A two page comprehensive interview with novelist and historian Adel Bishtawi in Malta’s Independent Newspaper by Kevin Schembri Orland A man, a journalist, a novelist… a journey through the Middle East…
.. Journalism is my profession and source of income but my literary writing is a basic part of what I am as a human being. I would confess it is not as simple as it sounds. In the West, writers who make a living from their literary writings are a few. They are vastly fewer in the Arab World. Literary writing in Arabic is not financially viable. I don’t know many writers who make a living out of publishing novels or short stories. The situation is unlikely to change in the near future, not in my lifetime anyway. What is the alternative though? To leave writing to the princes, the wealthy and the high-salaried government officials and diplomats? Isn’t it enough that they have the entire business market to roam as they please?
“In history we have to deal with the past on its own terms, and the terms of history are the documentary evidence, which is the case of all countries, either written or archaeological, or linguistic in this case. The Maltese language is Arabic, not Punic and all that other rubbish. That idea was abandoned about a hundred years ago by academics. Some people are still wondering about Punic, Lebanese and so on because there is a resemblance in the language. Maltese is Arabic with some Italian words, a lot of Sicilian words, and so on.”
“It is not simple to describe what was like to be a Morisco in Spain. They were a part of the Moslem Umma but yet suffered from what today is regarded as identity conflict. Being their society centered on religion, the banning of Islam and its institutions determined the end of the community. They considered themselves Spaniards, when this name was scarcely used by Christians, who still preferred to be called after their regional identities (Catalonian, Aragonese, etc). At that time, in the XV century, there were no Spaniards because there was no Spain as yet; Spain as a unified state came into existence after the fall of Grenade, in 1492. Before this time, her territories were those of Hispania in Roman times, and were conformed by several kingdoms, some even with a language of their own. But one of those kingdoms, Grenade, was still under Moslem rule until most of the XV century, with Arabic being spoken there. Grenade remained as the only Moslem kingdom after Cordoba´s Caliphate split into smaller emirates. At that time, the peoples living in most of the territory later to become Spain, though not a homogeneous territory, culturally speaking, shared their Christian faith. This fact turned religion into a powerful political instrument of unity for the Christian authorities, and as such was employed to re-conquest Spain from the Moors, as Moslems were called.”
I watched Margaret Thatcher at the upper window of 10 Downing Street as she looked from behind a partly drawn small curtain to see her successor John Major getting into the prime ministerial car. She appeared satisfied at her party’s choice for the next prime minister but she never believed Major will be another male Margaret Thatcher. That role can be claimed, astonishingly enough, by Labour’s Tony Blair. Thatcher was always blunt and determined but not an iron lady. The true iron lady of the time was Indira Gandhi – a small woman with a larger shadow than most contemporary politicians until the very end of her tragic life. A shattering loss for everybody.