Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past (2)

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

Harran: nonsense with traces from the real past…
From the mound of Harran, many characteristic beehive houses can be seen as well as the castle of Harran. They lie in complete peace. Nothing seems to happen here. Farther away, over the border with Syria, smoke clouds rise from the fields. Is somebody making a fire? Or is that because of the war in Northern Syria?
I decide to follow the path from the mound of Harran down to the beehive houses and the castle of Harran.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

While making a short tour of the quarter, I walk into a group of young men. One of them wears a most trendy hoody from Amsterdam. ‘Hey’, I ask him, ‘are you from Amsterdam?’ He is not, he is from Harran, but he already went eleven times to Amsterdam. He loves it. Another guy comes forward out of the group. ‘I am a tourist guide. I will show you around’, he announces. He sends the other young men away with the words: ‘I have to work now’. So I found myself a guide or better to say: the guide found me.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past
Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

Together we walk around the castle. Entering the castle is not possible because it needs to be restored. It happens that stones fall down so tourists are no longer allowed inside. Or is this the usual ‘it is dangerous’ argument? The castle appears to be a crusader-construction but my new guide tells that it is much older. Even Abraham and his wife Sara had or made a room in the castle and influenced the building of extra parts. I find that remarkable as Abraham was a nomad and lived in tents. To be honest, I think I am told quite some humbug. Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past in it… Certainly the castle is built on a place that was used before: it has a very old history and indeed maybe Abraham and Sara’s footsteps left some prints there.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

Again, like in my first blog about Harran, it is difficult to find information that confirms different versions about the making of the castle. Some sources say the castle was made by Byzantines and strengthened by Crusaders; others say it was built by Fatimids in the 11th and Saladin in the 12th century.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

It seems that in the 8th century, when Marwan II turned the temple of Sin at the Harran university into a mosque, he permitted the Sabeans to create a new temple at the location of the actual castle: apparently the castle was built on the rests of the temple. The octogenal tower in that scenario derives from the previous temple of Sin. Surely the castle is a spot where interesting archaeological research remains to be done.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past


After the visit of the castle, we walk to the tourist house that allows visitors to see the beehive-structure from the inside. Beehive houses are all around in this area and specific for Harran. The special shape of the roof makes the house cool in the hot summers of Harran and warm in the cold winters.

Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

All kind of local products can be bought at the tourist house. I drink a tea with my guide and hear about other possibilities to enjoy the region. Every spot is history here, there is no doubt about it. Do not believe everything that is told about it, and remember there is nevertheless some truth in these stories. Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past…

You may also like the blog about the open air temples of Sogmatar, a site not far from Harran and related to it’s religious practices.

To find your way in the region, read info and tips about Traveling in Şanlıurfa

Harran: nothing to see!? (1)

harran

In the middle of the wide, flat plain 40 kilometers south of Şanlıurfa lies Harran. It is confirmed that this Harran is indeed the place where Abraham went when God told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees, as the bible book Genesis tells us. Therefor I had to go there and experience it! Moreover, Harran has ruins of a medieval islamic university: a period when Islam prospered in combination with science. People warned me ‘there is nothing left to see’ but I love places without anything to see. So I found myself in fields where nomads seem to live the way Abraham did as a nomad 4000 years ago, overlooking empty plains far into Syria.

Harran Aleppo gate

The dolmuș that brings you from Urfa to Harran stops where the four kilometer long city walls of ancient Harran begin. Some parts of the walls have recently been restaured, more restauration projects will follow. The walls are impressive. I passed the gate of Aleppo, the only gate that remained from the originally six gates (opening the road to Anatolia, Arslanli, Mosul, Baghdad, and Raqqa). In front of me lay a long road going over a hill. Far away on the left, the shade of a tower that could be the spectacular leftover of the medieval university, renowned and successful for hundreds of years.

harran

Up the hill were active excavations in what is called the ‘mound of Harran’. It has a 9000 year old history and thousands of artefacts were already found. Spectacular are the Stèlès from the 6th century BC that are exposed in the Archaeological Museum of Şanlıurfa; look at the pictures and imagine them here in this spot, overlooking the plains.

6th century BC steles found in mound of Harran, exposed in Arkeoloji Müzesi Șanliurfa
tumulus

Today’s Harran is a small provincial city but it had a central place in early history during thousands of years. Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ayyubids, Ummayads: Harran was a mighty town for many different powers, until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century.

harran tumulus

It never recovered from that and did not regain its central position in the middle-eastern history.
Harran is only 15 kms away from Syria and some actual (December 2018) hotspots in the Syrian war. But Harran is totally quiet. People here fear more an inner war in Şanlıurfa region than a possible attack from Syrian groups to Turkey (‘they do not dare that because we will fight and die for our country’). Read more about these tensions in this blog.

harran

It is true there is not so much ‘to see’ here but the visitor walks over grounds of 9000 years of civilisation and that is a great experience in itself! Moreover the idea that Abraham was here, and his father Thera, his wife Sara and other members of his family. It is an experience not to be missed and a feel of ancient times that brings history closer to understanding.

harran

I followed the path and came to the site of Harran university. It was closed for restauration purposes but I could still have a good impression of the enormity of the complex. Although this university is usually presented as an islamic achieval, it was already active as a study center during many centuries before the arrival of islam.

harran

Harran was originally the core centre of the worship of Sin, with a central place for the god moon and practices in following the sun, moon and planets. Sciences like astronomy were well developed and early Greek works like Aristotle had been translated to Syriac, local language. These efforts opened the Greek world to Arabs later on and it made the rule of the Abbasids flourish, a period called the islamic golden age.

harran tower

Under pressure of the Ummayid caliph Marwan II in 744 the local pagan scientists called themselves Sabeans as this was a religion accepted by islam. Thus they escaped accusations of paganism and possible penalties like exile and hanging. Sabeanism seem to have had the worship of Sin but that was also the religion originally practiced in Harran. Stories are contradictory here, I could not find out what was the difference between the old practicesin Harran and the Sabean practices accepted under islam pressure. Some say it was about cruel blood offers of young people that had to be abolished under islam, but I could not find formal sources for that. The same goes for the story that Sabeans had adopted a ‘book’ – the Corpus Hermeticum – to be accepted by islam.

harran ruins

Most probably the Sabeans are related to the Mandaeans, a now Iraqi minority that lives in the marshes between the Euphrate and Tigris – they might even be descendants of Sabeans who had to flee when islamic religious pressure became too strong to uphold their own religious practices. Today Sabeanism a ‘religion of nature’ that survives in Turkey, though very much underground, waiting for better days to come.

harran

I was surprised to discover that.12th century traveller Ibn Jubayr places the location of the temple of Sin originally on the spot of the university. The tower that in modern literature is described as an islamic built minaret belonging to the mosque built here in the 7th century, is the only left over of that temple. Turkish sources deny that but it is probably true. Anyway ‘stories’ seem to flourish more in Harran than well researched facts. I found Harran a place where there is still a clash of different ideas, although rather hidden than outspoken. The people who warned me ‘there is nothing left to see’ were right and still I am very happy I went there – Harran in all its desertion influenced my perspective as much as Urfa did.

harran dolmus stop

How to go to Harran
I had a lot of trouble finding out how to get in Harran without taxi so I explain it for you here if you like to go. There is a dolmuș going to and from Harran every 15 minutes until 17.30. In Şanlıurfa it starts in the new Otogar that lies outside the center (1 hour walk but there are city-busses and dolmuș-busses on that road). Upstairs are the intercity busses, downstairs the dolmuș-busses like the one to Harran. You can also go to the Nevali Hotel, a high building visible from far away. Follow the (car) road sign to Harran, just 50 meters and that is a spot where the dolmuș stops, right in front of the ‘Urfa Anadolu Lisesi’ sign on the picture above. There is no bus-stop sign but if you lift your hand when you see it coming, it stops anyway. It takes about 1,5 hours to go (as the driver looks for passengers) and 1 hour to return. In Harran, it drops you off at walking distance from the antiquities.

Read also part 2: Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past


Graves near Abraham’s cave

graves near Abraham's cave
“my misery was not finished but my life was”

Graves near Abraham’s cave
‘You can’t go there, it is dangerous’, the man told me while I was walking on a beautiful path amid hundreds of graves. I had come half way the graveyard, enjoying the tranquility and reading the names and comments on the stones. ‘Really’, the man said and he pointed towards one of the exit porches, ‘you are walking here alone and furtheron it is dangerous with drugusers and the like. I can not let you continue, you understand that’. He looked at me in the genuine hope that I would understand indeed.

Graves near Abraham’s cave
Graves near Abraham’s cave

Political correctness exists in many countries, also in Turkey. Here in conservative Şanlıurfa, they find it difficult that a woman wanders all by herself without a clear and useful purpose such as doing shopping, and even then she is usually not alone. Women are not present when their beloved ones are buried; in the best case, they watch from a distance while the men do the ceremony. And here I am, crossing all the lines by walking freely over the graveyard, uncontrolled by a man, undefined by any purpose.

Graves near Abraham’s cave

Political correctness means that the man does not tell me directly to go away because I am a woman, alone. He is aware of western values and my possible ignorance about the middle-eastern ones. Therefor he tries to convince me on the grounds that are always used everywhere in Turkey in cases like these: he tells me that it would be dangerous not to listen to him. I give it a small try, by showing a shocked face when he mentions drug users on this rainy Monday morning ‘oh, do you not have police officers to come and do something about it?’ ‘Yes, of course, they will be here when there is an incident’, is the answer I get, ‘please Madam, follow me’. I decide to give up, it is not that important anyway, and follow him on the way out.

Graves near Abraham’s cave

I was on my way to Abraham’s cave when I saw the immense graveyard and decided to have a look. Is it a coincidence to find so many graves here? I don’t think so. All these people have found a last place to rest in the very neighbourhood of the holiest place in this region. The very very lucky ones have conquered one of the rare spots next to Abraham’s cave and the Mevlid-i Hilal mosque, see the picture on the right. It was taken from the road to the castle (Kale) that looks down on the Dergah Complex. In many places, like Rome and Jerusalem, people get buried close to holy places (Saint Peter’s church, Mountain of Olives) to be the first one to witness on the last day, on Judgement Day. I do not know what is the thought of being buried in graves near to Abraham’s cave: there will be no resurrection of a holy person there because Abraham was buried in Hebron, not in Şanlıurfa, and it is not the spot where a prophet will reveal himself on Judgement Day. There must be a thought that I missed (feel free to comment below if you know how this works).

Graves near Abraham’s cave

Another interesting story here is the grave of Bediüzzaman Said Nursî. If you are in the court that gives direct access to Abraham’s cave, look opposite to the entrance to find a special chamber for Bediüzzaman Said Nursî. He is presented as a Muslim scholar and commentator of the Quran and the author of the Risale-i Nur collection. In Western Europe he is known as the founder of the so-called Nurcu movement.

Graves near Abraham’s cave

A sign mentions that he always longed for Şanlıurfa and asked to be brought there when he felt death coming. Thus he spent his last three days in Urfa lying in a hotelbed, surrounded by praying students ‘from all the corners of the country’, then he blew out his last breath on March 23 1960. They buried him in front of Abraham’s cave. But a few months after the military coup of May 1960, officials dug up his body and transported it to another place, unknown until today. So what you look at in the chamber is an empty grave. The fight between secularism and fundamental islam is older than just the 21st century…

You may also like these blogs:
Graveyards as symbol of ethnic conflict
Graveyards: Northern Cyprus heritage

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond
Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

Balıklıgöl in Şanlıurfa is like a place deriving from the stories of 1001 night… or like one of the best places we have in the Netherlands, the Efteling. Balıklıgöl means fish pond and it contains more carps than you have seen or will ever see again in your life. Equally interesting is the story of the sacred fish pond’s origin. Balıklıgöl is not just very beautiful, it is also very holy part of the Dergah Komplex around Abraham’s cave of birth.

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

Once upon a time there was the cruel King Nimrod and the first monotheist in ancient times Abraham. King Nimrod had not succeeded to kill Abraham as a baby because his mother had given birth in a cave and hidden her child there during many years. So now King Nimrod, a worshipper of idle gods, had to cope with Abraham who resisted against existing religious practices. There is only one God, Abraham claimed and indeed he was pushing to have his point taken. King Nimrod got very annoyed with that man and decided to throw him into the fire to get rid of him once and for all. But Abraham had God on his side! God changed the fire into water for Abraham to make a soft landing and God changed the pieces of wood into carps. This is how Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond was created and Abraham survived to fulfill his precious work of the introduction of monotheism. Rumors say by the way that this is a story with roots in Jewish scriptures rather than Islamic scriptures but conservative Şanlıurfa is not the best place to discuss this sensitive type of rumors so I didn’t. Feel free to comment below if you have good knowledge about this, though.

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond
Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

Today Balıklıgöl is a favorite place to go for people of all ages. They feed the carps who will show up with hundreds – no exaggeration! – and squirm up, over, under each other to pick up the food thrown in the water. You can buy special food for 1 lira from sellers in boots next to the pond. And always remember this is a holy pond: if you try to eat one of the carps, you will become blind.

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

On the west side of the pond is the Halilur Rahman Mosque, another mosque that was built on a former church, a fact supposed to symbolize perceived holiness since many ages. The Halilur Rahman Mosque dates from early 13th century but the minaret, squarish in shape, is said to date originally from the church. I did not see the inside because it was closed for restauration purposes when I visited (Dec.2018). 

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

On the north side is the 18th century Rızvaniye Vakfı Mosque and Medrese complex, open to all visitors. 

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

On the south side is a great parc with trees, very green grass to my surprise (because of exceptional rainfall), restaurants and several canals used to bring up the young carps as you can see in the picture below: the young ones are also countless…

Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond
Balıklıgöl – the sacred fish pond

The parc ends where the rocks of the castle, the Kale, begin. To the east is Abraham’s cave of birth and the Mevlid-i Halil Mosque and beyond that the grand bazaar. But I’d say that the Balıklıgöl is worth a visit just by itself. It is wonderful to see both in daytime and in the evening!

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque: do as you like…

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque was built in the 19thcentury next to Abraham’s cave in Șanliurfa, Turkey’s South. Therefore it is a well frequented mosque. Especially in the period before the hadj to Mecca starts, many believers gather in this mosque to be blessed before their journey. 

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque inside

The Mevlid-i Halil Mosque is beautiful and peaceful. The grace and harmony that one feels already upon entering the courtyard welcomes the visitor who goes into the mosque. Rules like dresscode are strict in this holy place but that included the mosque is open for women who want to have a look around (‘yes of course, please come in and do as you like’). Most people do as they like, by the way. Men were hanging around, sitting against the wall talking or studying Quran. One man walked around to put some stuff from a stick to everybody’s hand – I got some too, no clue what it was or what it should bring, please comment on this blog if you do! – then he lay down somewhere in the middle of the floor to sleep. One guy asked him some questions but when the man didn’t respond clearly, he left him to do what he liked. Some men came in hastily, in modern suits, doing their prayers and leaving after that. The elderly were often dressed as classic Kurds, with shalvar and headscarfs or smaller caps or even a turban and seemed to pass a part of their social life in the mosque.

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque inside
Mevlid-i Halil Mosque dome

Look at the dome, the windows, the magnificent crystalline in the middle and the different stories with their arches: this visit will leave you with a great impression of fine art and passion to offer the best and if you are a believer, certainly even more. If you want to know the names of the makers of Mevlid-i Halil Mosque, read this Turkish blog.
This blog says one other interesting thing. It seems to prove the holiness of the spot next to Abraham’s cave by telling that it had always been a religious place there: a mosque dating from the 16th century before the actual mosque, before that a Byzantine church, and before that a church dating from 150AD. That church was built on the rests of a synagogue and the synagogue was based on a pagan temple. Well that’s history!

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque

Of course this place as Abraham’s cave is not uncontested: archaeologists in the 19th century have marked a place in Iraq 600 miles away as the real Ur of Chaldees. Others say there is no mention of the place where Abraham was born whatsoever in holy scriptures. And again others say there is no proof at all that Abraham was a real and living creature instead of a myth so that would leave us without any place of birth… Now Abraham’s cave is so holy because Abraham is considered as the man who fought idolatry and introduced monotheism. So why would pagans have built a temple next to his cave? Would they not have hated Abraham rather than loved him? The ‘proof’ introduced in that blog lacks a bit of logic… but if there was indeed a synagogue here and a very early church, that is more convincing than 19th century theories of guessing archaeologists (see this blog for extensive and detailed comments).

Mevlid-i Halil Mosque
Mevlid-i Halil Mosque

Anyway you do not need to know the exact truth to enjoy your visit of Mevlid-i Halil Mosque. Go in the evening as well as in daytime for different impressions and bring back your own stories!

You may also like the blog about the many graves near Abraham’s cave or the blogs about Harran where Abraham went when he left Ur of the Chaldees.

Abraham’s cave of birth

Abraham's cave

Abraham’s cave in Șanliurfa is considered as the place where Abraham was born. His mother gave birth to him and hid him during ten years as King Nimrod had ordered to kill all newborn children when he heard about Abraham’s appearance (and yes this looks like another famous biblical story). Abraham’s cave is an impressive religious place ot visit.


Abraham's cave entrance
Abraham's cave Selcuk objects

Abraham’s cave is surrounded by a large parc with a pond and several mosques. However the cave itself is quite small. You enter it while bowing under a low doorpost, after passing a room with some 12th century religious objects, most probably belonging to the Selҫuk period, and then you find yourself in a kind of open space with carpets to sit on and pray. The core part of the cave is protected by glass: you can have a look in it but not enter it. 

Abraham's cave, the very inside

As it had been raining for a while when I visited, an exceptional event in ever-dry Șanliurfa, the cave was full of water and the glass quite wet – this is why the picture is unclear. Most probably there are several measures to be taken on the background to prevent that the water rises too much, making visits impossible.

Abraham's cave guarded by a man in the evening

Oh and by the way, my comments are made from a female perspective only. Women enter through the left side where the guard is a woman in daytime and a man when it is getting dark (a fact I understood for practical reasons in a conservative city like Șanliurfa but not for religious reasons). As for the male side, you have to go there yourself to know what it is like…
Visitors to Abraham’s cave were few when I came in on a rainy December-day. The silence gave every possibility to let the holiness of the place sink in.

Abraham's cave by night

Abraham is worshipped here for introducing monotheism in the world 4000 years ago, when idolatry was the norm. Don’t confuse this with the respect Arabs pay him for being their ancestor: for Turcs he isn’t. This is about the holy introduction of one God, one book, one truth to mankind, about saving mankind from a loveless, ignorant and barbaric empty life.
A popular story they love here is about Abraham destroying a bunch of statues that symbolized idol gods. When people find out about the statues, they soon know where to search: this must be the work of that rebellious Abraham! They go and find him and bring him to the statues: ‘look what you’ve done’, they shout at him. But Abraham denies it: ‘I did not do that, that guy did’, pointing at one of the statues that is undamaged. The people protest, ‘what a fool you are, how could that statue do something, it can do nothing at all’, they snare at Abraham. Abraham shrugs his shoulders, because that is exactly what he had been telling them for a while already. ‘Well, if it can’t do anything, why do you worship it?’ Thus he made his point and introduced monotheism step by step, until it was there to stay. 

You may also like the blogs about Harran, a city where Abraham and his family spent quite some time: Harran: nothing to see?! and Harran: nonsense with traces of the real past

Bilqiss: the chance to be the one I should have been

bilqissBilqiss is about regrets and hope for the chance to be the one you should have been. Living in a burqa is more than just having some inconvenient clothing; it is the expression of a patriarchal society where women live within the boundaries men grant them. Individual men have the right to totally suffocate the women they live with. You might be bored when I write it like this but reading Bilqiss will not bore you.

Bilqiss: resisting boundaries
Saphia Azzeddine is a very talented writer. The language she uses is beautiful, rich and harmonious: a pleasure to follow, to listen to with your soul. Her main character Bilqiss lives the reality of these boundaries from the moment she was born – and she resists. She has kept an independent mind. Her inner voice of self confidence never stopped. Whatever happened in her life, she reinvented herself and kept hope to ‘be someone’ at last (p.185). Bilqiss is a moving character who uses her strengt hand intelligence to be an individual, to learn and discover. She is a proud woman who refuses to be treated unequally, be it by men in her society or by Western women with their feelings of pity and compassion.

Bilqiss: challenging boundaries
Bilqiss has done the unthinkable: she as a woman has climbed up in the minaret of the mosque and woken the village by singing the morning prayer. While doing so, she added some tweaks in the way she as a true believer sees muslim faith. Her acts are received in the village with indignation and horror. She will be stoned to death as a punishment but before that, she will be heard in a courtcase. She defends herself without advocate in clear and eloquent wording. Many things happen during that period. The judge seems to listen and prolong the time of the courtcase. Meanwhile he starts visiting Bilqiss in prison every evening, probing her ideas and appreciating exactly that what society expects him to annihilate with his judgment. Just like Mandela once said, he is a prisoner of his own system and also unable to be what he should have been.

Bilqiss: a big cry to resist
Different views and perspectives on what happens to Bilqiss and why are intertwined naturally in the story and give it depth. More and more foreign attention is attracted as videos about the court case appear on youtube. An American-Jewish journalist, Leandra, comes over to follow from nearby what is happening. Leandra is welcomed the way people in the Middle East welcome their guests. It takes some time before Leandra finds out that this is not because the locals like Americans so much… However, she stands as a character and surprises with her calm and truthful reactions until the very end of the book. I found the end surprising and one big cry to continue resisting patriarchy and the form of islam that serves it.

Some quotes that you will find more meaningful in the full context of the book

> About the lost past of the Andalusian spirit of curiosity and learning for all
“Il était loin, le temps où la valeur spirituelle d’un musulman se mesurait à la quantité de livres qu’il possédait, où les bibliothèques champignonnaient comme des minarets, loin aussi le temps où les mosquées, au-delà des salles de prière, abritaient le savoir que les hommes et les femmes pouvaient venir goûter sans distinction” (p. 150)

> About being a subject in a book
“Leandra s’était jetée sur mon histoire pour l’écrire avec ses larmes teintées de mascara. Peut-être même que, un jour, je me retrouverais en tête de gondole dans les boutiques d’aéroports ou de gares au milieu d’autres best-sellers pour divertir ou émouvoir d’autres voyageurs des long-courriers selon qu’ils aiment les femmes ou détestent les musulmans. Je refusais d’être une intermittente de leur spectacle”. (p. 154)

> About denial of responsability
“Une vilaine habitude philologique de notre langue voulait que ce soit l’extérieur qui nous frappe et non l’inverse. Ainsi nous ne disions pas ‘J’ai attrapé froid’ mais ‘Le froid m’a frappé’, ‘la fenêtre m’a cogné’, ‘la soupe m’a brûlée’. Jamais nous n’étions responsables de ce qui nous arrivait”. (p. 160)

> About the gap between us
“J’aurais voulu être elle (Leandra) pour avoir une chance d’être celle que j’aurais dû être si j‘étais née ailleurs. Celle que j’aurais pu être si l’on ne m’avait privée dès le plus jeune âge de la plus infime liberté. J’aurais voulu être celle qui éprouvait de la pitié plutôt que celle qui en inspirait. Leandra n’y pouvait rien et c’était son plus grand tort”. (p. 176)

Useful links about this book and the author:
* https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saphia_Azzeddine
* https://nathavh49.blogspot.com/2016/08/bilqiss-saphia-azzaddine.html
* https://en.qantara.de/content/book-review-saphia-azzeddineʹs-bilqiss-just-being-born-a-woman-is-a-provocation

Find other books to read in these blogs
* ‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal
* Simone Veil: une vie
* Portrait du décolonisé

Beyond the Difference

beyond the differenceBeyond the Difference – the Importance of Inclusive Leadership is the title of my new book, published this week by Common Ground – USA. It is a great honor to have my book published for a worldwide audience and I hope it will inspire many readers!

Ideas and instruments deriving from the best practices in a variety of organisations now find their path to a world wide public. They show why inclusive leadership is essential and what scientific theories were developed. Globalisation and individualisation have considerably increased diversity at work. Organisations frequently face situations of (apparently) conflicting values. We urgently need leaders who understand how the dynamics of diversity impact daily business. We need leaders who are knowledgeable about these processes and who do not fear to address diversity issues that are not just easily solved. And there is enough to gain with these efforts!

A quote from Beyond the Difference (and yes, indeed, I quote my own words now, very funny): ‘Although we live in difficult times for diversity & inclusion, opportunities occur for organizations who think across silos and borders and who are strong in trade, customer relations and innovation. Inclusive leadership is of inestimable value for prosperity, both materially and immaterially’.

beyond the differenceAs I have been active in the field of culture, diversity and inclusion (through my company Seba), the book does not just offer some analytic observations but concrete methods and tools to implement the business case for diversity successfully along the three headlines of:
1. giving direction
2. role model behaviour
3. organising

If you compare my work to that of other experts in this field, you can see that I care less about what people think, about opinions and the like, and more about what people do, how they act. I notice that in most Western countries ‘having the right opinion about diversity’ often dominates the debate, while (Middle-)Eastern countries usually have a more pragmatic approach: they are looking for the most effective way to go forward. I find all those opinions about diversity often time-consuming with little effect on the business case. Therefore, consider Beyond the Difference as a working guide for leaders to make progress in a context of paradoxes, uncertainty and dilemmas.

Buy Beyond the difference at the publisher’s bookstore, or shops like Amazon.com.
For those who prefer to read in Dutch, buy Voorbij het Verschil

Blogs you may also like:
Perceptions of power
Investeer in jouw inclusief leiderschap!

 

 

 

Archaeological Museum Haarlem

archaeological museum haarlemArchaeological Museum Haarlem

This guy lived in the 14th century in Haarlem. The way he looks is estimated as 95% accurate. His bones were found in excavations at the Botermarkt in Haarlem; most probably the graveyard of a former hospital. From his bones it was clear that he suffered from severe diseases like infections and disorders of joints caused by hard labour. The idea is that he died in that hospital, only 34 years old. He was larger than I’d thought: 1 meter 84 which was the normal size for people in that period. A woman working with the police worked on the basis of his bones to bring him ‘back to life’, for us living in the 21st century to identify with and see who made all the things that we find in excavations.

Archaeological Museum Haarlem is a great museumarchaeological museum haarlem. I got all this information from a volunteer who started explaining stuff to me without asking, calmly and politely and very knowledgeable. Thanks to volunteers the Archaeological Museum Haarlem can open five times a week. It is not very big: the size of one room. Both history story lines and the objects are very well presented. Creative methods are used to get stories across and it is very child-friendly. History is in Dutch only – object names are also in English. I am sure a volunteer will be helpful for English speaking visitors. I show here some objects I particularly liked, but there are many more special pieces:

Flintstone arrowheads:
Life in the western part of the Netherlands is older than you maybe thought. There was no stable soil but findings witness that this did not prevent humans from living, chasing, working there.

 

Decorative pins:
The man on the horse is estimated 1500 AD, the round one 1575 -1600 AD. Very beautiful pieces made by real craftsmen.

 


Two jugs:
One is a traditional beardman jug that I saw a lot in museums. The jug with the pointed nose however (1425-1600 AD) is more rare I guess – or maybe I just never saw it. Apparently this type of jug is the beardman jugs’ predecessor. A very fine piece!

 

Ladies’ jug:
I absolutely adored this 14th century jug with the ladies depicted in them.

 

 

Container to collect dripping fat:
I found this one real fun, such a practical invention. It was catching the fat from the roast above the fire. It has a gutter on the right side to cast the fat in a smaller pan and can be hung to the wall through the eye on the right upper side. Someone thought about this before designing it…

Battle for Haarlem:
Not only the museum offers loads of superinteresting info about the battle for Haarlem (against the Spanish, 1572-1573), including the famous lady Kenau Hasselaer – a strong business woman as well as the fighter she is merely known for. They also show it in pictures and a model of the city walls.


Children’s book about 16th century Haarlem:
This idea deserves a price! The objects shown in one of the showcases are also depicted in the book – an excellent integrated approach to make history come alive. Great applause!!!

 

Archaeological Museum Haarlem is small, compared to similar musea in the Middle East but it is special and worth your visit.

Other blogs about archaeological museums you might like:
* Archaeological Museum Amman: caring for 6500 year old child
* Archaeological Museum Gaziantep: ‘just local stuff’
* Stockholm National Historical Museum
* Musée de l’Art et de l’Archéologie du Périgord

 

 

‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal


Since I went to Tunis two years ago, I became a fan of Arab-French literature again. This started as a student of French many years ago and got lost during the years… until I found the brilliant bookshop in Tunis, simply named Al Kitab. It has a diversified collection that reminds more or less the inspiration of Al Andalus: the time when cultures and religions lived next to each other and arts and science flourished. Al Kitab made me discover the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal. The first book I bought was Le serment des barbares (see a short note in this blog), and on my return to Tunis I found 2084 and Le village de l’Allemand in the shelves.
Boualem Sansal is a unique writer. When he wrote his first book Le serment des barbares, he was still working in a high position of Algerian industry. Boualem Sansal is an engineer and an economist. Since he started writing, he won many prices: many French ones, but also this German price. His books are not easy to read or light lecture. He is writing about the sharpest sides of humanity: the massive violence, cruelty, corruption, treason and dictatorship. Free thought and free speech are continuously in danger, as well as sincerity, trust and integrity. His books have a theme and an agenda. Boualem Sansal, although rather pessimist in his books, is a strong defender of enlightened mankind and for that he uses magnificent language skills.

Le serment des barbares (1999)
(The oath of the barbarians > only translated into Spanish?)
This was Boualem Sansal’s first book that brought him several prices. Boualem Sansal shows here the power and richness of his language skills in describing his country, Algeria, in decline. Thirty years after the independance of Algeria, the wounds of the fierce war they fought are still there. Factions of the army for freedom FLN, islamists and maffia-type politicians lead the country into a downward spiral of poverty and corruption while distrust shapes the day-to-day relations.
The leading story is about detective Larbi who starts the investigation of the murder of a poor guy, Abdallah. While doing so, step by step the actual way of life and the status of Rouiba, once the prosperous industrial suburb of Algiers, is revealed as if you walked there yourself. Le serment des barbares does not end well and that is a logical consequence of the story. When religious fanatism, anger, madness and greed reign, there is no hope.
Links you might want to read:
https://www.babelio.com/livres/Sansal-Le-serment-des-barbares/30900
https://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/le-serment-des-barbares_804680.html

Le village de l’Allemand, ou le journal des frères Schiller (2008)
In English: The German Mujahid
I found this a very good book, I could not stop reading. It is less descriptive than the other two and the plot is impressive. Malrich Schiller lives in a banlieu in France. His brother committed suicide six months earlier and left him a journal. The book develops over the gradual lecture of the journal. There is a lot to discover. Malrich finds out that his parents who lived in a village in the south of Algeria, were killed in one of the terrible raids of GIA islamists.
His father, a German, was a hero who fought with the FLN (freedom army) against the French for independance but was killed with all the others in their village. Then he finds out that his father was a former Nazi; his brother who had to clear the house of the parents, describes in the journal how he found multiple objects and memories of that period. Their father never destroyed them but hid them in a safe corner. This comes with so much guilt and also identity problems; who was my father? who am I? And it comes with resistance and anger as islamists are already active in the banlieu and are organised to take over. And with despair about the ever repeted cruelty and the mass killings: ‘My God, why have you created mankind like this? Who can save them?’ This book is the dark history of mankind made personal – and reverse.
Links you might want to read:
http://eveyeshe.canalblog.com/archives/2015/12/01/33008684.html
https://vmesny.wordpress.com/horizons/romans-contemporains/le-village-de-l’allemand-boualem-sansal/
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6570427-the-german-mujahid

2084 La fin du monde (2015)
In English: 2084 The End of the world
2084 is very descriptive. It tells about L’Abistan, a world that is stable and closed in itself. Religion is dominant in every aspect of daily life. To instaur the system, the past where this religion was not dominant has to be forgotten and free thought is seen as a major threat to the system. So there are many ways to check and control what people think and do. Every answer is given to the people. There is no reason for them to ask questions. However the book’s main character Ati got somehow ‘enlightened’ during a sick leave where he had time to think and to meet different people than usual. From that moment he is in constant danger.
I found the story of the book slow to go, too slow actually but I did continue reading because I wanted to know how it would end. Especially when Ati discovers a ghetto where life is more free, it becomes interesting. Step by step Ati finds out that l’Abistan is not the entire world as it pretends to be. And he does find his way out. I like books with a good ending and I did not persevere in vain, there is hope in the end.
https://la-plume-francophone.com/2015/11/02/boualem-sansal-2084/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/10/2084-boualem-sansal-review-timely-tribute-george-orwell
https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/book-review-boualem-sansal-s-2084-the-bestselling-novel-where-isil-is-in-charge-1.90285

You might also like this blog about Albert Memmi: Portrait du décolonisé
Or this movie, playing in Algeria: Loin des hommes

Simone Veil: une vie

I found Simone Veil’s autobiography Une Vie while buying groceries in the Super-U. In France, culture and quality can be found everywhere, a characteristic that I adore in that country. It is a breathtaking book about a life that started in an ordinary, middle-class way and got heavily interrupted by the Second World War, went through the Nazi death camps and then on to government positions at the highest level of France and Europe. Compared to the intensity of that life, the book is short (343 pages Livre de Poche). There are many chapters where the reader would like to know more because her experiences are unique and give insights one rarely gets.
Simone Veil was a Holocaust survivor and she was also a major player in France’s after-war period. Une Vie tells a lot about the things she did, but her influence went much further than that because of who she was, a woman with clear principles that she followed in any function she would fulfill: ‘le sens de la justice, le respect de l’homme, la vigilance face à l’evolution de la société‘ (p. 262).
She says she liked politics but not the political game and indeed in her book the description of such games are rarely found. It is about the goals Simone Veil was going for and about what she achieved. The reader can only wonder how she did that. The same goes for all the positions she got – it seems to be just the natural flow of her life and it would be so interesting to learn more how she got there. The political part of Une Vie shows little relations or emotions; if I may criticize Une Vie, the only point by the way: this is not about living a (political) life, it is too factually descriptive for that (though very interesting).
Anyway I highly recommend this book that was translated in many languages; (just) some parts of the book that I found breathtaking:

* the description of the Holocaust, an inside story. ‘l’enfer‘ (p.53-89)

* the question whether governments should have stayed or left their countries during the Second World War. France had the Vichy-régime that collaborated with the Nazis. Simone Veil always thought that was wrong, until she met Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands who told her how heavily her mother Queen Wilhelmina was criticized for leaving to Canada and thus ‘abandoning her people’. ‘aucun événement historique, aucun choix politique des gouvernants, surtout dans des périodes aussi troubles, n’entraîne des conséquences uniformément blanches ou noires‘. (p.46)

* the letters she got when she fought as Minister of Health for the first Law on Abortion in 1975. The verbal abuse was so terrible that her staff destroyed some letters. Simone Veil regrets that because these letters are witnesses of a history of reform and should have formed study material by now to remember that changes come with pain. ‘il faut rappeler aux esprits angéliques que les réformes de société s’effectuent toujours dans la douleur‘. (p.165)

* in the beginning of her European period she expected that in twenty years countries would go beyond their national frame. She found out that it doesn’t work like that and that everybody looks for their roots. Thus nowadays she compares the EU more to the aggregate of Russian matrushka puppets than a monolithic building. (p. 190)

* her ideas about human rights that she supported all her life; how militant activists rarely bring peace and rather increase human rights violations because their approach is too one-sided; that there are no universal human rights when it comes to business and other modus vivendi. ‘Au fond, ce sont toujours aux faibles que l’on fait la morale, tandis qu’on finit par blanchir les puissants‘. (p.194)

* Simone Veil concludes that she has become more and more a fighter for women’s rights because equal chances for women are not naturally based in laws or in the rules of the game. ‘Les chances, pour les femmes, procèdent trop du hasard‘. (p.258)

Links:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/30/simone-veil-funeral-paris-pantheon
http://www.theheroinecollective.com/simone-veil/
https://www.editions-stock.fr/livres/essais-documents/une-vie-9782234058170
https://www.trouw.nl/cultuur/simone-veil-succesvol-omdat-ze-een-vrouw-is~abb3e42e/

Other blogs you might like:
Mikve Israel-Immanuel synagogue: religious pearl in orange-loving Willemstad
‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal
Perceptions of power

De inspirator: innemende en rake film

 

Een pareltje is het, deze in elk geval voor mij onbekende film De Inspirator die ik bij toeval tegenkwam in de filmagenda van het onvolprezen Amsterdamse Ketelhuis. Slechts een dag zou de film vertoond worden. Terwijl ik met toenemend plezier naar de film keek, verwonderde ik me daar steeds meer over. Waarom verdient deze film geen uitgebreidere presentatie en publiek?

Hoofdpersoon Gijs Schippers zet een buitengewoon rake schets neer van een bewogen managementgoeroe op het terrein van organisatieverandering, transities noemt hij het ook, en leiderschap. Zijn type is vanaf het eerste moment herkenbaar zonder dat het een karikatuur wordt.
Sowieso zit De Inspirator goed in elkaar. Je verveelt je geen moment, hier is een buitengewoon goede scenarioschrijver aan het werk geweest. Het verhaal zit vol verrassende wendingen en humoristische details – hoewel ik zoals wel vaker merkte dat ik erg moest lachen terwijl niemand in de zaal leek mee te lachen. Over wat grappig is. kun je van mening verschillen, dat is duidelijk.
Twee mensen die een bestaande relatie hebben, onderhouden samen een geheime relatie: de managementgoeroe Gijs zelf en zijn vriendin Judith. Hun partners blijven onderbelicht tot in het laatste deel van de film: dan krijgen zij plotseling vorm en kleur. Daarmee veranderen de verhoudingen en ontstaat er een diepgaander verhaal dan in het begin van de film als de partners slechts bijzaak lijken te zijn.
Je zou kunnen beweren dat De Inspirator gaat over zingeving. Of over de vraag wat je nu eigenlijk wilt in de spanning tussen carrière en liefdesleven. Of over het jezelf verliezen in succes of in de schaduw van succes. Eigenlijk doet dat er niet toe. De film is goed genoeg om er elke toeschouwer zijn eigen verhaal en betekenis in te laten vinden. En een geweldig leuke ervaring te krijgen.

Nergens heb ik kunnen opsporen waarom deze film is gemaakt en wat de makers beweegt; intrigerend want het is toch veel tijd en energie die men eraan besteedt en het lijkt alsof ze veel creativiteit moesten ontplooien om alles voor elkaar te krijgen. Hoe dan ook wil ik hier wel kwijt: goed gedaan! Het is een verrijking voor de Nederlandse film. De Inspirator verdient meer vertoningen en als je in de buurt bent van zo’n voorstelling: zeker gaan kijken.

Trailer De Inspiratorhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocv1VA9ZvmM

Other blogs about movies you might like:
Turist and the myth of heroism
Visages villages: the brilliance of the normal
The Van Waveren Tapes make you shiver

Or this blog: South Korean wisdom