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.

Advertisements

Collective analysis for radical change, or how I discovered (and applied) popular education

Day 2 of my AWID Forum Chronicles

As human beings, in this day and age of technology, we are constantly bombarded by information, data, facts and figures. This is why it is important to sometimes stop, and take the time to reflect on a certain topic. In and within itself, the AWID Forum is a place for learning, a place where knowledge, all kinds of it, is shared, be it through sessions, capacity building workshops, or simply talking to your neighbour, so you can for example learn that violence against women rates are sky rocketing in Fidji or that militarization is an extreme form of institutionalized patriarchy.
The in-depth sessions the forum is piloting in its 2012 edition allow for a strong focus on a certain topic, running for three hours and a half every day of the forum, a bit like an intensive lecture/participatory session. Being the Middle Eastern obsessed person that I am, I’m currently following the in-depth session on women’s rights and transition democracy in the MENA region.

After a plenary in which Rabea Naciri from Morocco and Asma Khader from Jordan spoke about the constitutional processes and changes in the region, participants broke into groups to discuss constitutional reforms, the role of media and social media in making women’s claims visible and processes on transitional justice. I was lucky to be part of the group on constitutional reforms: it felt incredibly empowering sitting at the heart of a women’s cluster, reflecting and suggesting strategies on the core laws and processes of the countries of the region. Women’s invisibility and the lack of gender perspective in the current constitutional assemblies (notably in Tunisia and Egypt) lead us to emphasize the need first of all of popular education on the importance of constitutional reforms and second of all, on the absolute necessity to have assemblies of women drafting their own version of the Constitution.

The issue of negotiations with conservative powers came up: as feminists, where should we draw the line? What are the non negotiables? Should we have a long term vision and keep our radical agenda and invest on education and awareness raising or should we cede on some points in the short to mid-term to insert ourselves in the debates and decisions? But if we do, would that keep the integrity of our thoughts and vision or who would be compromising the aims of our struggle? There are no clear cut, one size-fits-all answer to these questions, they take in-depth research, historical perspective, thinking and anticipation, input from different experiences and expertise to have a clearer picture of how to influence and shape the society we hope to see and want. We are still working on what the ideal gender sensitive constitution would be, but Rabea Naciri outlined some relevant, core points that Constitutions in post revolution countries should include, such as clarity of language and terminology so as to prevent any harmful-to-women interpretations and explicit prohibition of any type of discrimination based on gender on top of calling for substantive gender equality. Constitutions should also specifically speak to the rights of political opposition and mention and include civil society and its contribution to society as a whole.

Learning doesn’t specifically require in-depth sessions: it was incredible to also learn new concepts and methodologies during break out sessions. Today, I have learnt more about the topic of popular education and how it can have a strong impact on economic education for women’s economic empowerment. This session prompted a lot of reflections for me as it helped me put a very concrete strategy on the concept of collective power of women. Indeed, popular education being collective analysis and action for social transformation, it is nothing more than what we do when we sit down on the floor of the Halic Auditorium, creating our collective analysis to participate in the social transformations Middle Eastern countries are currently facing.

Talking about our collective power and our collective voice goes beyond mere words: by uttering these very ideas, we already start to shape the changes we want to see in our world.

On a Feminist International – Blogging at the AWID Forum

I’ll be blogging for the young feminist wire at the AWID Forum, check my first post below. Here’s the link on the Wire! http://yfa.awid.org/2012/04/impressions-from-a-young-feminist-on-day-1-of-the-2012-awid-forum/

Looking at the AWID Forum programme, I felt like a little girl in a sweet shop: i want to go to this session! No, is one! Finally, I sadly had to pick several of them, wishing my superpowers included duplicating myself.
This Edition of the AWID Forum focuses on transforming economic power to achieve social justice and gender equality. Right from the opening session, the tone was set: as feminist, we focus on relationships of power, and on how power dynamics affect our lives, our rights and bodies. The financial and economic crisis has brought tremendous pressure on peoples in general and women in particular, as women are more at risk to find themselves in situation of poverty, unemployment and precarious working conditions in the informal sector of the economy. Austerity measures lead to significant cuts in social spending such as health and education, increasing women’s vulnerability as women’s health is put in jeopardy and possibilities of education are reduced; yet banks are bailed out and saved and multinational corporations carry on exhausting the earth’s resources and making huge profits. As Gitta Sen put it at the opening session, the end has become money, growth and profit while the means are the human beings.
Faced with this situation, we as feminists do have an opportunity: an opportunity to mobilize, organize and influence public policies with alternative interpretations of the economy. In other words, it is high time we shake the orthodox mathematical paradigm of current economics to build new concepts to be used in gendered economics. Such transformative economics include feminist interpretation of the economy where women’s work in the informal sector is taken into account and where the reproductive role of women and the gendered economy of care is valued and recognized, as social organization usually put domestic and care work on women’s shoulders.
Economic power dynamics are not the only relationships that will be discussed over the upcoming four days, as issues of body image, sexual and reproductive health and rights and political phenomenon and militarization will be tackled.
The Forum also introduces in-depth session, longer sessions focusing on a specific theme. Among them, the session on democratic transitions and women in the Arab world was extremely intense and interesting, both online and offline. Offline, because women from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Iran shared first and foremost their stories of hope: as Thoraya Obaid clearly stated at the beginning of the sessions, there is no denying that revolutions brought dynamics of change. Ahlem Bel Haj from the Association Démocratique des Femmes Tunisiennes stated that not only were Arab countries in a transitional democratic process, but that they were first and foremost engaged in a revolutionary process: words have their importance, as emphasizing the revolutionary process keeps social justice and labor rights demands, key demands of the revolutions, in the picture.
Talking about words brings me to the online debate: when tweeting about comments made by panelists and participants that feminists needed to remain vigilant when facing political Islam groups as they could represent threats to women’s rights, some tweeple told me that such a language could be perceived as the language of counter-revolution and that now would be the time to be optimistic about the opportunities ahead. The conversations and work groups during the sessions today and this online debate lead me to this conclusion: as feminists, we are part of a progressive, subversive mouvement, which organically implies always remaining vigilant of conservative forces. The previous regimes in revolutionary countries in the regions were in no way women’s rights champions: it doesn’t however mean that we should turn a blind eye to the situation currently unfolding. We not only need to remain vigilant and alert in developments, as we have always been, but we also need to draw parallels with other countries and learn lessons from the past, as has been mentioned by Sudanese and Iranian feminists at the forum, to try and build a global feminist solidarity network that is enshrined in the universality of women’s rights.

Talking about solidarity and a Feminist International really nails down what this Forum is about: bringing out and mobilizing the forceful, inspiring, so-strong-it-could-move-mountains collective power of women.

Happy AWID Forum!