Our Destiny is to Fight

Our destiny is death and destruction she said. Just because we’re from this land, they call it Holy, I don’t see the holiness in all this helplessness, our destiny is death and destruction and warplanes above us she said, from the sandy Sinai to the blue immensity of Lattakieh, from the fertile plains of the Bekaa to the ever resistant Palestine, our destiny is death she said.

Our destiny is tears she said, all of us under that blackened sky, from below the exquisite mosaic of the Qom Mosques, to up above the white Mount Sannine, to the green valleys of Kurdistan to the hot sand storms of Iraq, our destiny is tears she said.

And she kept imploring a God she wasn’t so sure she believed in, imploring to know why it was our destiny to die our faces crushed in the cracked mud, imploring to know why our people were becursed, trying to find answers and logic in the dissolution of her world, trying to impart blame, Oh God, let me make divine bargains with you, protect me from evils and I shall put my faith in you.

Our destiny is death and destruction and the tears for our martyrs she said.

And so I picked up a stone left astray in the rubbles by a previous battle, and put it in front of her.

We choose our destiny, and our destiny is to fight I said.

Our destiny. Is. To. Fight.

This post is for all my beloved people from Aleppo, friends and family and husband and stangers I do not know whose hearts are slowly bleeding for their beloved city and country. We shall overcome. We will be back to rebuild Aleppo. 

Letter to a Revolutionary

Ya Qalbi,

Yesterday I read a letter from Mashrou3 Leila:

“Today I found myself walking down Hamra Street, humming Abdul-Halim Hafez’s ‘Ana Leik Ala Tool’ to myself, and I could swear I heard you singing the harmony into my ear. It made me giggle a little burn into my chest. I worry you might get caught in a protest, imprisoned, kidnapped, missing, gone. But I know you need to do what you need to do; I wouldn’t ask you not to, but please be safe. Someday, I promise, worry will be a sentiment completely alien to us.”

These words spoke to me, they spoke to the little demon worrier that seems to have taken residence up in my head. The letter spoke of fears of loss, it spoke of courage and of strength. It spoke of accepting the evidence of the need to fight, despite the dangers and the intimidation, despite the worry and the dread. You know this is what I struggle with the most, you know I couldn’t bear to lose you to the claws of an absurd regime. You know me, inside and out.

Leila’s story is fictional but for us it is all too real, or maybe she’s just a projection of a million fears experienced by a million hearts, making her more real than we could ever be.

You and I my friend are the children of the demise and disappointment of all our comrades before us, and the parents of an angry movement of hope : we tried and are still trying to revive the spark of contestation and revolution , and we’ve managed to a certain extent, or so I would like to believe. We’re marching for our present, yes, for our future, certainly, but we are also marching for our fallen friends, the ones who got killed and crushed and harassed and silenced. The ones who are still alive, They’re older now, they’re bitter, too, they don’t seem like they still can find the strength in them to carry on, yet you can find them next to us, their eyes barely daring to believe again, carrying in their hearts the memory of all they have lost, just like we carry in ours the smiles of those of whom we’re separated from by the inexorability of death or by the atrocity of prison walls and tortures.

My love, it seems like we have lost the innocence of youth and with it the ability to enjoy things in their superficiality. We can not be fooled anymore, and perhaps some days this realization is too painful for us to bear. My love, we are too dangerous for them to avoid us, they will hunt us down, we shall be prepared.

I keep hearing people comfortably sitting on plush chairs pompously labeling what we do: the Iranian “Green Movement” or the “Twitter Revolution”, as if Evin had never existed, as if the Iranians had never risen before the invention of social media. “The Arab Spring” now being replaced by the “Arab Autumn” or even “Winter”, as if revolutions could ever be expressed in terms of fucking seasons, as if we were sleeping and awoke like some sort of natural process, what are we, fruits or something? Pardon my language my sweet friend, but condescension irks me and I’ve never been one to shut up.

It has been a long time since we’ve started my beloved, and we are tired, yet the road up ahead seems even more tortuous and long, paved with too many traps for us to comprehend. Some of us decide to retreat, others become suicidal, we lose a few along the way, the sufferings are too much for anyone to bear.

Yet there we still are, despite the tears and the frustration and the tension and the deaths and the threats. Yet we continue, doing what we can, each at its own level, because we owe it to ourselves, to those who died, to those who fight, to those who lost, to those who are too deprived of privilege to attract wide attention to their cases.

This isn’t a Winter, this isn’t a season, this isn’t a moment that shall pass. This is a Revolution, a process, and it shall take its own sweet time.

We’re ready for it.

Dirty Laundry

Working in a women’s organisation and being active in the women’s movement is most of the times an incredible journey where learning, sharing and fighting for your rights tend to unite you. 

And then there are the times where you suddenly ask yourself if you belong at all. Times when what you hear is so at odds with what you stand for that you actually feel your blood boiling, all concepts of sisterhood immediately flying out of the window, all your senses geared up for a confrontation. Indignation and shame and anger usually are corrosive feelings, ones that seldom live little space for understanding. And hell, call me a sectarian if you want, but I firmly believe that there are times where understanding is not in order, and refusing and revoking and taking strong stands is our only way of creating positive change. 

I hate these times, because they remind me, not of the diversity, that is to be celebrated, but of the huge amount of work that is still to be done, even within the women’s movement. I hate these times because they force me to take a closer look at what I consider to be my ideological home. 

The women’s movement is not an abstract entity floating around asking for rights and equality: it is made of women who make the conscious choice to join it and declare themselves part of it, coming into it with their own sets of values and beliefs. 

It seems to me, though, that the movement in itself should not forget what founded it, and is entitled to outline and define some red lines that should not be crossed over. Feminism, at least as i like to understand it, is a revolutionary current, aiming at abolishing not only gender, but also all kinds of barriers.You can’t ask for equality and justice for women and not ask for equality and justice for all. 

So it is armed with these beliefs that I personnally entered feminism, along with many women’s gatherings and conferences. And in all fairness, I’ve met some pretty fantastic amazing, inspiring women when I did, people and ideas and actions that honestly make it all worthwhile, but I also had my share of disappointements. As an Arab woman, it’s easy to spot the imperialists disguised as feminists: they come to you with a look of utter pity on their faces, you know, because you’re not empowered enough, and bore you to death with talks of big corporations showering their organisation with money that they the used to “develop” countries like mine and “help” women like me. To which your only way out is to remain calm and launch into your little rant of I-don’t-believe-in-corporate-funding-or-in-any-earmarked-funding-for-that-matter-as I-advocate-for-independence-and-self-sufficiency-but-thank-you-for-the-empowering-session. They’ll look bewildered (after all, aren’t you supposed to receive their Gospel with a look of gratitude upon your face? Aren’t you glad they’re teaching you dignity? As if anyone could ever teach that! Note: dignity comes with humanity, each and every single human being knows what dignity is, and most importantly, what living in dignity means) but you trust they will get over it. Conservatism is a rife pandemic, and don’t you dare think for one second that North=Bad and South=Good. I’ve heard so many gems from women of all walks of life and regions and backgrounds that I stopped even acknowledging these factors anymore. Let me share with you some serious comments I’ve heard and overheard: 

– If everyone lived according to Christian beliefs, there would be no HIV. (Where do I even begin to show her how wrong, just utterly and completely wrong, that statement is?)

– I believe in God’s justice for all. (Right, but I’m living here and now, so I’ll settle for human justice now if you don’t mind) 

– I’m a women’s rights advocate, I don’t care about economic justice or environmental issues (yes, of course, because if a woman is unemployed, it’s not like she’d be more a risk of violence or more vulnerable to dependency, right what was I thinking? Sexual emancipation is the only factor of gender equality, the rest is unimportant) 

– In Europe we don’t really have any problems as women. Our only big problem is the migrant women who need to be helped because of their backwards mentality. (No comment) (Actually, I usually respond to this by asking how much she earns as a “European woman”, and how much her husband does, and take it from there)

– The Scarf. THE pet peeve, THE Horror Movie Title. As in: “Poor her! She’s so submissive! She wears “The Scarf!”

I believe there should be debates and discussions around these issues, if only to help shifting mentalities within the women’s movement. I guess my issue was that I had other expectations from women calling themselves women’s rights activists and feminists.

Trust me, I’ve debated a lot with what I’m writing right now. Shouldn’t I be out there, fighting patriarchy and dealing with the ugly internal stuff, well, in an internal way, not publicizing this, not openly talking about it? But I realised it would make me like a Palestinian Authority representative who would turn a blind eye on the acts of some thugs in the party while telling people who stand up against it to go and demonstrate against Israel. I don’t want to be that person. 

I want to be part of a movement I’m proud of, even if that means creating a movement within the movement, a movement that abides by some strong principles and raises awareness and mobilises women according to these principles. 

Call me an idealist, a naive, or a self righteous bore if you want, but if I wanted corruption and absence of transparency and tokenism and judgement and patriarchy and inequality, I would have gone and worked in a bank. 

On Anger, Sugar Coating and Fakes

I’m hearing a lot of fake feminism and fake anti-imperialism these days.

It angers me.

It angers me that movements who ultimately struggle for more equality and respect for humanity are used and co-opted by cynical conservative, power-hungry politicians and “researchers”.

Everyone is a philosopher these days, drafting theories right, left and center, holding their half cooked so called opinions forth on TV while they’re just repeating what they were told to by the highest bidders. I don’t seem to see any new Jean-Paul Sartre, I only seem to run into people whose pompous speeches come straight from Wikipedia. When I hear Bernard Henri Levy, the much celebrated French “intellectual” I wish for God to open the earth and swallow me (or alternatively, to hand me a rusty axe and a good lawyer).Yes, that’s the guy who often dubs Israel’s repeated gross violations of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law as “errors”. To which I really want to say that he’s the error, but let us not get carried away.

Thing is, no one seems to be immune to this plague: from the French feminists who berate veiled women to the Lebanese Religious Leader who thinks that a law that protects women from violence is an evil importation from the West that will shake the Great Lebanese Institutions (er, which ones?) to the Core, all sides seem to participate in the demise of the fight for a fairer world.

However, it’s not their beliefs that anger me the most, after all I do have to live with people who think differently as me, it’s definitely the sugar-coating that goes with their justifications. The French feminists will kindly try and explain that in name of Feminism, women should not wear the veil as it is an instrument of submission, neverminding the fact that a veiled woman who’s left in peace wearing whatever she decides will be ten times more empowered than one who’s forced to live in an environement that considers her a threat, an aberration, a pity case that needs saving, a savage that needs to be taught. Neverminding the fact that true feminism is about comforting, supporting, backing up and understanding where women are coming from. Neverminding the fact that feminism should never be used as an imperialist tool to impose certain interpretations to other women. Instead of including and nurturing, we cast out and stigmatise, in the name of feminism.

The Lebanese politician/religious leader is very attached to the Lebanese Family (over which he has full control so really, he’s very attached to his power) and would not like to see it go to waste (who would pay the Hummer, I ask you?). He’ll therefore fight tooth and nail to keep the Statu quo going: Baba, Mama, and children, Baba wou Mama being married, from the same confessions, the children not mixing with fellow Lebanese from other religions. If Baba hits Mama, it’s her fault, ya3ni who told her to be hal 2ad jehleneh? However, when faced with the growing discontent over these issues, Religious Leader will therefore need a nice ideological back up. Let’s see, RL (Religious Leader) won’t be able to use Human Rights as he’s so obviously violating them, so he’ll resort to the old Cold War days and play the anti-imperialist card. The alterations of the Lebanese Civil Status and the incursions into one’s home (aka try to protect women from domestic violence) are pure imperialist evil traps! We don’t want these imports from the West! Nevermind the fact that Human Rights are universal and that discriminating women based on their gender is, well, is universal as well. Religious Leader doesn’t even have this monopole. How fickle power is really. Lebanon has however signed on to various Human Rights Treaties with no imperialist power breathing on its neck to force it to sign, that it’s bound by law to implement and respect.

However, there’s just a teeny, tiny minor detail these people are forgetting: there are true feminists and true anti-imperialists out there, waiting for you to libel us, which we do not really agree with, leading to some embarrassing (for you) debates.

Believe in what you want: just be straight with me, don’t be a perv, don’t try and sell me your ideas using ideologies that precisely counter what you’re saying.