A group of singers perform qawwali in the opening ceremony of the Lahore Literary Festival. — White Star
A group of singers perform qawwali in the opening ceremony of the Lahore Literary Festival. — White Star

LAHORE: The 12th edition of the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) kicked off at the Alhamra Art Centre here on Friday.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, LLF Chief Executive Officer Razi Ahmed welcomed the audience, saying this edition had a galaxy of writers from many parts of the world as a result of many successful partnerships that the festival had forged.

“We are grateful for these partnerships, particularly certain embassies like those of France, Germany, Spain and Portugal which made it possible to get some marvelous guest speakers from these countries.”

Razi said the LLF had forged partnerships locally with Mohatta Palace, CoMo, Lahore Biennale Foundation (LBF) among others. He said with the help of these organisations, the LLF had been able to travel internationally, also to New York and London. He added that in London, there was a huge diaspora of 1.6m Pakistanis and the LLF struck a partnership with the Wimbledon Book Festival.

“With the collaboration of Wimbledon Book Festival, we have co-curated some sessions in this edition of the litfest also,” he said.

British novelist Monica Ali also spoke on the occasion. In her short address, she said above all, she was looking forward to the food of Lahore that she had heard about a lot.

The LLF announced lifetime achievement awards to artist and academic Salima Hashmi and Urdu poet Iftikhar Arif and both of them graced the stage.

Arif said it felt good and humbling to get the award, adding that “anything coming from Lahore for someone living in Sindh is very important for us”.

James Hompson, the country director of British Council, said an independent jury had been convened to select top-three writers from children as recognising Pakistan’s next generation of writers and creators was important for both organisations.

He mentioned the British writers, intellectuals and artists who had been a part of the LLF over the years and expressed his pleasure at the partnership of the Wimbledon Book Festival with the LLF.

“For those living in Lahore and Karachi, the British Council has two world-class libraries in both cities,” he said and offered a free membership of the British Council library at the LLF.

Piotr Buszta, the head of EU communication trade and political section in Pakistan, said, “As a longstanding partner of the LLF, the EU is proud to have supported the festival over the years by co-sponsoring the participation of European speakers and authors coming from the member states.”

“Islam is at the heart of liberalism, at the heart of Europe and Islam resides inside liberalism,” declared Prof Joseph Massad, the professor of Arab politics and intellectual history at the University of Columbia.

“Whatever point of origin is chosen for the story of Europe to begin, Islam seems to have a foundational role at every turn,” he said in his keynote address.

Massad said the conquest of Spain and Africa by Islam had made the king of France the master of the Christian Occident. “Europe’s external others have historically been defined as Orientals and the orient, Muslims and Islam, Africans and Africa, native Americans and aboriginal Australians and New Zealanders. Europe’s internal others, as a contrast, have been identified as orthodox and sometimes catholic Christians, Jews and Judaism, socialism, fascism and communism. Like Europe, liberalism’s external others turned out to be internal to it though the rules of externalising them as outsiders intends to hide the operation of rejecting them as an outsider so that liberalism inside can be defined as an opposite,” he pointed out.

The Christian missionaries’ were involved in the ‘act of civlisation’ to convert the Muslims and Islam to liberalism and its value system as the only just and sane system, thinking that the entire planet must be converted into. When they failed to do that they tried to change Muslims through military, Prof Massad added.

He pointed out the issues among the Muslims also, saying that one of the problems was “the absence of agreement of what Islam actually is. Is Islam a religion, a geographical site, a communal identity or a concept?” He also pointed out the issues in the translation of terms in Islam whose Arabic words were used without translation, which compounded the problem.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2024

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