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Launching Surfing behind the Wall, My Palestinian Journey

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Arrive in KL. It’s overcast and rainy. Ponderous clouds hang black in the sky. After a hot Cape summer the humidity is bearable. Meet up with Dr Yasin from Fajr Symphony, co-sponsor together with Dome Publications and the Kaaf Trust. It’s been a long flight, but it’s good to be with friends again.

The programme is busy – we launch Surfing behind the Wall in KL and then I go to Singapore and Penang. But first things first: the book. It’s pages are crisp, the cover is embossed. It feels good in my hands. After years of toil, it’s the moment. The big moment.

CATCH a few hours’ sleep. Do some laps in the hotel pool whilst a cat, probably dreaming that it’s a tiger, watches me trying to shake off jet-lag. My first appointment is the recording of two interviews with BFM 89.9, a radio station that broadcasts to KL. Three shows are scheduled, and we’ll record two before I leave for Singapore. BFM is a blend of Capetalk and VOC.

The first slot is a book review and, thankfully, the reviewer Amu says he likes the Surfing behind the Wall. In the second interview we talk about South Africa. The third slot, which I’ll do on my return to KL, will be a live evening one. I also learn that Dr Mahathir Mohamed, former Malay Prime Minister representing his Perdana Global Trust, has taken ill and can’t make the launch at the Islamic Museum. He will send a representative instead.

I also hear that the Malaysian opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, is preparing for a mass rally in central KL. Police might close the roads to the launch. Not good.

IT’S Friday. It’s a public holiday in South Africa and the day of the official launch of Surfing behind the Wall. We perform jumu’ah at the National Mosque, a massive Bauhaus-Islamic space surrounded by shaded arcades, pools and arabesque airbricks. I meet Norma, a feisty lady who is the head of the mosque’s admin. I remember her from past visits. She is a fearless da’wah worker.

I’m introduced to a small, humble man who gives me his card: Al-Haj Mufti U Myint Thein (a) Abdus Salam (the writer Nyenchin Lulin) of Myanmar.

“Whenever there’s a Muslim problem in Myanmar they lock up Mufti,” laughs Norma. I ask Abdus Salam, who is studying in KL, whether he’ll go back now that Mynamar has had an election and that Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, will take her opposition seat in parliament.

“I have hope,” he says cautiously.

The Islamic Museum, the venue for the launch, is a spacious post-modern construct – hand-carved Arabesque Moroccan filigree competes with marble, stainless steel, an Iznik blue dome, glass and mirrors. It’s one of the finest Islamic museums in the world, and was built by the Bukhari Foundation. Thank God, the police have not closed the roads.

The bunting and posters add great ambience to the auditorium. My photos, which we’re selling, are displayed and Jack (Muhsin) Kilby, a Scottish photographer now resident in KL, sets up his portable exhibition. He did nine trips to Palestine to photograph the historic places.

His collection, a collector’s item in itself, needs to be preserved. A tall, gentle man, he tells me of his travails: a smashed camera when he took pics of angry soldiers, and most of his film being destroyed on one trip by capricious security officials, who deliberately “nuked” it in the x-ray machine.

Dr Zuleika from the Perdana Global Fund opens the exhibition and is gracious in her opening address. Malaysia’s top blogger and razor-tongued commentator, Syed Akbar Ali, makes kind remarks about the book.

That evening we go out for supper. One of our guests, who is well-placed within the system, regales me with extremely funny stories of behind-the-scenes corruption. These are stories that compare in every way to South Africa. We’re strictly off the record. But one tale I can tell – as it’s widely known here – is the saga of a jealous wife orchestrating the murder of her husband’s mistress (herself embroiled in an arms scandal).

This unfortunate woman was abducted and taken into the jungle. Explosives were strapped to her privates and she was blown up.

As they say, hell hath no fury like a woman.

Next time: Singapore and Penang

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