How to Live with a Revolutionary (and your family) without losing your head (or defecting to North Korea)

When the Rev entered your life, some time around his Nahda period ( the turn of the 19th century Arab Nahda kind of Nahda not the Tunisian kind if Nahda, whom of course the Rev is highly suspicious of, what with them being an ersatz of the Muslim Brotherhood and what with all their awful neo-liberal policies), you did not think politics would come into play, nor were you much worried about him getting along with your family. I mean, you were young and in love, you did not think of these things.
As it transpired, perhaps you should have.
You see, You have a post Arab nationalist of a father who really, really wanted to believe in Michel Aflaq then got disappointed and who you believe has a secret admiration for Hassan Nasrallah and an apolitical mother for whom nothing and no one really existed after Bashir Gemayel ( I know. I’m not proud either). As for your sister, all she speaks about is refugees, especially children, welling up about them most of the times. As it happens, she barely reaches the Rev’s knees so most of the times he can’t even hear her anyway.
Well, and of course you have the Rev, a proud socialist revolutionary who can quote Comrade Trotsky, Comrade Lenin and Comrade Saïd in one go, muttering endlessly about neo-liberalism and orientalism and its cousin, orientalism in reverse.
When all your loved ones get together, it can indeed, get pretty, er, shall we say, interesting.
While the Rev would companionably sit down and eat my father’s hummus, for every revolutionary has common human needs, your mother would eye him suspiciously. Was he or was he not Christian? As it happens, the Rev is an atheist who only acknowledges the presence of Jesus Christ in the framework of the Theology of the Liberation, when Jesus becomes Comrade JC. You know your mother would ask questions. You know she would not like the answers. You know you want your peace of mind and Comrade JC simply won’t give it to you, so you lunge like Harry Potter reaching for the Snitch, get that piece of kebbe and unceremoniously shove it into the Rev’s face, gluing his lips together, giving you plenty of time to redirect the inquisitive stare of your mother towards you. Well done. Be proud. You’ve avoided the first land mine.
On to coffee, where the second landmine awaits, a much, much bigger one, namely, the revolutions in the Middle East North Africa region. You see, the clue is in the name. The Rev is, well, a revolutionary, who shall defend the legitimacy and righteousness of the revolution until his last breath. Your father is convinced every ills befalling the region is Israel/The US’s fault. The rev will say the revolutions are a product of a long term mass popular mobilization against the growing social inequalities coupled with oppressive, authoritarian states. Your father will say all of this is turning into an Islamist Fest and who does it benefit? Israel and its sinister ally, the US. To which the Rev would try and answer that Palestine is Immortal and that of course Israel is a colonial, oppressive state but that there are materialistic conditions to take into account when analyzing the revolutions. Your father: I’m telling you. It’s a conspiracy. The Americans have a plan. They always have.
To which the Rev usually can not answer much because by that time you’d flung your niece across the stairs just to create a diversion, leaving everyone to gather around her giggling self to make sure she’s ok (you didn’t fling her hard, your sister would rant even more about children).
As it happens, enough sparks of revolutions were emitted from the Rev for your parents to understand who they were dealing with. Your mother now knows he’s an atheist and she calls him every Sunday morning to try and entice him to at least watch the Sunday mass on the Telly. He gently explains to her the Theology of the Liberation, she asks God why she had to have an atheist, leftist Son-in-law while she was such a good Christian and these thins are sent to try us. And the Rev hangs up, watching tele foot (for football is the only acceptable alternative to reading Marx).
– Your mother called, we had a good chat, I think she really is coming around on the Theology of the Liberation.
You pick up the phone, sighing, to assess the damage while he grins at you, blissfully oblivious of the very obvious crisis on your hand. Your mother laughs on the phone. The rev can actually get away with what he wants.
You barricade yourself in your room. I mean. You’re lucky you have me. No one told ME living with a revolutionary was so exhausting.

Neo Orientalists: Sugar Coat it all you want, it’s still Orientalism

Why are you teaching me about my own culture?

Rajesh Guthrappali to Sheldon Cooper

Living in the Middle East, it’s interesting to listen to different interpretation of the region and to try to keep an open mind, which believe you me, given the content and the source of many aformentionned interpretation, is pretty challenging in itself. 

So here I’m compiling some things that made me look for Edward Said to give a good old lecture about Orientalism (By the way, there should definitely be an App for that. Imagine, listening to some aggravating comment, you’d take your phone out of your pocket and a Said-like voice would boom:eeerrrrr ORIENTALISM! SHUT UP SHUT UP RIGHT NOW OR THE ANTI ORIENTALIST BRIGADES WILL ARREST YOU!). God. I’d love that.

Anyway, before we start, here’s a brief explanantion of what Orientalism is. Orientalism, as per Said’s thinking, is a  “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture.” Orientalists interpret the region according to a set of -often- romanticized prejudices that serve to differentiate the ‘West’ from the ‘East”, the result of this interpretation being of course that the East is inferior to the West. Orientalists see Middle Eastern societies as similar to one another and dissimilar to western societies. This stance allows for domination of the economically and militarily most powerful over weaker States and participates to the imperialist effort of the former.   In other words, it is the patronizing onlooker commenting on the, say, Lebanese political life, smiling to himself and thinking Aahhh those Arabs, such barbarian people. Their food is good and their women lovely, all in all they’re cute, but they’re just not cut out for politics. Thank God we’re here to help them sort themselves out (and make a couple of good deals out of it).

My issue is that, even though their consider themselves leftists and despise the orientalist position usually associated with conservatives and neocolonial forces, some  leftist europeans and north americans seem to have a hard time distancing themselves from the romantic view of a Middle East principally defined by Islam. This is particularly striking when it comes to political Islam groups: they are seen by leftist north analysts as quintessential revolutionary groups who are the primary anti-imperialists in the region, and if you dare to disagree (after all you kind of thought for one second you had your say, you know, being a lebanese and all) you’ re a conservative reactionary sell out, or they’d just shrug your arguments off with a snigger of ‘oh you don’t have a PhD, therefore your opinion doesn’t count: we told you, analyse everything through the prism of Islam’ the subtitle of such a point of view being that Middle Eastern societies can’t have secular ant-imperialist regimes, just as their own countries do. Now don’t get me wrong, aformentionned academics and co won’t want for a minute such a regime for their own country: it ‘s good enough for the Arabs, you know, for whom the struggle against imperialism should only pass through religion, us, we’re more evolved, we’re secular.

Underlining the collaboration of some political islam groups with imperialist powers while outlining the absence of any social justice discourse or action (coupled with an official and public discourse of revolution, resistance and equality) won’t go down too well with the KnowItAll bunch. They’re fighting the Empire, therefore they’re anti imperialists. Khalas, that’s it, and there is little room for nuance in that analysis. Such positions might stem from european and north american conservative reactions that automatically assimilate political Islam groups to terrorists: there is however no need to sacralise such groups either. In both cases, this is Orientalism.So guys, you might not be aware of this, but this is pretty much the message you re sending out. You might want to think again before the Anti Orientalist Brigades arrest you.

The plight doesn’t stop at leftists analysts and scholars. International NGOs and International organisations people know more than you do about solving the Middle East development issues, the current upheavals and revolutions and how to make Mouloukhieh. The fact that it’s people on the ground taking the violence and the bullets while they’re savantly analyzing the situation safely tucked away in Hamra trrendy cafes isn’t relevant, as examplified (true story) by a German woman I witnessed in Bread Republic. She worked for an international organisation I won’t name and spent a good half hour explaining to a Syrian young women how the SYrian people were not doing things properly and that the peaceful demonstrations wan’t the way to go, all the while sipping away at her organic cappuccino while my blood was boiling and the people of Syria dying.

The list could go on, but it is our job, like Said did, to reclaim our own History and our own internal affairs, welcoming constructive debate as a way to advance rights and find solutions while rejection patronizing attitudes, shedding the internalized orientalism. And of course, not falling into the traps of orientalism in reverse.

How to Live With a Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (Or Committing His)

Chapter 11: On Ideology (Coming back to Bite The Rev in The Ass)

Essentialism, Definition: Essentialism is a generalization stating that certain properties possessed by a group (e.g. people, things, ideas) are universal, and not dependent on context. Needless to say, Comrade Said and the Revolutionary do not approve.

For those of you who follow the hectic life of the Revolutionary, you already know that it’s difficult keeping up with him. The risks of being contaminated are limitless, and soon enough, you will find yourself talking about essentialism, quoting Comrade Said and Comrade Trotsky right, left and center.

However, beware: this isn’t because you’ve actually cracked under the pressure and gave in and started reading the Bible (last time I explain: by Bible, we here mean the Permanent Revolution by Comrade Trotsky and NOT the religious book). This is merely because the Revolutionary repeats the same concepts and arguments so many times that your poor brain has now integrated them effortlessly, and you now dub anything essentialist, reactionary and/or counter-revolutionary 1) just to shut him up and 2) because now, you can.

The Revolutionary isn’t exactly happy about that.

While his mission is indeed to spread the Gospel of the Revolution (No! Not in a religious way! We are not proselytes! What we’re trying to do here is simply awakening and mobilising the masses!), the Revolutionary would like to see dedicated revolutionaries-to-be using these concepts and gathering people, not his entourage recuperating the much beloved revolutionary discourse to have a good laugh.

No no no, this is absolutely NOT going according to plan! This is simply too much to bear for the revolutionary: on the one hand he has his banker friends using the word “struggle” to explain everything and anything, and on the other hand he’s finding his (working in a bank, Great Apostle of Capitalism) sibling explaining his own version of essentialism. As in:

– Revolutionary: Banks are all looking for their own profits while not giving a damn about people! You can’t talk about ethics in the global financial system! The whole system is corrupt and needs change and reform! See where Money Men like you are driving us!

– Capitalist, remaining calm: Are you generalising on bankers? You can’t do that. This is essentialism.

To which the Revolutionary will choke and suffocate on: is the struggle against essentialism being recuperated and used against the noble quest of equality? But, but this is evil! Damn those reactionary counter-revoltuionary forces! They’ve already recycled the Che for mercantile purposes and now that! Such Utter Disgrace!

Once more, the Rev will find himself struggling.

And it’s not like his hardships and hurdles stop there.

Keen to prove he’s a revolutionary each and every steps of the way, there is no worse insult for the Rev than to imply he might not be. As a feminist, you might point out some patriarchal attitudes that remain in the Rev’s behaviour (after all, he IS a man, and society hasn’t left him out of its share of masculine privilege), to which he’ll object, all indignant: I’m a feminist! I’m a revolutionary! I support all oppressed people in the world! Men, Women, Animal! Gender is a social construct! What else can I say?

You might think that’s nice, but try and endure a whole movie in which the main actress fights against patriarchy with the Rev whispering next to you: See, I’m not like that, I’m there for you, I encourage you, I support you huh? huh? huh?

You however feel for the Revolutionary (well, most of the times): Can you imagine the stress and pressure he’s continuously under?

Beware, people: Ideology kills.

How to Live With A Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (or P-Diddying His)

Chapter #10: On the Revolutionary’s murky past

The revolutionary would love to believe that he was born with a copy of Das Kapital in the right hand and a copy of the Bible (aka the Permanent Revolution) in the left (what else?) one. Given the present situation of the revolutionary, as in, him living and breathing and talking the Revolution, you would tend to believe it too.

Muhahahaha.

You just could not be more wrong. Being the thorough writer that I am (another myth, perhaps?), I did my very own little research and found out that some God-awful, truly counterrevolutionary actions lie in the realms of the revolutionary murky past. But I’m no one to kiss and tell now am I? Ooooooh right okay, then maybe I am. If he asks, you did not get this from me. I’d probably quite literally never ever hear the end of it. “How could you?!!!! I mean, this has ruined my Rev Cred for life! And by the way, you’re just misinformed, this did not happen this way, nothing is black and white and you can explain my actions through the power struggles over the means of production blah blah blah”.

Brother, you won’t ideologise yourself out of that one.

The revolutionary hasn’t always been a real one. Not if you count working for a bank as an utmost counter revolutionary act anyway. Now the revolutionary will most likely tell you he worked – oh ever so briefly- in a bank to study the evil capitalist system up close. See, to counter the awful oppressive system, you need to know it inside out, he’ll argue. Elaborate your strategy based on a thorough study of your enemy and all that. That what he’ll tell you anyway. Clearly explained as it may, you still have some strong doubts regarding the credibility of these assertions. You’re much more leaning towards a much simpler, much straightforward interpretation: He did it (Oh Forgive him, Comrade Trotsky, for he knew not what he did) for the money and the women. Which he’ll deny, naturally. Don’t be fooled, you’ll have the pictures to prove it anyway.

Wanna be banker is not the only suspicious label that revolutionary sported. Once upon a time, the Rev thought he was P-Diddy (or Puff Daddy, as he was called back in the days), the same way he now thinks he’s Comrade Trotsky. He used to sing along to “I need a girl”, dress in bizarre outfits (baggy sweat pants tucked – er, why?- in a sock, yes, just one, for asymmetry or something), make all sorts of weird hip gestures with his hands and refer to women using interesting slang words that my feminist conscience forbids me to use, overally thinking he was IT. Money and bling do occupy the Revolutionary’s past, much to his desolation and despair, and no matter how passionately he will try and make you think all these things never happened, that he’s a feminist and a humanist, do not believe him. Yes people, the Rev used to be a lost cause, but one day, his path crossed Comrade Said’s, and he was Born Again.

So what happened there? How does one turn from banker/lover to Revolutionary? Was the revolutionary struck by Trotsky lightning one night, making him realise J-Lo and P-Diddy bling was utterly oppressive to the people and he had to lose the gold jewellery, spiky hair and pseudo East Coast codes and replace them with the Bible and a Kuffiyeh? We might never know, but we can always thank Comrade Trotsky for making the revolutionary stop thinking he can rap, thus liberating the people from awful sound pollution. Now he just sings l’Internationale, all signs of complicated hands gestures vanished, his fist pointed to the sky, the sickle and hammer shining in his feverish eyes.

You honestly don’t know what you prefer.