Tuesday, April 26, 2005

caine prize shortlist

shortlisted writer Jamal Mahjoub

Caine Prize shortlist announced

The shortlist for this year's Caine Prize for African Writing, announced last week, includes the Sudanese-English writer Jamal Mahjoub. Mahjoub is the author of five novels including the acclaimed Travelling With Djinns published in 2003.

Although the Caine Prize was in 2000, its first year, won by Sudanese-Egyptian writer Leila Aboulela for her story The Museum, very few writers from Arab Africa have made the shortlist since then, so Mahjoub's appearance is particularly welcome.

The shortlisted writers will be invited to London for a round of events related to the prize, and on 4 July the winner will be announced at a celebratory dinner at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The $15,000 prize is awarded for a short story by an African writer, published in English, of between 3,000 and 15,000 words. Mahjoub is shortlisted for the story The Obituary Tango, published in the special summer 2004 20th anniversary issue of Wasifiri magazine.

Wasifiri's spring 2004 issue is the source of another shortlisted story, Monday Morning by the Nigerian S A Afolabi. The Nigerian Helon Habila won the Caine in 2001 and Nigerian writers have often featured on the Caine shortlist. They include also this year Ike Okonta, whose story Tindi in the Land of the Dead was published in Humanitas, the journal of George Bell Institute, Queen's College of Birmingham, England.

For the first time, a writer is shortlisted for the second year in a row. She is Doreen Baingana of Uganda, whose story Tropic Fish appeared in African American Review in 2003. The fifth shortlisted writer is South African Mutual Naidoo for the story Jailbirds from Botsotso, Botsotso Publishing 2004.

Baroness Emma Nicholson established the Caine Prize in memory of her late husband, Sir Michael Caine, who was the former chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. Baroness Nicholson is the president of the Council of the Caine Prize.

The chairman of this year's panel of judges, Baroness Lola Young, a member of the House of Lords, said: "The entries for this year's Caine Prize for African Writing are a rich mixture - everything from folk to urban grit. The shortlist encompasses a variety of styles and perspectives and represents a really good read."

The other judges are Professor of English at Howard University in the US Victoria Arana, Sri Lankan novelist Romesh Gunesekera and senior lecturer in African Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, Dr Nana Wilson-Tagoe.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette April 26 2005

shariah TV

Saudi Gazette 26 April 2005

Young, British and Muslim
by Susannah Tarbush

In recent days Channel 4 has been screening daily one-hour programmes in the Shariah TV series, in which young British Muslims discuss with scholars issues of particular relevance to them. This is the second series of Shariah TV, and in the run-up to the general election one might have expected it to generate interest among non-Muslims also.

After all, there is constant media speculation over how Muslims will be voting on 5 May, and the decisive role they could play in deciding the result in certain marginal seats. At the same time a vocal minority of Muslims has resorted to disruptive tactics to try to discourage Muslims from voting at all.

So it was disappointing to find that Channel 4 had pushed the series into a graveyard slot beginning at five minutes past midnight.

In the programmes a studio audience of young Muslims poses questions to a panel of three Islamic scholars, with a different audience and panel for each of the eight programmes. The presenter is So Rahman, who was born in Chester England and has won various TV awards.

The series shows that young British Muslims are a more diverse and open-minded group than they are often portrayed in the media. Some of the women wear hijab, others are in casual clothing. Some of the men are in traditional Islamic garb and headdress.

The exchanges between the young people and the scholars give a flavour of the debates taking place between Muslims in Britain and in the wider world. Among the subjects tackled in the series are the clash of civilisations, the environment, art and culture, women and families, Islam in the modern world, and what it is to be young, British and Muslim.

The first programme, on politics and leadership, considered whether Muslims in Britain should participate in political activity, and what form such participation should take.

The panellists were Timothy Winter, a Cambridge lecturer and convert to Islam, the principal of the Muslim College Dr Zaki Badawi and Professor Tariq Ramadan, who teaches philosophy and Islamic studies in Switzerland, at the College of Geneva and the University of Fribourg.

The panel disagreed with those who thought Muslims should not vote in non-Muslim Britain, and said that, on the contrary, voting is a duty and maybe an obligation. Asked if political activism is a form of jihad, the panel said voting, protesting, campaigning and working to make the world better are all forms of jihad.

Should Muslims become involved in secular political parties? The panel considered that although obeying the party whip could be a problem for a Muslim MP, it is worth becoming involved and inserting Muslim values into policies and political culture.

When asked if the Shariah can guide Muslim as to how to vote, the panel said Muslims should look at the ethics of those for whom they vote. “Consider general principles, such as social justice and human rights. Don’t ask your imam how to vote!”

british book awards

Saudi Gazette 26 April 2005

Commercial Considerations Overtake Literary Merit
by Susannah Tarbush

The British Book Awards held last Wednesday at the Grosvenor House Hotel, and screened on Channel 4 TV two days later, lived up to their claim of being “the Oscars of the book trade” and the tables were packed with literary and other celebrities.

But at the same time the glitzy gathering, held annually since 1990, was disconcerting proof of the extent to which commercial considerations now dominate the publishing world . When the novel “The Da Vinci Code” by American author Dan Brown won the Book of the Year award, this was more for its phenomenal sales, 2.4 million paperback copies in the UK alone, than for any literary merit.

And unlike the annual televised Man Booker prize ceremony, where each shortlisted novel is discussed before the winner is announced, the British Book Awards whisked through the shortlisted and winning books at such speed that no in-depth assessments of books were given.

The husband and wife TV presenter couple Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan hosted the event. The couple have had a dramatic impact on book sales since moving from ITV to Channel 4 in 2001 to host the daily Richard & Judy Show. They have attained a success with their book club comparable to that of the Oprah Book Club in the US.

The winners of the 12 awards were presented with giant gold pen nibs, which have earned the awards the nickname of The Nibbies. There was also a lifetime achievement award, won by wheelchair-bound 82-year-old John Mortimer, creator of the fictional lawyer Rumpole. Mortimer’s Hollywood actress daughter Emily had flown over from the US to present him with the award

The evening was particularly rewarding for novelist David Mitchell. His novel Cloud Atlas, which was beaten in last autumn’s Man Booker prize by Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, won the Literary Fiction award.

Cloud Atlas also won the Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year prize. This prize was voted for by viewers of the Richard & Judy Book Club.

There was a poignant moment when footballer Paul Gascoigne stepped up to receive the award for Sports Book of the Year for his book Gazza – My Story. The former tearaway, whose book describes a hell of drink, drug and relationship problems, was a shadow of his previous self. In a tearful acceptance speech he spoke of the depression from which he is suffering.

Actress Sheila Hancock received the Reader’s Digest Author of the Year award for The Two of Us, her memoir of her marriage to actor John Thaw. Thaw, best known for his TV role as Inspector Morse, died of cancer in 2002.

This year’s awards saw the launch of the new Decibel Prize, supported by the Arts Council, for the writer of African, Caribbean or Asian descent who has made the most important contribution to the literary scene during the past year. The winner was Hari Kunzru, author of the novels Transmission and The Impressionist.

Do black or Asian British writers really need a special prize? There is something rather patronising and politically correct in arguing that they do - especially given their success in winning mainstream literary prizes. Think of Andrea Levy, Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith, Caryl Phillips, Ben Okri, Aamer Hussein and Monica Ali among others.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

london tries to be tokyo

radio addict

Christopher Baily, December 2001

I am a radio hypnotic
The voices of experts
Scientists, doctors, politicians
Spiral into the room
Making a sort of
Aural fog
In which I swim like
A hump-backed whale.

bushrui on Irish wisdom

Original of review published in
Al-Hayat newspaper in Arabic translation on 20 April 2005

The Wisdom of the Irish: A Concise Anthology
Compiled by
Suheil Bushrui
Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England
200 pages

review by Susannah Tarbush

At first sight, it might seem surprising that the anthology “The Wisdom of the Irish: A Concise Anthology”, which was published recently by Oneworld Publications of Oxford, England, was compiled by a Middle Eastern rather than an Irish or European scholar.

But the scholar in question is the renowned author and literary critic Professor Suheil Bushrui, who is widely regarded as the leading translator and interpreter of Anglo-Irish literature in the Arab world, and who was from 1985 to 1988 the chairman of the International Association for the study of Anglo-Irish Literature.

The famous Irish poet and media personality Brendan Kennelly writes in his foreword to the anthology: “As an Arab, he enjoys and explores a special perspective on Irish culture. Sometimes, an interested outsider can see things more clearly than an impassioned insider. And it is precisely that fresh, detached perspective, together with a deep knowledge of Irish life and literature, that makes this book of wisdom such an intellectual and emotional experience.”

Professor Bushrui was the first Arab national to be appointed to the Chair of English and Anglo-Irish literature at the American University of Beirut, and his publications on Irish literature include critical studies of W B Yeats, John Millington Synge, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

He currently holds the Bahai Chair for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland, and describes himself as “an adopted son of Ireland”.

Kennelly, who was for 30 years until his recent retirement professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, describes “The Wisdom of the Irish” in his foreword as a book that “readers will return to again and again because it is full of verbal jewels that shine in the darkness of the heart and mind.”

Although the book’s subtitle is “A Concise Anthology”, its 200 pages contain an extraordinarily rich assembly of words of wisdom from more than 125 Irish figures – among them poets, novelists, playwrights, philosophers, politicians, statesmen - plus traditional verse, proverbs, songs, blessings and prayers.

Some of the extracts were written in English, others are translated from the Irish language. They range in time from the distant past to contemporary voices including that of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney.

The book is a tribute to the contribution the Irish have made to the thought and culture of the world, quite out of proportion to the island’s modest size, and its small and scattered population.

Among those famous sons and daughters of Ireland who are represented in the anthology, in some cases with several quotations, are W B Yeats, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, J M Synge, Oscar Wilde, George Berkely, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, Brendan Behan and the cultural champion Lady Gregory. From the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, we have a number of passages including moving lines from “The Deer’s Cry.”

But Bushrui has also included thinkers and writers who may be less known to the general readership. And then there are those many people whose names are unknown but whose words echo down to the present day in their songs, verses and proverbs.

Bushrui’s passion for the study of Irish literature was first kindled by the book “The Genius of Ireland” by George Townshend, published in 1930. This “became a sacred book for me and led me to discover through the study of Irish literature and civilisation a whole universe of learning, not of discursive reason but of the Imagination. I entered the world of a great living mystery in which all things spoke of unity.”

Bushrui pays tribute to the late poet and literary scholar Kathleen Raine: “My ‘Ireland’ is not the Ireland of historians, of literary critics, of political scientists, of archaeologists, of folklorists, or of anthropologists: my Ireland is that Ireland of the Imagination which my friend Kathleen Raine described…”

It was this “landscape of the heart” that spoke to him when he first visited Ireland. “It was Holy Ireland, her spiritual tradition and perennial wisdom that captured my imagination.”

Professor Bushrui first visited Ireland in 1960 as a founding scholar of the first International Yeats Summer School, which has been held every year since. “In the West of Ireland, particularly in the Yeats Country around Sligo, I found my true spiritual home.”

The Institute of Anglo-Irish Studies in the English Department at the American University of Beirut undertook valuable work in English and Arabic. For example in 1970 the Institute undertook the first translation of W B Yeats’s poetry into Arabic, “Shai’un min Yeats.” In the same year, “Images and Memories: a Pictorial Record of the Life and Works of W B Yeats”, edited jointly by Professor Bushrui and J M Munro, was published by Dar al-Mashreq.

In 1971 the Institute organised a John Millington Synge Centenary Exhibition and two books were published - one in English, “Sunshine and the Moon’s Delight”, edited by Bushrui, and the other in Arabic, “Shai’un min Synge.”

Bushrui published the “International Companion to the Poetry of W B Yeats” in 1976. In February 1982 there was a four-day James Joyce Centenary Commemoration, and publication of “James Joyce: An International Perspective; Centenary essays in honour of the late Sir Desmond Cochrane” edited by Bushrui and Bernard Bernstock. The Arabic volume “James Joyce”, a study and selection of prose and poetry translated by Bushrui, was also published.

In the introduction to “The Wisdom of the Irish” Bushrui gives an enlightening account of the relationship between Ireland’s turbulent history and its literature, and highlights the importance of the Irish literary renaissance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This renaissance included translations from the Irish Gaelic language into English, and it also expressed a vision of national unity and religious amity in a new language, ‘Anglo Irish’.

Professor Bushrui has assembled the anthology with a great deal of thought and sensitivity. The book is different from a conventional “book of quotations”, and
rather than organise the quotations by for example author, or chronologically, Bushrui has organised them into six main thematic chapters; Art and Literature; Ireland and her People; Divine Life; Ethics; Daily Life, and Forging a Nation. Each chapter is further subdivided into sections.

The chapter headings and the sections reflect Bushrui’s sense of what is most valuable in the Irish heritage, literature and life. Under Daily Life for example we have sections on men and women; love and romance; family and nation; beauty and truth, and life and death. Rather than clutter up the words of wisdom with footnotes and details of dates and background, Bushrui has preferred to let the selections largely speak for themselves.

Given the Irish appreciation of the ability to express the funny side of life, it is appropriate that there is a section on wit and humour. As J M Synge wrote: “Of the things which nourish the imagination humour is one of the most needful, and it is dangerous to limit or destroy it.” From Sheridan’s play “The School for Scandal” comes: “Wit loses its respect with me when I see it in company with malice.”
From Brendhan Behan we have: “There’s no bad publicity except an obituary.”

Bushrui has over the years come to know personally many Irish writers and thinkers, and the first quotation in the anthology comes from Samuel Beckett, who said in conversation with him: “The word is immortal. The word continues. What has helped me to continue is my faith in the word. And if the word comes to an end, everything comes to an end. The word is an anchor.”

Beckett also told Bushrui: “The work is finished. I am both happy and sad. It is a strange feeling. Others discover in my writing a secret of which I am unaware. It is a secret which is hidden from me. Many people come to see me, and I am the only one who does not know why.”

Bushrui’s friend Gearoid O Clerigh, an Irish ambassador who served in the Arab world, wrote to him in a letter: “To be sure I do not deny that imagination can lead the intellect astray but I cannot conceive of an appreciation of beauty without a cultivated imagination.”

Bushrui has very positive memories of his meeting with President Eamon de Valera, then in his late eighties, in summer 1971 when he presented him with the book “Images and Memories: A Pictorial Record of the Life and Work of WB Yeats” on behalf of the American University of Beirut.

Bushrui writes: “It seemed to me then, as if does now almost thirty-four years later, that I was in the presence of a deeply religious and spiritual man. There was something mystical in him; he was a teacher in every sense of the word, but above all I saw him as the father of the nation.”

“The Wisdom of the Irish” includes several quotations from de Valera. In 1918, while imprisoned by the British, he wrote: “Silence is preferable to mutilated statements”. In 1942 he wrote: “To partition the territory of an ancient nation is one of the cruellest wrongs that can be committed against a people.”

Many of the poems in the anthology sing of the love of Ireland – the “Emerald Isle” - and are enormously evocative of the mysterious ancient countryside, the sea, the mountains, the spirit of place. Katherine Tynan writes: “Magical country, full of memories and dreams,/My youth lies in the crevices of your hills…” An Irish blessing says: “Ireland, it’s the one place on earth/That heaven has kissed/With melody, mirth/And meadow and mist.” People the world over know at least the first line of the traditional Irish song “When Irish eyes are smiling”.

The question of the Irish language has a section of the book to itself. Thomas Davis wrote: “A people without a language of its own is only half a nation…A nation should guard its language more than its territories…To lose your native tongue, and learn that of an alien is the worst badge of conquest – it is the chain on the soul.”

The anthology includes numerous quotations from WB Yeats, and also from his painter and lawyer father John Butler Yeats. In a letter to his son, John Butler Yeats wrote: “A man is born solitary and dies solitary. Only the poet lives solitary.”

John Butler Yeats also had some wise words on marriage: “I think a man and a woman should choose each other for life, for the simple reason that a long life with all its accidents is barely long enough for a man and woman to understand each other; and in this case, to understand is to love. The man who understands one woman is qualified to understand pretty well anything.”

On the subject of literature, W B Yeats wrote: “Literature is, to my mind, the great teaching power of the world, the ultimate creator of all values, and it is this, not only in the sacred books whose power everybody acknowledges, but by every movement of imagination in song or story or drama that height of intensity and sincerity has made literature at all.”

Professor Bushrui’s book will broaden the cultural and literary horizons of its readers, and is likely to stimulate many of them into exploring further the literature and thought of the Irish. The book is also likely to have a particular resonance in the Middle East, where readers will identify with the mixture of poetry, political turmoil, passion, humour and love of language that is characteristic of the Irish.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

raw vision

50th issue of Raw Vision Posted by Hello

Saudi Gazette
19 April 2005
by Susannah Tarbush

The magazine Raw Vision celebrated the launch of its 50th issue a few evenings ago with a party in a marquee at the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Kensington Gardens. The weather was stormy, with lightning and hail visible through the marquee’s transparent walls, but this somehow suited Raw Vision, which is devoted to the “Outsider Art” movement known also as “Art Brut”, “Visionary Art” and “Contemporary Folk Art.”

The party also marked the launch of American writer Rich Shapero’s novel “Wild Animus”, published by Too Far. The novel tells of a man’s adventures finding himself in the wilds of Alaska.

Raw Vision is edited by John Maizels, who recalls in the 50th issue how, when he and his colleagues published the first edition of just 1,000 copies in 1989, they had little idea that it would still be going after all these years, nor that what was then “an almost secret, covert art” would become so well known and supported.

Maizels points out that during the life of Raw Vision, important specialist museums and collections of Outsider Art have been established in the US and across Europe, and only Britain stands out as “a sad exception to this”.

One has only to glance at the pages of Raw Vision to see that Outsider Art has become a lucrative business. There are numerous full-page advertisements for galleries and exhibitions in different countries.

The content of Raw Vision shows the extent to which Outsider Art is an international movement. The 50th issue has news of the 80th birthday of Nek Chand, the creator and director of the remarkable Rock Garden of Chandigarh, India, with its thousands of sculptures of animals and people made from materials such as porcelain, concrete and stone.

The issue also has an interview with Anna Yarkina, deputy director of the Moscow Museum of Outsider Art. The museum was founded by a retired railway worker, Alexei Ivanovich Rudov, who was advised by his doctor to take up creative expression to improve his health, and started to make sculptures from branches, wood and tree mushrooms.

Another outsider artist, Ukrainian Dmytro Szylak, has built “Hamtramck Disneyland” in Detroit, assembled from toys and other items, which Raw Vision describes as “one man’s personal magical kingdom.”

Outsider Art has a wide definition, and the article Criminal Skins reveals the elaborate, coded world of tattoos sported by Russian criminals.

Maizels says: “Outside Art has proved to anyone with an open mind and open eyes that contemporary art does not have to be unimaginative or derivative, meaningless or boring. Outsider Art shows that art can have deeply personal meaning, be bold and truthful, exciting and moving; that it can be visionary and awe-inspiring.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

edgy postcards

Remember the film Postcards from the Edge?
Well, how about some edgy postcards - from Sharjah Biennial

Saudi Gazette
19 April 2005

Postcard for Posterity
by Susannah Tarbush

A few days ago I received in the post a package containing 26 postcards. It turned out that they from the “postcard project” curated by Noor Al-Qasimi as part of the 7th Sharjah International Biennial which runs until June 6.

The project continues Al-Qasimi’s “ongoing love of postcards”. She says: “I wanted to promote the Biennial and at the same time create an exhibition in itself that can stand alone.” There is currently talk of exhibiting the postcards in New York and possibly in San Francisco.

The theme of this year’s Sharjah Biennial is “Belonging”, and the postcard project was inspired by a line from James Joyce’s Ulysses: “He rests. He has travelled.”
The postcards are mainly by Middle Eastern artists, and most relate to particular cities.

The enigmatic images on the postcards raise questions about the stories and people behind them. They are suggestive of a restless, self-aware young generation of artists with a well-developed sense of irony.

A few of the cards carry words rather than pictorial images. Noor al Qasimi’s single-line card reads “i can tell you many stories sweetheart”. The London-based American writer and editor Malu Halasa vividly depicts in words her New York bike route.

Lebanese artists are well represented. Rana Salam’s “bridal dresses for sale” in Damascus, sub-captioned “material pure polyester”, has an eerie atmosphere with its floating veils and frozen made-up faces.

Another wedding dress, this time in pink, features in Zena El-Khalil’s exuberant “beirut is pink”, a collage of images of flowers, religious symbols and portraits of Shiite political and religious figures.

From Christine Tohme there is an identity card across which is printed in red Arabic letters “Sejil ana Arabi” – echoing the line “Record, I am an Arab” from Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s defiant poem “Identity Card.”

Nadine Touma portrays a dish of the sweet m’hallabeya with the word “Sharjah” written across it in white, while Samir Sayegh adopts a calligraphic approach towards the emirate’s name.

Gilbert Hage’s photograph of three male figures on rocks in front of a wide expanse of sea is from his Beirut series. The video artist and curator Akram Zaatari has provided a video still entitled “Shou bhebbak (how i love you)”.

Photographer Lara Baladi’s view from her Cairo rooftop shows a satellite dish from which dangles a pair of women’s legs in platform heels. Egyptian art photographer Youssef Nabil’s contribution is a self portrait taken in the Brazilian city of Paraty.

Several of the postcards are by Iranian women. From Shirina Shahbazi there is a photograph of a man in Shanghai from her series “Real Love”.

Shirin Aliabadi’s picture of Iranian women in a car is from the work in progress, “Freedom is Boring, Censorship is Fun.” From Parisa Damandan’s book “Portrait Photographs from Isfahan: Faces in Transition 1920-1950”, there is a studio photograph of a woman in a man’s pinstripe jacket and long white skirt, taken by Gholamhossein Derakhshan.

Hengameh Golestan’s postcard is a photograph of three women in Islamic dress paragliding in the Alborz mountains. The artist Ghazel has produced a “wanted (urgent)” poster of a Middle Eastern woman, her eyes covered by a black strip, who offers marriage to an II (illegal immigrant) man, “all origins/religions possible”.

Palestinian Emily Jacir’s postcard comprises a list of the friends on her Ramallah cell phone. There is something poignant about the list in a part of the world where existence is fragmented and fragile.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

middle east myth machine

Saudi Gazette
5 April 2005
by Susannah Tarbush

In his new book, published by Saqi of London, Professor Fred Halliday tackles head-on some of the oft-repeated statements about the Middle East that he considers to be myths. Among the myths he identifies in “100 Myths about the Middle East” are:

- The Middle East is, in some fundamental way, “different” from the rest of the world and has to be understood in terms distinct from other regions.

- The Middle East is a region contaminated by hatred and solemnity; its people have no sense of humour.

- The crisis of the Arab world can be explained by the negative impact of the conflict with Israel on democratisation and social change.

In debunking these and other myths in his pithy book, Halliday, the Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, freely wields words such as “nonsense”, “fiction”, “grotesque distortion” and “preposterous”. He tackles most of the myths in just one or two pages of tight argument.

Among the other myths Halliday demolishes are: There can be no “anti-Semitism” in the European sense in the Middle East because both Arabs and Jews are Semites; the ‘West’ has, for centuries, been hostile to ‘Islam’; the US, backed by the UK, invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003 to gain control of Iraqi oil; we live in an age when international relations are dominated by a ‘clash of civilisations’; the new cause of conflict in the Middle East is going to be water, with the prospect of ‘hydrowars’, ie wars about water, looming in the future.

Not every reader will agree that all Halliday’s targets are myths. Some of the statements he seeks to discredit appear to have at least a large grain of truth in them that makes it hard to dismiss them completely.

The tone of Halliday’s book reflects his impatience with his years of encountering accepted “wisdom”, flabby thinking and unchallenged assumptions. As well as deconstructing 100 myths, Halliday provides a handy 63-page “Glossary of Crisis”, with punchy and witty definitions of everything from battlespace, and corkscrew journalism to groupthink, halal hippie, nuclear souq and “perceived liberal bias”.

Halliday writes in his introduction that he intends to challenge the appearance that the Middle East is a region where the past, political, national and religious, holds sway, while a closer examination shows this is far from being the case.

Another aim is to challenge the assumption that in looking at religions or cultures we are looking at separate, discrete and monolithic entities. Cultures have interacted with each other over time.

Halliday also has an ethical mission, in encouraging a critical distance from the identification with history. “Far from the world being swept by a wave of rationality, historical accuracy and universality, the very turmoil produced by globalisation, by the collapse and discrediting of the dominant radical ideologies of the twentieth century, of left and right, and by a world where violence in many and unexpected forms is prevalent, has led to a strengthening of myth and emotional claims.”