By Nashwa Nasreldin
Earlier this month, Fikra Magazine, an “online Palestinian literary magazine that publishes essays, short stories
and poetry in both Arabic and English,” started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for their first year of publishing new and original Palestinian art and literature. For ArabLit Managing Editor Nashwa Nasreldin, Fikra Magazine founders Aisha Hamed and Kevin Kruiter answered some questions about their vision:
Nashwa Nasreldin: First of all, can you tell us about how the project came about? How long has it been in the planning?
We’ve been thinking about moving to Palestine and creating something by and for Palestinians for over a decade. As former diplomats for the Dutch government, we’ve experienced firsthand how projects that are well intended, can create opposite effects, especially in Palestine. That is why we took a lot of time to prepare Fikra Magazine. We wanted to create a project that didn’t step into pitfalls that so many other projects do. In short, a project by Palestinians and for Palestinians, that doesn’t conform to stereotypes in the West. We’ve had over three hundred conversations with Palestinian artists, publishers, editors, and translators before even beginning with Fikra. We wanted to make sure that what we envisioned was really something that Palestinian writers and readers were asking for. Listening to all of those opinions, however diverse they were, is what helped make Fikra what it is today. It really was and is a communal effort.
NN: What is the general ethos of the magazine?
Fikra Magazine is an independent, inclusive, and bold digital magazine. Those three values constitute our ethos and are the guiding thread of our work.
Our goal is to create an open and uncensored public space, free from political influence by any international institution. That is why we don’t accept any funding from government institutions. We believe that this is the only way to guarantee an uncensored digital platform. Instead, Fikra will be run as a self-sustainable, non-profit foundation.
Fikra is inclusive and diverse in its approach. Our editorial team, translators, and writers come from every part of Palestine and the diaspora, and together with them, we will decide what we publish and how we publish. We will not shy away from difficult topics and questions, because we believe that an open and inclusive platform should refrain from (self)-censorship and discuss taboo topics freely. Fikra provides a digital platform where Palestinians can reconnect, discuss, reflect, question, and dream.
Through a mix of genres, forms, and styles ranging from graphic novels to science fiction, Fikra invites our writers and contributors to be provocative, whilst maintaining the highest quality of writing. Embracing the longstanding Palestinian literary tradition, as the ground for thought-provoking discussions, may lead to developing a modern understanding of what it means to be Palestinian – and more importantly how our children and grandchildren will be part of a new Palestine.
NN: What will you be looking for in terms of content and contributors?
We’re looking for original, thought-provoking stories. Although we are a literary magazine, we are open to all art forms, especially those that experiment with and criticize the status quo. Fikra Magazine is a community-based magazine. Our editorial board, together with our translators, writers, and artists decide on what we will publish and how we will publish. Our goal is to publish 120 stories this year. They may range from science-fiction to poetry, to podcasts and short videos. As long as our Fikra Team believes in the quality of the story, we will publish it, no matter what form it comes in. The contributors will mostly be Palestinian, from every part of the world, including 48’, Gaza, Jerusalem, West Bank, and the diaspora.
NN: Can you explain the thinking behind the bilingual format?
Fikra Magazine is completely bilingual. That means that every story we publish will be mirrored in the other language on our website. There is no difference between the Arabic content and the English content. Because of the occupation, Palestinians have had to live far away and still do. The diaspora has had to build lives outside of historic Palestine and sometimes lost their Arabic language. We believe it is important to include them, so that is mainly why we opted for a bilingual magazine. Of course, our reach to a wider English-speaking audience is important too. It increases the reach for us and our contributors. That said, the main objective of our magazine is to be read by Palestinians. Western readers are more than welcome, but we will never conform to the stereotypes of Palestine that still exist in the West.
NN: What will your magazine do that is different to other journals in the region? And why is this important?
We value quality over quantity. We may not publish thousands of stories a year, but the stories we do publish have been exceptionally well-curated. Often involving two editors, two translators, the editorial board, and the writer or artist. This is both a costly and time-consuming process, but we think it is worth it.
We want to become a sustainable magazine, that will still be around in ten years. We will pay our contributors well. Not only to appreciate the job they do but also to encourage an ecosystem in which art is something that has value. In order to finance our contributors, we will install a subscription model as soon as this year. Interested readers can buy a subscription for a few dollars a month and read everything we publish.
Our translations will all be done professionally by seasoned translators. There is no separate Arabic or English content; everything we publish is professionally translated.
NN: What challenges do you expect to face, given where you are publishing from?
Challenges are abundant in Palestine. They range from the exclusion of international payment systems to difficulties crossing the checkpoints and violence by the Occupation army on a daily basis. However, challenging it may be, we love living and working in Ramallah. Having writers and other contributors over and talking about Fikra is truly wonderful. There is always a looming threat of backlash by the occupation state, but as a literary magazine that wants to criticize the status-quo and reflect on our own society in all its beauty and sometimes ugliness, we cannot give in to those fears or threats. We are here, and we will not back down.