You Are Not My Comrade

The world social forum is a ginormous gathering of people thinking creatively together and sharing ideas to create a more just, equal world.

Or so they’ll have you believe. Participating in the opening march, I found myself severely thorn. The march was aimed, as all marches, at reclaiming the streets but also , on a more specific level, at demonstrating to governments preaching austerity measures, oppression, discrimination and neo-liberal policies than another world is possible, that standing in solidarity with all people of the world was possible, and that us, the people, were to become one and fight the capital back.

Oh sure, you had more Comrades than your eyes could handle, you had your usual Che Guevara wanna-bes (I almost wrote lookalikes here, but then thought better of it) and you had your various flags and banners, all calling for more solidarity, more self-determination,more peace).
Among which, flags and banners of Pro-Bashar Syria, with pictures of Bashar to match, with ‘we’re all with you’ slogans to boot.
Now Oxfam marching away as if they owned the place (which they probably do, given than they’re one of the main donors of the world social forum, along with the French Institute and Bread for the World (imperialism? Neo-colonialism? What? Where?)) I could probably stomach, regardless of the fact that the irony of the presence of an organization feeding a 100% into the neoliberal paradigm of NGOs slowly taking on the economic and social duties of the state at such a march was apparently lost on them. I could even stomach, albeit with some difficulty, the countless people wearing Hugo Chavez T-shirts and his pictures, calling him Commandante as if he fought alongside Lenin in the Russian Revolution, even if these people seemed totally oblivious that the world social forum was taking place in a region that has direly and is still direly suffering from the catastrophic effects of dictatorships and that aforementioned Commandante was one of the closest and fiercest supporter and friend of Gaddafi and Al Assad. I can understand Venezuelans value Chavez for the improvement of their socio-economic conditions he brought to his country. I do. What I don’t understand is the very basic anti-imperialism rampant in the left that makes every little middle finger extended to the USA and Israel a supreme act of anti-imperialism that deserves reverence by all.
It is this minimal and quite limited understanding of anti-imperialism that leads some leftists to remain staunch supporters of perpetrators of monstrosities such as Gaddafi and Al Assad. I won’t even bother to go into the details of how much considering Al Assad an anti-imperialist is wrong. News update my comrades, imperialism and neo-colonialism can also be performed by other states than the US, and in the case of Syria, I don’t recall Al Assad opposing the imperialist tendencies of Iran and Russia. As for neo-liberal policies, I will only refer you to this article, explaining at great length how much Al Assad’s policies created a greater class divide, how much whatever economic ‘improvement’ and integration within the globalized economy only benefited a small clique of big cities bourgeoisie. Surely that’s not how Comrade Marx intended socialism and communism, am I right?
As of those still living in the delusion that Assad is opposing Zionism and will free Jerusalem, kindly inform me what he has done to free his own territory, the Golan, before he takes on freeing Palestine. Apparently there are plenty of ammunition to kill and slaughter his people but there are none available to free the Golan.

It is for all these reasons that I do not get the enormous pictures of Al Assad within the world social forum March. It is because war crimes are happening, it is because mass slaughters are happening, it is because peaceful resistance and opposition were met with ferocious repression, torture and unlawful use of force that I do not get, my sweet Comrade, how you can smoke your oh so not subversive weed, look me in the eyes, and tell me that we’re all with Assad, the great anti-imperialist.

Surely, my Comrade, this is not how Comrade Marx intended it?

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Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 28

Lily loved the atmosphere at Em Nazih.
She’d come in the afternoons, when the hustle bustle of Beirut was kept to a minimum, shielded from the craziness by the small stone terrace tucked away in a tiny alley off Gemmayzeh.
She came to write in peace, the soft humming of the distant noise rocking her into concentration, her thoughts and agile fingers on her keyboard only interrupted by the sweet clinking of glasses and arguileh being cleaned. She felt at home, working away and taking her time to talk to Ali, one of the staff members, or with one of the daughters of the owners who taught Arabic to the plethora of alternative youth and possible secret services undercovers calling Beirut home for about three months. Rana, Nada and Nivine were all equally delightful and funny and Lily relished the moments she spent with them, all the while stuffing her face with the delicious batata harra made by their mother. The spices and coriander tickled her tongue while she laughed at Nivine’s latest tale of her pupils who often seemed puzzled to say the least by Lebanon in general and Beirut in particular. During these moments, she always felt incredibly lucky to live here, flaws and all. She had started to train herself in seeing beauty in the littlest things and it hit her hard just how much beauty there was going around.
Em Nazih’s tenants and patrons were a mix of Lebanese taking a breather from a city that could be overwhelming at the best of times and Western and Arab tourists and students learning Arabic and getting to know a country they only knew through the vilifying lens of their media back home. The bewildered looks on their face showed just how much they had trouble processing the clash between representation and reality. Em Nazih’s crowd was a melting pot of artists, secret agents, declared and underground revolutionaries, students, researchers, tourists, family and friends of the owners and staff. It was a place where good food met serious whispers, where laughter died in the fragrant smoke of the Arageel and where the cries of triumph of lucky backgammon players melted away in the frenetic honking that was Beirut’s regular soundtrack.

However, Lily had no time today to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Today, she was writing a piece on a new young woman author whom Gabrielle knew through her gazillion networks. The author had just launched her latest novel which dealt with two women in Aleppo trying to forget their damaged past and forge a future for themselves (these feminists, thought Lily, you can’t ask them the time of day without them writing a novel on women’s paths and oppression and stereotyping and whatnots). She had enjoyed the book nonetheless, and thought featuring the author in her column along with a photoshoot by Gabrielle could make a nice little piece.

And so there she was, taking notes for her article while Gaby’s voice in the back garden resonated against the stone walls. Grace was also there to assist Gabrielle, and perhaps, just perhaps, to soften the blow that could be Gabrielle’s personality. Poor little author.
Except the author seemed to be taking a great liking in Gaby, sharing the same vision as her friend and furthering her suggestions.

– Right, sit down in front of this door! Great, show me your hand with the rings! Grace, habibi, where is the cherry lip gloss? We could really work with some colors here!

Lily watched as the author put on more make up. Gabrielle really had a good eye: the author was wearing a deep mint green midi dress with matching green open toed ballet flats adorned with golden butterflies, topped with a lavender belt. The deep pink lipstick made her black eyes and hair stand out. Gaby had her pose in front of a pinkish door, her back to a weather beaten wall. The overall effect was urban, a tad melancholic and romantic with an edge, which suited the atmosphere of her book just fine.

– Tayb, now try and climb on this ledge.
The author’s eyebrows went up to her hairline.
– Listen Gaby, I do not climb ledges. As a matter of fact, I am not known for my climbing, or for my motor skills for that matters, so excuse me, but I think I will not go anywhere near that ledge.
Gabrielle looked a little discomfited while Lily and Grace stifled a laugh. Gaby didn’t seem to know what to do with this highly unusual opposition. A look to Grace who was busying herself with the make up bag to mask her hilarity had her frown, then laugh as well.

– Fine, no ledge. Jesus Fucking Christ, I hate divas. Yalla, sit down in front of this derelict door and turn your head this way!
– Much obliged, piped the author with a playful smile.

Lily was enjoying this column more than she had thought. The clicking of Gabrielle’s camera to her back, she started gathering the notes of her earlier interview with the author, making it into a coherent, witty and informative text. At some point, she had asked the author if she, like one of her characters, had a way too keep on fighting when life threw hardships at her. The author had this quirky response Lily had not paid attention to before.

Yes I do. It’s going to sound supremely stupid and cheesy, but it helps me nonetheless. When I feel like I can’t cope with life anymore, I shake myself and ask myself ‘what would Beyonce do?’. Seriously, can you imagine this woman being depressed or taking crap from anything or anyone? She’d sass them into oblivion. Now as a feminist, I see clearly how she participates to an industry that oppresses women in many ways but regardless of that. She exudes force and control and just sheer vibe of life. So I instantly picture myself like Beyonce in an impossible headdress, sky-scrapers heels clicking away as I pound the floor looking at life and shaking my head like ‘Oh no no no, this ain’t how it’s going to happen’. And yes I feel better’.

Writing this, Lily paused and took a sip of her Turkish coffee.

What would Beyonce do?
Huh.

On Angry Feminists, Women’s Bodies, and People’s Sense of Entitlement

When I put myself in front of my computer this morning, I had every intention to work and write the 28th chapter of the Tales of the Phoenix City.

However, it seemed life had other plans for me.

Fate, or maybe it was just random bad luck, put yet another person in front of me who asked me “if that baby was coming”.

I gave an icy cold reply, and that seemed to shut her up.

I never got how people can be so insensitive and feel so entitled to meddle in affairs that have nothing whatsoever to do with them. I always felt that these questions can hurt a person trying to have a baby but not succeeding, or sadden a person who has just miscarried, or anger a person who doesn’t want to have a child, or just plain bore a person into a stupor as they simply really don’t feel like discussing what’s in or what’s not in their uterus with every half wit that crosses her path.

However, this issue is bigger than the issue of having a child. People’s sense of entitlement to ask women personal questions most of the times seems to largely go unquestioned. As women, it seems that people expect us to nod and answer gracefully all the questions that get thrown at us, regardless of what we feel and think. Are you getting married? Yes? No? If Yes, when? If no, why the hell not? Once you’re married, it’s the child issue that raises its head, accompanied with well and not so well-meaning old wives’ tales about how time is running out and if your body gets used to your partner’s sperm you won’t be able to conceive (true story. Someone actually said that to a friend of mine). When you’re pregnant, your womb becomes public property with the same random people rubbing your belly like there’s no tomorrow, as if for good luck. Seriously, can you imagine people’s faces if I went around caressing men’s bellies and making stupid cooing noises? Once you’ve had your first child, when are you going to have the second? And once you’ve had your children, it seems that the world gets filled with self-appointed experts criticizing right left and center the way you’re raising your offspring.

My husband gets asked all the time questions about the progression of his PhD, about how his activities are going. Very few people, save for some members of his close family, ever ask him about when we are planning on having a child. On the other hand, random people seem to have no problem whatsoever asking me about the future occupants of my womb, each and everyone of them giving advice I did not remember asking for, or stressing me out because apparently a pregnancy would not suit my job.

Should you snap at the umpteenth person putting his or her head up your ass, people frown at you as if you were the living embodiment of their version of feminists, I.e, aggressive women always barking at patriarchy and their ‘so-called oppression’. Let me tell you one thing: us feminists are angry, that’s for sure, because the minute we put on our feminist glasses it becomes impossible not to see the gender bias and discrimination we have to live under, it becomes impossible not to notice that women are expected to answer obediently to all the shit that gets thrown at them and nod submissively otherwise they’d be frowned upon if not mocked and degraded, and something inside us just snaps and starts wanting to bite people’s heads off. Feminists are angry because they question what society takes for granted: gender stereotypes, gender injustice, discrimination and society’s sense of entitlement.

This sense of entitlement to ask questions about a woman’s private life stems, at least for me, from the general perception that women’s bodies and lives do not belong to them and them only. Women’s bodies are society’s , their family’s, their community’s, but never their own. This being said, it derives that questions can be asked and comments can be made. It is only when we make the conscious choice to respect every human being body’s integrity that we can truly say we respect healthy boundaries and can have equal relationships.

Don’t give me advice if I don’t ask. Don’t ask me personal questions, especially if I barely know you. Don’t tell me what my child should eat or do.

After all, you’re not seeing me asking your husband how his prostate is doing. Therefore, I’d be grateful if you could leave my uterus alone.

How to live with a revolutionary without losing your head (or peace and lovin’ his)

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.
Comrade Che Guevara

The Rev is kind.
You are mean.
Do you kind of see where the problem is now?

The Rev, ever the humanist, sees the good in people, perceives judgment as the ultimate sin, and finds excuses to the wickedest behaviors through material reasons. ‘You have to try and UNDERSTAND why this person chose to behave that way! Stop judging! Who are we to judge? We’re all humans! Maybe their material circumstances do not permit them to behave in another way and in any case, this is all the faults of capitalism that has fucked up people’s lives and brains!”. The fact that the person whose attitude you’re judging has just performed some horrible act and behaved appallingly is irrelevant. The Rev uses kindness as the flag he will brandish when the revolution conquers.

In another life, the Rev was Jesus Christ. You tell him so repeatedly. That upsets him. His kindness doesn’t extend to questioning his atheism.
As previously said, you’re mean.

But beware! Being kind does not a hippie make, for the Rev is Not a Hippie. On the contrary, he doesn’t particularly likes hippies. Nothing major, his sweet, non judging, all accepting nature would never allow it, but in the privacy of his office, he will eventually mutter darkly at all that lovey-dovey, away with the fairies, let- us-braid-each-other’s-hair-with-wild-poppies hippie approach to collective action. Make no mistake: the Rev might be kind, but to be successful the revolution absolutely needs the hard core organized party preached by Comrade Trotsky. Minds can not be fogged by weed: you shall be alert at all times to fight the attacks of conservatism, patriarchy and neo-liberalism and to educate yourself and others on the politics of oppression.

The downside to the Rev’s kindness is that he kinds of expect people -you- to be as kind as him. And people-you- can not be arsed to do so. You just don’t have it in you, I mean, all this gentleness, Jesus Fucking CHRIST, it’s exhausting. You don’t know how he does it. He helps older people carrying heavy luggage at the airport. You curse them under your breath, wishing they would go AWAY so you can FINALLY advance in the line and go HOME. He plays with crying children on the train/plane/everywhere, cooing peekaboo like a soccer mom while you hide behind your book, cursing under your breath about over indulging parents and impolite children. He goes to every protests, nay, strike that, he organizes every protests known to mankind and arrives the first, lugs around props and materials for street actions, suffers never-ending, so-boring-you-want-to-slash-your-wrists-and-die-a-slow-painful-death conferences and still manages to come home with a smile. You go to work, you buy shoes, you’re exhausted, you make fun of him carrying his banner and still manage to go home with a frown.

In short, the Rev is impossible to live with. I mean, his saint-like behavior just reflects badly on you. You know you’re mean, you don’t need to look it in polite company while he’s saving a kitten or something and you’re yelling ‘To hell with the kitten! I’m cold!’.

You hate to say it, but sometimes you wonder if the Rev, with his positive outlook on life and expanding heart, isn’t your natural Prozac.
I mean, think of it this way: with him around, you don’t need a mood enhancer and think of the money you’ll save for shoes!

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 27

This isn’t over.
He said it with a definite air. His crestfallen face tugged at her heart yet she shook herself and stood firmly her ground.
– I believe it is.
– Why the fuck are you doing this?
She sighed. He was not going to make things easy.
– I am not trying to push you away or to try and make you disappear. I’m just telling you I am keeping this baby and if you want to be involved that’s great we’ll have to work it out but I will not, shall not, marry you.
– It’s the right thing to do.
– It’s precisely why I don’t want to do it.
He folded his arms in a self protective fashion, pushing her out in a defiant stance. Jesus, she should have done this in a public space. This way he couldn’t have made a scene.
– This isn’t over.
– You already said that.
– You’re not going to be able to smarten your way out of this one.
He Was starting to get on her nerve.
– I believe the bump you see where my stomach should be is the living proof that I’m not trying to get out of anything, apart maybe from a lifetime with an almost stranger that I would marry because it’s the right thing to do.
She stopped and gulped some water. God she felt like vomiting. This pregnancy business was no walk in the park.
She needed to calm down. After all, she had just dropped a huge bomb on him and he was only trying to do what he thought was the right thing. But somehow, her courage seemed to be growing alongside her baby.
– Listen, Shadi.
He raised his eyes at the mention of his name.
– I know this isn’t easy. I know you must feel trapped or lost or even angry right now.
She paused. They had only talked about her. It hadn’t really even occurred to her to ask him how he felt about all this, save for telling him she Was not to marry him.
– Now that you mention It, how are you feeling?
His raised eyebrows and the flicker of a smile That passed on his face made her exhale for the first Time in the last hour. Perhaps It would not have to Be this hard.
– Well, first of all, thanks for asking.
She couldn’t place the sarcasm for sure. Let It go let It go she urged herself. Soon it’ll all be over and you will return back to your life of creation, on your workshop, with your assistant teetering on her high heels, polishing her nails in neon pink while convincing an umpteenth magazine to cover your brand. Just bear with him for a bit.
– I’m pretty damn happy.
She chocked on the ginger tea she was sipping in a desperate attempt at quenching her nausea.
– excuse me?
– Well yeah, I’m obviously not happy at the stark rejection you’re offering me on a silver plate, but I am happy at the prospect of having a child. With you, he added as an afterthought. I like you Nina. There’s something about you that warms my insides, somewhere next to my heart.
God why weren’t pregnant women allowed cigarettes?
– You don’t have a heart. You try and buy up perfectly happy small businesses for a living remember? You’ve tried buying up mine.
– Then you had sex with me if my memory isn’t cheating me?
She sprung to her feet. She’d had enough of this.
– D’you know? I’m a tired pregnant girl who’s in a desperate need for a nap and less drama. So bump, meet father, father, meet bump, it’s all lovely and nice, now please exit my house. Chop chop, don’t drag your feet.
– But…but
– But.. But nothing, this conversation is over. You and I are not having a child together, I am having a child and if you want to be involved then all the better but don’t you are come to my house and spring this happy shit on me, we’re not a family in that little Kodak moment you seem to have built in your head. Now bye.

The sharp noise of the door slamming was still ringing in her ears when Yasmine came in with the latest coverage of Nina’s dresses. As usual, Yasmine was dressed to the nines: her YSL sandals high as ever clickety-clicking on the beautiful old-fashioned tiles of her home, her perfectly cut 7 for all mankind skinny jeans an exquisite shade of blue, a simple oversized white top topped with a chunky statement necklace completing her look, Nina told herself she could not have picked a better assistant/PR girl. Her appearance screamed ‘I’m a DIVA and if you don’t oblige me I shall whine you into oblivion’, which guaranteed good coverage, which kept sharks like Shadi at bay and ensured clients kept coming to have their wedding dresses designed by the new hot designer, aka Nina Haddah, as long as she was in the papers and that word of mouth worked in her favour.

Yasmine had gained some self-confidence in the past few weeks, trying to rebuild bridges with her family while working on her independence which proved to be difficult at times to say the very least, so it was with a bit of surprise that Nina to see Yasmine plump herself on her chintz couch, take off her eyeglasses to reveal dark circles and reddened eyes.

– It’s been a while since the last time I saw you look like a rabbit in a hole like that. What’s happened?
– Nothing.

The answer came sharply, knifing the peaceful afternoon with acrimonious dryness, Yasmine’s tone a shield to ward off any attempt at comforting. Nina knew better than to fight it, and simply grabbed a box of tissues and the last issue of Oriental Elle, where her Grecian one- shoulder tulle and silk crepe dress was being showcased. Absent-mindedly, she turned a page, while handing over the box of tissues to Yasmine, who was quietly crying on the sofa, her honeyed tone hair gracefully falling on her delicate tanned shoulders.

– Life is a cross to bear after the other, as my devout mother who doesn’t speak to me any more would say. What’s the new cross habibi?