The Writer and the Taboo: with Anwar Hamed

Anwar Hamed Laghoo

The novelist and writer Anwar Hamed works for the BBC Arabic Services as a producer. As part of his job at the BBC, he gets to cover cultural events in the Arab World, interview writers, and prepare TV reports. He has an M.A. in literary theory and his novels have been published in Arabic and Hungarian (some were originally written in Hungarian), including Stones of Pain, Scheherazade Tells Tales No More and Of Cracked Bridges and Grounded Birds. His latest novel Jaffa Prepares Morning Coffee was long listed for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). The novel tells the story of people’s ordinary, daily lives prior to the tragedy.


Similar to his peers in the literary scene in Palestine and the diaspora, he has written about his childhood in Palestine, and commented on the current situation in Palestine. What sets Anwar apart though and gives him a particular edge is a critical eye accompanied with a global angle, which keeps creating a humanistic rigor in his published work as well as in his social media posts.

In his work, he deliberately confronts stereotypical pictures and political associations that portray Palestinians as victims or heroes. In an interview with Arablit, he noted:

For me literature, and art in general, is a means of aesthetic communication in the first place. This is too general of course, but this is how so varied and diverse functions fit into it. When I write I feel I have something I want to share with my readers: that “something” could be a mere aesthetic experience, and it could be a very specific thought, and a lot of things in between.

Since freedom of speech is a perpetual pressing issue in the Arab World, Laghoo has interviewed Anwar Hamed to inquire further into how he approaches the controversial in his writings, and how he addresses taboos.


Do you think that writing about taboos is really necessary?

Writing about taboos is not “necessary”, but “natural”. For me no absolute or permanent .”taboos” exist. Everything could be questioned and talked about, if it is relevant to what one is writing about

Is there a specific controversial subject you prefer to write about?

Often it is not the subject but how it is handled in a novel makes it controversial. I am not a conformist, I don’t think in a conventional way, which necessarily makes my handling of any issue in my novels controversial, which i don’t mind at all, on the contrary, I believe it stimulates fruitful discussions.

In your opinion, is there a controversial subject one should not or must not express or write about?

No. for me this does not exist.

Do you think about the reader or the audience when you are writing?

I don’t think about them in the sense that I don’t adapt to their expectations. On the other hand I try to make sense to them.

Do you support censorship on art and writing?

No, I don’t

How do you balance the real and the metaphorical in your writing, and do you feel that sometimes you betray your idea because of the indirect writing?

Metaphors are an organic part of creative writing rather than a separate element that needs to be balanced with other elements.

Have you been subject to criticism or terrorism because you tackled controversial topics in your works?

All my writings have proveked certain types of people who attacked them on moral or political grounds. This is typical of many readers and critics. Those who treat a novel as a novel rather than a moral or political pamphlet try to judge its creative, artistic value and assess it in artistic terms.

Can the controversial and the sacred possibly coexist in the Arab world?

This would require tolerance in all fields of life, which is missing, or rare in our countries.



Interviewed by: Ashraf Zaghal