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 j.turner@savethechildren.org.uk

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

Please Don’t Go There

In Roray MacLeans review of ‘Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart’, he captures the essence of Tim Butcher’s extraordinary journey through the Democratic Republic of Congo  in the footsteps of Stanley  and Livingston.

Writing in his review, MacLean states that “the DRC is a nation wracked by decades of war. Acute poverty makes lawlessness, rape and murder routine. On his journey, Butcher is moved time and time again by the desperate willingness of people to cling to the old vestiges of order as an anchor against modern anarchy. In Kibombo he meets a stationmaster who diligently turns up for work every morning even though no train has reached the town in six years. In Kisangani traders wait for the tourist boats which will never arrive. On the banks of the Congo a fisherman asks him to smuggle his four-year-old son out of the country so as “to save him from a life of disease, hunger and misery”.

And this is the paradox; despite 130 years of worldwide social, economic and technological advances, there is little difference between the Congo seen by Stanley and by Butcher. Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene may have visited the country. Bogart and Hepburn may have come here to film The African Queen. Concorde may have flown in for the president’s pleasure. But today the riverboats rot on the mudbanks. The roads have been eaten away by jungle. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is once again “the most daunting, backward country on earth”.

Click here to read the full article.

Dogs – A Legacy for Pakistan

Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote ‘Dogs’ during the struggle against the British Raj,  but the words are as apt for the state of Pakistan  today. The feudal  system of the rule of the Bhutto’s  to the brutal regime of Musharraf exposes the lack of progress for a country created with a multitude of ambitions for its minorities.

Dogs
These wandering unemployed gods of the streets,
On whom has been bestowed ardour for beggary,
The curses of the age their property,
The abuse of the whole world their earnings;
Neither rest at night nor comfort in the morning,
Dwellings in the dirt, night-lodgings in the drains;
If they rebel, make one fight another,
Just show them a piece of bread –
They who suffers the kicks of everyone,
Who will die worn out with starvation…

If these oppressed creatures lifted their head,
Mankind would forget all its insolence:
If they wished they would make the earth either own,
They would chew even the bones of the masters –
If only someone showed them consciousness of degradation,
If only someone shook their sleeping tails!

Extract from ‘Poems by Faiz’ Translated by Victor Kiernan published by Vanguard Books (PVT) Ltd , South Publications, London

Kenya – a tragedy in the 21st century

The events unfolding during and after the elections of Kenya, have left many around the world full of remorse and shock whilst looking on helplessly as the tribal and political killings escalated.

Perhaps the current problems in Kenya can partially be placed at the feet of the fundamentalist Islamic movement on the coastline and the Northeast.   There is no doubt that Islamic fundamentalism has been creeping in at a steady pace through the eastern territories over the two decades. 

The international online defence magazine reports that “Kenya’s sudden spiral into chaos after years being regarded as a regional stability in the turbulent Black African continent, will no doubt strike a heavy blow on the economies of a wide swathe of neighbouring nations. But while the present scale of internecine violence came as quite a surprise, it was not the first time that this African nation became engulfed in chaos.

From October 1952 to December 1957 Kenya was under a state of emergency arising from the so-called “Mau Mau” rebellion against British colonial rule, over the deprivation of the Kikuyu majority. The official number of Kenyans killed was estimated at 11,503. Much fighting among the various tribes followed, until independence from Great Britain in December 1963, when Jomo Kenyatta, also a Kikuyu became first prime minister of the autonomous Kenyan government. Over the last decade or so, Kenya was regarded an African success story. Beginning to enjoy the fruits of its stability and openness, its economy has grown by more than 6 per cent annually in recent years. But now, in just a few bloody days, since a disputed election on December 27, Kenya has quickly slipped from democratic hopeful, escalating into uncontrollable chaos and brutal murder. From years of prosperity, it threatened to become the scene of just another regional, highly dangerous trouble spot, torn by ethnic bloodletting and prone to outside terrorist intervention”.  To read the full article, click here. 

Tariq Ali on Benazir Bhutto

It was not good to start 2008 in this way. The events in Pakistan  over the last month or so have been shocking, unsettling and ensured a rapid change for the people of Pakistan.  With Benazir’s son being sworn in as the leader of the PPP, whilst her husband controls the puppet, a feudal dynasty continues.

I was deeply affected by Tariq Ali’s article in the Independent newspaper that a good friend alerted me to where Tariq passionately and eloquently puts the argument of the state of politics in Pakistan and perhaps the Indian Sub-continent.

He starts his article by stating that his heart bleeds for Pakistan and that it deserves better than this grotesque feudal charade and draws an analogy to Mary, Queen of Scots. He writes that “Six hours before she was executed, Mary, Queen of Scots wrote to her brother-in-law, Henry III of France: “…As for my son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him.” The year was 1587.

On 30 December 2007, a conclave of feudal potentates gathered in the home of the slain Benazir Bhutto to hear her last will and testament being read out and its contents subsequently announced to the world media. Where Mary was tentative, her modern-day equivalent left no room for doubt. She could certainly answer for her son.

A triumvirate consisting of her husband, Asif Zardari (one of the most venal and discredited politicians in the country and still facing corruption charges in three European courts) and two ciphers will run the party till Benazir’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, comes of age. He will then become chairperson-for-life and, no doubt, pass it on to his children. The fact that this is now official does not make it any less grotesque. The Pakistan People’s Party is being treated as a family heirloom, a property to be disposed of at the will of its leader.

Nothing more, nothing less. Poor Pakistan. Poor People’s Party supporters. Both deserve better than this disgusting, medieval charade.

Benazir’s last decision was in the same autocratic mode as its predecessors, an approach that would cost her – tragically – her own life. Had she heeded the advice of some party leaders and not agreed to the Washington-brokered deal with Pervez Musharraf or, even later, decided to boycott his parliamentary election she might still have been alive. Her last gift to the country does not augur well for its future.

How can Western-backed politicians be taken seriously if they treat their party as a fiefdom and their supporters as serfs, while their courtiers abroad mouth sycophantic niceties concerning the young prince and his future.

That most of the PPP inner circle consists of spineless timeservers leading frustrated and melancholy lives is no excuse. All this could be transformed if inner-party democracy was implemented. There is a tiny layer of incorruptible and principled politicians inside the party, but they have been sidelined. Dynastic politics is a sign of weakness, not strength. Benazir was fond of comparing her family to the Kennedys, but chose to ignore that the Democratic Party, despite an addiction to big money, was not the instrument of any one family.

Click here for the complete article.

The Incident of the Shaving of the Moustache that Changed the Political Face of Pakistan and Benazir’s Destiny

Picture a very Shakespearean drama  and then place the Bhutto family as its main players. It surpasses all expectations of a volatile story full of greed, power hungry and manipulative individuals.

Benazir Bhutto’s brother, Murtaza Bhutto’s   assassination comes to mind. A brutal killing by any measure, one that was pre-meditated and meticulously planned when a brother did not see eye to eye with his sister and brother-in-law, who happened to be the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry respectively. Zardari along with Benazir has been accused of siphoning public and private monies out of Pakistan and into Swiss accounts. Anyhow, we all know that story.

Murtaza Bhutto was a radical leftist who was being supported by the Soviet Union at the time of his assassination. He had been in exile in Afghanistan but decided to return to Pakistan in the mid ’90s to be part of the political milieu and to partake in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). 

Critical of Asif Ali Zardari, Murtaza lost ground with Benazir which in turn made him a strong and vocal critic of the PPP. Murtaza felt that the arguments were getting out of hand and decided to have a private meeting with Zardari which ended badly.

After a heated discussion, Murtaza and Zardari resorted to fisticuffs during which Murtaza managed to somehow shave off half of Zardari’s moustache. A deeply humiliated Zardari set about his revenge.

In a staged shoot out on September 20 1996, outside Murtaza’s home in Karachi, a gang of armed police officers hid in strategic places. As Murtaza’s car pulled up, he along with seven other members of his entourage got out. Murtaza was immediately felled by a sniper, who managed to shoot him through the neck as well as in several other parts of his body.

Murtaza and his companions were fatally wounded and were left to bleed for over two hours before they were taken to separate hospitals. Murtaza of course died soon after, along with his supporters.

No one has been arrested or charged with the killing of Murtaza Bhutto. 

 

War, killings, death and beheadings

The internet is very powerful – outdoing the ‘soft’ news that we see on television on the escalation of war in Iraq and the impending civil war, images are kept from us.

It’s very very disturbing to see bodies paraded after a killing; beheading; executions; massacres; bomb blasts……

Pointless, mindless killing continues. The US, Britain and Allies continue their efforts of destruction and daily murder ensuring the suffering of Iraqi’s remains intact. The response to this by insurgents has been swift and brutal and escalating. I wrote a while ago of Yousif Naser’s nephew being shot by a British army sniper – there has been no explanation so far.

Insurgents have taken to kidnapping US soldiers as well British and the allies. Recently in the “Information Clearing House” website – the editors have posted gruesome pictures of allegedly captured US soldiers who have been beheaded – their bodies exhibited for the world to see.

Mindless, senseless killings – a greater need for us to increase pressure for US, British and Allies to exist fast from Iraq.

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.
 

Reading Lolita in Tehran


“For nearly two years, almost every Thursday morning, rain or shine, they came to my house, and almost every time, I could not get over the shock of seeing them shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into colour. When my students came into that room, they took off more then their scarves and robes. Gradually, each one gained an outline and a shape, becoming her own inimitable self. Our world in that living room with its window framing my beloved Elburz Mountains became our sanctuary… We read Persian classical literature, such as the tales of our own lady of fiction, Scheherazade, from a Thousand and One Nights, along with Western classics – Pride and Prejudice, Madam Bovary, Daisy Miller, The Dean’s December and, yes, Lolita”.

In her introduction to Reading Lolita in Tehran – a memoir in books, Azar Nafisi recreated a world full of hope doomed to remain with the realms of sorrow. Gathering a motley crew of students from the University of Tehran (which Nafisi resigned from), both Nafisi and her students took great risks of being discovered at their regular literature class reading banned classics.

First published in 2003, Reading Lolita in Tehran gave first hand account of what it was like to live in revolutionary Iran. A remarkable book about books, Reading Lolita illustrates Nafisi’s talent and magic of pinning each word down to have depth and meaning, nothing is wasted, nothing is written for the sake of writing. Her talent lies in her courage and her ability to construct without compromise or false memory, a time within her memory of how there really were moments of fearless living.

Reading Lolita in Tehran – a memoir in books written by Azar Nafisi is published by Fourth Estate publications.

Save and Burn


Screened at the Barbican as part of the Palestine Film Festival 2007 on 3rd May, Save and Burn brought to the British audiences the plight of libraries in crisis, from the USA to Palestine and Iraq.

Directed by Julian Samuel, a Pakistani now living in Canada, Save and Burn is a highly provocative and political film, exploring the commercialisation of libraries. Above all, the film looks at the destruction of Palestinian libraries by Israeli soldiers and the fate of Iraqi libraries during the “liberation.”

Julian Samuel’s “Save and Burn” appeared as part of this year’s Palestine Film Festival which ran from 27th April to 10th May. A diverse programme of films, the screenings took place at the Barbican Cinema and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies in Russell Square).

The Palestine Film Festival was set up in 1999 by the Palestine Society at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). In 2004, the society formed the Palestine Film Foundation, which is solely concerned with programming and organising the festival. The festival has gained strength forging links internationally and throughout the UK.

Do pay the festival a visit which finishes on 10th May. Failing that, you could donate funds to the Foundation to ensure the continuation of their remarkable work. For further information on the foundation, go to: http://www.palestinefilm.org

To see more of Julian Samuel’s work go to:  http://www.juliansamuel.net