Tag: islam

44. Dancing on the heads of snakes

Victoria Clark: Yemen“Dancing on the heads of snakes” is how President Ali Abdullah Salih of Yemen describes the near impossibility of governing his country. He should know; he’s managed to cling on to power by keeping up the dance for the past three decades.

The challenge is certainly considerable: Yemen has been a united country for only 20 years and it’s far from certain that it will remain one. Tribalism make governance a tricky business at the best of times as does poverty: around 40% of its rapidly growing population live on $2 a day. The country’s oil and water supplies are both dwindling at an alarming rate. It’s relations with its northern neighbour, Saudi Arabia, are strained.

And since the failed suicide bomb attempt on a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, Yemen is once again in the full glare of international attention as Al-Qaeda’s home base on the Arabian peninsula.

British journalist Victoria Clark, who was born in the city of Aden in the south of Yemen when it was still a British colony,  returned to the country in order to try to get to grips with Yemen’s complexities.

As she says in the introduction to her book, “Yemen manages to challenge and scramble the logical progressions and neat narratives that westerners prefer to deal in”. Her book avoids those pitfalls, succeeding in doing justice to the country’s troubled past in prose that has all the immediacy and pace of high-quality reportage.

In our interview, she tells me about the challenges of enabling western readers to understand the situation in Yemen, and why it is so important that we should do so.

Le Monde diplomatique podcast – “civilizations from different galaxies”

“After Iraq the ideas of the Bush administration – for example, the idea that you can remake the world in America’s image, that we can alter the condition of the whole Islamic world in order to protect ourselves – had become deeply unfashionable.

“But I think there is a danger of embracing the opposite idea – a kind of Orientalism, the notion of a primordial and timeless enemy.”

My guest on this month’s podcast for Le Monde diplomatique is Dr Patrick Porter of the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London.

Porter: Military OrientalismPatrick has recently published a book on military orientalism, and he pursues that theme in his article in this month’s issue of LMD with particular reference to the Taliban. To view them as medieval or even extraterrestrials as many in the West have done is to see no further than their rhetoric and overlook the extent to which their culture is constantly changing and adapting to circumstances.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

What’s the big idea?

Festival of Ideas logoIn May I made a number of recordings for this year’s Bristol Festival of Ideas, a series of very popular events which brought some high-powered thinkers to the city to stimulate discussion on subjects as diverse as the legacy of ’68 to why the human brain is not quite ‘fit for purpose’.

I’m editing my interviews now for a series of podcasts sponsored by The Philosophers’ Magazine, which will be appearing over the next few months. The first one is downloadable now from iTunes here. Read More