Whitechapel literary festival gives the WriteIdea

Owen Jones. Pic: Tower Hamlets Council

Owen Jones. Pic: Tower Hamlets Council

Owen Jones and Tariq Ali spoke at a free reading festival hosted by Tower Hamlets Council over the weekend, along with a variety of other distinguished literary and political figures.

The three-day event was organised by Idea Store, a Whitechapel library service created by the council.

The Writeidea festival, now in its sixth year, remained free to the public largely thanks to a donation of £12,000 from Arts Council England.

Writer and activist, Tariq Ali, launched the event on Friday, discussing the long history of Islam’s clashes with the West, a subject that underpins his series “Islam Quintet”, which he first began writing in the 1990s. The books trace the history of Islam from 15th century Spain to 21st century London, Paris and Beijing.

When asked by journalist Penny Wrout what inspired him to tackle “such a big subject” through fiction, Ali said: “It was the first Gulf War going on in the early 90s…what trigged the idea of the “Quintet” was hearing someone on the BBC say that the Arabs were without a political culture historically. This angered me a great deal.”

Owen Jones, political columnist for the Guardian, took on the subject of the “politics of envy” in Britain’s culture. “All of people’s anger,” he said, “has been cynically and ruthlessly re-directed away from those with power who are responsible for the economic mess that we’re in, to people’s neighbour’s down the streets instead.”

With reference to his new book, “The Establishment And How They Get Away With It”, he added: “We’ve got this revolving door that is the modern British establishment, this revolving door of politicians, civil servants and big business and what has happened increasingly is that to be a minister is a springboard for a more lucrative career.”

As well as featuring writers with lengthy literary careers, the festival provided those just about to embark on their own career with a platform to advertise their work. SLAMbassadors UK, the Poetry Society’s national youth slam championship, held their own performance poetry event.

Karen Hart, curator of the WriteIdea Festival, said: “I am really happy with how the festival went – it’s the largest turnout we’ve had so far. The place was buzzing all weekend…when people are provided with an opportunity to engage and ask questions it’s clear that they take it.”

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