Sunday, 15 January 2012

Search for Arab pens and words

Samir Atallah

Ballpoints, roller ball pens, fountain pens, erasable gel ink pens, twist pens, click pens and so on…

One of the finest and most cultured and astute columnists in the Arab world says he has used them all.

Samir Atallah must have put to the test the full gamut of writing instruments in his Arab print media career that has spanned half a century. A native of Lebanon, he is also the author of several novels, historical books and travelogues. He now contributes a weekly think piece for Beirut’s an-Nahar and has been writing a daily column (of about 300-400 words) for Saudi Asharq Alawsat since 1987.

Find it in Malaysia” is the headline he chose for his column in the October 18, 2011, edition of Asharq Alawsat.

My experience qualifies me to lecture about pens and the country of origin of each, he wrote. “And with time, I was drawn to search for a pen under nationality and country of manufacture. The German is good, the Japanese is excellent, the French is needlessly beautiful and the Chinese is for one day’s use…

“Often, I tried reverting to the fountain pen. I discovered it was too slow and is only useful for writing love letters… So I reverted to the ballpoint, which is the cheapest and most practical. Then, one day, I could not find a ballpoint made in either Japan or Germany. So I chose one with a French-sounding label. But guess what: it was neither French, nor German, nor Japanese. It was Malaysian. Perhaps we can one day manufacture an Arab pen. 

Which reminds me of nine words that Nasser Eddin F. Nashashibi, another pillar of the Arab press, wrote some 50 years ago.

Nasser Eddin Nashashibi ( photo)
Scion of one of the oldest Palestinian families in Jerusalem and author of some 40 books, Nashashibi received his Masters degree from the American University of Beirut in 1943.  He served as advisor to Jordan’s King Abdallah I and head of Radio Jordan before Egypt’s late president Gamal Abdel Nasser named him editor in chief of the Cairo daily Al Gomhuria. He was then appointed ambassador-at-large for the Arab League and diplomatic correspondent in Europe for Egypt’s al-Ahram.

Nashashibi married, but later divorced, Alia el-Solh, an Oxonian and fiery advocate of Lebanese and Arab causes. (Atallah recalled after her death in Paris in 2007, “She wrote Arabic like a poet, spoke French like a literary scholar and debated in English like a professor.”) More significantly, she was the eldest daughter of Riad el-Solh, chief architect of Lebanon’s independence who, in the words of British journalist and Middle East specialist Patrick Seale “was by definition the great Pan-Arab statesman of his time.”

When Lebanese publisher Salim al-Lawzi set out to revamp his al-Hawadeth weekly in the late 1960s, he contacted Nashashibi, who had set up home in Geneva after the Arab armies’ debacle in the 1967 war. He invited him to contribute regular op-ed articles for his refurbished magazine.

Nashashibi declined the invite.

Lawzi’s nose for news drove him to later publish excerpts from his invitation to Nashashibi and the latter’s negative answer. “I won’t be taking up the offer,” Nashashibi wrote, because “words in Arabic have lost their meaning for now.”

Nashashibi, now over 90 and ailing, is back living at his Jerusalem home.

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