art of resistance, Iraq

The Book To Read: A Sky So Close by Betool Khedairi.

Betool Khedairi is an Iraqi novelist, born to an Iraqi father and a Scottish mother. She grew up in Iraq, and later on moved between Iraq, Jordan and United Kingdom.  A Sky So Close is her first novel, written more than a decade ago. The book has been published in numerous languages, from Arabic to English, Italian, French and Dutch.

729570-gf/French edition of A Sky So Close/

This novel is about Iraq as much as it isn’t about Iraq – it is a story about the freedom and imagination of childhood, about the complex struggle between identities, cultures and traditions, abour racism and shadows wars cast on societies long after they’re finished. Khedairi tells the story in a simple, unpretentious way, offering a fresh look on childhood in the Iraqi countryside in the 1970s. She writes:

“In the vast expanse everything was bigger than me. Even the way you looked at me, across the breakfast table, when I called my mother ‘mummy’ instead of calling her ‘youm’ or ‘yumma’ in the Arabic way. I only felt I was my true size when I was with Khadija, this person was the only creature in the world who made me feel that there was something or someone, as small as me. I made her even smaller. I called her Khaddouja – ‘Little Khadija’.

She was my world. She was everything that came in the second half of the day. A world that spread between our farmhouse and her father’s hut, by the banks of the Tigris River, in our little village twenty miles south of Baghdad. Zafraniya, it was called – ‘Land of Saffron.’ That was where the apricot trees grew. Vast acres of graceful trees , their upper branches entwined. When the sun starts to sink over the apricot farm, their shadow fall as complex patterns of light and shade on the ground underneath. The youthful branches stretch out in all directions. Their sharp twigs seem like fingers, entangled in handshakes, exchanging bunches of white flowers. Each spring I wish that the flowers would last forever.”

We get to know about adolescence issues and coming of age during the long Iraq-Iran war, which changed the country beyond retrieve.  It was a state of chaos, a chaos people got used to with time. Khedairi describes the situation:

“The war has been dragging its heavy feet from the day the first military communique was issued. The ages of those called up for compulsory military services have been extended to both younger boys and older men. Calls have gone out for more voluntary contributions. Laws forbidding travel abroad have become more numerous and varied. Foreign magazines have disappeared from the shelves in bookshops. Imported good have been replaced by local produce.

Pharmacies have been banned from selling conraceptive pills in an effort to increase the populationnand replace losses at the battlefields. The television natters with promotions encouraging marriage and early conception. In a new trend called ‘mass weddings’ large halls are hired out, complete with all varieties of foods and sweets. Couples are married there en masse. Each couple takes their turn at cutting the gigantic white cake, using a knife decorated with colored ribbons.”

The story continues with protagonist’s migration to England, some years before the first Gulf war, when, as she writes; “events in my homeland were no longer considered newsworthy by the world’s radio stations.”

The book is not a masterpiece, but a rather enjoyable and fair account of one’s life between East and West, war and peace, survival and death.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness

Suad Amiry & The Absurdity of Life Under Occupation

Sohrab Sepehri & The Water’s Footfall

and more.

 

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art of resistance, Pakistan

Merry Christmas From Pakistan: Santa Comes To Lahore!

Author: Ammar Shareef/Dawn

“In March 2013, an angry mob of more than three thousand people stormed Joseph Colony – a Lahore locality with an overwhelmingly Christian population – and set more than 100 homes on fire.

Lahore police stood by as the inflamed crowd torched the humble homes, admittedly avoiding clashes. Despite the outrage the incident sparked, the government took little real action. Twenty-one months later, the ghosts of Joseph Colony still haunt the Christians living in Pakistan.

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A number of individuals have since sprung into action to try to make up for the senseless violence, and, in however small measures, undo the tragic wrong.

For the second year in a row, an anonymous donor managed the distribution of Christmas gifts to children of the colony’s Christian community. Distributing cricket bats, badminton rackets and colouring books among children is certainly no compensation for what happened in March last year, but it did manage to spread some smiles on the faces of the kids.

To celebrate your biggest festival in a decidedly hostile environment — no child deserves that. And it should not have been this way. We should have put an end to the madness once and for all. We should have undone every single thing that led to that situation to ensure it didn’t occur again. But we didn’t. And it did occur, again.

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And now it seems that all our children stand terrified in the midst of a menace they had nothing to do with. As I captured the endearing smiles of these children, I was overwhelmed with conflicting feelings: pure joy and terrible guilt.

The guilt will stay, but for a few, dear moments, let us get into the Christmas spirit and partake in the simple joys of these children.”

/all photos by Ammar Shareef/

• • •

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it!

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art of resistance

Remembering Pablo Neruda: Pablo Neruda, Presente!

Since the first time I read his poems, it seemed to me that poems came to Pablo Neruda as easily as air comes to those who breathe. I remain fascinated by that, and it is hard for me to name any other poet who had been blessed with the same talent as Neruda.

Pablo Neruda/Pablo Neruda, photo via greatthoughtstreasury/

An extraordinary person, Neruda was born Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto, in a working class family. His mother died when he was a baby, his father was a railroad worker. In Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People, a picture book written by Monica Brown and beautifully illustrated by Julie Paschkis, Brown describes Neruda’s rides on train with his father: “Whenever the train made a stop, Neftali would run off into the forest to search for beetles and birds’ eggs and tall ferns that dripped water like tears.”

Early on, Neruda showed great talent for writing, and was encouraged by one special teacher, a great Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, to write poetry and read more.

PicMonkey Collage/from the book Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People/

Neruda was only nineteen years old when the famous Veinte Poemas volume was published. It was considered controversial because of its explicitly sexual nature. Later on, his poetry and prose advocated an active role in social change rather than simply describing his feelings, as his earlier works had done. He became a true activist for change.

That is very obvious in Residencia en la Tierra, or Residence on Earth, Neruda’s most extraordinary and powerful work of poetry. It was concieved among the feelings of alienation, and reflects the chaos of the world, hard to understand, hard to make sense of. Introducing Neruda at a lecture at the University of Madrid in 1934, Federico Garica Lorca described him as “a poet closer to death than to philosophy, closer to blood than to ink.”

Matilde-Urrutia-and-pablo-neruda/Neruda and his wife Matilde, photo via cafleurebon/

One of Neruda’s strongly political poems that stayed in my mind for a long time is Almería. During the Spanish Civil War the city was shelled by the German Navy. Almería surrendered in 1939, being the last Andalusian capital city to fall into Francoist forces.

A bowl for the Bishop, a bowl chewed and bitter,
A bowl of steel scraps, of ashes and tears,
A bowl brimming over with fallen walls and sobs,
A bowl for the Bishop, a bowl of Almería’s blood.
A bowl for the banker, a bowl of cheeks 
of children from the happy South, a bowl
of explosions, mad waters, of ruins and terror, 
a bowl of broken ankles and trampled heads.

Each morning, each murky morning of your life, 
you’ll have it steaming and hot on your table: 
you’ll push it back a bit with your soft soft hands 
so as not to see it, not taste it so often; 
you’ll push it back a bit between the bread 
and the grapes, this bowl of silent blood 
that will be there each morning, every 
morning.

A bowl for the Colonel and the Colonel’s wife, 
at a garrison party, at every party, 
over curses and spit, with the dawn’s light of wine,
so you’ll look out over the world, trembling and cold.

Yes, a bowl for you all, richmen here and there,
monstrous ambassadors, ministers, atrocious dinner-guests,
ladies with comfortable tea tables and chairs:
a bowl destroyed, overflowing, filthy with the blood of the poor,
each morning, each week, forever and ever,
a bowl of blood from Almería before you,
forever.

Pablo Neruda died in 1973, shortly after the military coup in Chile occured. His funeral procession was delayed by Pinochet’s regime, but in the end, it was the only public demonstration the military dictatorship could not suppress – thousands of people broke curfew and attended the funeral. Thousands of people marched through Santiago, chanting “Pablo Neruda – presente” meaning “Pablo Neruda – present/with us”. It was dangerous to do that, but they still did it, paying respect to Neruda, poet of the people.

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11241768_1c54975e9f_b/Neruda’s funeral. First photo via David Burnett, second via Flickr/

In 2003, thirty years after Neruda’s death, an anthology of 600 of Neruda’s poems was published as The Poetry of Pablo Neruda. The book remains one of my favourite little treasures.

Although Neruda has forever ensured his place in the hearts of people with his magical sonnets and unique ways of portraying women and love as the driving forces of the universe, his political poems are what always captured me the most. His call for justice. One of them, like Almería, is United Fruit Co.

When the trumpet sounded

everything was prepared on Earth,

and Jehovah gave the world

to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,

Ford Motors, and other corporations.

The United Fruit Company

reserved for itself the most juicy

piece, the central coast of my world,

the delicate waist of America.

The United Fruit Company was an American corporation that traded in tropical fruit (primarily bananas), grown on Central and South American plantations, and sold in the United States and Europe. The business blossomed in the early and mid-20th century, and the company soon controled vast territories and transportation networks in Central America, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Ecuador, and the West Indies.

It rebaptized these countries

Banana Republics,

and over the sleeping dead,

over the unquiet heroes

who won greatness,

liberty, and banners,

it established an opera buffa:

it abolished free will,

gave out imperial crowns,

encouraged envy, attracted

the dictatorship of flies:

Trujillo flies, Tachos flies

Carias flies, Martinez flies,

Ubico flies, flies sticky with

submissive blood and marmalade,

drunken flies that buzz over

the tombs of the people,

circus flies, wise flies

expert at tyranny.

The company maintained a virtual monopoly in certain regions, some of which came to be called banana republics, such as Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala. It had a deep and long-lasting impact on the economic and political development of several Latin American countries and was frequently accused of bribing government officials in exchange for preferential treatment, exploiting its workers, paying little by way of taxes to the governments of the countries in which it operated, and working ruthlessly to consolidate monopolies.

With the bloodthirsty flies

came the Fruit Company,

amassed coffee and fruit

in ships which put to sea like

overloaded trays with the treasures

from our sunken lands.

Latin American journalists sometimes referred to the company as el pulpo (the octopus), critics often accused it of exploitative neocolonialism and leftist parties in Central and South America encouraged the company’s workers to strike.

Meanwhile the Indians fall

into the sugared depths of the

harbors and are buried in the

morning mists;

a corpse rolls, a thing without

name, a discarded number,

a bunch of rotten fruit

thrown on on the garbage heap.

United Fruit was merged with Eli M. Black’s AMK in 1970, to become the United Brands Company. In 1984, Carl Lindner, Jr. transformed United Brands into the present-day Chiquita Brands International, leading distributor of bananas in the United States. There are still a lot of issues connected to the company’s business, just one example is the case in 2007, when the  French NGO Peuples Solidaires publicly accused the Compañia Bananera Atlántica Limitada (COBAL), a Chiquita subsidiary, of knowingly violating workers’ basic rights and endangering their families’ health and their own. According to the charge, the banana firm carelessly exposed laborers at the Coyol plantation in Costa Rica to highly toxic pesticides on multiple occasions. Additionally, COBAL was accused of using a private militia to intimidate workers.

So – United Fruit Co. might have a new face on, but it still is, like in the days of Neruda, an expert at tyranny.

I love that Neruda wrote about it. I love the way he was presente. I might be over-romanticizing his era, but I can’t escape the feeling we are in the need of  Nerudas of our time – and I can’t seem to find them.

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers

Remembering Meena Kamal: Hope is The Thing With Feathers

Remembering May Ziadeh: Ahead of (her) Time

Remembering Edward Said: In The Name of Humanism

Remembering Rachel Corrie: Letters From Palestine

Remembering Mustafa al Hallaj: The Master of Palestinian Art

and more.

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art of resistance, Pakistan

Massacre In Peshawar: “It’s True, But It’s Not The Whole Truth.”

Pakistan took the headlines this week (again). Taliban’s attack at a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed at least 145 people, including 132 children, and it’s Taliban’s deadliest attack to date. The Taliban said they targeted the children of military families in retaliation for Pakistan’s anti-Taliban campaign in North Waziristan.

The analysis of the event flooded the media. However, there are two I think need special attention beacuse they’re on point and try to explain the whole truth, going beyond shock and wailing commentaries. The first one is an interview Democracy Now did with Tariq Ali this week, and the second is Robert Fisk’s latest piece for The Independent.

In the interview, Tariq Ali says:

Two things need to be said about this straightaway. This has very little to do with religion. What we are witnessing in Pakistan now is a form of a power struggle going on between militants aligned with the umbrella of pro-Taliban groups known as the Pakistani Taliban Movement, which isn’t a single movement, a struggle between them and the Pakistani—or segments of the Pakistani state to determine who controls the country. And the fact that over the last decade or so the authorities of the state—the military and the political parties, especially those parties sympathetic to the Taliban—have been incapable of or have refused to do anything about it, we now see the results and the impact of that. And that’s the first point.

The second is that we shouldn’t forget for a moment that one reason these Taliban groups have not been dealt with is because sections of the state still feel—even after this atrocity, by the way—that they can’t completely get rid of them because they are linked to the fight in Afghanistan, and the notion of the Pakistani military high commanders being that we need Afghanistan to give ourselves strategic depth—always a nonsensical notion, but it’s now exacting a very heavy price in Pakistan itself. And at the time when the United States went into Afghanistan, I remember writing in The Guardian that one consequence of this massive presence of Western military troops is going to be the destabilization and the advancement of terror inside Pakistan itself.

So, it’s a horrific attack. It can’t be justified. What the Taliban are saying is, of course, true, that they are bombed, that their kids die, and no one says a word. That’s absolutely true. But you cannot justify one crime by committing another.”

large-Tariq Ali and Vanessa Redgrave protesting the war in Vietnam/Tariq Ali and Venessa Redgrave protesting war in Vietnam, photo via The Friday Times/

Robert Fisk writes for The Independent:

It was a massacre of the innocents. Every report must admit this – because it’s true. But it is not the whole truth.

The historical and all-too-real connections between the Pakistan army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) security police and the Taliban itself – buoyed by the corruption and self-regard of the political elite of the country – may well explain just how cruel this conflict in the corner of the old British Empire has become. And the more ferocious the battle between the military and the Islamists becomes in Waziristan, the more brutal the response of the Islamists.

Thus when stories spread of Pakistani military barbarity in the campaign against the Taliban in Pakistan – reports which included the execution of Taliban prisoners in Waziristan, whose bodies were left to lie upon the roads to be eaten by animals – the more certain became the revenge of the Taliban. The children of the military officers, educated at the army school just down the road from the famous Edwardes College in Peshawar – were the softest and most obvious of targets. For many years, the ISI and the Pakistani army helped to fund and arm the mujahedin and then the Taliban in Afghanistan. Only a few months ago, the Pakistani press was reporting that the Saudis were buying weapons from the Pakistani army to send to their rebel friends in Syria. Pakistan has been the tube through which America and its Arab allies supplied the anti-Russian fighters in Afghanistan, a transit route which continued to support the Taliban even after America decided that its erstwhile allies in that country had become super-terrorists hiding Osama bin Laden. Turkey is today playing much the same role in Syria.

For years, the Pakistani authorities have insisted that the old loyalties of individual military and security police officers to the Taliban have been broken – and that the Pakistani military forces are now fully dedicated to what the Americans used to call the ‘war on terror’. But across the Pakistan-Afghan border, huge resentment has been created by the slaughter of civilians in US drone attacks, aimed – but not necessarily successfully targeted – at the Taliban leadership. The fact that Imran Khan could be so successful politically on an anti-drone platform shows just how angry the people of the borderlands have become. Pakistani military offensives against the Taliban are now seen by the victims as part of America’s war against Muslims.

But if the Pakistan security forces regard the Taliban as their principal enemy, they also wish to blunt any attempt by India to destroy Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan; hence the repeated claims by the Afghan authorities – if such a term can be used about the corrupted institutions of Afghanistan – that Pakistan is assisting the Taliban in its struggle against the pro-American regime in Kabul. The army hates the Taliban – but also needs it: this is the terrifying equation which now decides the future of Pakistan.”

• • •

Read the full article by Robert Fisk on The Independent, and watch the Tariq Ali interview on Democracy Now.

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art of resistance

When Era-Themed Parties Get Awkward For People Of Color.

Here is a good commentary on era-themed parties and its awkwardness to people of color. It was originally published on Empathize This and it’s a great food for thought.

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/photo via Empathize This/

I love parties. House parties, Halloween parties, Super Bowl parties… you name it. I’m an outgoing guy and I like meeting new people and having a good time. But themed parties, can we talk about it?

Look, obviously some themed parties are stupid racist (hint, anything with blackface is racist). I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about the seemingly innocent 1920s themed parties. Or 1930, or any decade before 1960 really, let alone anything in the 1800s.

My white friends seem to like these parties. Fancy hats and moustaches and 3-piece suits and dresses with white gloves and things like that.

Let’s get a few things straight. When white people say they are throwing a “1920s themed party” they’re really saying “dress like a white person in the 1920s”. If I showed up the way MY ancestors dressed at the time, you would think I missed the memo.

Which is fine, I guess. But I really don’t think they understand that parties like this can get awkward. Especially if I’m the only person who isn’t white.

In a room full of white people wearing clothes from an overtly racist era, at best I feel out of place. At worst I feel like I’m part of THEIR costume as the servant.

Sure, I often end up having fun because I’m with friends…but it doesn’t mean it’s not awkward. The entire night, I’m reminded of my minority status. I think it’s one of those things white people never stop to think about (or experience), but it’s pretty obvious.”

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art of resistance, India

Arundhati Roy: The President Took The Salute.

A month ago, I published Arundhati Roy’s Feminism & Foundations, Burkas & Botox, excerpt from her new book Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Here is another great excerpt, the preface The President Took The Salute.

Capture/Arundhati Roy, photo by Chiara Goia for The New York Times/

“The Minister says that for India’s sake, people should leave their villages and move to the cities. He’s a Harvard man. He wants speed. And numbers. Five hundred million migrants he thinks, will make a good business model.

Not everybody likes the idea of their cities filling up with the poor. A judge in Bombay called slum dwellers pickpockets of urban land. Another said, while ordering the bulldozing of unauthorized colonies, that people who couldn’t afford to live in the cities shouldn’t live in them.

When those who had been evicted went back to where they came from, they found their villages had disappeared under great darns and duty quarries. Their homes were ocuppied by hunger – and policemen. The forests were filling up with armed guerrillas. They found that the wars from the edge of India, in Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur, had migrated to its heart. People returned to live on city streets and pavements, in hovels on dusty construction sites, wondering which corner of this huge country was meant for them.

The minister said that migrants to cities were mostly criminals and ‘carried a kind of behavior which is unacceptable to modern cities.’ The middle class admired him for his forthrightness, for having the courage to call a spade a spade. The Minister said he would set up more police stations, recruit more policemen, and put more police vehicles on the road to improve law and order.

In the drive to beautify Delhi for the Commonwealth Games, laws were passed that made the poor vanish, like laundry stains. Street vendors disappeared, rickshaw pullers lost their licenses, small shops and businesses were shut down. Beggars were rounded up, tried by mobile magistrates in mobile courts, and dropped outside the city limits. The slums that remained were screened off, with vinyl billboards that said DELHIciously Yours.

New kinds of policemen parolled the streets, better armed, better dressed, and trained not to scratch their privates in public, no matter how grave the provocation. There were cameras everywhere, recording everything.

Two young criminals carrying a kind of behavior that was unacceptable to modern cities escaped the police dragnet and approached a woman sitting between her sunglasses  and the leather seats of her shiny car at a traffic crossing. Shamelessly they demanded money. The woman was rich and kind. The criminals’ heads were no higher than her car window. Their names were Rukmini and Kamli. Or maybe Mehrunissa and Shabbano. (Who cares.) The woman gave them money and some motherly advice. Ten rupees to Kamli (or Shabbano). ‘Share it’, she told them, and sped away when the lights changed.

Rukmini and Kamli (or Mehrunissa and Shabbano) tore into each other like gladiators, like lifers in a prison yard. Each sleek car that falshed past them, and almost crashed them, carried the reflection of their battle, their fight to the finish, on its shining door.

Eventually both girls disappeared without a trace, like thousands of children do in Delhi.

The Games were a sucess.

Two months later, on sixty-second anniversary of India’s Republic Day, the armed forces showcased their new weapons at the Republic Day parade: a missile launcher system, Russian multi-barrel rocket launchers, combat aircraft, light helicopters, and underwater weapons for the navy. The new T-90 battle tank was called Bhishma. (The older one was Ajrun.) Varunastra was the name of the latest heavyweight torpedo, and Mareech was a decoy system to seduce incoming torpedos. (Hanuman and Varja are the names painted on the armored vehicles that patrol Kasmir’s frozen streets.) The names from the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata were a coincidence. Dare Devils from the Army’s Corpes of Signals rode motorcycles in a rocket formation; then they formed a cluster of flying birds and finally a human pyramid.

The army band played the national anthem. The President took the salute.

Three Sukhoi fighter jets made a Trishul in the sky. Shiva’s Trishul. Is India a Hindu republic? Only accidentally.

The thrilled crowd turned its face up to the weak winter sun and applauded the aerobatics. High in the sky, the winking silver sides of the jets carried the reflection of Rukmini and Kamli’s (or Mehrunissa and Shabbano’s) fight to the death.”

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art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda

Why Are We Still Stuck On “Humanizing”?

In one of her interviews, Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir says she’s “not one of those filmmakers who cares about humanizing Palestinians, that’s not my goal at all… I’m not interested in that dialogue with people, in showing the West that Palestinians are human beings too, because that is so basic, if somebody doesn’t know that, I’m not interested even in the beginning of a dialogue with that person.”

Unfortunately, it seems like, for a great number of audiences, humanizing is still a thing. Just going through Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY) images from the Middle East, one can notice a huge difference in reactions and comments. There are endless comments thanking him for “humanizing the people of the Middle East”, for “showing they are people too”, for “showing Iraq has shopping malls, wow”, etc. And, of course, it took a white guy from North America to provide them with the right dose of credibility.

Not to take my comment the wrong way – HONY is a truly beautiful project and I admire Stanton’s work. He deals with humanity, with those things all of us share – like parents worrying about their children, insecurity in looks and life decisions, thrill of love, importance of friends… The thing that worries me is that (looking at the reactions of the public) some people are automatically perceived as humans (which is normal and how it should be), while for others – it takes some time and effort to be perceived as such (now, that is not normal). Remember, we are talking about random, everyday people, folks you meet on the street (not political leaders or high-rank army officers). How is it that we are still in need of showing them as humans?

I am aware of the broad extent of political propaganda and the lacking representations of diversity of the Middle East, particularly in the United States, but still, something about these reactions is still shocking. If Stanton is showing them as humans, what were they before, to those who now see them as humans? Did they not even think about them, or were they just numbers, were they aliens, were they savages?

Now, if there is still a need for and a thrill over “showing as human”, we can’t move forward – to talk about the burning issues of the Middle East and our (Western) part in it. If you do not perceive someone as human, then you do not relate to that person, you do not feel compassion for what’s happening to that person. That human being is as strange and unknown as it gets. And if, let’s say, your country invades that person’s country, you just might not find it troubling at all.

Another thing is that realizing we are all human is not enough. That is not the ending point. That is the starting point, that’s the point of departure for our activism. Yes, we’re all humans, and yes – we will react when we see injustice happening to other humans, no matter where they are and who they are. We will inform ourselves and we will not satisfy ourselves with crying over an image of children in Iraq who lost everything but still find a way to laugh and play with toys they made out of junk. We will not use that image to feel better about our peaceful lives, to make ourselves appreciate everything we have. It shouldn’t be (just) like that. We should do something for those children. It’s about them, not about us, remember. It’s about responsibility and interconnections of the world.

As we are being stuck in this long phase of “humanizing”, the world is slowly deteriorating.

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle.

It smashes down forest and crushes a hundred men.

But it has one defect:

It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.

It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an

elephant.

But it has one defect:

It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.

He can fly and he can kill.

But he has one defect:

He can think.

Bertolt Brecht

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art of resistance

What Do You Call it & A Dialogue For Peace.

Here are two great short animated films I recently stumbled upon. One is about naming, second about dialogue, so they kind of fit together great. The first one was done by the Syrian feminist group Estayqazat. The film is about a special part of a female body. It is… Wait… What do you call it?

“Mankind comes to the world due to it, more than half of the world’s population is defined by it, and it gives pleasure to both women and men. But how do we talk about what we don’t have a name for – or have a name that we will not speak? Silence creates confusion, and confusion then again is covered up in silence. So, what do you call it? A number of Syrian women put their words of it into the public. Now you know too.”

The second one was a collaboration of four cartoonists (from Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Tunisia) to find common ground in creating a 2-minute speed drawing video for peace.

“Dialogue is the preffered approach to resolve our issues in MENA – be it in our families, communities, or societies as a whole.”

 

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

The Book To Read: My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness.

Adina Hoffman’s My Happiness Bears No Relation To Hapiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century is the best book I read this year, and it just might be one of my favourite books ever. I read it half a year ago, when it finally found its way through the jungle of air mail, and I am finally writing this review.

I mentioned the book in some of my previous writings, in connection to other stories, but never dedicated a full post to it. I needed time, I guess. The book tore me apart. Hoffman tells the story of Taha Muhammad Ali, great Palestinian poet, writing about his life, poetry, and the culture he emerged from.

9780300141504/photo via Yale Books/

I already loved Taha’s poetry so my expectations before reading this book were high. All of the doubts I might have had disappeared after reading the prelude pages. I think there was no better person to write Taha’s biography than Adina Hoffman. Her writing is so delicate, so rich in detail and encompassing at the same time, and simply – captivating. Taking in consideration the trust and the relationship Taha and Adina had developed over time (before this book was to be made), this was just a perfect combination.

Hoffman writes about Taha:

“Taha is a hardly well-known personality in the West; he is, in his own proud terminology, ‘a peasant, a son of a peasant!’, and is, moreover, a latecomer to poetry: his first book was published when he was fifty two years old. He’s a writer with a relatively small oeuvre (five collections of poems and a book of short stories) and a mostly underground reputation in the Arab literary world – where, it should be said, poetry has always been a highly public medium.(…) Taha Muhammad Ali is, meanwhile, nobody’s national poet. An autodidact, he has operated a souvenir shop near Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation for more than fifty years. Although his store has for much of that time served as a modest magnet for poets, intellectuals, teachers, and ordinary people of all Arabic-speaking stripes and camps, his perspective on modern Palestinian history and literature has remained unusually private.(…)

It also seemed to me then – and has only proven truer the more time I have spent with Taha – that his story is at once entirely singular (even eccentric) and completely representative of the sagas through which his people have lived. Born in 1931, Taha has witnessed enough history to fill several lifetimes, and I wanted, as I set out, not just to account for what he had seen but how he had seen it: to try, in other words, to convey  the ways such cataclysmic historical events look through they eyes of one exceptional man. As most everything in the Middle East inevitably is, the effort may be viewed as political – but it was insipired, first and foremost, by the far less absolute realm of art.”

Hoffman also writes about her perspective when taking on this project, her views as a Jewish woman, as an Israeli citizen, her experience of life in Jerusalem and differences in relation to Palestinian lives. She writes: “An American-born Jew who has lived in Jerusalem for much of her adult life – assuming a sort of bifocal nationality in the process – I carry two passports, American and Israeli, and am someone who arrived in the Middle East knowing not a word of Arabic and bearing no particular affinity for Palestinian culture.”  Around two decades later, she took on a hard role – to write a biography of a poet Taha Ali, to submerse herself in Arab culture, but also – inevitably – to tell a political story, a story of a Palestinian life in twentieth century.

mishra_1-120309/young Taha Ali, photo via BOMB Magazine/

That fact itself is a big sign of hope for the Israeli-Palestinian story. Because, more than politics, poetry, historical insights (all very important and present in this book), above all of that, Hoffman’s approach to Taha’s story is emphatic, human.

She describes Taha’s influences when growing up, writing about his father’s madafeh:

“Abu Taha, meanwhile, spent almost all his waking hours in the third room in the house, his madafeh. In Saffuriyya, as in other Palestinian villages of the time, a madafeh – literally, a place for dyuf, guests, could mean any number of things… But to call it a ‘humble’ room , or to detail its minimal contents – a few straw mats, several thin wool-stuffed mattresses, a low stool, the worn shoes of the men cast of by the door – is to do injustice to the vast place this small square of plaster and stone occupied in the imagination of the young boy. It was – as his basically immobile father was, the sturdy pivot around which all his own wanderings through the village and orchards unfolded. It was the place where he first heard poetry and pre-Islamic legends, first encountered local history and world politics, first absorbed how men talked to one another, first learned how to listen. It was ‘the university of fallah’, as his brother Amin describes it, more than half a century later. The guests in the madafeh, he says, would constantly tell stories and talk and argue and laugh: the conversation never stopped. ‘They had knowledge of life, they had experience. And they had confidence in themselves.’

Taha Ali spoke the language of the village, the language of the people. And that made his work more spacious, for all of us to take our place in it. His is the story of  melancholy and exuberance, the land and the memory. His own village, Saffuriyya, was bombed number of times in the night of Fifteenth of May , in 1948. Saffuriyya was bombed number of times in the course of that night – unarmed civilians were bombed number of times in the course of that night. It was the day of Nakba, the catastrophe.  The event is described in the book:

“Following the dirth path that ran beside the bayader, he walked for about five minutes, and it was then that he heard an odd, low, whirring sound, something circling in the air above. As it lifted to a whistle, then mounted to a roar, he saw a brilliant flash, felt a crash and tremor, and another – then everything was smashing glass and rising smoke, shouts in the distance, wailing nearby, people running, children crying, the sixteen goats yelping in terror as they scattered.

It was an all-defining moment for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

“They walked for two days and much of two nights, and under the fig trees of Bint Jbely, the people at last came to rest. The harsh July sun had followed them across the border, and thousands of children and women and babies and man sat in exhausted groups, the ‘lucky’ ones finding space beneath  the only semblance of a roof in sight – the wide pointed leaves of the trees. Infants bawled, old women whimpered, mules brayed, truck brakes screeched, and those who found refuge in these foreign orchards and fields were surrounded on all sides by a constant, anguished din.

Noise or no, it was perhaps the first time in the course of those long hallucinatory hours since they’d left the village that Taha and his family and the people huddled with them had a chance to pause and try to reconstruct what had just happened. (…)

In a poem written forty years later, he describes a night when ‘we had/neither night nor light,’ when ‘no moon rose’:

We did not weep

When we were leaving

For we had neither

Time nor tears

And there was no farewell.

We did not know

At the moment of parting

That it was a parting,

So where would our weeping

Have come from?”

Taha_breakfast_lunch_dinner_copy_body/Taha Ali, photo via BOMB Magazine/

It was an exodus, a dual one. While the body had to go, the mind and the heart stayed. But, in the meantime, everything changed, and when the body and the mind returned – there was no familiarity with the space, no warmth, there were only flashes of what used to be, only ghosts of history. And home was lost once again.

Hoffman writes:

“Although I know why Taha wants to go to Saffuriyya, I was not expecting a pilgrimage today. A few years earlier, in fact, when I’d ask Taha if he would take me to see what was left of the village, he’d begged off – insisting that every time he visited it he had a headache for three days. At that point, he had volunteered his brother Amin to accompany me instead – and had, in the end, written a poem called ‘The Place Itself, or I Hope You Can Digest It’, explaining his reluctance to return to the literal location of Saffuriyya, which is nothing but ‘dust and stones’, when emptied of the lives and life that gave it meaning: ‘For where are the red-tailed birds / and the almonds’ green? / where are the bleating lambs / and pomegranates of evening – / the smell of bread / and the grouse?'”

I am not keen on bombastic statements, but if you read one book this/next year – let it be this wonderful book.

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Previous The Book To Read:

Suad Amiry & The Absurdity of Life Under Occupation

Sohrab Sepehri & Water’s Footfall

Robert Fisk & The Age of The Warrior

De Niro’s Game

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

(Interview) Tamara Erde: On History, Memory & Living Near the Livings.

Tamara Erde is a French-Israeli filmmaker who creates in various mediums, from documentary and fiction films, to performances and video installations. Erde is a brave artistic soul, often taking from her most personal places and transforming it into her art. In her work, she often deals with political and social issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is what hits home. I was truly happy to be able to do the following interview and get to know more about Tamara’s work and her personal journey while making it.

Capture/Tamara Erde in Cell in a Human Scale/

Being born and raised in Israel, Israel being a part of your identity, did you have issues when you first started making films about different layers of Israeli – Palestinian conflict? Did you feel your work will be politicized, dissected in a particular way?

Yes, having been born and raised in Israel, and later on deciding to live and work on different, critical aspects of the Israeli society and politics, it has been a rather difficult process, to acknowledge I will face the unsatisfaction and sometimes anger of many of my friends and society in which I grew. I also have my films shown less in Israel then in anywhere else, so this is also a shame for me, as I’d love to show them there too and arouse a discussion about it. But I guess that indeed, once they touch core political problems that are in the basis of the perception and life views there, it is directly politicized and remains only as a political work and not a cinematic, creation as well.

In your documentary film released this year, This is my Land, you focus on how  Palestinian and Israeli (Jewish and Arab) education systems teach the history of their nations. You also confront your own history (in relation to the land) and the way it was built up, created. You admit you first started asking questions and having doubts about the nature of Israeli occupation during the army service. Could you tell me more about this film and the experience of it, but also the story of your personal journey, which could be marked as – before and after – the army service?

I have decided to do this film when I found myself, about two years ago, asking myself how come I didn’t know and didn’t search to know, what I do now, about the history of my country and my region. Because the information is out there, in Internet, in books, in the mouth of people. And for me the direct answer was – the education I got. So that has brought me to wish and come back to Israel but also to Palestine, and see now, from my new perspective, how kids are taught.

Until my army service, I was very zionist and nationalist. I didn’t know much about the conflict, I didn’t have contact with Palestinian people, nor did I think about it too much. My army service was during the second Intifada, I saw then how the decision are taken, how life are being played with for political little reasons, I saw for the first time (even though it was sadly through the information computer screens) Palestinian people. And this has made me start asking question and doubting what I was doing and believing till then. From that I went to a journey of some time, trying to learn and research the story of “the other side”.

Very few children can see through and doubt the education they receive. I am sure that if I had to go back to school, changing the position – going to a Palestinian school, or to an orthodox religious school, I would have been following this sets of values and beliefs. Very few people also doubt or question their education on their later life, as adults. I had the chance to do it thanks to my profession, to my films that have brought me, and still do, to discover and investigate about my identity, and the society I live in, or from which I come.

But even though the ability to change the way a child perceives his education is so small, the ability to change the education we give him, is much more probable, and possible. For me, this voyage I wish to go on with this film, back to this primal encounter with the teachers, and the school, in the place where I was born, which imposes the charge of the conflict, is a way to make myself, and hopefully my viewers, think about the way we can change the education system, and assure a better future society and life for the generations to come. And I think this is true to Israel-Palestine, but also to many other places around the world.

disney ramallah/Disney Ramallah/

Disney Ramallah is your latest short film. It is a story of a father and son in Ramallah, confronted to the harsh reality during the Second Intifada. The boy has one dream – to go to Euro Disney for his birthday. Of course, that is not possible, and the father ends up making a home-made alternative universe for his son. Something in this story, the creative magic and will maybe, reminded me of Yalla to the moonThere is something mesmerizing about these parallel universes people create among the harshest of conditions, which also remindes me of Guido Orefice in La Vitta è Bella. What inspired you to write and direct this story? 

I have written this story basing on my experiences and what I have seen during the Second Intifada when I was in the army, but also what I have seen later on, in the West Bank, when I have met many children and heard their stories and their families stories. One of the things that inspired me mostly was their energy, their hope, their great force of life, even in the harder and most extreme situations. That has made me imagine that boy that all he wants, like many kids, is to go to EuroDisney, and what happened when this meets his father’s harsh daily struggle, who has put aside his childhood dreams and urges.

When I was a child, I grew up alone with my mother, since my dad died before I was born. At nights, sometimes, I used to be afraid that she will die too, leaving me alone in the world. And so, I used to ask her, simply, what if… And she used to tell me the name of her friend; she will take care of you if I die, I talked to her about it, she will adopt you. For some months, years even, I remember, I kept repeating this question, wishing only for one answer: I won’t die.., but she never said this to me. She told me the truth, at simple as it was.

And years later, I kept asking myself about it… What would I do? Do we always need to tell the truth to our children? What does protecting someone means? Hiding from him sometimes? Or on the contrary remaining loyal to the truth? Or maybe creating a different, imagined truth, for those we love. Those questions, daily dilemmas, of parents, of human relationships, are in the heart of Disney Ramallah. In this story, an additional aspect joins those universal story of father and son, since Rabia and Ahmed live in Ramallah, in a complexed reality.

You create in various mediums, not just film. One of your installations and performances is A Soldier’s Dream.  It was influenced by poems of the great Mahmoud Darwish, and aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writingHomeland, in the context of Israel and Palestine, is a complex term. It involves memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting, and generally – an internal state of chaos and confusion. It is not just Darwish who struggles with the notion of homeland. Kanafani writes in Returning to Haifa: “What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall?” How do you see this issue of  homeland, and why did you approach Darwish and his poetry through your installations and performances?

It was after my last visit to Israel, on the spring of 2010, that I’ve decided to create this project around the poems ad writing of Mahmoud Darwish. On my return to France after that visit, I felt more then ever helpless, seeing the frozen situation, the immobile misery and injustice that have long ago conquered this land. In front of my eyes I still had this image of the sea, near Gaza, divided by the separation wall, thinking – what else can be done when even the water are bound to surround. I’m looking again, now in France, at the few pictures I’ve managed to take there, at the point where the wall meets the sea, before the soldiers came with their weapons towards me.

Staring at this black and white desperate silence of the water, I recalled Darwish’s texts about the water; “Who says that water has no color, flavor or smell?” [Memory of forgetfulness].

I thought about the relation between words and images when confronting those ungraspable impermeability, where is their limit in view of that, where are there points of force, of challenge and of completion. It was from that desperation that I felt a need to return to the words of Darwish, whose words are imprints of footsteps on this sands of misery, of that surrounding water, and yet, of the whole world outside, of the love and the hope deriving from the simple beauty, form the power of the sincere words, phrases, memories.

In Forgotten Oceans, an experimental dance film, you explore the theme of physical memories of spaces. Again, such an important theme concerning the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, its millions of people living in exile and millions of memories that were and are wiped out. Like Khaled Juma asks in The Unseen aspects of War: “Are the memories we grew up with which are destroyed not pieces of us? Should we not consider the destruction of the places in which we were raised with these memories to be the destruction of a part of us, just like our hands, our heads, or our hearts?” It is like the “my tree was gone” moment from your film. Why did you find it important to make this fim, to do this exploration, and could you relate it to Israeli – Palestinian conflict, from your own perspective?

Actually, this video dance, that I created in an aim to develop and include in a performance piece later on, is also the continuation of my work inspired by Darwish, aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writing. Being an Israeli I was amazed how many things I have discovered, when reading Darwish’s poems, on my “Homeland”, how close I felt to his words, and how painful it was. His words, have become, to me, a life-time journey, and this performance was part of this journey.

The poetic, the never ending, floating magical words, are living side by side with reality, with the aching sand grains of this land. On the video dance Forgotten Oceans the scene is to describe a “no man’s” land on which all characters are immigrants. Turning around, discovering the new space, the new land that is assumed to be their new “home”, again. A land on which they have no past, no memories or acquaintance, and apparently no future either. They are doomed to eternal wonderings.

forgotten oceans/Forgotten Oceans/

Based on the poetry of Mahmod Darwish; the physical choreographically language of the piece, as well as the visual language, aim to create this sense of “no people” on a “no land”. The characters existence in the space is never substantial, no relation is ever physically created between them. “We live near the livings”, Darwish once wrote about his people, and it s this sense of the term “exile” that I wish to give to the spectators in this piece.

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 /all images via Tamara Erde/

For more on Tamara and her work, visit her website.

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