A Life Less Ordinary: Polymath A.S. Bishtawi

by Anisa Benmoktar on February 20, 2010

I have all the time in the world for Adel Said Bishtawi. This Palestinian-born Arab creative polymath has written extraordinary articles, novels and produced documentaries on Muslim and Arab culture around the world.

A Career Dedicated to Arabic Culture

I feel that A.S. Bishtawi has mined, explored and revealed some of the most beautiful aspects of the Arab world with beauty, poise, clarity and enveloping sensitivity. He’s also been a fountain of political and historical knowledge, and has interviewed some of the worlds’ most illustrious characters such as Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Sheikh Issa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Emir of Bahrain. The author even interviewed Afghanistan President Hafizullah Amin and his family shortly before the leader’s execution at the dawn of the Russian invasion of his country.

I first encountered A.S Bishtawi when I was at university: I read Traces of a Tattoo in my final year. It’s the stunning tale of a young Palestinian man whose heart is shattered by a beautiful Syrian girl when she is coerced into accepting a marriage proposal from someone else. The couple are reunited twenty-four years later in London, and the novel traces the love affair between his son and her daughter against a backdrop of cross-cultural challenges and intricacies.

If you haven’t read Traces of a Tattoo yet I recommend you go grab it any way you can…

A Palestinian Author and Then Some…

Adel Said Bishtawi was born in Nazareth, Palestine, in 1945 and  studied English and Linguistics in Damascus and London. He began his journalism career at the Syrian News Agency, before relocating to London to become Front Page Editor of Al Arab, the first European pan-Arab Newspaper.

In 1980 he was appointed Central Managing Editor of the Emirates News Agency in Abu Dhabi. He fitted back and forth between prestigious journalism posts in the Arab world and the UK.

As an author, his early-published works included 5 short story collections and a novella.

His first historical work, The Andalusian Moriscos (History of the Moriscos after the Fall of Granada) was first published in Cairo in 1982.

Then came Traces of a Tattoo in 1998, followed by Times of Death and Roses in 1999, both of which were published by The Arab Institute for Publication and Studies, Beirut, Lebanon and highly acclaimed by critics. The Arab Institute also published his third novel, Gardens of Despair in late 2000.

In 2001 when he decided to hang up his journalist’s hat and become a full time novelist, shortly after a further non-fiction work, The Martyrdom of the Andalusian Nation (Part I) was released to the public.

He co-authored A Thousand Miles in One Step, with  HRH Prince Abdulla Bin Mosaad Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia. It is the first work ever to reveal the true circumstances behind King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia’s death as neither a conspiracy nor state plot.

And If All That Weren’t Enough…

Abdel Said also produced, directed and wrote “Muslims along the Silk Road”, a 5 part series of one-hour documentaries following Muslim culture, heritage and  the legacy of Muslim pioneers and merchants along the Silk Road.

Today, this extraordinary Arab author regularly appears on TV to conduct press interviews, speaking to world political leaders, ministers, writers, businessmen, and artists, and gives conferences and seminars on history, literature and IT.

I’ve heard he also wrote a series of solidarity poems for Iraq during the invasion.

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