Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Boom Review:Sacred & Profane

Killerman’s Scared and Profane is not really one story it is two stories in twined at the same time. Its main character is about detective sergeant Ducker and Pete Ducker who is struggling between his no faith and love. The story is brilliantly written, Killerman is a true story teller of the highest ability. It is really two stories, one a murder story with much twist and turns which will make your stomach turn, written in graphic detail very scatological indeed. In contrast, the other story is also about Pete Ducker relationship between Rina Lazarus, her young sons, his courting and emotional relationship with the Orthodox Jewish window. Ducker is lost in between his two complicated lives trying to find spirituality and increase his presence with the Divine in order to win Rina and her sons, his true love. But, being a gentile and trying to master Hebrew a foreign language it is extremely difficult. As well as being a father of a pretty sixteen year, divorced and an LA detective on a murder trail that is dangerous and starting to challenge the status co, it takes its toll. The book is powerfully written and not to long yet not to short but I think has captured the right balance. It really makes you wonder how life can be if you make the wrong decisions and meet the wrong people. I like the fact that the author has introduced her Jewish roots; it gives you a better understanding of the religion and the Jewish life style dismantling the stereotypes further adding another dimension to the book. This book is not for the faint hearted and deals with many of the vices of society from alcoholism to pornography, in a way it indirectly shows the affects and consequences that these vices have on our society. All I can say that it is well worth a read; deep, powerful and still romantic some how.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Radovan Karadzics Capture : a moment for History

Radovan Karadzic’s capture: a moment for history
Dejan Djokic

The seizure of one of the two most wanted fugitives from the wars of fomer-Yugoslavia may become part of a process that lifts the burdens of the past in the region, says Dejan Djokic.

The arrest in Belgrade of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' political leader in the war of 1992-95, is both welcome and surprising news. The circumstances and timing also provide some hopeful indications that it - and the trial that will follow - will become an important moment over the longer term, in helping to lift the burden of the past that still weighs so heavily on the peoples of the region.

Karadzic Before and After

That the news which arrived on the evening of 21 July 2008 should be welcomed needs little further elaboration. Karadzic was the
figurehead of a Bosnian Serb breakaway statelet (the Republika Srpska) within Bosnia-Herzegovina, which itself broke away from Yugoslavia in 1992 - contrary to the wishes of most of its Serbs, who formed around one-third of the republic's population. The "wars of Yugoslav succession" were bloody, but nowhere more so than in Bosnia and nowhere in Bosnia more than in areas controlled by Bosnian Serbs. The ethnic cleansing and massacres of eastern Bosnian Muslims and the shelling of Sarajevo in the first half of the 1990s were among the final dark chapters of Europe's violent century.

Together with general Ratko Mladic - the Bosnian Serb military commander still at large - Karadzic is alleged to have been responsible for some of the worst crimes committed in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. His likely trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague will in principle mean both that justice will be served, and that further light will be shed on the regional and international dimensions of the Bosnian war. It may even lead to Mladic, if he is not arrested before the start of the trial, himself being captured.
Karadzic's arrest, after he had spent nearly thirteen years in hiding, comes as a surprise for at least two reasons. First, of the three remaining war-crimes suspects (the other is the Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic, who is generally considered a minor player), Mladic seemed the most likely to be arrested first, certainly before Karadzic. While Karadzic was believed to be concealed somewhere in the mountains of eastern Herzegovina and Montenegro, possibly in a remote
Serbian monastery, it was widely assumed that Mladic was in Serbia, shielded by renegade elements of the Serbian security and military forces.

Second, it was Mladic's arrest that was demanded of Belgrade if Serbia was to move closer to European Union membership. The arrest on 11 June 2008 of the former Bosnian Serb police commander Stojan Zupljanin, and his extradition to The Hague, was seen as a sign that the circle around Mladic was closing. So, the news that Karadzic was arrested - allegedly in or near Belgrade itself, where he had apparently been working in disguise as a practitioner of alternative medicine - comes as a surprise even to those who follow Serbian politics closely.
Those who believed that Karadzic would never be caught might have been less confident had they known how close the fugitive was to those charged with finding him. The news of his location and new "occupation" in Belgrade was revealed at a press conference on 22 July hosted by Rasim Ljajic, president of the national council for cooperation with The Hague tribunal, and Vladimir Vukcevic, the chief war-crimes prosecutor. They
reported that he used the pseudonym "Dragan Dabic", while the photo presented by Ljajic underlined the change in appearance: Karadzic looked notably thinner, was bespectacled, and wore long white hair and a long beard. His real identity was apparently not recognised even by his colleagues and patients, and allegedly "Dragan Dabic" even published articles and gave several public lectures on healthy living and alternative medicine.

A fresh politics

What most initial reactions to the arrest have failed to acknowledge is the context in which the arrest took place and the likely implications for Serbia and the region. Karadzic was comprehended only three weeks after the formation of a new Serbian government led by Mirko Cvetkovic - a coalition between president Boris Tadic's Democratic Party, several smaller democratic and ethnic-minority parties and the Socialists (the party founded by the late president Slobodan Milosevic). The interior ministry went to Ivica Dacic, Milosevic's successor as party leader, who also became the deputy premier.

Tadic was scorned for this alliance - more in Serbia and the region than in the west, where there was a sense of relief that the Socialists (rather than the Serbian Radical Party [SRS] and the Democratic Party of Serbia [DSS] of former prime minister Vojislav Kostunica) tipped the balance in favour of the Democrats. Tadic's critics feared in particular that Dacic's appointment as interior minister would mean that the Socialists would take control of the intelligence services, rehabilitate Milosevic and essentially return the country to the dark days of the last decade. Yet, Karadzic's arrest and its timing confirm that Serbia's president is far shrewder a politician than he is often given credit for. This fact should already have been more widely acknowledged, given that Tadic has defeated the Radicals at several "historic" elections since 2004.
Moreover, Tadic appears to have eliminated the nationalist, conservative democrat Vojislav Kostunica as a serious political rival - thus trumping the many past accusations that he gave in too easily to Kostunica's demands. Kostunica had for years refused to apprehend either Karadzic or Mladic, claiming that they were not in Serbia; Tadic, who no doubt played a central part in Karadzic's arrest, has now shown the former prime minister how it could have been done. For his part, Kostunica will be now at pains to explain how was it possible for the new government to arrest Karadzic only weeks after its inauguration.

In addition, Tadic has deftly gained advantage over Ivica Dacic, and placed him in a delicate position: by staying inside the government the Socialist leader and deputy prime minister would thus accept the new course, by resigning he would lose the position of power that only a few weeks ago appeared permanently beyond his party's reach. Either response carries the risk that Dacic will lose credibility among his constituency. It is significant here that Karadzic was arrested not by the police - nominally under the control of Dacic - but by the secret services.

The arrest took place only days after Sasa Vukadinovic was appointed the new head of Serbian intelligence services. Vukadinovic is an uncompromising young police inspector from southern Serbia, believed to be close to president Tadic. He came to prominence after the assassination in 2003 of Zoran Djindjic, Tadic's predecessor as the Democrats' leader, masterminding arrests of members of one of the major mafia clans in the country. Significantly, Vukadinovic had never worked for the secret services before and is thus not associated with the organisation which has seemingly remained immune to political changes in the country.

The dramatic event of 21 July therefore is likely to have wide implications. The arrest of Karadzic and the reform of the intelligence services it reflects are both long overdue, and could be followed by the arrest of Ratko Mladic in the near future. In all this, Boris Tadic may finally succeed where Djindjic failed - or was prevented from succeeding by his assassination. This would be good news for the Serbian president, but even more for Serbia and for the region, which should now move closer to the European Union and become more attractive to foreign investment. The main remaining obstacle for Serbia gaining a candidate-country status is its inability or refusal so far fully to cooperate with The Hague. The tribunal's new chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, is due to visit Belgrade on 23 July and his report will undoubtedly be positive.
A turned page

It must not be forgotten that Karadzic's arrest will be welcomed first and foremost by the families of victims of his policies. If - or probably when - his guilt is proven, they would feel that justice was served, even though their loss will never be compensated.
In any event, the whole region is now a significant step closer to getting rid of some of the past's burden. The news of Karadzic's arrest has overshadowed the death on the same day of two figures from Yugoslavia's turbulent history, who embodied radically different ideologies:
Adil Zulfikarpasic, a Bosniak businessman and politician, and once a member of the pro-Yugoslav "Democratic Alternative" émigré group; and Dinko Sakic, commander of the notorious Croatian concentration-camp at Jasenovac, where during the second world war tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-Ustasha Croats were murdered.

The lives of these personalities were also entwined, in that Zulfikarpasic was nearly killed by the Ustashas in the early 1940s. Half a century later he tried in vain to strike a deal with Karadzic and Milosevic in order to avoid war in Bosnia, and in the process fell out with Alija Izetbegovic, the first president of Bosnia. Yet in a larger frame Zulfikarpasic's most significant contribution and legacy may well lie elsewhere, in the founding of a large library in Sarajevo that would serve as a research institute devoted to the study of Bosnia's culture and history. History that both Dinko Sakic and Radovan Karadzic, in their own ways and in different historical contexts, once tried to erase

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The role of Islamic banking in the west; opportunity or threat?

The role of Islamic banking in the west; opportunity or threat?

By Abdul Waheed Jamal

The concept of Islamic Banking

In the past Islamic banking was considered a non viable and old fashioned form of banking for the western world. This has change drastically due to the large amounts of Muslims livings in the west, demanding banking techniques in compliance with Islamic law. Furthermore, also as an increasingly number of people are very dissatisfied about the banking services on offer, seeing it as unethical. Consequently, Islamic banking, with its morale values, is meeting societies changing needs. Over the years small piecemeal changes in the banking industry have led to the acceptance of Islamic banking from a “niche sector to the mainstream of global finance”[1].The dramatic growth of Islamic banking in the western world has shocked the trading capitals from Frankfurt to London. Financial analysts “estimate that Islamic banking is worth from $200m to $500m.”[2] Islamic banking has the same principle as conventional banking except that it operates in accordance within the rules of Islamic law which prohibit the collection and payment of interest and investing in businesses that are considered unlawful such as businesses that invest in alcohol, gambling, tobacco and pornography.

So how does Islamic banking work without dealing with interest?

The idea is not to have polarization of wealth however, to generate without wealth exploiting others. The main principle of Islamic banking is that all forms of interest are forbidden, therefore it works on the principle of risk sharing. For instance, the customer and the bank will together share the risk of any investment on mutually-agreed terms and then thereafter they divide the profits between them. Islamic banking is considered as having an ‘ethical identity’ because both the customer and the bank receive profits together. Islamic finance is becoming a confident part of the new global world of venture capital, ethical investment and profit-and-loss sharing.

Islamic banking is here, in the West, to stay but what are its opportunities and its threats in relation to the West? One of the main opportunities is its great potential. The Islamic banking industry is very new, with only 300 banks worldwide but expanding at an enormous rate. According to Standard & Poor’s, the growth rate of Islamic banking services “outpaced that of conventional banking during the past decade, making it one of the most dynamic areas in international finance.”[3]

The institutions, the structures and mechanisms are untested. With Islamic banking in the West, it can only help the economy of the country it operates in by bringing in more investment, for example; introduction of Islamic bonds .“This is an increasingly global and liquid market, the potential benefits are enormous as a UK government, that will be great news for the city of London “[4]. If the west continues to welcome Islamic Banking not only will it challenge mainstream interest banking, giving the consumers an advantage as they have more financial products to choose from. However, it will also increase competition in the banking industry which will result in more dynamic innovated financial products. For instance, there could be an influx of fairer and ‘ethical’ financial products “more conventional international banks, such as Citibank, HSBC and UBS, are converting some of their services to interest-free Islamic finance models.”[5]

The establishment of Islamic banking has facilitated western conventional banks access into new markets with many introducing Islamic finance with its ethical nature appeals to Muslims and non Muslims. “We want to make the concept of this kind of ethical investment available to the West, "Everybody, non-Muslims included, can take advantage of Islamic finance products." [6]

Islamic Banking; an opportunity for Western-based banks

Islamic banking gives conventional banks the opportunity to access more market share in the European market. With Islamic banking mainly concentrated in the Middle East and South East Asia. The European market is relatively untapped. Many western banks are producing their own Islamic banking products to tap into these new markets “more conventional such as HSBC are converting some of their services to interest-free Islamic finance ”[7]. With an increasing Muslim minority living in Europe then ever before and societies attitudes changing becoming more ethical towards banking probably due to huge debts, and the increasing credit crisis. There is an opportunity for Islamic banking with its prohibition of interest and ethical standards. “British banks have only just begun to target Britain’s two million-strong Muslim population with culturally attuned financial products. Islamic Bank opened its doors in 2004, joining HSBC’s Amanah Finance unit. Lloyds this year extended a pilot Islamic mortgage to its entire stable of 2,000 branches.” Banks are hoping to attract business from Britain's two million Muslims, many of whom do not use established banking services because they are in conflict with Islamic law. Research carried out by the British bank Lloyds TSB conveyed “more than three-quarters of British Muslims wanted banking services that fitted with their faith.”[8] It presents conventional banks with their long tradition and knowledge, a great opportunity and challenge offering Islamic financial products to the 27 million western Muslims living in the west, and increasing their market share and consequently long term profit.

If western mainstream banks can merge with Islamic banks or produce their own products then they have access to bigger markets in Muslim countries, and other countries with emerging economies such as India and China by offering them Islamic finance where there is demand for it. "There is enormous potential for Islamic finance to expand and develop," the financial secretary said. "Many leading international banks, most of which have offices in Hong Kong, devote considerable resources to creating and servicing a variety of Islamic financial products to meet this demand."[9]

With the huge capital inflow from foreign investors in countries such as China , India and the United Arab Emirates. Western banks merging with Islamic banks or acquiring knowledge management and intellectual property. With the brand they have can be the pioneers to offer this facility in these countries putting them in a privileged position as they will have competitor advantage, more customers and thus increase existing profit.

Most Islamic banks are situated in the wealthy Gulf states of the Middle East and notably South Asia. However, with the Islamic banks operating in these countries who are already in an oligopoly market as they have been established for years. Affectively, it has become extremely difficult for Western banks to take a slice of the market. However, the most attractive potential markets are in Turkey and North Africa , Indonesia and among Europe's Muslims which have not really been penetrated yet and where there is huge demand for Islamic finance. For instance, Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world with more than 190 million Muslims, still is way behind in the development of Islamic finance, compared to its close neighbor Malaysia which has emerged as a center for the industry's development. Therefore, with western banks like HSBC already operating in countries like Turkey and Indonesia. It only needs to introduce Islamic financial products with its conventional financial products to gain access to both markets. If western banks can do this they can have a new income stream and gain the Muslim market.

Weakness of Islamic Banking in the West

Although Islamic banking offers the west a big opportunity, yet its has its threats to.
One of the biggest hindrances in the new industry is the lack of recognised universal worldwide standards and shortage of suitable qualified scholars to differ between the permissibility of products to see if it complies with Islamic law.

Both of these factors t are hampering its growth and development in the west. The demand for Islamic finance in the west is enormous, yet the industry is suffering because of the lack of supply of sufficient scholars, who sit on the supervisory boards of the banks that provide Islamic financial products [10]” a lack of Islamic scholars and global standards for Islamic finance could hamper British efforts to become a hub for the industry “

For every industry to be successful they have to have the demand for the product and the ability to supply the product efficiently. In regard, to Islamic banking simply they do not have the supply of scholars to determined permissibility of products or the global standards the industry needs. This can have very sinister problems as without global standards Islamic finance is based on opinion of scholars so it can result in disagreements of permissibility of products. For instance, “a product may be acceptable to one scholar could be considered un Islamic by another, sometimes with the same jurisdiction“[11]. Therefore, in order for the industry not only in the west but, the world to develop the need for global standardisation is intensifying. If global standards occur it will result in Islamic finance being more efficient as their will be standard opinions which banks can follow leading to better products and efficiency.

Another notion is to maximize Islamic banking potential is to change the name from Islamic to ethical banking. I believe in the west the name Islamic may have negative conations, people may link it to funding terrorism or ‘political Islam‘. So this is seen as a threat to Islamic banking in the west. With Islamic banking being quite ethical by nature unlike conventional banking products if the bankers changed the name and expand the ethical frontier. They can really tap into and create a bigger market for Islamic banking because it will dispel some of the misunderstanding and convey to the public that it is not only a Muslim only club, but also for the wider community. Thus they can turn this threat of brand image communication to an opportunity.
“Islamic law is about an ethical way of life and appeals to many people, 20% of people enquiring about Islamic products in one area are non-Muslim."[12] In the west, the potential for Islamic banking is there however, the challenge will be to operationalise Islamic banking products making it a method widely accepted among a constituency which transcends Muslim communities. If Islamic banking has to be embraced by the wider communities it will result in having a commercial and practical impact and create secondary markets in the non-Muslim countries. One way of doing this is to change the name to unsure it becomes more appealing to wider communities and not tie it down to a single market.

Islamic banking has developed significantly in the Middle East, yet it is only beginning to emerge in the West. Western government policy will have “ obvious implications for its development“. One of the constraints which is affecting Islamic banking is politics, because of this development in the west in terms of Islamic banking has varied. Countries which have been quite supportive tend to see Islamic finance as a way of acquiring capital from the oil rich Gulf states. Whereas, in contrast countries that are hostile to its advancement have a “mistaken view that Islamic finance is somehow linked to Islamic militants“[13]. Consequently, Islamic finance is viewed with suspicion and therefore little or no encouragement is give to it so it may prosper. Some Western countries like the United Kingdom have been quite supportive of Islamic finance. It has made allowances such as abolishing the double stamp duty on Islamic mortgages and authorising the operation of two Islamic banks. Mr Balls the city minister recently in a speech at a Financial Services Authority conference. "Domestically, we will do everything we can to promote new ways for British Muslims to bank, save and borrow using Islamic finance products,"
"I believe there are great potential advantages for the UK government issuing (Islamic law ) compliant government debt.”[14] On the other hand, other Western countries such as France and Germany, who have the resources to accommodate Islamic banking and the demand for it to be successful are quite reluctant to encourage its development. This has resulting in little progress made in these countries. Therefore, the political ideology and polices a country follows will have implications on Islamic banking being either supporting or restricting .

Is Islamic Banking here to stay?

In conclusion, my view is that Islamic banking is here in the West to stay, it is more an opportunity than a threat for the Western financial system. It has great scope and potential to offer a distinctively Islamic form of capitalism that may co-exist and interact with Western capitalism. It is unique in its nature as it prohibits interest and is entirely based on a risk-sharing concept giving it an ethical facade. It has many strengths; such as being a new form of banking, it is increasingly global and has a liquid market with new structures and mechanisms which are untested. With its great expansion there is still markets that are untapped such as Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. Conventional banks have started to take advantage of Gulf oil wealth by offering Islamic banking products and producing Islamic products to tap into new markets. However, Islamic banking does have its threats that stern its development in the West such as, little or no global standards along with a lack of Islamic scholars in the West to see if products comply with Islamic law. The demand is there but the supply is not. Along, with negative connotations, with the name not appealing to wider communities and leading to misunderstanding, there is a reluctance of some Western countries to aid its development. In my view, it has benefits for the West along with constraints. I believe the opportunities certainly outweigh its weaknesses therefore Islamic banking should be encouraged and facilitated not hindered.

By Abdul Waheed Jamal



1.) Sayyid Tahir, S.T., 23 Feb 2003
What shape might the Islamic banking industry take in the future?
Future Of Islamic Banking

2.) Dr Roszaini Haniffa & Dr Mohammad Hudaib, R.H, M.H, September 2004
Disclosure Practices of Islamic Financial Institutions:
Working Paper Series An Exploratory Study
Working Paper No 04/32

3.) Dr Roszaini Haniffa & Dr Mohammad Hudaib, R.H, M.H, November, 2007
Exploring the Ethical Identity of Islamic Banks via Communication in Annual Reports
Journal Of Business Ethics
Springer Netherlands
Volume 76, Number 1

E- Journals

1.)Rodney Wilson, R.W, Durham University
Islamic Banking: Opportunity or Threat ?, Islamica Magazine
[Online]. Issue 20 Available at :

2.)Rodney Wilson, R.W, Durham University
The West Should Promote Islamic Banking Islamica Magazine
[Online]. Online Analysis/January 2007 Available at:

3.) David Williams, D.W, Editor
Islamic Banking and Finance
[Online] Issue 14 Available at:


1.) Irene Hill, I.H, Friday 9th June 2006, Banks move into Islamic finance
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2.) Roula Khalaf, R.K., November 18th 2007, Islamic finance seeks independence from politics
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4.) Kate Kelland, K.K, Wednesday 14th Nov 2007
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5.) Michael Herman, M.H, October 11th 2007
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6.)Not Known, September 30th 2006
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7.) Carl Mortished, C.M, International Business Editor, August 9th 2004
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8.)Wayne Arnold, W.A, Sunday, Nov 25, 2007, Page 9
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9.)By Juan Solé, J.S,IMF Monetary and Capital Markets Department
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10.) UK Trade and investment, 7th December 2007,
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11.) Jill Treanor, J.T., Monday April 23rd 2007
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13.) Michael Foot M.F, (Managing Director of the UK Financial Services Authority,
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Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Inner Beauty of Italians

Setting: A bus station in Palermo, Sicily.

Date: August 18, 2007.

Time: Early Afternoon.

Characters: Me, two Italian friends, a local lady in her late 50s, and her friend.

Scene: I am in a bus stop with some friends and a lady in a short distance is with her friend.

We briefly ask for some bus information and continue to wait for ours. A few minutes later the ladies' bus arrives. Before getting on the bus, one of them turns around, looks at me and this conversation takes place.

Elderly Lady: Excuse me, where are you from?

Me: Egypt.Elderly Lady: You're really very nice! May I give you a kiss?Dumbfounded, I smiled and nodded my approval. I was then given a warm welcoming hug and a kiss on the cheek. Yes, that is right, I was given a welcoming hug and kiss on the cheek by a complete stranger in Italy! Not only that, but this lady's motherly gesture extended to my friends who were also given a hug and a peck on the cheek. This was the epitome of the warmth I found in Italy!The Italians are known to be good looking. Yet their warmth reflects an inner beauty that far surpasses their exterior one. I personally experienced their affection this summer, after getting my long awaited visa.

During a one-month course, I also grabbed the opportunity to go around visiting one of the world's most beautiful countries.Overwhelming Welcome As soon as I got my visa in Cairo, Egypt, and as I was making plans for my intensive trip, I started hearing the following phrases from my beloved ones there, "Are you crazy? You're veiled! You're going by yourself? Don't you know how the Europeans feel about veiled women? Aren't you afraid of,1. Being prosecuted?2. Being snubbed?3. Being mistreated?4. Being misunderstood?5. Not fitting in?And the list goes on.As a matter of fact, I was not initially worried at all, but gradually, and as more people started to tell me these things, I did start to worry. What if they are right?The Italians I know in Egypt did none of the above, but what if those who never traveled felt differently?

Nevertheless, I braced myself and my guidebook, shrugged off those worries, and headed to Italy. It turned out to be the best experience of my life!Italy is a feast for the eyes, palate, and soul. I am not going to talk about the visual feast, since no 1500-word article could do any justice to a country that has art at every nook and cranny, at every corner, and in every building. There are books and books that do that so I will not even attempt it.I also will not talk about the palatal feast and all the delicious delicacies of the Italian cuisine.But I will share some of the most beautiful encounters I had on the streets of Italy, of a nation whose people gave me the most beautiful welcome I could ever imagine and whose genuine love and warmth continues to draw a smile to my face even weeks after my return home.Redefining HospitalityI was based in Perugia, a beautiful medieval-old city in the center of Italy. There, I befriended many people like the ice-cream lady at my favorite ice-cream parlor. Though we never exchanged names we continued to talk every time about her life-long dream to visit Egypt. Between licks of ice-cream — yes, Italian gelato melts so fast! — I also managed to tell her how being here was a dream for me, too.

I also befriended, unwittingly, the driver of the city-tour bus who would wave at me every time he saw me on the street. Once he even opened the door and before the traffic light turned green, he managed to greet me and laughingly say, "So, don't you want to go on another tour?" I was on my way to the train station to catch the train to Florence. Because it was raining heavily, the bus that was supposed to take me to the station was late. I was thus at the potential risk of missing my train and having to wait for the one that follows. That would mean a two-hour delay.

Chatting with a lady on the bus, I expressed this worry and she offered to host me in her house for those two hours. "I live right behind the station, it makes sense that you would come over for coffee instead of waiting at the station!" she kindly offeredWe arrived three minutes before my train leaves and she quickly said, "You know what? You can still make it! Do you have your ticket?""No, I still need to buy one," I said."Don't worry about it," She rushed me through the process of buying the ticket, ran with me to the platform, quickly validated my ticket (I was an obvious novice) and quickly said, "Here's your train! You made it! Have a great trip!"A quick "thank you" was all I could say, and sadly I never met her again. If you are reading, kind lady who helped me at the Perugia train station, Thank You! If that is not being helpful, I cannot imagine what is.That is what I thought till I went to Bologna. I spent a night there, and I was planning to do a quick tour the following morning before heading off to Verona in the late afternoon. Upon my arrival to the bed-and-breakfast, I was greeted by the owner's mother who showed me my room. As she was about to leave, I asked her for recommendations on a nearby place to grab some dinner. Little did I know that this would be the start of a lovely evening!"Oh, of course! You didn't have dinner yet!! Do come with me! I'll take you to a fantastic place nearby!" she said. I ended up taking my dinner to-go, dining with her in her home, she made me coffee, offered me ice cream, and then took me around for a night tour in Bologna, which went on till midnight. Over and above the call of duty, if you ask me!"This way, when you tour the city in the morning you'll recognize all the places since you've seen them tonight already." On the phone to her son, she said, "Yes, yes... the young lady from Cairo has arrived. She seems like she belongs to our house, not a guest!""If only more people would greet each other without knowing each other! We'd have no wars! No hatred."

Smile-And-Greet TechniqueVeiled women do exist of course in Italy. I was not the only one out there. But the ones I have seen stick to their families and do not speak the language, or if they do, they do not put it to practice, avoiding the locals. The majority I have seen walk around with somber looks. Why? I have no clue.Actually, I do have a theory. Being dressed differently, veiled women in Italy do in fact attract looks. But they are benign looks of curiosity. This heightens their vulnerabilities and hence leads to more exclusion and detachment. Sometimes the looks are even ones of pity, like I was told by a couple of old women, "Aren't you feeling really hot in this heat?" I usually had to explain how it would still be hot if I did not have my veil on and how the sleeves protect my skin from harmful rays, but the point is that there was no ogling, like what some foreign women get on the streets of Cairo.So yes, being stared at could make one feel uncomfortable, but I have worked out a better way to overcome those vulnerabilities.From the first couple of days during my visit, I would look at staring people on the street, smile, and say, "Salve!" (Italian for: hello) or "Buongiorno!" or "Buonasera!"The results were as follows.1 percent would stop staring and look away (a positive result anyway).99 percent would start talking to me.The first time I used this technique, I was walking down the street with a friend in Perugia, and this lady kept looking hard at me. I turned around surprised her (and frankly myself) and smilingly I said, "Buonasera!" She smiled and responded.My friend asked me, "Do you know her?""No.""So why did you greet her?""She was looking at me, so I decided to greet her."At that moment, a man from Calabria was walking past us with his wife, overheard our conversation, and said, "Well done!! This is exactly how it should be done! If only more people would greet each other without knowing each other! We'd have no wars! No hatred."

We ended up speaking for at least 20 minutes as he enjoyed pointing out the similarities that we have in common — from spending, coincidently, the previous weekend in Venice, to pointing out that he and I, coincidentally, have the same camera brand!Shared StoriesSo with that confirmation from my new Calabrian acquaintance, I decided I would adopt this technique. The Italians I have met were eager to talk to me about where I am from or they would compliment me on my grasp of their language. Sometimes they would tell me, "Salamu Alaikum" or they would try out a few Arabic words that they have learned from a friend or neighbor. Or they would share an exciting piece of news on an archeological Egyptian discovery that they have seen on TV or read in a magazine.Many would share their life-long dreams of wanting to visit Egypt.

One woman in a bus stop in Perugia teared and started telling me with a cracking voice about how much she would love to go to Egypt, how much she has read about the ancient Egyptians, and what it would mean for her to go.Others would tell me stories about their cousins, sons or themselves and their visits to the Red Sea or their cruises on the Nile. The point is — we started to talk; after all, isn't this what human relations are all about? We are social beings, aren't we?A seller in a flea market in Bologna told me he would like to work in the restoration of antiquities and asked me for the contacts of senior museum officials in Egypt! He trusted me enough to share his career aspirations with me. That is what really matters. Many in restaurants would volunteer to warn me of dishes that had pork or liquor and offer suggestions to dishes I can eat. And then there was the old man in Palermo who took me and my friend all the way to the Catacombs, pointing out other monuments on the way, and the snail-seller who taught me how to eat snails — with a toothpick he pulled the snail out of its shell and instead of popping it in his own mouth said, "Open up!" and hand-fed me the snail! Don't squirm; they are delicious!

Lamya Tawfik is a freelance journalist and a journalism instructor based in Cairo, Egypt. She's currently pursuing a doctorate degree at the Institute for Postgraduate Studies in Childhood, Ain Shams University. She can be reached at