Publishing of London, is a rich harvest of human encounters in different parts of the Islamic world. The standard of writing is high, and the approach of the authors intimate and engaging.
The 39 contributors are a varied group. Some are scholars turned travel writers, such as William Dalrymple and Tim Mackintosh Smith. The contributors also include Persian writer, singer and songwriter Shusha Guppy, historian Philip Mansel, researcher and translator Bruce Wannell, Palestinian activist and writer Ghada Karmi, author and expert on textiles and Islamic art Philippa Scott, and writer and founder of the Travel Bookshop in London, Sarah Anderson.
A few of the “remarkable Muslims” are well-known personalities. Mark Hudson writes on the Senegalese singing star Youssou N’Dour, and Justin Marozzi recalls meeting the charismatic Ahmed Shah Massoud, “The Lion of the Panshir”, who was assassinated in 2001. Ghada Karmi gives a touching personal profile of her BBC broadcaster and dictionary compiler father Hasan Karmi who is now 100 years old.
Some of the encounters involve historical figures. Philippa Scott begins her piece “Ziryab on my Mind”, with the words: “Looking back, it seems inevitable, kismet, that Ziryab, father of cante jondo and the Andalusian guitar, should enter my life.” This eighth century musician, whose nickname Ziryab means “black songbird”, has been “an invisible but sometimes almost palpable presence, a wise companion and guide, a happy haunting.”
Other encounters came from chance meetings. Tahir Shah tells of how his friendship with Moroccan Hicham Harras, an inhabitant of a shantytown in Casablanca, grew out of Hicham’s passion for postage stamps. Horatio Clare recalls a Moroccan family to which he was introduced by two high-spirited girls. Tunisian writer and Islamic art expert Sabiha al Khmeir writes of the old man with whom she worked in the Ben Youssef library in Marrakesh.
The writers’ accounts provide windows into the diverse, complex Islamic world. It would be good if “Meetings with Remarkable Muslims” found a readership among those who are so ready to generalise and pontificate about Muslims and Islam without ever bothering to meet Muslims like those they might find in the pages of this book.
27 December 2005
The status and practice of literary translation from Arabic into English has received a boost with the announcement of the launch of the annual Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, worth £2000. The prize has been established by Banipal, the London-based magazine of modern Arab literature founded in 1998, and by the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature, established in September 2004.
The prize’s patron is the secretary general of the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, Mohammed Ahmad al-Sowaidi, a poet and well-known patron of the arts. Al-Sowaidi says: “The aim of sponsoring the prize in its first year is to participate in building bridges between Arab culture and the Western reader. We consider this participation to be very necessary at this time, even for existential reasons. For literature plays the role of narrating the self in a world of numerous narrations, a world that no longer permits the isolation of cultures.”
The prize will be awarded for the first time next year, and the closing date for entries is 27 January. The prize is for the translation of a full-length imaginative and creative work of literary merit published in English. It will celebrate the works of contemporary Arab authors as well as honouring the work of translators in bringing the work of Arab writers to the attention of the wider world.
The prize is administered by the Translators Association of the Society of Authors in London. It joins the ranks of other prestigious translation prizes administered by the Society, including the Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from French, and prizes for translation from Dutch, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.
To qualify for entry, the original Arabic should have been published no more than 34 years preceding submission for the prize. For the first year the entries must have first been published in English during 2004 or 2005. For successive years, entries must have first been published in English in the year prior to the award. Although the entries can have been published in English anywhere in the world, they must be available for purchase in the UK.
Since its creation eight years ago, Banipal has been played a unique role in bringing translations of Arab literature from Arabic, and sometimes French, to the English-reading public. Its latest issue includes an extract, in English translation by Roger Allen, from “Hikayati Sharhun Yatool” (“My Story is Too Long to Tell”), the new novel of Lebanese author Hanan Al-Shaykh.
There is also an extract, translated by Christina Phillips, of the novel “Salsal” (“Clay”) by the Syrian writer Samar Yazbek. The book reviews section of Banipal includes reviews of the novels “The Poor Man’s Son” by Algerian writer Mouloud Feraoun and “The Yacoubian Building” by Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany.
27 December 2005
One of the most striking developments in Arab cyberspace in 2005 has been the growth in the number of Arab blogs – online diaries to which readers can add comments. Blogs typically include links to other bloggers, and posts from one blog can spread quickly through the global blogosphere.
The Arab blogosphere got going two years ago, and so far Iraqi, Egyptian, Lebanese, Bahraini, Syrian and Palestinian bloggers have been among its most active components. The Saudi blogosphere has taken longer to make an impact, but in the past few months it has been expanding by leaps and bounds.
Blogs such as “Saudi Jeans” and “Farah’s Sowaleef” are read widely outside Saudi Arabia, and Farah’s blog was chosen by the London-based Independent newspaper in June as its “blog of the week”.
The author of “Saudi Jeans” is a King Saud University student who refers to himself only by the name Ahmed. “Farah’s Sowaleef” is written by a female KSU student, who blogs under the name Farooha. The two jointly set up the blog “Saudi Blogs” which is both a directory of Saudi blogs, and the official blog of the Saudi blogger community. Saudi bloggers can if they wish add a “Saudi Blog” icon to their blogs.
“Saudi Blogs” started posting on 5 July and it now lists around 86 Saudi blogs. Some are in English and others in Arabic, while a number are in both languages. A message posted a month ago asked Saudi bloggers not listed to contact the site. The message attracted 52 comments, many of them from bloggers asking to be added to the list of blogs.
Some bloggers have been keen to meet in real life, and in the past two months several “blogger meets” have been held in Riyadh and Jeddah.
As well as having his own blog and being co-author of the “Saudi Blogs” site, Ahmed writes a weekly “Pulse of the Saudi Blogosphere” roundup for the “Global Voices Online” website. Helpfully, in addition to references to blogs in English he includes excerpts translated from Arabic Saudi blogs.
The decision of whether to blog in English or Arabic has proved controversial. Farooha says she writes in English because “we belong to a global community, why not write in a language the globe understands?” And to those who have attacked her blog for its criticisms of Saudi society, she says it is beneficial for any society to discuss its flaws as well as its more positive aspects.
The blogger TYT, who writes the blog “Annoyed Saudi”, observed recently that more Saudi females than males seem to blog in English. In his view, Saudi females with English blogs have formed a close group, sharing opinions and supporting each other.
The Saudi blogosphere is a diverse place, whose overwhelmingly young members give through their blogs fascinating glimpses into their lives and their society. Saudi bloggers already seem able to exert some pressure as a cohesive force. For example they protested via their blogs and through contacting other bloggers when the Internet Service Unit (ISU) in October blocked the website of blogger.com, the service through which many Saudi bloggers set up their blogs, and its “blogspot domain”. The blocking was subsequently reversed.
Ahmed wrote on the “Saudi Blogs” site: “I did not expect them to respond this fast, but for me, it was not only about the blockage; it was about making a stand for Saudi bloggers, making ourselves heard. I wanted to let them know that they cannot shut us, and they cannot stop us. This is our freedom, these are our rights, and we will never give them up.”
27 December 2005
Fresh, Energetic and all that Jazz
With the release of her second album, “Melting Pot”, the jazz pianist and composer Zoe Rahman has further confirmed her place as one of the most talented and inspiring young musicians on the contemporary British jazz scene. It is a real pleasure to listen to Rahman’s assured musicianship with its freshness of spirit creating intriguing rhythms and haunting melodies.
Rahman’s performance with the other members of her trio, American drummer Gene Calderazzo and double bass player Oli Hayhurst, has a driving sense of energy, yet also a reflective and transcendent quality.
The tracks have a variety of styles and moods; the third, “Shiraz”, is compelling with its poignant repeated melody from which Rahman’s playing soars. On track 4, the jauntily choppy piece “The Calling”, Rahman is joined by Patrick Illingworth on drums and Jeremy Brown on double bass.
All but one of the tracks were written by Rahman. The exception is the final track, the Bengali song “Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli”, written by the singer and composer Hemant Mukherjee. Zoe’s brother Idris renders the vocal line on clarinet, and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale Itauna plays the udu drum.
Rahman was born in the city of Chichester, near the southern English coast, to a father from Bangladesh and an English mother. She studied music at Oxford University, and her classical music training is in evidence in the excellence of her technique.
After Oxford she went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA, where she had lesson with the legendary pianist JoAnne Brackeen. While in the USA she formed her own trio, with bassist Joshua Davis and the drummer Bob Moses.
In 1999 Rahman won the Perrier Young Jazz Musician of the Year Award. As a result of that award she recorded three tracks on a Jazz FM-produced compilation CD with drummer Daniel Crosby and bassist Orlando Le Fleming.
Her debut trio album, “The Cynic”, with drummer Winston Clifford and bassist Jeremy Brown, was short-listed for the BBC Radio 3 jazz album of the year review in 2001. She was then nominated in the “Rising Star” category of the 2001 BBC Jazz Awards.
Rahman is a graceful presence on stage, with her slender form, fine features and wide smile. As well as performing with her own trio and other ensembles, she performs records and tours with a range of other artists. Recent CDs on which she appears include the Clark Tracey Quintet’s “The Calling”, Palestinian singer Reem Kelani’s “Sprinting Gazelle”, Soothsayers’ “Tangled Roots”, Tony Bianco’s “In A Western Sense” and Gary Boyle’s “Games”.
She also co-wrote and played piano in the jazz-based theatre show “I’m a Fool to Want You”, based on the life of the French novelist, poet, jazz musician and surrealist Boris Vian.
Excerpts from “Melting Pot” can be heard at www.zoerahman.com
20 December 2005
Thursday, December 01, 2005
"Even as the State Department and USAID pay contractors millions of dollars to help train journalists and promote a professional and independent Iraqi media, the Pentagon is paying millions more to the Lincoln Group for work that appears to violate fundamental principles of Western journalists," the NYT says.
A PR company, the Lincoln Group, is paid by the Pentagon to translate articles into Arabic and to submit them to Iraqi newspapers or advertising agencies without revealing the Pentagon's role.
"One article about Iraq's oil industry opened with three paragraphs taken verbatim, and without attribution, from a recent report in Al Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper. But the military version took out a quotation from an oil ministry spokesman that was critical of American reconstruction efforts. It substituted a more positive message, also attributed to the spokesman, though not as a direct quotation."
Yet another echo of the bad old days. Saddam was generous in rewarding publications and journalists, Iraqi and other Arab, and is said to have given journalists watches with his face on them.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
(left) Leila Sansour with Bethlehem passport
It is perhaps unprecedented for a city to issue its own passport, but this is what Bethlehem has done in order to draw international attention to the devastating impact of political instability and of Israel’s so-called security barrier.
The passport was unveiled at a press conference at the Foreign Press Association in central London a few days ago. The event was held to mark the launch of Open Bethlehem, a project that is spearheading an international campaign to save the West Bank city.
Open Bethlehem’s chief executive, the Palestinian filmmaker Leila Sansour, described the passport as a declaration of self-determination. “We are telling the world that our city is open to anyone who wishes to come and live with us.”
The Mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, travelled to London for the Open Bethlehem launch. “My city is dying because it is imprisoned,” he said. A combination of walls and fences completely surrounds the urban core of the Bethlehem region. “This is not, as the Israelis claim, a security barrier. It cuts through villages within the Bethlehem area, separating Palestinians from Palestinians. In a strict and literal sense, it is a ghetto wall, and Bethlehem is a prison town.”
The mayor pointed out that the multi-faith character of Bethlehem makes it a working model for local democracy in the Middle East. “If Bethlehem dies, one of the brightest hopes for a democratic Middle East dies with it.”
The vital tourist traffic on which the city’s economy largely depends slumped from an average of nearly 92,000 tourists a month in 2000 to only 7,249 a month in 2004. Four hundred Christian families have left the city since 2000.
The mission of Open Bethlehem, which is headquartered at Bethlehem University, is to strengthen the city’s economic base. The “people-to-people and city-to-city” approach will operate through Bethlehem’s elected bodies, civic institutions, university, museums, churches and mosques. The aim is to encourage investment, to reach out to the diaspora of Palestinians, and to promote Bethlehem around the world. Artists, journalists, filmmakers and writers are encouraged to visit, perform or work in Bethlehem.
Open Bethlehem is supported by some eminent personalities, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky and former US President Jimmy Carter. At a presentation at the Frontline Club, the speakers included veteran BBC journalist Martin Bell, former International Development Secretary Clare Short and left-wing comedian Jeremy Hardy.
Presentations were also made at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the House of Commons All-Party Palestine Group, the Middle East Association and the World Travel Market. From London, Sansour travelled to the US to make a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington.
The situation on the ground is growing ever more difficult. The Times newspaper reported on Saturday that Bethlehem has been sealed off from Jerusalem, just in time for Christmas, by an 8-meter wall and huge iron gate resembling a nuclear shelter.
Open Bethlehem’s website is at www.openbethlehem.org
22 November 2005
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The three-week ‘World Poets’ Tour’, which has been taking place this month, is the first tour of its kind in the UK. The tour was organised by the Poetry Translation Centre (PTC) of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University. It has visited ten cities in England, Scotland and Wales and ends tomorrow with a reading in Edinburgh, Scotland, by Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi of Sudan and Partaw Naderi of Afghanistan.
A reading held in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS a few evenings ago featured Al-Raddi and Naderi together with Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’ from Somaliland. The other poets brought to Britain for the tour are women: Coral Bracho from Mexico, Gagan Gill from India and Toeti Heraty from Indonesia.
The tour by the six poets is striking evidence of the PTC’s valuable work in making the work of non-European poets accessible to an English-reading audience through high-quality translations.
The PTC was launched last year, and its founder and director is poet Sarah Maguire. Poems are translated literally by a first translator. The translations are then transformed through workshops into poems that ‘work’ in English while remaining true to the originals. A number of eminent poets in Britain have translated PTC poets, and the tour included six of these poet-translators, among them Maguire herself.
At the Brunei Gallery evening, Al-Raddi’s work was read by him in Arabic and by his poet-translator Mark Ford in English translation. His work has also been translated by Maguire, who is the translator of Nadari’s poetry and appeared on stage with the Afghan poet.
David Harsent, who read alongside Gaarriye as his poet-translator, this month won the prestigious Forward prize for the best poetry collection for his collection “Legion”. Gaarriye’s work was introduced by Dr Martin Orwin, SOAS lecturer in Somali and Amharic, who explained that Gaarriye was “the first person to work out how the Somali metrical system works.”
Maguire told the audience that she was particularly delighted to welcome poets “from three regions of the world which have been very troubled and which have suffered, and are suffering, enormously. All of those countries have very long histories with Britain and with British meddling in their affairs which British people like me feel deep regret for.”
Maguire noted that people from the Sudanese, Somali and Afghan communities, who have fled terrible conditions, are often made to feel unwelcome in Britain. “I feel again an enormous sense of regret about that because, as far as I’m concerned, the best thing about living in London is the fact that there are 300 languages spoken here and there are more and more people coming to live here from countries such as your own.” The evening gave “the opportunity to indicate to people a glimpse of the extraordinarily rich literary heritage and traditions of poetry of the three countries.”
The audience reacted to the readings with obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm. Gaarriye’s performance gained an extra dimension when he invited “the tallest man in the world”, fellow Somali Hussein Bissad, to join him. Hussein, who is eight feet one inch tall, stood on stage throughout Gaarriye’s readings.
Saudi Gazette, 25 October 2005
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The play consists of scenes and stories woven around the notorious killing by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) of 13-year-old Iman al-Hams in Gaza in October 2004. Iman was deliberately shot despite it being obvious that she was a schoolgirl, and Israeli soldiers later described how their commander emptied his entire magazine into her body.
The play had a direct visceral impact, intensified by the musical soundtrack performed by five talented and versatile young musicians. Their line-up of instruments included several with a Middle Eastern sound - dulcimer, mandolin and bazooki. When Leonie Evans sang, the effect was ethereal.
The play opened with the black-clad cast rushing and darting on to the stage in all directions, clutching eerie white masks. This dynamism and physicality was maintained throughout the drama.
The stage was at the centre of the auditorium, with rows of seats on either side. At times a muslin screen was suspended across the stage on which were projected images of Palestinian crowds and funerals, which mingled with the actors on stage.
Some of the scenes had an absurdist, dark humour, such as “The Toilet is Another Country” in which the IDF prevent a boy from using a latrine. The situation escalates to draw in more and more characters. In another confrontation, an old lady shot in the ankle by the IDF has a sarcastic exchange with a soldier who tells her to get up and hurry. Death is ever present, and in one visually eloquent scene girls wind a funeral sheet around a killed girl.
The play was developed through the Theatre in Education (TIE) process. Neil Maskell explains in the play’s published programme: “We start with around forty actors, a small group of musicians, a design, lighting and sound team along with no script, no story and no notion of where we will end up.”
As part of the research into music for the play, the singer and musician Reem Kelani, the leading authority on Palestinian music in Britain, conducted a one-day workshop with the cast and directors.
Dr Rosemary Hollis of the think tank Chatham House was consulted for her knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The visual arts input came from Palestinian artist Leila Shawa, much of whose work is inspired by the children of her native Gaza.
The play had its first run in the early summer. In its latest run the play was updated to take account of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while pointing out that Israel still controls Gaza’s borders.
It would be interesting to see what young people in Palestine make of this work performed by Britons of their age. But taking the play and its cast to Palestine will probably have to wait for more peaceful times.
Saudi Gazette October 19 2005
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
The launch of a glossy new lifestyle magazine is a not uncommon event in Britain, where newsagents’ shelves are crammed with a vast array of publications. But what makes the launch of Emel exceptional is that it is a Muslim magazine hoping to expand its readership to include non-Muslims.
Emel arrived in mainstream outlets such as W H Smith, Tesco, Asda and Waterstones last Thursday. Its name is derived from the initials “M” and “L”, standing for Muslim Life, and it is also close to the Arabic for “hope".
The magazine’s editor Sarah Joseph is a British convert to Islam. With her intelligence, calmness and good humour, she is one of the most effective Muslim commentators to appear regularly on British television.
Emel was founded two years ago as a quarterly available only at specialist Muslim bookshops. It has now gone monthly and entered the British mainstream market in response to a growing interest among some sectors of the British public in learning more about Islam and Muslims.
The cover picture is of singer Sami Yusuf who, according to Emel’s profile of him, has “revolutionized the English nasheed landscape, especially with his quality music videos”, and is “truly blazing a trial in the international Muslim music scene”. His latest album “My Ummah” has just been released.
Emel covers many aspects of the lives of Muslims in Britain, with a mixture of comment, features, real life stories, finance, health, food, interiors, garden, fashion, travel and art. Several articles mark the holy month of Ramadan, including a thoughtful piece by scholar Tariq Ramadan. There are articles on seclusion and additional prayers during Ramadan, on “moonsighting” and on Ramadan fitness. There is also an interview with three Pakistani cricketers on their experiences of Ramadan.
On the political front, the magazine examines the reaction to the London attacks of 7/7 and has an article on “how to stop the preachers of hate.” The arts section takes an in-depth look at the work of the famous London-based Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa, who is inspired by Islamic calligraphy and geometry.
Sarah Joseph and her team have succeeded in producing a magazine that is fresh, lively and thought-provoking, with high standards of writing and design. It lives up its aim, which Joseph describes as being “a positive voice that celebrates the value of being a Muslim in today’s Britain.” She identifies a nascent British Muslim culture that is emerging, “far away from the anger violence and rhetoric of the theologically unsound; far away from the sensationalised media clichés of extremism and alienation.”
Saudi Gazette October 4
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Larkin's tomboy first love is revealed in lost sonnet
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
In September 2003, UN sanctions on Libya were lifted following Libya’s agreement to pay $2.7 billion to the families of victims of the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing and to accept responsibility for the explosion. Three months later, Libya took the dramatic step of revealing and abandoning its programmes for weapons of mass destruction. These developments ushered in a phase during which Libya has fostered links not only with governments but also with non-governmental organisations.
As part of this process, the Jamahariya Thought Academy in Tripoli last week held a three-day roundtable on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s “Green Book”. The 13 invited delegates, of whom I was one, came from the USA, Britain, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Turkey.
The invitees were mainly activists in the peace and democracy fields, largely from academic backgrounds. The inclusion of five delegates from America was a sign of the way in which Libya has opened up since the US lifted its travel ban and economic sanctions in 2004.
The “Green Book” with its “Third Universal Theory” was controversial when it was first published some 30 years ago. Is it really of relevance today? In the discussions of the papers by Libyan academics on the main themes of “The Green Book”, and of the “Great Green Charter on Human Rights”, it was clear that the delegates found the ideas presented to be of interest in considering the problems facing the world today, although some had reservations on certain points.
The sessions were chaired by Dr Rajab Boudabbous, the General Director of the Jamahariya Thought Academy. The speakers included three Libyan women professors, among them Dr Salma Abdaljbar who spoke on religion and politics.
On the morning of the third day, the delegates were suddenly informed that the Libyan Leader wished to meet them, and were driven to his high-security compound. Gaddafi is well known for his frequent sartorial image changes. Rather than being in Bedouin costume on this occasion, he wore a dazzling white suit and bright green shirt. After engaging in discussions with the delegates and answering their questions, he signed copies of “The Green Book”.
He also talked about his “White Book” on his proposed solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict in which “Isratine” (a hybrid name derived from Israel and Palestine) would be a state where Jews and Palestinians would live in peace.
Some of the US delegates had first been to Libya in July 2004 on the first non-governmental delegation of Americans to officially visit the country after the US lifted its travel embargo. They included Dr Glen T Martin, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Radford University, Virginia.
Dr Martin is the secretary general and treasurer of the executive cabinet of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA). The 9th session of the Provisional World Parliament will be held in Libya from 25 to 27 February.
The roundtable was the second event of its kind, coming after a roundtable for Russian delegates. The next roundtable will be for Chinese invitees, and roundtables in other languages including French and Spanish are planned.
Saudi Gazette September 27 2005
The feature film “Le Grand Voyage”, which is about to go on general release in Britain, chronicles the geographical and emotional journey of an elderly father and his son during a car journey from France to Makkah.
The film had a special screening for a multifaith audience at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), in London’s Piccadilly, last Wednesday. The screening was organised by Simon Keyes, the director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.
The film’s director and scriptwriter Ismael Ferroukhi, who is himself an immigrant to France of Moroccan origin, was present at the screening and answered questions afterwards. The members of the audience were full of praise for the epic film, with some finding that it contained echoes of their own difficult relationships with immigrant fathers.
Several of those present wondered how conservative Muslims would react to the film. One man responded that he is an imam at his local mosque, and that his sister is even more conservative than he is, but “we both loved the film.”
The film has won several awards, including the Luigi de Laurentis Award for the best first film at the Venice Film Festival in 2004. It was the opening film last December at the Dubai Film Festival.
“Le Grand Voyage” stars the young French actor Nicholas Cazale (whose grandmother is Algerian) as Reda, and Moroccan actor Mohamed Majd as his father, a Moroccan who has lived in France for 30 years.
The film exposes the wide gap between the father and his moody son who is preoccupied by his non-Muslim French girlfriend Lisa and by his final examinations. When his father tells him he wants him to drive him to Makkah, he complains to his mother: “Can’t he fly, like everyone else?” At one point in the journey the father explains to Reda why it was important to him to undertake this long road journey with its hardships rather than take the easier way of flying to the Hajj.
At first the father seems unbearably authoritarian and harsh, even discarding Reda’s mobile phone in a rubbish bin while he is asleep in the car. The distance between them extends to language: the father speaks Moroccan dialect to Reda, while Reda speaks to him only in French.
In his deeply involving film, Ferroukhi explores the nuances and subtle shifts in the father-son relationship as the car passes through often achingly beautiful scenery in countries including Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria and Jordan.
After crossing the Turkish border the travellers are befriended by a worldly Turkish man Mustapha (played by Jacky Nercessian) who accompanies them until the father mistakenly accuses him of stealing their money. “You may know how to read and write, but you know nothing about life,” the father admonishes Reda.
As they draw near Makkah, they join up with vehicle loads of Arabs from various countries. Ferroukhi conveys the sense of warmth and brotherhood among the Hajj pilgrims, and the scenes shot in Makkah are particularly memorable.
The father explains to Reda that his one fear had been that he would die without going to Makkah, and tells him: “God bless you.” Father and son have moved from their combative relationship of miscomprehension to a new understanding and appreciation, before the film’s harrowing final twist.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
A book launch with a difference was held at the Kufa Gallery, West London, last Tuesday to mark the publication of the latest title from Saqi Books, “Sufi Cuisine” by Nevin Halici. The evening included an introduction by Middle Eastern cookery writer Claudia Roden and a book signing by Halici.
The writer and novelist Morris Farhi read poetry by Mevlana Jalal al Din Rumi, some of it accompanied by music from Turkish guitar player and singer Hakan Bilal accompanied by nay and daf.
The event included an exhibition of the miniatures by Ahmet Efe that illustrate the book. To round things off, the guests sampled sweets from the book, including almond halva, served with rose petal jam and prepared by chef Eredem Dirbali of Ishtar restaurant.
Halici, a native of Konya, is well known for her pioneering work on Turkish cookery. Claudia Roden, who described her as the most respected food writer in Turkey, recalled how she first met Nevin more than 20 years ago in Konya.
"In all the years that I have been researching food around the world I have never come across anyone as passionately committed to recovering and upholding the culinary heritage of her country as Nevin Halici," Roden said. She told of how Halici went from village to village knocking on doors, watching women cook and attending their traditional get togethers.
Halici points out that many of the dishes mentioned by Rumi in the 13th century still exist in Konya, and that Mevlevi cuisine is one of the main roots of Turkish cuisine. She has adapted the recipes for modern times. In Rumi’s time, and until much later, butter was the fat most often used in cooking whereas olive and sesame oil were used for lamps. However sunflower oil, because of its neutral taste, can substitute for butter in many of the recipes.
In the past plums or koruk (unripe grapes) were used to give food a sour flavour, but tomato puree can be substituted. The book includes a recipe for Calla, meat with plums, which is still made in Konya.
Another ingredient traditionally used in Konya food is unripe grape juice known as verjuice. Halici writes that the most popular dish in Konya is sour butternut squash, whose ingredients include verjuice (lemon juice can be used instead), meat, chickpeas, mint, sweet basil, and even chopped marigold leaves.
Grape syrup, or pekmez, features in a number of recipes, for example cooked with quince, apples or carrots. Snow halva is simply pekmez drizzled over light fluffy snow. The recipes include various refreshing sherbets - honey, fig, rosewater, pomegranate.
The recipes are healthy with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs, mint, grains, lamb, honey, pulses and nuts, in intriguing combinations. The handsome 240-page volume is an important contribution to the literature on Turkish and world cookery.
Susannah Tarbush Saudi Gazette September 13 2005
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
The latest issue of Banipal, the London-based magazine of Arab literature in English translation, contains a rich variety of poetry, short stories, profiles, interviews and reviews.
The writers featured in the 160-page issue are from Palestine, Iraq, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The Omani poet, and editor-in-chief of Nizwa magazine, Saif al-Rahbi is extensively profiled. The 24-page section on this writer includes 13 of his poems translated by Palestinian writer and scholar Anton Shammas.
The Iraqi poet Fadhil al-Azzawi writes on "Saif al-Rahbi's Poetical Journey to himself", and Fakhri Saleh of Jordan, Eskandar Habache of Lebanon, and Khalid Al-Maaly of Iraq also contribute pieces. Al-Rahbi is interviewed in Muscat by Omani academic and translator Abdulla al-Harrasi, and says: "poetry is my home and I cannot live outside it."
Among the other highlights of the issue are a poem by Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, "Not Like a Foreign Tourist Would" and a short story by the young prize-winning Palestinian author Ala' Hlehel, translated by Anthony Calderbank.
There is a feature on the Syrian poet Saniya Salih who died in 1995. Salih was wife of the poet Mohammad al-Maghut, and the feature alludes to the high price a creative woman can pay for being married to a famous man of letters.
The issue includes the work of several Iraqi writers. Fadhil Al-Azzawi has written a satisfying and lively long essay in the literary influences section, entitled "I Lived a Magical Feast". The Iraqi writer Duna Ghali, who lives in Denmark, has penned the short story "Sip", and Hamid al-Iqabi, who also lives in Denmark, is represented by his story "The Banjo Player".
North Africa is present through two high-calibre writers whose work is translated from French: from the Moroccan Abdellatif Laabi there is an extract from the novel "The Bottom of the Jar", and from the Tunisian Abdelwahab Meddeb there are five poems.
Joumana Haddad, the Lebanese poet and journalist, has written an account of her interviews for An-Nahar newspaper with famous non-Arab writers such as Paul Auster, Umberto Eco, Paulo Coelho, Peter Handke, Jose Saramago and Wole Soyinka.
Banipal also has an extract from "The Myrtle Bush", the new novel by The Lebanese writer and journalist Jad El Hage whose novel "The Last Migration" was published in English. From Yemeni writer Nadiah Alkokabany there is the frank short story "Fireworks to Celebrate a Deflowering."
There is a characteristically amusing "travelling tale" from Banipal's assistant editor Samuel Shimon, "Steppenwolf goes to San Francisco". This is an account, complete with photographs, of how Shimon travelled by train from New York to San Francisco armed with Hermann Hesse's great novel. His trip was punctuated by encounters with odd characters.
September 6 2005
And yet six years later she is the author of “The Other Side of Israel: My journey across the Jewish-Arab divide”, a devastating critique of Israeli society and its systematic discrimination against its Arab population.
Nathan’s book was published by Harper Collins in Britain at the end of May, and on September 6 it was published in the US by Nan A Talese, an imprint of Doubleday which is part of the Random House group.
The book is made all the more powerful by the fact that it is written by a Jew, and one who was brought up in South Africa. Nathan draws telling parallels between Israeli and South African apartheid-style policies.
“The Other Side of Israel”, written in collaboration with British journalist Jonathan Cook, is based on Nathan’s experiences of living in the Palestinian Arab town of Tamra located near the Mediterranean coast between Haifa and Acre.
Nathan’s left-wing friends in Tel Aviv were appalled by her decision to move to Tamra. It dawned on her that in moving to Tamra to live with a Palestinian family, “I had crossed an ethnic divide in Israel that, although not visible, was as tangible as the concrete walls and razor-wire fences that have been erected around the occupied Palestinian towns of the West Bank and Gaza to separate them from the rest of the country.”
In the book’s second chapter, “Death of a Love Affair”, Nathan explains how her disillusionment with Israel grew, and how her questions about the indigenous, strangely “invisible”, Arab community became increasingly pressing.
Nathan has aroused the ire and indignation of many supporters of Israel. Some publications in the UK seem to have been reluctant to review her book. However, the book has been praised by some prominent reviewers, among them Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif who gave the book a big write-up in the Times Literary Supplement under the heading “Another Apartheid.”
Nathan’s targets are not only the Israeli government and bureaucracy, but also some of those Israelis who regard themselves as “doveish”. Some of her harshest words are for Israelis in the peace movement, and she describes certain “so-called left-wingers” as “hypocrites of the worst kind.”
Nathan rejects a two-state solution as the way to enduring peace, and thinks a one-state solution is the only way. This aim will seem impossibly utopian to those who see a two-state formula as the only realistic solution. But there is no doubting Nathan’s passionate conviction and her commitment to a struggle “to help a new country emerge here to which one day we all, Jews, and Palestinians, will belong.”
Saudi Gazette, 6 September 2005
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Concert in the time of blasts
There could hardly have been a greater antidote to the grim and apprehensive atmosphere in terrorism-stricken London than the concert of Iranian Kurdish music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Friday evening.
If the bombings and mass murder reveal the vile depths to which those terrorists who misuse Islam are prepared to sink, the concert affirmed the high level of culture that artists from the Muslim world bring to London. Some of the music had a deeply spiritual, meditative character while other pieces were joyfully exuberant.
The concert featured musician and vocalist Ali Akbar Moradi, one of the leading Iranian masters of the tanbour lute. Alongside him were his sons Arash, who plays sehtar, and Kourosh who plays the tombak goblet drum and daf frame drum. One of the numbers they performed was an extraordinary trio, with each of the Moradis playing a tanbour.
The programme also featured the well-known London-based percussionist Fariborz Kiani, on tombak and dohol.
The programme opened with a tanbour solo from Ali Akbar Moradi, accompanied by Kourosh. The solo was a fusion of Kurdish maqam music with classical Persian music.
The second half of the evening consisted of Kurdish music and dance. Towards the end, some Kurdish members of the audience couldn’t resist rising leaving their seats and dancing in front of the stage.
Ali Akbar Moradi was born in Kermanshah in 1957 and started playing tanbour at the age of six, encouraged by his grandfather. Later on he received lessons from the grand masters of Kurdish tanbour. By the age of 30 he had completed learning the entire 72 maghams played on tanbour.
The concert was part of the Rhythm Sticks International Drum and Percussion Festival held at the South Bank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room from July 16-24.
The 18 concerts were given by percussionists and musicians from around the world, such as Musicians of the Nile from Upper Egypt, Master Drummers of Africa, and Iraqi oud player Ahmed Mukhtar with Master Arab Percussionists.
Saudi Gazette July 26 2005
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
By a quirk of timing, BBC Radio 4's serialisation of Sudanese-Egyptian writer Leila Aboulela's novel "Minaret" was broadcast in the Book at Bedtime slot during the period following the bomb attacks in London on July 7.
It is hard to think of a more appropriate book for this time when understanding between Muslims and wider British society is under huge strain. The serialisation was wonderfully rendered by actress Adjoa Andoh, who brought a lively variety of voices to her reading.
Aboulela has a gift for writing from the interior experience of a Muslim woman, and "Minaret" takes us deep into the life of her Sudanese first-person narrator Najwa. Aboulela approaches the story with her customary grace and skill, and her characters are subtly drawn. We learn what it is that brought Najwa to a renewal of her religious faith, and to the decision to start wearing the Islamic headscarf.
The novel, published recently by Bloomsbury, constantly moves in place and time between Khartoum and London, in a time frame from the mid-1980s to today. The minaret of the title is that of Regent's Park mosque, glimpsed by Najwa as she waits to enter the flat of her new employer Lamya whose small daughter she looks after.
Najwa tells us at the beginning of the novel "I've come down in the world." Born to a privileged family in Sudan, and with her father close to the president, she mixes with a Westernised partying crowd of young people in Khartoum in the mid-1980s. At university there is a mutual attraction between her and Anwar, a young radical who is critical of her father and the family's well-off lifestyle.
Disaster befalls the family after a coup in which Najwa's father is arrested. Najwa flees to London with her mother and twin brother Omar and her father is tried and hung. Najwa's twin Omar, who has long been a worry to her, ends up in prison.
While working for Lamya, Najwa develops a close friendship with Lamya's brother Tamer, which causes her conflicting emotions.
Aboulela was in 2000 the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing for the short story "The Museum". She was longlisted for the Orange prize for women's fiction in 2000 with her first novel "The Translator". Her collection of stories, "Coloured Lights", was published in 2001. She has had several dramas performed on BBC Radio.
Aboulela's writing exemplifies the capacity of fiction to touch readers and encourage empathy in ways that straight reporting can never do. Such imaginative leaps are needed now more than ever.
July 19 2005
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Segun Afolabi with bust of Sir Michael Caine
This year's winner of the $15,000 Caine Prize for African Writing, Nigerian-born Segun Afolabi, has had a succession of stories published in some of the most prestigious literary magazines in Britain. They include the London Magazine, Wasafiri, Edinburgh Review and Pretext.
Afolabi won the prize for his story "Monday Morning", published in the spring 2004 issue of Wasafiri. He is set to make a high-profile debut in the book world when Jonathan Cape (part of Random House) publishes his short story collection "A Life Elsewhere." The collection was due to be published next April, but now that Afolabi has won the Caine Prize the publication date may be brought forward. The collection will be followed by Afolabi's first novel, "Goodbye Lucille", due to be published by Cape in early 2007.
The Caine Prize was established in 2000 in memory of Sir Michael Caine, the businessman lover of literature and of Africa who was for nearly 25 years the chairman of the Booker Prize management committee.
The chairman of the judges, Baroness Young, announced that Afolabi had won the prize at the prize-giving dinner held on July 4 in the Divinity School at the Bodleian library, Oxford University.
She described "Monday Morning" as "a very fresh, elegantly written tale which gave us an insight into the perspectives of a family who escaped torture and mutilation in their own country to arrive in London, which for them is a city of misunderstandings and hostility."
When I met Afolabi the day after the won the prize, he told me that he is halfway through the year he has taken off from full-time employment in order to write his second novel. He has been trying to get by on as little money as possible, and the prize has come as a "big boost". Afolabi's past jobs have included working as a subeditor on the Radio Times and as an assistant content producer for BBC digital radio.
Afolabi was born in Kaduna in 1966. His father's work as a diplomat took the family to live in countries including Congo, Canada, Indonesia, Japan and Hong Kong. When Afolabi was nine, he was sent to school in England and later on he read management studies at Cardiff University, Wales.
While at school Afolabi developed a passion for literature, and he continued to read voraciously at university, getting through the entire works of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck and others. His favourite writers today also include Caryl Phillips, Jamaica Kincaid, Lorrie Moore and Jhumpa Lahiri.
It was while working in a London bookshop that Afolabi attended evening classes in creative writing at the City Lit Institute, under the tutorship of the poet and novelist Alison Fell. His first published story, "Jumbo and Jacinta", appeared in the London Magazine around 10 years ago. It is a quirky tale about a very overweight husband and his nagging wife, from St Lucia, visiting Niagara Falls in Canada.
One recurring theme in Afolabi's stories is people moving to other countries and "trying to negotiate their lives." His novel "Goodbye Lucille" is set in Berlin, Nigeria and London. The central character is a young Nigerian photographer, and the novel is informed by Afolabi's experience of living in East Berlin where his father was posted in the mid-1980s before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The novel has comedic aspects and "I set it in Berlin partly because it is a very eccentric city."
Afolabi is halfway through the first draft of his new novel, but smilingly fends off enquiries with "I tend not to talk about a work in progress." He is greatly looking forward to attending the Caine writers' workshop to be held in Kenya next year.
July 12 2005
Friday, July 08, 2005
Nick Elam and Muthal Naidoo
The final phase of judging for the annual $15,000 Caine Prize for African Writing, during which the shortlisted writers are invited to London for some days, always includes an evening at the Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL). The writers read excerpts from the stories for which they have been shortlisted and there is then a question and answer session.
Nick Elam, administrator of the Caine Prize since its launch in 2000, said at the ROSL last Friday that the ROSL evening is "one of the most delightful of the occasions that we have during the Caine prize programme each year."
With his unflappable manner, friendliness and quick humour, Elam has a way of making the shortlisted writers who have travelled to London feel at home. He said that this year more stories than ever arrived - over 100 - that were suitable for submission to the five judges. This year the judges are chaired by Baroness Young, chair of the arts advisory committee of the British Council.
At question time the Jamaican-born writer Patrick Wilmot set the cat among the pigeons. He said he had read all the stories and was quite impressed by them, and by the quality of the prose. "But if I didn't know you I would have thought it was someone my age who was writing," said the 63-year-old writer, who taught sociology in Nigeria for 18 years and has turned from writing academic textbooks to writing novels. He described the stories as "polished, middle class, quiet, sedate prose… I like your stories, but next time you're writing let's have some fireworks."
The Ugandan writer Doreen Baingana responded: "As a writer you can't really write to demand, we all have our individual styles. Hopefully, some people can appreciate our styles."
Doreen was shortlisted for the Caine Prize last year, and is the first author to be shortlisted two years running. Her story "Tropical Fish" is hardly "sedate" in its subject matter, being the explicit first-person account by a young Ugandan student of her physical relationship with a white man 15 years her senior. Before starting to read, Doreen joked: "I hope you're all over 18!"
The Sudanese novelist Jamal Mahjoub's story "The Obituary Tango" is also a first-person narrative, of a middle-aged Arab man located in London. The man's observations and grumbles, especially about Africans and Arabs in Britain, met with appreciation and amusement.
Nigerian writer Segun Afolabi's story "Monday Morning" explores the efforts of a refugee family to settle in London. South African Muthal Naidoo's story "Jailbirds" depicts the tension between two black women in prison. One of the women was detained for organising a demonstration on the release of Nelson Mandela, and the other is her jailer.
The other shortlisted Nigerian, Ike Okonta, started to write fiction in the early 1990s when, as a political journalist and oppositionist, he was forced to go underground. Okonta explained that he enjoys "the push and pull between fiction and fact in the creative process". The central character in his story "Tindi in the Land of the Dead" is a journalist who visits a village devastated by a strange and terrible illness. The precision and sensitivity with which the story is told may not have "fireworks" in the Patrick Wilmot sense, but the story has a cumulative power and sense of horror.
July 5 2005
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Visitors strolling in London's Kensington Gardens during the next three months will notice an intriguing new architectural structure on the lawn of the Serpentine Gallery. The striking building is the latest of the Serpentine's annually commissioned summer pavilions. With its segmented, armoured appearance it resembles something from the animal world.
The Pavilion has been variously compared to an armadillo, a dinosaur, and a cross between a turtle and a millipede. Its impermeable shell (a translucent polycarbonate material on a timber lattice) stops 1.3 metres above the ground, giving the impression that the Pavilion hovers over the lawn.
The Pavilion opened last Saturday and remains in place until early October when it will be dismantled. As well as viewing the Pavilion from outside, visitors can go inside for a cup of coffee or a meal. The pavilion is a café and restaurant by day, and a space for learning, debate and entertainment by night.
The Pavilion was designed by Portuguese architects Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura, together with the deputy chairman of Arup, Cecil Balmond, and his team. Siza is regarded as the greatest living Portuguese architect, and has received many awards. In designing the Pavilion he tried to establish a "dialogue" between it and the contrasting Neo-classical architectural style of the Serpentine Gallery.
The Pavilion is based on a rectangular grid, skewed into a dynamic, curving form. It is constructed of interlocking timber beams. This use of timber gives the structure an organic character, and evokes the relationship between the Pavilion and the richly treed Kensington Gardens.
The first Serpentine Pavilion was designed in 2000 by the London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Hadid's structure, which marked the gallery's 30th anniversary, subverted the conventional idea of a tent or marquee.
In the years since, the erection of the Serpentine Pavilion has been a highlight of the London summer. The Serpentine has commissioned some of the world's most distinguished architects to design pavilions. In summer 2001 the architect was Polish-born American Daniel Libeskind.
In 2002 the commission went to the Japanese architect Toyo Ito, and in 2003 to the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer - who was 96 years old at the time. Last year there was no summer pavilion because the Serpentine was trying to raise money for the highly ambitious scheme of Dutch architects MVRDV to build an artificial grass-covered mountain to completely enclose the gallery. This is MVRDV's novel concept of a summer pavilion, but the project has proved costly and technically challenging and has been postponed until 2006 at the earliest.
Saudi Gazette 5 July 2005
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Palestinian Wedding Dance © Paula Cox
by Susannah Tarbush
Palestinian women are in a sense the unsung heroines of the extraordinarily difficult circumstances in which the Palestinians find themselves. "Celebrating the Life of Palestinian Women", an exhibition of prints by British artist Paula Cox, pays tribute to their role. The show opened at the Kufa Gallery in West London last Wednesday and runs until 5 July.
Cox was awarded a grant by the Arts Council in spring 2004 to go to Palestine as an artist in residence. She has worked with Amnesty International since 1988 as a painter on human rights, and says her art project in Palestine "allowed me a sensitive insight into the rich but devastated Palestinian culture as I attempt to document the daily lives of women who are the innocent victims of a brutal conflict, whose most basic rights are being eroded by life under Israeli occupation."
As a woman artist she was "able to share a special intimacy with the women from a predominantly Muslim culture. I spent time in towns villages and refugee camps in the West Bank but because of the extremely volatile situation I was unable to visit Gaza."
Cox's pictures, with their eloquent fluid lines, reflect the texture of the women's lives. In some pictures women are engaged in everyday tasks such as harvesting olives and preparing bread, vine leaves and other foods. In others they talk with their friends, pray or dream.
In the caption to the colourful print "Palestinian Wedding Dance", Cox recalls how she and Fatimah bought orange, pink and white carnations to take to Fatimah's friend's wedding celebrations in Bethlehem. The groom's brother was not at the wedding; he is in an Israeli prison and has been adopted as a political prisoner by Amnesty International.
The picture "Percussion of falling olives", an assembly of three images, has as its caption a delightful poem by Cox on these "ancient ancestral trees" and "the sweet bitter smell of olives baking in the hot sun/Shovelled by beautiful strong hands/into hessian sacks, sewn up with a huge needle and string."
In "Stuffed Vine Leaves" women share their secrets as they prepare vine leaves for the Ramadan feast. "Mervat's aunt" depicts a woman from Tulkarem refugee camp bringing delicious date and sesame biscuits, and telling of her work as a volunteer in the Palestine Red Crescent Society.
In "Moment of Peace" a woman gazes out beyond a blue door. "Women sitting in their doorways in the villages and refugee camps often look malnourished by the poverty of their situation" Cox says. "I try to bring to life, with line and colour, the beauty and nobility of these strong, generous people who have had their land and human rights stolen from them."
The exhibition embarks on a tour of Palestine in October, starting in Bethlehem. Cox hopes the exhibition will be shown in Gaza, at A M Qattan Foundation's Centre for the Child. She also hopes that a tour of France, the US and some other Western countries can also be arranged.
June 28 2005
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
picture of Haifa Al-Mansour
Women of the East
The women's festival held earlier this month in Turkey was a remarkable assembly of Middle Eastern women intellectuals and artists, but it seems to gone largely unnoticed by the British and presumably other Western media. I heard about it only by chance from one of the participants, the Palestinian singer Reem Kelani, who gave an evening concert during the event.
The "Eastern Women" festival took place in Istanbul from 11 to 17 June. Music events were sprinkled liberally through the programme. The opening concert on the first evening was given by Lebanese singer Jahida Wehbe, who is regarded as one of the great classical Arabic singers performing today.
From Iran came the singer Sima Bina. Born in Khorasan, Bina started her singing career on Iranian radio at the age of only nine under the direction of her father Ahmad Bina, a master of Iranian classical music and a poet who wrote many of Sima's early songs. Another Iranian singer, Sussan Deyhim, gave the closing concert of the festival.
Women filmmakers were present in force at the festival. Saudi filmmaker Haifa Al Mansour showed two films, the prize-winning "The Only Way Around," and "Women Without Shadows". The latter film was recently shown privately at the French consulate in Jeddah where its theme of the covering of women's faces in public elicited a variety of reactions.
The Iraqi filmmaker Maysoun Pachachi (daughter of the veteran politician Adnan Pachachi) showed her films "Journey to Iraq" and "Return to the Land of Wonders." Pachachi has lived in London for many years. In 2004 she co-founded a free-of-charge film-training centre in Baghdad.
"Return to the Land of Wonders" documents her return to Iraq with her father after the 2003 war and Adnan Pachachi's work as head of a committee drafting a new constitution. The film shows how Iraqis were trying to survive and to rid themselves of a sense of despair and defeat.
Egyptian filmmaker Hala Khalil showed "The Best of Times", which has won several prizes. The Iranian film actress and director Rakhshan Bani Etemad hosted a film showing, and Iranian actress Leila Hatami also participated in the festival.
Writers at the festival included Hoda Barakat and Iman Humaydan Younes from Lebanon, Iranian writer Shiva Arastui, Iraqi poet Amal Al-Jubouri, Egyptian novelist Miral Al-Tahawi, Syrian poet Lina Tibi and UAE poet Maysoon Al-Saqr.
The festival's opening panel was entitled "Heritage of the Women of the East." There were also panels on music, cinema, poetry and literature.
It is clear from the festival that Middle Eastern women are very active at the new frontiers of the arts. Given the misconceptions about Middle Eastern women in the West, it might be an idea to stage a similar festival, with the addition of Turkish women artists, in London and other Western cities.
June 28 2005
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Why do British Arab men go back to their home countries to find brides rather than marrying Arab girls brought up in the UK? This is one of the topics covered in the first issue of “Sharq”, a new glossy magazine of British Arab Culture.
In her article “Takeaway Bride”, Layla Maghribi argues that only an Arab girl raised in Britain can understand the bi-cultural upbringing of an Arab British man.
She asks: “What is it that our fellow compatriots have on the Arab continent that is sending the men over, away from the local and familiar women?” She blames among other things the laziness of Arab men, who take the easy option, and the snobbishness and unapproachability of many Arab women in Britain.
In their countries of origin, British Arab men are viewed as a “fine catch indeed.” And they may think women back home make “better wives”, and are more likely to be “pure.” But Maghribi says that girls back home could actually have a more “colourful history” than Arab girls in London.
The content of “Sharq” is a mixture of features, interviews, fashion shoots, beauty, travel, regular columns, reviews and listings of forthcoming events. The magazine has an agony Tante, Suhad Jarra, and a Girl About Town, Ranya Khalil.
The cover of the first issue is graced by a photograph of the musician, model and broadcaster Mona Ibellini. The caption reads: “Mona Ibellini: the New Alicia Keys?”
Sharq’s Editor in Chief and Creative Director is Reem Maghribi, who writes in her editorial: “I have had the pleasure of meeting some fabulously talented and generously spirited Arabs over the past few months.”
She mentions among others Isam, Waqas and Lenny, the members of Danish group Outlandish whose hip-hop is inspired by their Honduran, Pakistani and Moroccan origins.
The magazine includes a features by Judith Brown on “The Image of Arabs in the British Media.” The chairman of Arab Media Watch, Sharif Nashashibi, gives a first hand account of the daily ordeal of travelling around Palestine, and also contributes an interview with Dr Yahya Aridi, the director of the new Syrian media centre in London.
There is a review of the play “My name is Rachel Corrie”, based on the life of the American peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003. On a lighter note, in the Dating, Courting & Relationships section four women “tell all about blind dates, arranged marriages, a slapper and a mother-in-law.”
“Sharq” is sold by subscription and at hotels and newsagents in areas of London frequented by Arabs. It is to be welcomed as giving a voice to the new generation of Arabs brought up in Britain, provided it survives the tough challenges involved in establishing a new publication.
Saudi Gazette June 21 2005
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
On Thursday June 22, the Curzon Cinema in the Mayfair area of central London is to host the UK Gala Premiere of "Seeds", a full-length documentary highlighting an attempt to reconcile young people from some of the world's hottest areas of conflict.
The film was produced by the Al Madad Foundation, which was founded in 2000 as a UK-registered charity by Faiza Alireza of Saudi Arabia with the support of her daughters Basma and Yasmin.
Al Madad is dedicated to the relief of poverty in the developing world, with a particular emphasis on the welfare of children. It raises financial support for cultural, medical and educational projects.
Guest speaker at the premiere is CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, winner of numerous awards. The film's producer and director, Marj Safinia and Joseph Boyle, will introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. The £50 tickets for the premier include a buffet dinner at Al Sultan restaurant in Mayfair.
"Seeds" is an account of the work of Seeds of Peace, the organisation established in 1993 by author and journalist John Wallach.
Seeds of Peace brings teenagers from regions of conflict together for three weeks every summer at an international camp in Maine. The idea is that through getting to know and listen to each other, the young people will learn mutual respect and the skills needed to make lasting peace.
At the Maine camp teenagers meet those from the "other side" whom they would ordinarily be unable to get to know. They include Palestinians and Israelis, Americans and Afghans, Indians and Pakistanis.
"Seeds" focuses on ten of the 166 teenagers at the camp, and chronicles the often difficult and emotional process of reconciliation from the perspective of the children themselves. As one of the Seeds says: "In order to make peace with your enemy, you have to go to war with yourself."
The film has been part of the official selection at some 30 international film festivals. It was runner up in the Audience Award category at both the Palm Springs and Cleveland film festivals.
The world premiere was as the opening night film at Silverdocs, the documentary film festival of AFI/Discovery Channel.
The project to make "Seeds" first took root in February 2002 after Marj Safinia was invited to a Seeds of Peace fundraiser in New York. She and Joseph Boyle subsequently drafted a film proposal and approached John Wallach - little realising that nine other filmmakers had approached Seeds with similar proposals.
Seeds of Peace gave Safinia and Boyle permission to film, and in just over five weeks they and producer Hana Alireza succeeded in raising more than $70,000 for production. They immediately set off for the camp in Maine, and had just three weeks to tell the story with its dramas and twists of fate.
There have been some glowing tributes to the film. Chris Walny of Detroit Documentary Festival described it as "one of those films that just might change the world." Judy Woodruff of CNN said it is "a spectacular film…truly impressive."
Saudi Gazette June 14 2005
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Reem Kelani and her ensemble
The concert given by Palestinian Reem Kelani and seven musicians in London last Thursday night was an example of synergy and ensemble playing at its best. Each of the musicians is well-established in their own particular musical spheres, and each made a significant contribution in complementing Kelani’s rendering of Palestinian songs.
The venue was St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace located in Bishopsgate in the financial heart of the City of London. The small church was badly damaged by an IRA bomb 12 years ago and has been extensively restored.
Kelani first performed at St Ethelburga’s six months ago, and the fact that she has been invited to give a return concert so soon reflects the enthusiasm with which her previous appearance was received.
In introducing the concert, the director of the centre, Simon Keyes, said that the previous Friday the great novelist, critic and painter John Berger had attended an event in his honour at the centre. Berger had “made two remarkable observations. One was he said ‘us’ and ‘them’ are the two most dangerous words in any language, and the other thing was he had just come back from Palestine and said he couldn’t wait to get back there because he had found it such a moving place to be.
“The reason for that, he said, was that more than anyone else in the world, the Palestinians have really learnt to live in the present moment. They have faced up to the most extraordinary, appalling history, but they are here, and they are living now today, and they are really beginning to move forward.”
The concert lived up to it billing as “Middle Eastern Harmonies: an Evening of Music and Laughter with Reem Kelani and Friends.” There was plenty of humour, but at the same time there was much passion and pain in Kelani’s moving delivery of traditional improvisations and settings of contemporary Palestinian poetry.
The musicians included jazz pianist Zoe Rahman and her saxophonist brother Idris, who have emerged as important forces on the British jazz scene. Zoe Rahman has her own jazz trio, and also works with many prominent musicians. Idris Rahman is co-leader of the London-based band Soothsayers which plays jazz, African and Caribbean music.
On violin was Egyptian Sami Bishai and on double bass Oil Hayhurst. Iranian Fariborz Kiani played daff and tombak. Salah Dawson Miller played frame drums, and Patrick Illingworth was on drum kit.
Kelani and the ensemble are now in the process of recording tracks for her first CD, which is due to be released in October.
Saudi Gazette 24 May 2005
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
by Susannah Tarbush
When Israeli composer Naomi Shemer was on her deathbed last year, she made a startling confession to a friend: her song “Jerusalem of Gold”, sung by Israeli forces to celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, was derived from the melody of a Basque lullaby.
“Jerusalem of Gold” is not the first composition to be involved in a case of musical plagiarism. For example the late former Beatle George Harrison lost a lawsuit in which he was accused of using the melody of The Chiffons’ 1964 hit “She’s So Fine” in his composition “My Sweet Lord”. But the Middle East political angle has made Shemer’s admission a particularly hot talking point.
“Jerusalem of Gold” was Shemer’s most famous composition, and after the 1967 war it became a sort of unofficial national anthem. Shemer was often asked over the years whether she had plagiarised the Basque melody, but she always angrily denied this. In 2000 in an interview with the newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth, she insisted that the two songs didn’t sound the same at all.
Shemer finally came clean in a letter to fellow composer Gil Aldema written just a few days before she died last June. News of her confession surfaced a few days ago, and Aldema explained to Israeli Army Radio that although Shemer had agreed that her secret should be revealed after her death, he had allowed some time to pass before doing so.
In her letter, Shemer said that in the mid-1960s she had heard a well-known Basque lullaby in the mid-1960s, sung by her singer friend Nehama Hendel.
“In the winter of 1967 when I was working on the writing of ‘Jerusalem of Gold’, the song must have creeped into me unwittingly,” she wrote. “I also didn’t know that an invisible hand dictated changes in the original to me…it turns out that someone protected me and provided me with my eight notes that grant me the rights to my version of the folk song. But all this was done, as I said, unwittingly.”
Shemer told Aldema that she regarded “the whole matter as an unfortunate work accident – so unfortunate that maybe this is what caused my illness.”
A few days after the news of the confession broke, Haaretz newspaper quoted the famous Basque singer Paco Ibanez as saying he had sung sang the Basque melody in question at a performance in Israel in 1962, and perhaps Shemer had heard it then.
Ibanez said his mother used to sing the melody to him when he was small. He recorded it in his volume “Songs I heard from my mother”. As soon as he heard Shemer’s song in summer 1967 he recognised it as his song “Joseph’s Hair.”
He said he was sad to hear of Shemer’s guilt feelings over basing her song on the Basque folk melody and not admitting it. “It is a shame. She had no reason to feel guilty.”
Many Haaretz readers e-mailed messages to the newspaper on the Shemer case. Some of the messages were supportive, and pointed out that classical composers have often used melodies from folk songs. Several noted that the Israeli national anthem Hatikva is based on a melody from Czech composer Bedrich Smetana’s “Moldau”. Others observed that singers such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez have borrowed folk melodies.
But there were also some more critical comments, with “Arik” from Toronto writing: “Even the songs are stolen…just like everything else …the land you live on….the water…everything.” Others noted that Shemer had become a patron of the settler cause after 1967 and that her song had become the anthem of the settlers.
One Basque wrote he felt ashamed for the use of the Basque lullaby as a war hymn, and he criticised Shemer for stealing Basque folklore for war purposes. Another reader said part of Shemer’s estate should be seized and given to the Basques.
Saudi Gazette, 10 May 2005
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Banipal: cover picture by the Iraqi Kurdish artist Sadradeen
Overcoming language barrier
by Susannah Tarbush
One of the pleasures of reading Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature, is the opportunity it offers of discovering authors who have through translation overcome the language barrier.
In the spring issue of the magazine, which has just been published, one such author is Algerian writer, journalist and musician Aziz Chouaki who has lived in France since the political upheavals in Algeria in the 1990s.
Banipal carries an excerpt from Chouaki’s novel “The Star of Algiers”, written in French and translated into English by Ros Schwarz and Lulu Norman. The novel was published in English by Graywolf Press, USA earlier this year. To judge by the extract, Chouaki is a fresh, original voice.
While Chouaki is new to English translation, some of the names in the latest issue of Banipal are long-established. From Tayeb Salih, the Sudanese writer, we have the story “If She Comes”, set in an office, translated by Shakir Mustafa.
The Saudi writer, poet and novelist Ali al-Domaini is represented through an extract from his novel “The Grey Cloud: Parts of the Biography of Sahl al-Jabali”. The novel was published in Arabic in Beirut in 1998, and the extract, which is set in a prison, has been translated by Issa Boullata.
Al-Domaini has been in prison in Saudi Arabia since last year. Last week, at a ceremony in New York attended by many prominent American and international authors, PEN conferred a 2005 ‘PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award’ on the Saudi author.
Issa Boullata is a writer as well as a translator, and Banipal includes his short story “A Forgotten Gentleman”, which is set in Canada.
There are in all seven short stories in the issue. The story “Wind”, by Tunisian Ali Mosbah, who lives in Berlin, gives a powerful metaphorical account of the effects of winds on the inhabitants of an area of Tunisia.
The poets featured in the issue include Palestinian medical doctor Fady Joudah, who won the $1,000 first prize in the River City writing awards in 2004. Joudah lives in Houston and is an active member of Medicins sans Frontieres. There are also love poems by the Lebanese poet Inaya Jaber.
One of Banipal’s regular sections is Literary Influences, in which a writer tells of the books he or she has read since childhood, and the influences on their work. In this issue the writer is the Syrian Rafik Shami, who lives in Germany. His parents originally came from the village of Malula where the ancient language Aramaic is spoken.
In its section on literary events, Banipal has a report on the awarding of the 2004 Prince Claus Awards, with the principal prize going to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish’s eloquent acceptance speech is published in full.
Banipal is at: www.banipal.co.uk
by Susannah Tarbush
At the Visions of Palestine evening in the Royal Geographic Society last Tuesday, journalist Lauren Booth – half sister of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie – spoke with passion about her recent first-ever visit to the West Bank and Gaza.
The bouncy journalist, who writes, inter alia, for the Mail on Sunday, New Statesman, and Observer, read from the diary she kept on her trip – expressing for example her amazement at the size of Israeli settlements, and her dismay at the sight of the town of Kalkilya surrounded by the so-called security wall and barbed wire, making the Palestinians like foreigners in their own land.
She found Nablus “stunning”, and fell in love with Ramallah, “the Beverly Hills of the occupied territories” where she felt “a lot safer than in the streets of Haringey” (a borough of London known for its guns and street crime). Throughout her trip she was overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity of the Palestinians.
Visions of Palestine was organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding and raised funds for four charities. It was chaired by the journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown, who is a columnist in the Independent, a frequent commentator on radio and TV, and the author of several books.
The 20-year-old Palestinian singer Shadia Mansour, dressed in a traditional embroidered Palestinian dress, added a musical flavour to the evening with her unaccompanied singing.
Palestinian writer Adania Shibli, whose work has been published in literary magazines in the Arab world, read one of her short stories. She has twice been awarded the Young Writer’s Award – Palestine by the A M Qattan Foundation.
British photographer Tom Craig displayed on a screen some of the photographs he took in Gaza while accompanying the actor Daniel Day-Lewis as part of a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) project. Day-Lewis’s article on Gaza and Craig’s photographs were published in the Sunday Times colour magazine a few weeks ago.
During their visit Day-Lewis and Craig saw the work MSF is doing to help traumatised children. Craig’s photographs are full of scenes of rubble and shattered buildings, and of children who have suffered physical and emotional damage. And yet the spirit of the people, especially the children, shines through.
Gaza was a main focus of the evening. The distinguished Gaza-born artist Laila Shawa, who has lived and worked in London for some years, presented some of her striking images based on the children and graffiti of Gaza.
Dr Eyad El-Sarraj, the Palestinian psychiatrist who is founder and medical director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, gave a humanitarian discourse on how a solution to the conflict can be achieved once Israel starts to see Palestinians as equal human beings and treats them as such.
Israeli-Dutch filmmaker Benny Brunner showed extracts from two films. One was his latest documentary, “The Concrete Curtain”, in which he looks at the impact of Israel’s separation barrier on Palestinian life in Jerusalem.
The other film was Tama Goldschmidt’s “Qalandiya Checkpoint Report” which conveys the frightening crush of Palestinian women and children struggling to get through the turnstile which is the entrance to their refugee camp while Israeli soldiers look on.
At the end of the evening a visibly moved Yasmin Alibhai Brown told the Palestinians: “I am absolutely humbled by your struggle and what you go through. I salute your courage and your spirit.”
Saudi Gazette, 3 May 2005
by Susannah Tarbush
If anyone wanted proof of the increasing attention being paid in the West to the views of Arab bloggers, they need only have listened to last Sunday’s edition of the BBC radio current affairs series Broadcasting House.
In his report from Cairo on the political situation in Egypt, the BBC correspondent chose to interview not a mainstream analyst or politician, but a prominent blogger known only as “Big Pharaoh”.
Big Pharaoh is just one of a growing band of Arab bloggers whose blogs are widely followed and commented on by other bloggers and the media. Blogging in the Arab world has come a long way since Iraqi “Salam Pax” became the first internationally known Arab blogger after starting his blog in September 2002.
Word of Salam Pax’s blog spread quickly around the internet, and he gained a huge readership. He was eventually invited to be a columnist for the London-based Guardian newspaper, and Atlantic Books and Guardian Books jointly published the book of his blog.
Now Salam Pax makes regular film contributions to BBC TV’s Newsnight, and in February he won the innovation award from Britain’s Royal Television Society.
Arabs, particularly members of the techno-savvy younger generation, have become enthusiastic users of services such as Blogger and Live Journal through which a blog can be set up free of charge. The blogger can disclose as much or as little about their identity as they wish, which increases the sense of freedom in expressing their views in their online diaries. But at the same time the use of pseudonyms can create suspicions about who is “really behind” a particular blog.
The number of Iraqi blogs has mushroomed over the past two years, and they play a unique role in giving readers an insight into what life is like in different parts of the country, at a time when it has become very difficult for Western journalists to get around.
There are sizeable blogger communities in a number of other countries, such as Lebanon, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Egypt. Sites such as Jordan Planet and Bahrain blogs have links to numerous blogs.
The importance of blogging in encouraging freedom of expression has led Reporters sans Frontieres (English name Reporters Without Borders) to organise the Freedom Blog Awards in partnership with Deutsche Welle.
Sixty blogs have been chosen divided into six geographical categories, and internet users can vote by the closing date of 1 June, with the results announced two weeks later.
One category is devoted to Iranian blogs, and no fewer than 21 of the 60 blogs up for voting are in Farsi. In the Middle Eastern and African category, there are eight Arab blogs - three of them in Arabic, three in English and two in French. There are two blogs from Bahrain, two from Egypt and one each from Morocco, the UAE, Tunisia and Iraq.
Saudi Gazette, 3 May 2005