So where do you come from? is a question I have heard more than I care to mention. Attending school in France, my hair intrigued people, crossing the borders between France and Switzerland, my name on a French passport intrigued people, at university, I’ve been told it was my nose (true story) that intrigued people, or one of them at any rate, probably not the most brilliant specimen of scholar, but anyway.
Hence, the where do you come from?
I didn’t take it badly, after all people feel sympathies, or curiosity or find you exotic, no real harm done, and besides, in a multicultural place like Geneva, the where do you come from merry-go-round is more of a game than anything else, as everyone competes to prove that they do not know a single Swiss person actually from Geneva in Geneva (I myself am struggling to find one).
What I was less prepared for, anyway, was getting the where do you come from question in Lebanon. I mean, getting it in Europe was bad enough, but in Lebanon? I checked myself for spontaneous blond hair sprouting out of my skull or delighfully thought I had grown overnight 10 meters of legs, Norwegian style.
Alas, I had kept my very tangled, curly, unruly black hair and stout body.
You see, the question stemmed from my Arabic. It’s not perfect. In fact, it’s so broken, mkassar, that people find it “cute”, “sexy”,”adorable” as if I were a small child learning to speak.
Which in a way, I am, I’ll grant you that. However, that doesn’t mean these comments don’t irk me. They do. Each little comment on my accent in Arabic is felt like a tiny slap in the face, as if a little devil was standing on my shoulder, dancing evil jigs and mocking me each time an “r” is not rolled properly or when I can’t pronounce the qaf in a word. I manage it by itself just fine, just don’t ask me to put it in a word. Sadly, I can’t go around demonstrating that skill around, as roaming the streets of Beirut going “qaf qaf qaf qaf qaf” would only earn me a trip to the 3asfouriyeh.
And don’t get me started on reading. I can read Arabic, very basically, but asking me to read a whole report is like asking me to interpret a UN conference from Russian to Swahili. Get it? I can’t read properly. Yet. I still have high hopes that might change.
You see, my main issue is that, having always stood out as the only Arab in a classroom of 30 non-Arab people (truly traumatizing, go explain to other people why you’re having mjaddara because it’s Friday, start even explaining what mjaddara is), I learnt to define myself as a Lebanese born in France, which I still do. I feel Lebanese, whatever that means, through and through, I absurdely love that little country of mine, and therefore I would just LOVE speaking Arabic properly. (One) of my identities, that is, the one of an Arab citizen, is intimately linked to mastering the language, all the more because there is a need to reclaim it, to move away from the languages inherited by past or neo colonial powers. Sometimes, when no one is looking, I picture myself giving out long, Nasser-like speeches in flawless Arabic, before the phone rings and wakes me up from my reverie and I stutter something in an idiom vaguely resembling the Lebanese dialect.
That people find it cute is of little importance: I find it patronizing, it grazes my heart. No, strike that, it grazes my pride and it grazes the anti-imperialist in me.
So what is there for me to do? Go on an intensive class? Or became a Teflon woman, upon whom the remarks cutie comments will have little impact?
Or learn to accept the hybrid Lebanese that I am, a composite item of a myriad of identities and languages and stories? After all, wouldn’t that be better than remaining closeted in a certain community or a certain party?
And I can pronounce the qaf. I can. Go on. Ask me.
My take on Sawt al Niswa on the prospective abolitionist law on sex work in France http://www.sawtalniswa.com/2011/12/how-about-we-listen-to-sex-workers
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.