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Tag: Arab Culture


Upcoming Projects for 2013

I’ve been posting on my Facebook page about upcoming projects for the first half of 2013, without sharing too much detail. I’d like to include a quick overview of things to come:


I’ll have an article coming out in Newsweek (now online only), in the next couple of months. I’ll post on Facebook as soon as it’s online.

Backlist ebooks

I’ll be releasing ebooks from my backlist starting very soon. We’re still working on the cover art, but they’ll be coming out one by one in the next couple of months.


I’ll be speaking at the literary festival there, so if you’re based in or near Lithuania, I’d love to see you.

Scorpion Soup limited edition hardcover

This is now available for pre-order over at the Scorpion Soup website, and books will be shipping out in late March. There are purchase options for both the US and the UK, which is where the books will be warehoused. If you’re in another country and would like a copy, please contact me and I’ll let you know what the extra shipping fees are. I’m trying to keep the cost down on this book by offering it only on my website.

You can also enter one of two contests on Goodreads for a chance to win a copy of the limited edition hardcover. There is a contest for US readers and one for UK readers.

Scorpion Soup en español

We’re also working on a Spanish translation of my recent release, Scorpion Soup. It’s over half-way finished, and then will go into editing before its release. It should be out fairly soon, and I’ll be sure to post on my Facebook page when it’s available.

Casablanca Blues

This is one of my upcoming releases for 2013. I’ve completed the first draft, and it’s being edited now.

Blaine Williams is a thirty-something New Yorker with an mid-life crisis and an obsession of the movie Casablanca. His world collapsing around him, he flees to the one place he thinks he knows and understands. A fragment of security in his troubled imagination, Casablanca the genuine article reveals itself as a roller coaster ride of danger, intrigue, and true love — a realm where nothing is what it seems.

Eye Spy

This is another of my upcoming releases for 2013. I’m half-way through the first draft on this.

While in Central Asia saving the sight of a debauched dictator, Dr. Robert Kaine, the greatest eye surgeon of his generation, unwittingly tastes a pie filled with cooked human eyes. Rather than being revolted by the dish, he adores it, and finds that it has an astonishing and ameliorating effect on the psyche. As the craving sets in, he will stop at nothing to get more of the illicit food.

Against a backdrop of an epidemic eye disorder called Occulosis, that threatens making everyone alive blind, Kaine is the one man who can save human sight… while robbing anyone he can of their eyes.



I have already mentioned in passing a number of Arab inventions from the Golden Age. They include a wide range of medical, chemical and astronomical devices. But there are whole other areas in which the Arabs inventors excelled.

         Arab engineers learned from the Romans, Greeks and from their own scientists, and came up with creations that demonstrated their astonishing ingenuity. Some of these creations improved living conditions, while others were more whimsical.

         Engineers were hugely important. When the tenth century Persian engineer and polymath, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), reached Cairo, the Caliph himself went to the gates to greet him. He had been invited to regulate the flooding on the Nile. It soon dawned on him that he couldn’t solve the problem. The only way to save his neck was to feign madness and live for years under house arrest… biding his time until the Caliph’s own death.


April 25, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel


One of the things I love about the study of history is how a small event changes the lives of everyone, and dramatically alters the world in which we live. A great example of this began in the year 751 AD, when a fledgling Abbasid force met that of the Chinese Tang Dynasty on the Talas River. The Chinese were superior as a fighting machine, and were expected to win the battle. But on the day, it was the Muslims who defeated the Chinese. The important point of story is that the Muslims captured a number of Chinese and took them prisoner. Among them, was a group of experts in papermaking. The Muslims took them to the city of Samarkand, where they forced them to build a papermaking factory. The technology was completely unknown in Europe at the time, and had been a closely guarded secret in China. Eventually, the Abbasids had another papermaking factory built at Baghdad using the Tang knowhow. And with this technology they could begin the extraordinary accomplishments in science for which they became so celebrated.

With paper, and the knowledge of writing which was so key to read the Qur’an, the Muslims were able to write books, detailing their breakthroughs in the evolving sciences. And they could now pass these books east and west along the ever-growing pilgrimage routes, centred at the holy city of Mecca. It was in its own way a kind of primitive Internet, made possible by the secret knowledge of paper, acquired on a distant battlefield in 751.

April 24, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

All Change

The kind of miracles often performed by Indian Godmen rely on a knowledge of chemicals, physics, and the environment, a kind of layer of information which many of us take for granted. Just as I am fascinated by the illusions conjured by these Godmen, I am also deeply interested in the science that makes them possible. Or, rather, I’m preoccupied by the history of that science, and how it came about.

Over the next few days, I’m going to write some notes — nothing too heavy — on how the science we all rely on every day (the very same that the Godmen rely on too) came to us all through Arab society, predominantly from the Abbasid era. I have touched on this before in my blog, by have long wanted to devote a little more time to it, so excuse me while I indulge myself…

March 26, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Common Greetings and Phrases

Following on from yesterday, I want to highlight a few of the Arab expressions and phrases that are heard constantly in North Africa and the Middle East.

Assalam wa alaikum: As I said yesterday, this is the most common Arab greeting, meaning ‘Peace be upon you’.  It is uttered constantly, and it would be incorrect to omit it  when meeting someone, entering a shop, and so on.
Ahlan wa sahlan:  An all purpose relaxed greeting, favoured particularly in Egypt, that is truncated to ‘Ahlan’.
Bismillah:  ‘In the name of God’, it is said before a pious Muslim embarks on any activity at all. Before sitting down, before breaking bread or eating, or beginning just about any action that requires a little thought.
Alhamdullillah: ‘Praise God’. It’s used as a reply when someone asks you how you are. Also when one hears good news.
Tafaddul: Literally, ‘Honour me’, is an invitation to someone to sit down, come into their home, and so on.
Shukran: ‘Thank you’.
La illaha illa Allah, Muhammed ar-Rasul-Allah: ‘There is no god except Allah, Muhammed is the Messenger of God’. This is the Islamic Profession of Faith. To repeat it once is to testify once conversion to Islam.
La haula wa la quwwatah illa billahi al aali wa’l azeem: ‘There is no Power or Might accept God, the High, the Great.’ The phrase is sometimes said is an expression of great surprise.
Astaghfirullah: ‘I seek refuge in God’. The expression of alarm, disgust and so on.


March 25, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel


In the Arab and Islamic world greeting people is very important. It’s usually much more than a passing ‘hello’, and can often turn into an elaborate exchange of expressions, and an abundant show of friendship. The Prophet noted that people ought to greet each other. And anyone who has travelled in an Arab country, must have seen local people greeting friends and acquaintances, shaking hands and kissing cheeks. Here in Morocco there is almost nothing so important as greeting someone, whether a stranger or a friend. Each morning when I meet the guardian’s here at our house for the first time, I spend a moment asking them how they, and how their families are, and of course shaking hands. Hand-shaking is a very big deal in the Arab world. It would be unthinkable for me to greet another man and refrain from shaking their hand. The same goes for public greetings. When you enter a bank for example, or even an elevator, you always say: ‘As salam wa alaikum’, ‘Peace be upon you’.  I suppose it came from the times when you never knew whether a stranger was a friend or foe. And by expressing your greeting, you were declaring that you were friendly, and not about to stab them in the back. In the Arab world it can be considered inappropriate for a man to ask another man about his wife. So you always find yourself being asked “how is the family?” A conversation between two friends will never begin until such enquiries have been made.  On my travels I have noticed that almost all societies outside Europe and North America have such elaborate greetings. They are part of the culture, an expression that runs far deeper than the simplicity of the words. Last week I went to London to two or three days, and in the middle of the trip I found myself getting into a crowded elevator. As soon as I managed to squeeze in, I spent a moment greeting everybody, as I would do in Morocco. I did it on autopilot, and found myself  met with looks of blank amazement. After all, in London there can sometimes be a sense of hostility to outright strangers. But then, as the elevator rose up towards the top of the building, a few of the other passengers nervously greeted me back. It was a heart-warming experience, and I could sense that the others just like me felt energised in some way by the greetings someone they didn’t know.

March 5, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

Five Facts of England

The British Royal Family is of Arabian extraction, through the line of the 14th century Castilian king, Pedro the Cruel.
King John of England supposedly offered to convert to Islam, and hand his fealty over to the Moors, if they would help him. The Moorish king refused.
Morris dancing is derived from the term ‘Moorish dancing’, and came to Europe and hence to England, from North Africa during the centuries of Andalucian Spain.
Shakespeare used stories found in Arabic, which were very current in his time. And Chaucer’s ‘Pear Tree Tale’ is found in the Persian of the Sufi mystic Jalaludin Rumi.
The earliest version of the classic English folktale, Dick Whittington and his Cat, is attributed to Persia.

All Around Us

OK, so you thought I got carried away with the thrills of the jungle journey… well you ain’t seen nothing yet. The subject of the Arab world’s influence on the Occident is one of my favourites. It’s a matter that constantly amazes me. I guess the amazement stems from the fact that the majority of people have no clear idea of how massive, how utterly dynamic, the legacy of Eastern knowledge and culture is, within Western society. Where to begin…? Why not start with a few facts and fallacies. Here’s one that’s all around us: The English language is peppered with Arabic words, and from others which came to us through the matrix of the Arab world. There are hundreds of them, each one giving a clue to the links between East and West through past centuries. They include… alcohol, tariff, magazine, cheque, admiral, algorithm,alchemy,  adobe, amber, assassin, algebra, alembic, barbican, carafe, chemistry, cork, chess, cotton, crimson, camphor, calico, gazelle, gerbil, giraffe, harem, lilac, lemon, orange, lute, lime, racket, safari, sash, satin, sequin, sugar, syrup, talisman, zenith, zero, tarragon, tambourine and tabby — as in cat.


Bridging East with West

You’ve probably had enough of my obsession for jungle expeditions. And so for the next few days I’m going to write on facts and fallacies of the Arab World and Middle East. Living in Morocco as I do, I am often amazed that there is such a sprawling gap between East and West. One small way to bridge it would be to correct some of the misconceptions that are all-pervading when it comes to the East. I hope a little of what I have planned will be of interest or even insightful.


Recognising the End

Every journey has an end. As the expedition leader, it’s your responsibility to decide when to call the team together and to give the order to retrace the steps, and venture back to the starting point. The obvious time for return is when you have come upon your goal — when you’ve found the lost city and had a good look around. But, as is so often the case, the goal tends to slip away. And what of it? To me, the goal is so important because it’s the magnet that pulls you forward, the beacon of hope… but at the same time it’s without much meaning within itself. Sure, it would be amazing to find the ruins, or whatever you’re searching for, but it’s equally valuable to have endured the unendurable for so long, and to have been part of the team. When you eventually get back to the base camp, have a feast prepared with remaining food. Then divide up equipment and hand as much of it away to the men as you can. Remember, if they live on the periphery of the jungle, they’re far more likely to have use for it than you. And, taking just the bare essentials, you can slip back into the world you came from… disappear with your memories, and start thinking of another expedition.