Return to Transcripts main page


Special Edition: Middle East

Aired December 24, 2014 - 11:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, ANCHOR AND HOST OF "CONNECT THE WORLD" SHOW: Welcome to this special edition of "Connect the World." From the UAE I'm Becky

Anderson. Now, in 2014 we've traveled the Middle East, bringing you the big stories and interviews from a region in transition. But it's not just

the places that you travel to but the people you meet that makes a journey so special. And many of those I've met this year have both inspired and

surprised me.


ANDERSON: Cultural icons, artists, writers, people whose creativity is found all over this dynamic region. First stop, Sultan Al-Qasimi.

SULTAN AL-QASIMI, COMMENTATOR ON ARAB AFFAIRS: -- old corded (ph) structures.

ANDERSON: An Emir royalty with infectious energy and a passion for art in his home town of Sharjah here in the UAE.

AL-QASIMI: In 1998, Sharjah became the first Gulf city to be awarded the Arab Capital of Culture by the UNESCO. And now in 2014, Sharjah has been

awarded by ISESCO because we're the capital of the Zamcourt (ph).

ANDERSON: With the Sharjah Art Foundation - what's the history behind this project?

AL-QASIMI: Well, the Sharjah Foundation is headed by Sheikha Hoor al- Qasimi, the daughter of the ruler of Sharjah. She has been a force for promotion of culture and art, and really modernizing and globalizing the

art in Sharjah and the UAE. As you can see, this area has been kind of preserved very, very well. On

this side you see these old corded (ph) structures that have been used since --

ANDERSON: Look at this.

AL-QASIMI: -- the 19th century and maybe even earlier. And on the other side, you see these modern buildings that are really hollow from the inside

and allow you to install large installations and art projects. I'm going to be taking you now to Al Mahatta Museum which is the airport museum and

is the oldest airport in the region. Dates back to 1932. First of all, this is a unique aviation museum in the region. I don't think I've come

across an aviation museum in the Middle East, let alone in the Gulf. So, and second - this is the airport that received the first people from the

South Continent, the first -- the airport that received the first Arab migrants, the airport that received the expatriates which today make up a

large part of this UAE site.

ANDERSON: And it's interesting because these days, the Gulf is such a hub -


ANDERSON: -- for air transport, --


ANDERSON: -- and yet when you go back, what 18 years -

AL-QASIMI: Yes, this is where it started.

ANDERSON: This is where it started.

AL-QASIMI: So we are walking into this (inaudible) shanty house - over here.

ANDERSON: What's a shanty house?

AL-QASIMI: So (inaudible) shanty actually it was an old merchant here in Sharjah and you can tell this is his house - it's a huge mansion.


AL-QASIMI: If you're thinking a 19th century standard, this is massive, massive, massive.


AL-QASIMI: Designs from Kuwait, from Southern Persia, from Yemen, from Amman. It all really comes across here.

ANDERSON: And this - today is an artist colony.

AL-QASIMI: Today it's an artist colony.

ANDERSON: Amazing.

AL-QASIMI: Weir Esmi Esmile (ph) is here. So this is the studio of Fismy al-Afi (ph). He's one of the greatest artists of his generation.

ANDERSON: Nice to meet you.

AL-QASIMI: So Mr. Esmile (ph) is inspired by early events - early events in Syria and a lot of the regional events, but his work is very - I mean,

it just speaks for itself. He did an exhibition on the city and the revolution about three months ago, and these artworks are a continuation of

that series.

ANDERSON: You've exhausted me. Where are we going now?

AL-QASIMI: So, Winacoldagespa (ph) - that is two lakes. And the architecture is from the 19 - early 1990 and it includes a lot of cafes as

you can see. The Art Foundation's here and a restaurant and some other (inaudible) as well.

ANDERSON: Take me back or I'm going to be pined to you (ph) then.


ANDERSON: Twenty years.


ANDERSON: Twenty-five years.

AL-QASIMI: Nothing - right nothing here, nothing. It was just - it was sand, there was nothing built here.

ANDERSON: From one leading light in the contemporary art scene in the region two "Seeing Through Light" - I want to show you some of the

acquisitions for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi collection. Come and have a look. In Turkey I caught up with a writer who's also found his creativity

all over his home town. The Nobel Prize-winning author and resident of Istanbul - Orhan Pamuk was born in 1952 to a wealthy Istanbul family. He

grew up in the city's European side and spent most of his adolescence training to be first an artist, then architect. But by the time he turned

23, Pamuk knew his true passion lay in writing. He published his first novel "Cevdet Bey and His Sons" in 1985, and from

then onwards, the writing never stopped. The "New life" was published in 1994 and became the fastest-selling novel in Turkey's history. Then came

the Internationally-acclaimed "My Name is Red" in 1998. In 2002, Pamuk published what he says is his first and last political novel, "Snow."

Outspoken and controversial, Pamuk touched upon taboo topics in Turkey; like the alleged Armenian genocide in the 1900s and the massacre of Kurdish

separatists . That led the government in 2005 to sue him under Article 3021 of the constitution, defaming the Turkish state. The charges were

soon dropped, but Pamuk had solidified his position as a controversial literary figure within the Turkish psyche. In 2006 he became the first

Turk ever to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. And two years later, he published "The Museum of Innocence." The book follows a wealthy

businessman, Kemal, as he chases a young woman, Fusun, and attempts to build a museum housing the objects associated with his infatuation. And in

2012, he opened the actual museum itself in Istanbul. Once again, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.



ANDERSON: How biographical is "The Museum of Innocence"? and what should we learn about you and love from it?

ORHAN PAMUK, NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR: "The Museum of Innocence" treats love as a general ting - it's something that happens to all of us or most

of us. But on the other hand, our clans, our history, our history, our religion, our culture, our situation are - and sexuality, gender - all

forms various ways where we enjoy love or suffer from love.

ANDERSON: In your novel "Istanbul," you talk about huzun -- bittersweet melancholy. Is that how you think Istanbul should be reflected today?

PAMUK: The Istanbul I wrote about in my memoir "Istanbul" is the Istanbul between 1950s and mid 1970s. That Istanbul which I associate with huzun -

a sort of Turkish melancholy which is also a sufee (ph), reflects sufee (ph) flaws (ph) of resignation, not demanding too much from the city. And

I associate that feeling with the landscapes of Istanbul - black and white. That feeling of decay, decay of modernity which I experienced a lot,

especially in my childhood when I was living around the ruins of ultimate modernity.

ANDERSON: Do you understand people's concerns? You've always written in the past about the deep-rooted tensions between the two - between East and

West - do you sympathize with those who feel that Turkey has its issues?

PAMUK: If you're asking me if Turkey is getting modernized, my answer is what is modernity? If it means industrial dilution, economical growth,

affluence - Turkey's managing that in the last one I have decayed - that's 15/20 years. While if modernity also means secularism, liberalism,

democracy, respect for the dignity of the individual - I'm not sure whether we getting modern or not.

ANDERSON: Who do you blame for that?

PAMUK: I of course now blame the ruling party. But, the previous parties - the previous secularist parties and the army was also - as ruthless as

this government. Free speech is troubled in Turkey. We have a good electoral democracy, but not a full democracy in the sense that free speech

is respected, rights of the minorities are respected, journalistic writing respected. We don't have that.


ANDERSON: After the break -


DAVID GROSSMAN, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: We have to start to create the agents of peace.


ANDERSON: Bold cultural icons from the Middle East in this look back on the best of "Connect the World" with me, Becky Anderson.


ANDERSON: This is the neighborhood of Shuafat in East Jerusalem. I'm on my way to see the mother of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old

Palestinian boy who was murdered recently. In July Gaza again plunged into deadly conflicts and we were there to cover the story. Against this

depressingly familiar backdrop, I met up with one of Israel's leading authors - David Grossman. Grossman's work, not surprisingly, is hugely

influenced by the Palestinian conflict. I wanted to know if he thought this seemingly endless cycle of violence and destruction would ever end.


GROSSMAN: I believe it's not a divine decree that we should find ourselves in this situation, not in the very acute current situation of war between

us and the Hamas. And even more so, not in this deep, frozen situation between us and the Palestinians in the West Bank. There's such an air of

despair here in Israel from the option of changing our situation.

ANDERSON: You have written about the right vanquishing the left here, and I wonder what you think has happening to the peace campaigners - the

'lefties' as they're called here. What happened, David?

GROSSMAN: It's very difficult to act against your instincts of survival, instincts of fear to start to believe - to give faith - in your enemy of

today to start to believe that there is another option of life awaiting you to the extent that I think so many people of the Israelis do not believe

anymore that there is any better option for us. I find it almost humiliating as a human being to think that there is no way out of this

terrible predicament.

ANDERSON: Is this hardening of attitude that you see in Israel today reversible?

GROSSMAN: You know, may I just give you a metaphor? I'm a writer after all. The situation here is like an hermetic bubble. Within this bubble -

we and the Palestinians - each one of us has very good justifications for all the terrible things we are inflicting on the other. But there is a

more important question in why on earth we are still stuck in this hermetic bubble and suffocated in it for more than a century. How come our

leaders/their leaders do not have the power, the courage, the vision to take us out of this bubble and to show us that there is another option of

life to us. Right now there are only - the only ones who are active are the agents of fear, of violence, of hatred between the two peoples.

We have to start to create the agents of peace, of understanding, of understanding - the other people who are sitting in front of us is also

consist of human being exactly like ourselves.


ANDERSON: One thing I've learned this year is that the contemporary art scene in this region is absolutely flourishing. Not just in places like

this - the Abu Dhabi Art Fair - but in a lot more unconventional spaces too.


ANDERSON: Take a walk in Lebanon's bustling city Beirut, you might come across an eye-striking piece of art created by a young graffiti artist we

met in July.

YALZAN HALWANI, GRAFFITI ARTIST: My name is Yalzan Halwani, I'm 21 years old, and I'm a graffiti artist from Beirut. With the type of graffiti I do

is a mixture of portraiture and calligraphy. I do my graffiti around the streets of Beirut. Well the reason I do Arab icons and Lebanese icons is

the fact that in Lebanon, the urban landscape around us is - it's unconquered by our Lebanese politicians who are not really good at their

jobs. So what I try to do is try to remove them from our urban landscape and put

more positive and influential people. Some one's, you know, like they call me and they tell me like, you know, come paint me. I sometimes have a

sketch that fits this particular scenery of the city. Because what I like to do is my sketch has to be integrated with the city around it. A

graffiti in Lebanon although it might not be legal, you can get away with it pretty easy. (LAUGHTER).

I hope people see my graffiti and see a different side of the Middle East and Lebanon, a side where you have this - those creative aspect to it which

might not be clear in the most news channels.



AMIR K, COMEDIAN: I think it's cool for me to see actually how comedy's grown here too, you know, where we can come actually and like guys like

Nemer and Aron who have been here before - it's my first time coming to the Middle East.

ARON KADER, COMEDIAN: You should be able to just come and do your act that - I mean, no disrespect to Kahlil Gibran - but there's only so many

analogies and metaphors you can make to an olive tree.


KADER: You know what I mean?

ABOU NASSAR, COMEDIAN: Oh my God. That was excellent.

KADER: You know, can we - we got to branch out and maybe. I mean, --

K: No pun intended.

KADER: Yes, yes.

NASSAR: You ought to branch out - really good.


NASSAR: My father didn't take off the belt and beat me - no. My father made me got get their belt which was the right way to do it.


ANDERSON: How do your skew your material?

KADER: Kabobs.

Males: Yes, use kabobs.

KADER: You know we come out of the Middle from Americans - do they speak English over there? You know what I think? They all speak English over

there and our materials works the same everywhere. And I've been to India as well and it seems to work, and so .

Male: Comedy's universal.

KADER: Comedy's universal. It's like food and music and culture, yes.

NASSAR: Well some people will tell me, 'Are you going to go to the U.S.? and they're not going to accept you as an Arab. Don't say your name Nemer

About Nassar - say Tiger because that's what Nemer means in English.' Or

K: Yes. Tiger or -

NASSAR: Or say Tiger Nassar or something like that. You know, I was introduced as 'he came in from the Middle East, and people like literally -

it was an amazing reception.


NASSAR: What would you do if peace just happened? And you just looked at me like, 'What? What do you mean?'


ANDERSON: Do you feel a responsibility to use comedy as a tool for change ? Do you feel that responsibility on your shoulders?

KADER: I do, yes.

K: I don't really take it that seriously. I don't know if I'm like trying to - you know, I'm a comedian deep down and that's what I come and I go and

perform onstage, and at that time I just want the audience to be laughing at me. So I never take it that serious like - OK, I'm going to go change

people's views or anything like that. I think it' great that -

ANDERSON: You know it does, right?

K: No, absolutely - 1,000 percent. But I'm saying I don't take that upon myself to say, 'Hey, let me go out there and just make - change the world

in one -

ANDERSON: No, you said you did.

NASSAR: So when I get up on that stage, I feel there is a responsibility - not a responsibility - it's an opportunity for me that I have 4,000 people

coming here to see me and talk for an hour and a half. So, to just waste that, for me is a missed opportunity. But it also adds responsibility that

some people might not be prepared to take.

Male: Right.

NASSAR: But I'm ready to take it and it was one of my main motivations for getting into comedy.

Male: Yes.

NASSAR: My father when I was growing up would tell me the quickest way to somebody's heart is through laughter. And that has sat well with me. And

if I - if you want to convince somebody of something, just make them laugh about it and you've planted that seed.

K: I was told it was through a scalpel or a sabre.



K: I was like, yes, Dad, I kind of like making people laugh. Well then show them your report card.



ANDERSON: Did you get support from the families?

NASSAR: I did.


NASSAR: Not in the beginning.

K: I think that -


NASSAR: We had this conversation (inaudible) -

K: -- at the very beginning it's always - there's always - that resistance because it - they know how hard -

NASSAR: It's good resistance.

K: -- it's good resistance because they know how hard it is to make it as a stand-up comedian or in the entertainment world at all. So, I think the

resistance comes from they want to see us successful and also they want to not have a loser for a son. You know what I mean?


ANDERSON: They don't want a loser.

K: Yes, absolutely. You don't want to be like, yes, my son is doctor and a lawyer and this loser speak for laughter.

KADER: It's like do they want you to succeed because they love you so much they want you to be happy or do they just not want to be embarrassed about


NASSAR: It's both.

Male: Yes.

NASSAR: It literally is both. But it's wise objection. That's what we were talking about yesterday. It would be weird if we were like, 'You know

what, we're going to be stand up' - 'You know what, follow your' -- . It would be weird if that was the reaction.

K: And I think any parent -

NASSAR: Any parent that cares would be like, 'Well, have you considered the difficulties because if you don't make it, what are you going to do?

What's your backup plan? And that's what I think I would even say to my kid now -

Male: Sure.

NASSAR: -- I don't have a kid, but if I - you know - if somebody was --

Male: (Inaudible).

NASSAR: -- stupid enough to actually want to attempt that with me. But I mean, if that happened, and I had a kid, I would definitely tell them, look

you know, at least just let them know the pitfalls.

ANDERSON: And (you gooz) with the back up insurance of course is your (inaudible).

NASSAR: I was an insurance broker. I was an insurance broker when I started out.

K: He was in insurance when he started comedy.


KADER: My backup plan is to sell flavored pistachios.


NASSAR: That's not my backup plan, that's what I do.


NASSAR: This is my backup plan.

KADER: This is plan B actually.

NASSAR: I'm in plan B right now.


NASSAR: I'm - you don't want to see plan C. I can't talk about plan C.

KADER: Plan C, it's pretty desperate.

NASSAR: Andy (ph) will kill me if I talk about plan C.

KADER: It gets a little desperate. Plan C gets pretty low.

ANDERSON: Indeed. Andy (ph) is the -

K: Producer.

ANDERSON: -- producer of this show.

Male: He is the architect.

ANDERSON: The architect.

NASSAR: The architect of the demise of our career.

ANDERSON: Andy (ph), thank you for lending these guys to me. It's been fantastic. Thank you.

All Males: Thank you. My pleasure. Thank you so much.

NASSAR: Thanks for having us.


ANDERSON: Just some of those who inspired and surprised me in 2014. Viewers, I couldn't close out this program without showing you this - the

centerpiece of Abu Dhabi art. Ai Weiwei's "Forever Bicycles." He's an iconic artist of this age. Well we'll leave you now with some images of an

iconic skyline from this region by an amateur photographer. From the team here at "Connect the World," until the next time, goodbye.


KARIM ABUTNI, PILOT AND AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER: Hi, my name is Karim Abutni, 32 years old. I'm the airline captain for Air Arabia. I'm addicted to

height. I decided to climb rooftops and take pictures from above and show people the cities and the landscapes as I see them from the (inaudible).

The height itself gives you a thrill and adrenaline shot. Dubai is actually heaven for architecture photographers. There's so many buildings,

so many skyscrapers, so much diversity in the buildings - so many shapes. So many rooftops to climb.

It's very difficult to make it to rooftops if you don't have authority. To be honest with you, I started sneaking in. The thing I want to do next is

taking a picture from the very top of Burj Khalifa. Wide, panoramic and maybe a selfie as well. Hopefully will be able to do it very soon.