instrume tal in her decision to open up in book ?
form. and who will be present at this Book Festival event. ‘He told me how powerful a statement this would make to the people and how it would help the situation there.’ she says. ‘After that I decided to do it.”
And she did, despite the obvious difficulties in reliving such incidents and conveying them to an often blinkered western audience. ‘Darfur. I know to you this must be a word soaked in suffering and blood,’ she says in the opening pages. ‘But to me, Darfur means something quite different: it was and is that irreplaceable. unfathomable joy that is home.’
Born into a fairly prosperous family in the Zaghawa tribe, who put an unusual value on her education, she had an idyllic childhood. Using lyrical yet accessible language, she makes her rural tribal upbringing, which will be alien to most readers, shine from the page with warmth and clarity.
When the conflict begins, it is devastating. Sparing the reader no details. she lays out the full ghastly horrors, from the torching of villages by armed horsemen (the Janjaweed militia) to the rape of schoolgirls and the torture and intimidation she endured. The plain language turns figurative to cope with the unimaginable events and the pastoral bliss of earlier chapters gives way to a heartbreaking account without hyperbole: the events are horrific enough that no extra tugging of the heart-strings is necessary.
Conveying ‘pain and cruelty on a magnitude inconceivable in most of the civilised world’. while arousing the reader’s empathy for an entirely foreign situation. is not easy. The success of Tears of the Desert lies in its absolute ability to render the experience with humanity and immediacy. Skirting the political, Bashir calls upon the ‘common humanity‘ of her readers. ‘1 don’t think of it in a political way,‘ she says. ‘Imagine this happening to someone you loved; your reaction would be the same.’
This reaction, this ‘disease’ of Eggers, has struck others. including the most prominent of the self-appointed celebrity activists for Darfur, George Clooney and Steven Spielberg. The latter notoriously back-pedalled from the position of artistic adviser to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. citing China’s complicity in the Darfur conflict, and generating the widespread headlines Bashir believes it needs. Clooney took a more active role, founding the charitable foundation Not On Our Watch with fellow high-profile do- gooders Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle
HAPPENING T0 SOMEONE YOU LOVED'
and Jerry Weintraub. With the aim of bringing advocacy and humanitarian aid to Darfur and Burma. it secured a position as UN Messenger of Peace for the ex-ER actor and bought him an audience with Gordon Brown in April this year.
The British PM has been criticised for his lack of action regarding Darfur and it is unclear whether even Gorgeous George has the power to change his mind. ls such celebrity involvement a positive thing‘.’ ‘Yes. of course.” says Bashir. ‘The people here love celebrities. I am very happy for celebrities to be involved in reporting about Darfur and it will attract many people to know more about what is happening there. Celebrities have more power than any other people.‘
But what does she hope her book will achieve?
‘1 think everyone will have a common sense of
feeling sympathy reading stories like mine,‘ she says and. indeed. reading the book it‘s impossible not to be moved. While others, such as Eggers and military observer Brian Steidle in The Devil Came on Horseback, have witnessed the affront to human rights in Darfur and responded as impassioned observers. Bashir has produced a confessional that is part of a larger need to be heard.
As yet. peace remains elusive. Recent United Nations reports estimate the death toll to be 300,000. Let’s hope more people. like Halima Bashir, fall prey to Eggers’ malady of exposition. description and comment. It
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9 Aug, noon, £9 ? (£7).
What is the What laments while silently narrating his story to an imaginary
audience. ‘You have no ears for someone like me.‘
Clockwise from far left: author Halima Bashir. George Clooney and Chris Rock at a prootst in Washington DC. Kofi Annan listens to stories from refugees
Simon Singh has upset many people with his damning views on holistic treatment. Claire Sawers asks if he has his ﬁnger on the pulse of alternative therapy
Don't get Simon Singh started on reiki massage. And as for ear candles or oxygen therapy. that‘s just one new age. hocus-pocus step too far for the science journalist. Singh. a doctor of particle physics and author of science tomes including The Big Bang and The Code Book. has tackled what he calls ‘the Wild West of health care' in his latest work. a cross between a handbook and history guide to alternative medicine. ‘It‘s a book for patients.‘ says Singh. of Trick or Treatment? co- written with Professor Edzard Ernst, the world‘s first professor of alternative medicine. ‘We needed to find the truth among all the misinformation. so people can make informed decisions about their health and avoid therapies they don't realise might be dangerous.‘
As it is the fastest growing sector of medical spending, with E40bn spent globally on alternative medicine every year. Singh was genuinely concerned about the lack of regulation or clinical testing on treatments. Fed up seeing bookshops crammed with guides to detox. shiatsu and aromatherapy. but very few serious examinations of their credibility, he and Ernst started a rigorous scientific analysis of the most popular alternatives to conventional medicine.
His findings are controversial but revealing, and have already sparked a vicious backlash. particularly from chiropractors who object to many of his damaging conclusions. St John's WOrt is proven to be an effective treatment for mild depression. and he concedes massage and aromatherapy are good stress-busters. But professionally speaking. he cannot take the likes of detox, colonic irrigation. spiritual healing or reflexology seriously until therapists can produce convincing evidence of the benefits.
'Why is there not a level playing field?‘ he asks. “Drug companies need to convince authorities a pill is safe before they supply it to the public. but anyone can put a sign in their window and claim to be a homeopath who can cure fertility issues. weight problems or skin disorders. Any great claim requires great evidence.‘
Singh admits he would turn to alternative medicine only ‘as a last resort' and believes a healthy lifestyle is the best solution to many ailments. ‘People need to ignore a lot of this over- priced, made-up twaddle and lie down for half an hour with relaxing music instead.‘
While his research is bound to give a headache to complementary practitioners and holistic therapists. his attack on pseudo-science also serves as a useful eye-opener for would-be suckers.
I Simon Sing/7, 70 Aug, 7.30pm 8 7pm, £9 (£7).
7—14 Aug 2008 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE 15