Children’s illustrator ‘profoundly upset’ over Islamophobia claims

Oxford University Press announced this week that it would be axing “The Blue Eye” book in the popular “Biff, Chip and Kipper” series. (Screenshot/Social Media)
Oxford University Press announced this week that it would be axing “The Blue Eye” book in the popular “Biff, Chip and Kipper” series. (Screenshot/Social Media)
Short Url
Updated 29 April 2022

Children’s illustrator ‘profoundly upset’ over Islamophobia claims

Children’s illustrator ‘profoundly upset’ over Islamophobia claims
  • Book illustrated by Alex Brychta criticized online for depictions of Middle East
  • He is ‘married to Muslim woman of Iraqi origin, whose family now live in Jordan’

LONDON: A children’s illustrator has been left “profoundly upset” over the pulping of his book over claims of Islamophobia, pointing out that his wife is Muslim.

Oxford University Press announced this week that it would be axing “The Blue Eye” book in the popular “Biff, Chip and Kipper” series after it became subject to online criticism over its depictions of the Middle East.

A close friend of Alex Brychta, who illustrated and co-produced the book with author Roderick Hunt in 2001, told the Daily Telegraph that the decision was “incredibly silly,” adding: “(Brychta) is married to a Muslim woman of Iraqi origin, whose family now live in Jordan. He has visited that country and the Middle East on several occasions and his work is sensitive and empathetic to the region.

“Only a few years ago, he gave readings of his books to hundreds of children at schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and they loved it.”

The book tells the story of children magically traveling to a foreign land, which appears to be based on Middle Eastern stereotypes. A souq is described as “scary,” and local Muslim characters are deemed “unfriendly.”

Users on social media criticized the content, with one teacher saying: “Just seen this being shared on Facebook. Wow, am I right to think this is inappropriate?!”

Brychta’s friends pointed out that the book ends with the children making it safely to the “friendly and welcoming” princess’s kingdom.

One friend told the paper: “When he draws baddies, children want them to look like baddies. They want the tension of the adventure, of Biff and Chip trying to escape their predicament.

“It’s ridiculous to suggest just because one set of baddies are Middle Eastern appearance the book is Islamophobic. If you’re drawing bad guys, you draw guys who look bad — whether they are in England, Switzerland. If they are Middle Eastern you draw them accordingly.

“The Blue Eye is not racist. It’s an exciting adventure that sees the children all right in the end, helped by other people from the same imaginary Middle Eastern country.”

The friend said the majority of readers “love the books,” which were “read and appreciated by children of all religions and races,” and OUP’s response was endemic of the social media age in which a complaint is amplified to a point they “feel they have to act.”

An OUP spokesperson said it “regularly reviews” its backlist to make decisions on whether to put stories out of print deemed to fall short of its high standards of diversity and inclusivity.

The spokesperson added: “These regular reviews are undertaken internally by the Oxford publishing team as well as with independent expert reviewers and we look at specific themes and issues, either as a result of user feedback or developments in current affairs.”

Ash Ahmad, a diversity, equity, inclusion and wellbeing consultant, said on LinkedIn: “I’m sure, like myself, many of you have read the books when you were younger and most people loved them, but because we were so young we couldn’t see what was wrong with them.

“So inappropriate. People were brainwashed from a young age to stay away from Muslims labelled as scary people.”


What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars
Updated 35 sec ago

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

Authors: Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins

In Salmon Wars, investigative journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring readers to massive ocean feedlots where millions of salmon are crammed into parasite-plagued cages and fed a chemical-laced diet.
The authors reveal the conditions inside hatcheries, and at the farms that threaten our fragile coasts. They draw colorful portraits of characters, such as the big salmon farmer who poisoned his own backyard and the American researcher driven out of Norway for raising the alarm about dangerous contaminants in the fish.
Frantz and Collins document how the industrialization of salmon threatens this keystone species, and they show how it doesn’t need to be this way.


Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music career

Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music career
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music career

Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music career
  • DJ KEH: In 2017, I went to an event in the Philippines to attend an international DJ (event), and from here the spark started
  • DJ KEH: The nice thing about being a DJ is that you can create a common bond between you and the audience and take them on a journey through music

RIYADH: Though delivering beats and remixes for a living may seem risky, DJ KEH does not regret quitting his job at Saudia to work as a professional DJ.

“My music career started in 2017 with great potential to make a huge difference in the (electronic dance music) scene in Saudi Arabia due to the popularity and unique style,” he told Arab News.

“In 2017, I went to an event in the Philippines to attend an international DJ (event), and from here the spark started,” he said, adding that he was transfixed by the way the DJs at the turntables bewitched audiences with their shows. 

“There, I realized that I wanted to be a DJ. I didn’t even finish my vacation,” he said. “I went back to start learning, but my family was not supportive at the beginning because, as always, there is something strange about anything new … but after a while, my mother supported me in every possible way.”

Now DJ KEH gets requests to play at public and private events, and has played across a whole raft of events in Saudi Arabia.

“The nice thing about being a DJ is that you can create a common bond between you and the audience and take them on a journey through music,” he said of his profession. “Through music, you can enter the hearts of all people without saying a single word.”

He added that he thinks that it is important for music classes to be introduced into all communities.

“It is very important to have music in the community to learn about other cultures. The language of music brings all the world together,” said the DJ.

He says his musical journey has been influenced by many DJ’s, including a close friend.

“I was inspired by my friend and my first supporter, Hani Al-Bangari, and there are many local talents. Globally, there are many, starting with David Guetta and Martin Carol Cox,” he said.

Sharing his future plan, which is to represent his country at the biggest international events as well as possible, he said: “I want to prove that we are successful in all areas whenever the opportunity arises.

“I think the government is giving space to talented local musicians, and this is one of the directions of Vision 2030. Now, my goal and the goal of all DJs is to develop the DJ profession in Saudi Arabia.”


Metallica, Mariah Carey to play New York show for foreign aid

Metallica, Mariah Carey to play New York show for foreign aid
Updated 11 August 2022

Metallica, Mariah Carey to play New York show for foreign aid

Metallica, Mariah Carey to play New York show for foreign aid
  • Rosalia, Charlie Puth, Maneskin and Mickey Guyton will join them in taking the stage at the event
  • The Central Park concert is slated for September 24

NEW YORK: Metallica, Mariah Carey and the Jonas Brothers will be among the acts performing in New York’s Central Park at this year’s Global Citizen Festival, the organization announced Thursday.
Rosalia, Charlie Puth, Maneskin and Mickey Guyton will join them in taking the stage at the event, which is now in its 10th year and is aimed at drumming up support for preserving international aid to eradicate extreme poverty, in addition to a number of other causes.
The Central Park concert is slated for September 24 as is a sister show in Accra, where Usher, SZA, Stormzy, H.E.R., Sarkodie, Stonebwoy and Tems are all scheduled to perform.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement his country was “honored” to host Global Citizen.
“We owe to the next generation to live in a world free from poverty, disease and the degradation of the environment,” he said. “We must align forces to make an impact in Africa.”
Taking place since 2012 as world leaders gather in New York for the UN General Assembly, Global Citizen distributes tickets for free to supporters who pledge to take actions such as sending letters to their governments in support of development aid.
The 2022 event, which Priyanka Chopra Jonas will host, calls on world leaders as well as philanthropists to relieve debt, empower girls, improve food access and invest in climate solutions in countries that suffer climate change’s worst effects but whose carbon emissions pale in comparison to the globe’s richest nations.
“Decades of systemic and political failures have led humanity into the midst of converging and rapidly deteriorating crises — climate, hunger, health, war and conflict,” Hugh Evans, Global Citizen’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.
“The most marginalized populations are paying the price of the stagnant inaction of our leaders, and now millions of lives, and the future of our planet, are at stake.”


Italian photographer’s ‘The Kid of Mosul’ wins top prize at iPhone Awards

Italian photographer’s ‘The Kid of Mosul’ wins top prize at iPhone Awards
Updated 11 August 2022

Italian photographer’s ‘The Kid of Mosul’ wins top prize at iPhone Awards

Italian photographer’s ‘The Kid of Mosul’ wins top prize at iPhone Awards

DUBAI: The iPhone Photography Awards (IPPAWARDS) has announced the winners of its 15th annual edition, with Italy's Antonio Denti taking this year's Grand Prize for his pensive image, “The Kid of Mosul.”

“Chosen from thousands of submissions from all over the world, many of this year’s winning shots depict beauty rising out of isolation and honor photography’s ability to build bridges across lost connections,” read an announcement on the official website.

Denti received the Photographer of the Year Award for his photo depicting a soldier cupping the face of a young boy in his hands, which the organization described as “a moment of tenderness in the dusty rubble of war.”

‘Old Soul’ by Egyptian artist Reem Borhanwon third place in the Still Life category. (IPPAWARDS)

From the region, Egypt's Reem Borhan won third place in the Still Life category with her photo titled “Old Soul.”

Meanwhile, the First Place Photographer of the Year Award went to Rachel Sela of Sweden for her image, “Anti-Social Distancing,” which turns masking up into an act of theater.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by IPPAWARDS (@ippawards)

Kelley Dallas of the US won Second Place for his image “Girl with the Violin.” And Third Place went to Glenn Homann of Australia for his photo, “Wasted.”

Kelley Dallas of the US won Second Place for his image ‘Girl with the Violin.’ (IPPAWARDS)

Top-three winners in an additional 16 categories were awarded to photographers from almost every corner of the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, San Marino, Poland, United Kingdom, United States.


UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off

UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off
Updated 11 August 2022

UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off

UAE-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off
  • The star of ‘NCIS: Hawai’i’ struggled to embrace her roots as a child in Texas, but that’s all changed now

DUBAI: There are few television franchises as mammoth in reach and longevity as “NCIS.” For nearly 20 years, the crime series, which follows the US’s naval criminal investigative team, has brought in tens of millions of viewers a week, with new franchises regularly blossoming across the country. Now, in Yasmine Al-Bustami, “NCIS” has its first Arab star—and she’s already inspiring young girls across the world.

“I'm always taken aback whenever I find out that I've reached people,” Al-Bustami tells Arab News. “I didn’t really think about the capacity for something like this show to reach people all over the world. Now, I'm seeing these responses all the time, I’m getting messages constantly. When I finally sit down, take some time to read them and take them in, it can be overwhelming. I see that people are taking notice, feel represented and feel seen, and suddenly I know for sure that I can contribute to that in some way. And I’m so grateful for the people who like it."

Yasmine Al-Bustami on the set of ‘NCIS: Hawai’i.’ (Supplied)

Al-Bustami — who plays Agent Lucy Tara on “NCIS: Hawai’i,” the second season of which begins in September and will air on Starzplay in the Middle East — was born in Abu Dhabi to a Palestinian-Jordanian father and Filipina mother, but moved to Texas at a young age. There, she struggled to embrace her identity, surrounded by people who didn’t understand her heritage, and had never heard of the place on the other side of the world that she came from. 

To fit in, she did what a lot of people in a position where there are no strong role models in pop culture to anchor their identity to — she buried her identity inside her.

“In Texas, I didn't personally grow up with a bunch of Arabs around me. We had some Arab families that we knew that were in school with us, and they all kind of flocked together, once they find out that they were also Arabs. I would hang out with them, but (there weren’t) a lot, really. I tried very hard to fit in with the majority white folks at our school, and tried really hard to just fit in and just be a white person. Whatever that means,” Al-Bustami says. 

Vanessa Lachey as Jane Tennant, Tori Anderson as Kate Whistler and Yasmine Al-Bustami as Lucy Tara in ‘NCIS: Hawai’i.’ (Supplied)

That led to turmoil at home, as her Arab father worked to instill in his daughter the cultural and religious values that he held so dear, knowing that he was the only strong influence in her life that would do so. It was a mission she rebelled against. 

“Whenever I would approach my dad with the things that I wanted to do, that my friends who were not Arab were doing, we would butt heads. He’s very big on culture, very old-school, and  would just not allow me to do some things. He was just trying to teach us about or faith and our culture,” Al-Bustami says. 

When Al-Bustami went to her father to tell him she wanted to be an actor, he was against the idea, which pushed them even further apart.

“When I expressed to him that I wanted to act, that was something that became a point of contention between us — depending on the project and the role. Honestly, it still is sometimes. That all led me, at the beginning of my career, to not wanting to embrace my identity,” says Al-Bustami.

 

 

Ironically, even as she tried to escape who she was and where she came from, it was acting that brought her closer to her identity. 

“It was only through storytelling and being thrown into stories where I was forced to embrace it because of how I look and because of the opportunities that were given to me,” she says.

But as she got to know other Arab actors, she also started to learn the boundless beauty that her heritage contained, and the amazing stories and true adversity that her colleagues had endured to get to where they are today.

 

 

“The roles I started playing were stories of Arabs and Arab-Americans being surrounded by other Arabs and Arab-Americans. The other actors were so proud, and they taught me so much as I heard their stories and their journeys. It was that motivation that I felt like I needed — that I didn't have growing up. It pushed me to want to learn more. And thankfully, now I’ve built up a strong place in that community, especially in the acting world,” says Al-Bustami.

That love for who she was grew even stronger when she saw how much it meant to people, and when she witnessed what she could accomplish when she wasn’t trying to fit in with the majority, and instead embraced her differences.

“It’s been such a journey. I don't think I’ve ever been prouder to be Arab,” she says. “I now understand how important representation is, and without the ups and downs I’ve been through, I don't think I would have understood that to the depth that I do.

“It’s made me want to learn more about my heritage and my culture and just be more openly proud,” she continues. “I feel like I'm not doing it alone. I feel like there's so many people who are also helping me do it. And it's all Arabs, and Arab-Americans. All of that truly inspires me.”

Most importantly, she’s also learned about diversity within the Arab experience, and as representation increases in Hollywood, the world can see that being Arab means many different things, both in America and across the world. And that there are an endless number of stories to tell.

“The important thing is to make people open-minded, and stop them from being closed-off in terms of understanding the different kinds of stories that I think are important to tell in the Arab world and the Arab-American world. That's helped me so much,’ says Al-Bustami.

Yasmine Al-Butsami (left) in ‘I Ship It.’ (Supplied)

On “NCIS: Hawaii,” Al-Bustami is pushing herself like never before. While her breakout roles in “The Originals” and “I Ship It” prepared her for the grind of weekly television, the stunts and physicality of her current role require intense training and choreography, something she’s worked hard at and is proud of what she’s accomplished, especially in the fight scenes.

More than anything, though, what she’s happiest about are the relationships she’s built on set, and the found family that has made her breakout moment something she can truly be proud of on every level.

“It makes such a big difference when you really enjoy the people. Thankfully, the people that I'm surrounded with every day are amazing. They make it super fulfilling in so many more ways than just work,” she says. “This is such an enjoyable experience for me, and I can’t wait to continue that, and keep trying to make the Arab community proud across the country, and world.”