Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for February 4th, 2012

Meeting Adonis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th February, 2012

‘Everyone is born in a poetic state,’ the Syrian-born writer and artist Adonis declared in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington this noon. But not everyone is destined to express themselves poetically. The sprightly octogenarian — who is viewed by many as the most significant Arab poet alive today — had humble beginnings in a remote village in the French mandated Syrian territory round Latakia, in which electricity and cars were unknown. But he got a lucky break through his own juvenile audacity. In 1943, after Shukri al-Kuwatli was elected Preaident, the new head of the (still not formally independent) state toured the country, to get to know it better. When the 13-year-old Adonis (original name Ali  Ahmad Said Asbar) heard of the impending visitation, he told his father that he wanted to read a poem he had written to President al-Kuwatli, as he was sure the president would then ask him what he would like in return, the answer to which was: to go to school! And that is exactly what happened, according to his testimony today. He studied and wrote and became politically active, which resulted in his being sent to prison for several months. But in 1956 he went into exile in Beirut, leaving there for Paris in 1980 to escape Lebanon’s Civil War. Exile from the Middle East was probably wise, despite his being born into the Alawite sect of Shia Islam from which the current al-Assad ruling family and cohorts in Syria hail. Adonis himself is a-relgious, though very interested in Sufi mysticism. He argues that the ‘decadence’ of the Arab world began with the fall of Baghdad in 1258 and continues today, though he draws some encouragement from the young activists of the present Arab Aakening, ‘though they have been betrayed by the fundamentalists.’ He is scornful of any country, including Israel, being based on a religious faith.  His years in France have given him a very French understanding of positive intellectualism and the power of profound thought. All great artists are also thinkers, he believes. He himself produces striking collages which combine extracts of handwritten text with fragments of everyday objects.  An exhibition of his work can be seen at the Mosaic Rooms 1100-1800 Monday to Saturday until the end of March and there are a couple more events with the poet himself next week.


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Paul Burstow Champions Coalition Wins

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th February, 2012

When Nick Clegg planned a Liberal Democrat parliamentary away-day in Eastbourne this week he could hardly have known that the media hordes would descend on that seaside town, not to quiz MPs and Ministers about policy but rather about the fate of Chris Huhne. But if Plan A was to carry on as normal had the CPS decided not to prosecute Chris, Plan B quickly snapped into action when the opposite happened. Ed Davey, as widely rumoured, took over Chris’s Cabinet role as Energy Secretary, while Norman Lamb moved into Ed’s former position in the Department of Business, Industry and Skills. Norman’s slot has been filled by a goverment newcomer, Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central — a welcome new female face on the front bench. Chris meanwhile left Eastbourne early to prepare his defence if that proved to be necessary. It should be stressed that he denies any wrongdoing and in keeping with the most basic principle of Britsh law, he should be presumed innocent unless proved otherwise. The Minister for Social Care, Paul Burstow, for his part, on Friday evening had a post-Eastbourne engagement to speak at Putney LibDems’ annual dinner, which he duly did after a warm-up introduction by the Merton and Wandsworth GLA constituency candidate Lisa Smart. For once Paul didn’t go into the minutiae of NHS Reforms (though this remains a hot topic), but rather stressed the messages that the Party needs to get out about LibDem wins inside the Coalition government’s programme, notably raising the tax threshold, rolling out the pupil premium and boosting apprenticeships. And of course he gave a big plug for people to go and help in the Worcester Park local council by-election in his own constituency of Sutton and Cheam; polling day 16 February. Being in government in coalition at such a difficult economic time is not easy, but I am impressed how chipper Ministers like Paul remain. As junior partners we do not get everything we would like, but it is remarkable how much has been achieved.

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