Sunday, 9 August 2015

A little jaunt into escapism ......

.......  in the last few weeks I find myself preferring to keep away from printed and electronic news and views.    I know that in the razzmatazz-culture of software and hard disks and facebook and twitter; books and the appreciation of books are not coooool.     Well, as a card-carrying member of the dinosaur generation I've been indulging myself again,  leafing through my collection of books - books I've been accumulating since the 1960s, books that were bought brand-new from MPH, Donald Moore, Peter Chong and University bookshops during the 1960s and 1970s - as well as second-hand books scavenged in Singapore, Batu Pahat, Muar, Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Kangsar, Chowrasta in Penang, Brunei, India, and New Zealand.    The cream of the crop came from forays to jumble sales, charity shops, library book sales, car boots and second hand book shops in England.  Because it's such an  oldy-woldy country there's such an abundance of  antiquated and nostalgic stuff to amass - from stamps and spoons to books and writing bureaus.  But I digress.

In the old days when books had pride of place in many homes, books published by Penguin were as common as mobiles and televisions and computers today.     Remember this ?

Fig. 1

I first read this in 1960 and again a few months ago.  The detective-hero is Albert Campion and I was unaware until just recently, that Margery Allingham's stories had been made into a BBC TV series in 1989-1990.

Penguin Books were first published in 1935 - making inexpensive paperback books available to the public.  Penguin was responsible not only for producing fiction but also books on serious themes in the sciences, arts and politics.

Back in the 1930s, Noel Carrington met up with the founder of Penguin, Allen Lane and suggested a series of fiction and non-fiction  paperback books for children.  And so Puffin Books was born. Puffin grew in leaps and bounds stretching from The Lion, the Witch and  the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to Roald Dahl, Janet and Alan Ahlberg and Richard Adam's Watership Down  (which I read many times over and which made me cry buckets of tears each time!).

Here are a couple of Puffin books in my keeping.
Fig. 2 . First published 1937. Published in Puffin Story Books 1955.

Fig. 3 -1980s Fiction.

As for the Puffin logo it had had several makeovers.

Fig. 4 - 1940s

Fig. 5 - 1970s

Fig. 6 - 1980s

In keeping up with technology, Puffin now produces Puffin Virtually Live - a series of interactive webcasts.

But give me the paper-back version any time - one I can read in the bus, behind the door to escape my mother looking for me to buy her kelapa parut from the one shop (about 1 mile away from our Pasir Panjang kampung) that had the hi-tech (for the 1950s!) machine for grating raw coconut.  Best of all I can tuck away my book - all dog-eared and mucky - under my pillow.

But this is my most precious Puffin, nicked from the spouse's book shelf 31 years ago!!  He tried to reclaim this Puffin but as it doesn't have his name in it - too bad, mate!

Fig. 7

Fig. 8 - Note the flags of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Transjordan.

 "The Arabs" was published in 1947, written by R. B. Serjeant and illustrated by Edward Bawden.  Because I had a thoroughly colonial education, and learned very little about the non-Christian/Caucasian world,  this book would have been a real change from imbibing the history of Imperial India, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand,  UK the Motherland, Europe and China.  For someone who is fascinated with maps, this book provides wonderful maps to show the location of the Arab world in 750 AD and the Arab world 'today' between 1919 up to the end of the Second World War as well as a map of pre-Israel Palestine.

Map 1 - The Arab World in AD 750

Map 2 - The Arab World between 1919 (the end of the Ottoman Empire)  and 1945.  

Map 3 - Palestine before the creation of Israel in 1948.

The world tends to regard the Arabs (and Muslims for that matter) as a homogeneous group of people. But Serjeant made this very clear when he wrote this in 1947.

Fig.  9 - From page 3.

He then went on to describe Arab life in the villages, of the freer life in the desert, of mountain Arabs, Marsh Arabs and Arabs of the sea coast. Serjeant made a "sincere effort to present the history and culture of the region".   In school we all learned about  Vasco Da Gama as the first European to reach India by sea, linking Europe and the East.  But we were never told  about  his Arab pilot Ibn Majid  ...
Fig. 10  - From page 14.

.........  which Serjeant did!

The rest of the book touched upon the birth and growth of Islam, the Arab conquests, the Ummayad and Abbasid Caliphates and just a cursory reference to the Crusades.

When Serjeant moved on to the topics of the decline and the awakening of the Arabs, then we see the workings of the imperial designs of the British, the French, the Italians and the Germans to carve up the post-Ottoman Muslim Middle East into their little fiefdoms.  Compare Map 2 and Map 4 especially the division and creation of smaller Arab states like Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan (Trans Jordan), Iraq, Sudan and Egypt and of course Saudi Arabia.

Note how Serjeant  ( a Scottish 'Arabist' and traveller, who lived from 1915 to 1993) dismissed the mighty Ottoman Empire  ......

Map 4 - The Ottoman Empire in 1683  (Wikipedia)

...... as  " backward Turkish rulers"

Fig. 11 (from page 31)

The Ottoman empire, founded in 1299, ended in 1922 because they "could not resist the advance of modern western states like Britain and France".  It was one of the world's most powerful states in the 15th and 16th centuries.  Extending from the Middle East to Hungary, the Balkans, Greece and parts of the Ukraine, it was regarded as a transcontinental empire, and a meeting point between east and west.  But like all empires it could not last for ever.

This was how Serjeant (and the Caucasian-Christian powers) laid out the future of the Muslim-Arab world after the First and Second World War.

Fig 12 - from page 30

Fig 13 - from page 31

A striking feature of this Puffin book is the lack of photographs.   It is illustrated completely by sketches and drawings by Bawden (1903-1989) a well-known English illustrator and painter.   Lovely for a children's book, but I remembered other ways of recording history....

So let me try to link Bawden's sketches with some photographs - and with some stamps from the spouse's childhood stamp album.    The spouse himself has a hazy memory of the Middle East (he remembers seeing the banks of the Suez Canal in 1947).   But his childhood was scattered with images of Middle Eastern politics nevertheless - in his stamp album..

1.  King Abd al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia  (1876-1953).  In 1915  he allied himself with the British and Arabia became a British protectorate from 1915-1927.    In 1932 he declared himself as King of Saudi Arabia.  In Map 1, there's only 'Arabia' and it became 'Saudi Arabia' in Map 2.

In 1937 American explorers discovered oil in Saudi Arabia , "more oil ....... than in the United States itself !"  (Serjeant)

2.  King Faisal I of Iraq

King Faisal I  ( 1883-1933). Reigned from 1921 - 1933.

King Faisal had a very complex background.  He was the son of the Sharif of Mecca (the then guardian of Islam's holy places).  His association with T.E. Lawrence  and the Arab Revolt are all too familiar. He was at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.  Even though Syrian nationalists had installed him as their ruler in 1920 (with the blessings of the British), the French threw him out and Faisal was given the second prize by the British - they planned a new throne for him in Iraq. We all know how this game of musical chairs is still being played out in the Middle East, this time with new goons on the block like the USA and Israel!

His reign was fraught with problems but he managed to maneuvre some kind of independence for Iraq in 1932.  In the end, his role in juggling the various anarchic factions in Iraq ended only in tears and he died in 1933 in Berne - poisoned according to some sources.

He was succeeded by his son Ghazi I (1912-1939) but his reign was short (1933-1939).  Ghazi was killed in a mysterious car crash and his son Faisal II (1935-1958) the boy-king was installed ......

Faisal II (1935-1958).  Reigned from 1939-1958.
 ........ guided by the Regent, his uncle.  Faisal's reign was cut short mainly because of the Regent's and his decision to allow UK to retain control of Iraqi affairs.  Iraq was tied up to the British Empire by a 25 year military alliance with the British maintaining her military bases. The Iraq Petroleum Company, a conglomerate of British, French and US interests were ensured concessions for oil exploration and production. There were massive protests against these so-called alliances with Britain and the West and hundreds of demonstrators died.  As a result the relationship between the King and the people deteriorated.  In 1958  Faisal II was deposed  and killed  in the July Revolution of 1958.  Iraq became a Republic and was ruled by various secular leaders culminating in the rise  of Saddam Hussein as President of Iraq in 1979.

3.  Sidi Idris al-Sanusi or Idris of Libya  (1889-1983)

Idris of Libya (1889-1983) . Reigned from 1951-1969.

....and from the spouse's stamp album:
Libya was seized from the Ottomans and she became an Italian colony from 1910-1947.

Idris allied himself with the British during the Second World War to get rid of the Italian colonists. He was the first and only king of Libya and was deposed in 1969 in a coup led by Army Officers.

Muammar Gaddafi became President of Libya from 1969 until he was  "defeated " and murdered during the "Arab Spring Awakening" of 2011.  Gaddafi was, for many years, a thorn in the side of the West and the "Arab Spring" was a god-given opportunity for  NATO countries to  break up and weaken this belligerent  and oil-rich Arab nation.

4.  Emir Abdullah of Transjordan / King Abdullah I of Jordan

Abdullah 1 of Jordan ( 1882-1951)
Emir of  Transjordan from 1921-1946

King of Jordan from 1946-1951

Brother of King Faisal I of Iraq, he worked with the Brtish agent T.E. Lawrence against Ottoman rule during the First World War.  The Jordanian royal family, up to the present, have been close allies of the British.  In fact the mother of the present King Abdullah II  was the daughter of a British military officer.

King Abdullah I was assassinated at Al Aqsa in 1951

5.  Imam Yahya of Yemen (1869-1948)  Reigned from  (1918-1948)

Imam Yahya came from  the al-Qasimi dynasty who had been ruling "most of  Yemen proper and South Saudi Arabia for 900 years" (wiki).  Today Yemen, like Libya and Iraq, is awash with violence and bloodshed - caught up in a maelstrom of  political machinations by the West and its proxies, and the fractured and divisive legacies of post-Ottoman, post First World War policies.

Certainly Serjeant's summation has come to naught.

Fig. 14 - Page 31
Fig. 15 -Page 32

Imam Yahya was assassinated in February 1948 by a member of the Bani Murad tribe.

6.  King Farouq of Egypt (1920-1965) reigned from 1936-1952.  The Egyptian monarchy was set up by the British in the 1920s and Farouq succeeded his father King Fuad I in 1936.  He led a "scandalous and grotesquely self-indulgent lifestyle and the belief that some of his closest associates had profited by supplying defective weapons and munitions to the forces had eroded the army's loyalty" - he was "despised at home and abroad as an ineffectual playboy", (Richard Cavendish in History Today.2002).

King Farouq ruled from 1936-1952

He was overthrown in a coup led by Army Officers in 1952 and Egypt was declared a Republic.

As Serjeant was concerned only with the British fiefdoms in the Middle East; Syria and Lebanon which were part of the French booty after the end of the Ottoman empire were not included in his purview.  Still, I shall insert those stamps from the 1930s that celebrated the hegemony of the Christian-Caucasian Europeans before the coming of the mighty Empire of the United States-cum-Israel.


And the most pulverized people in the world - Palestine.


To quote :  '

Us and Them: Ethnocentrism and Racism

As any demagogue will tell you, if you want to instill a certain belief in a population, get 'em while they're young.  Children are generally short on life experience, and must rely on adults for much of their information about the world.  This provides the perfect opportunity for a culture to pass its worst qualities - racism, xenophobia, etc - to the next generation.

A Malaysian Postscript

How would my view of Arabs and  Arab history be tainted if I had read Serjeant's and Bawden's book when I was 10-11?   In those days, of course, my perception of the non-white/Christian world was effectively perverted by my colonial education.  However, as we can observe around us here in Malaysia and in other parts of the Islamic world, we are doing to ourselves what the West worked so hard to achieve, in brainwashing  our fathers and forefathers.

Here's a video of our Arab brothers making their annual hijrah to London to escape the heat in Arabland and to swagger their wealth - and this time it coincides with Ramadan 2015!   Was this what their forefathers fought for nearly a hundred years ago?

                                        Eid Mubarak! 

Today the Arabs in the Middle East  have not "fallen behind the West in scientific and technical progress."  (See Fig. 10,  from page 31.)  But they now have unremitting wars and bloodshed.  Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Palestine have become an inferno of chaos and violence and deaths.  I wonder what Serjeant would write about the Syrian refugees fleeing in desperation for safety and succour.

Here in our part of the world, we have our version of  'Young Turks' - eager to be The Other, to rise above the colour of their skin and the framework of their culture, to deny their ethnicity and to claim 'we are all the same'.

Well, just last week we found ourselves sitting at breakfast in our local makan shop with a  Malaysian academic,  He had a Ph.D and as he is a Malay in his late 50s, I guess he must be one of those beneficiaries of the NEP  during the reign of his much-hated UMNO - paid for by the rakyat. He is very knowledgeable in western science and Islam.  Over our plates of  tosai he expounded to us about al-Qada' wa'l-Qadar (Divine Will and Decree), and to conclude his pontificating he declared that he preferred to be regarded as a Muslim and not a Malay.  (And this Muslim male, by the way, tended to look away - or down his nose -whenever I had something to add to the conversation.)

What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.  ( Hegel 1770 - 1831)

Et tu Malays?  [Even you/And you Malays ?]

But then - I'm only a woman!  And this post is just a female's jaunt into escapism.


Pootz in Boots said...

I am going to read this again... How are you Ma' Ngah?

anak si-hamid said...

To Pootz in Boots.

Dear Puti,

It's great to hear from you. Hope you are all in good health and your little ones are behaving!

We're not too bad - for two septuagenarians.

Thank you for popping in If you read this posting again, I shall have to give you a test!


jat said...

I discovered your blog while searching for one of your blog followers, the author Kalsom Taib. I have recently become a bit of a history buff, and I just wanted express my admiration for your blog. I've bookmarked this post in particular for further reference!

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Jat for your kind comment.

In the last 15 years I have discovered my interest in history, a subject I detested when I was in school.

As for Kalsom Taib, she's a darned good writer and a lovely person to boot!

Redarrow said...

I too like Jat stumbled upon your blog and was intrigued by the spontaneity and high spirit exhibited in the writing. Plus the subject matter - history and books, is infectious and is something that I can relate to very well, being a collector of old Malaya books myself. Keep writing and sharing.