Sunday, June 26, 2011

ramsey nasr:: the dutch-palestinian poet laureate of the netherlands

Ramsey Nasr in literary conversation
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 26 June 2011

The appearance of the Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, Palestinian-Dutch poet Ramsey Nasr, at the London Review Bookshop in central London last Saturday night was a highlight of World Literature Weekend. Nasr was in conversation with the distinguished British poet, scholar and broadcaster Ruth Padel, the author of seven acclaimed poetry collections.

Nasr was born in Rotterdam in 1974 to a Dutch mother, and a Palestinian father originally from the West Bank village of Salfit. He trained as an actor at Studio Herman Teirlinck theatre school in Antwerp in the Flemish region of Belgium, and is a man of wide artistic talent.

Padel outlined some of his activities: “He has written and performed prize-winning monologues, played Romeo in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, directed opera singers in Mozart’s ‘Die Entführung aus dem Serail’ alongside a classical Arabic singer, writes essays for Dutch and Flemish media on art and politics, and in 2006 was awarded the prize of Journalist for Peace.”

The Netherlands’ Poet Laureate is selected through public voting. Nasr was elected from a shortlist of five poets in January 2009, for a four-year term. But for someone of part-Palestinian heritage whose poems can cause controversy, it is not easy to be accepted by all as the Poet Laureate exploring Dutch issues through poetry.

Nasr said that people sometimes make comments such as: “Why do we pay subsidies for people like you? Go back to Gaza! Be a poet over there.” (Not that he actually comes from Gaza). He accepts all this good naturedly, and says: “You have to have a thick skin.” He has in any case developed a wide following since his first collection was published in 2000. When in 2005 he was City Poet of Antwerp, in the Flemish region of Belgium, his performances were likened to pop concerts.

The World Literature Weekend was organized by the London Review Bookshop in collaboration with the British Museum and with support from Arts Council England. The overarching theme was the idea of personal and public memory and the way that history leaves its traces on the present. Padel said: “Ramsey’s extraordinary life and work to date seem to sum this up.”

The event included a launch and author signing of the first-ever selection of Nasr’s work to be published in English translation. The anthology, “Heavenly Life: Selected Poems”, was translated by the prizewinning Australian translator David Colmer. It is published by Banipal Books, the book-publishing arm of Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature in English translation.

The anthology has a foreword by Padel, who writes: “In every form, Nasr’s work speaks of historical context and a historical imagination which is inextricable from his Palestinian descent.” The poet, journalist and editor Victor Schiferli has contributed an illuminating 10-page introduction to the collection.

To coincide with the event, the London Review Bookshop published Nasr’s latest poem “the house of europe” in a limited edition of 250 signed copies. The chapbook-style edition contains within its orange cover the four-page poem in Dutch, and in English translation by Colmer.

Nasr was asked to write this poem on the occasion of the opening on 16 May of the new Het Huis Van Europa - The House of Europe - in The Hague. The House is an easily accessible information hub where people can direct their questions about the European Union and European institutions.

The House was opened by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Vice President of the European Parliament Stavros Lambrinidis in the presence of Queen Beatrix, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and Euro Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

Nasr’s poem celebrates the messy diversity of Europe. The architects of the new Europe envisioned it as a place where “the citizens are civilised to uniformity / rough edges gone and rounded off / like their languages, their coins and tomatoes”. But underneath is “a pit of gaping contradiction”. It is “a hole full of celts and cathars / etruscans, moors and magyars / reeking of milk and manly hides”. The poet needs “a place with discomforts / with old-style corners: badly arranged / draughty and incomplete, but real - / something to grip between cellar and roof”.

The “Heavenly Life” anthology includes poems from Nasr’s three published collections: “27 Poems and No Song” (published in 2000), “awkwardly flowering” (2004), and “our lady zeppelin” (2006).

Nasr’s second collection won the Hugues C. Pernath Prize. It has been through several reprints, the latest of which includes a CD of him reading the poems. His third collection includes the Antwerp poems he wrote while City Poet, and includes old photographs of the city and a commentary.

In addition to the poems from his three collections, “Heavenly Life” contains the poem Nasr wrote when competing for the post of Poet Laureate, and poems he was written since being elected to that position. During the election process, each of the five shortlisted candidates had to write a poem related to the current situation in the Netherlands. The poems were published in the NRC Handelsblad newspaper.

Nasr explained that the poem he submitted, “I wish I was two citizens (then I could live together)”, takes its title from the famous Dutch rhyme “I wish I were two dogs, then I could play together”. His poem is about two very different visions of Holland: the 17th century Holland of Vermeer paintings, and the Netherlands of today. The poet asks: “how did we move so fast from humble to rude / from a glimmer to an omnipresent shrieking crew?”

Nasr’s love of classical music has inspired many of his poems. He is not a musician himself, and says: “For me writing poetry is a way of composing, it’s as close to music as I will get – that’s why my poetry has a large element of music. The distinction between music and poetry for me is that poetry is music with meaning.”

The long poem “Heavenly Life”, composed in his capacity as Poet Laureate, is modeled on Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Nasr says: “I tried to follow the tempo, the atmosphere of the work. I listened to the music all the time.” The poem takes its title from the song in the symphony’s finale. Nasr based the poem on the deep relationship between the Jewish composer Mahler, his friend the conductor Mengelberg, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, over a period of 50 years.

The poem confronts a dark period of Dutch history: the Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1945, during which Mengelberg was accused of collaborating. Jewish musicians, and the works of Mahler and other Jewish composers, were purged from the orchestra.

A sequence of poems in Nasr’s second collection, “awkwardly flowering”, is based on the composer Schumann’s “Dichterliebe”. This song cycle consists of Schumann’s settings of 16 love poems by Heinrich Heine. Nasr is particularly fond of the late singer Fritz Wunderlich’s performances of these songs.

Nasr has reworked Heine’s poems in his “dichter liefde” (“poet love”) sequence. “What I’ve tried to do is to pick each poem and transport them to the here and now, to see what metaphors would still survive... whether they would mutate, some might become extinct.”

After Nasr’s reading of several of these poems, Padel said: “I love the way you read them, it’s full of music and energy. I was thinking, you’ve really taken romanticism by the scruff of its neck and given it a good shake.”

In his introduction to “Heavenly Life” Victor Schiferli writes: “The question of Israel and the Occupied Territories is a constant thread through Nasr’s work – obviously because of his father, but also because the subject is part of the clash between East and West that has flared up since 9/11.” When Nasr visited Bethlehem, Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Amman, his audiences – to the poet’s surprise – interpreted all his poems, including love poems, as being about Palestine and Israel.

The anthology includes the poem “the subhuman and his habitat” about the routine humiliation of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints. Medical patients suffer particularly badly: “wheelchairs go bouncing through dust / back from the city where they cure the sick / diabetic with cancer in blazing sun / many are old many are sick many are sweating animals / but that’s the whole idea”.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

english version of 'mercy' by danish crime writer jussi adler-olsen

Danish crime series with a Syrian twist
Susannah Tarbush

The relationship between a flawed detective and his sidekick is a staple element of crime fiction. The Danish crime writer Jussi Adler-Olsen [pictured below] has an unusual take on this classic pairing, in that Carl Morck – the troubled criminal detective of the four-novel ‘Department Q series’ – has as his sidekick a mysterious Syrian immigrant named Assad.

The English translation (by Lisa Hartford) of the first of the Q novels was published recently in the UK by Penguin Books under the title “Mercy”. Intriguingly, it emerges that Assad’s full name is Hafez al-Assad – the name of the man who ruled Syria for 30 years from 1970 to 2000, and whose son Bashar is now brutally battling to cling on to power.

Despite Morck’s relentless probing, Assad is reluctant to reveal many details of his life in Syria, and of how he and his wife and two daughters came to be granted political asylum in Denmark. Assad will only say that the Syrian government is not happy with him and that he would be killed if he returned to Syria. He is from a place called Sab Abar more than 200 kilometers from Damascus.

When Carl asks Assad if he has a driving license, the reply is: “I drive a taxi and a car and a truck and a T-55 tank and also a T-62 and armoured cars and the motorcycles with and without sidecars.”

At the outset of the novel Morck is deeply traumatized after an ambush in which one colleague was shot dead, another was left paralyzed, and Morck himself was wounded in the head. He is due to return to work after a recovery period.

But Morck’s colleagues in the homicide department have for some time been weary of his chaotic ways and abrasive manner and when he returns to work he is shunted out of homicide and banished to the basement to head up a new department. This Department Q is tasked with investigating unsolved crimes, known as “cold cases”.

Assad comes to work for Morck as an assistant, carrying out mundane tasks such as cleaning, preparing coffee and organizing files. But over time his sleuthing gifts and strong powers of observation and deduction become apparent. He starts to play an essential role in helping Monck with his investigations.

Department Q’s first cold case is that of an attractive young politician, Merete Lynggaard, vice chairperson of the Democrats, who had disappeared while travelling with her brother on a sea ferry five years earlier. Although her brother was initially suspected, no body was ever found.

The Danish title of the novel, “Kvinden i buret”, translates as “The Woman in the Cage”. In the prologue a woman is imprisoned in a dark room with a steel door. She resolves that her captors will never break her and that someday she will get out of her prison. It soon becomes apparent that the woman is Merete Lynggaard, but we are given no idea who her captors are, nor why they have seized her. The novel’s chapters alternate in time between 2007, in which the main action is set, and different times in the period after Merete’s 2002 kidnapping.

While Morck and Assad pursue their enquiries into Merete’s disappearance, the homicide department is investigating the murder of a cyclist in a park. Morck and Assad provide crucial suggestions on the solving of the cyclist’s murder.

“Mercy” is an ingeniously-plotted compulsively readable book that keeps the reader guessing. One of its enjoyable aspects is Adler-Oslen’s portrayal of the warm relationship that develops between Morck and his Syrian assistant. The English translation conveys Assad’s somewhat ungrammatical use of Danish. Morck is both amused and exasperated by his assistant’s behavior. He is alarmed by his crazy driving and impressed by his intuitive brilliance in detection. The short, dark Syrian has a way of charming even the strictest of secretaries and getting them to do favors for Department Q.

Hospitality is part of Assad’s persona. He brings sweet pastries for work colleagues, and is forever boiling up viscous, burning hot beverages full of sugar. One day Morck arrives at work to find the basement full of spicy cooking smells. “The explanation was to be found in Assad’s pygmy office, where a sea of baked goods and pieces of foil holding chopped garlic, little green bits, and yellow rice adorned the plates on his desk. No wonder it was causing raised eyebrows.”

Assad seemingly has contacts in the underworld. When as part of his investigations Morck needs to have a thick line removed to reveal a vital crossed out telephone number without damaging it and rendering it illegible, Assad tells him he “knows a guy from the Middle East” who can do it. The contact (perhaps Assad himself) performs a perfect job and Morck suspects he may be a passport forger.

The publication of “Mercy” has created much interest in the UK. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s publisher will be hoping that he will be the latest of a wave of Scandinavian crime writers to score major success in the UK. Their work is being labeled as “Nordic Noir”.

The importance of Nordic Noir on the UK literary scene is reflected in the fact that World Literature Weekend, organized from 17 to 19 June by the London Review Bookshop, includes a session in the British Museum this afternoon addressed by two major Swedish crime writers: Karin Alvtegen and Hakan Nesser.

The two authors will discuss the proposition that “behind crime fiction’s gripping narratives, there often lies a more incisive portrayal of a society than can be found in more obvious commentaries; and it offers a way to confront ideas of good and evil in a shades-of-grey world, where simple moral certainties aren’t so easy to find.”

The roots of the Nordic Noir phenomenon go back to the 1960s when Swedish journalists and partners Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo jointly wrote political thrillers focused on a detective called Martin Beck. Another significant writer in the Nordic Noir gentre is the Norwegian Karin Fossum. Her Inspector Konrad Sejer series, published from the mid-1990s, has won prizes and been translated into many languages. Iceland too is part of the Scandinavian crime fiction wave, through such writers as Arnauldur Indridason. Indridason established something of a following in Britain with his Reykjavik murder mysteries featuring Detective Erlendur.

A phenomenally successful pillar of Nordic Noir is the three-book Millennium series by the late Swedish investigative journalist and writer Stieg Larsson. The series, featuring punk-Goth computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, was published after Larsson’s death at the age of only 50 in 2004.

The small London publisher MacLehose Press, an imprint of Quercus, had the good fortune to get the English publishing rights for the three books: “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”.

The books have sold exceptionally well, with “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” alone selling 15 million copies. The Swedish film versions of the three books were made some time ago. An English-language version of “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” is under production in the US and is due to be released in December.

Another giant of Swedish crime fiction is Henning Mankel, creator of Inspector Kurt Wallander. Wallander is popular in Britain, both in book form and in its TV incarnations. Three different productions of “Wallander” have been screened by the BBC. Swedish actors Krister Henriksson and Rolf Lassgard star in the different Swedish TV series of Wallander, while the British version stars Kenneth Branagh.

The Norwegian author Jo Nesbo was a rock musician, songwriter and economist before becoming a crime writer. His first novel featuring alcoholic detective Harry Hole was published in Norway in 1997. Nesbo is a prolific author, with nine Harry Hole novels published so far. Harvill Secker has published English translations, by Don Bartlett, of six of the novels, most recently “The Leopard”. Nesbo is a master of taut plotting and suspense.

With the publication of “Mercy” Jussi Adler-Olsen is set to join the big league of Nordic crime writers in English translation. His English-language fans look forward to the publication of the next Department Q novel in translation and to finding out more about Morck’s Syrian assistant Hafez al-Assad.

Monday, June 13, 2011

edinburgh & st andrews universities on 'a gay girl in damascus' hoaxer & wife

Statements from Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities in Scotland on Tom MacMaster - the 'A Gay Girl in Damascus' hoaxer - and his wife Britta Froelicher

A statement from the University of Edinburgh about the 'A Gay Girl in Damascus' blog

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said:

"The University will investigate whether the student has breached University computing regulations. The Principal has directed Vice Principal Knowledge Management and Chief Information Officer Jeff Haywood to suspend the student's computing privileges pending the outcome of the investigation."

We will not be commenting further.


University of St Andrews spokesman:
Re: Gay Girl in Damascus blog

We can confirm that:

Ms Froelicher was a first year student conducting research towards a PhD and as such was an Associate Fellow of the University of St Andrews Centre for Syrian Studies. She was researching Syria's textile industry. On May 19, 2011 Ms Froelicher was granted leave of absence for the forthcoming academic year. We know of no links between the University and Mr MacMaster.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

libyan author ahmed fagih's novel 'homeless rats'

Libyan desert rats populate novel
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 11 June 2011

The Libyan writer Ahmed Fagih’s novel “Homeless Rats”, soon to be published in English translation by Quartet Books of London, portrays a struggle in the Libyan desert between humans and the hopping desert rats known as jerboas as they desperately compete for scarce food at a time of drought.

Fagih gives his jerboas a voice as they react to the attacks of the humans on their subterranean homes and plan their counter-attacks (at one point they form suicide squads). The jerboas are not the only animals to be allocated speaking roles. Fagih skillfully builds a complex of social relations among animals including dogs, ants and other insects, and the feared snakes and scorpions. A hedgehog and a spiny-tailed lizard – “two wise, ascetic friends” – observe events from a distance on an elevated plateau, and are joined by an ancient tortoise to offer advice to other species.

“Homeless Rats” was first published in Arabic more than 10 years ago. But the novel’s desert battles, alliances, war crimes, emergency meetings, tribalism and waves of refugees resonate curiously with the war currently raging in Libya. Even the title of the book has a new timeliness, given Gaddafi’s propensity in his ranting speeches to denounce his enemies among his own people as “rats” and “cockroaches”.

Quartet’s publishing relationship with Fagih goes back to 1995 when it published in one volume, entitled “Gardens of the Night”, the English translation of his celebrated trilogy of novels – “I Shall Offer Another City”, “These are the Borders of My Kingdom”, and “A Tunnel Lit by One Woman”.

Quartet’s Palestinian Chairman Naim Attallah told Saudi Gazette that when he got the manuscript of “Homeless Rats” in translation “I had to be persuaded to read it as the subject was not one that I would normally publish. However the conflict between humans and homeless rats both in search of food, and in a battle for survival, struck a fascinating chord with me. Once I started reading it I could not stop; I was virtually mesmerized until the end.”

Attallah’s enthusiasm for “Homeless Rats” was shared by the book’s editor at Quartet, Anna Stothard, herself the author of two novels including the recently-published “The Pink Hotel”. Oddly for a work in translation, no translator’s name or publication details of the original Arabic appear in the book.The author tells me that the first translation was done by Dr Sorayya Allam; it was then edited and reviewed by English teacher Christopher Tingley, an experienced translation editor.

The novel was published in Cairo in book form in 2000, under the title "Fi'ran bila Juhur" within the famous Novels of Hilal (Rewayat al-Hilal) series which has been running for more than a century. Prior to this, parts of the novel were published in a local Libyan journal. The published novel was well received in Arab literary circles and in the Arab press.

Early on in the novel a group of 40 humans moves in a caravan with camels, donkeys, and dogs from the drought-stricken town of Mizdah to the nearest fertile area, Jandouba, four days trek away. It is custom of the people of Mizdah to harvest barley in the valley of Jandouba, where they are on good terms with the locals. But when they arrive they are in for a shock. The fields may appear to be full of golden waving barley, but on closer inspection the travelers discover that jerboas have stripped all the grain from the plants.

The head of the caravan, Sheikh Hamed Abu Leila, slaughters his beloved camel and shares it among the group for a last feast. The people of the caravan face possible death from starvation. Relief comes when they discover that the jerboas have not eaten the barley but have stored it in their underground burrows. The people begin to destroy the burrows to remove the barley and the battle between humans and jerboas begins.

Matters are complicated further when a truck arrives bearing the Jibreel family from the East. They camp nearby and the Mizdah people are desperate that they should not learn the secret of the barley hidden in the jerboas’ burrows. There is discord between the culture of the people from Mizdah and the Eastern women, who scandalize some of the Mizdah folk with their uncovered faces and public dancing. And disastrously for the jerboas the Easterners, unlike the people from Mizdah, kill and eat jerboas.

Fagih was himself born in Mizdah, in 1942. He emerged as a pioneering Libyan writer in the 1960s and became a prolific novelist, short story writer, dramatist and columnist. His work often draws on his intimate knowledge of life in a rural setting and on the tradition of fable and folk tales. He is often inspired by the animal world; a recent example is his story “Lobsters” which appears for the first time in Engish translation, by Maia Tabet, in the special feature on Libyan fiction in the latest issue of Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature.

Fagih says the novel was inspired by his own experience in the late 1940s at the age of around six when he took part in an endeavour to dig into jerboa burrows of rats so as to retrieve wheat and barley kernels that the jerboas had hidden there. "It is very telling of the hardships the Libyan people went through in those very difficult years,"Fagih says. He describes the novel as "a tribute to my home town of Mizdah."

“Homeless Rats” is set in the years after the Second World War, when the British administered the region. One legacy of the war is minefields; the people from the East tell of how clearing the mines has claimed the lives of many men from their tribe. Memories of the Italian occupation of Libya are vivid. One old man from Mizdah proudly recalls fighting in the great battle of Jandouba, in which the famous resistance leader Suleiman al-Barouni had overall command. Burhan, a healer and preacher from Mizdah, recalls the nine years he spent working on the estate of a wealthy Countess and the tremendous wealth he witnessed there.

In “Homeless Rats” Fagih’s talent for storytelling, and his descriptive powers and humor, are much in evidence. He handles with aplomb the interwoven narratives of the humans and the animals. The novel has plenty of twists and sub-plots and there are several love stories including Burhan’s falling for Rabiha, a beautiful and confident widow from the East. The novel has a vigorous momentum, although it is occasionally slowed by over-explanation of the plot or characters’ reasoning.

Fagih gives a rich picture of the desert region and its natural history. He writes: “Where there had been no shadow before, the wormwood and the harmel, the gorse and the shwaal, and the thorny branches of the nabk trees now cast large shadows.” The novel has an ecological aspect, and points to the destructive effect of disturbing the organic relationship between the humans and animals.

The media coverage of the Libyan conflict over the past four months has made many outside Libya realize how little they previously knew about the country and its geography, people, history and politics, let alone its literature. “Homeless Rats” introduces the reader to a sweep of Libyan geography and landscape and conveys a detailed portrait of a traditional way of life.

Three further novels by Fagih are due to be published in English translation by another London publisher, Darf Publishers, before long. The novels, to be published in one volume, are the first three of the Fagih’s sequence of 12 historical novels entitled “Maps of the Soul”. These novels in translation will help fill in some of the gaps in the knowledge of Libyan history.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

palestinian singer reem kelani at rich mix in london

Pictures of Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani and her band at Rich Mix

The intimate venue at Rich Mix, a cultural hub in the buzzing area of Shoreditch, East London, was packed last night for an inspired and electrifying performance by the Palestinian singer and musician Reem Kelani and her band. Reem performed songs from her debut album Sprinting Gazelle: Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora and from her forthcoming album of songs and music by the Egyptian legend Sayyid Darwish (1892-1923) whose work has been enjoying a revival in the Egyptian Spring. Reem writes about her Darwish project here . The concert was a most welcome reappearance by Reem on a London stage; she recently returned from five months in Cairo, much of it spent in Tahrir Square. She maintained an illuminating blog during this time, on musical and other aspects of the revolution.

Reem accompanied herself on frame drum. Her musicians were Bruno Heinen on piano, Ian East on saxophones, Ryan Trebilcock on double bass and John Blease on drums.
Reem and the musicians more than lived up to the Rich Mix billing:
"We’re delighted to be offering a number of UK performance dates this year for Reem Kelani, arguably the most outstanding and innovative Arabic singerof her generation. With her fine cross-cultural band she explores a profoundly personal musical territory, creating an intense & emotional soundscape that starts somewhere between propulsive contemporary jazz & spine-tingling Arabic maqaams, and continues with power, passion & poetry."

'more bad news from israel'

Book alleges BBC pro-Israel bias
Susannah Tarbush

The BBC has always prided itself on the supposed impartiality, accuracy and fairness of its output. As the British public service broadcaster, funded primarily through the license fee, it has a particular responsibility to abide by these principles. But its coverage of the Palestine-Israel issue has over the years led to challenges from both sides as regards impartiality.

Now the BBC is facing renewed allegations that its coverage of the Palestine-Israel issue is biased towards Israel. One reason for this is the publication by London publisher Pluto Press of the book “More Bad News from Israel” by Professor Greg Philo, Research Director of the Glasgow University Media Group, and Mike Berry, lecturer in the faculty of Arts, University of Nottingham.

The first part of this meaty book of nearly 400 pages explains the contested histories of the conflict. There are then detailed and systematic studies of media content and of audiences.

The authors write: “While the broadcast media give a clear account of the Israeli perspective on this conflict, many journalists and especially in the BBC find great difficulty in doing the same for the Palestinians.“

The book is an updated version of the authors’ 2004 book “Bad News from Israel” which analyzed media content and audience responses in the period from 2000 (when the second intifada began) to 2002. The updated book has new chapters on the 2008/09 Gaza war and on the Israeli attack of May 2010 on the Gaza flotilla, in which a number of activists were killed.

Philo and Berry maintain that it is in the area of reasons for the violence that the Israeli perspective has been allowed by broadcasters to achieve and sustain a prominence. “The Palestinian view is often simply absent and this has clear impacts on audience belief.”

The authors say they are not asking for journalists to favor one group or the other but only to give an accurate account of the perspectives of both sides. Other broadcasters such as Channel 4 News have apparently much less of a problem with this. ”So the question remains, why is some BBC news still so partial?” One factor is the pro-Israel lobby – including organizations such as the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom) – and the power of Israeli public relations.

There have been two launches of the book in London, the first at the School of Oriental Studies (SOAS), London University, addressed by Philo [pictured] and by the legendary campaigning Australian filmmaker and journalist John Pilger. Pilger’s latest film, “The war You Don’t See”, is critical of the ways in which the mainstream media reports on Afghanistan, Iraq , and the Israeli-Palestinian issue

The Palestinian scholar Dr Dina Matar, Lecturer in Arab Media and Political Communication at the SOAS Centre for Media and Film Studies, chaired the launch. She thought the way the media reports the Arab-Israeli conflict is “sometimes very biased” or “doesn’t report issues that need to be reported.”

For example, “one issue that really struck me very personally, as well as very sadly, was the lack of reporting of the protests on Nakba Day.” On that day, 15 May, Israeli soldiers killed more than 12 unarmed youngsters at the Syrian and Lebanese borders “who came with flags saying we just want to return to our country, without even posing any threat.”

The second London launch of the book was at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre. Appearing alongside Philo were former BBC journalist coveriing the Middle East, Tim Llewellyn, and the Gaza-born Palestinian editor-in-chief of Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper Abdel Bari Atwan . The launch was chaired by Victoria Brittain, former associate foreign editor of the Guardian newspaper.

The launch at Amnesty, organized by Middle East Monitor (MEMO) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), went ahead despite a concerted campaign by pro-Israeli groups to get it cancelled.

At the SOAS launch Philo described how after the first book was published he was invited to address BBC news and current affairs editors on its contents. A number of BBC editors and journalists told him of the intense pressures they are under regarding coverage of Israel.

“It is not that BBC journalists do not know exactly what is happening in Israel, but they are working within an iron-clad system of what they understand can be said,” Philo said. One editor said he and his colleagues wait in fear of telephone call of complaint from the Israelis.

One very senior Middle East journalist and correspondent told him that in BBC coverage of the Palestinians “what is missing is the notion that here is an occupied people, a people who are trying to throw off a military occupation.”

Developments in broadcasting technology mean that devastating images of war and human carnage can be brought immediately to the home by TV or the internet. “The response of Israel was to develop the most sophisticated approach to international publicity and public relations that we have yet seen,” Philo said. A first move was to set up the National Information Directorate.

During the Gaza war the National Information Directorate made sure that everyone “spoke the same message with the same words”. The words can be found in the Israel Project’s Global Language Dictionary, compiled by Dr Frank Luntz, which helps official spokesmen and others “communicate effectively in support of Israel” by for example advising them on “words that work” and “words that do not work”. Philo says analysis has shown that recommended “words that work” were often exactly paralleled by the content of TV news.

It is not only the BBC’s news and current affairs broadcasts that are giving rise to current claims of a bias in favor of Israel. Its youth music content is also under scrutiny. There is the extraordinary case of the world “Palestine” being censored from a freestyle performance by rapper MiC Righteous [pictured R in picture below, with Charlie Sloth] in the program ‘Hip Hop Mix with Charlie Sloth’ on black music network BBC Radio 1Xtra.

As the video of the performance posted on the station’s website shows, when MiC Righteous raps “ I still have the same beliefs, I can scream Free Palestine” a shattered glass sound effect after the first syllable of “Palestine” obliterates the rest of the word. This censorship has triggered a furious reaction, including in comments on the radio website.

A letter published in the Guardian, signed by 18 prominent people, condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the BBC’s censorship of the word Palestine. “As artists, academics, lawyers and parliamentarians, we oppose this attack on the principle of free speech and on the freedom of artists to express political viewpoints through art.”

The BBC response is that “all BBC programs have a responsibility to be impartial when dealing with controversial subjects and an edit was made to the artist’s freestyle to ensure that impartiality was maintained.”

Activist Jody McIntyre in a blog for the Independent newspaper, asserted that the MiC Righteous controversy had “opened a can of worms the BBC cannot ignore for very much longer.” He pointed out that in another freestyle performance in the same Radio 1Xtra slot, the BBC had censored the words “Gaza Strip” from the performance of the rapper Bigz. In Charlie Sloth’s reposting of the Bigz performance on YouTube however the phrase has been restored, and commenters have thanked Sloth for this.

McIntyre comments that “the BBC’s seeming submission to the Zionist lobby has taken precedence over common sense. The BBC seems intent on completely eradicating any recognition of Palestine’s right to exist from their radio broadcasts, but their actions have had the opposite effect.”