Algeria, art of resistance

Frantz Fanon: Concerning Violence (part one).

The following is an excerpt from Frantz Fanon’s great book The Wretched of the Earth.

F.-Fanon/Frantz Fanon, photo via Zimbabwe Daily/

“National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. At whatever level we study it — relationships between individuals, new names for sports clubs, the human admixture at cocktail parties, in the police, on the directing boards of national or private banks — decolonization is quite simply the replacing of a certain ‘species’ of men by another ‘species’ of men.

Without any period of transition, there is a total, complete, and absolute substitution. It is true that we could equally well stress the rise of a new nation, the setting up of a new state, its diplomatic relations, and its economic and political trends. But we have precisely chosen to speak of that kind of tabula rasa which characterizes at the outset all decolonization. Its unusual importance is that it constitutes, from the very first day, the minimum demands of the colonized.

To tell the truth, the proof of success lies in a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up. The extraordinary importance of this change is that it is willed, called for, demanded. The need for this change exists in its crude state, impetuous and compelling, in the consciousness and in the lives of the men and women who are colonized. But the possibility of this change is equally experienced in the form of a terrifying future in the consciousness of another ‘species’ of men and women: the colonizers.

Decolonization, which sets out to change the order of the world, is, obviously, a program of complete disorder. But it cannot come as a result of magical practices, nor of a natural shock, nor of a friendly understanding. Decolonization, as we know, is a historical process: that is to say that it cannot be understood, it cannot become intelligible nor clear to itself except in the exact measure that we can discern the movements which give it historical form and content.

Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature, which in fact owe their originality to that sort of substantification which results from and is nourished by the situation in the colonies. Their first encounter was marked by violence and their existence together–that is to say the exploitation of the native by the settler–was carried on by dint of a great array of bayonets and cannons. The settler and the native are old acquaintances. In fact, the settler is right when he speaks of knowing ‘them’ well. For it is the settler who has brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence. The settler owes the fact of his very existence, that is to say, his property, to the colonial system.

Decolonization never takes place unnoticed, for it influences individuals and modifies them fundamentally. It transforms spectators crushed with their inessentiality into privileged actors, with the grandiose glare of history’s floodlights upon them. It brings a natural rhythm into existence, introduced by new men, and with it a new language and a new humanity. Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men. But this creation owes nothing of its legitimacy to any supernatural power; the ‘thing’ which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself.

In decolonization, there is therefore the need of a complete calling in question of the colonial situation. If we wish to describe it precisely, we might find it in the wellknown words: ‘The last shall be first and the first last.’ Decolonization is the putting into practice of this sentence. That is why, if we try to describe it, all decolonization is successful.

The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things, and to make them climb at a pace (too quickly, some say) the well-known steps which characterize an organized society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course, that of violence.

You do not turn any society, however primitive it may be, upside down with such a program if you have not decided from the very beginning, that is to say from the actual formulation of that program, to overcome all the obstacles that you will come across in so doing. The native who decides to put the program into practice, and to become its moving force, is ready for violence at all times. From birth it is clear to him that this narrow world, strewn with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence.

The colonial world is a world divided into compartments. It is probably unnecessary to recall the existence of native quarters and European quarters, of schools for natives and schools for Europeans; in the same way we need not recall apartheid in South Africa. Yet, if we examine closely this system of compartments, we will at least be able to reveal the lines of force it implies. This approach to the colonial world, its ordering and its geographical layout will allow us to mark out the lines on which a decolonized society will be reorganized.

The colonial world is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the frontiers are shown by barracks and police stations. In the colonies it is the policeman and the soldier who are the official, instituted go-betweens, the spokesmen of the settler and his rule of oppression. In capitalist societies the educational system, whether lay or clerical, the structure of moral reflexes handed down from father to son, the exemplary honesty of workers who are given a medal after fifty years of good and loyal service, and the affection which springs from harmonious relations and good behavior–all these aesthetic expressions of respect for the established order serve to create around the exploited person an atmosphere of submission and of inhibition which lightens the task of policing considerably.

In the capitalist countries a multitude of moral teachers, counselors and ‘bewilderers’ separate the exploited from those in power. In the colonial countries, on the contrary, the policeman and the soldier, by their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action maintain contact with the native and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge. It is obvious here that the agents of government speak the language of pure force. The intermediary does not lighten the oppression, nor seek to hide the domination; he shows them up and puts them into practice with the clear conscience of an upholder of the peace; yet he is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native.

The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers. The two zones are opposed, but not in the service of a higher unity. Obedient to the rules of pure Aristotelian logic, they both follow the principle of reciprocal exclusivity. No conciliation is possible, for of the two terms, one is superfluous. The settlers’ town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel. It is a brightly lit town; the streets are covered with asphalt, and the garbage cans swallow all the leavings, unseen, unknown and hardly thought about. The settler’s feet are never visible, except perhaps in the sea; but there you’re never close enough to see them. His feet are protected by strong shoes although the streets of his town are clean and even, with no holes or stones. The settler’s town is a well-fed town, an easygoing town; its belly is always full of good things. The settlers’ town is a town of white people, of foreigners.

The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where, nor how. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other, and their huts are built one on top of the other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire. It is a town of niggers and dirty Arabs.

The look that the native turns on the settler’s town is a look of lust, a look of envy; it expresses his dreams of possession — all manner of possession: to sit at the settler’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife if possible. The colonized man is an envious man. And this the settler knows very well; when their glances meet he ascertains bitterly, always on the defensive, ‘They want to take our place.’ It is true, for there is no native who does not dream at least once a day of setting himself up in the settler’s place.

This world divided into compartments, this world cut in two is inhabited by two different species. The originality of the colonial context is that economic reality, inequality, and the immense difference of ways of life never come to mask the human realities. When you examine at close quarters the colonial context, it is evident that what parcels out the world is to begin with the fact of belonging to or not belonging to a given race, a given species. In the colonies the economic substructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, yon are white because you are rich. This is why Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched every time we have to do with the colonial problem.

Everything up to and including the very nature of precapitalist society, so well explained by Marx, must here be thought out again. The serf is in essence different from the knight, but a reference to divine right is necessary to legitimize this statutory difference. In the colonies, the foreigner coming from another country imposed his rule by means of guns and machines. In defiance of his successful transplantation, in spite of his appropriation, the settler still remains a foreigner. It is neither the act of owning factories, nor estates, nor a bank balance which distinguishes the governing classes. The governing race is first and foremost those who come from elsewhere, those who are unlike the original inhabitants, ‘the others.’

The violence which has ruled over the ordering of the colonial world, which has ceaselessly drummed the rhythm for the destruction of native social forms and broken up without reserve the systems of reference of the economy, the customs of dress and external life, that same violence will be claimed and taken over by the native at the moment when, deciding to embody history in his own person, he surges into the forbidden quarters. To wreck the colonial world is henceforward a mental picture of action which is very clear, very easy to understand and which may be assumed by each one of the individuals which constitute the colonized people. To break up the colonial world does not mean that after the frontiers have been abolished lines of communication will be set up between the two zones. The destruction of the colonial world is no more and no less that the abolition of one zone, its burial in the depths of the earth or its expulsion from the country.

The natives’ challenge to the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of points of view. It is not a treatise on the universal, but the untidy affirmation of an original idea propounded as an absolute. The colonial world is a Manichean world. It is not enough for the settler to delimit physically, that is to say with the help of the army and the police force, the place of the native. As if to show the totalitarian character of colonial exploitation the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil.

Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. It is not enough for the colonist to affirm that those values have disappeared from, or still better never existed in, the colonial world. The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil. He is the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near him; he is the deforming element, disfiguring all that has to do with beauty or morality; he is the depository of maleficent powers, the unconscious and irretrievable instrument of blind forces.”

• • •

For those interested in more – there is also a good documentary Concerning Violence (2014) based on Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth book – precisely the chapter Concerning Violence (hence the name of the film).

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art of resistance, Turkey

Centenary of the Armenian Genocide: Denying Genocide Means Continuing Genocide.

On 24th of April 1915, Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested and executed, some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The date is held to be the beginning of the Armenian genocide – Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of Armenian people, inside their historic homeland. Starting from today, Middle East Revised marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide until the end of this year – with various reports, books recommendations, articles, testimonials, etc.

This first article is written by Zdravko Budimir, Croatian political scientist who wrote his master thesis on Armenian genocide and knows the subject very well. I am really happy to be able to publish it on Middle East Revised.

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Even though ethnic violence played a large role in history of mankind, there is one distinctive reason why 20th century is considered a dark century. Genocide as a phenomena is a decadency of, not a certain nation, but entire civilization. Violence of the 20th century was prepared. It derived its origins from the imperialistic fashion, where new racist theory justified bloody colonial expansionism and brought in a modern concept of administrative massacres. Genocide is not a single and discrete act but a process. Diagnostically perceived, it is a syndrome developed by simultaneous grouping of various signs and symptoms.

When altogether these symptoms produce abnormal state. Armenian genocide started in April 1915, as an escalation of a prolonged process of ethnic violence towards the Armenian population, started in 19th century. Ethnic violence escalated into a genocide because ethnic violence became a political tool for achieving political goals.

April24Victims/Armenian intellectuals jailed and later executed on April 24th. Image is from the Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia, Yerevan: 1981, p. 423./

Twentieth century introduced new political ideas and redefinition of older political concepts. Historically, democracy stands for a rule of the people, and there are two definitions of the people and one of them is responsible for turning a genocide into a political weapon.

Conception of people as demos is not a problematic one, as it assumes the differences between people can be set out by compromise. On the other hand conception of people as ethnos overrides compromise as a political tool, and defines nation in ethnic terms. Armenian genocide is the first modern genocide because ethnic violence had exceptional political purpose – removal of others in an already ethnically defined territory.

At the turn of the century Armenian question was integral part of a broader Eastern question and secondary stage for confrontation between European powers.  As a political system an empire could no longer cope with its minorities and their rising political and national aspirations.

Armenian_genocide_heads/Caption of the photograph reads: The Above Photograph Shows Eight Armenian Professors Massacred by the Turks. Found on Wikipedia/

Hamidian massacres 1894.-1896. were series of mass murders, led by Sultan Abdul Hamid, the Red Sultan. Violence was focused on Armenian society and estimated number of Armenian casualties vary from 80,000 to 300,000. The massacres themselves were, considering reasons and execution, pre-modern (feudal) type of violence and contain pre-genocidal character.

Hamidian massacres opened up for a further process of violence, thus creating a continuity of violence. During and after the massacres a certain type of culture was welcomed. Crimes were forgotten and it’s perpetuers were unpunished. Armenians turned into a safety valve of the system. Safety valve could be opened and tightened at any given time, without making political or moral risks. Hamidian massacres were crucial moment in incubation phase of genocide because vulnerability of Armenian people was detected and recognised (there was no address for Armenians to appeal to), and combined with Turkish invulnerability within the empire it made genocide a possible option.

In 20th century  Ottoman empire faced crisis caused by territory loss. For the first time in history Turks made a majority within their own empire, an empire which was about to collapse.

Armenian_woman_kneeling_beside_dead_child_in_field/Armenian woman kneeling beside dead child in a field “within sight of help and safety at Aleppo“. Sometime between 1915 and 1919. Photo source: Wikipedia/

Armenians as a minority faced a historically progressive hatred on an ethnic, religious, economic and political level. Armenians were used to violence. World War I provided a safe curtain for the most brutal act of violence in human history because it intensified nationalism, geopolitical destabilization, and made combining ethnos and demos far more dangerous. Context of total war redefined civilians as potential targets and enabled the use of terror as a supression of potentially cooperating parts of society. Armenian society was suspected for cooperation with the enemy and percieved as a direct threat to the Ottoman state in the same manner.

Extermination of the Armenians begun as elitocide, focused on Armenian leaders, soldiers, fortifications, strategically valuable cities and villages. Elitocide was justified as war necessity and preemptive strike, as Armenians were flagged as enemies.  Leaderless Armenian population was helpless, stateless and without any political representation. Genocide was executed using top-down principle, with a developed administrative system used for the coordination of murderings.

Armenian_Orphans,_Merzifon,_1918/Armenian orphans in Merzifon, 1918. Photo by Tsolag Dildilian/

Deportation was introduced as a specific method of genocide  (removal of the others from a heartland) and it was enforced as a law. Deportation and pillage were legal acts and covered for extermination which happened in their sake.

Armenian genocide was perpetuated by Young Turks, a force within a society driven by modern and nationalistic ideal of an ethnically defined nation state.  Young Turks’ desired society was bound by same language, education, religion, moral and aesthetic norms. They aspired towards  the Jacobin model, ruled by centralised state, ruthless homogenizer, egalitarian nationalism within national natural limits. Young Turks’ political rule in war era was an usurpation of a system and radicalization of the political sphere.

Armenian genocide is essentially a modern crime. It was initiated because Young Turks were devoted to the organic nationalism ideology which combined dark side of democracy with dark side of multiethnic empire. Later on, the Turkish nation-state was founded on genocide and it was maintained on its denial. Turkish people as a collective are not responsible for the massacre, but they take their part in culpability by constructing a national myth based on a denial of the other nation.

Armenianmothermourning/An Armenian mother and the corpses of her five children. Photo by Maria Jacobsen, Diary 1907-1919, Kharput-Turkey/

Armenian genocide can be described as a successful crime because it fulfilled its given purpose: final goal, the creation of homogeneous state, was accomplished, crime was forgotten and Turkey unpunished. And even one hundred years later, denying the obvious, historically proven and argumented facts is de facto acceptance of their outcome as favorable. Denial of the genocide means prolonging its effects and the Armenian genocidal process now exists for one hundred years.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Raba’i al-Madhoun: Returning To Khan Yunis.

The following is an excerpt from Raba’i al-Madhoun’s novel The Lady From Tel Aviv, published by Telegram Books.

Lady from Tel Aviv front cover - Copy

I spent my morning wandering around town, trying to get a feel for what it has become. The Khan Yunis I knew no longer exists. I had searched out the khanyunisian essence of the place everywhere, but never found it, for the remnants of the old place were buried beneath the surfaces of the contemporary city. As I walked around the main streets, I often felt like I knew it, even though there was nothing tangible that would lead me to believe this. There was no trace of the streetlamp in whose glow I used to bask all night. The shop where I bought cigarettes is now gone, along with the café where I used to play cards with friends. Even the dirt courtyard where I used to walk barefoot is gone. Beneath the surface of the place, other buried impressions take form here and there. It is like looking at a black and white photograph whose details are blurred by the passing of years.

On trembling legs, I stop and stare at the strange patch of exile where my home once stood. There are no traces left, of it or of my childhood. Not even of the shadow I used to chase and chase and sometimes even catch. My shadow and I were careful never to let each other stray too far, and so our game never ended, and our friendship was never broken. I have left no footprint here to find. The cement beneath my feet chokes whatever memory lies below, just as it does the air I once exhaled here so long ago—breath whose traces still seek to find me once more.

I wander through streets that swallow people who crowd into cars and donkey-drawn carts. The streets swallow the jeeps of the militias and the armoured cars stuffed with men who watch the pedestrians through small holes in black hoods. I feel truly alone here—of no significance to anyone, nor is there anyone here who means anything to me. I come upon the spot where Café Mansour once stood. The biggest of all the city’s coffee shops, and the nicest one on the city’s main square. I find only small commercial shops teeming with shoppers. I can see my father, sitting right there on a bamboo chair next to his table. There is his cup of hot tea, sprigs of mint sticking out. There is the steam rising into the air with its sweet minty smell. I can hear the men nearby as they slap down dominoes on the marble tabletops around me. I love the way that tapping and clacking rings in my ears. Somewhere here, forty-five years ago, my father sat and was suddenly struck down.

Just as the years have changed me, so too am I transformed by the sudden recollection of my father and his death. I decide to visit his grave. I have always hated visiting cemeteries, but now I am struck by the urge to do it. When I lived here, I visited my father’s grave only twice, once to inspect the gravestone, and once again—just before my departure—because my mother told me to.

When I get to the graveyard, I find that there is no longer any gate to speak of. I continue along toward my father’s grave. The only things I find are piles of rocks and the fragments of headstones. I turn them upside down searching for my father’s name, but find nothing. Not even a letter that might belong in his name.

A bitter despair washes over me as I stand there. I think about how my father’s spirit haunts this place—and it feels like I am the one responsible for losing my father’s remains. I turn and spy the desiccated stump of a tree—maybe that was the acacia that stood over my father’s grave for all those years. The tree in whose branches fluttered those rose-embroidered silk handkerchiefs that proclaimed the undying love of someone for someone else. Those have all disappeared into nothing, never divulging who was speaking to whom. The stump rekindles an old question in my mind. Who was it that hung the handkerchiefs in the branches?

I continued walking to the old seed market and found the place exactly how it used to be. The joy I feel at this discovery more than makes up for the grief I experienced at the graveyard. When I wander over to the Ironsmiths’ Market nearby, I am even happier. The Ottoman-era shops still have the same age-old appearance, even if they are all shuttered and covered with rust-eaten locks. Only now do I begin to believe I am truly back in Khan Yunis.

Guided by the old map of my memory, I continue along. Within a few minutes, I find myself in front of the old Hurriyya Summer Movie House. Said Dahman is standing to my right, and Fawzi Ashour to my left. The three of us are staring up, gawking at a huge poster hanging on the façade of the cinema. It is a larger-than-life image of the Egyptian belly dancer, La Petite Nawal. We study the more obvious contours of her body, in hopes we might discover subtleties hidden within. Each of us hoping that a breeze would lift up and play with the patch of chiffon flitting between her thighs. One of the bouncers yells and pushes us away. ‘If you don’t have a ticket, you’re not coming in. Step back if you don’t have a ticket already.’

A bunch of kids crowds round the door, shouting and yelling—and so we join them, pushing and trying to rush through. But the door is blocked by two bouncers with bodies like bulldozers.

Gradually, we give way and retreat—until we end up back down the stairs and out on the public pavement. After about thirty minutes, everyone who has bought a ticket is already inside.

At this point, Said—who is the bravest of us—goes up to one bouncer stationed outside the door. ‘You happy about all this?’ he asks as a joke. ‘These kids are the future of our nation, and they don’t get to watch simply because they have no money?’

The bouncer smiles. ‘ You kids are too young. And you’re twerps to boot. But I’m going to let you in anyway. One by one, so nobody notices. Don’t let the manager see you, he’s standing inside.’ He points to a man whose watermelon body sits near the entrance. ‘Get ready. After the trailers finish, I’ll let you in.’ The man opens the door, and we sneak in one by one just as he told us to. We are lucky—for some reason the manager has left. Maybe the ticket receipts of the paying customers were more than enough to make him happy.

We go over to the side, sticking close to one another, against the wall. Nawal is shaking her arse and twisting this way and bending over that way, like she was teasing all of us—this room full of men who were not only powerless to resist the allure of her body, but had even purchased tickets to feel that sense of powerlessness. And then, as Nawal shimmies around, there is Farid El-Atrache, crooning away.

He said nothing to me

And I said nothing to him

He didn’t come looking for me,

And I didn’t go looking for him.

And as the long-simmering desire of the men in the audience begins to fizzle out, they begin to chirp and call, moan and clap, and finally they are whistling their appreciation. These are men who have never before seen live flesh on stage, and may never see it in their dreams either, even if their wives sleep right next to them in bed each night.

Nawal dances on and on, the chiffon patch between her legs flitting up and away now and then to reveal what it conceals beneath. And the three of us try our best to take it all in with six bulging eyes. Fawzi is swooning over Farid El-Atrache, and keeps yelling: ‘Farid, you’re the best! Abdel Halim can go to hell!’ He goes on and on like this so long that Said finally belts him in the back of the neck, yelling, ‘What’s with you, you idiot? What’s the deal with Abdel Halim anyway? Can’t you just shut up and watch the movie?’

So Fawzi starts up again, only this time without insulting Abdel Halim. Then an older kid, standing right next to Fawzi, starts up, kicking Fawzi hard until finally he shuts up. A tall boy climbs up on stage at one point and begins to dance and shake his body around. When he throws his arms over Nawal’s body, the whole place erupts in loud protest—that is how badly they want to do the very thing he is doing. The three of us go crazy too, it is the first time in our lives we have ever seen bare legs.

That night, I cannot sleep. I am walking through a forest of bare legs. I am pretty sure that Said and Fawzi also spent their night walking through the same fleshy landscape. I suspect that, like me, neither of them slept until their underwear was drenched.

I stand at the corner of the cinema, looking at the building. On the wall, I read a notice put up by the Organization of Women of Virtue.”

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art of resistance, Iraq

Five For Friday: Iraq War Documentaries.

Twelve years later, it is quite obvious to everyone that the war in Iraq was a failure. Still, one may not grasp how big of a failure it was and what it did to the country of Iraq and Iraqi people. These documentaries are there to help you get an idea of that.

Body of War (2007) by Phil Donahue & Ellen Spiro

bodyofwar

The documentary follows Tomas Young, an Iraq War veteran paralyzed from a bullet to the spine, on a physical and emotional journey as he adapts to his new body and begins to question the decision to go to war in Iraq. As Young’s paralyzed body is breaking down, his voice against war becomes stronger, truly powerful. Thomas Young died last year, leaving his last letter – The Last Letter – A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran.

The letter ends with: “My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.”

Standard Operating Procedure (2008) by Errol Morris

kinopoisk.ruIn this documentary, Errol Morris examines the incidents of abuse and torture of suspected terrorists at the hands of U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib (‘Father of Raven’) prison near Baghdad. The film shows the brutality of U.S. soldiers, their abuse of authority, horrifying methods of torture and absolute humiliation of Iraqi detainees. Morris keeps his influence to a minimum, and allows his subjects to speak for themselves. Disturbing and necessary – this documentary is a testimony of miserable, unethical, shameful times.

Iraq in Fragments (2006) by James Longley

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This film was made in 2006, and I think it was one of the first mainstream documentaries that provided viewers with an Iraqi point of view. Also, the work put in it is noticeable – three hundred hours of material was filmed in Iraq over a period of more than two years for this production. The story of Iraq in told in three acts, building a picture of a country pulled in different directions by religion and ethnicity. My favourite moment of the film is one of the last ones, where a Kurdish child talks about the idea of Iraq,  and separation and fighting all the adults are talking about (and witnessing it) – here’s the moment captured (I posted this GIF before, writing about Iraq in Fragments last year).

That is the biggest achievement of this documentary – diving into the into the everyday lives of Iraqis. Longley stays as neutral as possible with his narration, but his camera gets close and intimate with his subjects – and allows them to talk, to ask, to reveal, to be.

No End In Sight (2007) by Charles Ferguson

no-end-in-sight-white-house-iraq-afghanistan-government-america-war

This documentary offers chronological look at the fiasco in Iraq – backgrounds of those making decisions, incompetent teams, bad planning, lack of will – all of it. Reporters, soldiers, military brass, academics and former Bush-administration officials talk about the war and everything that went wrong. Nir Rosen, knowledgeable journalist and chronicler of the Iraq War, is a producer and talking head of the film. If you wish to go through the long list of brutal facts about the Iraq war – see this documentary. It’s all you need to know in 102 minutes.

Taxi To The Dark Side (2007) by Alex Gibney

taxidarksidecover1

This is similar to Standard Operating Procedure. Using the torture and death in 2002 of an innocent Afghan taxi driver as the touchstone, the film examines changes after 9/11 in U.S. policy toward suspects in the war on terror. Soldiers, their attorneys, one released detainee, U.S. Attorney John Yoo, news footage and photos tell a story of abuse at Bagram Air Base, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay. Not an easy watch, many people say. Of course it isn’t. It is not supposed to be easy, it shouldn’t be easy. That is why we need to (re)watch it. It shows the absolute lack of respect for humanity, international laws, transparency, justice – you name it.

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Previous Five For Friday:

Graphic Novels on Israel & Palestine

Lectures and Interviews on Middle East & Islam

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art of resistance, United Arab Emirates

Under The Splendor & Sparkle of The Gulf: Modern-day Slavery.

‘My message to the head of the Louvre would be to come and see how we are living here,’ said Tariq, a carpenter’s helper working on construction of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a $653 million Middle Eastern outpost of the iconic Parisian museum. Set to be completed in 2015, its collection will include a Torah from 19th-century Yemen, Picassos, and Magrittes.”

That is how Molly Crabapple’s article for the Vice, Slaves of Hapiness Island,  begins. It was published in August last year. What happened in the meantime with migrant workers of Abu Dhabi and the grand museums they are building? Well, everything is pretty much the same. Poor living and working conditions for the workers is still modus operandi in the Gulf, while spectacular museums grow like mushrooms after rain (Louvre Abu Dhabi is set to open in December this year).

slaves-molly-crabapple/image © Molly Crabapple/

Just this month, the United Arab Emirates has barred New York University professor Andrew Ross from entering the country after he published research about migrant workers and labor abuse in the Gulf State. Ross learned of the ban after arriving at the airport in New York, where he was set to board a flight to continue his research in the UAE. It has also emerged that a private investigator was hired to target him and a New York Times reporter, Ariel Kaminer, who wrote the expose on workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus facing harsh conditions. 

A freelance journalist based in the Emirates who collaborated on the article, Sean O’Driscoll, said in an interview that he was also summoned by the authorities several weeks after its publication and offered immunity from prosecution and high pay if he would agree to publish pro-government articles. O’Driscoll said he refused and was later expelled from the country.

Capture/Construction workers can live as many as 15 men to a room. Space is so scarce that a dozen men can share a space of barely 200 square feet. One of New York University’s labor values states that contractors should not house more than four people in a bedroom. © Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times/

This was an important article – so important that it was not printed – the New York Times was not printed in the Emirates that day. It was the first time the New York Times was actually banned from circulation.

Gulf Labor, a coalition of of international artists working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction of museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, also did (and does) a lot of work to put pressure on the Guggenheim Museum because the Guggenheim is also building in Abu Dhabi.

In their 2014 report, main observations were that the wages on Saadiyat Island remain very low, all workers had paid recruitment fees, but the fees have not been reimbursed to them (many of the workers take up big loans in their home countries in order to get to UAE  but then struggle to pay the debt in order to gain any profits), and there are no organized workers’ groups to speak to.

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/image – Gulf Labor facebook page/

There is a consistent pattern of fair labor standards violations and human rights abuses among the migrant workers in the UAE and also in Qatar, because it’s the same migrant-labor sponsorship system that brings workers from South Asia to these two countries. More than 80% of UAE and Qatar’s population are foreign workers. Most of these workers come from far poorer nations such as India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Nepal.

All of those people bare the same burden – like Crabapple wrote – “in company-branded jumpsuits, men toiled through their 12-hour shifts, welding and lugging rebar beneath the merciless sun.”

nyc149070/image © Jonas Bendiksen, Far From Home – Guest Workers of the Gulf/

In the meantime, those who try to speak up against this outrageous treatment of workers, end up being banned from the country, or their articles are not being printed. How come this is (still) possible?

• • •

For more on this story, I recommend the following articles/videos:

The Dark Side of Abu Dhabi Cultural Revolution, video by Guardian‘s Glenn Carrick

Slaves of Happiness Island, Molly Crabapple’s article for the Vice

Workers at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions, Ariel Kaminer & Sean O’Driscoll for The New York Times

Inside Story – The Plight of Qatar’s Migrant Workers by Al Jazeera English

United Arab Emirates: Trapped, Exploited, Abused, by Human Rights Watch

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

Suad Amiry: Ramallah Diaries (excerpt).

I wrote about Suad Amiry’s Sharon and my Mother-in-Law last year, but today I decided to post this excerpt to get you excited about the book – if you haven’t read it already. The book is a result of her Ramallah diaries (from 1981 to 2004), where she described her everyday life under occupation.

Sharon-and-My-Mother-in-Law

” ‘You kick us out of Jaffa, then wonder how come we’re born elsewhere!’

These were the first words to gush out of my mouth when I opened it to answer the first in a long list of questions asked by the Israeli security officer at Lod (Tel Aviv) airport.

I was certainly not in the mood. It was 4.30 in the morning on a hot summer day in 1995. The almost five-hour flight from London had fatigued me and all I wanted to do was rush out of the airport to meet Ibrahim, who had sweetly come all the way from Ramallah to pick me up at this very early hour.

My anxiety and irritation increased as the young woman at passport control slipped a pink tag into my Palestinian passport. I, of course, have no problems either with pink, or with being Palestinian. But at that very moment, all I wanted was a white tag. As I had experienced many times before, pink automatically meant at least an extra hour with security officers at the airport. Oh, how I wanted a white tag this time! I was simply not in the mood.

‘How come you were born in Damascus?’ The officer repeated, obviously neither pleased nor satisfied with my impulsive reply. I was not in the mood to tell the security officer that in 1940 my father, who had come to Beirut from Jaffa, was overwhelmed the minute he saw my Damascene mother. She was eighteen, he was thirty-three. He had graduated from the American University of Beirut some twelve years before, while she was still a student at the British Syrian Training College. The minute he stepped inside the grandiose courtyard of her family mansion in Damascus old town, and realized how rich her merchant father was, his dream of marrying this dashingly beautiful, tall woman with greenish-grey eyes started to fade. In the end, this particular dream was fulfilled, but many others were shattered, and my father and mother lived a tormented life together.

In December 1978 my father died of a heart attack in Prague while attending a writers’ conference. The well-known Palestinian writer Emile Habibi was the last person to see my father alive and spend the evening with him. I was not in the mood to inform the Israeli security officer that every time my mother got pregnant, she went back to Damascus to give birth. In 1943, 1944 and 1949, she travelled between Jerusalem and Damascus to give birth to my sisters, Arwa (now a psychologist living in Amman) and Anan (a sociologist now living in America), and, much later, to my brother, Ayman (a diplomat). She also travelled between Amman and Damascus where I was born two years after that. I did not want to admit to this as it would only complicate matters and would certainly increase the security officer’s fears for Israel’s security, thus prolonging the interrogation.

‘Have you ever lived in Damascus?’ he asked.
‘No,’ came my brief answer.

I was not in the mood to tell the officer that until the age of eighteen, when I left Amman to study architecture at the American University of Beirut, my workaholic mother, who owned a publishing and printing firm, looked forward to getting rid of her four children every summer.

The very first week of our summer vacation, she sent us off to her parents’ house in Damascus or to her relatives in Beirut. My brother Ayman and I were more than happy to spend part of the summer vacation with our unmarried aunts, Nahida and Suad (after whom I was called), who totally spoiled us and my two teenage sisters. 

‘Do you have relatives in Syria?’
‘No.’ End of conversation.

I was not in the mood to tell the security officer at Tel Aviv airport that my mother was the youngest in a family of eleven, and that was just her nuclear family. I did not want to scare him by saying that I had four aunts and four uncles, and over twenty cousins. They and their families all lived in Damascus.

It would have been difficult for me to explain to him that I have always envied my parents, and even my grandparents, for living at a time when residing in, or travelling between, the beautiful cities of the region was not such a big deal and did not call for security checks. I was always intrigued when my father described his trips between Jaffa and Beirut, which included lunch at a seaside restaurant in Sidon. I was even more intrigued when my mother described to me how in 1926, as a child of four, she had visited her mother’s family, the Abdulhadis, in the village of ‘Arrabeh in Palestine. I have always been enchanted by their route between Damascus and ‘Arrabeh, which took them down the Yarmouk valley through the beautiful plains of Marj Ibin ‘Amer and Sahel Jenin. ‘First we went to our relatives in Nablus, and a few days later we went on horses to the village of ‘Arrabeh,’my mother would say. It was the horse ride which fascinated my mother, whereas it was the impossibility of taking such a trip between ‘Arrabeh and Damascus now which bothered me more.

The security man handed me and my passport over to a security woman sitting in a room behind a desk, then disappeared, leaving me alone with her. She flipped through my passport, and asked assertively,

‘And what were you doing in London?’

‘I went dancing,’ I answered, looking her straight in the eye, with an expressionless, tired face, and a voice even more assertive than hers.

‘Do you think you’re being funny?’ she said, her voice louder and more serious.
‘No. And do YOU have any problem with dancing?’ My voice now much lower and more sarcastic.
‘What was the purpose of your visit to London?’
‘Dancing,’ I insisted.

‘You know that failing to cooperate with us on security matters will result in your arrest?’ ‘Fine’, I replied, quickly resigned to this ridiculous verdict, ‘but I need to go out and inform poor Ibrahim, who has been waiting outside the airport for hours to pick me up.’

‘No, you are not permitted to go; and who is Ibrahim? Is he a relative?’

I was not in the mood and I did not want to tell the two security officers that Ibrahim was not exactly a relative, as none of my relatives, and neither my husband nor any of my friends from Ramallah, are allowed to come pick me up from the airport. I wondered if the officers knew that I, like many other Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, needed many types of permits to move about: a permit to enter Jerusalem, another to go out to Jordan, a third to enter Israel, a fourth to work in Israel, an impossible one to enter Gaza, and a four-hour permit to use the airport, which gives you just enough time to get there with no flat tyres or accidents, lasamahallah (God forbid). Ibrahim is one of two or three taxi drivers in Ramallah who happen to have a car with a yellow licence plate, which allows him to pick up passengers from the airport.

I was not exactly in the mood to tell the officer that one of my dreams is simply for my husband to be able to pick me up from the airport or from Allenby Bridge when I come back from a trip. But that is a privilege no Palestinian has.”

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

The Book To Read: A Tale of Love & Darkness.

A Tale of Love and Darkness, written by Amos Oz and published ten years ago, finally found its way to the top of my reading list. I am so happy it did.

amosoz

A Tale of Love and Darkness is a memoir by Amos Oz, famous Israeli writer.  The memoir recounts the author’s life in the formative years of the State of Israel as well as the years leading up to 1948, and the lives of his parents and many relatives from various parts of Europe.

There’s great (and not so trivial) trivia about this book – a selection from the Chinese translation of A Tale of Love and Darkness was the first work of modern Hebrew literature to appear in an official Chinese textbook. Also, couple of years ago, Oz sent imprisoned Marwan Barghouti (regarded as a leader of the First and Second Intifadas) a copy of the book in Arabic translation with his personal dedication in Hebrew: “This story is our story, I hope you read it and understand us as we understand you, hoping to see you outside and in peace, yours, Amos Oz.”

Amos Oz has been a prominent advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and he often argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a war of religion or cultures or traditions, but rather a real estate dispute — one that will be resolved “not by greater understanding, but by painful compromise.”

It’s quite clear that I was initially drawn to this book because of my interest in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I was in for a surprise. First of all, Amos Oz does magic with words – his writing style and the thoughts it captures are so beautiful. He writes:

When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf-life in some corner on an out-of-the-way library somehwere in Reykjavik, Valladolid or Vancouver.

So, there I was, going through the book, taking it all in, and as much as I was interested in the political aspects of the story (which offered some important insights into Israeli society – “In Jerusalem people always walked rather like mourners at a funeral, or latecomers at a concert. First they put down the tip of their shoe and tested the ground. Then once they had lowered their foot they were in no hurry to move it; we had waited two thousand years to gain a foothold in Jerusalem, and were unwilling to give it up” and “we, who had always been an oppressed minority, would treat our Arab minority fairly, justly, generously, we would share our homeland with them, share everything with them… it was a pretty dream”, are just some of Oz’s thoughts ), and as much as Oz is interested in them (they take up a lot of his life – which is normal in Israel and Palestine), this story was all about a boy who lost his mother to suicide – when he was twelve years old. Oz writes:

“There are lots of women who are attracted to tyrannical men. Like moths to a flame. And there are some women who do not need a hero or even a stormy lover but a friend. Just remember that when you grow up. Steer clear of the tryant lovers, and try to locate the ones who are looking for a man as a friend, not because they are feeling empty themselves but because they enjoy making you full too. And remember that friendship between a woman and a man is something much more precious and rare than love: love is actually something quite gross and even clumsy compared to friendship. Friendship includes a measure of sensitivity, attentiveness, generosity, and a finely tuned sense of moderation.”

This story is all about a boy who grew up to be a man, already an old man when writing this story, but still a boy who can’t understand why his mother left him, and still can’t stop wanting her to come back. A boy looking for closure he will never get. I’ve lived through some suicide stories, and there is always this reality of questions unanswered, of uncertainty… It might change with time (from anger to pain, from pain to sadness, from sadness to nostalgia) but it never goes away.

That is what Oz deals with in this family saga, and he does it in the most beautiful of ways. Heartbreaking and wonderful – read this masterpiece!

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Afghanistan, Were God Only Comes to Weep

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness

A Sky So Close by Betool Kheadiri

and more.

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