Diamond Jubilee Celebrations: Why It Matters To Be British!

The Jubilee weekend has brought out a British person inside of me I never knew existed. First I went to the Battersea Park Jubilee Festival for the River Pageant and was super excited to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people. All trying to get a glimpse of the lady of the hour, she is celebrating sixty years on the throne. The crowd on the day totalled over a million and I can’t think of any other world superstar, other than HM Queen Elizabeth II, who can manage even half that much.

It took me back to December 1996 when I first pledged to be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors according to law. It was an important day as I got my British passport, but with the only pity being that they didn’t have a citizenship test nor a citizenship ceremony as part of the process, which I would have loved to do.

Since I have felt grateful to the Queen as my new shiny ID gave me access to things and places otherwise not possible with my Libyan nationality. It has enabled me to feel free and confidant in traveling the world without hassle. Not only that, I did study English Law and learned about the UK government system, the British constitution and the role of the Monarchy.

On Sunday in great British fashion nobody was excluded from the festivities. The crowds were a reflection of the diversity of the country, with not just natives but people of all ethnicities come together to celebrate. My guess is we the latter have all been resident in the UK long enough to feel and know that we belong and as we have been granted our rights and protection of civil liberties within the legal framework.

The weekend has reaffirmed that HM the Queen, who has been around longer than any other monarch in modern history, will always be an icon of the archetypical mother of a nation, offering herself as the symbol for all of us to come together, regardless of any divides. Her patience and resilience are admirable qualities; and, even as some believe the royal family should be abolished, this Queen has earned all the respect that she gets.

Not only does she take seriously her duties to serve her country, she never takes more liberties than what is permitted. She has devoted her whole life to her role and has never complained or begged tiredness or sickness in all the years she has been on the throne and working. Now she is 86.

It was truly wonderful to behold all of this, with everybody carrying and waving the Union Jack; or, they were holding items with the design on hats, sunglasses, scarves, afro wigs, pins, hair bands, shoes, suits and candy floss.

After Battersea where I couldn’t get a good view of the River Thames, my friends and I managed to tube it to Waterloo to see the atmosphere by the Southbank. It was electric there too. The Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the NFT were full of people standing on the balconies with lots of families and children too. Even though it got colder and wetter, it was beautiful to see the whole width of the river bank and the bridges jam-packed with spectators.

I was soaked by the end of it, but I am so glad I didn’t stay at home and just proxy view it on TV. This way I got British fever and it won’t escape me for a bit.

Note: This article was first published circa June 2012

Libyan Voices

Revolution! Catching up with an excited group of Libyan demonstrators in London, they were burning a couple of Green books outside Downing Street. The wild crowd also set aflame the green flag and replaced it by the old one of the monarchy. Last of their grand gestures, they hung and beat a padded doll representing Gaddafi with a symbolic heavy stick.

Hundreds of Libyans, mostly expats, began to sing the old anthem of the nation and chanted: “Tell Moammer and his sons, that there are men in Libya. Tell his daughter Aicha that we don’t want him anymore. Libya, Libya, Libya, the free. We are united brothers, from Benghazi and Tripoli. The people want the end of this regime.”

Afraid for the future, and worried about the escalating violent means that Gaddafi is resorting to quell dissent, this is what some of them had to say. A few agreed to give their full names but others not.

Sara, 38 said: “I now light a candle each night to give me hope, that the massacres in Tripoli will stop. My brothers (some as young as 14 and 20) and sisters of Benghazi have shown us that they are brave and are leading the way against Gaddafi’s madness. I pray that my elderly parents are safe, who are alone and vulnerable.

“Blood in the hospitals is thrown away, so that protestors die, and they hide the bodies so we cannot show the world media, but the fleeing of his daughter and his daughter in law makes me believe, that we will capture him and hang him soon. It has been a long 42 years of darkness and sadness, hoping and praying that there will be light soon.”

Tasnim Ben Sueied, 27 said: “A great thing that the revolution is in progress, because the Libyan people have been suffering under the hands of this oppressor. However, it is difficult to comprehend and I’m shocked at the silence of the world.”

Jalal Shammam, 46 said: “The future is bright for Libya. We have stood up, once and for all, with one voice to get rid of Gaddafi. My sympathy to the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of those who have lost their lives.”

Mohamed Mohsin Gheryani, 36 said: “I am feeling great. Libyans are surrounded with each other, on one ground.”

Ingi Soufraki, 49 said: “I want to go home to visit my mother’s grave. My last visit to Libya was in 1978.”

Hulya Soufraki, 47 said: “Stop the condemnation [international community] and start the action against Gaddafi. We want to try him and then he has to be pulled limb by limb.”

Naziha, 32, who is half Libyan and half English, said: “It is really scary but exciting times to be a Libyan. We’re talking to our families and they are ridiculously scared. It is upsetting to be here and frustrating not to be able to do anything. Phones get dead. We’re watching TV. Because of the violence in Tripoli, they cannot leave their homes. There is little food and no water. The UN Security Council has so far given us a lame response. Libyans though want to do this on their own and anew world awaits for them. Sad and horrible that the bloodshed has had to happen.”

Asma Maguz, 40 said: “I’ve been asked by the press about the oil pipes and oil prices. I’ve never seen anything from Libya’s export profits. We just want him out. Then they asked me how did we, as a Libyan nation, let him rule us for 42 years? It has been three generations now. Was it his money? The ability to brainwash us? No, he found a very simple society in Libya, and in particular in Tripoli. We’re a peaceful and forgiving people, almost passive. Even up until recently, they were ready to believe in his son Saif. But he just threatened and so now, people don’t care. They’re not scared. They have seen the worst, including rapes and killings. He and his family need to be caught and brought to justice.”

Fatima Ahdash, 19 said: “I have mixed feelings. Devastated by the genocide. The first time Libyans can speak up in their country. I am very hopeful that he will step down. It has been 42 years. Enough!”

Rami, 24, and born in the UK: “I am proud and ashamed at the same time. The shame is it took this long and we’ve had to reach the lowest point. But inshallah, he will go. I am looking forward to visiting Libya and to not see his face on the billboards the minute after getting off the plane.”

Laman, 67: “Why are they saying false things? This is a nationalist movement of the Libyan people. It has nothing to do with Al-Qaeda, nothing to do with the Taliban, nor Bin Laden. 42 years of him. Never in my life have I seen someone do this to his own people. America is not involved.”

Marwa, 18 and Noura Elgiathis, 17 said: “We want Gaddafi to die. It is the end. Libyans are speaking out: Libya! Libya! It is so great to be able to shout its name and not be afraid. They want to put him in his Green Square and hang him. Let them torture and execute him. This is the beginning of the end.”

Mohammed Zeiani, 22 said: “We need to get together as Libyans. Please ask everyone to help send money and medical aid to our people. They are going through Egypt and Tunisia. Support us please.”

Hawri Ahmed, from Kurdestan, said: “I am not Libyan but I have friends. We’re here to see that Gaddafi is worse than Saddam. It is time for democracy in Libya.”

Osama Alzuwai, 32 said: “I left in 1997. Gaddafi has put us in prison in Benghazi. He tortured us because we refuse to be under his regime and his committees. I ask all of my family in Kufra, in Jdabia and all the people in the desert to send their own to Gaddafi. We just do not want him in power any more. My hopes are for change. From dictatorship to a democratic country and we can be free to say what we want and what we don’t want. For freedom and our basic human rights.”

If you would like to add to this thread, please send an email through the Nahla Ink letter form

Time Out London: Bringing Out The Hippy In Me!

Time Out London is bringing out the hippy in me! This month I started a coveted internship at the popular magazine that will go towards completing my Journalism Diploma. I was fortunate to have met with Rachel Haliburton, the Deputy Editor at TOL, because of the Libyan Revolution taking place back home and when she had originally approached me as a Libyan living in London about my views on the political front. 

As a trainee with TOL, I am now learning the skilled craft of news reporting and how to cover tales from the supply end of information. All the things I unfortunately didn’t learn at No Sweat College – a very sore point for my intake – I am now picking up the technique of how to present stories and grab readers’ attention from the first few words of an article.

It is of course true that the sales of printed and online newspapers and magazines go to prove that people will always be eager to know of the odd behaviour and lives of others, the good and the bad humans do to each other, as well as to laugh or lament the unusual circumstances of still many more.

Working in the friendly news team with Rebecca Taylor and Halliburton, TOL’s preserve is to get the quirkier local London stories that don’t get aired in the national press. The political stance taken is not as leftie as you might imagine, but always balanced to suit.

From the first day, the atmosphere has been friendly, laid back and conducive to creative thought with the open plan office design and the wonderful characters I have met. TOL is free of the work shackles that people may experience in more rigid company structures, so that it allows for the artistic flow and exchange between the writers, editors and the different departments.

For me it has been the news stories that are most intriguing as every time we research and investigate a lead, it opens a whole other world and as I come to learn of individual or group trials and tribulations. Some of these are positive, some negative, others happy or sad, and, at times, just hilarious.

This month, for example, I spoke to Roma Gypsies and Irish travellers who are facing eviction from their caravan homes in Dale Farm and who plan to set up a human resistance camp against bailiffs and the Essex police. I also interviewed the ‘Clapton Improvement Society’ who transformed a public toilet facility into a pop-up cocktail bar without permission from the local Hackney council.

Then, there was the plight of the ‘cruising canal boaters’ on the River Lea who must now fortnightly shift along the waterways if they cannot afford to permanently moor their barges. And the sad but inspiring story of Wilton’s Music Hall that is raising funds to restore its historic but crumbling down building.

The Mayor of London and local borough councils are also very involved in many stories; and, no, they are not always the baddie, just imposing the law, which can of course be an ass.

But the top story I enjoyed was about the ukulele instrument, the unusually little four-stringed guitar that I never knew existed. Though it is becoming very popular with children and school music departments, the Duke of Uke store, which is the only dedicated ukulele shop in the city, has to raise money to afford relocation, as its lease is soon to expire.

And so, life goes on, humans find themselves in strange predicaments and newspapers and magazine deliver the stories to the public. But slowly and surely, I am learning how to be a news reporter and looking forward to everyday and getting up extra early to make my way to the office on Tottenahm Court Road. For those of you who know of my sleeping issues – that I love to sleep and have a lie in – will understand this is a big transformation. Just too bad that my days are numbered and I will hate to leave.

Note: This article was first published circa June 2011

World Drama: Are We All Suffering From Selective News Amnesia?

At my grand big age of 39, I still remember a time when significant world news would come in trickles and take some weeks, months and years to digest before we would hear the next big story or see the next big iconic photo-image that would come to symbolise our experiences of a history shared. Certain transformational events would also come to bond people of specific generational gaps at the level of the collective consciousness.

But, today, even taking into account the ease of instant communication, truly dramatic world events seem to be happening fast that I can hardly keep up. Even as I read my morning paper, I know that something bigger and more significant is going on each morning that is a click away online via Twitter, Facebook and the hundreds of other digital news outlets.

There really is no chance to properly inform myself by the end of the day or make sense of it entirely. Considering that I also need to sleep, I can just about take in the news that directly affects or impacts on me as an Arab woman living in London. I’ve also gotten into the habit of checking the BBC World News page multiple times a day to catch up with what else is involving – or more like implicating! – my people of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

May’s Rollercoaster Events

In one week alone, the Vatican Pope Francis went on an important visit to Holy Jerusalem, embracing – with his now trademark tactile warmth – all three Abrahamic faiths and praying for peace. He did not fear criticism by ensuring to cater his time and efforts to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and inviting both Presidents to visit him in Rome to attempt a solution. Lo and behold, they have both accepted! I applaud this courage and who knows, maybe he will be able to perform magic and succeed where many others before him have terribly failed.

Involving MENA, also, a new Egyptian President Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi came to power with a 93% vote of a 45% voter turnout. He manifested after the Muslim Brotherhood’s stint in government saw them lose support as they abysmally failed to listen to what the Egyptians wanted. Whether or not Al-Sisi can bring the desperately needed political stability, economic recovery and peace to his country will take a while to show, but the story continues to unfold like a grand old soap-opera.

Moving on to Libya, my country was experiencing more mayhem, chaos and political confusion as Islamist radicals are attempting to hijack our popular revolution. Not only have they infiltrated the weak futile government, they have also been killing and targeting individuals who are against their ideology – for no other reason than having a differing opinion. These terrorists seem eager to take away the Libyan’s freedom of speech which has only recently been acquired.

But wait… With the zero security in the land and the danger of so many groups and militias armed, a new figure enters the stage – in the form of a General Khalifa Haftar – promising to save the day, but also with seeming force and aggression. We, who are without weapons and no political clout, can only observe hopelessly on as our country’s future is being determined as accord feels to be unattainable.

The only conclusion I am left with is that the Arab Spring has turned into an Arab Volcano…

Move Over, The US President Is On TV Making A Promise!

If all this wasn’t enough to keep my short-term memory working, I turned on the TV one night and there was the US President Barak Obama proposing a $5billion budget for a ‘Counter-Terrorism Partnership Fund (CTPF)’ as part of global “efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorist ideology”. Although not grabbing too much air attention, he did mention Syria, Libya, Yemen and Mali – so I wonder how this will eventually translate into practical action and whether or not a World War III will soon be played out in the MENA region.

Not To Mention Europe?!?

Not to be outdone, Europe last week evidenced a historic shift in the EU Parliamentary elections, whereby the 28 member states elected MEPs opposed to the EU project and its foundational rationale! For the UK, UKIP won more seats in the Euro Parliament than any other party; and, like it or not, this signals a potential transformation of the future of the Union that will have great impact on our lives as Euro citizens.

Where On Earth Are We Heading?

With so information no longer coming but ‘striking’ at us left, right and centre, I fear that we are losing the capacity for patience and have developed the very bad habit of acting and manoeuvring too rashly without taking a minute to reflect properly on one thing at a time. By so doing, we are forfeiting the intrinsic value of that one thing at a time.

And, so, we keep heading straight into one form of disaster from another and unto the next and the next, with response from those in power and charge also being demanded too quickly through a new global love for mass and frequent protests, demonstrations and online trending. I believe we have become acclimatised to fast-moving world drama with the only problem being that this drama is real and we are not gaining any necessary closure.

The only time it seems to really hurt is when the news involves us personally or our families, friends and country. Otherwise, we’ve become zombies with selective news amnesia; but, admittedly, if we had to genuinely feel for everyone and every moving story, we’d all be in need of support group therapies. I so truly miss the past and its slow gentle pace.

Note: This article was first published circa June 2014

The Arab British Centre, Artistic Cultural Notions of The Arab

Whenever mention is made of the Arab, we immediately associate him with his predominantly conservative Muslim religion and the sordid complicated politics of his region. Rarely do we take the time and space to explore his rich and diversified cultural history or go as far back as to celebrate his unique personal experience as may be created, documented and found through the arts, the different forms of media and philosophic literature.

Naturally, a person’s identity is influenced by his faith and the background politics that undoubtedly clouds his works, opinions and vision; but, it is a fact that the notion and concept of the Arab to the rest of the world has in more recent times lost this differentiation. Due to this confusion, the Arab has sadly lost much of his artistic and intellectual credibility that does not exclusively depend on his religion or politics.

This is of course alarming for such a wide region, but it is the stark seeming reality sensed not just by the outsider; but, also, very often, felt by the Arab himself. It is difficult for him to find a little room to openly express his views without the fear of censure or reprisal. The way I see it, the fear is more from within our psyche than from any external force threatening our personal safety.

There really is no ghost – if you look behind you – to stop us from taking and reclaiming our artistic freedom and to create new interpretations to make sense of our lives as Arabs; and, more importantly, as separate individuals. Better still, this territory comes with an utter joy and thrill – when you know you are making, possibly mixing, swapping and changing things to go beyond the older set boundaries and the illusively imposed limits.

This is where my day at the Arab British Centre comes in.

A Day At The Arab-British Centre (The ABC)

The ABC has a wonderful website that gives a better idea and detailed information about its day-to-day work. I came across it when Noreen Abu Oun, the administrator, contacted me through Nahla Ink and I was curious to find out more. A date was set to visit its offices and for Noreen to give me a quick tour.

Noreen was truly welcoming and seemed ever so resourceful. Proudly, she showed me the different rooms in the building and told me about the ABC’s latest projects. She pointed to the large pile of books and material on her desk and explained that they are this year’s nominated works for the Annual Arab-British Culture and Society Award – worth £5,000 – for which she was very excited. (The short list for this coveted prize was announced today – 2010 Nominations).

Next, we went inside the exhibition room where the work of the British-Yemeni artist, Sousan Luqman, was on display. Exotic Transfigurations shows the prints of old European Orientalist paintings depicting the Arab woman as exotic, smooth, naked and sexy. But she transposes on them a light screen and veil to represent the Arab male re-interpretation of the same. It was enlightening.

Still looking around, Luquman herself appeared. She was in to collect a cheque for some bouhgt pieces and she didn’t mind sitting for a chat with Noreen and me. We talked for an hour. Funnily enough, we shared our thoughts, hopes, ambitions and dreams for the Arab; and, especially, for the Arab woman in today’s world and the challenges she faces in a closed society.

It was uplifting to learn that the ABC is genuinely open to support and encourage individual artistic and intellectual efforts and that this is not just an advertorial. Also, there is an urgency for the Arab to discuss, debate and educate others what we hold dear; and, to engage in, as wide as we can, an honest and creative dialogue and monologue first as obviously needs be.

After this, I felt the day was done and it was time to leave and allow Noreen to get back to her very important work. But before leaving, I did join up to the ABC’s ever-expanding library and borrowed some works to read for future inspiration on the Arab. I took with me Nawal El-Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero and The Hidden Face of Eve.

If you would like to find out more about the ABC, go to: https://www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/

The ABC also houses and subsidises these organisations that are all worth a peak: The Council for Arab-British Understanding at CAABU, Friends of Birzeit University at Friends of Birzeit University, Offscreen Education Programme at Offscreen, and Banipal at Bani

Note: This article was first published circa March 2010