Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for November 2008

At The Empire’s Edge

with 15 comments

Here’s a piece I wrote for the National about Arabs on Hadrian’s Wall.

late 2008 584Beyond the fleeting days of summer, Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England is a cold place to be. I stood on a high ridge looking down the line of the Wall at black cloud building over the ruins of Housesteads fort. I was fully exposed to the wind, which carried small seeds of rain, and the mud covering my clothes seeped slowly towards my heart. For a moment I dreamt myself into the skin of an ancient soldier, one come here from warmer climes to serve his empire, and I shivered to my frozen toes. Then my son grinned, turned towards the fort, and with a delighted scream charged downwards, slaying imagined barbarians as he went.

We had set out early in the brisk morning from our home in south west Scotland, over bridges and past floods in low-lying fields. Streams gurgled in roadside ditches; pond-sized puddles occupied town centres. There’s enough water here to produce the illusion of hopping island to island through a vast archipelago.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 22, 2008 at 9:55 am

Posted in Culture, History, Iraq, Syria, Travel, UK

Tagged with

At All Costs

with 5 comments

A short story published in Five Dials. It’s only the second short story I’ve written, and I don’t know if I should be proud or ashamed of it. Here’s the link. It includes an interview with Noam Chomsky.

Abdu, masterful and charismatic, was holding forth above a long table which supported a debris of pastes and salads, when he registered, like a disturbance on a radar screen, a burst of cruel hilarity erupting from a couple of the younger guests. Abdu didn’t slow down; instead he increased his volume and amplified the movements of his hands. It was important that as few people as possible noticed the teenagers’ disrespect, and that nobody noticed that he had noticed. To notice it was to grant it value, and that he must not do.

This was his 60th birthday meal. At the climax of his life, after decades of sustained effort, he’d won the right to celebrate birthdays, like Europeans do, and also to be considered a right-living patriot. That is, an embodiment of modern success. No woman at the table wore a headscarf, and neither, of course, was any alcohol served. His young dyed-blonde wife presided quietly at his side. She wore a cream-coloured jacket and trousers from Paris. He wore a new, blue suit. All eyes were upon him. This was essential. If they didn’t recognise him correctly now, he would be ruined in his own eyes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 13, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Posted in writing

Tagged with

Hair for the Observer

with 3 comments

Here is an unedited version of an article published in the Observer Woman magazine.

Eid people 3When I first saw my wife she was seated in the middle of a crowded room, she had her eyes fixed on me, and she had a luxuriously unruly cascade of hair. We started talking, and from then on her hair’s startling blackness seemed emblematic of the force of her character.

I enjoyed seeing her hair fanned out around her moonsliver face. I enjoyed touching it, either its natural curliness or its hair-dryered straightness. In a city where half the women covered their hair in public, and just because she had such beautiful hair, Rana’s hair became for me her sign, the feature by which I’d pick her out at a distance, my symbol for understanding her and what she meant to me.

So when, five years into our marriage, Rana decided to cover her hair, I was somewhat bothered. In the meantime we’d moved from Syria via Morocco to Saudi Arabia, we’d had children, and Rana had worked as a teacher and TV presenter. She’d always been an elegantly modest dresser, but here, amid the compulsory dress codes of Saudi Arabia – which annoyed both of us – she’d decided to introduce something new. I grasped for a response.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 9, 2008 at 12:30 am

Posted in Islam

Tagged with

A Plague on Both their Houses

with 9 comments

The great thing about the forthcoming American presidential election is that Hillary Clinton won’t be the winner. The lamentable thing is that either Barack Obama or John McCain will be.

I have detested Hillary Clinton since she led a New York demonstration against ‘Arab terror’ in the first days of the second Intifada. This was before the Intifada became militarised, when it still centred around stone-throwing crowds and peaceful demonstrations, and when the zionist occupation was murdering dozens of Palestinians every day. This year her campaign website stated: “Hillary Clinton believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned.” Just run your eyes over that again. Hillary Clinton doesn’t just believe that the citizens of Israel should be safe, but that Israel “as a Jewish state”, as an apartheid state for Jews only, not for its citizens or for those it has driven out, should be safe. She believes that illegally occupied and illegally colonised east Jerusalem, an ancient Arab city originally built by Canaanite Jebusites, should remain under eternal zionist occupation. And she believes not only that her immoral and stupid positions are right, but that they should never be questioned. Such is the weight of zionism on American political life – as heavy a taboo as God is in the east.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 1, 2008 at 1:49 am