Saturday, February 25, 2006

Late night rambling

Everyday I wake up in this region, my region, I am still amazed how the tangled web of craziness, brilliance, fanaticism, ignorance, brutality and grace weaves itself around us.

Lots of times I wonder why am I still here, I like my culture, yet despise our “reality”, I had many opportunity to set sail, yet always my anchor pulls my back. This accursed attraction to what I define as my land, the one that mistreat me, and yet, like an abused child, I cling to the memories of a happy childhood that never was.

A lot of that is a question of timing, I was born in the seventies and became aware in 80s. The fire of the second Arab renaissance was waning already, Marx has failed to predict “historical certainty” with regard to Arab society. Arab nationalism became a whip in the hand of military tyrants. The wars of 67 and 73 has destroyed the “progressive” appeal of the left, the madness of the Lebanese civil war and the Arab impotence with regard to 82 invasion has sealed the deal.

I am not going to run amok with history, but my region grew darker and darker, all the “gains” of the 50s and 60s were erased, many will argue that we are at Europe pre-reformation level, a quite depressing thought.

Which bring us to now, I stand here, a very “westernized” Arab, wondering if I belong here anymore. I wake up to hear about mosques being blown up and reprisal killings, about journalists being executed, about death cultists who wanted to blow an oil facility. In my land everything changes but the pattern persist, new government in Palestine, 5 dead from an Israeli “incursion”, people making money of booming stock & property markets, while thousands of poor workers drown out of sheer negligence.

The craziness of my region even afflicts the outsiders, who promote democracy while practicing torture, who promote free trade, unless Arabs want to by their ports. They demand stable oil supplies while declaring their intent to reduce their consumption by 75%.

It saddens me to see “my people” angry, misinformed and only roused to vent intolerance. I die inside when I hear young educated people repeat ludicrous conspiracy theories. I hurt when I hear xenophobic and anti-Semitic speech. I don’t like most Israelis, but I cannot blame everything that is wrong with my world on a “Jewish conspiracy”.

So I sit and fume at TV, switching between incendiary (and heavily editorialized) news coverage and mindless entertainment, as if the only two choice are to be angered and roused or brainwashed by Nancy Ajram clones. I read the written media, regional and international, search for conciseness, and I find plenty of it, and yet we are stuck here, on roadside, getting more insular and misunderstood. Believing only in our victimhood and that our only salvation is something to be delivered from above.

I am a stranger in my land, at exile in my home, chained by my identity to a destiny that isn’t mine, and yet I don’t leave. As a son of an olive growing family, I believe in deep roots, and I dream of the sunrise that will open eyes and mind, of my people becoming aware, of themselves and the world. I guess the hope keeps me here and mobile, like my nomad ancestors, between the corners of my region, retracing Alexander the great, dreaming of Gilgamesh and precious indigo, and ships and many songs and books and happy lives, of Baghdad before Hulako, of fishing boats in Acre, of rich harvest and clean streets, of horses that know the road home, and of people who smile at strangers.

As with all romances, reality is harsh antidote, the magic that was, simply was. I get restless, I start researching house prices in Sydney, Cape Town, Vancouver, and New Canaan, Connecticut. I enquire about shipping rate for my precious books, I weigh paying off the car loan. Then I somehow get sucked into a typical maelstrom, and things slip, and I smell home while passing a neighbor’s door, I hear my area accent and I turn my head, I play with friends children and I am overjoyed. I call home and bitch about my latest pet peeves.

This cycle apparently has no end, despair is not an option, neither is dilution of identity. Truthfully though, my identity has less and less to do with my region and more to do with me.

Back to square minus one.

9 Comments:

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Kickers said...

"Truthfully though, my identity has less and less to do with my region and more to do with me."

Meaning you can no longer identify with your surroundings or that you can't blame your region for your despair?

Do you ever, as I do, blame imperialism for this state of alienation?

 
At 10:47 PM, Blogger Desert Pundit said...

Hi
It means as I grow in ages and hopefully as a person, I have less and less in common with my surroundings and I am attached to it by more than name and nostalgia.

While I think that the imperial legacy (especially the Sykes-Picot pact and tha Balfour declaration) has been a prime reason for our state today, I found much more fault within our society, and our (failed) evolution into modern nations.

If you mean my alienation is a result of cultural imperialism, I totally disagree. I grew up with positive attachement to all that positive in the Arab culture and environment, and hence I witnessed the decline of most things I hold dear.

I blame my alienation on society's backward direction, of its fear and misunderstanding of the outside world, to its retreat to traditional and religous identity instead of embracing a new identity that combines positive aspect of modernity with Arab traits.
In short, I refuse to conform to what I view as negative emerging identity that emphasises victimhood and differences with the outside world. That is not my identity, if that is what means to be Arab today, I want no part of it.

 
At 11:44 PM, Blogger Kickers said...

No, I hear you.

But most Arabs are not westernized like you. And modernity is not part of their vocabulary. I don't think they've "retreated to traditional and religious identity." They've always held that identity.

And it's up to people like you to teach them modernity, gradually, in a language they can accept. You can't blame your alienation on society's backwardness. They just haven't moved forward. You know modernity, you lead the way.

Me- I want no part of it. I may sound like a hypocrite, but unlike you, I have no attachment to this collective memory you call "name and nostalgia". I can be tacky and quote Shakespeare on name, but nostalgia of what? No, I'm too mad at them. I'm treated like a walking sin about to explode, being a woman that I am. In tradition, in religion, in law, and in practice, I am a second-class citizen. If there is anything positive about Arab culture, it tastes different to me than it does to you. It leaves this aftertaste, a constant reminder, of my place in society. Why would I want to be an Arab?

But I have the whole world to remind me that I am.

And I blame imperialism. Because if they want me to play the role of an Arab woman, I wish they never taught me modernity.

[I'm not usually this sentimental, political, or feminist. You can read my blog. But I was drawn to your writing, which I'm sure you know is quite eloquent. Kudos.]

 
At 4:16 AM, Blogger manal yusuf said...

here's a qoute that might help
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change
the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".

 
At 5:19 AM, Anonymous Sarah said...

"The hope keeps me here and mobile, like my nomad ancestors, between the corners of my region, retracing Alexander the great, dreaming of Gilgamesh and precious indigo, and ships and many songs and books and happy lives, of Baghdad before Hulako, of fishing boats in Acre, of rich harvest and clean streets, of horses that know the road home, and of people who smile at strangers."

It sounds to me that you are the one who knows your roots, and they have forgotten who they really are.
(You know it's wierd how the smaller the world gets, the more afraid we seem to be of each other..)

I respect you for seeing the beauty in the culture or what was of it, and sticking around becuase of hope. I'm sure being a positive force in your society is an everyday struggle, but will pay off. Another important role is being a good Arab representative when you're not in your region.

I don't think we can tell people to just throw the whole culture in the trash bin and conform to an idea of modernity that's coming from the west or whatever, it has to come from within. From Arab hospitality and wisdom, from questioning and truth-seeking in Islam, become a civilized people through integrity. I don't mean through traditions that branched from these concepts, I mean from the very heart of it make new versions.
Maybe if we hope together it'll get easier :)

 
At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I blame my alienation on society's backward direction, of its fear and misunderstanding of the outside world, to its retreat to traditional and religous identity instead of embracing a new identity that combines positive aspect of modernity with Arab traits."

while i share much of your sentiments I do not blame "the people." if you look at North Korea and South Korea, both share common history, language, and culture up to about 50 years ago or so. today, the north is backward, repressive and corrupt while the south is vibrant, cultured, and democratic. the only difference are the regimes and the ruling elites and all the opportunists in their wake. when they change, everything changes; when they stagnate...well...just look around you (with the exception of the UAE may be)

 
At 7:08 PM, Blogger Desert Pundit said...

This is early morning commenting on Late night rambling feedback!

Kickers
I understand where you are coming from, and believe me, been there, donet that. I even did the grad degree (IPE) in a western uni.

I do think however, that the society (this applies mostly to Levant and Maghreb), or at least significant part of it, took huge stride forward in the 50s and 60s, that was more universalist rather than local in nature, and that we've been sliding back ever since.

Thanks from the comment from the heart.

Manal

Serenity is exactly what is lacking, thanks.

Sarah

Unfortunately, right now I am not really a believer in the ability of the society to self modernise, mainly because I see the trend in the opposite direction. Despite the trappings of modernity, i see the society getting less than more modern, and I could write endless pages about causes.

So I hold a small glimmer of hope, and vent my frustration through my blog!

Anon

I know, blaming the people might end up blaming the victim, but you can blame the ruling elite, the imperial west, the religous establishment and everybody else in between. The reality of the matter is, there is a great stagnation and a feeling of disenfrishesment that became self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also, as student of East Asian politics, I don't think that the Korean (or Taiwan) example is correct.
South Korea became prosperous begining in the mid 60s, it was a corrput military dictatorship until around 1992, I get your point about the difference, but there are many underlying reasons that cannot simply be all blamed on the corrupt regime.

 
At 8:45 PM, Blogger Khaled said...

I am sure many others who read those words agree with them. There are many arabs who feel alienated, who live on nostalgia, and feed on their memories of a past that never happened the way they remember them.

This, I believe, is a golden chance for change. A person can cause great change when she feels alienated with what is around her. When she feels like the world she sees in her dreams is different than the world she lives in. AND when she tries to change the world around her to better mimic what she imagines.

This is the driver for change. All great people in our history are ones that changed the world to look like their dreams, when reality, before they changed it, was depressing and hopeless. Think Mohammed, Salaheddin, and Abdelnassir.

You have a choice to make right now. You can chose to hide behind your feeling of alienation, buy a house in connecticut, own a pet, and visit home only to have argeeleh and eat amazing sweets. Or you can use that alienation to show you what else could be, and to force you to think of how to take everyone to the arab world that lives in your mind.

Khaled

 
At 1:21 AM, Blogger Desert Pundit said...

Khaled

I agree with your point, even though that the activist/educator in me is largely dead and buried now.

Partly because of this possibility of impact, however samll, that many people remain in the heartland. Some like me, choose compromises like Dubai, where you can choose in which world (Arab or Western) to live in by the hour.

I am still undecided honestly, on if the small chance of making a difference is worth the price of staying. Unlike the majority of the population, I largely have the option of picking up and leaving, and unfortunately, many people of my generation and comparable education are making that same step.

 

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