I never met my grandfather, Abu Adel (Ahmed Hankir). He passed away before I was born. But for years, I’ve heard about his legacy in ful (fava bean stew)-making, not only from my father, but from ful sellers and shop owners in my hometown of Sidon, where jeddo is known as the “King of Ful.” Every single time I say that I’m the granddaughter of Abu Adel, I’m met by these ful connoisseurs with warmth, enthusiasm and nostalgia. Last month, while I was back home, I reported and wrote this piece for Roads and Kingdoms, which touches on my grandfather’s legacy as the owner of one of the most popular ful establishments in Sidon, Ful Abu Adel, and his beginnings as a ful seller in Haifa, Palestine, where he first set up shop.
It features dozens of hijabi women who don’t appear to be oppressed. One of these mesmerising women dances her way through a dilapidated building without the faintest care in the world. There’s nothing exotic or erotic about her dancing: the choreography consists of an amalgam of moves that can only be described as beautifully erratic, and the woman is dressed in a flowy, figure-concealing ‘abaya.
Crucially, there’s no Western gaze on the women. They’re busy peering at themselves, and momentarily, at the (male) members of the Lebanese band. And while some of the women may appear passive, by the end of the video we learn that what they’re actually doing is mobilising (possibly against a deeply-entrenched patriarchy in the Arab world). The oppressive landscape, the band said in a Facebook post when it released the video on Tuesday, is actually a “fertile ground from which resistance can be weaponised.”
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been woman-crushing on psychologist, poet and writer Hala Alyan for years now. So I was especially pleased to see the Palestinian-American’s debut novel, Salt Houses (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2017), receive heaps of well-deserved praise from everyone including the LA Review of Books to the National.
The book has garnered so much attention in literary circles, it’s even made it on to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s summer reading list. (Note that I interviewed Alyan about her book for Al Jazeera English. The Q&A, which I was ridiculously thrilled to put together, is here).
At its core, Salt Houses is a family drama about the multigenerational-trauma triggered by displacement. The novel, which starts in Nablus with the Six-Day War of 1967 and ends in Beirut with the Lebanon War of 2006, tells the story of the Palestinian diaspora through one well-to-do family, the Yacoubs.
Salt Houses takes us on multiple journeys with eight members of the family as Alyan expertly shifts generations and voice with each chapter. We move with the Yacoubs from Kuwait City and Amman to Boston and beyond, experiencing the intricacies of the aftermath of forced (or self-imposed) exile.
There’s much to be pleased about regarding the results of yesterday’s snap election in the UK: the vindication of Jeremy Corbyn, the humiliation of a particularly smug conservative party under Theresa May and the crushing defeat of UKIP.
But in all of the ruckus came this important moment: the election of the UK’s first MP of Palestinian descent, Layla Moran. (The fact that the MP is a woman is even more reason to celebrate.) Moran, at just 34, stole the Oxford West and Abingdon seat from the Tories with a swing of about 15 percent. According to the BBC, she overturned a conservative majority of almost 10,000 votes to win the seat. A physics teacher by profession with a master’s degree in comparative education, Moran ran with the Liberal Democrats. Her father is British while her mother is Palestinian from Jerusalem.
Earlier this month, I stumbled upon this fantastic, comprehensive list of recently published books by authors and poets of Arab, Middle Eastern and/or Muslim descent put together by Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar (originally posted on Facebook).
Akbar, whose poetry was published in the New Yorker’s special fiction issue, very graciously said I could repost the brilliant list here.
I’d like to think this compilation signals a new nahda in Arab & Muslim writing, with, as a friend recently put, Hisham Matar sitting up top (I tend to agree as I’m biased on Matar & his Pulitzer-prize winning book, THE RETURN.)
JFYI I wrote this review of “Eshtebak” (Clash) for 7iber. (Originally published here on May 6).
In August 2013, Egyptian security forces raided a sit-in camp in Cairo filled with hundreds of protesters supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi. According to Human Rights Watch, the ensuing clashes between the army and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood at Raba’a Square left at least 817 civilians dead.
It’s near-impossible to imagine — let alone depict — the chaos and hatred that must have permeated the air in the weeks that led up to that horrific massacre. And yet, Mohamed Diab, the talented director of “Eshtebak” (“Clash”), somehow manages to do just that, in a superb 97-minute film that’s expertly shot in and from one location: the back of a run-down police van.
The Economist‘s 1843 magazine ran a wonderful piece on Calligraffiti in the Arab world, featuring the works of French/Tunisian street artist eL Seed and Lebanon’s Yazan Halwani
Patrick Kingsley, now at the New York Times after leaving the Guardian, wrote this Saturday profile on a jihadi who apparently found Jesus
YES. The inimitable Hisham Matar just nabbed the Pulitzer Prize in Biography or Autobiography for his exquisite book, the Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Random House). The writer beat out some tough competition from Susan Faludi for In the Darkroom and the late Paul Kalanithi for When Breath Becomes Air.
It’s been two years to the day since Mirna passed away.
I was reminded of this painful reality by Facebook’s “On this Day” feature. A sad sign of the times, perhaps, to be reminded of the death of a dear friend by social media. But also an apt one, as I sometimes find myself visiting Mirna’s Facebook profile when I miss her dearly and scramble for memories of the last few times we interacted — both online and in real life.
I do, of course, have Whatsapps, text messages, emails and Instagram likes and comments to remember her by. I have viewed and re-read them countless times over the past 24 months. In each message, post and comment I find an additional sign of her determination to overcome brain cancer — a disease she never gave in to, even though it ultimately claimed her life.
At various points in our friendship, I wasn’t there for Mirna in the way that I should or could have been. The texts also remind me of my shortcomings in that respect. The guilt associated with those shortcomings is something I still struggle to contend with: I could have been more present, more communicative, more supportive. At the same time, Mirna was forgiving and loving and warm, without fail, whenever we communicated or saw each other.
All eyes were on Hollywood a-listers and the Oscars last night, particularly in the aftermath of envelope-gate. But in London, thousands gathered at Trafalgar Square in the freezing cold for a special open-air screening of The Salesman, in solidarity with Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who boycotted the Oscars due to Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan organised the event to tell the world that London is open (and seemingly to give Trump London’s middle finger). In a speech, the UK capital’s first Muslim mayor noted that Trump would “not silence” him and that we must mobilise to oppose the US president, not simply by protesting, but by organising events that celebrate our diversity, whether we’re from “Lebanon or London.” (See part of his speech in the video below. You’ll also get to hear me cheering Khan on. #SorrynotSorry).