Azad Essa interview

Time Out talks to the political blogger about his new book

Azad Essa interview

So, what is this book?
I’ve spoken about this book now so many times, and each time I come up with a new story. Basically, Zuma’s B******: Encounters With a Desktop Terrorist is a collection of irreverent politically incorrect essays. The title refers to the South African president, Zuma, and b****** is the illegitimate child of democracy. Essentially we are the born-free generation of South Africa, and that means we were born when Apartheid was ending, so we don’t have that historical baggage. ‘Desktop terrorist’ is essentially about being a terrorist with words, and kind of subversive literature. And that’s why there’s the USB with the machine gun on the cover.

How did you end up writing it?
I’m a news and features writer at Al Jazeera. I had a blog, and I was teaching sociology, and I was thinking all this stuff is going on, all these theories to explain how the world works. But if you look at the newspapers, they don’t tell you that – they’re just a bunch of PR officers spewing stuff from one side or the other side. My idea was to get all that stuff out in a popular form, so that is what
this is ultimately. It’s full of sociology and history, but laced in with pop culture.

What sort of reaction have you gotten?
It’s a controversial text. There have been good reviews of it, but generally it has opened new conversations about things people hide under the carpet. And it also has somehow introduced new readers, because it has appealed to young guys and girls who like reading, but who do not usually try these kind of things, and they have been drawn to the graphic novel feel of it. It’s not heavy academic.

Bloomsbury Qatar has chosen it for its Shared Spring Reading. That must be exciting.
It maybe wasn’t controversial enough, then [laughs]. I think it’s good because it means there’s openness about expanding a conversation over here, which I didn’t necessarily expect. I thought people might be
finickity about the title.

Why should we read this book?
Because it came from restlessness towards trying to create conversation about what exactly I think is going on. It’s about creating a better world – that makes me sound like John Lennon – but honestly, it’s about creating the space for dialogue about how to make this place better. It’s about trying to reconsider the way you think about things.

Does the blog-style help?
Not all of it is from the blog. I thought that it was the only way that we could get the ideas out to the masses. The little things that catch your interest. With the writing, I just thought, what would I want to read? What would make me care about something, what would catch my attention? And that was the idea. When you get ‘experts’ in a newspaper, a lot of the time people don’t understand. It’s pushing this mumbo jumbo of being objective journalism. You could be sitting here talking to me – and with what you decide to say, you could be as accurate as possible – but what you decide to say is a subjective decision only you are going to make. You can choose to describe my shirt or not. So the use of objectivity is very farcical for me. I wanted to admit that this is me and my bias and my thing, and here’s my argument, take it or leave it. And I think if we have more people who are honest like that, you have more chances of getting a point across.
Zuma’s B******: Encounters With a Desktop Terrorist is available at bookshops across Doha, and at the BQFP office. Call 4451 2131 for more info, or email bqfp@gf.org.qa. Also see www.bqfp.com.qa.

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