Monday, May 30, 2011

shubbak: london's first ever celebration of contermporary arab culture

London’s Arab Summer of Culture
Susannah Tarbush Saudi Gazette 29 May 2011

On 22 July music from the Egyptian revolution will be brought to the stage of leading London music venue the Barbican Hall in a concert entitled “A Night on Tahrir Square”. The concert features the legendary music collective El Tanbura [pictured below]; singer and political activist Azza Balba; singer, composer and oud virtuoso Mustafa Said; and singer-songwriter Ramy Essam.

The concert is part of ‘Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture’, the first-ever London-wide festival of Arab culture. Shubbak, which runs from 4 to 24 July, is organized by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and sponsored by HSBC.

The full program, unveiled at the official launch last Thursday, encompasses more than 70 events in over 30 cultural venues across the city. The program embraces the visual arts, architecture, music, dance, theatre, literature, poetry, debates and discussions. The majority of the events have been specially created for the festival, and more than half of them are free.

In a statement issued at the launch, the Mayor said: “London is a global city in which Arab culture has played a significant part over the centuries – the word ‘Trafalgar’ even originates from the Arabic language.” The festival is “a unique chance for Londoners to glimpse the breadth and excellence of contemporary Arab culture and its influence on London’s cultural scene today.”

Referring to the Arab Spring, Johnson said: “At a time of remarkable political and social change, Shubbak marks an exciting moment between artists in the capital and across the Arab world. I have no doubt that it will stimulate, delight and surprise audiences.”

Although the planning of Shubbak started two years ago, much of the program is relevant to recent developments in the region. Many aspects of the Arab Spring will undoubtedly be explored during the three-week festival.

The literature, poetry, debate and discussion section of the program is extensive. It includes the first-ever shared reading by Saudi novelist Raja Alem and Moroccan author Mohammed Achaari, joint winners of this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). The reading is at the Southbank Centre on 9 July.

The Mayor’s Advisor for Arts and Culture Munira Mirza [pictured] said at the launch that there are half a million Arabs in London and that in addition considerable numbers of Arabs visit London in the summer. Arab artists and organizations find London valuable for making cultural connections.

The launch included the screening of a short film on the Moroccan-born London-based artist Hassan Hajjaj who came to London as a teenager and whose work draws on the various cultural influences he has encountered.

Hajjaj is taking part in two Shubbak events. At Leighton House Museum on 21 July, he will present the renowned Tunisian singer-songwriter and actress Amina Annabi [pictured], who will be supported by the Moroccan Gnawa musician Simo Lagnawi.

On 23 July Hajjaj will participate in a celebration of the Jameel Prize 2011 at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Prize is an international award for contemporary art inspired by Islamic tradition. It is an initiative of Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, the Jeddah businessman who also funded the V&A’s Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art.

The Jameel Prize is awarded every two years. Hajjaj was himself shortlisted for the prize in 2009. At the celebration Hajjaj will discuss a photographic work in progress by the Gnawa Master Musicians. This will be followed by a performance by Simo Lagnawi.

In another 23 July event to celebrate the Jameel Prize 2011, storyteller Xanthe Graham will perform at the V&A a new piece inspired by dialogue with the 10 shortlisted artists and designers (the winner of the prize is announced on 12 September).

The speakers at the Shubbak launch included the directors of two key London organizations involved in the festival – Aaron Ceza of the Delfina Foundation, and Julia Peyton-Jones of the Serpentine Gallery.

Ceza stressed that Shubbak “will not be a flash-in-the-pan festival; many of the events are the result of relationships that have been cultivated over many years.” He gave as an example the Tate Modern gallery’s screening on 21 and 22 July of films by the Moroccan director and poet Ahmed Bouanani who died in February. This follows Tate Modern’s collaboration with the Tangier cinema culture center Cinematheque Tanger.

The Delfina Foundation will be exhibiting two videos by the acclaimed Egyptian artist Wael Shawky, which comprise his work “Larvae Channel” [pictured]. Ceza said: “These videos explore the very local issues of concern that have had global repercussions”. One video portrays Egyptians before the fall of Mubarak, the other Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

Wael Shawky is from Alexandria, and alongside his show Delfina will mount a focus on Alexandria’s artists as part of its ongoing series “The Knowledge”.

Delfina is also involved in the “Shopopolis” project, in which artists investigate shopping malls in London and Dubai as social spaces. The project involves an exchange of artists between the UK and UAE. Two Emirati artists will come to London to explore the Westfield London Shopping Centre.

The Serpentine Gallery, based in Kensington Gardens, has a research project on the art of the Middle East, called the Centre for Possible Studies and located in Edgware Road. As part of the Edgware Road project, the Bidoun Project, which supports contemporary artists in and around the Middle East, is setting up The Bidoun Library at the Serpentine. The Bidoun Project will travel to the Serpentine to launch a special issue of Bidoun magazine produced during the Egyptian revolution.

There will be two Bidoun Library Saturday Seminars at the Serpentine – featuring Libyan writer Hisham Matar on 16 July, and Egyptian author and activist Nawal el Saadawi on 23 July.

Beirut-born Rania Stephan is a former artist in residence at the Serpentine. As part of the Edgware Road project, her film “The Three Disappearances of Suad Husni” will be screened at the Gate cinema on 18 July. Suad Husni was the famous Egyptian actress who died in a mysterious fall from a block of flats in Edgware Road in 2001.

Shubbak’s music events include a Concert for the Children of Egypt on 22 July at the Cadogan Hall with the English Chamber Orchestra and Egyptian pianist Amira Fouad. In contrast to this cclasscial oncert, on 4 July there will be a free event entitled “Musical 360 Degree Revolution into the Arab World” at ‘The Scoop at More London’ outdoor sunken amphitheatre next to City Hall. This gig will feature Palestinian Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, Egyptian Mariam Saleh and “the Godfather of Lebanese trip hop” Zeid Hamdan.

In the visual arts, Shubbak will witness a new collaboration between two major institutions: Qatar’s newly-opened Arab Museum of Modern Art (Mathaf), and the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts). The joint project, “Interference”, takes place on the first weekend of the festival as “a three day exploration of art, agency and agitation in the Arab world and beyond.” It has talks, workshops, a screening and a party. It starts with a screening of Egyptian director Ahmed Abdalla’s film “Microphone”.

On a more intimate scale, the visual arts program includes the first-ever UK exhibition of Lebanese-American photographer Rania Matar, with her sequence “A Girl and Her Room” [pictured] on display at the Mosaic Rooms in West London.

The theatre events present a varied picture. The Young Vic will present the ShiberHur theatre company from Palestine, performing an adaptation of Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”.

The innovative project Gulf Stage, a collaboration of the British Council, the Qatar Foundation, Qatar Ministry of Culture and the Digital Theatre, will show on 15 July the UK premiere of a performance of “Screening of You...Me...The Human”, joint winner of the 2010 GCC Youth Theatre Festival.

Despite the emphasis on the new in Shubbak, there is an appreciation of the work of the great award-winning pioneering Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine, who died in 2008 aged 82. His filmmaker niece Marianne Khoury will introduce three of his films at the Free Word Centre on 15 and 16 July.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

from ally to war criminal: gaddafi's decline in british eyes

Above: the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair visits Libya for the second time, in 2007

Gaddafi’s image in Britain: from ally to bloody oppressor of his own people
Susannah Tarbush
[an Arabic version appeared in Al-Hayat 25 May 2011]

In the seven years after Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi renounced his weapons of mass destruction in December 2003, Britain did more than any other country to “bring Libya in from the cold”. Britain also helped groom his son Saif al-Islam, whom it saw as a reformer, as the probable successor to his father.

Now there are grave doubts over whether Britain was wise to develop such a close relationship with Gaddafi and his son. Since mid-February Gaddafi has changed rapidly in British government eyes from a valued ally in the fight against international terrorism, and a rewarding trading partner, to a liability who uses extreme violence against his own people and who has lost his legitimacy to rule. And Saif’s supposed reforming instincts have proved very shallow, with his bloodthirsty speeches and threats rivalling those of his father.

On 16 May the International Criminal Court requested warrants for the arrest of Gaddafi father and son, and for Gaddafi’s head of intelligence Abdullah Senoussi in connection with illegal attacks on Libyan civilians and possible crimes against humanity.

The current view of Gaddafi is reminiscent of the mid-1980s when then US President Ronald Reagan called him the “mad dog of the Middle East”. When the former British ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia Sir Andrew Green was recently asked by the BBC why Britain was not being as tough on Syria as it is on Libya, Green dismissed Libya as “a strip of desert run by a madman”.

The new relationship between Libya and Britain went back to March 2004 when the then Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair travelled to Libya and shook hands with Gaddafi in his tent. The meeting was controversial given Libya’s past involvement in terrorism, but Blair said: “It does not mean forgetting the pain of the past but it does mean recognising it's time to move on.” At the same time Anglo-Dutch Shell signed a deal worth more than half a billion pounds Sterling for gas exploration rights off the Libyan coast.

When Blair met Gaddafi for a second time [pictured] in May 2007 the two men publicly embraced. BP signed a gas exploration deal, worth some 900 million US dollars. Business was always a key part of the new British-Libyan relationship. Trade increased steadily, to £1.5 billion in 2009.

Britain exported arms to Libya, but in February cancelled export licences for items such as tear gas and ammunition that could be used for internal repression One might ask why Britain was exporting such items to an oppressive regime like Libya in the first place, and a committee of British MPs was recently highly critical of such sales to Libya and some other Arab regimes.

Blair continued his relationship with Gaddafi and Saif after he ceased to be prime minister. He was appointed as a highly-paid consultant to international financial institutions including J P Morgan which has important interests in Libya. Blair visited Libya regularly, and was for example there in July last year for secret talks, just days after he denied Saif’s claim in a British newspaper that Blair was an adviser to the Libyan Investment Authority. Saif described Blair as a close family friend.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government that succeeded Labour in May 2010 was keen to develop relations with Libya further. But the eruption of the Arab Spring first in Tunisia and then in Egypt, began to change the British attitude towards Gaddafi. When Gaddafi and Saif al-Islam violently suppressed demonstrations, and Gaddafi threatened to mercilessly hunt down his enemies in Benghazi, Britain spearheaded moves to get UN Security Council resolution 1973 approved allowing for a no-fly zone and necessary measures to protect the civilian population.

Britain still faces unanswered questions about its past relationship with Libya, including on the Scottish Executive’s decision to release in August 2009 Libyan Abdel Basset Ali Mohammed al Megrahi from jail. He was the only person to be found guilty of the Pan Am flight 103 explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December 2008 which killed 270 people, for which he had been sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland.

The former Labour government of Gordon Brown insisted that it had been solely the decision of the Scottish government to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds as he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and doctors had given him only three months to live. Megrahi returned to a hero’s welcome in Tripoli, with Saif al-Islam greeting him at the airport. Megrahi is still alive, nearly two years later, and allegations about his release continue to appear.

Libyan former justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, head of the rebel’s National Transitional Council, claimed that he has proof Gaddafi ordered the Lockerbie bombing, and that Megrahi had threatened to disclose all he knew about Lockerbie if Gaddafi did not obtain his release.

Then there is the unsolved murder of 24-year-old policewoman Yvonne Fletcher. She was killed on 17 April 1984 by a shot fired from the Libyan people’s Bureau (Embassy) in St James’s Square [pictured: memorial to Yvonne Fletcher in the square] where she was guarding an anti-Gaddafi demonstration. Britain severed relations with Libya, and they were not re-established for 15 years. Britain had also accused Libya of supplying arms and explosives to the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Saif al-Islam’s close links with the London School of Economics (LSE) have proved a major embarrassment for the institution. Afer Saif obtained a PhD in 2008 from LSE he donated £1.5 million Sterling to the institution. The director of the LSE Sir Howard Davies [pictured] resigned in March over “errors of judgement” in the relations of the LSE, and himself, with Libya. Doubts have been raised over the quality of Saif’s thesis, and there are claims that at least some of it was plagiarised and that a public relations firm helped to write it.

Saif became remarkably well connected with the powerful and wealthy in Britain and elsewhere. He and his father spent millions on public relations companies since 2004 to improve their image. Now, their image is at its worst.

In the 42 years since Gaddafi came to in power, his image has dominated the political scene in his country, and perceptions of him abroad. The Western media seemed to have an obsession with his Green Book, his unpredictability and in the changes of his often colourful and flamboyant costumes. Attention was paid to his female body guards and his fondness for taking his tent with him when on official visits abroad. There were further claims about his bizarre lifestyle in material published by Wikileaks late last year, including a report that Gaddafi was constantly accompanied by “a voluptuous blonde Ukrainian nurse”.

There were also his strange surreal rambling short stories. The importance that Gaddafi attached to his short stories was reflected on Libya’s holding several international symposia on the stories. And yet Gaddafi had a long record of oppressing writers in Libya.

The fascination with Gaddafi’s image led in September 2006 to the staging of a rock opera musical “Gaddafi: A Living Myth” in central London at the Coliseum Theatre, the home of English National Opera. Music was played both by the band the Asian Dub Foundation and by the English National Opera orchestra, and Gaddafi was played by the well-known actor Ramon Tikaram [pictured above]. The reviews in the press were mostly terrible.

Gaddafi’s image has continued to cause amusement even during the uprising. TIME magazine recently published recently a lavishly illustrated photo-essay under the title “Gaddafi Fashion: The Emperor has some Crazy Clothes.”

Gaddafi’s bloodthirsty speeches have led to a profusion of mocking videos on YouTube, mixing excerpts from the speeches to a background of songs by Western stars. The most famous is the song Zenga Zenga (ie Alley by Alley), with Gaddafi shaking his fist as he threatens in a speech to hunt down the opposition in Benghazi “house by house, alley by alley”.

Before the Libyan revolution erupted, it was Gaddafi and Saif who dominated British media coverage of Libya. But since mid-February many other Libyan voices have been heard on TV, in the printed media and on the internet and social media such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. And whatever the course of the revolution, these voices are not going to be silenced in the future.

It is true that there are doubts among much of the British public over NATO action and where it is leading, and what military actions are permissible under UN resolution 1973. Even though there was sympathy over the humanitarian crisis, and a widespread recognition of the urgent need to protect civilians under threat from Gaddafi, there is a fear of Britain getting into a prolonged Iraq or Afghanistan type of military commitment in Libya.

Some radicals, such as the veteran Tariq Ali, are adamantly against the NATO action seeing it in terms of imperialist action aimed at gaining power over Libya and its oil and gas resources. And even some of those who are broadly in sympathy with the aims of the revolution argue that it is up to the Libyans to mount their own revolution, without outside intervention.

There is however a feeling among many others that the intervention in Libya is different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stop the War protests over military action in Libya have attracted far fewer supporters than the mass protests before and during the invasion of Iraq.

Many visitors to Benghazi have expressed admiration for what they have found in the city, with its flowering of civil society, newspapers, radio stations and music and the arts.

One BBC correspondent reported from Benghazi: “It is easy to get carried away with the infectious enthusiasm of the place”. Chris McGreal of the Guardian newspaper, who has covered many uprisings and revolutions over the past quarter of a century wrote that “few revolutions have been more inspiring” than the Libyan revolution.

The British Muslim journalist Yvonne Ridley initially spoke at public meetings against the NATO action in Libya. There was astonishment at the end of April when she visited Benghazi and dramatically changed her mind. “I was wrong to oppose military intervention in Libya - wrong, wrong, wrong” she wrote. She said the West must give the rebels “all the help and support they need to accomplish the removal of Gaddafi until it is time for NATO to go in a dignified exit.”

The seven- year building of a close British-Libyan relationship begun by Tony Blair was galling for many Libyans in Britain in view of Libya’s bloody record and its continuing suppression of human rights. Some Libyans say they were embarrassed to be represented by a man many regard as a psychopath. It is now common to hear Libyans say “I used to feel ashamed to say I was Libyan: now I feel proud.”

One victim of past Libyan violence was Libyan Ali Abuzeid who was stabbed to death in his grocer’s shop in Westbourne Grove in central London in 1995. Abuzeid had at one time been active in the Libyan opposition, and Libyan agents are blamed for his murder.

Ali’s daughter Huda Abuzeid, a TV producer in the UK, told Reuters in March: that for years Libya was seen through the filter of Gaddafi, “this inarticulate, uneducated, eccentric man”. She added that people “forgot that Libya is the country of Omar al Moukhtar, a country of smart, educated professionals, artists and intellectuals, brave people in all walks of life. Gaddafi has completely destroyed that dignified image of courage."

She said: "I am angry at the British government for ignoring the fact that Gaddafi is a terrorist, a war criminal, a murderer and for not letting justice prevail. Now the Libyan people are paying the price for this rapprochement."

The story of the Fergiani family shows the contribution certain Libyans have quietly made to British cultural life. Mohammed Fergiani was a businessman who had a publishing company and bookshop in Tripoli but moved to London in the 1970s because of disagreements with the Gaddafi regime. In London he established the publishing company Darf Publishers.

The Fergiani family opened three of the best-loved independent bookshops in London – Queen’s Park Books, West End Lane Books and England’s Lane Books. The bookshops are very much part of their local communities, and host numerous book signings and other events.

Mohammed Fergiani died on 9 January, in his late eighties, and Ghassan took his body back to Libya for burial. He greatly regrets that his father did not live long enough to witness what is happening in Libya. ”I wish he was alive to see this day,” he says. [pictured: Queen's Park Books]

Major contributions in the literary field have come from the Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, a long time resident of the UK. He is currently much sought after for media interviews, and for his own eloquent contributions to newspapers.

In 1990 Matar’s dissident father Jaballa, a former Libyan diplomat, was kidnapped in Cairo by the Libyan regime with the help of Egyptian intelligence, and taken to prison in Libya. His fate is still unknown.

Matar draws on his experiences in his fiction. His first novel “In the Country of Men” was published by the Penguin imprint Viking in 2006. It is set in 1979 and exposes the brutality of Gaddafi’s rule as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy. The novel was shortlisted for Britain’s most important fiction prize, the Man Booker and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

The first-person narrator of Matar’s recently-published second novel “Anatomy of a Disappearance” is a young Arab living in exile in Egypt with his politically dissident father. His father is kidnapped in Switzerland by agents from the regime of his native country, and the boy grows to manhood without knowing what has become of his father.

Libyan writers are currently receiving more international attention than ever before. Matar and three other Libyan writers based in Britain - Ghazi Gheblawi, Giuma Bukleb and Mohamed Mesrati - were panellists at a seminar at the London Book Fair in April, entitled ‘The Hidden Face of Libyan Fiction’. The seminar attracted much interest given what is happening in Libya. The panellists described the difficulties writers in Libya have faced over the past four decades including imprisonment, censorship, raids on bookshops and other attempts at silencing.

Giuma Bukleb was jailed for 10 years from the late 1970s when he and other young writers were rounded up by the regime. He said what is happening in Libya today is “a dream come true: I never expected in my life that I am going to see this happen in Libya, because of what I know of Gaddafi and the regime.”

Bukleb added: “Thank God I lived to the day when I see these things happening in Libya, and see the man who really suffocated our lives now with his back to the wall, and when I see Libyans now coming out, reclaiming their country, reclaiming their identity, reclaiming their independence, reclaiming themselves.”

The seminar was chaired by the Iraqi writer Samuel Shimon, editor of Banipal, the magazine of modern Arab literature. The latest issue of Banipal, published just as the uprising was beginning, confidentially includes Banipal’s first-ever special feature on Libyan fiction, covering 135 pages and showcasing the work of 17 Libyan writers.

In the question and answer session of the seminar at the writers were asked about the tendency of Western media to treat Gaddafi as an almost comic figure, and about Gaddafi’s own short stories, published when there was no real freedom in Libya for writers.

Gheblawi [pictured] said that the focus of American and British newspapers on Gaddafi’s bizarre and eccentric behaviour “more or less made a joke out of it – but nobody’s joking now I think after seeing what’s happening. This behaviour is part of the act; the guy is trying to make himself as clownish as possible to make people think he is like that.” But the media’s concentration on Gaddafi’s behaviour “made the ordinary lives of Libyans obscure and lost in oblivion”.

Mohammed Misrati [pictured] said people laughed at Gaddafi’s speeches when the revolution started and at the remixes on YouTube, “but at the same time people are being killed in Misrata.” He noted that some big Arab literary names had said of Gaddafi’s short stories “look at him, he tells a story like a father would tell his child.” Misrati added:” Well come on, go and see Misrata children and how they listen to their fathers.”

Hisham Matar noted that dictators like to write books. “Saddam of course, and Stalin wrote some hideous books. We forget that the project of dictatorship is itself a project of narrative, it is a project of imposing one story to obliterate the other stories.”

The writers were asked by a member of the audience why Libyan writers orient themselves towards the Arab world rather than African. Language and culture are obvious factors. Matar added: “One of the ways that Gaddafi tried to extend his dictatorial project on his people is by trying to subvert their identity, to narrow it, to say actually no, you are not really Arab you are Africans. Whereas before that Libyans I feel had a much more interesting identity - as African, and Arab, and Mediterranean and lots of things that made the sense of the self much more complex. If Libyans come across as seeming deliberately to want to affiliate themselves to Arabs it doesn’t say how they feel about Africa - it is more what it says about how they feel about the narrative that Gaddadfi is trying to impose on them."

The UK-based filmmaker and journalist Mohammad Makhlouf [pictured below] left Libya in 1975 after criticising the regime. He settled in London, and was an active oppositionist to the Gaddafi regime. After the uprising began he returned to Benghazi for the first time in 36 years for an emotional reunion with his mother and siblings, and to make a his first visit his father’s grave. A film crew from the British TV channel ITV travelled with him and the resulting film, “Gaddafi and Me”, was screened in the ITV Tonight series. At the beginning of the film, before leaving for Benghazi Makhlouf says: “I’m not scared. If I die in my homeland, that’s a dream come true.”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

rosie garthwatie's 'how to avoid being killed in a war zone'

Surviving the Killing Zone
Susannah Tarbush, Saudi Gazette, 22 May 2011

During the current uprisings in the Arab world considerable numbers of journalists have been killed, abducted and tortured. Aid workers and medical personnel are also among those who are putting their lives on the line in areas of conflict.

A book entitled “How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone” by Rosie Garthwaite [pictured below], a Qatar-based producer and reporter for the TV channel Al Jazeera English (AJE) is a comprehensive guide to trying to survive the dangers. The book is published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP), the joint venture of Bloomsbury Publishing of London and the Qatar Foundation.

The 304-page book resembles a reporter’s notebook with its bright red soft cover, rounded corners and black elasticized band holding the pages shut.

The foreword is by the AJE news presenter Rageh Omaar who has covered over 15 conflicts and 40 countries for the BBC and other broadcasters. The book has two postscripts. One is by Jon Swain, who covered the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1970-75 and was kidnapped for three months in Ethiopia, the other by Al Jazeera director general Wadah Khanfar, who has worked in many war zones.

Rosie Garthwaite writes briskly and cheerfully, with a good smattering of humor. Her adventurous spirit asserted itself when she spent her gap year of 1999 between school and university in the British Army, as an officer. After graduating from Oxford University she set off for Iraq in the period following the 2003 invasion. She worked initially for the Baghdad Bulletin, Iraq’s first post-invasion English-language newspaper, and then spent six months in Basra as a stringer for Reuters. She has been with Al Jazeera since 2005.

Of her time in Basra she writes: “I learnt how to avoid getting killed by my mistakes. There were many. And some very narrow misses. If I’d had something like this book to flick through at night, it might have helped, just a little.”

Garthwaite solicited contributions for her book from journalists and others, including aid workers, filmmakers, doctors, hostage negotiators, and former and serving soldiers. She names 57 contributors; dozens of anonymous voices also had an input. Some of the contributors are Western, others are of Arab, Afghan or other origin. Many work as part of a team when on assignment, and a sense of camaraderie pervades the book.

The book approaches its subject from many angles. Topics include planning, preparing and arriving on a mission; avoiding misunderstandings; and getting around in a dangerous place. Fake checkpoints are a major hazard in certain settings. One sign that a checkpoint may be fake is that even if the guards wear the same uniforms and have the same cars as the real police or army, they often have different weapons.

There is advice on coping with gunfire, bombings and missiles; keeping safe in a crowd, protest or riot; surviving landmines, IEDs and chemical perils; and the correct way to wear a flak jacket. Garthwaite warns against wearing contact lenses rather than glasses when caught in a tear gas or pepper spray onslaught. “The pain of tear gas trapped behind a contact lens is horrendous.”

The first aid and emergency medicine chapter comprises 44 pages of advice, with diagrams. Another chapter is on feeding oneself under fire, with instructions on how to gather food and a food tips section from Chris Helgren, editor-in-charge at the Reuters UK pictures bureau. The book also outlines ways of surviving extreme conditions – such as deserts, mountains, flood zones, and jungles – and dealing with natural disasters.

Garthwaite is keen to explore methods through which those on mission in a war zone can maintain their physical and emotional wellbeing, and she has chapters on “avoiding trouble in sex, love and war” and “staying fit and beating stress.” Dr Carl Hallam of Médecins Sans Frontières says: “Never try to use a dangerous trip as a chance to diet. Eat. You will lose weight anyway.” BBC correspondent Caroline Hawley rates ping pong highly for entertainment and exercise when confined to a small area. “You can work up a surprising sweat if you move around the table enough!”

Kidnapping is a hazard in war zones. Terry Waite gives tips based on his five years as a Beirut hostage in the 1980s. If captors require you to write a message, “introduce into that message a deliberate mistake that only your immediate family might know. This will convey to those outside that you are speaking under duress.”

Journalist James Brandon, who was kidnapped in Basra, says “if you get kidnapped, you must get your kidnappers to empathize with you”. AJE correspondent Jacky Rowland, formerly of the BBC, suggests: “Always carry a photograph of you with your children. Or with someone else’s children. When push comes to shove, if you can connect with your captors or kidnappers on a human level (everyone loves their kids), it might just save your life.”

Some of the hints in the book are low-tech but effective. Chris Cobb-Smith, founder of Chiron resources, which provides specialist security support to news and documentary teams, always carries a simple little wooden wedge. “Just slide it under the door as an additional lock: the harder the door is forced, the more it jams.” He emphasizes that in offices, bureaux and accommodation in high risk areas a “safe room” should be prepared in advance as somewhere to go when evacuation from the building is impossible.

Cobb-Smith was in the news in March when he and two colleagues from the BBC were held by regime forces in Libya and tortured with beatings and mock executions for 21 hours.

One question facing journalists in a war zone is whether or not to try and blend in. Opinions differ. Garthwaite thinks she has more than once been saved by people wanting to protect her because she stood out. “As one of the only blondes in Basra – the only one I ever saw – and a journalist who was listening to their stories, I was apparently dubbed ‘the angel’ by some people in the town. They would bang on the ice-cream parlour window, where I chose to interview all the most dangerous people I met, to let me know if trouble was coming.” But some contributors to the book describe making major efforts to blend in and look like the locals.

Journalist and author Sebastian Junger offers hints on how to avoid being accused of being a spy. “Be careful what you carry in a war zone. Take no detailed maps, no compass and no binoculars. “

Even long experience in war zones and an awareness of all dangers cannot guarantee safety of course. The outstanding British photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington was killed in Misrata, with US photographer Chris Hondros, by pro-Gaddafi forces on 20 April. Hetherington was co-director with Sebastian Junger of the 2010 documentary film “Restrepo” which won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar. The film records the year the two men spent with US troops in Afghanistan, for Vanity Fair magazine.

In a piece written in Vanity Fair in memory of Hetherington, Junger recalls: “You and I were always talking about risk because she was the beautiful woman we were both in love with, right? The one who made us feel the most special, the most alive? We were always trying to have one more dance with her without paying the price. All those quiet, huddled conversations we had in Afghanistan: where to walk on the patrols, what to do if the outpost gets overrun, what kind of body armor to wear.

“You were so smart about it, too—so smart about it that I would actually tease you about being scared. Of course you were scared—you were terrified. We both were. We were terrified and we were in love, and in the end, you were the one she chose.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

'angry young man' bill hopkins has died

photo by Ida Kar: National Portrait Gallery

Heard from a friend that London novelist Bill Hopkins, 83 this year, has died. An endearing character and a familiar figure in the streets and cafes of Notting Hill, where he lived for many years, Bill was in the 1950s one of the "angry young men" - the group of writers that included Kingsley Amis, John Braine, John Osborne,John Wain and Colin Wilson. A book of interviews conducted by Dale Salwak with the angry young men was published in 1998. Bill is the face on the top right of the cover picture - quite a heartbreaker in his time apparently. Only one of his novels was published: The Divine and the Decay (1957) also known as The Leap. Jonthan Bowden wrote a critique of the novel , and interviewed Bill. According to Bowden: "His greatest literary achievement - stands revealed as a Bildungsroman of the anti-Left; a premonitory explosion; a lightening-flash which reveals a terra incognita; an intrusion into the Zeitgeist; a ‘storm of steel’ against liberal evasion." The novel was first published in 1957 . Colin Wilson wrote the introduction to the republished issue, as The Leap, in 1984, noting that the novel had been "attacked with unprecedented ferocity on its first publication". Bowden says it is an interesting book in all sorts of ways, a fantasy "about a man who essentially gets up in the morning and decides woke up and decided that he wants to be dicator of Britain, and how will he go about morally, aesthetically, intellectually, and ideolgoically becoming a man who is worthy of to be dictator of Britain. It's based on the Nietszchean idea that artists of genius should rule... it is based upon ideas that are completely heretical and blasphemous..." and which didn't go down well in post-war austerity Britain.
Bill recounted his memories in the video below, for the psychogeographical project London Art Tripping. He was born in Wales (although he claimed to hate the Welsh) and his father Ted Hopkins was a popular stage performer (& Bill had something of an actorly voice), and Bill still liked to keep up with the profession through eg reading The Stage newspaper.

Bill was the subject of several photographs by(his one-time landlady) Ida Kar, three of which are in the National Portrait Gallery online collection including the one below:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

caine prize shortlist announced

Caine Prize shortlist (no writer from North Africa, again)
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 15 May 2011

The composition of the newly-announced shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing 2011 once again reflects the strength of South Africa on the continent’s literary map. As last year, two of the five shortlisted authors are from South Africa: Tim Keegan with the story “What Molly Knew” and David Medalie with “The Mistress’s Dog”. Last year saw South Africans Alex Smith and Ken Barris shortlisted – but the £10,000 prize went to Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry [pictured below with bust of Sir Michael Caine] for his story “Stickfighting Days”.

The other shortlistees this year are Beatrice Lamwaka of Uganda for “Butterfly Dreams”, NoViolet Bulawayo of Zimbabwe for “Hitting Budapest”, and Lauri Kubuitsile of Botswana with “In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata”. This is the first time a writer from Botswana has made the shortlist.

The winner will be announced on 11 July at the Caine prizegiving dinner, held in the historic Divinity School of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. The writers will read and discuss their stories at the Royal Over-Seas League in London on 8 July, and at the London Literature Festival two days later.

Publishers submitted 126 entries from 17 countries for the prize. The chair of the judges, prizewinning Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, said: “Choosing a shortlist out of nearly 130 entries was not an easy task – one made more difficult and yet more enjoyable by the varied tastes of the judges – but we have arrived at a list of five stories that excel in quality and ambition.”

In Matar’s view the stories taken together “represent a portrait of today’s African short story: its wit and intelligence, its concerns and preoccupations.”

Matar’s fellow judges are the award-winning British-Sierra Leonean author Aminatta Forna (pictured; currently shortlisted for the Orange Prize for her novel “The Memory of Love”); Granta deputy editor Ellah Allfrey; publisher and film and travel writer Vicky Unwin, and poet and Georgetown University Washington DC Professor David Gewanter. The prize includes, in addition to its cash component, the opportunity of a one-month residency at the university known as a ‘Caine Prize/Georgetown University Writer in Residence’.

The Caine Prize was founded in 2000 in memory of Sir Michael Caine, former chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. It is awarded for a short story of 3,000 to 10,000 words by an African writer published in English. The story may be written in English or published in English translation.

The 2011 shortlistee with the longest track record of published fiction is novelist and short story writer David Medalie [pictured] a professor in the English Department at the University of Pretoria. His first short story collection, “The Shooting of the Christmas Cows”, won the Ernst van Heerden Award before publication in 1990.

Medalie’s shortlisted story “The Mistress’s Dog” focuses on an ageing widow who has been left caring for the elderly dog of her husband’s late mistress. She reflects on her life and how she lived with her secret knowledge of the affair between the mistress and her husband who was the mistress’s boss.

The story was first published in New Contrast magazine in 2006 and won the Thomas Pringle Award in 2008. It appears in the collection of stories by Medalie “The Mistress’s Dog: Short stories 1996-2010” published by Picador Africa.

Tim Keegan made an intriguing career switch in his 40s, from university history author and professor to crime writer. “I don’t regard myself as primarily a crime/thriller writer, but my novels certainly involve crime,” he says. His shortlisted story “What Molly Knew” is in the crime anthology “Bad Company” published by Pan Macmillan SA in 2008.

The Molly of the title is the estranged mother of Sarah. When Sarah is murdered, suspicion falls on her psychologist husband, whom Molly detests. The blog ‘International Noir Fiction’ describes the story as “a study of the strained dynamic of family and race.”

Botswana writer Lauri Kubuitsile’s story “In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata” was published by Modjaji Books SA in “The Bed Book of Short Stories”. The robustly funny story begins with the death of McPhineas Lata “the perennial bachelor who made a vocation of troubling married women” in the village of Nokanyana. The husbands of the many wives mourning him resolve to discover and then apply the secret of how McPhineas satisfied their wives.

Lauri [pictured] is the author of 14 published books, and her short stories have won many prizes. Her third romance novel “Mr Quite-Not-Good-Enough” is to be published in August and her young adult novel “Signed, Hopelessly in Love” will also be published this year.

NonViolet Bulawayo [pictured] of Zimbabwe has been a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) student at Cornell University. Her story “Hitting Budapest” appeared in “The Boston Review”. It features a gang of six young children, including a pregnant 10-year-old, roaming and stealing guavas in an abandoned formerly wealthy residential area.

Ugandan writer Beatrice Lamwaka’s shortlisted story appears in “Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories from Uganda” published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press of Nottingham, England. The harrowing story concerns a former girl rebel soldier who had been abducted from her family at 11. She returns home four years later and has great difficulty in overcoming her trauma and finding a place for herself. Events are seen through the eyes of one of her siblings.

Beatrice was one of 12 writers invited to the 2011 Caine Prize workshop held in Buea, Cameroon. The 12 participants, from seven African countries, were guided by Véronique Tadjo of Ivory Coast, and Jamal Mahjoub of Sudan. Both Tadjo and Mahjoub have served as Caine Prize judges, and Mahjoub was shortlisted for the prize in 2002.

The annual workshop is one way in which the Caine Prize helps nurture and develop African writing talent. Each year a Caine anthology is published containing the five stories shortlisted that year plus stories written at the most recent Caine workshop.

This year’s anthology is entitled “To See the Mountain, and Other Stories”. It will be published in the UK by New Internationalist Publications, in South Africa by Jacana Media and in Nigeria by Cassava Republic Press. The workshop stories in the anthology include “Dark Triad” by last year’s Caine winner Olufemi Terry and “Bottled Memory” by Beatrice Lamwaka.

In its first year, 2000, the Caine Prize was won by the Egyptian-Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela, for her story “The Museum”. Aboulela has gone on to establish a high-flying international literary career and her third novel, “Lyrics Alley”, was longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize.

But since 2000 few Arab writers have made the shortlist. Apart from Mahjoub, those who have made it include Tunisian Hassounah Mosbahi (in translation from French), Moroccan Leila Lalami and Somali Nuruddin Farah.

During a seminar on Libyan fiction held at the London Book Fair in April, the chair of this year’s Caine judges Hisham Matar [pictured] shed some light on why the Arab presence in the Caine Prize might be low. He made his comments to an African woman in the audience who had wanted to know why Libyan writers turn their backs on Africa and affiliate with the Arab literary scene.

Matar said a main reason was the Arabic language and a shared culture. This is the third year he has been a judge for the Caine Prize. The stories submitted can be originally written in any language, as long as they have then been published in English translation. But “the overwhelming majority, almost 90 per cent of the stories we get, have been written in English or in French. The cultural life of the continent when it comes to literature exists predominantly in these two languages.”