Nadia Jebril was once known as “that Muslim girl with the Skåne accent.” With her new show Rena Rama Arabiskan (“Pure Arabic”) Jebril has both moved beyond that simplistic label and inadvertently added to the clamor and the clangor of the bells of doom tolled by Eurabia cassandras in Sweden.
Like comedian (and now TV and radio show host) Gina Dirawi, Jebril began her career as an internet celebrity. At the age of 15, she created a site about Islam in Swedish, which was discovered by the editorial team of the TV program Mosaic, who then invited her to participate in a studio debate on (what else?) the veil. Jebril, whose Palestinian parents moved to Sweden in the 60s, had decided to veil for herself; her sisters did not wear hijab. That, and her pronounced Skåne accent, brought her into the media spotlight as a figure who could take the Islam/West discussion beyond the usual binaries.
In 2000, she began to write for the online magazine Sourze; a year later she wrote columns for Sydsvenskan, and the year after she was offered the job of being a presenter – until she learned that presenters on TV were not allowed to wear anything which was deemed to indicate bias, which included the veil. In this 2003 article she was asked “How do you see the criticism that the veil makes you seem biased?” to which she responded:
the important thing is that I do my journalistic work as objectively as I can…[it was] a bit disappointing that it was so hard to see me as an individual beyond the veil, it was as if my identity would be hung on a piece of fabric.
Instead of being a presenter, Jebril worked as a reporter for six months, wearing a cap to cover her hair, which she describes as “a stepping stone to get the veil accepted on TV.”
Jebril, who has since “de-hijabed,” now has a new series on SVT2. Rena Rama Arabiskan began in November, but Jebril has been blogging about her journey around Europe since February, including talking about meeting Joumana Haddad, discussing culture and music and posting trivia, from the use of numbers in Arabic internet chat to why Gaddafi’s name can be transliterated so many ways.
The series is a journey through Arabic as a language, as well as an actual journey through nine countries to answer questions about how Arabic entered Europe, who speaks it today, and what the future of the language will be. At one point, Jebril comments “There is an Arabic-speaking parallel world in Europe. You no longer have to go all the way to the Middle East to experience Arabic.” The first episode is set in Sweden, beginning with Jebril describing her own sense of having “a Palestinian aunt and a young Skåne woman” in her head, dreaming in Arabic and speaking in Swedish. Jebril carries a sign with “Do You Speak Arabic?” written on it in Arabic through the streets of Stockholm, and soon meets Fredrick, a Swede who learnt both Arabic and Turkish from friends, as well as half-Egyptian half-Swede goal-keeper Rami Shaaban, whose grandmother is the actress Sherifa Maher.