and the begining starts here...
Mariam and/or Maryam According to wikipedia, Mariam and/or Maryam means the following: Maryam or Mariam (Arabic: مريم) is the Aramaic and Arabic name of Mary the mother of Jesus , mentioned in the Qur’an. The name has the same form in Syriac, Armenian, and Georgian. The Hebrew variant of the name is Miriam.The name may have originated from the Egyptian myr “beloved” or mr “love” or the derived ancient Egyptian name Meritamen or Meri-Amun, “beloved of the God Amun”. It was incorporated in the Exodus narrative as Miriam, the name of Moses’ sister. It became common in ancient Israel, hence its appearance in the Gospel narrative as the name of Jesus’ mother and several other women. It is also believed that the name means ‘rebellious’. My name reflects so much about me, it is a story on its own. I’ve had several attempts with blogs, even had some sort of a website when I was 15 writing about my favourite music, films and a little more about life behind the books. I am no stranger to the concept of publishing my writings as well, I’ve published works since I was 14 and was the editor of a publication for several years. I stopped writing 3 years ago when It became too painful for me. The process in which I write, the words that come out of the slick fast movement of my fingers on the keyboard, even the final editing process were all becoming very difficult. I stopped writing 3 years ago, and today I write again. I fear the grammar would betray me, the expression would fail me and the subject matter will prove to be nothing more than average. But time is running, and my thoughts need to be documented. There are no excuses, I am Mari/yam and this is my book
1 Minute and 40 Seconds Later - Friday, January 20, 2010 -
Regent Park, London
t is cold tonight, and I just returned from a journey I spent exploring the many neighbourhoods of my mind within the context of a foreign city. I took 5 buses, 2 trains and walked from east London to it’s centre, all whilst listening to one looping track on my iPod and drinking all sorts of coffee my stomach can handle. So many things happened today, so many things to tell. I don’t remember most of them, but I remember this: Today, I saw you walking here too. I saw you walking along Tottenham court road, stopping by Pret A Manger for a some coffee, and continuing your steps to a direction I chose not to know off. Were you carrying a bag, your laptop or nothing? I wasn’t sure, I was only certain that you were there too. I saw you secretly stealing glances at people walking and shedding around you, all while listening to music that blocks the sounds of an unfamiliar city. I saw you stopping in front of Foyle’s bookstore, and contemplating whether to spend the last 20 pounds you have for the day on a book you will probably not read. I was not following you, and you were not tailing behind me, we were both walking along the same lines. Living parallel lives with different directions in sight. We no longer belonged to the same dream, we no longer walked to the same destination. And it was then that I felt an awkward cautious sense of relief.
That awkwardness scared me at first, you can perhaps label it as fear of the unknown. I was also freed. As I continued walking, I aggressively tried to confront that relief and understand it more. I felt I needed to give you or rather us really some momentum, after all it was us, the Me and the You. But I couldnâ€™t think of anything and was just hoping for you to start disappearing into the crowds. It was then that you stopped to look at me and smile. I pretended to be rushing and neglecting, but the sincerity of the look in your eyes stole a smile from my lips too. I donâ€™t know what you were thinking at that moment, I know I was still hoping youâ€™d disappear. 1 minute, 40 seconds later I decided to continue walking. 9 years, 1 minute and 41 seconds later, I let go.
La Ballon Rouge 1 Egypt 2005 - Thursday, August 26, 2010 -
sometimes write about my travels, which is of course ironic because I am not a traveler, in fact, when I do travel its always a pleasant surprise.
When I was a kid, I watched the famous 34-minute short by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse titled â€œLe Ballon Rougeâ€?. It follows the adventures of a young boy and a mute red balloon. Since then, I have always fantasized about being the red balloon, so free, so beautiful and so red. When I travel I am le ballon rouge. Before Egypt, I had never travelled on my own. It was totally understandable given that I come from a culturally sensitive family that finds it foreign to send their kids on travel journeys on their own. I was 23 at the time, which was also unthinkable for my father who still believed I couldnâ€™t be trusted with my passport on my own. Another issue was the passport, you see being an Iraqi was never easy; having the Iraqi passport is another story. With almost no proper government present to solve simple issues of immigration and belonging, losing an Iraqi passport is basically the shortest road any to political suicide. It was almost a shock for me to see my friend at some point with her passport in her suitcase and not locked in a safe somewhere where nobody could ever find it. It was in August 2005 that one of our distant relatives who live in Egypt suggested I come to Egypt and spend some quality time with his daughter who is a good
friend of mine. My father hesitated at first, rejected later. But only when my visa to Egypt came the next month, he got over excited with the fact that I actually got a visa that he couldn’t resist the temptation of accepting the offer. When I packed my bags the second day my mother was almost crying in the next room, scared of the idea of me being on a plane with strangers alone. She was super excited that I was going, but also fearful that the plane will crash, I will be lost in Cairo Airport or that my bags get lost. Another thing to understand about my family is that we fear many things that we cannot suppress, repress and master. We are and will forever be in love with situations that are within our control. The day came that I had to travel, and my father coyly suggested to take permission from Dubai airport’s security team to drop me to the gates. I refused begging him to let me experience the standing in line, and the humiliation that usually comes from traveling from one country to the other on my own. I told him ” baba I am not going to Amreeka!” He nodded with disapproval but only managed to accompany me to the security checkpoint. After I saw him disappear into the crowds, I choked on my tears a little and was very disappointed that I didn’t live up to my expected independence and strength. It was only when I reached the duty-free shops at the airport that I felt this rushing sensation of freedom taking its toll on me. I couldn’t explain it at first, but I realised it soon after, I was free, and I had to have coffee. I waited in line for my drink, so proud of my suitcases and my organisational skills as I looked at my watch with 40 minutes to spare until take-off time. I lost track of time standing in line, gazing at travellers and trying to find young liberated souls like mine. I got my coffee and decided to sit on one of the benches and pretend to read a book like all those interesting travellers I used to see before. As I attempted to get my book, I heard them calling for my flight, saying it was the last call. I panicked scared that I would miss my flight; the gate was at least 10 minutes away. I didn’t understand the concept of final calls. I remember panicking, and running with one hand carrying a hot cup of latte and another trying to balance my backpack on my body. Coffee stained me, burnt me and the bag opened its mouth suddenly to scatter my life as I knew it on the airport floor. I was sure at this point that I had missed my flight and so scared of my parents’ disappointment when they find out. I heard my dad’s voice telling my mother confidently that is why he doesn’t send us on trips on our own, all while packing my scattered belongings into one tiny bag. I managed to reach the gate only to find that people were still checking in, they were relaxed and so was I at that moment. By the time I reached my seat on the plane, I was emotionally exhausted. I fastened
my seat belt and prayed a little to find myself 4 hours later waking up to what was not a smooth landing at all. As I walked towards Immigration at the airport, I realised I was already embracing a new culture. Loud people, very loud chaotic people going through customs and passport control without hesitation, without a pause. I embraced that culture quickly and found myself standing impatiently as well and cursing secretly at the “system” like they did. When my turn came up, the officer looked at my passport and asked me to step aside. I sat on a wooden bench next to a very angry woman, one look at her, and I knew I was in trouble. I sat there for almost an hour trying to put logic into why the “other” Arab, English, the American and the French were admitted into Cairo with a smile. I didn’t understand it then like I don’t understand it now. Why? Did I not speak their language? Do I not share their culture ? Isn’t Iraq the country that welcomed millions of Egyptians in the 80′s? At that point, I really did not want to understand. To my luck, and as a testament of how nice the Egyptian people are (regardless of what rules govern them) a young officer approached me and finalised my papers in no time. He flirted a little, which did not bother me because he was really funny. Note: Egyptians are funny. I left the airport to see my relative waiting for me. I walked to his car trying to grasp as much as possible from the city. First shock: no 4×4 cars. Driving to Masr Al Jdeeda, I started noticing how vibrant Cairo was. Full of life and screams out revolution and resistance, that city was something else. The trip was short and somehow surreal. I spent it being less like a tourist and more like an Egyptian, thanks to Dina my friend there who managed to quickly give me a crash course on education, political system, traffic, infrastructure and football in Egypt. I don’t remember much, but I remember fondly the times I spent in Korba, that almost European part of Cairo that was filled with people who seem to belong to one age group ( 15 – 30). I remember also the time I spent at Ayn Shams University with Dina, and to my luck it was on the same day the infamous Zamalek and Ahli were playing, so needless to say it was epic! The Pyramids of course were beautiful and huge to the say the least, but I was more interested in just walking Cairo and trying to understand the city that dominates most of our popular culture in the Arab world. I wanted to visit Maa’adi, Zamalek, Hilmya, and other areas that I remember from famous soap operas I watched as a kid. I wanted to see the Nile, and test the famous saying that if you drink from
its waters you are bound to come back. ( That didnâ€™t happen yet, Visa issues as always). Egypt was a turning point in my life to say the least, it was the trip that opened the door to other destinations for me. A trip that taught me that Arabs outside of the Gulf region are very different from the ones living in it. It made me realise that the so-called common culture Arabs pride themselves with could possibly be a myth today, it wasnâ€™t the same for me. Young men and women sat on dinner tables like us, in franchised restaurants we often visit here but discussed issues we did not acknowledge back then. It was foreign to me then to sit through dinner and hear conversations about bridges that are almost collapsing, the tyranny of a government, the audacity of a president and the threat of poverty that they all feared. Young men and women below 25 were worried about poverty; I felt spoiled rotten. I donâ€™t recall much of this trip because of my failure to document on paper what I experienced on a daily basis. The only memories that come to mind are the ones in the airport and that day I sat for dinner and left hungry for life.
Bugün Beni Türk Sayin - Thursday, August 26, 2010 -
want to write something, and yet all i come up with are scattered thoughts and meanderings. Yes, I am in a state of shock, and awe at the human condition, and at israel’s continuous audacious existence in this world. A state of crime. That is what it has always been. I want to write something legitimate. Perhaps a full analytical article of the Flotilla massacre and the crimes committed against our brothers and sisters in Occupied Palestine everyday. An article that would begin with explaining exactly what happened in the infamous conference that was held in Bal city in Switzerland in 1897, when the Zionistics agreed to make Palestine their national state. The Article would then chronologically take the reader through the time line of events leading to the establishment of Apartheid isreal. You know: the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the 1936 till 1939 revolting of Arabs in Palestine against the slow but steady silent invasion of their lands, to the 1948's war, to our loss in 1967, our temporary victory in 1973, of course not forgetting Jamal Abdul Nasser ( God rest his soul), and all his efforts in fighting for Arabs.
I would also write about the famous saying by HH Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, the late president of the United Arab Emirates (God rest his soul): Arab blood is more valuable than Arab oil. Outraged by the Israeli expansionist policies and the humiliation of Palestinians, he joined King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and the Emir of Kuwait in unleashing the oil embargo weapon against the United States
and the West even as war raged on in the Suez Canal and around the Golan. The UAE which was only 2 years old nation defied a super power to defend the Arab Honour. I would then move to the first Intifada, the second one, Qana, Southern Lebanon, Gaza, Qana Again, Jenin, Baghdad, Golan, Afghanistan, and and and. I want to also write about the failure of the Arab Nationalist Movement, the demise of Arab bravery and opposition, the death of Abdul Halim and Fairouz songs, the irrelevancy of our blood. I want to write about other things as well, Like for example how some Arabs are now busy dialing all sorts of numbers, and spending all kinds of money to support Star Academy, while being really upset and angry at the Flotilla because ” they asked for it, why would they poke at isreal?” There are so many things to write about. The illusion of twitter yet the comfort that at least we can tweet, the “approved by officials” one day late protests in Arab countries, the continuous futile debate about why we should not support Lev Levive and Starbucks, and oh yes the cool Arabs drinking coffee at Starbucks. The death of our dignity, the absence of our intelligent minds, the demise of our civilization. I want to write about so many things, but I won’t. I want to be on-board of the FreedomFlotilla to write about other things that matter, to stand once and for all in the face of the oppressor, to say NO to everything that is wrong in this world, to perhaps gain the “Shahada” and leave this world in the best way any human could possibly ask for; fighting for justice. Also in other words, I am not an Arab today, nor tomorrow for all I care. Recep Tayyib Erdogan restored my faith in humanity, Turkey is now protecting my dignity. So please, allow me to consider myself Turkish today. Bugün beni Türk sayin: Today consider me a Turk.
Let The Whole Dictionary Burn - Thursday, August 26, 2010 -
eedless to say how I felt as an Iraqi watching the Wikileaks footage of the Iraq strike killing Reuters photojournalist and civilians. It is really not even necessary to write down how I felt as a human watching how disposable we have become. This feels almost numbing because it resembles that video game I played with my brother that day, disposing also of figures and silhouettes , but the difference is: they were not real. It is that simple really, our distorted logic refuses to believe that this was not a video game. Yes, we are all raged by the audacity of those soldiers and the humiliation of our silence, however, we tweeted a bit, updated our FB statuses later on, spoke to our friends and families about it and possibly used creative curse words in the process and then jumped into the next trending topic. But this particular video took away something from me. The words which the soldiers had the impudence to use while aiming to kill those journalists and civilians shocked me. I was expecting of course the profane language, but to have the nerve to use words that are otherwise beautiful and meaningful as synonym to kill was also very demeaning and telling on the double standards american soldiers live by. They are in Iraq to “save” us but all they were really doing was “engaging” with us on a completely different level. To engage with a man you intend to kill is ironic, and a part of me believes it is not
just a random selection of words. There is irony intended, sarcasm noted and most importantly hatred felt. It is like saying “I love you” when all you feel is hate, and “trust me” as you remove your knife from his back. Please don’t get me wrong, this is not what shook me about the video, nor do I care about which words are dead to me now. Let the whole dictionary burn for all I care if it means saving one soul. As an Iraqi, I have witnessed loss of life and pride several times in my short-lived life. I have lost members of my family to war, lost my family’s savings in the staged looting directed by america during the invasion and witnessed the demise of my beautiful country. As an Iraqi I am so accustomed to pain that suffering becomes optional. I have become so used to bad news, that good ones are almost humorous to the ear.This video didn’t make me angrier at the “americans” but rather furious with our state of nothingness. We have become our worst nightmare; nations that unite under the skirt of a dancer and divide when the music ends. Note: I refuse to capitalize america and/or american. This is not a grammar mistake, it is intended.
- Thursday, August 26, 2010 -
he weather is nice, which is a rare occasion in August in Dubai. And yes, I mean the nice that people from other parts of the world would agree on, the “nice” that is not wishful thinking, or the settling for the less. The weather is nice enough for me to write on my porch tonight, no AC, no artificial air playing with my artificially shampooed hair. It is natural, its all real now. I am drinking Pepsi, which has a strange foreign taste in my mouth during Ramadan. Pepsi in Ramadan is too western for me, it feels like cheating, do you feel the same? I never drink pepsi, coke or any other fizzy “western” drink in Ramadan, I don’t know why. It is always water, Vimto and other “eastern” drinks such as Jallab, Qamuriddine or Tamarind. I do know Vimto is an English brand, but we might as well buy the brand and call it our own, I doubt any other race enjoys it as much as we do, especially and only during Ramadan. What else, what else? Yes, I am going for a dental surgery on Thursday. Nothing serious, but guess what? I have a tooth that decided to come out now! Yes, now. I have been waiting for it since I was 6 years old, I gave up at 12, and puff! here it is at the age of 28, signaling yet another beginning, and another end. It is so weird to run my tongue on it as we speak, it feels very first-grade. I am actually suffering growing pains, that is rare, and somehow nice.
I guess that’s nature’s way of telling me I am still a kid. But I am not a kid, I said goodbye to my childhood long time ago. And I am not one of those who miss it. What to miss? The agony of going to school? of proving oneself, of your first crush and your struggle to fit in? Nothing to miss. Did I mention I was a middle-child? I am also worried about how much blame I put on the “Devil” during the regular non-Ramadanic days throughout the year. I blame “him/it” for many of my thoughts and my evil cravings. “He/it” is supposed to be locked away during this month, yet I find myself still entertaining many thoughts I shouldn’t. I also wonder why is it that my life is sin-less in the most-humanly way possible, is it because I refrain myself? Or is it really because I don’t have many options? It’s good to think this way, I once read that only the educated one questions his worth and being everyday. I guess tonight I am highly-educated. I know how to cook. This alone is a statement that will suffice without justifying it with a paragraph of my know-how’s. From Dolma ( Iraqi Cuisine) to white rice, to eggs benedict. I know how to cook. Soon, I will be going away, not for long but not for a short while as well. Am I excited? I don’t know. Will I be leaving home? What is the definition of home really? I still have to renew my permit to stay at home every two years or so. Why am I not talking about it? I don’t want to jinx it, I am one of those Arabs that believe everyone is waiting for the chance to evil-eye me. I am Iraqi that way, or “Dabbaghian” that way. It doesn’t matter I guess.
Parking M28 - Friday, August 27, 2010 -
y fascination with parking lots grew more on the 21st April 2010, which incidentally happens to be my birthday. I had pre-planned it this year to be spent alone, there was this need to validate the last 27 years of my life, with a couple of hours of pure contemplation about the condition of it all.Naturally, and because of the weather I had to spend it indoors. Yes, I spent it in a mall. I remember walking for a couple of hours, I was just walking because I had missed it, and there was no better alternative for me at the time. It wasn't long after until I came across a door that was slightly open, the big sign of "no entry" didn't bother me really, I didn't want to think of any doors that wouldn't open for me on that day.And there it was, a roof-top parking lot that was under construction. No cars, no painted pillars and no numbers. I walked until I reached an edge, one of the edges. The chaotic concrete jungle facing me didn't stand a chance next to the deserted spaces behind me. It felt deserted though it was brand new. There was something so melancholic and real about the way it appeared to be, somehow at the moment it made more sense to me than the whole city.I thought of names, and numbers in one of my attempts to organise my space, but then realised that my attempt to rebrand what is raw was a mistake i often publicly criticise. I soon came to the conclusion that my space should only be named after me and my years, just like the old simple days when naming was purely for definition purposes.
I thought of names, and numbers in one of my attempts to organise my space, but then realised that my attempt to rebrand what is raw was a mistake i often publicly criticise. I soon came to the conclusion that my space should only be named after me and my years, just like the old simple days when naming was purely for definition purposes.I sat on one of the many pavements still waiting for the black and yellow paint, I then switched off my phone. I started thinking about all the cars that have parked in my life before, and all the cars that are parked still. I also passed by some spaces that are still reserved for cars that no longer exist. Parking M28. Yes, that is more like it, I caught myself smiling in victory with my little genius finding, after all I had to practise some sort of positive affirmation on my birthday.I took a quick glance at one car in particular that was parked in the shadow of my mind. It was so dirty and bare, the owner didn't even bother to cover it. It has been there probably for years. Such a waste of space, but soon I told myself it will be towed out. I took another look at my reserved spaces, and prayed a little for those who once occupied it, and continue to own it.I also couldn't shake off the pleasure that stemmed from the mere existence of cars that spent hours only in random spaces. Those cars changed the way this space functioned, and though they no longer had access here, I thought about how good it was to have them then.I made sure that the spaces allocated for my family members were the covered more "expensive" ones. And instead of randomly placing them around the space, I made sure they all go to the front, right next to the door. At the far end, at the spaces that required quite a walk, there were only 3 to 4 cars parked there. It made sense, actually I was impressed, I expected fewer.It was starting to make more sense to me as I continued to draw the plans in my head. I thought of everything; the lighting, the lines and the covered spaces. I mapped the entrance and the exit, and made one much harder to access than the other. I thought of my space this year, and how different it looks. It is no longer filled with static vehicles, everything had to move, shuffle and change. I also considered the major changes I will apply on lighting, as there was absolutely no need for me to spoon-feed the drivers directions on the know-hows of this space. The plan is pretty direct, and those who get lost should not be entertained. I wanted to take immediate actions at that moment, but I hesitated because I knew that it would be a premature move. I needed to start thinking about costs, and with the way this mind was going, I knew more changes would come up in the next few weeks, probably days. I am waiting for the final plan to realise itself before the end of the year, and the beginning of a yet another refurbishment plan to welcome M29. Until then, I made the entrance with special access cards, and put a time limit for free parking.
The Clash of Identities - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 -
reach SOAS this morning ready for another failed attempt at making sense of “reading week” – which is a class-free week for us to catch up with our readings- there at the notorious SOAS steps students gathered with banners and painted faces to march together to the parliament house and protest the cuts on education proposed by the “coalition” government. I stood there with awe and admiration, such naiveté towards the mere concept of expression, and democracy. I stood there contemplating whether to stand too close to “them” or sit a few steps away so that I guarantee a safe distance. I spent a couple of minutes trying to grasp what power was holding me back from marching with them and joining my voice to theirs, and the bigger question posed itself: What am I scared of? All my life, I blamed governments and police officers for the lack of civil action and democracy, and I knew that the moment I changed geographies, that this rebellious righteous person inside of me will finally get her say, and will become a well-bannered person when the occasion rises. Yet here I was, on foreign lands, with several rights I never enjoyed walking away to situate myself and my bag on a bench nearby. In this very cold morning and while everyone was preparing for the march, I regretted not attending “how to overcome the culture shock of being in London” seminar that was offered during orientation week. You see, I am not shocked by
the alcohol, the hippies, the punks or even the porn industry in Soho; I am deeply shaken by this overwhelming sense of freedom that all of a sudden was thrown at me. I am not prepared to say what I think is “right”, nor am I ready to let go of my worst inhibitions and I don’t think I will be in the very near future. This “cultural” shock is evident in every class I take, every assignment I prepare for and every cup of coffee I have with fellow students. You see me not sure whether I should whisper the word “corrupted government” or say it in a loud clear voice, I also constantly catch myself replacing words with politically-correct synonymous –just in case-. Who am I afraid of? I don’t know. What are my red lines in this city? I don’t know Who is the president I shouldn’t talk about here? I don’t know What country am I accountable for? I don’t know Am I now an Iraqi living in Dubai, studying in London? Or am I an Iraqi living in London? I don’t know Am an Iraqi when I was born in Dubai, and lived there all my life? Apparently not Am I an Emirati, given that I was born in the UAE and raised there all my life? Apparently not So many questions that I cannot find answers for in any of the recommended readings, and books I read on a weekly basis. Neither Hunnigton, nor even Marx has the answers to this “clash of identities.” It is a sad reality to know that the authoritarian regime that you feared all your life lies within you. With every piece of bread and every sip of water in my life I was also fed fear and cowardice. I am now comfortable with myself because I know that this “phase” is momentary, and soon I will be back to my old settings where I can exercise my right of pretending that I am the victim of authoritarian regimes, I am the “third” world, and that I am indeed just a product of colonization and imperialism, denying that I ever had the chance to challenge those notions, and break-free.
Enough Circulates.. - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 -
n the streets of Cairo, Egyptians are re-drawing the map of the Middle East, and arguably the world. In a couple of hours it would be almost a week since the protests against Mubarak's regime and government began in Egypt. It was surreal but somehow expected now that Arabs are already enjoying the support of the recent history of a nation's victory against an authoritarian regime in Tunisia. To attempt to analyse what is happening now politically, socially or even from a media perspective is a bit complicated, as it is always dangerous to pose premature findings and analysis on what is happening while it is happening. Indeed, it is writing from the time of conflict that deems to be the hardest, whatever is said now could be proven wrong in the next minute. For Arabs everywhere, what is happening now is unprecedented in the contemporary history of the Arab world. Most Arabs revolutions happened before this generation was born, or when they were really young to comprehend the impact of the change. The myth of the 'Al Sha'ab El Aarabyâ€™, which translates to the Arab nation, was often contested and ridiculed; the masses are mobilised; they are aware, but too hungry and too poor to demand change. Again, that judgment has now proved wrong amidst the epic uprising of the people in Egypt and Tunisia, and the collective solidarity and hope that is visible in all social media between Arabs living in the Middle East, or those forced out
of their homelands in other countries. Social media programmes like twitter, facebook and other blog sites are overloaded with photographs, uploaded footage from AlTahrir Square in Cairo and articles that explain the political and social ramifications of the Egyptian uprising. Social media helped propagate the news and development on the streets of Tunisia and now Cairo to millions of people all around the world, and around the clock. This arguable shift from mainstream media to citizen journalism was challenged by the thorough coverage of the Tunisian and the Egyptian uprising by Al Jazeera channel, which is providing an extensive coverage of all major cities in Egypt and mapping as well the international reactions. The one thing that is evident in the reactions of young Arabs in the Middle East and in Diaspora that this revolution is reflective of a generation that will not tolerate injustice anymore. A generation that is aware that change is not only possible, but also inevitable. The excitement builds up as several Arabs think of the Domino Effect, and what other possibilities are in the very near future. This fear is also stretching to Arab governments that are this is the time of the people, not the ruling elites. Now Kings, Sheikhs, and Rulers must be aware as the word Enough is being repeatedly used in the Global Arab public sphere. The creation of a global public sphere amongst Arabs virtually is not only successful in disseminating information and footage on what is happening in Egypt and Tunisia, but also has reignited the collective nature of Arabs around the world. They now feel that they belong to something bigger than post-colonial segregated geographies, they now belong to the Sidibouzeid and AlTahrir revolutions. It doesn't matter today if you are originally from Iraq, or Algeria, there is this collective identity that was Tunisian a week ago, and Egyptian today. And regardless of how people feel about this immediate shift in the national and local paradigms, the truth remains that what is being witnessed now is an unparalleled re-mapping of the modern world. In London, where I currently live, hundreds gathered in front of the Egyptian embassy yesterday to show solidarity with the protesters in Egypt. I was caught chanting Anti-Mubarak slogans fully aware that I meant every Mubarak in this world. Students from British universities joined to show solidarity and it soon became an international uprising against all injustice in the world. Mubarak, Obama and Cameron were suddenly all one. It is evident at times like these, how injustice can bring thousands of people together, irrespective of where they come from. There is a strong sense of relation, because unfortunately suffering has become an international language. I found myself contemplating songs, slogans, prayers and thoughts as I tried to put logic to what is happening these days, and how all of a sudden the word
government means nothing to me. I remembered all the creative contestation we exercised in the form of political jokes and proverbs, and smiled at the prospect of a new time, and a possibility of change. I wanted to pray Al Duhur, but thanks to my knowledge and understanding of how media works, I was worried that a sensational snapshot of myself praying on a Egyptian flag would be used to characterize this as anything but a revolution of all the people. A photograph of a veiled woman praying on an Egyptian flag would provoke an Islamist discourse and push forward all agendas trying to make this look like a political movement, rather than a popular one. This over-analysis is excused, for so many reasons. After some good five minutes of intense contemplation, I prayed on an Egyptian flag behind the protesters, and it felt right. We all stood there for hours, some longer than the others. It was very cold, which I realised only 4 hours later when I rushed to the closest tube station just to warm myself almost crying from the pain. One can only try to imagine what the Egyptians are feeling now, as they camp on the streets of Cairo in the blistering cold, fighting not only for their right for freedom, but also for our hope for change.
Notes on Egypt
Al Jazeera and The Digital Divide - Monday, February 7, 2011 -
he current situation in Egypt is indeed provoking many discussions about the role of media in the coverage, and some could argue the ignition of its events, which began on the 25 January 2011. The protests, which are held all around Egypt, but mainly focusing on Tahrir Square (translates to Liberation Square) are creating a new school of political and social contestation; what is being witnessed now is challenging the traditional uprising module, and is shifting the event from its national territory to a global scale.The current events in Egypt are labeled differently depending on the language, and the geography. For example, here in London Western scholars are hesitant to call it a revolution as in yet. On the other hand, Al Jazeera Arabic channel uses the words Thawra & Intifada (revolution & uprising) generously when describing the scene in Cairo and other cities, which resonates well with Arab audiences who do not find the use of such labels problematic. Being an Arab myself, I find no problem using both words in the right contexts, with the simple logic that the situation in Egypt escalated when the young Egyptians revolted against the current regime and its president. I also donâ€™t mind using the word uprising ( Intifada) although this word in particular is very nostalgic of the Palestinian one, and I sometimes find that using it plays a strong role in establishing anti-apartheid, anti-Zionism and anti-occupation sentiments with Arab viewers and readers of current news. For the sake of the argument however, I will continue to use the word â€˜uprisingâ€™ in this post. The reason that I argue that this Egyptian uprising is creating a new school, is
because of the interesting intertwined role the media is playing in covering the events as they unfold. There is a circulating discourse that this revolution is a social-media revolution, and it is happening thanks to programmes like Twitter, and Facebook. From a critical point of view, this labelling could undermine the reality of the actual events that are happening for 14 days now on the grounds of the country, bringing together all Egyptians regardless of how connected they are. The reality of the digital divide in this day should not escape us when we attempt to acknowledge what is happening now in Egypt. There is no doubt that social media, and the World Wide Web have contributed and continue to heavily in the propagation and dissemination of information, and are also crucial in communicating with protesters on the ground. Many of the videos and information that we are receiving now are being circulated through social media, and are eventually being used as trusted source of information on mainstream media. However, not all of the 8 million protesters on the 28th of January were twitter and facebook users, those were people that had to protests for the same reasons the ‘connected’ protesters had when they went out on the streets. And when all connections were cut, and the internet was blocked in Egypt, the protests went on, that moment of disconnection did not affect its velocity, but rather affected how we received our information. It is important to question the role of media in this context, without undermining the role of new and small media in the recent events. This is not a Gladwellian article bashing new media’s role in the contemporary political map. Another interesting angle to consider is the relationship between traditional and new media. This interesting shift back and forth between what Al Jazeera has to say, and what activists are tweeting and posting online, created unprecedented ways of witnessing. The distance and the physical disconnection are possibly not relevant, as many consider themselves participants by actively tweeting, retweeting and watching live-streaming from Tahrir square. Al Jazeera recognises this shift in coverage, and utilizes this by setting up a portal for all activists and protesters to post videos, images and news to be used later in the reports aired on the news channel. Also, considering the recent closure of Al Jazeera offices in Cairo, and the arrest of its journalists by the Egyptian governments, the channel is now relying on what the young protesters on twitter and facebook are saying, which in itself challenges traditional journalism. During the live coverage a couple of days ago, one of the news anchors on Al Jazeera undermined the efforts by the Egyptian government to shut down Al Jazeera offices in Cairo and interrupt its live coverage, because as she stated “every Egyptian is a journalist in the making” and this is a “new revolution that cannot be stopped.” These are strong statements from Al Jazeera, which is now gaining momentum for its extensive coverage of events unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt and is being considered one of the integral parts of the Egyptian uprising.
While most Western channels used celebrity journalists to cover the events, such as ABCâ€™s Amanpour who was granted an exclusive interview with Mubarak, and CNNâ€™s Cooper who is covering events live from Tahrir square, Al-Jazeera is still pacing ahead with the generous time slots offered to protesters, activists, Egyptian commentators and experts in Arab affairs. This reflects the strength of the coverage that needs no stars to validate it. There is no doubt that as the events unfold in Egypt, Al Jazeera continues to challenge not only other news channels, but also new media with their coverage. It would be very interesting to see how these recent events could possibly change or alter the dynamics of journalism in Qatar itself, now that universities in Qatarâ€™s Education city are calling for amendments in the press laws. It would only be fair, for the country that brought to us, what is arguably the most controversial of global news channels, to support press freedom in its own territory.
Egyptian Revolution did NOT start in Silicon Valley, CA. - Tuesday, April 5, 2011 -
n March 30th, the frontline club and in association with BBC Arabic hosted a special panel titled: Protest, Technology and the End of Fear. The event hosted Alaa Abdul Fattah, famous Egyptian blogger and political activist, Manal Hassan, activist and co-founder of the Egyptian GNU/Linux Users group, Sam Farah, Presenter of BBC Arabic Nuqtat Hiwar (Talking Point) and Louise Lewarne, who lives in Egypt and is the founder of occupiedcairo.org The second panel hosted Khalid Abdalla, Actor and political activist (you might know him from the Kite Runner), Dr. Omar Ashour, lecturer in ME Politics and the director of the MA in the Middle East Programme in the University of Exeter, Omar Robert Hamilton, British-Egyptian (hyphenated identity) film-maker and the founder of the Palestine Festival of Literature, and Salma Said, an Egyptian activist, and a member of the Kifaya political movement in Egypt. The event started with the first panel discussing the so-called role that technology played in what is now called the #25Jan revolution that led to the ousting of President Mubarak. The event was organised in a way that invited the audience to actively participate in the conversation, which was interesting and did add a certain edge to the dynamics of the panel discussion. The speakers were first asked to say several words about what they thought of, or would like to discuss, and the audience then led the steer of the conversation. The moderator I argue was very excited at the notion that facebook and twitter played a vital role in
mobilising the masses in Tahrir square, and even directed a question at Manal about how she saw technology playing out in Tahrir. Manal disregarded the notion immediately and assured the moderator that technology had no presence in the spirits of the people standing and chanting in Tahrir square. She did not disregard the importance of sharing information about what was happening, but refused even the slightest hint that social media did play a vital role in the success of this revolution. Alaa agreed with her, and explained that Egyptians used their voices (and clubs and rocks whenever they needed to defend themselves against the aggression of the police) more than they used technology. Indeed, in the panel that was aimed at discussing technology and revolution the speakers did not want to discuss facebook and twitter. This was supported by a member of the audience, who shared my views when he stated that the western excitement about the technology being part of this revolution was indeed their way of wanting to be a part of a democratic uprising that needed no intervention. I shared his sentiment when I compared how the theorizing of social media and democracy nowadays mirrors the US excitement about the Samizdats being responsible for the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of Communism. I mean who could forget Hilary Clintonâ€™s infamous speech on the 21st January 2009 when she compared the internet to the Samizdats and declared it the tool for the oppressed against authoritarian regimes. Of course I must note that my comment/question about the political ramification of the fall of Baghdad during the American and British led war on Iraq in 2003 on the Egyptian revolution was met with enthusiasm from the panellists, and rolled-up eyes from the moderator. I guess the fact that the conversation with the audience did shift to the political impact of the revolution did interfere with the already set-agenda to link technology and the Egyptian revolution together. Alaa actually made an interesting comment following my intervention, and discussed how the protests that went out on the streets of Cairo ( opposing the war on Iraq) in 2003, and were harshly oppressed and stopped by the police, led eventually to the formation of several dissident political parties. Alaa intelligently realised that the potential of the question was important, since Egyptâ€™s democracy was established bottom-up, and not like Iraq, which saw its so-called democracy brought on American tanks, and British jet-fighters. One of the most fascinating comments was made by Sam Farah, who took the liberty on behalf of the whole Arab population in the world to declare Arab nationalism dead. Alaa interrupted and asserted that during the whole time in Tahrir square, the chants were: Cairo first, then Jerusalem. As soon as the panel ended, Alaa tweeted: The siege of Gaza will fall, gas will stop flowing, camp David will be renegotiated so Egyptian army can be deployed in Sinai, promise.
The second panel was more involved in discussing the future of Egypt and the political development post the revolution. All of the speakers shed the light on the possibilities of change and development in Egypt now. Omar Hamilton was very precise when he rightly assured that the democratic developments in Egypt must not be linked to neo-liberal economic policies, that link he considered to be ‘dangerous and wrong’. Khalid Abdalla stated that the best support Egyptians can give to other uprisings in the world is by succeeding in their efforts now, and that what is happening now will determine the real success of this revolution. The discussion of course led to the Muslim Brotherhood involvement in politics, which triggered a question from an audience member to Salma Said about the involvement of women in the revolution in Egypt. Of course, anyone who knows anything about the West’s fetishism about burdening the national discourse with feminist theory can predict the moderator’s then interrogation to Salma about who the women were that participated in the revolution, at some point he asked her: who are they? What are their names? Can you name them? Salma was obviously shocked and just simply answered, of course there were. And indeed, there were many, and the way that the moderator went about questioning Salma was heavily orientalist to say the least. The event ended with a rather strong sentiment and question by an audience member that we later on find out that he is Khalid Abdalla’s father, who asserted the importance of having a leader to challenge the already existing powerful parties that are seeking to take power from the revolutionaries. The event was successful in reframing the Egyptian revolution in terms of social mobilization and economic reform, and disregarding the utopian fantasy that silicon valley in California had anything to do with the millions that marched all over Egypt asking for change.
Talbot Square - Thursday, July 7, 2011 -
n a little square by Sussex Gardens in London, two young girls played all day finding pleasure in the littlest things. Amazed by the great weather they were not accustomed to, Talbot Square in London became their haven: trees, grass and benches. It was situated right next to the motel, in which they stayed in with their parents and their baby sister who was too young then to play with them. I heard this story several times from my Rasha and Tamara, who spoke about London with such love and warmth, and that square in particular. I knew that one day I will visit London just to see what Talbot was all about. Years passed, we grew older, and Rasha got married. She left the nest, and went back to the homeland with her husband. Some more years passed, and on an idle Friday we received a phone-call from Iraq telling us of her death. I remember this day clearly like I remember what I had for breakfast today, the details of what my mother was wearing, and the smell of freshly cooked Iraqi lunch from the kitchen. I remember that my hair smelled like the new Johnson's baby Shampoo, a product I never used since then. Fast-forward to year 2011, and 9 months into my life in London, I finally found the courage to visit that square in Paddington. I went there with so many high expectations, and excitement that I will be visiting this magical place my sisters
believed was the best place to be in the city. To my pleasant shock, the square was less than ordinary, a very small green piece of land situated in the midst of motels and dark old ugly buildings. I looked around trying to find the ‘scary’ lion statue they often spoke of, and there it was a tiny statue of a gold and red colours right next to the square.I sat on a bench, and took a deep breath. I was a bit disappointed to tell the truth, and a little bit angry as well. I couldn’t quite understand why the anger when I believed that I would be smiling like in the end of a movie when the heroin visits her sister’s playground and makes a little prayer for her. The feeling of serenity escaped me, and tears started suffocating my eyes trying against my own will to leave. It was when one managed to escape my control that I realised that all I wanted to do was to pick up the phone and scold her for such exaggerated description of the square. I realised how much I wanted to have her number saved in my mobile phone, you see she died well before technology took its toll on us. Oh wait, she did manage to see my father’s first mobile phone, you know the big black block back in the 1990’s. Oh yes, I remember she laughed calling us privileged elites, since she lived in war-torn Iraq now; food and security is what she worried about. I found myself wondering if my sister would have had a blackberry, she had to. I would send her images of myself in every spot in this city, she would have loved southbank, and would probably reply with a crying face wishing she was there with me. She would also send me a message late at night to check if I was ok, you see she loved playing mother so much reminding me all the time that she changed my diapers. I would also send her an image of the so-called great square and laugh at her lack of imagination. I started thinking about her Avatar, she wasn’t the type that changes her picture every day, or maybe she was I don’t know, I will never know.I will never know! There, right there I started to let go of my tears and surrendered to crying. I was laughing and crying at the same time thinking about the absurdity and beauty of the human mind: the mundane details that help us survive. It has been a while since I’ve cried for you Rasha, not because I haven’t had the urge, but because like everybody else, I pretend that death becomes easier by time. You always used to annoy us with your constant ego-trips: “ How much do you miss me? How much do you love me? Am I your favourite sister/daughter?” we used to always nod and ignore you. But here you go Rashawi, I am not ignoring you anymore. I love you more than you can ever imagine, your absence has made you my favourite sister, and mom’s one and only. I miss you so much and the thought of not messaging you in the middle of the night scares me still. Oh how I wish I can tell you about my life in London, and about my good grades. I wish you can tell me again how special you think I am, and how different you thought I was from everybody
else. The day you died, you took something away from me that will never come back. This pain of losing you has raised the bar so high for other mediocre pains in my life; nothing can break me like your absence did. Even your death made it easier for us to endure other pains, you were right Rashawi, mako mithlich*. I will visit Talbot again, look at my phone and think of you.
Platform 12 - Monday, November 14, 2011 -
he ran down the steps, whispering to herself “I am free”... She did not understand how she almost flew off the steps: Light, that’s how she felt.
“I am free” she kept repeating it, trying hard to remember all the beautiful slogans she read about freedom, all the songs she chanted as a child, all the synonyms related to that glorified word, she remembered none. She instantly thought of Kundera’s story, and how finally she was beginning to understand what he meant when he called it “the unbearable lightness of being”. She was not running to the station anymore, she was flying. She did not look back, not even once. Was she tempted? Maybe. “What if I miss the train? What if I reach the station to find it empty? Where will I go?” Home, she thought. A funny word, a phantasmagorical place rather. No, there is no home. She kept running, she could feel the slow loss of breath, but she did not slow down, she couldn’t now. Not anymore. The distance between the bench and the station was not long, the station was not far. “Where will I go?” And then she smiled thinking to herself that this is everything she ever wanted; this is what she read in books and often imagined as her life. Running free in the cold streets of south London, homeless men begging for money and cigarettes, strange women and men drinking to forget, in the distance jazz music playing... This was it, this was her book, but she was
no longer reading it. The station is there, but her solace was behind. The station was too close now, it is time to look back, and maybe the bench can still be there. It wasn’t. She reached platform 12, but it was the wrong platform, it did not take her home. She knew that, but she jumped on the first train 40 seconds before it departed. She knew the destination was unknown, but she took the train anyway. On the seat, beside a man who looked happy with his poppy, and disgusted with the world in his paper, she began to breathe again. The music in her head began to fade away, her voice stopped narrating. It was all quite, it was light again. He looked at her with eyes of wonder, and asked: “you smell really good, that is you right? It’s like I am in a meadow?” She nodded “Yes, I am the meadow.” He smiled and continued reading his paper. She looked away, and her heart started beating again, she was going nowhere, where will she sleep tonight? His phone rang and all he said was “I am running a bit late, but I will be home soon.”
The Poet & The Scientist 1.1 - Sunday, March 18, 2012 -
hey left their foreign cities, and forged digital alliances to meet in the epicenter of their colonised past. She packed the innocence of her scarred life, the poetry of her ancestral belonging, and he traveled light, burdened with his manufactured convictions. He came with numbers and diamonds, and she welcomed him with extremes of veiled chocolates, cigarettes, and her words. In the express train, there it was: collisions of shock and anticipated pleasures as they waited to reach the centre of what they once both called home. The conversation was just about to start, but the debates were silenced, the binaries were resting, and the potentials heightened. The conversation continued, and foreign music played in the background to remind them once again, that it was indeed all foreign, all but their coveted explosion. Laughter, tears and music all seemed wordless at a moment when her words were silenced and his numbers were subtracted to zero. Musky scents of occupied pasts in a room that witnessed the death of poetry and the abortion of science. He tasted pleasure, she suppressed pain and both surrendered to a moment they knew will last for as long asâ€Ś a moment does.
He watched her words fall asleep, and her defenses fall as his lips stretched with a small victory that he concurred her lands, and claimed them his. She slept to dream of her words again. Outside the small window was the remains of an empire that insisted on stealing their belonging. They denied it with the smell of coffee, fresh bread and cigarettes stealing with pleasure moments of their lives. Outside that window, was the empire, but inside the room was Baghdad. Baghdad: loved, hated and coveted stood uncontested in her eyes, Tigris flowing signaling him to taste home, and begging her to quench her thirst.. They both swallowed home to the point of rejection. In Baghdad, the explosions went silent too, and the unfamiliar sound of peace alarmed them that it was too, coming to an end. The music faded away, and the conversation rested to give space for a debate that mocked the rivers and the sweaty palms. His numbers increased, as her poetry resurrected: Words he tried to erase, and softness that suffocated his resistance. He screamed for proofs, as she scribbled words on sheets that witnessed her demise. She wore her contradictions and he fixed his emptiness as they left for the train. Quite they were, but the silence has left them. He took a glance back at the building that welcomed their wreckage, while she held his hands preparing to let them go. She was the poet, and he was the scientist.
Accidental Seeds - Monday, July 9, 2012 -
welve years ago, i said something: one sentence, a reactionary statement to a loved one that I probably did not even mean, or maybe I did. That 5-word sentence shaped both of our lives drastically. Good and bad changes came along on the different paths we led, but the truth is, it was that sentence that shifted the realms; sliding doors you can call it. I never forgot that day, although i forgot everything and everyone that led me to it. It was a seed that I planted unknowingly in a distant past that I reap the fruits of today, and tomorrow. I had a conversation with my friend recently about those seeds we 'accidentally' plant and live/witness their bearings later on. I did not speak of the intentional actions we take in our lives to foolishly attempt to design a planned future we have no control of, but seeds that we sporadically scatter around, not aware of what consequences they bear. Well that 12-years old statement that I take full responsibility of, is what led me 11 years later to research and examine the meaning of diaspora, and take interest in the dislocated. A sentence that I did not understand back then, led me, Maryam, to continue my education examining the meaning of being diasporic, and continue my search for the meaning of home. I wish not to indulge you in the private meandring of my mind, but I couldn't help but wonder today in the midst of all the unnecessary errands I was running,
what seeds was I planting? What have I said and done that will ultimately decide how my tomorrow will look like? You see, I am a firm believer that we do not meet by accident, and that we each hold significant roles in each other's lives that will ultimately change our paths, or direct us to new ones that we are not aware of. This belief, agree or disagree with it, has led me to examine closely my relationships with people and events around me. I examine them with awe and wonder, mainly questioning the role(s) they played, or will eventually play in the shaping of my coming days. I recently met that person, who was kind enough to remind me about what I said 12 years ago, but with a hint of sarcasm and humor. He assured me that it was indeed part of a forgotten past, and that it had no bearings on any of us. But I knew then like I know now that this polite reminder was nothing but an attempt to shed light on the power of our words and actions, and how one slip of a tongue can possibly alter destinies. I could write so much about this topic, about all the random things I've done or said in the last couple of years that led me where I am now. Perhaps I will, soon. But right now, I must admit that it is both scary and exciting to think of those accidental seeds. What might they be? Was it that book I just started reading, the email I decided to send today to an old friend, the smile I generously offered a stranger at the gas station this morning, or this very blog post I decided to write this late hour of the night? Accidental seeds, indeed they are.
On Brothers, Cousins and Strangers - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 -
midst the traffic of all the drama series competing for audience attention during Ramadan, couple of productions managed to catch, if not ignite the attention of Arabs and Muslims around the world. The famous Omar that narrates the historical significance of one of the most prominent figures in the Islamic history; Omar ibn AlKhattab, and another Kuwaiti series titled, ‘Saher Al Leil’ which takes place in Kuwait, during the Iraq-Kuwait war in 1990. Much has been written about Omar that I feel the only thing I want to say about it is that I am indeed watching it. It is interesting how the debate itself on the series has rested within two fixed positions, or rather statements: I watch Omar I don’t watch Omar You can read statements as such on both twitter and facebook, with some offering explanations and others just sharing their decision; the main concern being the depiction of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh). In the specificity of Iraqi online groups on Facebook that I have been monitoring lately, the debate on Omar took a different shape given the nature of the sectarian sensitivities within the Iraqi community. Some of the members of the different Iraqi groups were posting images of the series, especially scenes in which the
character of Omar Ibn AlKhattab and Ali ibn Abe Taleb are together, either to bring awareness to the desired unity between Sunni and Shia Muslim Iraqis, or sometimes even to poke fun at one sect. Some of the expressed views in the groups I monitored about Omar were in fact suggesting that watching the series is indeed a ‘strong’ political statement against the status quo in Iraq nowadays. I apologise to the non-informed reader about the nature of the dispute between the different sects in Islam, and the symbolism of both Omar Ibn AlKhattab and Ali ibn Abe Taleb to the sectarian politics, I wish not to indulge in such details in this post. I just wanted to share some of my observations on the initial reactions in both the Arab public sphere ( I use the term loosely here) and the Iraqi one. Very interesting observations were made as well in regards to the Kuwaiti series Saher Al Leil which depicts life in Kuwait during the Invasion of Iraq in 1990. I have not watched the series, and so will not offer my opinion on what the show is about. However, what I believe is fascinating is the sense of unity this series has provided amongst Iraqis from different sects, ethnicities, and political backgrounds. I myself have received emails and facebook messages from different Iraqis I know, that hold very different political, religious and social views all critising the series, and bringing back a rhetoric that has not surfaced for almost 22 years now; images of Iraqi Car plates, with Kuwait listed as a city, and images mocking the borders between the two countries. In fact, the same groups that had very conflicting opinions on Omar Ibn AlKhattab’s role in Islam shared almost the same views against what they described as a false and unfair depiction of Iraq in the series. It actually reminded me of the famous Arab proverb أنــا وأخــي علــي ابــن عمــي وأنــا وأبــن عمــي علــي الغريــب which roughly translates to: My brother and I against my cousin, and my cousin and I against the stranger. I have included images I found on facebook, published here for illustration purposes only.
Say Hello and Wave Goodbye - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 -
have a certain fascination with suspended spaces and time(s), such as airports, train stations and in some instances hotel rooms. There is a lure to the revisited places that often witness pleasures, pains and heightened potentials, well at least for me there is. I have always been attracted to such spaces, every time I travel, and God knows I've had my share in the last two years ( I've traveled through airports more than 40 times), and yet every time I do, I make sure I go at least 4 hours before my flight departs so that I'd spend some time in a terminal filled with people either welcoming new stories, or ending long ones. I'd always sit on a chair either with a book that often masks my curious looks, or a notebook where I jolt down stories i'd imagine happening in the wandering minds of fellow travelers. Yes, I often also spend some time imagining or at times pushing visual images away in hotel rooms the moment I start occupying them, trying to understand what stories the walls have to tell, and what shames or pleasures the white clean sheets had to witness. Train stations however remained foreign to me because of the nature of transportation in the city I lived in most of my life, that was until I moved to London, and they became central to my life. My last recollected memory of a train station was in Baghdad, I don't remember the name of the station, but I was
probably 7 years old, excited about having our private cabin with bunk-beds to share with my siblings on our trip to Kirkuk where my Aunt ( may she rest in peace) once lived. Was there a big clock in the station? That's how I remember it, but also that's how they are portrayed in hollywood films, so perhaps my memory is tainted with western stereotypes, and romantic associations with the industrial revolution as it is portrayed in books and films I read and watched growing up. Until I started traveling outside what was once the locus of my universe, I began observing train stations and my fascination with them grew even more. I've spent some ample time in stations during my time in London, sometimes in passing as means of commuting, and others saying my hello's and goodbyes. I
always looked for the odd couple that fought before one of them boarded a train away, or the ones that did not cry but laughed trying to ease the separation. I was in love with my selections, and often imagined that I would also reclaim the space when the time came to say my goodbyes, and create a counter-argument to the usual tears shed while departing. But that never happened, instead I saw myself narrating in my head instances when I had to say goodbye to loved ones while it was happening! It was too intense, I'd hear a voice-over in my head describing the teary eyes, the shaking hands, and the embrace that truly suspends time. My mind also directs the whole scene where people move in time-lapse, while I am standing still feeling with every passing second, a life-time slipping away. My narrative in fact, became the most dramatic of them all. A week ago, I revisited a station that I hate and love by chance, not intended, I found myself somehow forced to take it to reach a hotel-room I then called home. I walked in with so much caution, pretending I was a horse, that I only saw what was in front of me, and that my human eyes could not comprehend the sideways. I wanted to avoid that seat outside the station where I sat not so long ago crying because I had to live that un-coveted goodbye. I avoided the gateway which saw both the arrival of my solace, and the farewell to the arms. I tried to avoid looking at the station I was now walking through so much, that I actually missed both my gate and the train. And then I looked behind, and saw that clock I have always imagined in the train station in Baghdad, and saw my little self crying because her daddy then could not travel with her to Kirkuk. I also saw that with every goodbye I said in the train stations of my life, I always shed rivers of tears because in their essence, farewells are hated by me. I stopped blaming myself for my overt sense of sensitivity, and accepted that my vulnerability to separation is rooted deep in losses I've lived through in my childhood and adult-life. I accepted then only that my sadness and fascination with train stations, airports and hotel rooms, comes from my continuous struggle with the temporality of it all: of life, moments, happiness and love. I waited for the next train on a bench close to the one that I avoided, and I saw me sitting there crying genuinely as I said goodbye there once, and It did not bother me, in fact, I smiled at me and prayed that I will never stop crying for those who matter, but then leave. I also closed my eyes a little and prayed that the next time I am here, I am saying hello not waving goodbye.
Googling Ramadan - Thursday, August 9, 2012 -
t was warm, the kind of warm you'd appreciate after living in London for a while, a warm long july day in 2011, which was also the first day of Ramadan, and my first ramadan away from the east. I remember all the conversations that led to that day about what seemed to be the impossibility of fasting the long hours of the day; not accustomed to the European summer, I found it difficult at first to grasp the idea that fasting 17 hours a day would be possible. I didn't think of the fact that life during Ramadan in London would resume as normal, and how the smell of coffee, cigarettes and bread would be hovering in the air I breath. I forgot that in London, unlike other cities I've witnessed Ramadan in, the majority would not be fasting, I forgot. I also did not think that when it was time to break the fast, I wouldn't have my TV turned on Sharjah TV channel with their famous iftar ritual every year, in fact, I forgot I didn't own a TV and that my fasting would break with me googling the time of Maghrib and comparing and contrasting the different timings between the different time-zones of the city. It did not feel special at first. I remember situating myself in front of my laptop with some strawberries and
water since I had no dates and yogurt, and searching on youtube for the Adhan that most resembles home. The moment I'd break my fast, I'd pray and then call my friends and socialise a little with them before it was time to catch the last tube back to my apartment. It was difficult the first couple of days, until I decided that googling Ramadan in London, was probably not the best way to spend the holy month in a city that was slowly becoming home. And so began my journey in trying to ease the binaries that rested within me about the East and the West, slowly by taking short walks around my neighborhood and trying to spy with my little eye fellow muslims. As soon as I reached the bus stop in my beautiful islington neighborhood, a woman too busy reading her novel and twirling her hair smiled at me, and said Ramadan Mubarak. At that moment, I couldn't tell if she fasted as well, or if she was indeed a 'fellow Muslim', in fact, I ridiculed my very attempt of trying to 'type' her as any kind but a fellow human being. And there it was, the bus journey that took me to the centre of what was then my universe showed me a sense of collectivity in a society that is often dubbed as individualistic. I found myself seeking that sense of closeness that I often reject priding myself that I belong to the 'I' alone, and nothing else. I found myself walking to Edgware road, the famous Arab street that always offers the best and the worst of what it means to be an Arab. I actually found myself looking for the commonalities rather than the differences I usually feed on, That Ramadan, I became very collective. It was difficult at times to feel the spirituality of fasting, when the coffee smell from the neighboring cafe is almost blinding to all my senses, or when the parade of the teenage drunks starts marching on my street on friday night, indeed it was very difficult to the point that I wanted badly to go back to Dubai for just a while, just to feel the presence of God again. But then I found my solace in the words written by Him that tell us, and told me that day that " To GOD belongs the east and the west; wherever you go there will be the presence of GOD. GOD is Omnipresent, Omniscient. (2:115)" Ramadan is beautiful in London this year as well, and though I stopped looking for commonalities between me and this city, I find solace in knowing that He is here, like He is there, without the need to keep googling Him.
Notes on the Iraqi Spring, and the last day(s) of 2012 - Sunday, December 30, 2012 -
Below are some of my notes and observations on the recent uprisings in Iraq, in what is now being called the #iraqispring. I believe it is important to document these observations so that they allow for revisited posts analysing in details the changes in the political in Iraq.
th December : Today marks the 7 year anniversary of the death of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi leader. Today also marks the day before the last of the year 2012, and the 9th day of the ongoing protests in Iraq against the rule of Al Maliki, the current Iraqi prime minster. Today is indeed an interesting day to be monitoring social media platforms and view the dynamics of posting and commenting from Iraqis world wide, who are either engaging in hot debates about the nature and causes of the recent uprisings in Al Anbar, the largest province in Iraq , or commenting on the plight of Iraqis after the death of Saddam Hussein. There are those also contesting the idolization of the former president taking shape in Facebook posts and twitter hashtags that celebrate his life, and mourn his death. Many posts on Iraq found on twitter and Facebook are linking directly between the protests happening nowadays to the death of Saddam Hussein, and trying to create a narrative that sees both events as cause-effect. This is deducted from posts that argue that 7 years after his execution, Iraq has become worse, hence the
protests are a natural result of the deteriorating conditions of Iraqis both inside and outside Iraq. These protests that Iraq is witnessing are proving to be quite different from the previous attempts by Iraqis to contest the status quo. I have written before that in 2011, and inspired by the events that took place in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in the Middle East, a Facebook page was created to encourage Iraqis to revolt against the current regime, and abhor immediately all of its attempts to divide the country on basis of sect and religion. The Facebook page "The Iraqi revolution" kept encouraging protests and civil disobedience, and recording all the incidents where number of Iraqis were seen protesting in Baghdad, Mosul and recently Al Anbar. At times that did not witness any civil protests per say, the page kept posting about the government's wrong doings, and encouraging participation online in discussing and contesting the political situation in Iraq. The page also mimicked the famous solidarity campaign with Palestinian prisoners, to show support to Iraqi prisoners that are suffering from inhumane conditions and unlawful trials. Two weeks ago, and with the recent government's tactics in attacking Sunni parliament members, and the news on the conditions of Iraqi women in prisons, the page started calling again for a revolution, specifically calling on the honour, and chivalry of Iraqi men in light of the violations against women in prisons; rape, torture and unlawful imprisonment. The revolution became a necessity to protect the honour of Iraqi women, Iraq's narrative itself changed from protesting the status quo, to defending the lost honour of iraqis worldwide. In the context of the East, more specifically the Middle East and Iraq, toying with words like Honour, and integrity can be quite daring to say the least. It poses a threat on the broadly-defined masculinity, and invites serious 'protection' of the allegedly forsaken honour. The posts in the Iraqi groups encouraging the protests were all inviting 'men' to protect their 'sisters' and 'daughters' from the government's injustice, posting photos of the tortured and raped victims and posing the rhetorical question of : " what if she was your sister?". This is arguably intended to provoke a sense of anger and entitlement to Iraq's women, creating what I contend is a community imagined just like Benedict Anderson theorised, where the Iraqi man is obliged to protect the honour of all Iraqi women, like they were his sisters, and daughters. The Iraqi woman in this context became one of the symbols of the uprisings; saving her consequently means saving Iraq.
It is also interesting that at these times that call for the protection of the 'woman' in Iraq, India sees its own version of the protests, in light of the Delhi rape victim that died recently. Social media platforms were flooding with posts about the status of women worldwide, and the rape that took place in India provoked serious questioning of plight of women world wide. However, and from my own personal observation of the reactions recorded on new media, there was an ideal missed opportunity to link those two events together, almost denying the significance of the feminist discourse in the political; Both India and Iraq revolted for women worldwide. The Iraqi Spring as the protestors and online activists are calling it, is proving to be quite detrimental in contemporary Iraqi politics. Many are attributing its success to the fact that global news channels are actually covering the events, contrary to previous attempts by Iraqis that did not make it to headline news. One of the activists messaged me on twitter citing his excitement that Al Jazeera channel finally decided to " interrupt their continuos coverage of Egypt, and shed light on the protests ongoing in Al Anbar." This reliance on media for the success of any protest and attempted coup poses serious questions about the 'imagined' role of old and new media in the Middle East, and invite serious investigation of the uses of media worldwide. Iraqi news channels were also celebrated on social media platforms for covering the events and offering a platform for the activists to voice their opinions outside the 'online realm'. Channels such as Al Baghdadiya, Al Rafidayn and Al Mosoliya are amongst the channels leading in covering the uprisings in Iraq. Al Sharqiya channel, most popular amongst Iraqis worldwide is now condemned by activists that are calling for its boycott for failing to cover the protests. Facebook posts are calling on Al Bazzaz, owner of Al Sharqiya to explain the lack of media coverage on the events. This is indeed an interesting moment in Iraq's contemporary history, where the extension of the political contestation from the online to the offline has actually started to echo globally. The role of media in creating the narrative of the protests is crucial, and a serious understanding of its dynamics is needed to fully absorb the changes in the political and social spheres.
"So, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief" - Monday, December 31, 2012 -
t has been a fictional year to the say the least, so fictional that even writing about it seems hard at a time when I myself find difficulty in convincing my mind that what I went through was real, not a wild segment of my imagination, nor a chapter drafted by Pamuk, or Plath. A year that included but was not exclusive to: being stranded, almost homeless in a city so cold, a city I once called home. A year that included but was not exclusive to: first times, last times and repeated disappointments. A year that included but was not exclusive to: rejections, shattered dreams and loss of meaning. 2012 was indeed a fictional year for me. I should have taken a hint at how it started, with serious negotiations with the self, and God. Endless meaningless conversations about existence, and futile attempts to lure the evil into the good side, and rest the binaries between the colors white, and black. I should have understood in January last year that this year was not going to be good. But I don't give up, I am one of those that survive against their own will, persevere against all odds, and stand up when all they want to do, is fall apart. I should have known that night by the river Thames when I laughed so hard, that temporary happiness is no happiness at all. It bears the consequences of sad tomorrows, and constructed, often exaggerated memories of an otherwise, mundane moment.
I should have known in February when my attempts at performing an Iraqi identity, a feminine approach to Baghdad and what I believed then was its manifestations, failed. I should have known that 2012 was alarming when I was left stranded in an island, alone, with pieces of torn paper and a dry pen. I should have known.. March comes, and with it leaves Spring, in a perfect harmony with my withered heart then. I come back to Dubai to find its skies white, its air heavy and its people sad that the good weather was gone. A weather I missed, stranded in England and its cold brutal weather. Applications flooded, pleas for support, attempts to be recognized in any geography in the world, a passport so banal yet powerful enough to take over my dreams, make them impossible. Pieces of paper, stapled together, flavored by neverending colonial powers, stamped by puppet governments; an Iraqi nationality that is divorced from any sense of noble nationalism, or loyalty. That was April for me, a month where a milestone was supposedly achieved, just because it happens that I was born that month. I should have known when May came with another set of questions, that have no answer, with pain that is unfathomed, and disappointments that left my mind wondering; now what? I should have known it was not going to be ok, or perhaps It would: lets rise again Maryam. Summer comes and goes, with stolen moments of laughter and joy as I walk down the aisles of SOAS, celebrating my success and the friends I made along the way. I think to myself, this is a good day, not a good year, but a very good day. Hamdula.. The year begins to end, and my heart flutters at the possibility of new chapters, or perhaps a new book, let's throw this one behind. No lets keep it, it is because of these moments that I have become. Or is this what I try to tell myself? Could it be that suffering is useless? 2 months ago, I stood alone looking at a broken watch in my hand, an actual watch that belonged to another restless wrist, and laughed a little on the irony of it all. There I was, standing still while the whole of Dubai moved around me, the breeze was just getting to change to acceptable, and the burdens were about to get lighter. There were random walks on the beach during sunrise, echoing laughter on familiar balconies, and that watch, left on my palm, remind me yet harshly again that those moments of pure joy, were indeed, out of time. I now keep this watch in a museum I built, mimicking Pamuk's museum of innocence, but mine is not innocent at all. I should have known, but even if I did, I wouldn't have changed a thing. I left this year with a faith that ـر يُ ْسـ ًرا ِ ( إِ َّن َم َع ْال ُع ْسـSo, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief). 2013 must be the year that challenges this one, a year that counters all
the performances of identity that failed and the attempts of reconciliation that bears witness to my own shortcomings. Facebook's year in retrospect displays my images smiling, graduating, laughing, and posing in front of Galata bridge in Istanbul, and SOAS in London. It does not however display the written above, because Facebook is funny this way; we select the moments we want to share with Zuckerberg, the world and the secret services, and they are often constructed notions of a life we would like ourselves to believe we lead. At the end of this year, I am reminded of an old Iraqi song," بــس.. ماكــو عتــاب و لــوم "الســام يــدومThere is no blame after all, let the peace last.. happy 2013, I know for me - ارتاحت الروح- my soul is at peace.
There is Something About Sharjah - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 -
There is something about Sharjahâ€?, thatâ€™s how I usually answer curious questions about the city that is most often referred to as the city next to Dubai. Indeed, there is something about this city that hosts more than 15 museums, the home of Sharjah biennial, and its own little canal. Sharjah, a city often misunderstood because of the traffic leading to it from Dubai and other northern emirates during rush hours. A city that is somehow left unappreciated and unnoticed, or rather undiscovered. There is pedestrian life in Sharjah; the kind that sees its locals walking its streets, and running their errands without the need of a car sometimes. A city with so many falafel and shawerma shops in one street, one is often left puzzled on which parlous serves the best sandwich. There is also the Cornish, and the buildings surrounding it, that saw the settlement of many Arab expat families that decided long ago that Sharjah is their home, even if it meant commuting for hours in the early morning to another city for work. Sharjah is this city, and more. There is so much to say about this city that saw my first steps, and first memories in its parks and busy streets, a city that changed dramatically in the last 15 years but never really lost its essence along the way. It still has its chaotic street structures that see small shops and parlours blossoming organically around the city, without
a forced aesthetic standard from the government to abide by. An element of ‘real’ that reminds you of old(er) cities in the Middle East: Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo. You can find elements of resemblance that often leave a sense of comfort within its diverse Arab diasporic groups. Yes, cabs stop randomly on roundabouts sometimes to pick up the random passenger, traffic jams happen for no reason at times and make you wonder. And there are the ports facing the Museum of Contemporary Art, blue and brown ships from East Africa, India and Iran greet artists and curators as they walk the arts area in downtown Sharjah looking for inspiration. Spice and textile markets beside contemporary art installations create a contrast that actually makes sense. Sharjah is this city, and more. When Salem Al Qassimi and I started organizing Pecha Kucha night in Sharjah, I knew that the reasons were beyond shedding the light on exciting projects and ideas by Sharjah natives, it was also to stress on the inspiration that this city provokes without the traffic bias that often fogs percpetions about it. Pecha Kucha was always concerned with the alternative underground ideas that often see light in small cozy gatherings of creatives; like Sharjah that is often celebrated intellectually and artistically by people who truly appreciate its urban realism. The event is set in Maraya Art Centre : A space for the young and old in the city to meet, greet and create. Colorful Majlis-seating on the floor, green walls and blackboards with chalk-documented calendar events; very reflective of the city itself. This event is my way of manifesting “there is something about Sharjah” into action; through series of 20-seconds slides by participants, almost as long as it takes to truly appreciate this city and what it holds. The first Pecha Kucha night in Sharjah will be organized in Maraya Art Centre at al Qasba, on the 9th February at 20:20 PM. Come, and see for yourself what I mean.
Just one thought for now
The Venice Diaries - Thursday, July 4, 2013 -
ts been more than 50 days in Venezia, my new home for this year. A city so beautiful that at some point you realise that your attempts at capturing its beauty on camera are futile; Photos will not immortalise these visual masterpieces. A city so different from everything else you have known, a feeling that pushes you to renegotiate everything you learnt about living in cities around the world. Venezia is not Dubai, not London, and Venezia is certainly not Baghdad. I found solace in cities I have lived in before in their streets that smell like home, platters of food from cuisines similar to mother’s cooking, but here, I found no traces that I can cling on. A stranger in a city filled with strangers from around the world. Thousands of tourists flock this city during the day almost paralysing mobility on the narrow calles “alleys”; you cannot walk, and you cannot avoid being the random stranger in someone else’s photographed memories. When I first arrived I was overwhelmed with the opening of the exhibition I have been working on for the past 6 months that I missed out on the tiny detail of me moving into another city, changing locations and addresses. At first, I caught myself rushing to capture photos of the different yet similar canals around the city and stealing glances at major landmarks in the hopes of making the best out of my time, but as soon as the exhibition opened, and the work slowed down, I realized that I was indeed not in a hurry to be a tourist in Venice because I was simply not one.
At first, Dubai did not leave me. I found myself waking up almost every morning worrying that I have overslept, miscalculated the time it will take me to reach work, worried about traffic and other things metropolis. It is a strange process to divorce your senses from elements that you cannot control; traffic, car accidents, and half-empty petrol tanks , to be faced with the reality that your body is now under your control, completely. A funny and scary process at times; there is no valid excuse for not showing up anymore. I am still trying to understand the city I call home today, coming up with different theories on what it represents, what It feels like, how it marks me.. Several conclusions rushed to my head in the first two weeks of my time here, one
that was evident is that Venice is not a city for the lonely hearts. I never really perceived Venice to be romantic, in fact, I think it is the complete opposite of that, a city so busy with tourists blocking your way most of the time, that there is seldom any romance left for the others. Gondolas are public, expensive and for someone like me with serious motion sickness, they are not ideal. Still, Venice at night is something else. The tourists leave, the locals sleep and then there are people like me, wandering but not lost, looking around, breathing in the moist, the breeze and the silence. It becomes so quite that you can hear your own breath as you sigh for relief walking in one of its narrow alleys. You see your moon shadow, you know the one we lost in our rush to kill the moon. You feel human again, with a city built with human dimensions in mind; you are no longer small. And yet, there is this underlying overwhelming sense that you are a burden walking in this city alone. The alleys were created narrow enough to fit one person at times, but mostly wide enough for two people to walk together. Alleys are intimate, and your shadow is not intimate enough. And it is because of that that I feel Venice is the perfect place for me to be in right now. I am a girl with a lonely heart, and this heart needs to be challenged in a city that strives to counter all of my heartâ€™s arguments on the beauty of beating on its own. And in the words of Henry James who argued that: The deposed, the defeated, the disenchanted, the wounded, or even only the bored, have seemed to find there something that no other place could give. But such people came for themselves, as we seem to see them - only with the egotism of their grievances and the vanity of their hopes. There is so much to write about, nothing new, nothing you have not heard before about the city, and no new visual discoveries that have not been exploited in souvenir shops. No, but there is Mariam in Venice, and that is certainly new.
That Wooden Bench - Tuesday, October 22, 2013 -
fter the last two years, I really did not think I would be spending this Ramadan outside of the comfort of the Adhaan ( Call for prayers), the family gatherings, and the fuss over what to cook for Iftar. I remember distinctively writing about Ramadan in London last year for the Art Dubai blog, thinking to myself, next time, I will have nothing to write about, my experience will be just like everybody elseâ€™s in Dubai. Fast-forward a year later and here I am in a city I never imagined Iâ€™d ever reside in, a city of narrow canals, and foot traffic that is in its essence, a city that struggles to survive. Ramadan this year came with an official warning from the Italian media of the impending heat wave that will hit the country; a heat wave that media claim has no parallels in the last 10 years. It is not a pretty weather, with structures too old to handle Air Conditioning, and alleys so narrow for ventilation, Venice in the summer is a difficult city. Venice in Ramadan, is almost impossible. With 50,000 residents give or take, I did not really expect to fast with fellow Muslims from the community here, neither did I anticipate paper crescents adorning the lamp posts, but I expected that the spiritual fasting would be the most difficult given that I am now living in Italy, a country that aims to satisfy quite literally all of your senses. But no, I actually was challenged physically to
the point that I did not even imagine I could fast; the heat, humidity, long hours of the day and the walking everywhere were not easy; never in my life did I feel that Ramadan was exhausting physically until I moved to Venice. I spent a couple of days fussing over my body, and when I took control of it, I took a glance at my heart and smiled at my foolishness in focusing on the ritual rather than the worship. I walked every morning trying to find ways in which I can be spiritual; I thought of sitting on a bench in Giardini facing the Grand Canale and mediating a little; but mosquitoes found their way to my legs, arms and face and it did not feel spiritual at all. I tried to sit on my couch and read Quran or watch Moez Masood speak of faith and God but these setting were interrupted by the most-needed showers during the day to cool off. What I believed would be tears this year over my beautiful Quran pages, were actually drops of sweat that just made the whole experience simply uncomfortable. I really was not feeling the spirituality. I even fetched dates from Dubai with me to feel closer to home, made some lentil soup which Mom always makes sure is on our Iftaar table, but nothing worked. Until that morning I left Arsenale where I work and went to buy some stationary for the office only to be stopped by the crowds of people weeping standing in front of the church in Via Garibaldi, saying goodbye to a wooden coffin carried by sad strong men. I couldn’t believe it at first, it felt like a scene off a movie; the sounds of people crying was too loud, and the silence of the street was too quite. I stood there and stared at that coffin for as long as I could, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I wondered who was in it, and what has happened, and what life did he/she lead. I kept staring until I felt my tears cooling off my burnt cheeks. I looked around me fearing for a second that they will figure out that I was an imposter, but my tears were too real. The crowds of mourners started going inside the church and I couldn’t help but follow. I sat there with them along with my tears, they prayed together, I prayed alone but all under one roof. At that moment, I forgot that I had a scarf on my head, and a Quran application on my phone, I only thought of God, and His glory, and this short-lived, almost trivial life. I stayed for a while inside on the wooden bench, with closed eyes I tried to find that spirituality again. Yes, there are no mosques in Venice, but there are houses of God, and at that point I knew I was the closest to Him.
 Egyptian television and radio presenter, religious leader and activist who focuses on the fields of spirituality, inter-faith dialogue, and Islam in the modern world.
I left the church and the mourners alone, and walked slowly back to work thinking of the next Ramadan, praying I would live to witness it. Ramadan is somehow a harsh reminder of Death; there is that sense of relief at the end of it that I had lived through it all, and a genuine fear that I will not live to witness the next one. That wooden coffin accelerated all of these feelings usually stretched out over a month in few minutes. That wooden coffin was my reminder of what Ramadan really meant. I am not sure what I will write for Art Dubai next year on Ramadan, somehow I wish that I will be in Dubai with family, but I also have a feeling that I might be somewhere else. It doesnâ€™t matter really where I am, as long as I am somewhere to witness it again. And pray for Him in all his glory.
Collection of Mariam Wissam's Blogs (2009-2013)