Zakhme Dil – A Scarred Heart

On Wednesday 25th June 2008 at the Lord Mayor’s Hospitality Suite in Coventry, Save the Children launches a ground-breaking film entitled ‘Zakhme Dil – A Scarred Heart’ – telling the story of a young unaccompanied refugee in the UK.

Written and directed by Shakila Taranum Maan in collaboration with the young people from The Positive Press Project based in the West Midlands, the film tells the story of Ali, a young unaccompanied refugee from Afghanistan and It portrays images of life both in Afghanistan and UK.

There was once a time of no war, of everyday the sun-rising and children going to school. When fathers and mothers would do their job and sisters and brothers played and learnt about how to be in the world. When beautiful buildings stood proud; ancient, historical, with memories. And fragrances that were Greek, Persian, Chinese, Afghani, unimaginable.”   Extract from Zakhme Dil – A Scarred Heart ©Shakila Taranum Maan 2008

The Positive Press project has been running for the past year with an aim to give young people a voice on issues affecting them and to challenge representations of young refugees through the media. Young people participating in the project are drawn from both refugee and non-refugee backgrounds from Coventry and Birmingham. The project was funded by Comic Relief

The DVD is being officially launched by Save the Children in Coventry and will feature in the “Refugee Week” festival in London.

For further details contact Joanna Turner on 0121 555 888 or email her on

Save The Children, Save the Children West Midlands, Afghanistan, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Comic Relief, Refugee Week

Artificial Trees To Save The Planet

I don’t usually write about the environment, but an idea that professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University advocating building billions of artificial trees to capture the build up of carbon in the atmosphere is difficult to ignore.

Biopact (a pact between Africa and Europe to develop green energy) writes that “carbon capture, in the form of “artificial trees”, is one idea explored in the BBC Two documentary Five Ways To Save The World. But could these extraordinary biomimetic machines help to mitigate our excessive burning of fossil fuels and its potentially catastrophic consequence, global warming? Or would we be better off using real trees in a carbon negative energy system? Let us compare the two ideas.

In 2006, more than 29 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were pumped into the atmosphere. And 80% of the world’s energy supply still relies on fossil fuels. German geo-physicist professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, thinks he may have found a way of tackling our current excessive use of fossil fuels.

Click here to read the full article


The Matter of Whiteness

The recent bill-board campaign by the British National Party in London for the Mayor’s election,  putting ‘Londoners First’ showing a working white class family – semi obese and content brought to mind Richard Dyers book entitled ‘White’.

In the culture of ‘White is Right’ – where the white majority feel they have to fight back to regain their whiteness and britishness, non-whites are beginning to feel the backlash – recently local council’s are doing away with specialist ethnic community groups in favour of ‘services for all’ and in the process losing vital knowledge necessary to combat racism, especially that of a feminist perspective.

Dyer’s ‘White’ seems somewhat time sensitive. Published in 1997 by Routledge as part of their ‘Cultural/studies/Race and Ethnicity’, much of the writing remains relevant – although it could do with a re-visit by Dyer. The publishers state that ‘white people are not literally or symbolically white. Yet they are called white. What does this mean? In Western media, white take up the position of ordinariness, not a particular race, just the human race… while racial representation is central to the organisation of the contemporary world, white people remain a largely unexamined category in sharp contrast to the many studies of images of ‘black and Asian peoples.’ 

Richard Dyer in his chapter entitled ‘The matter of Whiteness’ says that ‘this book is about the racial imagery of white people – not the images of other races in white cultural production, but the latter’s imagery of the white people themselves. This is not merely to fill a gap in the analytic literature, but because there is something at stake in looking at, or continuing to ignore, white racial imagery. As long as race is something only applied to non-white peoples, as long as white people are not racially seen and named, they/we function as a human norm. Other people are raced, we are just people.’


A Mighty Heart

Directing ‘A Mighty Heart’ Michael Winterbottom continues with his politically relevant cinema. The journey for the director has been one of determination to create the kinds of projects that would have meaning and relevance. Teaming up with Eaton and Jude Law has meant that the director can ensure film projects remain a reality. Producer Andrew Eaton recently said in an interview “how many directors do you know sitting around waiting for a project to happen because they’re waiting for one actor? Once you’ve had enough disappointments, you do start to realise that you could waste your life.”

This is a very well know feeling for majority of film makers in the UK, but instead of waiting for actors, they are waiting for finance or funding or simply someone in the industry to take a risk and properly help with a production so we don’t end up making a substandard low budget movie that no one will watch.

Michael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton are an exception to the rule of film making in the UK. They have defied box office and have created cinematic work to rival any major studio production internationally. Their ‘A Mighty Heart’ produced by Brad Pitts company is a testament to their dedication and singular approach to create meaningful cinema.

‘A Mighty Heart’ stars Angelina Jolie and tells the story of Daniel Pearl, the doomed journalist who was beheaded in Pakistan whilst researching a story in Karachi. The film also stars the talented British actress Archie Panjabi and the Indian actor Irrfan Khan.

Death Penalty

This month the UN General Assembly are due to meet to discuss the moratorium on capital punishment. I have been trying to get news of this, but so far have failed to do so. If any of you have come across anything please let me know. In the meantime here is an excellent piece from HANDS OFF CAINE published on 30th August 2007.

“It is only a few weeks from the presentation of a resolution on the Universal Moratorium on Capital Punishment at the UN General Assembly by the European Union, an initiative that was inspired by Italy, Hands Off Cain has released its 2007 Report on Capital Punishment in the world, and the picture it paints is chilling.

Notwithstanding protests and humanitarian initiatives, many countries of the world still execute children. And in 2006 the number of countries that employ capital punishment increased from 24 in 2005 to 27. In 2006, there were at least 5,628 executions as compared with 5,494 in 2005. Capital punishment still exists in many Islamic regimes, in some democracies, and even in a European country (Belarus).

Among the 51 countries that still employ capital punishment, China, Iran and Pakistan take the record for executions: at least 5000, 215 and 82 respectively. In 2006 in Iran, seven minors were executed. The United States have put to death 53 people, slightly less than the year before. Between June 30th, 2005, and June 30th, 2006, five executions took place in Belarus. However the surprise comes from Africa, the continent of tribal struggles and uncontrollable genocides. While it is true that there were 80 documented executions in 2006, a sharp increase on the 19 of 2005, it is also true that numerous countries are in favour of the resolution on capital punishment, as Prime Minister Romano Prodi revealed in the introduction of the Hands Off Cain Report.

The Prime Minister describes the commitment in Africa as extraordinary, citing that South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Senegal, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda (whose people have recently witnessed the most serious violations of international human rights) have joined our global campaign. Confirming this is the recognition given to Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, with the prize of ‘Abolitionist of the Year 2007’. It was awarded by Hands Off Cain as an acknowledgement to the person who, more than anyone else, committed themselves to the moratorium on capital punishment and the abolition of the death penalty. Kagame is also the author of the Report’s preface, in which he notes that ‘Rwandans have defeated the leadership responsible for the genocide (the Hutu), the State and the culture of impunity’.

According to Hands Off Cain, ‘the abolition of the death penalty and the support of the campaign for the Universal Moratorium on capital punishment are acts of extraordinary symbolic value. Rwanda has symbolically demonstrated to the world that it is possible to break the absurd cycle of revenge, and that justice and legality aren’t achieved with capital punishment.

Pavarotti No More

The death of Pavarotti was mourned by the whole world yesterday from the East and West condolences and word of his genius and unusual personality remained the topic of news. And of course his incredible and powerful voice.

Pavarotti was an unusual artist and didn’t consider opera to be just for the elite and went out of his way to work outside of the western world that opera continues to inhabit. His stint at the Beijing Opera brought him many admirers, where he encouraged talent to flourish and ensured that opera did not remain solely within the realms of Europe.

Perhaps his most memorable performances fall outside of classical opera where he teamed up with the pop world and worked with a spate of singers and musicians.

With James Brown he sang It’s a Man’s World

with Barry White, You’re the first, the last, my everything

with Queen, he concluded that Too Much Love Will Kill You.

Le Roi De Lahore

“Lahore” – an opera in five acts by Jules Massenet, a 19th century French composer much admired by Tchaikovsky – wrote over 25 operas, and hundreds of songs. Le Roi De Lahore stands out amongst his works because of its unusual theme. The opera was much admired as was most of his work. The libretto of Le Roi De Lahore is by Louis Gallet.

First performed in Paris in Theatre Opera, Lahore was an ode to Sita imploring the God Indra to save them from the invading Muslims led by Sultan Mahmoud. Commenting on the performance, Tchaikovsky, wrote in a letter that; “His opera, however, seduced me for its formal beauty, simplicity and freshness of the ideas and style, as well as for the richness of its melodies and the elegance of the harmony”

The extraordinary expect of this Opera is its confused narrative whilst attempting to be modern – Islamic characters are mixed up with Hindu gods such as Indra. Louis Gallet cleverly uses Sita who is played by Joséphine de Reszké as the protagonist, whilst Indra by Menu, Kaled by Fouquet, Timour by Boudouresque and Alim by Salomon. The creation of the role of Sita is credited to Joséphine de Reszké. A highly divisive piece of work, Le Roi De Lahore works within the tradition of orientalism – a romantic view of India – the mish-mashing of time-lines, the opera explores the invasion of Mogul empire and the demise of Hinduism. 

Perhaps Le Roi De Lahore should be revived so that we may view the mind of the European artist at that time, their perception of historical facts – Timor’s character or Alim for that matter skips a few thousand years evoking the god Indra, above all using Sita as the protagonist. Nevertheless, it was exciting to come across the fact of Le Roi De Lahore by Jules Massenet.

“Act I-Scene I – Before the Temple of Indra in Lahore, groups of men and women press against the temple gates, imploring the God Indra to save them from the invading Mohammedans who, led by the Sultan Mahmoud, are imminently expected to appear before the city. Timour, the High Priest, seeks to reassure them, saying that even if the King does not take the field against the invader, Indra will send them his aid. As the people enter the temple, Scindia, the King’s minister, approaches Timour. He has fallen in love with his own niece, Sitâ, and asks that she may be released from her vows as a priestess of Indra so that he may marry her. When Timour refuses – for only the King has the right to remove a priestess from the temple – Scindia, racked by passion, jealousy and anger, reveals that he has been told that each evening Sitâ is visited by an unknown man as she tends the altar. Timour is incensed, and promises that if she has broken her vows she will be punished. He agrees to allow Scindia to see her, but adds that he will be at hand, ready to appear if she should show sign of guilt. Scindia continues to be torn by conflicting emotions, one moment hoping that Sitâ may prove innocent, the next wishing her dead if she should be found guilty”.

The Battle of Algiers

The screening of Saadi Yacef and Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers at the French Institute in South Kensington on 12th May 2007 was extraordinary. A projected 35mm re-mastered print of the film captivated the audience bringing parallels for many to the war in Iraq and the city of Baghdad and Basra. Even after its first release in 1966, the film brings a lump in your throat highlighting the travesty of French colonial rule and the indignity and humiliation of occupation.

Written as a memoir, Saadi Yacef has approached Pontecorvo to turn his writings into a film. Yacef took on the role of co-producer, making much of the shoot possible and also acted in the film as Djafar. Banned by the French, the film went on to win the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival. Over the years, the film has been instrumental in inspiring directors around the world, including Oliver Stone and Michael Haneke.

Present at the screening were Zafira Saadi, daughter of Saadi Yacef and Yamina Benguigui, the French-Algerian woman film director internationally known for her films on issues concerning women and the migrant community in France. She is also credited with being the first French-Algerian woman to have directed a feature film.

Zafira Saadi spoke on behalf of her father Saadi Yacef who could not attend due to poor health. She spoke about growing up with the film as a child as Yacef regularly projected the film – words like “long live Algiers” were one of the first phrases that she learnt.

Zafira also talked about how not enough credit is given to Saadi Yacef for making the film happen – so in many ways the screening was about putting that right. If it were not for Yacef we would not have The Battle of Algiers. Yacef’s main interest was to bring the true struggle of Algerians to the world – hence his memoirs and since then he’s has concentrated on writing political works. You can see a clip of an interview of Yacef at Maiden Voyage Pictures.

Yamina discussed the influence of The Battle of Algiers, although born during the struggles; the collective memory of the film came to her very quickly – citing Pontecorvo as an inspiration to the kinds of films that she would want to make. Yamina remains one of a handful of Arab women filmmakers and is highly regarded by the Arab community.

An important film, which is still being viewed by a huge cross-section of audiences from the Pentagon, Hollywood through to academics and culturalists, the film remains timeless. Gillo Pontecorvo’s visualisation and direction is astounding – his collaboration with Ennio Morricone on the sound track through to complex crowd scenes still hold the viewer spellbound. Saadi Yacef’s motivations are clear – to bring to the world the true predicament of the struggles of Algeria against the racist and cruel occupation of the French.

A pity that The French Institute didn’t recognise the importance of the film – the screening was a shambles – and it seemed hardly any publicity had been done by the institute. The staff were appalling – microphones were not working – and the engineer kept on tripping over wires and trying to make things work whilst Zafira and Yamina stood patiently by to introduce the film. Five minutes into the screening of the film, the engineers decided to turn the stage lights on obscuring the projection where only the sound could be heard – and it took a further 5 minutes to turn them off. After the screening Zafira and Yamina came onto the stage again – again the microphones were not working – and for some inexplicable reason the cinema staff and I imagine along with the engineers decided to have a very loud conversation – disturbing the speakers and the audience despite requests to stop their chatter. I would hate to read too much into this shambles and consign it to the staff having had drunk too much the night before and not preparing for the screening – obviously they didn’t consider the film important enough to warrant a good job – despite the fact that the world considers The Battle of Algiers as one of the master-pieces of cinema.

However, the film is released in over 14 screens in London and can be viewed through out May to June; in professional theatres where due respect will be given to one of the greatest films of our time.

Fugitive and Cloistered Virtue

The new translation of the famous Malleus Maleficarum, or ‘The Hammer of the Witches’ that has recently become available, illuminates the mind of the writer and the subsequent persecutions. Written in 1486, the Malleus became the bible of the witch hunters and used ‘blasphemy’ as a point of entry to terrorize and torture their victims. An extremely disturbing book, the advocacy of violence towards women in particular is shocking. This highly controversial book is said to have sent mostly women, many men, gypsies and anyone who didn’t fit into to the norm to their death. Although debate is still rife as to how many were killed, the trials at Salem in America are famously documented and illustrate the extent of what one human being can do to another.

Blasphemy played a key role to accuse and punish, and if you look closely at the word blasphemy, break its Latin components down, I believe it reads ‘stupid woman’. And since the roots of blasphemy are inherently about doubting the interpretations of the word of god or the sheer act of transgression, the word manages to travel effortlessly across all religions. And women have historically been dealt the card of being at the root of all evil, so that explains the construction of the word.

As words evolve they take on a character and standing, managing to strike a blow when called upon. Men and women throughout history have stood up against oppressive forces, questioning their interpretation of religious texts. Many of these opposing voices ended up being crushed or silenced.

“Estimates of the death toll during the Inquisition worldwide range from 600,000 to as high as 9,000,000 (over its 250 year long course); either is a chilling number when one realizes that nearly all of the accused were women, and consisted primarily of outcasts and other suspicious persons. Old women. Midwives. Jews. Poets. Gypsies. Anyone who did not fit within the contemporary view of pious Christians were suspect, and easily branded “Witch”. Usually to devastating effect.”  Introduction to the online edition available at

Although our world is far from that of the 1400’s but on reflection what can future generations’ highlight about our understanding of the need for freedom of speech? The brutality of regimes throughout the world employs both sophisticated and crude methods of weeding out the non-conformist. Communalism, ethnic cleansing, censorship of anyone who would want to doubt and question scriptures are rife. Although no one has been burnt alive due to being a witch, many are killed for reasons of going against religious and cultural beliefs.

Writing almost 200 hundred years after the publication of the Malleus, John Milton, the poet was still pleading against censorship. An extraordinary poet and visionary and a devout Christian of the puritanical strain – he wrote passionately about the dangers of censorship: ‘I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary.’

And in another work he wrote: “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do ingloriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple: who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

Cleverly using the idea of truth in the feminine, Milton clearly understood and demonstrated how easy it was to crush that voice. Merely questioning or uttering what might appear to be blasphemous even today can still cost a life; in many parts of the world a ‘medieval’ state of being exists. Perhaps we have to wait for another four hundred years before we reach the enlightened state that John Milton possessed with such intelligence and grace.