Archive for September 2008
This morning a car bomb exploded in Mahlak street, Damascus, at a junction with the airport road and not far from Sitt Zainab. Seventeen are dead and 14 injured. That sounds like a powerful bomb, killing more than it maims.
In 1997 I found myself walking over what appeared to be blood and oil stains in the Victoria area of the city. There were soldiers gathering shards of glass and hosing the street down. Bystanders were subdued, not meeting your eye. I asked someone what had happened and he mumbled something about a gas leak. In fact a bus had been blown up minutes after leaving the old station at Baramkeh, and nine people had been killed. Afterwards there were whispers about Lebanese Maronites (the Lebanese Sunnis still supported Syria) being behind it, and of course Israel was a suspect. But the whole thing was kept as quiet as possible. The deal the regime has made with the people is: allow us corruption and thuggishness if we give you in return a foreign policy which doesn’t shame you and, most fundamentally, a guarantee of security. Exploding buses are a message from whoever sends them to the Syrian people, and the literal translation of the message is: the regime can’t protect you.
This was written for the National.
Disturbing a sleeping box of old cassettes the other day, my hand brushed an album by Chab Hasni, and memories rushed in as fluent as music, of the Algerians I’d known in Paris in the early nineties, particularly my friends Qader and Kamel.
In Algeria these two had been ‘hittistes’. That’s a real Algerian word: a French ending tacked onto the Arabic ‘hayit’ meaning ‘wall’. The hittistes were the youths who spent their time leaning against walls, bored, angry, and stoned. They had no jobs and no housing – those young men who did have jobs often slept in their workplaces. They spent their time dodging the fearsome police force.
Life as ‘clandestin’ illegal immigrants in France was not much easier. There too they had to negotiate checkpoints. I remember Kamel spending a fortnight in prison for being stopped ‘without papers’. When at liberty, they peddled hashish on Pigalle and sold the cassettes they lifted from shops. (Still, there was honour amongst thieves. Qader once knocked down a fellow Algerian for stealing from an old man on the metro. “So what if he’s French?” he growled. “He could be your grandfather!”)
Two reviews, one harsh and critical, one brief and bright.
I met Nadeem Aslam in Southampton, and spent an evening and a morning having wonderful conversations with him. When I told him I’d written a bad review of his latest book (half of it is bad) for the National (in Abu Dhabi) he was not in the least bitter, not even for a moment. I am not such a successful human being. I would have been convulsed with rage and venom for at least three hours, and then ill with it for weeks. He just wanted to know why I didn’t like the book. Well, it’s partly the politics, and quite a lot to do with characterisation. Then my review may be fierce precisely because I think he’s a major writer, and therefore fair game. (But I don’t think he’s fair game after meeting him, such a lovely man he is; I hang my head in shame). The negativity of the review may also have something to do with me responding to my own perceived failures as a writer.
And damn, they pay you to squeeze out an opinion, so opinionate is what you do.
The problem with writing a book review after you’ve had a book published is that it seems as if you’re suggesting you could outwrite the writer you’re criticising. Ironically, now that I should be more qualified to write about novels, I feel less qualified. Or at least worried that I’m setting myself up. Anyway.
I apologise from my absence. I’ve been very busy. I’ll be back soon, but for now I’ll post something from Conflicts Forum. I’ll post it because it clarifies the already clear truth that Salafism, whether the Salafis know it or not, has an inherent opposition to genuine resistance in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Below you’ll read about the marriage of Wahhabi nihilism and Arab fascism, and how its purpose is to deepen the Empire’s control by encouraging the people to hate each other. And there is further clarification of how very unlike this twisting, thrusting couple (Mr. Salafi and Mr. Fascist – it’s a same-sex partnership) are organisations like Hizbullah and Hamas.
The honeymoon after the wedding was remarkable for its dog-gnawed corpses, and for the smiles on the faces of fat businessmen and kings.
(I recommend Conflicts Forum’s intelligent and detailed articles. The three-part report on how Hizbullah defeated Israel in 2006 is fascinating.)
I had great sympathy for Chechnya when it was twice destroyed by Russian forces. The Chechens have been fighting for their independence for more than a hundred and fifty years. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown had no sympathy for Chechnya because, he says, Chechnya is officially part of Russia. The Chechen issue is a matter of Russian ‘territorial integrity.’ I admit that Brown’s position here makes sense. However brutal Russia’s treatment of Chechnya, it isn’t Britain’s business. (It may be the business of concerned British people, but that’s something else).
I don’t have much sympathy for Georgia, however, and none at all for the bleatings of the US, Britain and Germany, including Brown’s ridiculous bleatings in the Guardian. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia relinquished its control of eastern Europe and allowed independence to Caucasian and Central Asian nations. But instead of independence several of these countries became absorbed into the American empire. The fear that some of them had of their huge neighbour was understandable and deeply rooted (though not in Georgia, which had participated in Soviet rule from the Georgian Stalin to the Georgian Shevardnadze). The real fault was the West’s, to so stupidly exploit this fear, and to extend, by hubris, NATO membership and American missiles right to Russia’s borders. Russia in 1991 was too weak to do anything but let power slip, but its tolerance of Western expansion also showed a naivety, an overly-optimistic trust in Western capitalism. The very memory of that naivety is a humiliation to Russians.