art of resistance

Five For Friday: A(nother) Year Of Writing.

Umm-Kulthum-3/The Best Lady Of Them All,  © Chant Avedissian: Cairo Stencils. Issa, Rose (Ed.) London: SAQI/

Two days ago was Umm Kulthum’s death anniversary (the best lady of them all). Tomorrow is Middle East Revised’s second birthday.

That is the reason why this edition of Five for Friday will be a little bit different. It’s five categories and each one of them includes something I really liked (writing about) throughout the year. Hope you’ll enjoy it and find something interesting.

1. Book Palestinian Walks, Notes On A Vanishing Landscape

DSC08257/Wadi Rum, photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

It’s hard to choose one book, and many more wonderful writings wait for you if you scroll though The Book To Read section. However, there was something special about Raja Shehadeh’s experience presented in this lovely book.

Seven walks captured in the book span a period of twenty-seven years, in the hills around Ramallah, in the Jerusalem wilderness and through ravines by the Dead Sea. Each walk takes place at a different stage of Palestinian history.

The loss of such a simple pleasure as walking around freely is much more important than it might seem, for it exists within a much greater loss – deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land. Read the full review of the book for more.

2. Interview – Samar Hazboun On Living And Working Under Occupation & All That’s Left Is Women Wearing Black

hush/photo © Samar Hazboun/

These two interviews were and are so important to me. I am so happy I managed to speak to Samar Hazboun and Aida Baghdadi, both brave, creative, inspiring souls. Hazboun is a great Palestinian photographer, Aida is a great Syrian lawyer and human rights activist.

Samar’s work is always filled with depth and empathy. She makes projects and not products, her work is a constant learning experience, and not a calculated pose. Read the full interview.

Aida Baghdadi managed to break my heart and put it back together at the same time. We were both crying at the end of the interview, and it’s the first time that ever happened to me. Read the interview here.

While you’re reading it, remember Syria is more than numbers, more than a word you hear all the time – Syria is Aida, her family, her friends, her dreams, her love. And she is just one person.

3. Film – The Dupes 

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The Dupes is a film by Tewfik Saleh, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun. It’s one of the many films I wrote about throughout the year, but it stands out because it reminds me of so many other things that happened this year. It’s more than just one film, it means more…

It is the story of three men who try to leave their impoverished and hopeless lives to get work in Kuwait. They hire a water-truck driver to transport them illegally across the border in the tank of his truck.

The journey is not an easy one. It’s a journey that millions of people embark on nowadays. They are the dupes of our time. Read all about it here.

For more films, I recommend two other Five For Friday posts: Ten Years In Turkish Cinema & 90’s Iranian Cinema (just to name a few).

4. Remembering Sessions Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans

moroccans/photo © Leila Alaoui/

I already wrote it – it seems way to early to pay respect to Leila Alaoui, talented French-Moroccan photographer, in MER’s Remembering sessions. Unfortunately, Alaoui succumbed to her injuries sustained in the Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) terrorist attacks.

One of her most beautiful projects was The Moroccans. It is visible how she was interested in dignity, in humanity. She gave herself to that struggle. I hope she will remembered for that – it’s the greatest legacy one can leave. Read more about Alaoui and her work here.

5. Photo EssayShatila, Still An Open Wound & Afghan Women

shatila 2 ivana/photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

Shatila stayed on my mind ever since I visited Beirut. It was one of the moments of the year that will stay with me forever. But that “burden” is nothing when you compare it those people in Shatila have to carry. Most of the things we know about Shatila are connected to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila (1982) and the War of the camps (1984 – 1989).

Since all of those events took part during the Lebanese civil war I think our brain tends to put them in the “past” department. But there is no “past” departments in Shatila, everything spills into present. Read about it and see the photos here.

Afghan Women is a beautiful photo series by Farzana Wahidy. She’s an amazing Afghan woman herself – she was the first female Afghan photojournalist to work for an international wire service.

The post is decidated to Wahidy and the women she captured in her photos, but I also wrote about Nadia Anjuman and her poetry and Setara from the Afghan Star. Read it!

Two other photo essays/series I would like to add to this great category – Yemen: In Beauty And Sorrow (all captured by lovely Jonathon Collins) & Libya, Where Art Thou? (about Naziha Arebi and her photos of everyday life in Libya).

Bonus songYalalela by Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud

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What’s birthday without music?

Thank you all for reading and let’s keep growing together! ♡

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Ten Years In Turkish Cinema

90’s Iranian Cinema

Postcards From Syrian Refugees

Costs of War

Conversations With History

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art of resistance, travel, Yemen

Yemen: In Beauty And Sorrow.

jon/Yemen, photo © Jonathon Collins/

Baga (Nigeria), Fotokol (Cameroon), Sana’a (Yemen), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Khan Bani Saad (Iraq), Kabul (Afghanistan), Baghdad (Iraq), Maiduguri (Nigeria), Ankara (Turkey), Beirut (Lebanon), Paris (France). Just some of the places that saw horrible terrorist attacks this year. Fairuz keeps on playing for two days in my room – Habaytak bisayf.

I loved you in the summer, I loved you in the winter,

I waited for you in the summer, I waited for you in the winter

The circle of love and sadness, life spinning. I feel like Fairuz can fill the space with her voice, as far as the sky goes. Somehow, her voice always brings comfort. I hope there is a way to find comfort for those who lost their loved ones in Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Lebanon, France… And all the other places that didn’t make it to this list – that were left out, their tragedies still unrecognized.

One of the places of (silent) constant sorrow this year is Yemen. I wrote so much about the beauty of Yemen, about the importance of it, but I still feel the need to talk about it and I still feel the need to share everything I can.

I recently discovered a beautiful photo essay by Jonathon (Jon) Collins – the way he captured Yemen and its people is mesmerizing. Collins is a freelance photographer and writer based in Sydney and his work aims to show that every corner of the world has a story to tell, and for every landscape there is a memory.

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About his experience of Yemeni culture, he says:

“Another key aspect of Yemeni culture is that life is not insular, and the typical nuclear family structure we are used to in Western societies does not apply; in fact, a much wider network is considered to be family.

It is the most memorable part of travelling in the country to me: sitting down to a meal and sharing it with a group of people all from a single plate; stopping the car to give a lift to families on the side of road; getting handed the best qat leaves from a new friend; or sharing chai with another from a used tin can.

In every restaurant or in the home, you will see an arm waving to welcome you to sit and share with another. It is an undeniably generous quality that says a lot about Yemeni culture.”

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Collins also talks about the way people cope with harshness every day brings upon them:

“In light of everything the Yemeni population face, they carry on with such an incredibly humble and humorous demeanor in everyday life. In conversations about corruption in politics, the growing presence of Al Qaeda, the ongoing problem of water scarcity, or whatever other major issues the nation is experiencing right now, you will still hear a joke, then laughter, and most will say, ‘it will get better in time, Inshallah’. Life must go on in the meantime.”

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He continues to say:

“It may have developed as a mechanism to cope with disruptions to everyday life, or perhaps it is simply another historic trait of the Yemeni people; but one thing that surprised me was just how incredibly funny the people in Yemen were. I cannot count the amount of times I was in stitches laughing at a joke made, someone’s dry humor, sarcastic comment or watching a scene unfold that felt more like a comedy stint than real life.

Whether it was a group of women pretending to slap a man for short-changing them at a market stall, the owner of the sweet shop getting teased about how many desserts he ate, someone trying to speak English without knowing more than three words, or joking over the size of the qat bulging in someone’s mouth; the laughter was contagious. Yemenis are easily the most hilarious locals I’ve experienced in all the countries I’ve been, and it made each day I spent there so much more enjoyable.”

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/all photos © Jonathon Collins/

For the full interview with Collins and his photo essay from Yemen, visit Passion Passport, and to find out more about his work visit his website.

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art of resistance, Yemen

Yemen: The Melody of Our Alienation.

max pam/image © Max Pam, Ramadan in Yemen (1993)/

“What could I say about Yemen that did it justice. I tried in my journal to work it honestly. I tried with 60 rolls of black and white 120 film to translate the experience. That hot, spare and beautiful Ramadan.

No eating or drinking anything between sunrise and sunset. The faithful waiting for the moment. The cannon booms from the mosque in the afterglow of the day. KABOUMMM and a frenzy of quat buying, tea drinking and food eating begins in the suqs and squares and oases and towns all over the country. Everyone happy, elated laughing and joking sitting down together as one nation.

And you know what, people always wanted me to share and be part of their Ramadan, their community, their Yemen. I travelled all over the country with them. To Shibam, Taizz, Al Mukallah, Sanaa, over the desert, by the sea and into the mountains. The shared taxis were always a half past dead Peugeot 405’s with sometimes 10 or 12 people jammed in.

The 92 pages of this book give my version of that unforgettable Ramadan month. An experience freely given to me by the generosity of Yemeni people.”

That is how Max Pam described his experience of Yemen twenty-two years ago, summed up in his journal Ramadan in Yemen.

Twenty-two years later in Yemen, at least 120 people are dead after Saudi-led airstrikes pummeled a residential neighborhood in the western port city of Mokha late Friday. It was the deadliest wave of bombings since the U.S.-backed campaign against Houthi rebels began in March. The strikes hit a housing complex for power plant workers, flattening buildings and sparking fires that spread throughout the neighborhood and burned alive women, children and elderly.

One of the Mokha residents described the onslaught: “There were continuous airstrikes without any breaks. And we have no military men, no devils. We don’t even have gunmen around here. We couldn’t get to our children. There were some 20 bodies that I pulled out with my own hands and counted. Who is to blame for this?”

The ceasefire took effect Sunday night at midnight, but within hours both sides said the other had resumed attack.

As Yemeni poet Abdulaziz Al Maqaleh asks in The Melody of Our Alienation: “Has nonsense become common sense? Has the non-rational become rational?”

His poem comes to my mind because it is a beautiful act of devotion and hope in these bad times for Yemen. But, it also comes to my mind because the title The Melody of Our Alienation illustrates the position of the outside world towards Yemen (and not just Yemen) perfectly. All these wars and conflicts played to the tunes of our alienation – from the rest of the world, from ‘others’, from anything and everything that is not Me, Myself & I.

Watch and listen. In the end, The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

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Yemen

Another One Bites The Dust: Yemen in Crisis.

Yemen is finally getting some media attention. The country is falling apart. One of the most beautiful countries in the world is falling apart (when it comes to beauty of the nature and architecture – Yemen is the shining jewel). Photos by the great Steve McCurry (throughout this post) are here to remind us of that beauty.

Yemen was for centuries the center of civilization and wealth on the Arabian peninsula. The Romans referred to the area as Arabia Felix, or “Happy Arabia.” Tim Mackintosh-Smith writes in Yemen: The Unknown Arabia: “Yemen…had something of a Dictionary Land about it: as well as the talking hoopoes and dambusting rodents, men chewed leaves and camels lived on fish; they (the men) wore pinstriped lounge-suit jackets on top, skirt below, and wicked curved daggers in the middle; the cities seemed to have been baked, not built, of iced gingerbread; Yemen was part of Arabia but the landscape looked like… well, nowhere else on Earth.”

00014_18.adj, Hajjah, Yemen, 1999, final print_milan

Unfortunately, Yemen is now not in the news because of its beauty. This week, Saudi Arabia and other regional allies launched a military campaign in Yemen targeting Houthi rebels. The Saudi-led airstrikes are intended to thwart the Houthis’ advance after seizing control of the capital Sana’a last year and deposing President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi last month. Hadi called for international intervention on his behalf earlier this week. There are conflicting reports over his whereabouts as Houthis advance on his outpost of Aden. Unconfirmed statements say Hadi has fled Yemen by boat. The Houthi-run Health Ministry says the strikes have killed at least 20 civilians in Sana’a and wounded 30 others. The Saudi government says it has consulted “very closely” with the White House on its military campaign.

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In an apparent reference to Iran, the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the operation aimed to counter the “aggression of Houthi militias backed by regional powers.” Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom was contributing one hundred warplanes to operation Storm of Resolve and more than eighty were provided by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan.

This week, Democracy Now! hosted a discussion with Iona Craig, a journalist who was based in Sana’a for four years as the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London. When asked how this crisis ocurred, Craig said it was something like  “a car crash in slow motion, to watch it.

She continued to say: “This has come after the Arab Spring in 2011. When Ali Abdullah Saleh signed over power, he was granted immunity from that point, and he was allowed to stay in Yemen. And so, he was allowed to still continue in politics, really, and keep manipulating as he always had done, but from then on from the side. And really, this was—then seemed to be a plan of action then to use the Houthis as a way of almost getting revenge against Islah, Yemen’s equivalent to the Muslim Brotherhood, and creating this scenario that we are now in, in Yemen. And Hadi has been forced into a corner as a result of all of this. So it’s really as a result of events after the Arab Spring and the transition deal that was then signed, that didn’t address the grievances of the Houthis or the Southern Movement and others. And despite the international community pushing on with the transition, it was almost inevitable that this was going to come to a head at some point.

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Last week, a prominent Yemeni journalist, Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani, was assassinated in the capital Sana’a. He was reportedly shot dead near his home by gunmen riding a motorbike. “He was a Houthi supporter and activist, but he was much more than that… A very outspoken voice for a long, long time against the old regime and against Ali Abdullah Saleh. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for his assassination, but, really, it’s got to be viewed as a politically motivated assassination“, Craig said.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled North Yemen from 1978 before heading the united republic, has over the years spent most of his political capital consolidating his position rather than knitting together a stable state. In 2012, the Yemeni parliament passed a law that granted Saleh immunity from being prosecuted and he left Yemen for treatment in the United States. Saleh stepped down and formally ceded power to his deputy Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi. Saleh came back to Yemen after his treatment in the USA and continued his manipulative politics. All in all – poverty, corruption and the hopelessly weak rule of law form the backdrop to al-Qaeda’s entry into Yemen.

Last year, Vice News took a look at how Yemen’s embattled government is dealing with sectarian rivalries, CIA drone strikes, and one of al Qaeda’s most sophisticated branches. Here’s the video Yemen: A Failed State.

I truly hope there is a way for Yemen, its people, its natural beauty, its architecture and rich history – to stay safe, to stay in one piece.

/all photos © Steve McCurry/

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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

(Interview) From The Sky: The Story of Drones and Resistance.

From The Sky (2014) is a short film about a humble father (Hakeem) and his son (Abbas) who live in a region frequently targeted by drone strikes.  Drawing inspiration from the films of Werner Herzog and Peter Weir, the film tells a minimalist story in an atmosphere that balances eerie tension with ethereal cues. While the story is minimalistic, the questions it opens are of great dimensions, not just concerning the issues of US drone policy, but of an eternal dillema of resistance and what it can turn (a person) into.  The director of the film is Ian Ebright (the film is also written by Ebright) and I’ve been lucky enough to ask him some questions about the film and the idea behind it.

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How come you decided to make this film, when did it hit you – “let’s make a film about drones”?

I had been following the reporting on drones for years as a blogger on human rights and other topics. The reporting was brave, troubling, but with limitations. Real journalism is an act I hold in the highest regard, but there is a big difference between understanding something and feeling it. I wanted audiences to feel what it would be like to walk in the shoes of ordinary people living underneath drone strikes and surveillance, and the most obvious way to do that was through a fictionalized visual story.

“Right now we have the executive branch making a claim that it has the right to kill anyone, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. That frightens me.” This is how Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor and former Pentagon official under President Obama, explained the US policy on drone strikes during a congressional hearing last year. The issues of US drone policy are complex and its consequences diverse and major in its forms. In that sense – was it hard for you to tangle with such a topic in a short film?

I don’t want to make it sound like I had it all figured out because I didn’t, but something made sense early on, call it a confirmation of conscience, which helped to focus this film and my contribution to it, and that was the fact that this story was ultimately about a young man dealing with PTSD in the Middle East and how drones impact him and those around him. I think the film illuminates and underscores some of the inherent problems with drone strike warfare, but we steered away from making any explicit commentary on the policy unless it happened to fit the voice of the characters. There are a couple moments in the film where the commentary is more direct, but again the focus was not on addressing issues as much as it was about developing characters and allowing them to say what they would in such a situation. We wanted to take a step towards this issue rather than attempting to solve it.

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While making the film, did you have a chance to talk and engage with the people affected by drone strikes? If so, did their perspectives and experiences influence the film or change the direction you first imagined it going in?

I never found access to those people so I did what I thought was the next best thing, by diving into top shelf research and analysis which interviewed survivors in these drone hot spots. I also worked with actors, interpreters, and Middle Eastern advisers who by their generous feedback helped to remove the bias that was in my screenplay as a Westerner, and refine the characterizations into something more grounded and credible. This was a big collaborative effort and the film is much better because of it.

Watch the entire film:

This is a film that was made while the issues it deals with are still very much present and ongoing. In that sense, you are not only a director but an activist, and your activism is not a retroactive one, but a present-day thing. What do you think about that, do you see it that way?

That’s a great question that I haven’t resolved yet. First, I’m a filmmaker and an aspiring writer/director. I want to not only do this again, but hopefully make a living by it, as difficult as that may be. So I want the films I make to primarily speak for themselves, and I’m mindful of the cast and crew who participated in what we were doing first and foremost as a film, as a story. But I’d be lying to act like there was no perspective in the story, and much of that perspective comes from my convictions as a person of faith and someone who is political like most people are political, in that I try to keep informed, have concerns and beliefs, and try to seek positive, peaceful change. So I feel mixed about it. The film has won two awards that are on the more activist/humanitarian end of things, and on one hand I take that as a great honor and compliment, and on the other hand I worry that it will paint me or the film as too pointed or agenda-driven. Maybe the best answer I can give you is the kind of feedback I value the most, which is when people tell me they appreciated the film or mention the performances, cinematography, music, or something along those lines, and then say that it challenged them in some way. If ‘From the Sky’ can stand on its own as a film, and also work as a piece of activism, I’ll learn to accept the tension I feel about it. The problem is I’ve already been told it does this and I’m still over-thinking it.

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Talking about activism, an important aspect of your film is the issue of resistance, and what it can turn (you) into. I think that is one of the successes of this film, for it deals with the external enemies (USA government), but also shows the different approaches and internal issues within the attacked community. I think the eternal dilemma is the one of a violent vs. peaceful resistance, and you try to show that here too. Can you tell me something more about that element of the film?

It is absolutely an eternal dilemma, you’re right. My goal is to expand stories to be about bigger, more universal themes than whatever timely setting it happens to have. So ‘From the Sky’ is a film about drones, but it’s also a film about that human question of “what are we going to do when someone hurts us?” That question is a daily one, for all of us, and the way we answer it says a lot about who we are. Am I going to retaliate, or am I going to respond peacefully, lovingly, even if that ends up costing me? The line at the center of the film is loosely based on a C.S. Lewis quote “the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,” which has always spoken loudly to me, because I believe it challenges the status quo, the normal course of business, and comfort in general. It challenges the idea that the things we do automatically are usually the correct thing. So often, the right answer is the counter-intuitive answer. So I’ve spun that quote in the film and re-worked it to talk about true courage in the context of violence and peacemaking. Nowadays, the West associates courage with warfare, with striking back, or hitting harder, and I think this is a fatal flaw in our thinking, and from a pragmatic standpoint, a losing bet. Everyone knows we can’t kill our way to peace or safety, but politically-driven violence continues for many reasons. One of them is that violence makes sense in the moment. It always appears to be the quick solution, and we know how to dress it up to look like the hard, noble path. But like that C.S. Lewis quote, we soon find there is this trauma and damage that seems to grow over time whenever we start with violence as an easy answer. When and how we go to war is too complex for any short film, or at least for this short film, so again we’ve largely focused in on the personal, and how retaliation or peace plays out inside of these four men.

How was the reception of the film so far?

Surprisingly positive. It did really well on the film festival circuit which I’m thrilled about. I love this film and the experience of making it, and I hope the accolades benefit the cast and crew who were amazing to work with. I’ve been waiting for the pushback on the film to come, and so far it hasn’t, but I’m guessing we’ll find some now that the film is online. I like films that are bold while being complicated and thoughtful at the same time, and that was what we attempted to do here.

/all the photos above via From The Sky facebook page, taken by Tony Tibbetts/

/For more on the film and the making of it, visit From The Sky official website/

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