Book Review: ‘In Search of the Phoenicians’ — Josephine Quinn

Book Review In Search of the Phoenicians
Updated 24 March 2018

Book Review: ‘In Search of the Phoenicians’ — Josephine Quinn

In this provocative, brilliant and original book, Josephine Quinn not only sheds new light on the ancient civilization of Phoenicia but actually questions its very existence. Quinn argues that while the Phoenicians as a people certainly existed, as did the Phoenician language, there is no historical evidence that they ever constituted an ethnic group or nation or that they ever claimed to.
Quinn’s interest in Phoenicia was aroused by Virgil’s epic poem, “The Aeneid” and particularly the beautiful, fiercely independent Dido, the founder and first queen of Carthage.
Later, Quinn saw an exhibition on Carthage at Paris’ Petit Palais that opened her eyes to the ancient Mediterranean beyond Greece and Rome.
Quinn went on to give three groundbreaking lectures at Tufts University, which form the basis for “In Search of the Phoenicians.” Her thought-provoking research debunks several myths and uncovers unexpected truths.
It is surprising to learn, for example, that Phoenician craftsmanship has only a weak link with Phoenicia: “It is well known, for instance, that the beautiful metal bowls with mythological and hunting scenes discovered in Italy, Cyprus, Iraq and Iran, which are regularly labeled ‘Phoenician’ in museums and textbooks, have never actually been found in ‘Phoenicia’ or in Levantine settlements abroad,” Quinn writes.
Quinn’s multi-level research cannot fail to impress, but I found myself wishing for the discovery of at least one piece of evidence of Phoenicia’s existence. Alas, one learns that the Near Eastern powers which ruled the Levantine coast from the tenth to the fourth centuries BCE never treated the Phoenicians as a nation. In fact, the Persians who governed the region from 539 BCE to 332 BCE considered Tyre Sidon, Byblos and Beirut as relatively autonomous.
This political approach reflected the situation on the ground. Indeed, Phoenicia’s most famous cities — Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon, Byblos and Beirut — never succeeded in forming a political entity. This inherent separatist fiber has continued through the centuries and still runs deep in the social fabric of today’s modern Lebanon.
The history of the ancient Mediterranean is being rewritten. Civilization itself is under scrutiny. Who is next?


A book that gives voice to Arab female war journalists

Journalist Zahra Hankir began collecting reports of conflicts in the Middle East in 2010. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 August 2019

A book that gives voice to Arab female war journalists

CHICAGO: Journalist Zahra Hankir began collecting reports of conflicts in the Middle East in 2010 before she decided to put this anthology, “Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World” together. From nineteen sahafiya, women journalists, are accounts of their tireless work to report the news from some of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world. From different backgrounds and experiences, these journalists have risked their lives for “their pursuit of truth and their desire to disseminate it,” Hankir states. 

While there are disadvantages to being a female journalist at times, dealing with male egos, misogyny, and social restrictions, there are also many advantages, as Hannah Allam points out when reporting in Iraq. After years of warfare, more than half the population of the country was female in 2006, shifting the dynamics of Iraqi society into the hands of resilient women, who ran households and put themselves in harm’s way for their children. Heba Shibani followed Libyan women whose children faced deportation because of laws that did not allow women to pass on their Libyan citizenship to their children, and Zaina Erhaim had access to women in Idlib to tell their stories when none of her male counterparts could. 

Within the accounts, no sahafiya is short of heroic, as they’ve challenged gender biases for their space in the media world, like Eman Helal and Amira Al-Sharif, with their cameras in their hands in Egypt and Yemen respectively. Lina Attalah, too, fights conservative society to do her job.

Many of these journalist have had to grapple with themselves to understand why they do what they do after years of reporting on traumatic events. Nour Malas, for instance, struggles with her professional and personal self, Hind Hassan had trouble understanding her family until she began reporting, and Shamael Elnoor believes journalism is “our destiny, and we remain ever devoted to it.” Asmaa al-Ghoul and Nada Bakri have dodged bullets and, like Aida Alami, lost friends and loved ones, and Natacha Yazbeck finds that sometimes “it’s not just war. It’s the rest of the world that leaves you traumatized.” 

From herculean careers, like Jane Arraf becoming Baghdad’s first bureau chief in 1998 and Donna Abu Nasr becoming AP’s first Saudi bureau chief in 2008, to Zeina Karam who began her career in 1996 and Roula Khalaf who reported from Algeria in 1995, reporting has changed them, as they’ve moved through the world and its conflicts. Hwaida Saad’s contact list has dwindled over the years as informants joined Daesh, fled to Europe, or died, and Lina Sinjab who, despite being blacklisted in Syria, continues to fight for justice. 

From Lebanon to Marrakesh to Iraq, their lives have been forever altered, as Arab women who have forced themselves into public spaces to be heard. Their lives begin and end with their reporting, and because of the nature of their job, tomorrow is never guaranteed. Their bravery goes beyond these pages and this anthology will undoubtedly be one of the most important reads today. 

Manal Shakir is the author of "Magic Within” published by Harper Collins India.