Hampstead book club swept up in Arab Spring’s democratic tide
A little known book club has been inspired to set up an internet site after receiving messages of support from citizens across the Middle East
The effects of that fateful act of defiance have been felt across the world, including Hampstead where a little known book club has been inspired to set up an internet site after receiving messages of support from citizens across the Middle East.
The Arab Israeli Book Review was set up in last year by lecturer and writer Ariel Kahn, and Palestinian writer and critic Samir El-Youssef, with one aim – to create a more nuanced understanding of the Arab Israeli conflict through the power of literature.
“In fiction you can’t simply hide behind one view or ideology, whether this is Arab or Israeli, you have to show different points of views and voices,” explains Mr Kahn.
“Since the Arab Spring and the extraordinary changes sweeping through that part of the world, we have had messages from people in Libya, Egypt and all over, about the book club.
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“Most of them have been looking for a space in which to learn and think about these relationships and regions differently.
“The Arab Spring has created an atmosphere which has made people think that change is possible.”
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The book club, which is backed by the Jewish Community Centre, has grown from a small group meeting in a room above the Magdala pub in South Hill Park, Hampstead, to a large loyal following which meets regularly in Joseph’s book shop in Finchley Road, Golders Green.
And now the group has launched a new website and podcasts so they can reach an international audience.
Mr Kahn believes that by creating an open forum in which people are presented with the human experience, in all its shades of grey, through Arab and Israeli literature, they are creating a “model for dialogue”.
“Books are slower to read and more considered. I really feel that this kind of dialogue can suggest ways of moving forward. It is about how to try to find out about different voices.
“I lived in Israel for three years during the first Intifada and things then seemed to be so intractable. Now there is more of a sense of optimism.”