Nahla Al-Ageli


Nahla Ink Online Journal

Nahla Ink Online Journal was originally conceived in 2009 as a blog to chronicle my adventures in beginning to identify as a British/Arab woman living in London. At the time, I felt somewhat caught between two cultures that seemed at odds: and, at times, even in conflict within me. Naively I wondered if I had to choose between one or the other; and, wherein to invest my heart, my time and work, my mind and relationships, seeing a big ‘versus’ sign between East and West paradigms, lacking an alternative potential.

Being ‘Arab’ at the time was yet to be a tick-box ethnicity in UK equality and diversity monitoring forms, so I felt like I was reaching out in the unknown world wide web and through a small social media network, to see who might respond or engage with my musings, questioning where I truly belonged. Soon, however, I was surprised to encounter others, many of whom had boarded the same ship as me; all signed up to explore, define and give voice to the ‘British of Arab origin’ identity and mixed heritage.

By September 2010, I was in fact so encouraged by the wonderful characters and stories I was frequently coming across, that I decided to enrol for an NCTJ Journalism Diploma. My wish was to publish what I wanted to be ‘proper’ interviews, reviews, and news features, for example. I also quickly noticed how, on the whole, the mainstream UK outlets were not doing justice to anything pertaining to the Arab or to positively reference the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, in a hostile environment of blame post 9/11.

Of course nobody could have predicted the seismic events that would soon occur in the Arab world circa 2011, nor the forcing of the more complex narratives to explain reasons for the uprisings. Being an intern at Time Out London, I received my first paid commission to write an interview with a Libyan rebel soldier - whose leg had to be amputated to save his life in London - as he had suffered severe wounds fighting back in my home country, Libya. In the following weeks, I would also cover the demonstrations held in front of Arab embassies, all voicing a call
to topple the dictatorial regimes, asking the UK government to lend its support for change.

That historic moment turned much upside down, especially for those who were emotionally and psychologically invested with the political events unfolding in the MENA region; but, whose feet also happened to be firmly placed on British soil. In a way, it led to the organic mobilisation of an Arab diaspora community, as we initially connected to make sense of the revolutions, promising a lot more than what would be delivered. In any case, the dynamic formation opened the way for us to receive, welcome and share the newly burgeoning arts coming from the zone in flux.

Without naming individuals or entities here - as they occupy every page of Nahla Ink! - more and more artists, musicians, event programmers, art curators, performers, academics, charitable organisations, and festivals too, would come together, bonded and spirited by the struggles of kin and common roots. Driven by the desire to process what was happening inside the collective psychic space, our beautiful cluster was formed whose critical role was, and continues to be, how to articulate the more nuanced narratives of who we are as British/Arabs, set against the still unsatisfactory stereotypes and caricatures lurking in the mainstream.

As a niche cultural scene, at disposal are the simple things everyone can enjoy, appreciate and partake in; like listening or dancing to Arabic music, watching films in London’s cinemas that transport us to the Middle East, visiting galleries showing the relevant visual arts, going to the theatre for Arab-led plays, reading the books and magazines, and even attending Arab-infused comedy! We do this to celebrate the vibrant and within itself diverse Arab diaspora, fully at ease with its British values and comfortable living here. It is why I retain Nahla Ink as an independent platform, bringing newsworthy findings which don’t always make it to the wider public sphere.

Gladly also direct feedback over the years tells me that Nahla Ink, with its frequently featured artists connected to the MENA region, its news, reviews and interviews, as well as the popular ‘Arab About London’ listing - which freely promotes MENA-inspired local London events - continues to be of immense value for anyone who might be grappling with a British/Arab identity conundrum or just wants to deeply process what it could possibly mean, reaching out as I once did.

The message I have for you is that, yes, there is an alternative potential without a ‘versus’ sign attached to its resolution. It just comes when you put in the effort to shed your own prejudices and join those who are busy building the bridges to connect us all, as opposed to putting up walls that would only serve to alienate one from self and others. To end, I quote one of my favourite writers:

The identity cannot be compartmentalised; it cannot be split in halves or thirds, nor have any clearly defined set of boundaries. I do not have several identities, I only have one, made of all the elements that have shaped its unique proportions.” Amin Maalouf

I leave you with the invitation to get in touch if you have something you want to share!

Nahla Al-Ageli
Independent British/Arab Journalist
London, July 2023

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