Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Arab-British Centre’

Tim Llewellyn and Lebanon’s Spirit of the Phoenix

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th May, 2010

SOAS played host to the Arab British Centre and the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU, on whose Board I sit) this evening, for a talk on Lebanon by the former BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Llewellyn. We must have overlapped briefly in Beirut, while I was doing some work for the Middle East Council of Churches in 1980, though our paths didn’t cross in the city. Tonight’s event also served as a book promotion for Tim’s latest volume: Spirit of the Phoenix: Beirut and the Story of Lebanon (I B Tauris, 2010; sale price £12.99), a series of vignettes in a style that Tim described as akin to Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories. Several of these tales are amusing, though the tone of Tim’s talk was grave, as he fears that it is only a matter of time before there is renewed conflict with Israel. Asked in the question time afterwards what he thought of Tony Blair’s effectiveness as the Quartet’s special envoy to Israel/Palestine, Tim commented damningly, ‘Useless!’

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The Agony and the Ecstasy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th July, 2008

Walking down Fetter Lane in the City of London earlier today, I thought I was dreaming as I heard a — clearly live — performance of Chopin, brilliantly played. But no, my senses were not deceiving me. Round a corner, in New Street Square, the gifted young Polish-Canadian pianist Berenika Zakrzewski was playing in the open air a grand piano, as part of the City of London Festival. Dozens of City workers, caught as unawares as I had been, stood around and bathed in the ecstasy of it all.

I had to tear myself away, to go to the Summer Party of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), on whose governing board I sit. Their headquarters in the Arab-British Centre overlooks Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square, one of those curious nooks and crannies of 18th century London that have survived unscathed. As a backdrop to the event, slides of CAABU’s work were being projected, and I was jolted by a shot of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, whom I had last seen in that very room but a few weeks ago, and who is still in pain from the obscene and vicious beating he received at the hands of the Israel Defence Force when he crossed back into the West Bank from Jordan on his return from collecting the Martha Gelhorn Prize.

Politicians from all three main political parties are represented on CAABU’s Board, and the organisation’s work has never been as much in need as it is now, when there so much misinformation and fear in Britain about the Arab world and the agony some people on both sides of the Israel/Palestine side are suffering. I have recently been called ‘naive’ and even ‘anti-Semitic’ by some critics for my highlighting the injustices borne by many Palestinians as a result of some Israeli government policies, but that will not silence me. Just as accusations from some Islamic militants that I am a ‘closet Zionist’ because I champion the work of liberal and artistic Israeli Jews will cut no ice with me. I am pro-people and pro-peace (which is why in my student days, shortly after my first visit to the Middle East, I became a Quaker). And I judge people accordingly.

This is also why I am such an enthusiastic supporter of the work done by the Argentinian-born Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, who has taken Palestinian citizenship to further his concern for peace and reconciliation in the region. I have only met him once, but was deeply impressed. Similarly, with the legacy of the late Soviet Azerbaijan-born cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who is the one 20th century figure I never met who I would invite to one of those fantasy dinner parties one is sometimes asked to construct.


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