Monday, June 22, 2015

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) awarded Chatham House Prize 2015 for its Ebola efforts

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has been awarded the Chatham House Prize 2015, the London-based Chatham House think tank (which incorporates the Royal Institute of International Affairs) announced today. The Chatham House Prize - launched in 2005 - is presented annually to the person or organization deemed by members of the Royal Institute of International Affairs to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year.

The selection process draws on the expertise of Chatham House's research teams and three presidents, who nominate candidates. Its members are then invited to vote for the winner in a ballot.

This year, members voted for MSF in recognition of its work in combating the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. MSF was among the first groups to respond to the epidemic in March of that year and remained engaged on the ground throughout the crisis, caring for the majority of patients in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. MSF leaders and staff were persistent and forceful in their action to halt the spread of the epidemic and, as a result, were instrumental in saving thousands of lives.

The  three other nominees for the Chatham House Prize 2015 were:
 • Mahamadou Issoufou, President, Republic of Niger (2011-)
 • Juan Manuel Santos, President, Republic of Colombia (2010-)
 • Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Federal Republic of Germany (2005-)

 Dr Joanne Liu

Dr Joanne Liu, MSF’s international president, will represent MSF at the Chatham House Prize award ceremony in London in October 2015 where she will be presented with a crystal award and a scroll, signed by Her Majesty The Queen, Patron of the institute. Previous recipients of the Prize include President Lula of Brazil, Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr Robin Niblett CMG, director of Chatham House, said: “I warmly congratulate Médecins Sans Frontières on being voted the recipient of this year's Chatham House Prize. This is the first time an organization has been awarded the Prize and I am delighted that their vital work has been recognized in this way. MSF led the fight against Ebola by sounding an early alarm on its dangers. It put into place a highly effective operation that saved thousands of lives, and helped prevent a more wide-spread catastrophe, risking and, in some cases losing the lives of its own staff.”

Dr Joanne Liu, international president of MSF said:
"I am honoured that MSF will be the recipient of this year’s Chatham House Prize and I look forward to accepting this award on behalf of the thousands of people who worked in the Ebola outbreak. This includes the doctors, nurses and logisticians who volunteered from around the world, and the thousands more national staff in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, who made our work possible. Knowing that they did this while coping with the fear of Ebola in their communities and in the face of incredible stigma, makes their contribution even more remarkable. While we continue to work on the ground, our focus is also trying to ensure that next time there is an outbreak, that patients get the care and treatment they need, on time, before it spreads and turns into a killer epidemic. But we all still have a long way to go and it is important that we work together to respond to these challenges and opportunities.

Friday, June 19, 2015

'The Book of Khartoum' among latest awardees of PEN Translates grants

English PEN's translation scheme widens support for independent publishers 

The Book Of Khartoum: A City in Short Fiction  - edited by Raphael Cormack and Max Shmookler and published by Manchester-based UK publisher Comma Press - is among the 13 new titles to receive a grant under English PEN's scheme PEN Translates.This collection of short writing from Sudan is the sole work translated from Arabic to receive a PEN Translates grant in the latest batch of awards, announced by English PEN today.

Max Shmookler

Winners of PEN Translates awards are chosen on the basis of their outstanding literary merit, and their contribution to the UK's literary diversity and publishing strategy. The 13-book list of recipients announced today is very varied: it includes a Tamil poetry anthology, novels from Uruguay and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a children's fantasy novel from Denmark and a work of journalism from China.

PEN Translates is part of English PEN's Writers in Translation programme, which has been promoting literature in translation since 2005 - and thus celebrates its 10th anniversary this year - and is supported by Bloomberg. 2015.  The PEN Translates scheme awards grants to UK publishers for translation costs, and is supported by Arts Council England. The English PEN World Bookshelf features more than 100 books that have received support from the Writers in Translation programme.

The Book of Khartoum includes contributions and translations from Arabic by Marilyn Booth, Max Shmookler, Adam Talib, Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Mohammed Ghaylani, Andrew Leber, Elisabeth Jaquette, Sarah Irving, Thoraya El-Rayyes, and Raphael Cormack. It is due to be published by Comma Press in 2016.

Raphael Cormack

The PEN Translates award is a further success for Comma Press, which has received PEN Translates and PEN Promotes awards for a number of previous titles including Iraqi writer Hassan Blaim's short story collection The Iraqi Christ, translated by Jonathan Wright, which won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) in 2014.  The Well of Trapped Words collection of short stories by Turkish writer Sema Kaygusuz, which received a PEN Translates award, was published by Comma Press in May in translation from Turkish by Maureen Freely.

Raphael Cormack is doing a PhD at Edinburgh University, on 19th and 20th cenury Egyptian literature.  Max Shmookler is a PhD student in the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia, where his work focuses on 20th century Sudanese literary history. He is the managing editor of Baraza - a meeting space for critical collaboration run by MESAAS graduate students. He wrote about The Book of Khartoum last October in a blogpost entitled Translating an Aesthetic: Reflections on Sudanese Literature in English.

As well as disclosing the 13 latest recipients of PEN Translates awards today, English PEN announced  increased opportunities for publishers seeking funding. UK publishers with turnover of less than £500,000 per annum will be eligible to apply for 100% of the translation costs of a book acquired from another language. Previously, only publishers with a turnover of less than £100,000 per annum were able to apply for this highest level of grant. All other publishers were eligible for a maximum of 75% of a book’s translation costs.

Erica Jarnes, manager of the Writers in Translation programme, said: "We are delighted to be able to offer 100% grants to more publishers. The adjustment to the threshold means that more funding can go towards books (and translators) published by the small, independent, dynamic publishers who have been at the forefront of a vibrant new culture for translated literature in the UK."

Emma House, Director of Publisher Relations at The Publishers Association and a member of the English PEN Writers in Translation Committee said: "The work of English PEN is incredibly important to publishers and we are delighted that the threshold for 100% translations grants is being increased, so that many more publishers will be able to benefit from full grants".

Samantha Schnee, chair of the Writers in Translation committee, commented: "The increase in publisher turnover threshold is exciting news for many creative publishers who are working hard to bring as much literature from abroad into English as possible. It will mean their translation costs could be fully covered, potentially allowing them to take on more titles.

In addition to The Book of Khartoum the other 12  winners of a 2015 PEN Translates award are:

Paper Tiger by Xu Zhiyuan, translated from Mandarin by Michelle Deeter and Nicky Harman. Published by Head of Zeus, August 2015

Lost Evenings, Lost Lives: Tamil Poets from Sri Lanka's War by Aazhiyaal, Theva Abira, P Ahilan, Anaar, K P Aravindan, Avvai, Cheran, Dushyanthan, Faheema Jahan, Kutti Revathi, Malathi Maithri, Nuhman, Ravikumar, A Sankari, M Rishan Shareef, Sivaramani, S Sivasegaram, Solaikilli, Sukirtharani, Sharmila Syyed, Thirumaavalavan, Urvashi, Captain Vaanathi, S Vilvaratnam, S Vivaratnam, Yesurasa, translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström, Sascha Ebeling. Published by Arc Publications, October 2015

Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from French by Roland Glasser. Published by Jacaranda Books, October 2015

All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski, translated from German by Anthea Bell. Published by Granta Books, November 2015

Diary of a Body by Daniel Pennac, translated from French by Alyson Waters. Published by Maclehose Press, November 2015

On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. Published by Harvill Secker, February 2016

The Transmigration of the Bodies by Yuri Herrera, translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman. Published by And Other Stories, March 2016

I'll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos, translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey. Published by And Other Stories, June 2016

Nouons-nous by Emmanuelle Pagano, translated from French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins. Published by And Other Stories, July 2016

In the Rock by Clemens Meyer, translated from German by Katy Derbyshire. Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, October 2016

Erik's Journey to Valhalla by Lars-Henrik Olsen, translated from Danish by Paul Russell Garrett. Published by Aurora Metro Books, May 2017

The Luminous Novel by Mario Levrero, translated from Spanish by Ana Fletcher. Published by And Other Stories, publication date tbc

Monday, June 15, 2015

BQFP announces the participation of 4 of its authors in Shubbak Festival

press release from Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP):


Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) is proud to be a sponsor of this year’s Shubbak Festival - a window on contemporary Arab culture - taking place in London on 11 -26 July.

The literary portion of Shubbak will include author talks and discussions with four of BQFP’s published authors, covering a range of relevant topics in the world of Arab literature – from the rise of Arabic literature in English to the conceptualizing of a futuristic Middle East through science fiction. The authors and their most recent works are:

Atef Abu Saif

Arabic original of A Suspended Life, shortlisted for IPAF 2015

A Suspended Life by Atef Abu Saif
To be published by BQFP in July 2016
Event: Hot Off the Press
Venue: The British Library, Saturday 25 July 4:30pm

Written originally in Arabic, A Suspended Life was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction   (IPAF 2915).
Atef Abu Saif was born in Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, the eldest of 14 children. He still lives in Gaza, where he teaches Political Science at the University of Al-Azhar. His writing has been published in the New York Times and the Guardian.

Faïza Guène

Men Don’t Cry by Faïza Guène
To be published by BQFP in August 2016
Event: Arabic Europe
Venue: The British Library, Sunday 26 July 12:30pm

Faïza Guène is a French writer and director. Born in Bobigny, France in 1985 to parents of Algerian origin she is best known for her two novels, Kiffe kiffe demain and Du rêve pour les oufs. She has also directed several short films, including Rien que des mots (2004).

Men Don't Cry is translated by Sarah Ardizzone from the French original, Un homme, ça ne pleure pas. The novel's central character Mourad was born in Nice to Algerian parents, and would like to forge his own destiny. His biggest nightmare: to become an obese old man with greying hair, nurtured only by his mother’s deep-fried cooking. To prevent this, he will have to reject his heavy family history. But is it really through cutting off that we can fully become ourselves?

Selma Dabbagh

Out of It by Selma Dabbagh
Event: The Rise of Arabic Literature in English?
Venue: The British Library, Saturday 25 July 11am
Published by BQFP in 2012

The writing is both literary and accessible, fast-paced, passionate, exuberant and heart-lurching. We'll be hearing much more from Selma Dabbagh’ - Guardian

Out of It follows two Gazans, Rashid and Iman, as they try to forge places for themselves in the midst of occupation, religious fundamentalism and the divisions between Palestinian factions. Selma Dabbagh is a British-Palestinian writer based in London. Her short stories have been nominated for the International PEN David TK Wong Award and the Pushcart Prize.

Dr Ahmed Khaled Towfik

Utopia by Dr Ahmed Khaled Towfik
Event: Science Fiction in the Arab World
Venue: The British Library, Saturday 25 July 12.30pm

Published by BQFP in 2011 ‘Towfik paints a vivid picture of Egypt in 2023... a disturbing dystopic vision.’ – Guardian

Ahmed Khaled Towfik was born in 1962 and is the Arab world's most prominent bestselling author of fantasy and horror genres. A medical professor at Egypt's Tanta University, he has written over 200 books.

A futuristic account of Egyptian society in the year 2023, Utopia takes readers on a chilling journey, beyond the gated communities of the North Coast where the wealthy are insulated from the bleakness of life outside the walls. When a young man and a girl break out from this bubble of affluence, they are confronted by a world that they had not imagined possible.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate - new book by Abdel Bari Atwan

review by Susannah Tarbush 

Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate
by Abdel Bari Atwan
Saqi Books, London. 256 pages. Hbk and eBook
ISBN: 978-0-86356-195-5
eISBN: 978-0-86356-101-6

Nearly a year on from Iraqi jihadist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘s declaration of a caliphate, with himself as caliph, Islamic State (IS) has shown itself to be remarkably resilient despite setbacks from time to time. It controls almost half of half of Syria and at least a third of Iraq: an area the size of Britain. Despite the air strikes and other measures against it by the US-led alliance, IS continues to make gains. It recently captured Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria.

The 2 June conference in Paris attended by ministers or their representative from 24 countries in the anti-IS coalition reflected the deep concern over efforts to defeat IS. The conference also brought into focus the lack of a coherent and effective strategy against IS, despite the surely over-optimistic claims by certain US and other participants. 

IS is linking up with other jihadist movements around the world, and has established a strong foothold in Libya, just over the Mediterranean from Europe. It is attracting hundreds of young Muslims from Western and other countries, and there are regular instances in the UK of young British nationals being arrested or charged in relation to terror offences related to Syria or Iraq.

IS’s conquests, and its behaviour in areas it controls, are accompanied by a catalogue of atrocities.  Its massacres, tortures, beheadings and destruction are carefully recorded and widely disseminated on videos whose grotesque choreography and production skills are routinely described in the media as “slick”.

unlikely that IS would have existed without digital technology

The Palestinian journalist and author Abdel Bari Atwan alludes to IS's adept use of all forms of social media and other digital platforms in the title of his book Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, published recently in London by Saqi Books. Atwan writes: “Without digital technology it is highly unlikely that Islamic State would ever have come into existence, let along been able to survive and expand.”

It is just 10 years since the video-sharing site YouTube was created, transforming the world of social media. IS and its forerunner organisations have shown themselves adept at using the whole panoply of digital and social media. Atwan says it is paradoxical that a group which aims to take the world back to the days of the “Righteous Caliphs” – the first generations of Muslims –should be so dependent on the most sophisticated and modern technology. "But in war people use every weapon at their disposal", and the  leaders and foot soldiers of IS are 21st century men who have been brought up with computers, mobile phones and social networking platforms as part of their natural environment.

A pioneer in the use of digital technology to record jihadi operations and spread videos with a jihadist message was the Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, who became Al-Qa’ida’s emir in Iraq. Zarqawi also led the way in the kind of gruesome violence now characteristic of IS. In May 2004 he personally beheaded 26-year-old American businessman Nick Berg, who was dressed in the type of orange jumpsuit similar to those of men in US custody. The video of Berg's murder caused shockwaves far beyond Iraq. Zarqawi was killed by the Americans in 2006, but his legacy remains. In a chilling sign of what is to befall them, a number of  IS's captives or hostages have been dressed in orange jumpsuits for their videoed murders.

The American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was prominent in Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula until his death in a US drone attack of 2011, further developed the digital side of jihadism. He encouraged the use of social media such as blogs, Facebook and YouTube to disseminate jihadist material and indoctrinate new recruits.

Abdel Bari Atwan

Over the past two decades Abdel Bari Atwan has been a prominent writer and commentator on the global jihadi movement. In 1996 he spent 72 hours with Al-Qaeda founder and leader Osama Bin Laden in his Tora Bora cave complex. Saqi Books published three of his previous books: The Secret History of Al-Qa’ida (2006); After bin Laden: Al-Qa’ida, The Next Generation (2012), and the memoir A Country of Words: A Palestinian Journey from the Refugee Camp to the Front Page (2012).

Atwan was editor -in-chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi for 25 years and now edits the Rai al-Youm website, which claims to be the Arab world’s first Huffington Post-style outlet. He contributes to various newspapers including the Guardian and in Scotland the Herald. He often appears on TV and radio, and is a frequent guest on the BBC TV show Dateline London, whose presenter Gavin Esler contributed the comment on the front cover of Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate: “A brave and important book ... a must-read.”

articles on IS attract "ten times the readership of other articles"

In his exhaustively-researched book Atwan draws on a variety of sources, contacts and correspondents, some of them close to IS. He also draws on contributions to Rai al-Youm, observing that articles on IS attract ten times the readership of other articles, and hundreds of comments, “most of them expressing positive views of Islamic State.”
Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate has been receiving a considerable amount of attention. In May Atwan discussed his book at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts and at the Bradford Literature Festival. On 17 June he is due to appear in London at a Chatham House panel discussion on “ISIS: Marketing Terror” together with David Butter, Chatham House Associate Fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, and Sarah Khan, Director of Inspire. The event will be chaired by BBC investigative reporter Peter Taylor OBE.

The  rise, structure and operations of IS presents a complex and often confusing picture. Atwan’s clearly-written and thorough account is a highly informative guide. On the practical level, it is  somewhat marrred for those reading the print rather than the digital edition by the fact that the many footnotes are geared to the digital edition, consisting solely of internet addresses, some of them three of four lines long. But at least the book has a comprehensive index - unlike one of the other recently-published key books on ISIS and IS.

Atwan puts IS in its historical and regional context, covering in detail its origins in Iraq, and Syria, and among the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, with both of which there are connections and rivalries.He notes that when al-Baghdadi declared himself Caliph and Emir al-Muminin (Commander of the Faithful) on 1 July 2014, following the capture of Mosul, many commentators overlooked the important fact that the position had already been occupied by Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, since 1996. “This ‘battle of the caliphs’ is at the heart of current jihadist politics,” he writes.

The development of IS's rivalry with Jabhat al Nusra is examined. Jabhat al-Nusra was formed by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani after Baghdadi dispatched him to Syria for this purpose in summer 2011. After the divide appeared between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the latter pledging its allegiance to al-Qaeda.

Al-Jolani has been in the news in the past few days after he gave an interview with the Al-Jazeera TV channel in which he was highly critical of IS, describing it as "illegitimate". There was much scepticism over his apparent attempt to portray Jahbat al-Nusra as relatively moderate, and some Arab commentators condemned Al-Jazeera for conducting the interview with a terror leader.

the crucial role of Saddam's former military personnel in IS Atwan repeatedly highlights the importance of former members of Saddam’s military to IS’s structure and operations. The previously secular Saddam had himself realised that Islam could be a rallying cry against the West and at the height of UN sanctions he launched a 'Faith Campaign' supervised by his deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. Saddam ordered his army commanders to become practising Muslims, and he tolerated the presence of a small jihadist enclave, Ansar al-Islam, near the border with Iran. Atwan says: "Unbeknown to Saddam, al-Qa'ida had sent some of its own operatives into this enclave. They were instructed to make valuable connections with the newly Islamised army commanders from Saddam's brigades."

After the 2003  invasion, these regular Iraqi army personnel became crucial in the insurgency against the occupiers and to the various Islamist organisations, and eventually to IS.  Today, officers from Saddam's military and security cadres serve IS as experts in key fields such as manufacturing IEDs, security issues and intelligence. "These professional soldiers have advised on the development of a military hierarchy and command that enables Islamic State to function as a highly disciplined army, rather than as a terror group," writes Atwan.

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri went into hiding and evaded capture after the 2003 invasion, playing an important role in the insurgency and then in ISIS's capture of Mosul and northern Iraq. He is reported to have been killed in April this year.

Atwan pieces together a portrait of the secretive Abu Bakr al-Bahgdadi, or “Caliph Ibrahim”, with the help of an unnamed contact who was held with him in the US detention centre Camp Bucca for around two years from 2004. For al-Baghdadi as for many others held there, Camp Bucca became a centre of Islamist radicalisation and links forged between its inmates would be important in the uprisings and violence in the years that followed.

Atwan explores in considerable detail the consolidation, expansion, organisastion and administration of IS and describes daily life within IS,  “the richest terror group in history". Its wealth is derived from oil fields and refineries under its control, looting and trading antiquities. Ransoms from kidnappings. were reported to have brought it $20 million in 2014 alone.

In a particularly depressing passage of his book Atwan tells of how IS  considers human trafficking and slavery to be legitimate practice. Atwan notes that the  "Western press has been full of lurid tales of female captives being sold as 'sex slaves'"- but he adds that these stories cannot be dismisssed as sensationalist propaganda.

'the management of savagery' 

The title of the chapter “The Management of Savagery” is taken from that of a 2004 internet document by al-Qa’ida ideologue Abu Bakr Naji. Naji’s document draws heavily on the work of the 14th century Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyyah, “who is considered the first Salafi-jihadist and is revered by today’s hardliners.”

Atwan claims that while IS’s record of atrocities, carefully packaged and distributed by its media department, may seem like an undisciplined orgy of sadism “it is far from being that”. It is “systematically applied policy.” IS comes across as a ghastly hybrid of Saddam's mass sadism and the worst type of of Islamist violence. Atwan examines in detail Naji’s document, which is often referred to by IS’s online speakers and writers.

Atwan references Donald G Dutton's book The Psychology of Genocide, Massacres and Extreme Violence: Why Normal People Come to Commit Atrocities.  Atwan claims that “Americans scarcely blinked when stories of the most barbaric CIA torture practices in Guantamano Bay were revealed” and that civiilised societies "blithely accept atrocity when it is under the banner of a shared cause". Such claims overlook the complexity of contemporary societies, and widely ranging attitudes on human rights.

Atwan includes a chapter on “Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism and Islamic State.” He refers to an 8 August 2014 article by David Gardner in the Financial Times attacking Saudi Arabia, and  blaming the advent of IS on the house of Saud, its wholesale export of Wahhabism and jihadist fighters and its funding of extremist groups.

Gardner argued that Saudi Arabia had lost its claim to lead the Sunni world and described the modern jihadist as “a Wahhabi on steroids.” Atwan regards this as a simplified picture, but says: “The Saudi regime, rightly, feels that the declaration of the caliphate, and the overt criticism levelled at the House of Saud by the extremists, constitute a very real threat to its existence. That the challenge is mounted within the unique framework of the House of Saud’s own construct – Wahhabism – makes it all the more potent.” 

In the conclusion to his book Atwan warns that IS is not going away, at least in the short term, and that it has put down roots that will not easily be torn up. "The jihadists have been honing their strategy and battle techniques for more than three decades; unsurprisingly, this latest extremist entity is more powerful, more effective, more ruthless and more worrying than anything that has gone before."

He says there is a chance for a way forward, which is to talk to and negotiate with IS. He draws parallels with the British government's negotiations with the IRA after a century of bloodshed and terrorism and the US sitting down with the Vietnamese in Paris in 1973 after nearly 20 years of slaughter. But he offers no suggestions whatsoever as to what could possibly be negotiated with IS.

Atwan ends by writing that while it is rare for him to agree with an American hawk, he fears that former CIA director Leon Panetta was correct when he told the newspaper USA Today in October 2014: "I think we're looking at a kind of 30-year-war, one that will have to extend beyond Islamic State to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere."