Peter Collins: People Like Us

“’What do you come from Europe for? To make pictures you take back to England. But my people stay here! Living like this!’ He gestured violently toward a filthy gaunt old woman selling roasted mealies in the gutter, at the queues of lurching drinkers…” as Paul Hogarth packed away his paper, pens and pencils on a hot and dusty Johannesburg street corner he took the brunt of a young black man’s frustration of life in 1950s South Africa. It would set the tone for much of his journey across the continent and beyond wherever the disparity between the wealthiest and poorest was most acute, but Hogarth never shied from recording both extremes, in fact he reveled in it.

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Youssef Rakha: On Fiction and the Caliphate

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Youssef Rakha, Palavas-les-Flots, near Montpellier, France, 2017

Towards the end of 2009, I completed my first novel, whose theme is contemporary Muslim identity in Egypt and, by fantastical extension, the vision of a possible khilafa or caliphate. I was searching for both an alternative to nationhood and a positive perspective on religious identity as a form of civilisation compatible with the post-Enlightenment world. The closest historical equivalent I could come up with, aside from Muhammad Ali Pasha’s abortive attempt at Ottoman-style Arab empire (which never claimed to be a caliphate as such), was the original model, starting from the reign of Sultan-Caliph Mahmoud II in 1808. I was searching for Islam as a post-, not pre-nationalist political identity, and the caliphate as an alternative to the postcolonial republic, with Mahmoud and his sons’ heterodox approach to the Sublime State and their pan-Ottoman modernising efforts forming the basis of that conception. Such modernism seemed utterly unlike the racist, missionary madness of European empire. It was, alas, too little too late.

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