art of resistance, Syria

Playlist: Hello Pshychaleppo.

screen-shot-2015-07-13-at-19-29-31/From the video Shahba/

Today is Middle East Revised’s third birthday. Here’s a nice tune to go with it. It is not necessarily celebratory, but it suits the last three years of writing and posting here. I am happy to have these years.

Hello Pshychaleppo is a project by Samer Saem Eldahr, and it’s all about fusing Arab heritage music and electronic sounds.

For the video Shahba, Eldahr asked friends to send him any footage that they had of Aleppo. “I wanted to do a mixture of footage and the animation that I create myself. It’s like a composition of our collective memory”, he says in an interview .

Doing this project wasn’t easy. “Whilst working on this project I also had to do a lot of research about Aleppo, particularly the visuals that Aleppians relate to.

For example, there is a yellow man who is very well known in Aleppo simply for the fact that he wears only yellow. He never takes it off. For every Aleppian or for every person who has been to Aleppo they relate to this person, this image. It’s in our visual memory. So things like this bring a lot of memories and it’s bitter-sweet”, Eldahr explains.

Listen & watch the video here.

Previous Playlist:

Grup Bunalim

I Was Born For Poetry (Adonis)

The Partisan

Rojava Women

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

(Interview) Hala Alyan: Poetry As Emotion, Memory, Resistance.

hala a vimeo/Hala Alyan, photo via Vimeo/

Hala Alyan is an award winning Palestinian-American poet who has lived in various cities in the Middle East and the United States. Her poems reflect her life – the life of searching, making and remaking, longing and surviving on the food of memories. All of her torn anchors found new waters in her poems.

Alyan was the winner of the 2012 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival Competition and her first book of poetry, Atrium (Three Rooms Press),  a powerful debut, won the  2013 Arab American Book Award. Her third collection, Hijra, won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry contest and will be published in the fall this year.

I was thrilled to be able to exchange thoughts with Alyan and dive into her world – the world of captivating poetry, untamed emotions and new ways of seeing, feeling and thinking through words.

How did you start writing, did you feel the great need to express yourself through words, was it a calling in a way?

I’ve written for as long as I can remember; it was a way to feel less lonely as a child and also to escape into other worlds. As I got older, it also became a way to make sense of chaotic environments, messy breakups and the general grit and loveliness of life.

hijra/Hijra by Hala Alyan/

Atrium was the winner of the Arab American Book Award in 2013. Did the success and experience of your first book make it easier to write the second (and the third)? What was it like to go through the process of writing  another collection?

Winning that award was wonderful for me, and I definitely think it helped me get the second book published. It also was such lovely reinforcement for my writing, which enabled me to take more risks in the second and third manuscripts.

The process was a lot easier after the first manuscript, perhaps because I knew what to expect and also knew that it would take time; for Atrium, I was so impatient to see it out in the world!

You are doing your post-doctoral training in the field of clinical psychology. How do you manage writing and working? Does it take away the energy for writing, how do you keep the motivation?

I’m a licensed clinical psychologist now, and it can be a challenge to balance both lives. For the most part, though, I feel very lucky to be able to exist in the two worlds. I’ve said often that I believe each field complements the other. My work as a clinician allows me to be a more effective and compassionate writer.

Also, something I’m learning about myself is that I’m not the kind of writer that can sit and write for several hours at a time. I like the urgency of only having a lunch hour to write; I’m more productive when there’s a time limit.

What do you do when “dry days” come along, how do you feel when you are not able to write anything?

I’ve learned to stop resisting those days, just accepting that sometimes I won’t be able to write but also trusting that it will come back. I used to struggle with that a lot, believing myself to be an imposter just because I couldn’t always sit down and summon the “muse”. But now I recognize that it’s just all part of the process.

Your third collection of poetry, Hijra, will be published in the fall this year. Poems in Hijra explore what it is like to lose home, language, and culture as the result of political conflicts over which you have no control. Could you tell me more about the book?

They are basically poems of exodus and flight, a mediation on how physical space is refashioned, transmitted and remembered. The hope was to write poetry that creates a dialogue between two worlds (land of origin vs. new land), using language as a cultural vehicle. Many of the poems follow women from unnamed, war-torn villages/countries as they migrate to the West.

Your poems deal with exile, with being a refugee. With all the conflicts around the world, climate change and poverty, migrations became inevitable for so many people. Do you feel the responsibility to bear witness to these hard times with your poems?

Yes, I do feel that it’s a universal responsibility to bear witness, using whatever tools one has at their disposal: whether that’s through poetry, journalism, art, song, photography, law, etc. Those of us with the privilege of having a voice that’s heard have the responsiblity to amplify the voices of those that don’t.

How do you keep the connection with Palestine? Do you visit often? Do you feel the pressure, like some of your poems reveal, to at least watch the news and be constantly informed about the situation there?

I hope to visit again soon. I think the connection stays alive through family, stories, reading the wonderful writing that comes from Palestinian writers. I do feel like it’s important for people (not just myself) to remain informed on and invested in the situation in Palestine.

linking the body/photo © Sama Alshaibi, Linking the Body and the Desert/

What are some Arab writers (poetry and prose) you hold dear to your heart, whose writing inspires you?

So many! Etel Adnan, Fady Joudah, Naomi Shihab Nye, Khaled Mattawa, Philip Metres, Mahmoud Darwish, Deema Shehabi and more.

What is the beauty and power of poetry, in your words – why is it important?

It’s important for many reasons, not least of all that it grants the reader access to another world, another mind. Poetry rearranges things, which can help us see things not only in a different way, but sometimes in a clearer way. The best poetry tugs at you, releases something authentic—an emotion, a memory, even resistance.

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art of resistance, Pakistan

Tariq Ali: The Duel (excerpt).

The following is an excerpt from Tariq Ali’s book The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (published by Simon & Schuster).

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“Books have a destiny. This is my third study of Pakistan. The first, Pakistan: Military Rule or People’s Power?, was written in 1969 and predicted the breakup of the state. It was banned in Pakistan. Critics of every persuasion, even those who liked the book, thought it was going too far in suggesting that the state could disintegrate, but a few years later that is exactly what happened. Just over a decade later I wrote Can Pakistan Survive? The question mark was not unimportant but nonetheless struck a raw nerve in General Zia’s Pakistan, where to even pose the question was unacceptable. The general himself was extremely angry about its publication, as were sections of the bureaucracy, willing instruments of every despotism. Zia attacked both me and the book at a press conference in India, which was helpful and much appreciated by the publisher’s sales department. That book too was banned, but to my delight was shamelessly pirated in many editions in Pakistan. They don’t ban books anymore, or at least not recently, which is a relief and a small step forward.

When I left in 1963, the country consisted of West and East Pakistan. Eight years later the East defected and became Bangladesh. The population of the Western wing was then 40-45 million. It has grown phenomenally ever since and is now approaching the 200 million mark. The under-thirties constitute a majority.

This book centers on the long duel between a U.S.-backed politico-military elite and the citizens of the country. In earlier years the State Department would provide the seconds for the duel, but with U.S. troops now in neighboring Afghanistan and U.S. bombs falling on homes inside Pakistan, the conflict is assuming a more direct form. Were it to proceed further, as some have been arguing in Washington, there is a distinct possibility that serious cracks would threaten the much-vaunted unity of the Pakistan military high command. The relationship with Washington, always controversial in the country, now threatens the Pakistan army. Political commentators in the United States together with a cabal of mimics in Pakistan regularly suggest that an Islamist revolution is incubating in a country that is seriously threatened by ‘jihadi terrorists.’ The only function of such a wild assertion is to invite a partial U.S. occupation and make the jihadi takeover a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The most important aspect of the duel is not the highly publicized conflict in Waziristan, but the divide between the majority of the people and their corrupt, uncaring rulers. This duel is often fought without weapons, sometimes in the mind, but it never goes away. An important reason for the deep hostility to the United States has little to do with religion, but is based on the knowledge that Washington has backed every military dictator who has squatted on top of the country. With Pakistan once again a strategic asset, the fear is that Washington will do so again, since it regards the military as the only functioning institution in the country, without showing any signs of comprehension as to why this is the case. This book might help in this regard.

What explains my continuing interest in Pakistan? I was born and educated there. Most of my family still lives there, and in periods when I haven’t been banned from entering the country, I visit regularly. I enjoy running into old friends and acquaintances, especially now that most of them have retired from important positions and can speak openly and laugh again. I never feel alone in Pakistan. Something of me stayed behind in the soil and the trees and the people so even in bad times I am welcome.

I love the mountains. At least they can’t be skyscrapered and forced to look like Dubai. Palm trees, Gulf kitsch, and the Himalayas don’t mix, not that it prevents some from trying. The cityscapes are something else. They have greatly changed over the years; new unplanned and poorly designed buildings have wrecked most of the larger towns. In Islamabad, the capital, one of the U.S. architects who built the city in the late sixties, Edward Stone, was unhappy with the site because it sat on a geological fault line and had weak soil. He advised that no building higher than three stories should ever be built there. He was ignored by the military dictator of the day. When a massive earthquake hit the country in 2005, buildings trembled all over Islamabad. I was there during the aftershocks, which were bad enough.

It was not only the earthquake that hurt Pakistan. This latest tragedy brought other wounds to the surface. A deeper and darker malaise, barely noticed by the elite and taken for granted by most citizens, had infected the country and was now publicly visible. The earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people shone a light on a country tainted by corrupted bureaucrats, army officers, and politicians, by governments rotten to the core, by protected mafias, and by the bloated profits of the heroin industry and the arms trade. Add to this the brutal hypocrisy of the Islamist parties, which exploit the state religion, and the picture is complete. Many ordinary people on the street, unsurprised by tales of privilege and graft, viewed the disaster in this context. At a state school in Lahore, students collecting toys for the children who’d survived the tragedy were asked whom they would like to address them. They voted unanimously against any politician, army officer, or civilian bureaucrat. They wanted a doctor.

None of this, of course, explains the urge to keep writing about a country. The reason is simple. However much I despise the callousness, corruption, and narcissism of a degenerate ruling elite, I have never allowed that to define my attitude toward the country. I have always harbored a deep respect and affection for the common people, whose instincts and intelligence, despite high levels of illiteracy, consistently display a much sounder appreciation of what the country requires than those who have lorded it over them since 1947. Any independent-minded Pakistani journalist or writer will confirm this view.

The people cannot be blamed for the tragedies that have afflicted their country. They are not to blame for the spirit of hopelessness and inescapable bondage that sometimes overcomes them. The surprise is that more of them don’t turn to extremist religious groups, but they have generally remained stubbornly aloof from all that, which is highlighted in every election, including the latest, held in February 2008. Given the chance, they vote in large majorities for those who promise social change and reforms and against those in power. They are always disappointed.

Colin Robinson, my long-standing editor, first at Verso, later at the New Press, and now at Scribner, was strongly convinced that I should write this book long before I was. His persistence paid off. His instincts were better than mine. As I was working on the book, Mary-Kay Wilmers, stern janitor of the London Review of Books, plucked a lengthy extract from the work-in-progress on Benazir Bhutto’s return home. It was, as readers will discover, sharply critical. Two weeks after I delivered it, as I was working on this manuscript, Bhutto was assassinated. Sentiment dictated I soften the prose, but despite my sadness and anger at her death, I resisted. As the German writer Lessing once remarked, ‘The man who presents truth in all sorts of masks and disguises may be her pander, but never her lover.’ And truth usually visits Pakistan in whispers. We owe it to the people to speak our minds. The death of Benazir, whom I knew well over many years, was undoubtedly tragic. But not sufficient reason to change my assessment. That she handed over her party to her husband till her son came of age was a sad reflection on the state of democratic politics in Pakistan and confirmed my judgment. The country needs a break from uniforms and dynasties.

My thanks are due to numerous people in Pakistan from all walks of life, from peasants and trade unionists to generals, civil servants, and old friends, who spoke without inhibition during my trips over the last few years. Naming them would not necessarily be construed as friendly. Thanks also, as always, to Susan Watkins, my companion for almost three decades, a friendly but firm editor of the New Left Review, as many contributors (myself included) have discovered.

When I began to write this book a London friend asked, ‘Isn’t it reckless to start a book while the dice is still in the air?’ If I waited for the dice to fall, I would never have written anything on Pakistan.”

• • •

For more on this book, go to Simon & Schuster.

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art of resistance

Middle East Revised: A Year Of Writing & A Thank You Note.

WordPress says it’s been year since I created Middle East Revised, so today is MER’s first birthday! I am not big on my own birthday celebrations, but this birthday I really wanted to celebrate. I even baked a cake. I am serious. Here is a photo.

IMG_3560 (Medium)/I wish I could share it with you/

It’s been a long year. I actually can’t believe only a year passed since I started writing this blog, because it became such an important part of my everyday life. It wasn’t easy to post regularly and to keep a decent level of quality of the content, since most of my time is spent working to earn a living, and my time for writing is usually late in the evening or early in the morning. But I managed to do it. Because I want to do it. I hope one day I will have more time and money to be able to fully dedicate myself to writing and journalism. This whole year, with most of my free time dedicated to reading, writing and posting here, as exhausting as it was at certain times, made it absolutely clear that writing (about Middle East) is what I want to do.  So I’ll just continue doing that.

Here are some of my ♡ favourite posts, a ☼ thank you note and a little bit of ✍ statistics (for those who believe in numbers).

Favourite posts

Favourite Remembering… Sessions: There were a lot of people I wanted to remember this year, so Remembering… sessions ended up as a long list. I particularly enjoyed remembering Edward Said, Pablo Neruda, Nadia Anjuman, Howard Zinn, Rachel Corrie and Camille Lepage.

Favourite The Book To Read: My Happiness Bears no Relation to Happiness by Adina Hoffman. I read a lot of great books throughout the year and wrote about them in The Book To Read section, but Hoffman’s biography of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali was just so mesmerizing and grand – I couldn’t stop think about if for months. So – I really enjoyed writing that review.

Favourite Interview: Each interview I did was special and favourite in some aspects of it, but – if I would have to choose one, I would choose the interview I did with Matthew Hoh. We discussed some really heavy topics – from the issues veterans face in the USA to ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Favourite Film Review: I enjoyed writing about the films of Ramin Bahrani. I think his work is pure magic. Also, when talking about films – I would have to add two interviews I did – the first is the one I did with Tamara Erde, French-Israeli filmmaker. Her  films are truly eye-opening and I highly recommend following her work. The second is Ian Ebright, with whom I did an interview about his film From The Sky (a short film about a humble father and his son who live in a region frequently targeted by drone strikes).

Favourite Art of Resistance: There’s so much in this category, it makes it really hard to choose. I will try to name only few of the articles that first come to my mind: Manuscripts don’t burn: Al-Mutanabbi Street, Bahgdad and Al-Mutanabbi Street and the Healing Power of Poetry, Rashid Hussein: The Tortured Soul & a Poet Star of PalestineDear Gaza, I’m Sorry, Syria – What Remains, Ara Güler’s Magnificent Black & White Istanbul, and Portraits de Femmes, Algeria.

Favourite Travel story: Wow, a lot of them! From Croatia To Syria (on a bicycle), Capturing Change: From Mistress of Cairo to Martyrs of the Revolution, Egypt: A Love Story, The Chiefs of The Gambia and The Darfur Sartorialist: Grace & Colors of Darfur, Sudan.

Favourite Commentary: I wrote a lot of commentaries this year, and they were among the top reads, which encourages me to write more and find more ways to express myself. From all the articles I wrote in this section, I would list a few that made me think an rethink things: Why Are We Still Stuck on Humanizing?, On Charlie Hebdo: No Man Is an Island, Things We Must Know & Remember About the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict. Also, the most read article (by far) on Middle East Revised Why I Can’t Celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize, in which I tried to explain how I can (and will) celebrate Malala’s admirable work, but not her (or any other) Nobel Peace Prize.

✍  Statistics

During this year, Middle East Revised got around 340,000 unique visitors, which would almost make an average of 1,000 per day. The visitors came from 225 different countries, the biggest number of them from United States, UK, Pakistan, India, Canada, UAE, Germany and Australia. The number of Middle East Revised followers and subscribers reached 1,000. Top 3 posts were: Why I Can’t Celebrate Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize, Nizar Qabbani, Syrian Poet of Love, and Things We Must Know and Remember about Israeli–Palestinian Conflict.

A Thank You Note

The most important thing of all –  big thank you to all of you who read this blog and who have supported my work throughout this year. Your comments and kind words (but also some well-argued criticism) have kept me going, kept me (re)thinking, kept me writing. Most of you I don’t know personally, but I feel we share the same sense of mission, the same craving for justice. Big thank you to Writer from The East (The Human Lens), Writer’s Dream, JC (swedenmiddleeastviews), Beau Beausoleil, Fahrenheit 451 bookstore, Jeff Nguyen and Michael (just to name a few).

Stay well, stay inspired & creative!

/And listen to Seu Jorge./

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