Monday, April 26, 2010

caine prize shortlist announced

The shortlist for the £10,000 Caine Prize for African Writing, announced today, features two writers from South Africa - Ken Barris and Alex Smith - plus Lily Mabura from Kenya, Namwali Serpel from Zambia and Olufemi Terry from Sierra Leone.

The Caine Prize, now in its 11th year, is often known as the 'African Booker' and is regarded as Africa's leading literary award. Unlike the Man Booker and Arabic Booker (ie International Prize for Arabic Fiction, IPAF) it is open not to novels but to short stories, of 3,000 to 10,000 words.

The shortlist was drawn up from 115 entries from 13 African countries. The winner will be annouced at a celebratory dinner at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on Monday 5 July. The shortlisted writers will read from their work at the Royal Over-Seas League on Friday 2 July at 7pm, and at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre on Sunday 4 July at 1pm.

Barris is shortlisted for "The Life of Worm" from "New Writing from Africa 2009" (Johnson & King James Books, Cape Town); Mabura for "How Shall We Kill the Bishop?" from Wasafiri No 53, Spring 2008; Serpel for "Muzungu" from "The Best American Short Stories 2009" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston MA); Smith for "Soulmates" from "New Writing from Africa 2009", and Terry for "Stickfighting Days" from Chimurenga vol 12/13 (Cape Town, 2008).

The panel is judges is chaired by Fiammetta Rocco, literary editor of The Economist. The other judges are Granta deputy editor Ellah Allfrey, Professor Jon Cook of the University of East Anglia and Georgetown University Professor Samantha Pinto.

Once again the winner of the prize will be given the opportunity of spending a month at Georgetown University in Washington DC as 'Caine Prize/Georgetown University Writer-in-Residence', with all travel and living expenses covered.

Last year the prize was won by Nigerian writer EC Osondu for his story "Waiting". Previous winners include Monica Arac de Nyeko for "Jambula Tree" and Zimbabwean Brian Chickwava, whose debut novel "Harare North" was recently published by Jonathan Cape.

professor fred halliday has died

Fred in action at the 'Is Islam a Threat to the West' conference at Chatham House in London in June 2005

The very sad news came today that Professor Fred Halliday had died in hospital in Barcelona.
The founder of OpenDemocracy Anthony Barnett has posted this tribute on the Open Democracy website:

Fred Halliday 1946 – 2010
Anthony Barnett, 26 April 2010
Fred Halliday, great scholar and openDemocracy columnist, has died. We are posting appreciations here
About the author: Anthony Barnett is the founder of and the editor of its UK section, Our Kingdom.

Fred Halliday died this morning in Barcelona where he had been battling with cancer. His twenty plus books (there are more to come), his compelling lectures, his wide ranging, powerful essays and journalism, provided a constant source of inspiration for many of us around the world. He was a like a one-man international: dedicated and passionate in the cause of justice; hard-headed in insisting upon the obstacles that had to be overcome; scathing about the stupidities of those who proclaimed they were the force of progress; constantly aware of the deeper levels of cultural and religious irrationality and its shaping power – and capable of making astoundingly well-informed judgments about almost anywhere on the planet. His urge to judgment, clarity and laying out a view that was also a challenge, made him an exemplary political intellectual. He investigated on the ground, read widely, learnt fluent Arabic, Farsi, German, French, Russian and Spanish and set out his views in lucid prose. An important contributor to openDemocracy, he saw his columns as a source of renewal. He intended to deepen his writing, to make it more personal and profound, and to take on the prevailing shallowness and loss of a sense of history in current affairs...

british arabs and the 6 may general and local elections

Arab engagement in the British general and local elections
Susannah Tarbush
[Arabic version published in Al-Hayat on 26 April 2010]

Despite the growing presence of Arabs in Britain, their participation within the mainstream political system, whether as activists or candidates, has not been very apparent.

Now, in the general election to be held on 6 May, there is the very real prospect that for the first time ever a candidate of Arab origin will be elected as an MP in the British Parliament. He is 30-year-old Bassam Mahfouz [pictured above], who is standing as the Labour candidate for the West London seat of Ealing Central and Acton.

Mahfouz says that if he is elected he will help integrate Lebanese and other Arabs in Britain into political life. He wants “to ensure that an Arab voice is heard in the British Parliament.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), told Al-Hayat: “Year by year British Arabs are getting more involved, more committed and above all more influential in British politics. It is a slow process but having Arab candidates such as Bassam Mahfouz in winnable seats is terrific.

Doyle adds: “CAABU will be aiming to build on this and remind all our British Arab friends that they too could do this and make a difference. The talent is there. We just have to make it count.”

Al-Hayat recently highlighted (in an article of 30 March) the fact that Iraqi-born Kurdish businessman Nadhim Zahawi is almost certain to be elected as the Conservative MP for the English town of Stratford-on-Avon, birthplace of playwright William Shakespeare.

Another candidate of Iraqi origin standing in the general election is Anood al-Samerai [pictured], who is the Liberal Democrat candidate in the constituency of Ilford South in north-east London. Al-Samerai lived in Kuwait until the age of 10 with her British mother and Iraqi father, then moved to London as a result of the first Gulf war of 1991.

Al-Samerai has served as an elected councillor in the London Borough of Southwark, and since 2004 she has managed the constituency office of the Liberal Democrat MP, Simon Hughes.

It is probable that Ilford South will be retained for Labour by Mike Gapes, who has been the Labour MP there since 1992. In the 2005 general election he was re-elected with a nearly 50 per cent share of the vote. The Liberal Democrats were in third place with only a fifth of the votes.

The Liberal Democrat Party was the only one of the main three parties to vote against the invasion of Iraq. Its policy on this and on the Israel-Palestine conflict is in tune with many Arab and other voters.

The Liberal Democrat Party is usually some way behind the two main parties, Labour and Conservative, in general elections results, but it is of increased importance in this election given that it is probable that there will be a “hung parliament” with no one party having the overall majority. The party’s position in opinion polls soared after the excellent performance of its leader Nick Clegg in the first-ever televised debate between the three main party leaders.

There is little accurate information about the Arabs in Britain, which is one reason they are relatively “invisible”. There has been much government emphasis on encouraging the engagement of British Muslims in mainstream politics since, and the Arab identity tends to be submerged within this larger category.

Obviously the overall category “British Muslim” does include many of Arab origin. But the Arabs have an identity distinct from the bulk of British Muslims. By far the majority of British Muslims come from the Indian sub-continent countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. There are cultural and social differences between them and the Arabs. British Arabs tend to be secular minded, and there are many Christians among them.

Since 1997 four Muslim MPs have been elected, none of them of Arab origin. And from 1998 several Muslims have been appointed to the House of Lords – but there is still no Arab Lord in the House.

Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi [pictured] , the co-founder and chairman of London-based Arab Media Watch, thinks Arab political participation will improve after the 2011 census when for the first time the census questionnaire’s section on ethnicity will include the category “Arab” as a choice. Previously, Arabs were included only within the broad term of “Other”.

The 2011 census “will help greatly in terms of community development” Nashashibi says. He points out that there is much uncertainty over the number of Arabs in Britain: some estimates put the figure at half a million while other estimates are considerably higher.

The census will make it possible for the first time to have a picture of the number and distribution of Arabs in parliamentary constituencies, and in boroughs. This will aid in the targeting of Arab voters, and in their voting choices, giving them greater voting power.

Despite the apparent lack of Arab participation in the mainstream political process, in reality a growing number of British Arabs have become active in local democracy, campaigning for parties and standing as candidates.

One pioneer of Arab involvement in British local democracy is the Palestinian-Armenian businessman Ghassan Karian, who in 2002 became the first Arab in Britain to be elected as a mayor.
Born in Beirut, Karian came to London at the age of eight. His father, the well-known cartoonist George Karian, had been the cartoonist of Al-Hayat newspaper in Beirut, and in London George worked for Ash-Sharq al-Awsat.

Ghassan Karian was first elected as a Labour councillor in the West London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in 1994, at the age of only 21, and he served as a councillor for 12 years. In 2002 his fellow councillors elected him as mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham.

Karian recognises that there is some overlap between the Arabs and Muslim communities, but says “there is a distinctive Arab voice that needs to be heard”.

On 6 May, the day of the general election, local elections will be held for councils in the 32 boroughs of London, and in some other parts of Britain. Each London borough is divided into areas called “wards”, and each ward elects three councillors to represent it on the borough council.

The Arab candidates include Atallah Said [pictured] who was born in Palestine in 1947 and grew up in Beirut and Qatar. He is standing as a Labour candidate in the ward of East Acton in the Borough of Ealing. There is clearly a big potential Arab vote in Ealing, and Said thinks there may be as many as 3,000 Arabs in his ward alone. But he says the problem is to get Arabs to actually go and vote. He stood in the 2006 local elections, and lost by only 50 votes.

Said joined the Labour Party in 1997, and in 2000 founded the Arab Labour Group in 2000, and is also the founder of the British Arabs Association which was launched in May last year at a reception attended by Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

The British Arabs Association recently held a reception in the Priory Community Centre in Acton attended by more than 200 people including Bassam Mahfouz and some of the Arab candidates in the local elections, as well as Arab ambassadors, and Andrew Slaughter, the outgoing Labour MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush. Slaughter is now standing for the Hammersmith seat.

The Colville ward of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in West London includes part of Portobello Road with its famous street market, and is near the largest Moroccan community in Britain. The ward’s three Labour candidates [pictured] include Amir Akrif, whose father is originally from Algeria but moved to Morocco during the war of independence before coming to Britain.

Akhrif studied at the London School of Economics, and worked for several years for the outgoing local Labour MP Karen Buck. He is the trustee on two youth charities in the area, and says his main political interests are housing, child deprivation and education.

The other two Labour candidates are Beinazir Lasharie and Dez O’Neill. Beinazir’s father Mushtaq was a supporter of the former Pakistani president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and named his daughter after Bhutto’s daughter Benazir.

Akhrif is not the only candidate of Algerian origin to be standing in Colville ward. Samia Bentayeb [pictured with fellow candidates], who has lived in the UK for 17 years, is among the three Conservative candidates. While deeply involved in work with the local community, Bentayeb keeps closely in touch with her Algerian roots for example advising British companies visiting Algeria. She has also written a book on Algeria.

It is still so unusual for a Briton originally from an Arab country to be elected as a councillor that when they succeed this becomes news. This was the case when in 2006 Mouna Hamitouche became the first Algerian-born person to be elected as a councillor in the UK. She was elected as a Labour councillor in the north London borough of Islington, and is hoping to keep her seat in the forthcoming election. When Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika visited Britain in June 2006, Hamitouche was invited to meet him at the House of Commons, in recognition of her achievement in being elected. [picture shows Hamitouche with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his wife Sarah, and the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, Emily Thornberry].

Several Britons of Moroccan origin are standing in the local elections. Abdeslam El Idrissi El Amrani is standing for Labour in the ward of Catford South in the borough of Lewisham in south-east London. El Amrani has since 1983 been the director of trade services at the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce

Amrani joined the Labour Party in 1994, attracted by the ideas of New Labour under its then new leader Tony Blair. He served as a councillor in Lewisham from 1998 to 2006, when he lost his seat. He has been active in Labour politics in numerous ways, having been for example the treasurer of the local party, and was once shortlisted as the Labour parliamentary candidate for Kensington and Chelsea.

Another Labour candidate of Moroccan background is Aicha Less, who joined the Labour Party 14 years ago. She is standing in the Little Venice ward of the borough of Westminster, a ward which is part of London’s Arab area around Edgware Road. Less was born in London and grew up in the Little Venice area. Her Arabic language is particularly useful to her in communicating with the area’s many Arab and Kurdish residents.

Another Moroccan, Fatima Mourad, is standing for the Conservatives in the Westminster Borough ward of Church Street around Edgware Road. Until recently Mourad was a Labour voter but she says she is “now proud to call myself a Conservative”.

There is much social deprivation and problems of drug abuse and prostitution in the area. Mourad works for Al-Hasaninya, a support group for Moroccan women and says: “Young mums tell me they can’t afford to work because, after tax, they will take home less than their [social security] benefits.” She asserts that “life for many of the poorest in Westminster North has got worse over the last 13 years of Labour Government.”

The candidates standing against Mourad include Egyptian lawyer Ahmed Gharib Abdel-Hamid, a candidate for Labour. Abdel-Hamid has lived in Britain since 1973 and is the founder and chair of the Anglo Egyptian Society, a charity based in Harrow Road which provides legal and other services to the Arabic-speaking community and others.

The Somalis in Britain are a fast growing group, and are said to be Britain’s largest refugee community. Somali community leaders are making efforts to integrate the community in British society and politics. Abdiwali Mohamud joined the Liberal Democrats ten years ago and is standing for the party in the Kentish Town ward of the borough of Camden in central and north London.

Asked why he chose the Liberal Democrats, he declares: “I am Somali, I am Arab, I am a Muslim – so I cannot be Labour, as I am against the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.” He adds: “I believe in the politics of liberalism and am a staunch believer in human rights.” He sees things the Liberal Democrats as upholding values that “have been eroded in new Labour.”

Mohamud says 17 Somali candidates are standing in the local elections. Eight of them met recently in the studios of the Somali TV channel Universal TV for a televised discussion with an audience

The Somali candidates include Awale Olad, the former chair of Somali Youth Development and Resource Centre (SYDRC) who is standing for Labour in the in Holborn and Covent Garden ward of Camden. In the impoverished borough of Tower Hamlets in East London, where many Somalis live, Somali woman Asha Affi is standing for the Respect Party in East India and Lansbury ward.

Bassam Mahfouz
Will Bassam Mahfouz [pictured below at a recent meeting of candidates organised by West London Palestine Solidarity Campaign] succeed in the 6 May general election in becoming the first-ever Briton of Arab origin to win a seat in the British parliament? The answer partly depends on whether, and how, the many Lebanese, Arab and Muslim voters in his constituency of Ealing Central and Acton in West London use their vote.

The seat is one of the closest “three way marginals” in Britain, in which the three main parties are almost equal in support. This makes it all the more important for those Lebanese, Arab and other voters who support Mahfouz to make the effort to go and vote.

Bassam has lived in Ealing for 25 years. His father Hafez Mahfouz, who originates from Marjayoun, is the managing editor of Al-Hawadess magazine. His late mother Enaam, who passed away from cancer five years ago, was a teacher of English and Arabic who opened her own Saturday school in West London.

Mahfouz spent his earliest years in Kuwait, where his father worked for Dar Assayed. The family came to live in London when he was four. He is married and has a baby son, Alexander.

Mahfouz was interested in politics from a young age, and it was the desire to help people and make a difference that led him to join the Labour Party at the age of only 17. He became involved in local campaigns, while keeping an interest in national and international issues.
Three years ago, in competition with 50 other contestants, he was selected by the Labour Party as the official candidate for Ealing Central and Acton. His candidacy offers Arabs in Britain the first real opportunity to elect the first British MP of Arab origin, and Mahfouz says it “has enthused many who have previously disengaged in the political process to become involved.” Many young Arabs and Lebanese “have found out about my campaign and become encouraged to get involved.”

As a senior Ealing councillor Mahfouz has been heavily involved in local campaigns, and has served as the council’s Shadow Cabinet member for Environment, Climate Change & Transport. He has also been a strong advocate of the Lebanese and Arab cause, for example speaking out and meeting the then Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett when Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006.

He has also spoken out against the atrocities in Palestine, supporting the aims of, and speaking at meetings of, organisations such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Council for Arab British Understanding (CAABU).

Mahfouz says: “Coming from Marjayoun, I know first hand what Israeli occupation means and that we as Arabs, a free and intelligent people, will never stand for such atrocities.”
He recalls: “Watching the massacre at Qana in 1996 had a profound effect on my wanting to get involved in politics to ensure I could do whatever was in my power to make sure history did not repeat itself. I joined the million other people who marched against going to war in Iraq.”

Mahfouz adds: “I see many Arabs are passionate about politics, mainly that of the Middle East, and become involved when they see injustice... we need to turn that into real political involvement, and as an Arab MP in Westminster I could act as a focal point to encourage further integration in Britain’s political system.”

Mahfouz knows that Arabs also have concerns about many local issues, and says: “When I speak to them about politics, it is often about the key issues at stake in the forthcoming election: securing the economic recovery, and supporting a good education and world-class national health system (NHS) for all, as well as tackling crime with more police on the streets.” In addition, “policies such as protecting our aid budget will mean a real difference to the people living in areas such as Palestine.”

Regarding the Lebanese he says: “Everywhere around the world, Lebanese are known for having great restaurants, and for being great businessmen and excellent doctors. We are highly integrated in society, but the passion we have for politics is one area into which we yet have to be integrated. I want to change that, and to ensure the Arab voice is heard in the British parliament.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

beirut39 launched in beirut & london

39 Arab authors spread their literary wings
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, 19 April 2010

In her preface to the newly-published anthology “Beirut39: New Writing from the Arab World” the acclaimed Lebanese novelist Hanan Al-Shaykh, whose first novel was published 40 years ago, praises the new generation of Arab writers.

“They have flung open the doors on Arab culture, inviting the reader to transcend cultural boundaries and land in a region known as the ‘Arab World’” writes Al-Shaykh. “The reader touches, feels, hears, tastes and sees the Middle East and North Africa as it really is: cosmopolitan cities, villages, towns, desolate mountains and deserts.”
The anthology features the work of the 39 Arab writers aged 39 or less who were chosen from more than 480 entrants by the Beirut39 panel of judges last October. The judges were chaired by Egyptian critic Gaber Asfour, Omani poet Saif al-Rahbi and two Lebanese literary figures – poet and critic Abdo Wazen, and novelist Alawiya Sobh.
A program of events held in Beirut and London last week marked the launch of the Arabic and English editions of the anthology, published by Bloomsbury Publishing of London in collaboration with the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts.
Beirut39 authors traveled to the Lebanese capital for four days of events starting with the presentation of awards at a ceremony in Casino du Liban. The writers took part in multiple literary conversations at venues dotted around the city. But two Palestinian authors, Ala Hlehel and Adania Shibli, had problems with the Israeli authorities over travelling to Lebanon. Even though the Israeli Supreme Court defied the government in agreeing to Hlehel’s request for permission to travel, the Lebanese authorities hesitated over giving permission for entry. The two authors were instead showcased at a series of events in London, including International PEN’s Free the Word Festival.
Beirut39 is a project of the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts which began in 1988 in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, famed for its numerous second-hand and specialist book shops.
The festival is constantly widening its international scope: Beirut39 follows Hay’s Bogota39 project which in 2007 identified 39 leading Latin American writers under 40. As in the case of Bogota, the Beirut39 project celebrated the designation of the city by UNESCO as World Book Capital for a year.
The anthology is edited by Iraqi author and journalist Samuel Shimon, the co-founder and deputy editor of Banipal, the London-based magazine of new Arab writing in English translation. He worked closely with the 39 authors, who live in 20 cities in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the USA, to select the pieces that would best represent their work. As well as being a sampler of the 39 writers’ work, the anthology is a testament to the translation skills of the team of 24 translators, some long established, others relatively new.
The Beirut39 writers include three Saudis: Abulllah Thabit, born in Abha in 1977; Mohammad Hassan Alwan [pictured] born in 1979; and Yahya Amqassim born in 1971. The anthology includes an extract of Thabit’s novel “The Twentieth Terrorist” translated by Peter Clark.
Also included is Alwan’s tender story “Haneef from Glasgow” about the friendship between a young Saudi man and his family’s Kashmiri former servant. The story was translated by Anthony Calderbank, deputy director of the British Council in Riyadh. Calderbank also translated a section of Amqassim’s novel “Raven’s Leg”.
In his introduction to the anthology Abdo Wazen says that the new generation of Arab writers is brought together by “their tone of protest and their rebellions against traditional literary culture.” The boundaries between the literatures of different Arab countries are breaking down, and “a youthful pan-Arab literary movement currently dominates.”
These young writers want to write as they speak - absolutely spontaneously. But sticklers for the rules of language may be uncomfortable with Abdo Wazen’s observation that the writers believe the new information age “does not leave them with enough time to decipher the mysteries of grammar and rhetoric.”
They are not afraid to make grammatical errors; some intentionally do not finish sentences, while others are fond of slang, street talk and dialect.
At a press conference held at the Free World Centre in London to launch the English edition of the anthology , and to introduce Hlehel and Shibli to the media, Hay Festival director Peter Florence outlined his hopes for the Beirut39 project over the next decade. He drew parallels with Bogota39, which has helped put young Latin American writers on the world literary map.
Florence said: “I am hoping that this group of 39 writers from the Arab world will become as familiar to us as European or American writers are in Britain.” From reading their work in translation he reckons “they are all at least as good as anybody I know of the same generation writing in English, French or Spanish.”
He plans to encourage Beirut 39 writers to participate in festivals around the world, thus bringing them new readerships. He believes that the most important way one can learn about another culture is through “the simple, intimate, sometimes domestic concerns of writers who have absolute freedom of imagination in their own heads... the more we learn about the Arab world, the more we meet these writers, the more we begin to understand stuff that we really don’t know.”
Bill Swainson, Bloomsbury Senior Commissioning editor, said the publisher will be trying to find foreign language publishers for the anthology in territories such as Spain, France, Holland and Germany. The American arm of Bloomsbury will publish the anthology in the USA later this year.
The Hay Festival - from May 27 to June 6 - will bring to Hay-on-Wye six Beirut39 authors: Adania Shibli, Joumana Haddad from Lebanon, Youssef Rakha from Egypt, Moroccan Abdellah Taia who lives in France , Algerian Faiza Guene from the Netherlands, and Palestinian-Egyptian Randa Jarrar from the USA.
While the future looks rosy for the Beirut39 authors, let’s not forget the many other highly talented Arab writers who did not make the list. As the judges said in announcing their chosen authors: “The final choice of the 39 names does not detract from the worthiness of many other, important, contributors. Many entrants were eligible to be shortlisted in the competition, but the Hay Festival’s commitment to the 39-name rule proved to be unlucky for some.”

Monday, April 12, 2010

first bqfp titles at tate modern evening

Bloomsbury starts making in roads in Arabic literature
Susannah Tarbush Saudi Gazette 12 April 2010

The issuing of the first batch of titles by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) was celebrated in London last Wednesday with an evening of readings, conversation and music. The event was held in the Tate Modern art gallery’s seventh floor restaurant – which has spectacular views across the River Thames – in the presence of Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, wife of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
Sheikha Mozah is founder and chairperson of the Qatar Foundation, which joined with British publisher Bloomsbury to set up BQFP in autumn 2008. On Tuesday Sheikha Mozah attended the official launch of the BQFP at a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle.
The Tate Modern evening, entitled “Writing in Both Directions”, featured readings from, and discussion of, books by Suad Amiry and Inaam Kachachi which are among the first BQFP titles. Appearing on the platform alongside the two authors were BQFP’s managing director Seif Salmawy and BQFP consultant publisher Andy Smart. The Palestinian musician Nizar Al-Issa performed music on an oud during the evening
Amiry is a Ramallah-based Palestinian architect who founded, and is director of, the Riwaq Center for Architectural Conservation. Her book “Nothing to Lose But Your Life: An 18 hour Journey with Murad” follows her internationally successful debut “Sharon and My Mother-in-Law: Ramallah Diaries” which won the Viareggio-Versilia Prize in Italy.
“Nothing to Lose But Your Life” is the true-life account of the hazardous trip made by Amiry – a middle-aged woman disguised as a man – walking for hours through the night and breaking through the separation wall into Israel with a group of Palestinian men so desperate for work that they risk arrest, and even their lives.
Baghdad-born Inaam Kachachi works as a journalist in France. Her novel “The American Granddaughter” was shortlisted for the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF, known as the “Arabic Booker”). BQFP have published the book in an English translation by Nariman Youssef.
The novel’s central character, Zeina, is an Iraqi immigrant to the USA who returns to Iraq after the 2003 invasion to work as an interpreter for the US Army. In Iraq she is torn by conflicting allegiances, and her grandmother’s disapproval.
In her writing Amiry has a refreshing ability to extract comedy from the grimmest of situations. She sees joking about one’s life as being a coping mechanism when one is living under occupation and facing difficult situations day in and day out. Humor is also a good way of communicating with others.
The Palestinians are often portrayed in the media as “people who are dying or want to die, but in reality we are three and a half million Palestinians under occupation who are prevented from having a normal life.” She thinks it is “very important that people start perceiving us as people who love life and want to live, and this is why I think writing about everyday life is important.”
British-Egyptian translation specialist Nariman Youssef read from her translation of Kachachi’s “The American Granddaughter”. Andy Smart said that she is “one of our new generation of translators who’ll be joining us at a translation conference to be held at the end of May in Doha.”
In his speech at the event, the chairman of the BQFP Management Committee Nigel Newton said that BQFP has three aims: to publish books of quality and originality in Arabic and English; to help foster a life-long love of reading through writing and reading development activities; and to transfer publishing skills to Qatar.
The publishing industry stands at a crossroads. The digital revolution is under way, and electronic books are becoming accepted by the general public. “But potentially of even greater significance is the digital potential of the mobile phone in the Arab world,” Newton said. “At BQFP we are already exploring how best to use the digital medium for our publishing, and our reading and writing development work.”
BQFP has also held a poetry competition where entries had to be submitted via text message. “We are planning to host a roundtable event in Doha in the autumn to explore the issues around the digital potential for publishing and publisher.”
BQFP is “working with other organizations such as Vodafone in Qatar to encourage people who have never thought of themselves as writers to put pen to paper – or in this digital age to tap away at their keyboard and to let their voices be heard.” A book on the history of women and their true contribution to Gulf society will be published by BQFP next year.
“We want to collaborate where possible with other publishers across the region to help expand the market for reading and help foster writing and new writers,” Newton said. “An even more lively publishing scene across the Middle East will help build bridges within the region and between East and West.”
Books are not the only publications on which Bloomsbury and the Qatar Foundation will collaborate. “We are also setting up for the Qatar Foundation a journals publishing company which will publish research from the universities and research organizations in Qatar (which currently invests over 2.8 percent of its GDP in research) to be known as Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Journals. This will become a leading scientific publisher in the Middle East.”
The newly-published BQFP books include “Qatari Voices: A Celebration of New Writers”, edited by Carol Henderson and by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar who is BQFP’s director of reading and writing development. Another title is the Arabic translation of the prizewinning novel for young adults “Where the Streets Had a Name” (2008) by Randa Abdel-Fattah, born in Australia to Egyptian-Palestinian parents.
The new titles also feature five children’s books. “The Selfish Crocodile” by Foustin Charles and Michael Terry, in an Arabic and English edition, and Arabic editions of “No Matter What” (written and illustrated by Debi Gliori), “Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly” (by Sue Heap, illustrated by Nick Sharratt); “Eliza and the Moonchild” (written and illustrated by Emma Chichester-Clark); and “The Gruffalo” (by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler).
BQFP is attracting much interest in the Arab literary community. Later this year it is due to publish a book of essays by the prominent Algerian female writer Ahlam Mosteghanemi, entitled “”. BQFP is considering publishing an English version of “Safinet Nouh” (“Noah’s Ark”), the second novel of Egyptian writer Khaled Al-Khamissi [pictured], who first came to attention with his bestselling debut “Taxi”.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

british muslims & the general election

above: Respect leader Salma Yaqoob

British Muslims and the general election
Susannah Tarbush
Al-Hayat [in Arabic translation] 8 April 2010

Sajid Javid (40), the son of a bus driver who emigrated to Britain from Pakistan 50 years ago, has an excellent chance of becoming one of Britain’s first-ever Conservative Muslim MPs in the general election of 6 May.

Javid is standing as Conservative candidate in the constituency of Bromsgrove, which the outgoing Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride won in the 2005 election with nearly 52 per cent of the vote, far ahead of Labour’s 34 per cent.

Javid has a career as a high-flying banker. He became at the age of 24 the youngest-ever vice president in the history of Chase Manhattan Bank. In 2000 he moved to Deutsche Bank where he eventually became a senior managing director.

He has supported the Conservative Party for around 20 years since joining the student Conservative Association in his first week at Exeter University.

Another Muslim professional, lawyer Shabana Mahmood (29). is highly likely to become one of Britain’s first Muslim women MPs in the general election. She is standing for Labour in the constituency of Birmingham Ladywood. The former International Development Secretary Clare Short was re-elected as Labour MP for the constituency in 2005 with nearly 52 per cent of the vote, followed by the Liberal Democrats with 31.5 per cent. Birmingham Ladywood has a Muslim population of nearly 30 per cent.

Sajid Javid and Shabana Mahmood are examples of the way in which the younger generation of Britain’s community of up to 2 million Muslims is becoming increasingly involved in mainstream politics.

Muslims are still grossly underrepresented in the House of Commons. With Muslims forming up to 3.3 per cent of the British population of around 61 million, there should proportionately be up to 21 Muslim MPs. But there are actually only four Muslim MPs, all of them male, and all of them members of Labour.

It was only in the 1997 general election that the first Muslim MP, Muhammad Sarwar, was elected. He has now retired from parliament, and his 27-year-old dentist son Anas [pictured] is standing as the Labour candidate in his father’s constituency of Glasgow Central, Scotland. (Anas’s challengers include another young Muslim, Osama Saeed, who is standing for the Scottish National Party).

The 2001 election brought a second Muslim Labour MP, Khalid Mahmood, to parliament. In 2005 Sadiq Khan and Shahid Malik were also elected. Malik became the first-ever Muslim to serve as a minister when he was appointed as parliamentary undersecretary of state in the Department of International Development in 2007. Sadiq Khan was the first Muslim to be a member of the cabinet when he was promoted last year to Minister of State for Transport.

Muslims are of growing importance as candidates, and as voters. The votes of Muslims could be particularly important if the result of the election is as close as expected.

Until earlier this year it seemed inevitable that the Conservatives would win with a comfortable majority, but in opinion polls the margin between the two main parties has narrowed dramatically, with the Conservative Party’s lead over Labour dropping to only a few points.

Such a small difference between the two parties would produce a “hung parliament” in which no party would have an overall majority of seats.

There are currently several initiatives from within the Muslim community to get increasing numbers of Muslims to vote in the election. Only a few Muslim groups in Britain oppose voting in the election, claiming it is unIslamic. They include Hizb Ut-Tahrir, and the banned Muhajiroun group and its successors such as such as Islam4UK which was banned earlier this year.

James Brandon, head of research at the government-funded anti-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, told Al-Hayat: “It’s immensely encouraging to see the wide range of Muslim organisations that are calling on British Muslims to vote in the upcoming elections – from salafi-Wahhabi organisations to Islamists to secularists.”

Brandon added: “Although it is a shame that many of these groups are still calling on Muslims to vote along ethnic or religious lines, this increased enthusiasm for the elections is a welcome sign that Muslims are becoming more involved in the British political process – both as voters and increasingly as candidates.”
A new body, named YouElect, was set up recently in order “to encourage, inform and empower the Muslim community at the next general elections.” The co-ordinator of the project, Ismail Patel, says: “We aim to help make the election process easier by providing individuals with tools to make an informed decision when voting”.

The website of YouElect has the profiles of nearly 300 candidates in more than 90 constituencies of particular interest. It provides information for each constituency such as the results of the 2005 elections, the percentage of the population that is Muslim and the estimated number of Muslim voters. YouElect has also launched a drive for Muslim voter registration.

Other Muslim initiatives include the Get Out and Vote website, backed by a number of imams, and the Engage website which promotes greater media awareness, political participation and civic engagement amongst British Muslims.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK) has launched Operation Muslim Vote. Members of MPACUK engage in direct action, travelling to target constituencies where they descend on mosques and Muslim centres, distribute leaflets and energetically debate.

MPACUK has a confrontational approach. Its website is like a tabloid newspaper, with vivid colours and screaming headlines. An article on the MPACUK website says: ”It’s election time, what type of Muslim idiot are you? Are you the ‘I am an idiot and too lazy to vote’ Muslim, the ‘I am an idiot and always vote Labour no matter how they treat us afterwards’ Muslim, or the ‘I am an idiot and I think I will go to hell by voting against a war’ Muslim?”

The Muslim community in Britain is diverse, in terms of the many countries of origin, type of Islam practised, and socio-economic factors and status. There is no overall “Muslim vote”. Muslim voters take a constellation of factors into account when deciding for whom to vote.

Traditionally, Muslims tended to support Labour, but this relationship was soured by the invasion of Iraq and other foreign policy factors, and by some of the anti-terror measures aimed at Muslims. But the Conservatives too supported the Iraq invasion, and are tough on issues such as immigration.

Anger over the Iraq invasion led some former Labour supporters to abandon Labour in the 2005 election, some voting instead for the Liberal Democrats. Other Muslim voters were attracted to the Respect Party, set up in 2004 as an anti-war party by a number of Muslim groups and the left, particularly the Socialist Workers Party.

Respect is the only party standing in the elections to have a leader who is a Muslim and a woman – the highly competent Salma Yaqoob. But Respect was weakened when it split in 2007, and it is significant in only a few constituencies

Salma Yaqoob scored an impressive result in the 2005 election when she stood for Respect in the constituency of Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath, the population of which was nearly 49 per cent Muslim. She came second to Labour, and slashed the majority of the Labour MP Roger Godsiff from 16,000 to just over 3,000.

After border changes of constituencies in Birmingham, Smallbrook no longer exists, and has been partly absorbed into the constituency of Birmingham Hall Green which is 35.7 per cent Muslim. Salma Yacoob is the Respect candidate there, again standing against Godsiff.

It is not unusual to find Muslims standing against each other as candidates for different parties. A striking example is the East London constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow where four Muslim candidates are standing.

The former Labour MP George Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour Party for his strong opposition to the invasion of Iraq, won Bethnal Green and Bow for Respect in 2005, beating the Labour black Jewish MP Oona King by a small majority of 823 votes. He received strong support from the constituency’s more than 39 per cent Muslim population, mostly from Bangladesh.

Galloway is now standing as Respect candidate in the neighbouring constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, where he hopes to defeat the Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick. The Respect candidate in Bethnal Green and Bow is Abjol Miah, while Rushanara Ali is standing for Labour, Ajmal Masroor for the Liberal Democrats, and Farid Bakht for the Green Party.

If Rushnara Ali [pictured] wins the seat back for Labour, she will be part of an expected influx of several Labour Muslim women MPs, including Shabana Mahmoud who is standing in Birmingham Ladywood. The criminal lawyer Yasmin Qureshi is almost certain to be elected in Bolton South East where Labour had 57 per cent of the vote in 2005.

Maryam Khan is thought to have a good chance of keeping the seat of Bury North in Labour hands, while Sonia Klein may take back Ilford North which was lost to the Conservatives in 2005.

Although the Conservatives as yet have no Muslim MPs, the most high-profile Muslim woman politician in parliament is a Conservative. She is the unelected Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who was appointed by the conservatives to the House of Lords in 2007 so that she could become Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action.

The Conservatives have made considerable efforts to try to ensure that several Conservative Muslim MPs will be elected. Mohammed Amin, vice chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, told Al-Hayat: “So far 14 Muslim candidates have been chosen to stand for the Conservative Party in the coming general election of whom five are women. We may have three or four Conservative Muslim MPs if things go well.”

Conservative Muslim candidates considered to have a chance of capturing seats held by Labour include Rehman Chishti in Gillingham and Rainham, Zahid Iqbal in Bradford West, Alok Sharma in Reading West and Adeela Shafi in Bristol East.

The Liberal Democrats have 17 Muslim candidates, including four women. The party considers that it remains attractive to Muslim voters. A spokeswoman said: “In regards to relevant policy, it is clear that the Labour Party has failed those from the Muslim community. From harsh and unnecessary flaunting of civil liberties to the creation of unworkable and damaging programmes like the Prevent strategy.”

And yet none of the Liberal Democrat Muslim candidates is standing in a safe Liberal Democrat seat. The editor of the Muslim News newspaper Ahmed J Versi asked Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in an interview why his party had not selected Muslim candidates for winnable seats

Clegg answered: “You’re not right by saying that we don’t have candidates in strong seats: we have candidates in Walthamstow, in Luton, in Birmingham. We have candidates who are in very strong positions campaigning against a very unpopular Labour Party.”

But Clegg accepted that his parliamentary party is “too white, too male” and said he would be “delighted if more candidates from the Muslim communities put their names forward.”

Nadhim Zahawi

It is highly likely that the general election will see the election of the first-ever British MP of Middle Eastern origin. He is Iraqi Kurd Nadhim Zahawi who is standing as a Conservative candidate in the seat of Stratford-on-Avon,the birthplace of England’s greatest playwright and poet William Shakespeare.

Stratford is regarded as a safe Conservative seat. The outgoing MP John Maples won it with 49.2 per cent of the vote in the 2005 general election followed by the Liberal Democrats at 28.3 per cent.

Zahawi was born in Iraq in 1967 and grew up the county of East Sussex in Southern England. He was educated at Kings College School in Wimbledon, London, and at University College, part of London University. He also became a keen horse rider and show jumper, competing at numerous events.

In the past decade Zahawi has had extraordinary success with YouGov, the international internet-based market research firm which he launched in 2000 with Stephan Shakespear. YouGov was floated on the stock exchange in 2005 for £18 million Sterling and employs more than 400 people in three continents. Zahawi stood down as the company’s chief executive in February so as to devote himself to his election campaign.

When Al-Hayat asked Zahawi whether as an MP he will take a special interest in foreign affairs and the Middle East, given his background and his fluency in Arabic, he said that if he is invited to enter government, “I’ll serve wherever the leader wants me to.” For the present, his “absolute focus” is on the election and his constituency, and he has moved into a house in the centre of Stratford.

Zahawi was three times elected as a Conservative Councillor in the London Borough of Wandsworth, serving from 1994 to 2006, and stood as Conservative candidate at Erith and Thamesmead in 1997, coming second to Labour.

YouGov is best known in the minds of the British public for the political opinion polls it conducts for newspapers and TV stations. The polls are reputed to be particularly accurate. The company has expanded abroad, first into the Middle East where in 2006 it acquired Dubai-based Siraj Marketing Research and Consultancy. The hub of YouGovSiraj is Dubai, and it has offices in Riyadh and Jeddah and two big offices in Iraq. In March, YouGovSiraj signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jordanian research firm Analyseize to cooperate on joint projects. YouGov has also set up operations in Scandinavia, Central Europe and the United States.