Crisis at CAABU: Aden Oral History Project Under Threat [Archives:2002/05/Reportage]

January 28 2002

By Karen Dabrowska
A financial crisis at the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding (CAABU) suggests that the future of the Aden oral history project is under threat.
The project is an attempt to record the memories of Yemenis and British people who lived in Aden during colonial times and to ensure that both colonizers and colonized are given the opportunity to tell their side of the story and provide a balanced account for posterity.
I am now cooperating with Peter Hinchcliffe (former diplomat, ambassador to Jordan etc) to produce a book, which will be based on the oral history narratives, together with papers to which he has access (he was a political officer in the Western Aden Protectorate in the 1960s); we are in negotiations with a publisher, Holt told The Yemen Times.
I still have not carried out the interviews in Yemen but that is something I am keen to do in the very near future.
But this project, along with CAABU’s extensive lobby activities are under threat due to a financial crisis.
At a fund-raising press conference held in London on January 15th the council announced that unless funds are raised the organization faces closure in April 2002. This would be a savage blow to attempts to try to give Arabs a voice in British political and public life. With this in mind there will be fund-raising visits to the Arab world in the near future, the council said in a press statement.
CAABU is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving relations at all levels between Britain and the Arab World. It is unique in Europe, having been established as far back as 1967. The Council’s work is varied – from briefing British ministers and politicians, holding seminars and public meetings and giving talks at colleges and schools around the country.It has produced numerous briefing papers including Yemen: past glories and present challenges published in 1999.
After the events of 11 September, the Council’s vital work has never been needed more as the gulf of misunderstanding has clearly widened. According to one recent opinion poll, 83 per cent of the British population knows little or nothing about Islam. The Arab community both in Britain and in the Arab World feels tainted by the actions of the extremist minority. Their legitimate fears and concerns about many issues such as Palestine and the continued imposition of sanctions against Iraq must not be ignored.
Concern and dismay about the council’s plight has been voiced by prominent Arab personalities and by British intellectuals and academics. Some have been critical of CAABU prior to the launch of its extensive internet campaign but it is now recognized as a vital voice which puts forward the Arab-Islamic viewpoint.
The Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Professor Abdel Haleem admitted that in the past he used to pay no attention to CAABU whatsoever. They were useless, just a few people sitting in an office and saying we would like to help the Arabs and we would like to understand them. In the past they did nothing but now they are starting to do something. I have seen them starting to put information on the internet and writing to the press, MPs and so on. This is useful and for that reason we could give them money for the next two years. CAABU has to put forward its program and they could get a budget for the next two or three years if they show the Arabs what they are going to do. I am prepared to go to any Arab country, to Arab governments, and explain to them what CAABU is doing and say they should be helped.
The Director of the Arab & Islamic Studies Institute at Exeter University, Professor Tim Niblock, pointed out that CAABU has played a positive role since it was established after the 1967 war when the need for it was great. It certainly deserves support. If one considers how public opinion in Britain has changed since the late 1960s one can see the very positive role played by CAABU.
But there is a feeling in the Arab world that they have given a lot of support and encouragement to organizations which promote understanding of their position yet things are going in reverse. That is understandable but one hopes it is a temporary phase.
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in London described CAABU as the best office for promoting Arab British understanding and establishing communication between the Arab communities and parliament. They have sent delegations of MPs to the Middle East area, not only to Palestine.
Dr Zaki Badawi, the principal of Londons Muslim College said the closure was a very serious matter. It will be a tragic blow to Muslim interests in Britain if an organization which is standing for Arab and Muslim causes is abandoned at this juncture by the Arabs and Muslims themselves.
The Secretary of the Media Committee at the Muslim Council of Britain, Inayat Bunglawala, said that is is regrettable that the only organization that we know of that is there to lobby for Arab cultures is facing financial difficulties. It really shows how lazy many Arab regimes are in putting forward their point of view to the public. It is a disastrous comment on the Muslim lobby in Britain compared to the Israeli lobby.###