Kenize Murad An East/West Journalist

In her latest book, Begüm, acciaimed writer and journalist Kenize Murad describes the life and struggle of a woman of the eastern world caught in a triangle of love, power and social pressure.

Making a splash with her much-talked-about novel, From Palace to Exile, Murad in this latest book takes up the story of the uprising led by Begüm Hazret Mahal, who lived in Northern India’s powerful Awad Kingdom in the 19th century. We spoke with Murad about her career in journalism, the world of the east and her most recent work, Begüm, in an interview for Skylife readers.

You have a long career in journalism that has taken you to some of the world’s most dangerous places. Do you love your work?
Yes, journalism is a job that is very important to me and that I have always loved to do. This profession has been a great adventure for me that I could never give up. I could easily have worked in France and French politics and been successful to boot. But being in the Middle East, in the place where civilization began, was a passion for me. I was in Iran during the revolution, for example, While everybody else was at home glued to the TV, munching on a snack while they watched events unfold on the screen, I was right in the thick of it. I witnessed everything in person, and that was very important to me.

You’ve been in other countries as well at critical moments…
Yes. I’ve gone to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Palestine and a whole slew of other places as a reporter and investigative journalist. These are places fraught with life’s great tragedies. Tragedy and hope are what give meaning to life in this region. You won’t find them in everyday life in the West. You live in an apartment, you go to work, you come home. Everything ticks along normally in the flow of life. You won’t easily be a witness here to the great events, the great turning points of life.

What have you seen?
What have I seen! I have seen human courage. I’ve seen that a human being can be more than himself. Every time I return to France from Lebanon and Palestine, I hear people grumble about this problem and that, and it makes me really angry. Complaints like that strike me as comical after the things I’ve seen in the places I’ve risked my life to go. But let me also point out to your readers that if I’d had a child, or been a journalist forced to take photos, I would never have taken those risks. You have to get up close to photograph events as they are happening. Coşkun Aral, for example, is one of the most distinguished names in the field. I could never have taken the risks he has taken. And as far as I know, he also gave it up when he became a father.

What would you like to say about the overall character of eastern and western women based on what you’ve observed?
Eastern women appear charming, quiet and submissive. But, as I’ve said in every book I’ve written, this is dead wrong. Eastern women speak without yelling, without raising their voices. This dignity of theirs stems from their respect, not from fearfulness. Western women make a lot more noise, most of the time without getting what they want, whereas eastern women usually manage the path to their goals in a quieter way, and they usually get results. Their way of analyzing human psychology is more clever. Western women in contrast are more open than eastern women, and more assertive. It is hard to understand eastern women. These characterizations don’t apply to everyone of course.

If all those in a governing position in the world had been women, what kind of world would we live in?
We would definitely have been living in a better world, because women don’t make war so easily. As the ones who bear children and bring up human beings, women have a better sense of the value of life. Apart from that, we would still have many problems, but one thing I’m sure of is that there would be less war.

Tradition and reality can get mixed up with religious values today. In your view does this confusion affect human relations and relations between east and west?
I totally agree. There is ignorance and prejudice stemming from tradition in both the east and the west. Muslim women have been granted many rights. With the spread of Islam they got the same right to education as men. You see this when you read the Quran. The Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, Hatidja, was a powerful businesswoman. His other wife, Aisha, discussed everything with him, including politics, and could express her opinions easily. The problems we face at the moment do not stem from religion but from wrong practices down the centuries. Oppressing women, who make up half the human race, will not advance life and civilization. Lack of education is the most pressing problem in the Islamic world and the east in general. The only salvation lies in good and widespread education. Actually this is not a problem only of Islamic culture and the east. You see the same social structure in many Mediterranean countries. Sicily and southern France are male-dominated societies too.

Who are your idols among women?
Halide Edip Adıvar, Benazir Bhutto and Mrs. Gandhi are all women who have inspired me in their different ways.

What is the message of Begüm?
Begüm insists on the necessity for tolerance and for different cultures to understand one another. Many moral precepts in different religions unite people. Differences stem largely from ritual and practice. Begüm emphasizes that the way to peace lies through tolerance and love. Life is not black and white. There are shades of grey in between. I thought about that as I was writing Begüm, which I started following two years of research.

How does living in Paris affect your writing?
Paris and its libraries make my job easier when I’m doing research. But to be able to write, I prefer a monastic-style refuge, a house in a small, quiet town surrounded by nature. I’m more inspired when I am surrounded by cats, birds and flowers. 

İNFO

WHO IS KENİZE MURAD?
Her mother was Sultan Murad V’s granddaughter, Selma Rauf Hanımsultan, her father Damad (son-in-law) Raca Seyyid Sacid Hüseyin. She was born in Paris in 1941. Murad, who has worked as a journalist in countries like Lebanon, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Iran, has also written several books (titles in English): From Palace to Exile, Our Sacred Land,  The Garden of Badalpur, and Begüm: Spirit of a Revolution. The writings of Kenize Murad, who has been writing since she was twenty, have appeared in numerous international newspapers and magazines.