100 Years First World War

    Art & Thought
    The Long Story of a New Journal

    In 1963, exactly 50 years ago, the first issue of Fikrun wa Fann / Art & Thought was published. It was a remarkable project: a journal the like of which had never been seen before, produced by Germans for the Islamic world.

    Art & Thought was remarkable in that it did not serve any directly political or economic purposes, promoting neither tourism in Germany nor German industry. Nor did it disseminate political propaganda on behalf of a government – unlike foreign language broadcasting services (such as the Arab Services of the Deutsche Welle and the BBC), which had their great moment during World War Two and are still in existence today. The main motivation for the establishment of Art & Thought was a desire for both understanding between peoples and cultural exchange. In the early Sixties, this desire evolved out of a particular world political situation, a situation which also allowed the desire to become reality.

    This political situation was the East-West conflict: a confrontation between Communist and capitalist economic systems and ideologies rather than between Orient and Occident, as we might understand it today. Looking back on that period, it seems no coincidence that this journal was established in 1963. Following the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, the Cold War was at its height. The world was gradually dividing into states orientated towards the West and states linked to the Soviet Union, with many regions in the Third World the focus of dispute. Which alliance, the capitalist or the Communist, would win most nations onto its side? The big question was which way the developing countries would turn, particularly those in Asia, Africa, and South America. Perhaps most important of all, which orientation would be adopted by the Arabic and Islamic countries, with their strategic geopolitical location and newly-discovered oil wealth. In this global political environment, a journal like Art & Thought, emphasising cultural relations between (West) Germany and the Arab world, had an important role to play.

    It was in those circumstances that journalist and art historian Albert Theile (1904–1986) succeeded in convincing the Federal Press Office in the early Sixties to provide backing for a journal aimed at the Arab world. After a daring flight from the Nazis and the Second World War, Theile had ended up in Chile. There he worked as a university teacher, and founded Humboldt (named after Alexander von Humboldt, the German scientist who travelled throughout South America) as a German journal for Latin America. In 1952 he settled in Switzerland, and in 1963, encouraged by Humboldt's success, he set up Fikrun wa Fann.

    Annemarie Schimmel

    Right from the start Theile had in Annemarie Schimmel a colleague whose knowledge of the Islamic world was almost unparalleled among Germans. Her enthusiasm for Islamic culture influenced both content and layout from the very first issue. The journal looked splendid, particularly by 1960s standards. Sometimes it almost seemed more like an art catalogue than a magazine. Many readers collected the journal, and some also paid for the privilege. Demand was so great that after the sixth issue a special number came out, entitled Al-Afkar wa-l-Funun, which reprinted a selection of the best articles to date. At that time the journal was being printed near Hamburg, while the editorial office was in Switzerland where Albert Theile lived. In the inaugural issue's editorial, entitled 'Our Objective', Theile expressed the journal's tasks as follows: 'This journal adheres to those values of the past which have proved their worth. However, the main emphasis is on the present day, and on the practical questions currently being raised, to which this journal will seek an answer.' Theile did not mention the world political situation. At the time, the popular slogan in international politics was 'partnership'. Theile stressed the intellectual dimension of the partnership sought: 'Partnership will only be meaningful and enduring if it begins with and remains anchored in the intellectual and spiritual dimension.' Nevertheless, the East-West conflict determined the contents of the journal from the start, as illustrated by the first long article in issue No. 1. This was devoted not to culture but to the role of the intellectual in emerging countries in the face of new economic developments. In most Arab countries, intellectuals, influenced by the Soviet Union, were preoccupied by revolution and the anti-colonial struggle; but Ahmad Mudaththir, an Arab living in Germany, wrote about the necessity of a slow developmental process. Development, he said, had to be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

    However, problems also arose out of the journal's ideological openness and mild conservatism. There was no clear-cut concept beyond the objective of 'building intellectual bridges' and 'following on from the long tradition of fruitful intellectual exchange between Orient and Occident'. The journal could thus become a repository for everything its editors, Albert Theile and Annemarie Schimmel, believed would further this intellectual exchange. Art & Thought was mainly aimed at Muslims who knew both German and Arabic, and at Orientalists; it included both Arabic and German texts, such as Annemarie Schimmel's translations from the Arabic and German reviews of books about the Islamic world. There were even a number of scholarly articles on Islamic themes written in English. Only in the Seventies did Fikrun wa Fann become a completely Arabic journal, and even then the occasional Persian or Turkish poem, translated into German, still managed to sneak in.

    However, Art & Thought was never a purely cultural journal. The second issue, for instance, carried a long article full of technical terms discussing ways of deriving fresh water from the sea. The journal also included texts about astronomy, botany in Germany, and German Baroque residences. Lavishly illustrated contributions on hippology appeared on several occasions, obviously based on the assumption that Orientals are great horse-lovers. Today it seems strange to find such articles in a cultural journal aimed at an intellectual public. Articles about horses could only really have been of particular interest in Bedouin areas of the Gulf States, and among aristocrats or the very rich.

    Annemarie Schimmel's influence was responsible for the dossier (in issue No. 32) on Mohammed Iqbal, the Pakistani man of letters, as well as for numerous contributions on Islamic mysticism and responses to the Orient in German Classicism and Romanticism. Despite an inclination towards conservative culture and a focus on speaking to traditional elites rather than to a younger, revolutionary generation, the journal cannot be accused of having been parochial. It printed both modern Arab poems and contemporary German short stories. Anything related to Germany, the Islamic world, or both, could appear in Art & Thought, provided it found favour with the editors. This astonishing openness was, however, also a weakness. The journal's reputation was too much bound up with the personalities of Theile and Schimmel, and there was no developed concept to balance the demands made on the journal with its possibilities and limitations. Nonetheless, the first two editors of Art & Thought established the journal's great reputation.

    New ideas

    Issue No. 37 (1982) was the last to be edited by Annemarie Schimmel and Albert Theile. The next issue brought great changes with it. Erdmute Heller, a Munich-based journalist and expert on Turkey, assumed editorial responsibility for Art & Thought, while Inter Nationes took over its publication from the German Federal Press Office (which had never officially been mentioned). Erdmute Heller's closest colleague was Nagi Naguib, an Egyptian literary scholar living in Germany, who was named as co-editor from issue No. 39 onwards. Under Erdmute Heller, the journal took on a new, more modern profile. It became less conservative, more intellectual, and it almost completely renounced Orientalist themes. Suddenly the names of leading cultural figures began to appear in the journal, people who would not have been included under Schimmel and Theile. Contributors included the philosophers Michel Foucault, Martin Heidegger and Jürgen Habermas, writers Günter Grass and Hans Magnus Enzensberger, literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, film-makers Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta, artist Joseph Beuys, contemporary Arab novelists such as Tayyib Salih and Yahyia Hakki, and a completely new generation of writers like Mohammed Bennis or Mohammed al-Ghuzzi – personalities who really determined contemporary intellectual life in Germany and the Islamic world. The classical Orientalist picture of the Arab world, which had previously shaped the journal, was suddenly subjected to friendly criticism. Issue No. 40, for instance, contained a critical piece on Karl May's view of the Orient and an article with the indicative title 'Intellectual and Cultural Imperialism, or a Bridge Towards Understanding? Orientalist Studies in the Federal Republic of Germany – Structures and Functions'.

    This fruitful period ended in 1988 with issue No. 47, certainly one of the best-ever numbers of Art & Thought. An extensive philosophical dossier contained critical discussion of Heidegger and Nietzsche at a time when Heidegger was still regarded in the Arab world as an insider tip. Unfortunately, Erdmute Heller left the journal after this number because of internal disputes between the publisher, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the editorial staff.

    Stagnation

    A year later an experienced successor was found in the person of journalist Rosemarie Höll. Contemporary subject-matter remained and Orientalist articles did not make a reappearance; but concern that controversial or critical articles were causing the journal to lose its popularity in the Islamic world resulted in the virtual disappearance of themes which had determined Art & Thought under Erdmute Heller. The journal was now dominated by contributions of very general interest – such as the centenary of slot-machines, the success of the story of pranksters 'Max and Moritz', or 'Buildings on Stilts: New Stone Age Archaeological Monuments in Germany'. The occasional article for horse-lovers also found its way into the journal once again.

    During the thirteen years that followed, Art & Thought was like a rock amid the turmoil of world politics. The publication of Rosemarie Höll's first issue in 1989 (a double issue, 48/49) was closely followed by the most far-reaching event in recent German history: the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, there was hardly any response to this in the journal. Only in issue No. 52 in 1991 did an article appear which took German unity as its theme. The Gulf War also occurred in 1991, crucially reshaping the relationship between the West and the Arab world. However, not even this event was reflected in Art & Thought. The editorial staff's decision to exclude political events is understandable in that Art & Thought was not intended to be a political journal. From today's perspective, though, too little attention was paid to the intellectual and cultural dimensions of decisive political events. Rosemarie Höll remained in charge until issue No. 74 (2001).

    Focus on current affairs

    The events of September 11th, 2001 and their consequences presented Fikrun wa Fann with a completely new set of challenges and responsibilities, and the editorship passed to a younger generation. The Goethe-Institut, which had just taken over the journal from Inter Nationes, recognised in it the ideal instrument with which to bridge the ever-widening ideological gulf between Europe, Asia and Africa. With this in mind, the magazine's scope was extended to include two new language versions, English and Farsi. Alongside the 100th edition of the journal in Arabic, these are also celebrating their 25th editions. Over the past twelve years Art & Thought and Andishe ve Honar, as the magazine is called in English and Farsi, have succeeded in establishing themselves in their target regions as highly-respected, sought-after media that are still in the vanguard of international cultural exchange.

    In order to fulfil our new remit – a responsibility that became still more pressing with the Arab revolutions – we have, since 2001, specifically endeavoured to tackle subjects of equal existential importance both for us and for our target regions. The topics have been selected in close coordination with branches of the Goethe-Institut in Asia and Africa and their agendas, and in addressing them we have tried to take an open-minded, critical approach. The focal themes of recent editions speak for themselves: 'Culture and Climate', 'Mapping Democracy', 'From 9/11 to the Arab Revolutions'. The journal also aims to appeal to readers of the younger generation, which came to the fore with such energy and decisiveness during the Arab revolutions. The people of this generation will be deciding the destiny of the Islam-influenced countries over the coming decades, and we want to establish a dialogue and cultural exchange with them. This dialogue requires effort, careful reflection, creativity, a willingness to criticise oneself, and lively intellectual exchange. These are all things for which Fikrun wa Fann has consistently provided a forum – now not only in print. The journal is also disseminated in four languages on our website, www.goethe.de/fikrun, and can be downloaded as an e-zine. We are keeping pace with the very latest in publishing technology, and it is as true today as it was in 1963 that Fikrun wa Fann / Art & Thought / Andishe ve Honar really is one of a kind.

    Stefan Weidner,
    an Islamic scholar and translator, is the editor-in-chief of Fikrun wa Fann.

    Translated by Tim Nevill, Charlotte Collins
    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Fikrun wa Fann
    November 2013

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