Tuesday, December 27, 2005

meetings with remarkable Muslims

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.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette
27 December 2005

Banipal launches Arabic translation prize

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.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette
27 December 2005

Saudi blogosphere expands

(logo right is the Saudi Blog icon)

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.”

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette
27 December 2005

Zoe Rahman's new album

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

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette
20 December 2005

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005

US said to subvert Iraqi papers and journos

New York Times reports that the US is paying for propaganda articles to be planted in Iraq newspapers, and also has around a dozen "friendly" Iraqi journalists on its payroll, paying each several hundred dollars a month.

"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.