I started writing this in your window earlier today (or how to say ‘hello’)
I have been hiding at home from other humans that noise.
I take walks sometimes go for errands buy groceries. I never seem to have enough groceries and I always seem to be going out for another small bucket of labneh. I would buy the bigger one but it is double the size and wouldn’t fit in my fridge. I find the activity of groceries shopping to be incredibly frustrating. I could not be more ambivalent about groceries shopping to be honest. It’s as if months after the rest of the world realized what was happening it hit me how expensive everything’s gotten. It’s not that I am that rich that I hadn’t caught on to this earlier it’s that I shoplift most things and now I don’t and I am in shock at having to pay that much money for so little. I am outraged every time I outrage quietly all over the market and then I buy my bucket of labneh some chocolates and other nonsensical foods.
My regular outings involve seeing the new therapist. I always get there thirty to forty five minutes early and then I have to wait in the street and think about how I feel. I’m not sure how to feel about that. I’m under the impression that she’s under the impression that I use the word interesting a lot and that I seem to have issues with setting boundaries and that I could intellectualize feelings less that I am ambivalent about most things in my life and that my narratives tend to be vague even though I don’t mean for them to be vague.
I spent twelve days without water in my apartment. Neighbors complained that they didn’t have water either so I figured this would be our collective struggle a true shared act of neighborly agony entirely heroic in its nature until I found out I was the only one who was actually without any water not one drop. So I made calls to the water company who in the most unimpressed way possible announced that the whole neighborhood no the area in itself did not have water. The water company was not outraged about this at all nor was it outraged that I hadn’t had a shower in over four five nights that I showered once in my sink with mineral water. I had to explain again that I didn’t have any water and not very little water and that this distinction was a pretty significant one in the practical scheme of things. Oh he then said and gave me another number to call. That number which I saved as water company guy number two on my phone promised to come investigate this water situation the next day. He never picked up the phone and by day fourteen I had experienced one water drought and two major floods in my kitchen. The whole thing was almost biblical. I was Moses no I was Noah I was nobody.
I made friends with a Kurdish plumber who had been living here for three years. In waiting for the water tank to fill up he filled our silences and announced that we shared the same landlord. He broke three major awkward silences once by petting my cat twice by telling me that his wife was abroad and that her mother had not let him meet his daughter yet who must have been around three now and third he showed me cute cat photos he had saved on this phone.
Now that the water is back I still forget to take my vitamins every morning and also forget to take the herbal pills my mother says would help me sleep before going to bed. I sometimes remember to use that revitalizing anti-fatigue eye gel but it’s an easy one to remember when your eyes feel tired most of the time. I’m not sure why my eyes feel tired especially when I’m asleep most of the time. On most nights I find myself so exhausted from all this housework that I just lie down and sleep. The cat wakes me up a few times a night and I get up to open the balcony door so he may growl his way to his litter. I wait a bit he comes back in and we both sleep again. Sometimes he drinks water or eats his dry food plays with his mouse all in no particular order. I sleep or play a word game read my email chat with friends awake in foreign lands. Your average three four am activities.
And then I finally started wearing this bathrobe my father got me on sale a few years ago.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
— Langston Hughes
Tracey Emin, People like You Need to Fuck People Like Me (2002).
On historical analyses of sectarianism in Lebanon
I’ve been reading Tamara Chalabi’s The Shi’is of Jabal Amil and the New Lebanon: Community and Nation-State, 1918-1943.
In her introduction, Tamara Chalabi says,
The experience of the Shi’i ‘Amili community exemplifies the reaction and evolution of a Middle Eastern political minority community adjusting to the new nation state system, making use of the specific conditions it was faced with. The particular nature of the French Mandate politics in Lebanon was based on the distinction of identities within a particular attempt to enhance a specific identity, that of the Maronite Christians.
The general sociopolitical and intellectual culture in Lebanon had always reflected the absence of any active role for the Shi’is. This assessment has been shared by non-Shi’is and Shi’is alike. Justifications for such views varied from references to the presumed political quietism linked to Shi’ism, to a reflection of urban disdain for “backward” peasants, to the Sunni paternalism toward the “lesser” Shi’i. The Shi’i community of Jabal ‘Amil in this respect is interesting because it has suffered from inferiority throughout much of the twentieth century. The very word mitwali, the traditional way of referring to Shi’is of Jabal ‘Amil, has a severely pejorative connotation as a label of backwardness and lack of “class.” In this stereotypical rendering, mitwalis were viewed as incapable of contributing to the nation-building process and even to their own advancement. Such usages, however, have to be understood in the context of the social and cultural stratification that the new Lebanese governing class had engendered. This examination (and others) of internal development in the Lebanese Shi’i domain demonstrates that in fact Shi’i agency and action were at no point absent. The derogatory use of the word fell out of fashion by the 1980s with the emergence of potent Lebanese Shi’i forces and with the integration of the Shi’i middle class and elite into a wider Lebanese context. (5)
No words can describe what I felt when I first read the above passage and the rest of Chalabi’s introduction yesterday. It is a history that I had only heard of in passing. For the past year, I’ve been sitting down with my father and having conversations with him about his memories of his grandparents, and of their lives in Kfarhouna, Jezzine. I’ve also been searching, at my own pace, for historical accounts that would include class analyses of Shia experiences in particular. My curiosity stems from a disconnect I’ve been feeling between my own experiences and a communal past that stretches beyond the civil war. I’ve been trying to understand what lies beneath this semi-secular upbringing that my parents have insisted on throughout these years.
Reading Chalabi has been a stark reminder of why I have so far been incapable of joining projects that call for secularism and/or the reform of the sectarian political system in Lebanon. These projects come with an assumption that we, the people, are all oppressed by them, a class of sectarian ruling warlords. We might be. Yet this is still a superficial understanding of today’s governing dynamics. These projects would almost have you believe that, historically, we have all been on an equal footing - that your parents, your grandparents and everyone else’s have had similar opportunities. Unless there’s a class issue (awkward). I feel that for the sake of fitting us all under one common banner, such projects actually contribute to the erasure of rich communal histories and oppressions. I am not interested in looking at commonalities, or celebrating diversities, but rather find myself compelled to understand how such cultural nationalisms came to manifest themselves at one point or another in history.
It is a problem when we fail to recognize that the sectarian system is built to favor some religious communities over others. How are we going to truly understand and dismantle today’s politics if our advocacy is built on superficial statements that call for secularism and the end of sectarianism alone? To advocate for reform without analyses of the distinct experiences of each ethno-sectarian community (and their experiences of each other) is quite the futile exercise. So few of us are aware of these histories, and this is an issue. I will go ahead and blame our neocolonial schooling system and how we still only learn about World War I and II. But for those who are advocating for some change within the system, examining such histories is just as relevant as exposing today’s corruption and abuse of power.
“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.” — Assata Shakur.
A Documentary on Al-Nakba
Watching this Al-Jazeera special series answered so many questions I had on the Palestinian Nakba and the creation of the state of Israel. It’s a must-watch for anyone looking for a thorough historical account of the dispossession and conflict. The narrative moves through the 19th century and into the 20th century with the British Mandate in Palestine and comes right up to date in the 21st century. Watch all three episodes here.
Thinking about Resistance.
I fell asleep last night thinking about young women that have lead operations against Israel back in the 1980s.
I grew up listening to their stories - how Soha Bechara, member of the Lebanese Communist Party, at the age of 21, infiltrated Antoine Lahed’s circle and shot him twice in the chest. The bastard survived it and now owns a Lebanese cuisine restaurant in Tel Aviv. She, on the other hand, was detained and tortured for years in an Israeli detention center in my mother’s hometown, Khyam. Sana’a Mehaidli, member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, lead an operation in Jezzine, my father’s hometown, against an Israeli convoy. She killed two Israeli soldiers and herself in the process. Others were injured. She was 16 years old. One of my oldest friends was named after her.
Both Sana’a and Soha have described their operations as a duty towards the homeland, the people of the South, and the people of Palestine. A duty to resist invasion.
With Hezbollah highjacking anti-colonial resistance movements from the 90s onwards, and with our booming civil society movements, it looks like there aren’t that many legitimate ways to “resist” these days. Hezbollah and Co. are now busy killing Syrian rebels in support of the Al-Assad regime, and civil society is pretty much drowning in funding proposals and making sure everything looks “civil” enough to the West.
We’re now stuck with “non-violent direct actions” - it really is depressing. Non-violence is a tactic. It is one of many. It’s not always effective, and from what I’ve seen lately, it’s just another gendered development tool to keep us all quiet and “civilized.”
I would have rather lived in the 80s. Anything but now.
The FBI recently declared that Assata Shakur is to be added on the list of Most Wanted Terrorists. Malcolm Shabazz (Malcolm X’s grandson) spoke out against FBI threats he had been facing and was killed shortly after.
I remembered Suheir Hammad’s poem “My Letter to Anthony (Critical Resistance)” and how she says “i have always loved criminals” - one of those verses that you can never forget. We are all criminals.
”My Letter to Anthony (Critical Resistance)”
this is not a pre paid
call this is not a poem
this is not a letter written from a woman
on the inside this is a
dear nazik aka nymflow-9 aka
bronx bomber aka anthony aka
hey brother i hope
this finds you well and safe
i have carried these words for
months through ports and air
and i still have a hard time
five years later writing
you when i travel
but your letters i take
with me the graffiti you throw
at the end of a dozen
handwritten double sided single
spaced muslim oil scented legal
sheets offer me a home
in polyester hotel rooms
you have never been on an airplane
i think of that often when i try
to help women place words together
into rhymes or lines these women
try to make sense of their lives
what makes me different i mean
people actually pay you they say to
read some poems and talk? shit i got a lot
say let someone pay me to talk. fuck that
just get me out of here and i’ll talk sing dance
shut up if they want
i don’t tell them i get
paid just enough for rent
rent means a home even
if you broke it’s home
we workshop poems and their stories
are not original or fictional
a woman will tell you
every home she has ever inhabited
has been broken into
starting with her body
i never leave a prison
without my head splitting
down my spine an iron
hand on my lungs
when you call anthony
and that woman’s voice says
this is a pre paid call press 5
to accept this call i press 5 count
to 3 take a deep breath and pray
we talk and when the voice
interrupts any intimacy
we’ve embroidered via phone wires
with this call is from a federal prison
we pick up the shards
of our conversation desperate
to finish before the next
i have always loved criminals
i tell people who try to shame
me into silence
with words like television conjugal
college libraries they say
can you imagine a library in a nigerian a chinese a
colombian prison do you know what happens in the world americans are spoiled no idea
how lucky we are here
even you often write how
your time has offered reflection
meditation deepened your faith
but you 27 and have 10
years to go nowhere how much deeper
you going to get until a system based
on money deems you rehabilitated
i have always loved criminals
and the way you bomb my tag
butterphoenix all across your letters
reminds me our affirmation is
i have always loved
criminals and not only the thugged
out bravado of rap videos and champagne
popping hustlers but my father
born an arab baby boy
on the forced way out
of his homeland his mother exiled
and pregnant gave birth in a camp
the world pointed and said
palestinians do not exist palestinians
are roaches palestinians are two legged dogs
and israel built jails and weapons and
a history based on the absence of a people
israel made itself holy and chosen
and my existence a crime
so i have always loved criminals
it is a love of self
and i will not cut off any part of
me and place it behind fences and bars
and the fake ass belief
that there is a difference between
the inside and the outside
there is no outside anywhere
anymore just where we are and
what we do while we are here
are people anthony who make a connection
between you puerto rican rhyme slayer beautiful man and
young girls twisted into sex work and these
people nazim they are working to stop prisons
from being economically beneficial to depressed
communities and these people
bronx bomber they imagine a world
where money can’t be made off the hurt
of the young the poor the colored the
sexualized the different and these people
nymflow they never heard you
spit lyrics and they won’t
see the brilliance from these mere words
but these people
they believe human
beings can never be reduced
to numbers not in concentration
camps or reservations not in
refugee camps not in schools
and not in jails
brother they resist
i will share these words
with them and i will
in your name and in the names
of all who imagine
Notes on patriarchy and feminist spaces.
Patriarchy is neither a person nor a gender. It is the tense and intimate reproduction of existing dynamics that regulate the shifting relationship between normative gender expressions and privilege. Our value, as human beings, as well as the respect and rewards we earn, often rely on our conformity within this system.
Gender anxiety is the projection of one’s own insecurities on different relationships in attempts to continuously affirm one’s position within such dynamics. In feminist spaces, acts of gender anxiety often translate themselves into the careful (and sometimes violent) policing of invisible hierarchies - ones that are undertoned when our sense of urgency is focused on the patriarchal beast out there. It is scary to think that this beast can actually lurk within.
We are all complicit, and this needs to be our first premise.
This is why I do not understand those who justify and normalize patriarchy by pointing to women’s complicity with it. The question is rather one of consciousness. It is also why I cannot relate anymore to those who are outraged when a feminist perpetuates oppression. The accompanying silence, however, is making me feel a lot more complicit than usual. I hate it.
We are not talking enough about the insidious process of (re-)victimization. Privileges do shift from one room to another, and in particular rooms, some of us just might not be the victim we sometimes felt we were. Perhaps this is the root of the problem: An inability to discern and articulate growing discrepancies between our discourse, issues we advocate for, and our changing locations, both as persons, and a collective within intersecting (and often contradictory) movements. We are not talking enough about process, that one annoying term most seem to be forgetting.
I’ve been saying for over a year now that I’m having a crisis of hyperconsciousness, in the sense that I am too aware of most issues that our organizing hasn’t been able to contain, and which have been again and again swept under the rug. I do not have many solutions in mind, but I am grateful for all those in my circles that haven’t forgotten, and that have also been mulling over these questions. It is a lot less lonely, and I do believe that exploring all of these issues is a decent way to move forward. It is a balance between understanding the responsibility that comes with getting involved and taking action, and not letting processes of self-reflection become paralyzing.
The Sarcastic Arabic Mix. C’est le gazon total.
I spent the 2006 Israeli aggression on Lebanon at home. I didn’t relocate to Broumana for a mini vacation. I didn’t get evacuated to Cyprus. My family didn’t flee to Syria or Jordan. We stayed in Beirut, and while war was still a brutal reality happening elsewhere, we still heard it. We felt the ground beneath our feet shake. We watched the news incessantly. We listened to every one of Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches. Every hour counted. Every hour was an hour too much.
With the war on Lebanon, I finally learned the awful truth that some are inclined to experience wars as a temporary inconvenience in their daily lives - nothing more, nothing less. Silly me, raised by two overprotective parents, and too young for civil war analyses, I had imagined otherwise. There was a severe emotional disconnect between first-hand experiences of war brutality, and the common understanding that wars happen elsewhere and to other people. I remember long fights with some of my closest friends who mindlessly repeated what their families said on the inconvenience of having to host the internally displaced, most of whom were Shiite families, in their hometowns. The fact that experiences of warfare could be so relative was one of the many disturbing realizations I had that summer.
Lately, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that somehow, with the war on our northern borders and in Syria, we all ended up on mini vacations in Broumana. The war seems to be happening elsewhere, and to other people. While our fates and those of future generations are directly implicated with the bloodshed in Syria, this is still not our war. We will continue to sip our teas in Hamra, surrounded by middle class Syrian friends, and a suffocating false sense of safety.
This disconnect scares me. It is the difference between those caught in the crossfire, left to die in isolation, displaced, and those at the outskirts, sipping their teas and wondering what the Levant will look like five years from now.