Tuesday, September 27, 2005

green book roundtable in tripoli

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.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette September 27 2005

le grand voyage film

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

cooking the sufi way

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

banipal's latest

Celebration of Arab literature

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.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette
September 6 2005

the other side of Israel

When British Jew Susan Nathan flew into Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport in October 1999, not long after her marriage had broken down, she pinned a badge to her chest with the slogan: “I’ve come home.” At the age of 50, she was seeking to make a new life in Israel.

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.”

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 6 September 2005