art of resistance, Libya

Khaled Mattawa | Bedtime Reading For The Unborn Child.

2013-09-10-iran-artist-2 /art by Hayv Kahraman/

Khaled Mattawa is a wonderful Libyan-American writer, poet and a translator. Mattawa’s poetry frequently explores the intersection of culture, narrative, and memory.

Here is one of his beautiful poems, Bedtime Reading for the Unborn Child, from the collection Amorisco (Copper Canyon Press, 2008).

Long after the sun falls into the sea

and twilight slips off the horizon like a velvet sheet

and the air gets soaked in blackness;

long after clouds hover above like boulders

and stars crawl up and stud the sky;

long after bodies tangle, dance, and falter

and fatigue blows in and bends them

and sleep unloads its dreams and kneads them

and sleepers dive into the rivers inside them,

a girl unlatches a window,

walks shoeless into a forest,

her dark hair a flag rippling in darkness.

.

She walks into woods, her feet light-stepping

through puddles, over hard packed dirt,

through grassy hills, over sticks and pebbles

over sand soaked in day, stones sun-sizzled

over lakes and frigid streams

through dim cobbled streets

darkened squares and dusty pastures.

She runs from nothing, runs to nothing,

beyond pain, beyond graveyards and clearings.

In the dark the eyes of startled creatures

gleam like a herd of candles.

They scatter and give night its meaning.

.

What echo of a bell lulled her

what spirit, what scent of a word

whose storm wrote her

what banks fell to drown her

which blood star

which thread of water

which trickle of light

whose heart being launched

whose floating soul seduced her

what promise did it make her

whose memory burned her

whose prayer did she run to answer

whose help, what sorrow clot

what pain dammed inside her

what wall must she rebuild now

whose treasure beckons her

who spread ivy like a veil to blind her?

Daybreak lies chained to a blue wall

from which the stars drop

and lose all meaning.

.

She runs past villages that lost their names

roads that lost their destinations

seas that lost their compasses and sailors

rivers that lost their marshlands and travelers

houses that lost their sleepers and criers

trees that lost their songs and shadows

gardens that lost their violets and benches

valleys that lost their worms and farmers

mountains that lost their prophets and marauders

temples that lost their sinners and spires

lightning that lost its silver and wires

chimeras that lost their bridges

minotaurs that lost their fountains.

Crescent moons hover above her,

ancient white feathers, birdless, wingless

lost to their own meaning.

.

Music rises out of her vision.

It stands, a wall covered with silver mosses.

A clarinet sounds a wounded mare,

violins women who lost their children.

Flutes blow their hot dry breezes.

Drums chuckle the earth’s ceaseless laughter.

Pianos are mumbling sorcerers

calling spirits and powers.

Cellos chew on the sounds of thunder.

Dulcimers skip about on crutches.

Dance floors flash their knives

daring their dancers.

Words mill about the streets like orphans.

Then a lute begins groaning

and dawn loses its meaning.

.

Night girl, night girl

your book is full now.

You have drawn all the pictures.

You have seen many weepers.

Stars held your sky in place and moons

floated on your lakes and washed them.

.

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art of resistance, Libya

The Book To Read: In The Country Of Men.

Textiles of a city Najla Shawakat Fitouri/Textiles of a city by Najla Shawket Fitouri, image © Noon Arts/

Libya, where art thou? That is a question I already asked – a lot of times. There are no certain answers, but I still manage to find Libya and its people, to catch a small glimpse of their lives.

It doesn’t happen through media and daily news, Libya is still a zero-interest story for most of those outlets. I go through libraries, art exhibitions, old and new photos – that is how a part of the country, a part of its history, a part of the daily lives of some of its people is revealed to me today.

One of those moments happened with Hisham Matar’s book In the Country of Men. It is Matar’s debut novel, first published in 2006. It has been translated into many languages and has won numerous awards.

It is a book about Suleiman, a nine-year-old boy living in Tripoli, stuck between a father whose anti-Qaddafi activities bring about searches, stalkings and telephone eaves droppings by the state police, and a vulnerable young mother who resorts to alcohol, her “medicine”, to bury her anxiety, anger and powerlessness.

Matar’s own family fled Libya for Egypt in 1979, and his father, a former UN diplomat and political dissident, was kidnapped in 1990 in Cairo, while Matar was studying in London. In the Country of Men is an autobiographical book in many ways.

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Through the eyes of a young boy, the novel explores his relationship with his unwell mother and his uneasy relationship with his father. Matar writes beautifully:

“Although her unpredictability and her urgent stories tormented me,my vigil and what I then could only explain as her illness bound us into an intimacy that has since occupied the innermost memory I have of love. There was anger, there was pity, even the dark warm embrace of hate, but always love and always the joy that surrounds the beginning of love.”

Coping with the harsh and counfusing reality around him, Suleiman makes disturbing decisions, he isn’t afraid when a normal child would be, and it easily leads to (more) destruction around him. He feels emotionally distant at times, and it is unusual to see a child act that way – it makes you think about the heavy influences of the tense and violent environment he lives in.

At the end of this simple but powerful novel, fifteen years later, the narrator looks back with regret at a life interrupted by political forces that have left him distrustful, displaced, alienated, half empty.

Matar writes:

“I suffer an absence, an ever-present absence, like an orphan not entirely certain of what he has missed or gained through his unchosen loss. I am both repulsed and surprised, for example, by my exaggerated sentiment when parting with people I am not intimate with, promising impossible reunions. Egypt has not replaced Libya. Instead, there is this void, this emptiness I am trying to get at like someone frightened of the dark, searching for a match to strike.”

In the Country of Men is highly memorable, it feels honest – and there’s a special and rare beauty in that.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

After Zionism

The French Intifada

The Librarian of Basra

A Hand Full Of Stars

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art of resistance, Libya

Libya, Where Art Thou?

li/Dawn at Tripoli, Libya, photo © Naziha Arebi/

It’s so hard to get informed about Libya these days. It’s like Libya doesn’t exist for the mainstream media. Not even a glimpse of life there, not even a small peek. Where are you Libya, how are you?

One of the rare places where I get a small insight in the situation in Libya during the last couple of years, is a tumblr page run by Naziha Arebi, Libyan photographer and artist. I don’t know Arebi, but I thank her and her stories.

Sometimes they disturbed me, sometimes they made me happy – and every new story was a proof that Libya is still alive, that there was some normalcy – like seeing seasons changing, people going to work.

Here are some of Arebi’s photos from various parts of Libya, taken in the period of last three years (2012-2015).

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ans

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/all photos © Naziha Arebi/

For more on Arebi and her work, visit her page.

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Libya

Libya: A Story Forgotten.

Libya. A story forgotten. In Bedtime Reading for the Unborn Child, Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa writes: “Night girl, night girl/your book is full now/You have drawn all the pictures/You have seen many weepers.”

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Unfortunately, it seems like it is still not time for dawn in Libya. The country was destroyed by a war prosecuted by NATO, and the wreckage is now more visible than ever. I went through the photos Magnum’s photographer Michael Christopher Brown took during the Libyan civil war in 2011. The paradoxes and ironies of these photos are so bitter and obvious, as I am reading news from Libya now, four years later.

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Gaddafi’s death (the killing of Gaddafi) didn’t bring freedom. And it didn’t bring peace. NATO’s intervention in Libya was not, as many have praised it, a humanitarian success. It wasn’t, as it was hailed, a ‘model intervention’. It was a boomerang that came back to beat up the people of Libya.

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Libya’s civil war continued, and the number of victimis (tens of thousands of civilians) continues to grow to this day. This so praised intervention was a model of failure (as most of the interventions are). We now know that Gaddafi did not initiate Libya’s violence by targeting peaceful protesters. The United Nations and Amnesty International have documented that in all four Libyan cities initially consumed by civil conflict in mid-February 2011—Benghazi, Al Bayda, Tripoli, and Misurata—violence was actually initiated by the protesters.

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That is not to say that Gaddafi didn’t have his sins and his share of wrongdoings. But NATO’s main goal in Libya was not protecting civilians, it was not ‘justice, finally’. Its primary aim was to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans. And that is what happened.

NYC136529Libya is now a true victim of the Arab Cold War, where the regional entities are utilizing Libya as a battleground for their own particular policy, whether it’s Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on one side, or Turkey and Qatar, on the other. And now – the western governments remain silent. The American Embassy is no longer in Libya, it is in Malta. Not our business anymore.

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The two competing governments in Libya are mainly fighting about oil, of course. The people of Libya are left to wander in the dark abyss, forgotten and ignored by their government(s) and by the international community.

NYC136549It’s a state of total chaos. Radical Islamist groups, which were suppressed under Gaddafi, emerged as the fiercest rebels during the war. And it is not just Libya. Mali, which previously had been the region’s exceptional example of peace (and democracy) went through many changes. After Gaddafi’s defeat, his ethnic Tuareg soldiers of Malian descent fled home and launched a rebellion in their country’s north, prompting the Malian army to overthrow the president. In 2012, the northern half of Mali had become ‘the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world,’ according to the chairman ofthe U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa.

NYC136560And now we have ISIL. The whole MENA region changed drastically. Libya, Syria, Iraq, Egypt… You name it. As Riverbend wrote: “When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?” These questions, asked by the ‘regular’ people, the biggest victims of all the conflicts that ever took place on this great Earth, are met with silence.

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The silence, once again, drowns the screams. And peace? Peace is a dream buried by the indifference.

//all photos © Michael Christopher Brown/Magnum Photos, Libyan Civil War 2011//

• • •

For more on Libya, I recommend reading Alan J. Kuperman’s Lessons From Libya: How Not to Intervene.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Yemen

New (Middle Eastern) Literary Treasures.

So, it’s my birthday today.

I have to share my happiness with you. My happiness comes in (one of) my favourite form – books. Since today, I have a couple of new ones! I am such a party person, that I started reading them already. So, this on the photos + cup of tea = my happy day.

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My new little treasure is this beauty – Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, edited by Reza Aslan. Authors from Morocco to Iran, from Turkey to Pakistan – short stories,memoirs, essays, poetry, small biographies – amazing collection. It’s a rare anthology, and I’ll sure be posting more about it, as I read through it. For now, I will share just one poem, actually – a part of the poem (I opened it randomly today, always love to do that). It was written by the great Forugh Farrokhzad, one of Iran’s most influential female poets of the twentieth century. 

Window

A window for seeing

A window for hearing

A window like a well

That plunges to the heart of the Earth

And opens to the vast unceasing love in blue

A window lavishing the tiny hands of loneliness

With the night’s perfume from the gentle stars.

A window through which one could invite

The sun for a visit to abandoned geraniums.

One window is enough for me.

The second book I got is The patience stone by Atiq Rahimi. The novel tells the story of a woman whose husband has been wounded in battle in a country resembling Afghanistan and now lies as paralysed as a stone. In Persian folklore, Syngue Sabour is the name of a magical black stone, a patience stone, which absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. It is believed that the day it explodes, after having received too much hardship and pain, will be the day of the Apocalypse. But here, the Syngue Sabour is not a stone but rather a man lying brain-dead with a bullet lodged in his neck. In 2008, Rahimi won The Goncourt Prize for this novel, and I am very happy about reading it sometime soon.

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Birthday presents aside, these days I am also reading Gerner’s & Schwedler’s Understanding the Contemporary Middle East (second edition). It’s a great collection which  address a range of crucial issues the region faces in the 21st century: there are chapters addressing geography, history, politics, economics, international relations, the israeli-Palestinian conflict, the status of women, religion, class and ethnicity, patterns of population growth, and the literature of the region. There are numerous maps and photographs, which illustrate the issues and  help readers a lot.

These books help us get a better insight, help us learn and grow. These words, black on white,  fight the stereotypes with knowledge and details, with beauty and discoveries.

All in all, if you are looking for some new good books, be sure to put these on the list! Enjoy!

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art of resistance, Libya, travel

The unique houses of Ghadames, Libya.

Ghadames is an oasis town in Sahara, close to the Libyan-Algerian border. Its old city is under UNESCO’s protection, and one of its unique features are the houses, or better – interior design.  Strong colours, usually red, and intricate patterns dominate.

The interiors of the houses are uniquely painted with intricate Berber designs, using red paint on white walls, and decorated with hanging ornaments; giving the rooms a vibrant and fascinating atmosphere, which makes Ghadames truly unique. The traditional Berber designs used include the triangle, the diamond, the sun, the moon, the palm, the eye, the hand, and the Tuareg cross.

Traditional berber house decoration In the old town, Ghadames, Libya.

Ghadames, Lybia

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old-city-ghadames-staircase

For more photos and info, go to Temehu.

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