Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Pakistani Review on Musharraf's book

" 'Political speech and writing,' says George Orwell is largely the 'defence of the indefensible.' So if the literary genius read General Pervez Musharraf's memoir, In The Line of Fire, What would he say? Though most of the world knows George Orwell for his book, Animal Farm, I remember him for the essay called, Politics and The English Language. It is his classic work on all political writing to date. Orwell deconstructs bad writing by politicians and fascists alike with ease, but I feel that he would be in quiet a fix with Musharraf's book, and wouldn't know what to make of it really.

"[...] Now that I have read Musharraf's Memoir, I wondered if I should go back to Orwell, or shall I put a value on the popularity that this head of state of a developing country has on, say, the Jon Stewart show. Pakistan is headed by a military dictator who can neither be dictator enough to do away with the extra-constitutional Hudood laws, nor benevolent enough to resign as army chief and stand for elections. Flip-flopping between appeasing the mullahs and the west, he plays to the theatre by walking the much acclaimed tightrope of a moderate Muslim country's leader, all on Pakistan's expense. Orwell asked readers of political literature to notice how the word 'democracy' is used in a 'consciously dishonest way' and notice that when we say that a country is democratic 'we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.'

"When I bought the memoir, angry, I thought I was ready to unleash Orwell onto it. I thought I could circle a few embarrassing quotes from Musharraf that have 'private definitions but allow his hearer to think he means something quite different.' [...]

"I thought I could point to the images of a decapitated bomber who tried to assassinate him and say that it was in bad taste, that he was using an image of war to define urgency which reflected the decay of his political thought. I wanted him to stop condemning earlier politicians for what they did and begin by undoing their wrong if he cared enough. It wasn't that simple though, I noticed that Pervez Musharraf steers clear from George Orwell's most cautioned malaise -- lack of clarity.

"[...] Musharraf labels rot as rot, and if his story is to be believed he never would be a dictator, nor does he support the interference of the military into politics, as he explains at length, for the right reasons too. Any witness to the history that maps his last 10 years has reason to substantiate the circumstances that led to his rise as army chief and supreme leader of Pakistan. [...]

"Refreshingly though, the book isn't written for the American, as much as it resonates with the nationalist Pakistani with the Jinnahist ethic -- the secular democratic Pakistan that is successfully liberal because of its culturally Islamic background rather than despite it. Despite the clarity with which Musharraf approaches the book, he cannot be pardoned for the mistakes he's made in real governance. One only wishes he walked his text. Musharraf, as a young boy, escaping the violence of the Hindu mobs before Pakistan was created, says he cried on the day Pakistan's founder, Barrister Mohammad Ali Jinnah died. A claim no one can testify to, but the nobility of which is not lost, for it to deserve mention in this world best-seller. Yet, I find that Musharraf's understanding of the political history of Pakistan's creation is a bit shallow. [...]"

Source: The News (Pakistan), October 20, 2006

Bhutto's new book

"Immediately after receiving the manuscript of Benazir Bhutto’s new book, leading publisher HarperCollins decided to move quickly to get it on the shelves by February, following [...] assassination of the former prime minister. The book, entitled 'Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West,' was part political treatise and part memoir of the first woman elected prime minister of a Muslim nation.

"HarperCollins had signed up the book for an advance estimated to be around $75,000 shortly before she returned to Pakistan in October after years of living in exile.'We have a finished manuscript,' said HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman, who learned about Ms Bhutto’s murder from an email alert. When HarperCollins Executive Editor Tim Duggan sealed the deal with Ms Bhutto, he said: 'Pakistan is an increasingly volatile place, and Ms Bhutto’s book is an eye-opening look at the mistakes we’ve made in the region and what we can do to correct them -- as well as what the consequences will be if we don’t.' "

Source: Dawn (Pakistan), December 29, 2007

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"Arabic speakers, a dying breed in the Arab world?"

"Arabic is the fifth-most spoken language worldwide, with 206 million native Arabic speakers in the world and more than 20 million people speaking it as a second language. But many Arabs feel that globalization has affected their native tongue negatively.

"Arabic, especially classical Arabic, or fus'ha, is a fading tongue between its native speakers, or at least it is becoming less important than it once used to be. Classical Arabic, though the language of the Holy Quran and used in books and formalletters, is now left to the sophisticates. Ali, a 22 year old Kuwaiti, thinks the reason behind the declining standard of Arabic learning is that people associate other languages such as English with better education and career prospects. [...]

"Ali, who is a graduate from a bilingual school and currently studying English literature at Kuwait University (KU) is an example for many other young Kuwaitis and Arabs who would forego their native tongue for a more global language. Though Ali talks Arabic well with a Kuwaiti dialect, he admits that he prefers to speak English among his peers. At home, we usually talk Arabic together, but my sisters send me emails and text messages in English rather than Arabic. And I talk with my friends most of the time in English, he said. [...]"

"Arabs talk in different dialect depending on their region and country. Certain dialects are more difficult to understand than others. For example, Egyptian Arabic is considered the easiest dialect to understand because of the flooding of Egyptian movies and songs, while Algerian dialect is usually considered the most difficult and complicated because of the inclusion of French. That's why classical or literary Arabic is the unifying platform for all Arabs, regardless where they come from, to communicate without misunderstanding. But many Arabic native speakers cannot speak fluent Arabic, in their own dialect, and don't read or write well in classical Arabic. Poor education and fast-moving technologies are some of the reasons behind the declining interest in learning Arabic.

"The English language is becoming the competing language to Arabic now. There is a decline in learning Arabic in public schools now especially in grammar and dictation. There is no love to the language and there is nothing interesting in the curriculums for students anymore, said Abu Mohammad, a Syrian Arabic teacher in a public school in Kuwait.He sees the reason behind this decline or lack of interest in learning Arabic is a shared responsibility between the parents, teachers and the students themselves. 'There is a negligence from the students' side and no cooperation between the teachers and the parents; the parents don't bother to come to schools and check on how their kids are doing, and some teachers' qualifications are minimal so they don't care if their students didn't do well,' he said. [...]"

Source: Kuwait Time (Kuwait), December 27, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mohammed Choukri: The Moroccan Bukowski

"Mohamed Choukri is one of North Africa's most controversial and widely read authors. The distinguished writer Paul Bowles, perhaps best known for his novel The Sheltering Sky, worked closely with Choukri on the translation of For Bread Alone, and penned the introduction.

"For Bread Alone is autobiographical. After a childhood of poverty and petty crime, Choukri learned how to read and write at the age of twenty, after a bout in prison. He then became a teacher and writer, finally being awarded the chair of Arabic Literature at Ibn Batuta College in Tangier. Choukri died of cancer in 2003 at the age of sixty-four. His life is now captured in a film where Choukri himself makes a brief appearance.

"The book itself was banned in Arab countries for its sexual explicitness. Dar al-Saqi was the first publishing house to publish it in Arabic in 1982, thirty years after it was written, though many translations came out before the Arabic version. [...]"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Beirut book fair salutes freedom of speech"

"The 51st Beirut International Arab Book Festival opened at the BIEL (Beirut International Exhibition & Leisure) conference center on Thursday afternoon after an opening address delivered from the Grand Serail by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. [...]"
Source: Daily Star (Lebanon), December 25, 2007

Two Egyptians arrested at Sudan book fair

"Two Egyptians have been arrested in Sudan for their participation at the Sudan book fair, the PANA quoted the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) as reporting.

"The organization said Abdul Fattah Al Sadany, 30, and Mahrous Mohamed Abdel Az im, also 30, were arrested on charges of 'abuse of Islam' for the book 'Aisha: The Wife of Prophet Mohamed.'

"[...] The two men, from the Madbouly Publishing House in Egypt, were promoting a book that criticizes Aisha at the international book fair in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. The book sparked interest of the Sudanese Minister of Justice, who said it promotes ideas 'harmful to the islamic religion'.

"The minister said the defendants were selling a book called 'A mother that ate up her children' and that includes phrases criticizing the Prophet. The book was confiscated at the book fair.
"The Egyptians will be tried under article 125 of the Sudanese penal code for ins ulting religious beliefs and inciting hatred and contempt for religions. They could face up to six months in jail and 40 strokes of the cane if convicted. [...]

"Among the books confiscated at the exhibition were two books about the Shiites , a book called 'Darfur, the history of war and genocide,' published by the Horizons House for publication and distribution."

Source: Panapress, December 17, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sana'a: Two million people and only two libraries

"With a population of two million, the capital city’s only two public libraries are insufficient for education and gaining knowledge.
"When librarians classify books without a computerized system, many errors occur because everything is done the old way, which is writing by hand the book title, who borrowed it, etc., and then having to search through such handwritten record books, which is awkward and time-consuming. Due to such an archaic system, one anonymous individual points out that, 'If any book is lost, librarians usually should take responsibility and pay for it, but because there’s no strict rule to control this, officials don’t say a word and nothing is done about it.' [...]"
Source: Yemen Times (Yemen), December 19, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tintin thrives in the Arab world despite censorship

"Neither censors nor 'Orientalist' stereotypes have dampened demand for the cartoon adventures of Belgian boy reporter Tintin, who has stoked the imagination of generations of Arabs from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

"Created in the middle years of the 20th century, Tintin spent more time in the Arab world than anywhere else, in four books: 'Cigars of the Pharaoh,' 'The Crab with the Golden Claws,' 'Land of Black Gold' and 'The Red Sea Sharks.'

'It's extraordinary that Tintin came here so many times and still has so many friends,' according to Tunisian academic Issam Marzouki.

Opium smuggling, the scramble for Middle Eastern oil, the slave trade and more were all sources of adventure and -- to this day -- controversial storylines for Tintin's Belgian creator, the illustrator Herge. [...]

"But the end of the relationship a year ago between Belgian publishing giant Casterman and Egyptian publisher Dar al-Maaref, which had the right to print Tintin in Arabic for 30 years, means the daring reporter with the trademark quiff is no longer available in Arabic. [...]

Dar al-Maaref declined to comment on the end of the relationship.

Nevertheless, in this centenary year of Herge's birth, the Arab world still reads Tintin in English and French, apparently ignoring the charges of racism and colonialism levelled at the books in Europe and Africa.

"Cliches and stereotypes, sure, but nothing harmful, and Herge refined his view of the Arabs throughout the series... as well as his use of written and spoken Arabic," said Marzouki. "But the adventure is the most important thing."

Source: AFP, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Look at Sudanese Literature

Fatima Ibrahim is a writer and a human right activist.

"A Muslim, a former Member of Parliament in Sudan and [former ]president of the banned Sudanese Women's Union, she has a long history as an outspoken defender of human rights in her country. Now [...] she crackles with energy as she denounces the Islamic fundamentalists whose regime, she says, has turned her homeland into a war torn, shattered nation."

A Look at Sudanese Literature

Tayyib Salih is one of the most famous Sudanese writer. He was born in the North of Sudan in 1929. He studied at the University of Khartoum, before leaving for the University of London (UK). His works generally tackles socio-political issues, such as colonization and gender. Salih is also considered one of the best short story writers working in Arabic today.

Read Tayyib Salih's short novel, A Handful of Dates:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December 11, 2007: Terroristic attack in Algeria

Morituri by Yasmina Khadra

Yasmina Khadra is the pseudonym of Mohamed Moulessehoul.

Enrolled in the army at the age of nine, he starts writing novels using his real name until the regime begins to feel displeased. Following the advice of his wife he starts using the name Yasmina Khadra, the name of his wife.
"This remarkable roman policier introduces us to the formidable and yet very human detective-writer, Superintendent Llob and his devoted lieutenant Lino. It follows Llob in his search for the missing daughter of Ghoul Malek, one of the top power brokers in Algiers. In his search, Llob must traverse the fear-filled streets of Algiers, from the dens of the drug pushers to those of the cruel and fanatical Islamic fundamentalists. The poverty and constant terror and suspicion endemic to Algiers, torn apart by civil war, is set against contrasting glimpses of the corrupt and luxurious high society. The memory of the serene and beautiful Algiers that was makes the current situation all the more heartbreaking. More than just an outstanding mystery novel, with Morituri Khadra paints an unforgettable picture of the tragedy of modern Algeria, in language of breathtaking power and poetry."
Source: Barnes and Noble

Friday, December 7, 2007

Driss Chraibi: The Moroccan Novelist

"Chraïbi is considered to be the father of the modern Moroccan novel.

"Chraïbi's works draw heavily on his own life. Central theme in his novels is the clash between different cultures, the East and the West, Arab and French. Chraïbi's range of style changes from epic to comedy. He has been among the pioneers of Maghrebian writers to explore the oppression of women and children in an Islamic, patriarchal society.

"Driss Chraïbi was bon in El Jadida. His father was a tea merchant, who perceived Western education as a means to modern Morocco. Chraïbi attended Koranic school as a young boy. When the family moved to Casablanca, Chraïbi continued his studies at the French Lycée. At age of nineteen he went to France planning study chemical engineering and neuropsychiatry. After abandoning his studies, he traveled throughout Europe and Israel.

"Chraïbi settled in France with his first wife and children, and eventually devoted himself in 1952 to literature and journalism. [...]

"As a novelist Chraïbi made his debut with Le Passé simple (The Simple Past), which was published in 1954, two years before Morocco gained its independence. The book arose much controversy because of the inflammable political situation in the North Africa.

"Chraïbi was criticized as a traitor to the Arab world and French conservatives saw that the book revealed the reason for French presence in Morocco. The protagonist in the novel is a young man, Driss, who revolts against his tyrannical Moslem father. The father banishes Driss from the home and Driss begins his wandering on the streets. Finally he returns to home only to find that his mother has committed suicide in his absence. The novel ends with Driss's departure for France. Driss is an outsider in his own country, oppressed by his family and the feudal, religious traditions.

"Chraïbi was so disturbed by critics, that he publicly rejected the novel in 1957, but later regretted his action. The book was banned in Morocco until 1977. [...]"

From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel

From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel
By Alek Wek

"Since the day she was scouted by a modeling agent while shopping at a London street fair when she was just nineteen, Alek Wek's life has been nothing short of a fantasy. [...]

"But nothing in her early years prepared her for the life of a model.

"Born in Wau, in the southern Sudan, Alek knew only a few years of peace with her family before they were caught up in a ruthless civil war that pitted outlaw militias, the Muslim-dominated government, and southern rebels against each other in a brutal conflict that killed nearly two million people. Here is her daring story of fleeing the war on foot and her escape to London, where her rise from young model to supermodel was all the more notable because of Alek's non-European looks.

"A probe into the Sudanese conflict and an inside look into the life of a most unique supermodel, Alek is a book that will inspire as well as inform."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Journalists arrested in Egypt

"RSF [Reporters Withou Borders] strongly condemns the arrest of journalist Hossam el-Hendy at Helwan University, south of Cairo, as 'an attempt to intimate all bloggers in Egypt' after officials there reported him to police for taking photos and sending messages about a demonstration on his mobile phone.

"El-Hendy, 22, who works for the daily paper "Al-Dustour" and the website Eshreen (, was covering a 28 November 2007 protest that erupted when a speaker at a university conference on information technology said it was important to regulate online activity in Egypt.

"The press freedom organisation also deplored the suspension, on 21 November, of the YouTube account of journalist and blogger Wael Abbas, [See full soty on] who had posted scenes of police brutality. His Yahoo! e-mail account was also suspended on 29 November. [...]

"Egypt is on the RSF list of "enemies of Internet freedom." One blogger, Kareem Amer, 22, is in prison for posting material online and has become a symbol of repression towards the country's bloggers [...]"
Source: Reporters Without Borders

After 11 Years, Qatari "Al-Arab" Newspaper Resumes Publication

The Qatari daily Al-Arab resumed publication on November 18, after an 11-year hiatus following the death of its founder and owner Abdallah Hussein N'ameh.
The daily will have 60 pages, and will publish a weekly supplement devoted to Persian and Turkish literature, indicating cultural openness towards Iran and Turkey.

Source: Al-Hayat, London, November 18, 2007

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Saudi woman writer Suad Jaber's book critical of Men

"The Saudi writer Suad Jaber dedicates her first novel, ‘Silence Written by Absence,’ (Samt Yaktabuhu al Ghiyab) to every woman who has endured deprivation. [...]

"Within the framework of this abnormal relation between man and woman, the game of collusion does not reveal conflict between two wills that struggle for one freedom; rather there is always the logic of the one who is capable of possessing and the one who is not.

"Man is conscious of his freedom, and he even builds it upon the wreckage of a woman's freedom. Also, in his relations with her, he does not look for natural ground that maintains the privacy of each party. He is an egoistic creature who does not regard love as an act of freedom but, from his point of view, as a mere framework for social luxury and satisfaction of the sexual urge. Therefore, when a woman fails to find love, man becomes a bitter opponent.

"Away from the boundaries of this relation, national patriotic concerns that are sometimes scattered across the narration are not expressed but rather appear as mumbles on the surface that does not live up to the level of striking conscious insofar as it is an attempt to demonstrate a sort of superficial excellence of female presence vis-à-vis male absence or weak presence until the female presence appears a certainty, whilst the latter retires to the shadow of this certainty.

"In this fashion, we encounter this cry of protest against man in a message… 'Draw the boundaries of the relationship you want…color them, shape them, write them, reject them, remove them … It does matter, because I will remain the woman who gave up her heartbeat to beat for you… I am the woman who gave the sweetest and finest of feelings. I am the woman who reached out to you, to hold you when you were overwhelmed by anxiety and boredom.'

"However, the powerful cry of the ego soon fades and becomes an elegy for the self and the other together when the spirit's resistance collapses versus physical concerns and pressures of reality. The rebellious discourse then follows another pattern, 'Today, I am not asking you to speak, but I call for your reading capability to read the pain and admonition in my eyes. Forgive me for today my words are unsure, unable to convey my meaning and my sentences are weak in expression and my lines bleed before your very eyes… I am not myself and my pen is not mine… A depressing feeling overwhelms me, and my desire for you stifles me.'

"The messages of the book proceed after this pattern. Man has no actual presence except through the narrator, i.e., the writer. He is no more than a recipient of her letter. 'All my feelings began to abandon me… My anger, my love… I do not threaten or make revolutionary statements… I do not condemn or denounce. How far I am from these emotional onslaughts and cries that evoke your loyalty… My national defeats hurt me more than my individual ones… Today I stand on the borderline between existence and non-existence… It is your own life; enjoy it your own way. Do as you like. Fill your heart with sincere love or false emotions… Heed only the voice of ego within you… For me it suffices to have lived the dream so affectionately.' [...]"

Source: Asharq Al Awsat (Saudi-owned, London-based), January 11, 2007

Book Against Corruption Released in Jordan

"Arab civil society has succeeded in promoting the transparency agenda despite legal impediments and smearing attacks, according to a book recently published by the Arab Archives Institute (AAI) in Jordan.

"The book, entitled “Against Corruption - The role of Arab Civil Society in Fighting Corruption”, analyses the activities carried out by civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Arab world with focus on Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco as representative countries of the Mashreq, Gulf and Maghreb regions.

"In the case of Jordan, the book analyses the role of CSOs in fighting corruption and their relationship with the government and the authorities in the kingdom.

"While the Jordanian government exposed an estimated two-billion-US dollar corruption cases (since the democratic process was reintroduced in Jordan in 1989 until 2007) civil society had magnificently succeeded in pushing for an anti-corruption legislation that saw the light less than a decade after initiating campaigning efforts.

"The book also shows how Arab civil society has succeeded in a short span of time to advance the issue of fighting corruption and placing it on the national, Arab and international agendas. Were it not for the NGOs, the number of corrupt people might have been double the number that is already there. [...]"

Source: Middle East Online, November 29, 2007