Tuesday 29 April 2008

A teardrop in the Dark...

I have my own personal ritual. Call it an instinctive custom, an honoring rite, an archaic tradition, call it what you like – but I never miss two occasions to remember and commemorate. Someone’s birth and someone’s death.

I find it rather fascinating, in a sort of simple way, that births are generally accompanied with tears of joy and deaths accompanied with tears of sadness.

Arrivals and departures produce the same physiological response.
Tears...water streaming down one’s face...

The water that washes, that bathes, that cleanses. The water that purifies. The water that quenches...

Without water we die. Without water, we are like an arid, barren land...

Without water, no spring and no renewal are possible.

Water – the rivers, the lakes, the seas, the rain...all is contained in a teardrop.

Day of Birth, Day of Death, the same drops...Different feelings but the same drop.

And our life’s path is made of nothing but drops. Drop by drop. Drops in an ocean.

We come and we go, leaving drops behind us...

My father has been gone for some years now. I always remember the day he died and the day he was born. On both occasions, I make sure to offer a prayer and light a candle.

It’s always a touching emotional moment. And in that moment, a whole life time, a whole relationship is encapsulated, frozen in a teardrop.

I make it a point to follow that same rite for all those who have departed and touched my life, one way or another. I remember their day of birth and their day of death.

And in such a ritual, the teardrop is one and the same. There is no more duality in that instant. Birth and death become one.

It is a weird, strange sort of sensation.

The Cartesian, rational mind says “ what is the point of celebrating someone’s birthday if this person is dead ?“

The "rational" mind only comprehends reason, points, references, proofs, logic, rationality, linear thinking...

It is hard for the rational mind to understand birth and death being one tear, one cry, one breath.

But the Heart understands. It knows, as it has always known...

The Heart knows everything there is to know about a teardrop...A tear drop shining like a bright candle in the Dark.

Painting: Iraqi female artist, Dalia Mohammed - "Birth", 2005.

Fragilidad /Sting.

Sunday 27 April 2008


A latin jazzy version of the traditional Iraq song "Fog Al Nakhal" by Ilham Al-Madfai. The original is by Nazem Al-Ghazali here . And this is the Italian version by Franco Battiato

Friday 18 April 2008

From behind a Screen.

I have not been to the movies in ages. I used to love going to the movies, but was quite finnicky about which film to watch. I can't stand action films, and nonsense films...and most American films are nonsense.

I've stopped watching anything American since ages. It's just sensationalist film making that appeals to either your death instinct, adrenaline production through fright, or crude libidinal pulsions...

The acting is "flat" so are the actors and actresses - pretty, botoxed faces with six packs and tight bodies. You hardly see wrinkles, fatigue, fat...or any real struggle.

Very boring for me as a Middle Easterner. American films provide absolutely nothing to identify or relate to, hence their message for me is non existent. I am not even sure, American films, Hollywood style, have a true message to convey. So American films are out for me and they've been out for many years. I can't remember when was the last time I actually watched an American film. (except for the De.Palma "Redacted". But then, I've seen the real version)

But I do love the movies. However, I find it quite irritating that most cinemas offer buckets of popcorn, coke, ice cream and the rest...Here you are trying to get into a good film where the producer has worked his ass off trying to send a message your way, and you hear the munching of popcorn, the paperwrap of ice cream cones, the sucking of straws and the jiggling of ice cubes...very annoying. If I were a film producer, I'd be very insulted...

So going to the cinema is out for me, unless I choose a time of the day where I am sure I am literally alone or with a strict minimum of people in the movie theater...no fucking popcorn around.

I don't own a DVD player or a Video player, so I can't watch much at home either.
And watching a DVD on my computer is a no no. Films are made to be experienced, not be watched on a laptop.

OK I may be a little difficult when it comes to films, I do agree.

But this last week, I had the pleasure of watching not one but three films. R is away for a week and she said I can use her DVD while she's away. So I got three pirated copies (the only ones I can afford- sorry WIPO) of the following films.

Caramel- by Nadine Labaki - Lebanese Female Producer
The Yacoubian Building - by the Egyptian Imad Adeeb producer, and based on the novel by the great Alaa Al-Aswany. The book is an ABSOLUTE MUST.
and the third film for this week was Lemon Tree - by Eran Riklis, the Israeli producer and the unbeatable Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass.

Now these are films I can relate to.

Caramel is set in Beirut in a hair dressing saloon where 5 lebanese women work, and this candid film is touching. It deals with the lives of these 5 women in post war Beirut, their hopes, aspirations, disappointments, sexuality, family lives...and love

The Yacoubian Building is a masterpiece and received many awards. It deals with Egypt in the 90's, social classes, sexuality, religion, gender relations, politics... A real tour de force in my opinion and an absolute must see.

Lemon Tree is another remarkable film to watch. Hiam Abbass is a stupendous actress. No botox there, no make up, a real life character, a Palestinian woman, a widow who owns a lemon grove, her only wealth. Next door moves the Israeli minister of Defense...And I will not tell you the rest...A film about land, fences, walls, women, men, Israelis, Palestinians, love and fear...A subtle and delicate film. A must see.

Now these are films I can recognize myself in, relate to, identify with...Not some shitty Terminator, shooting away people-kind of film, or some gangster movie that antes up your cortisol level...or some sentimental, mushy, tear jerking, meaningless, hocus-pocus, romance story, à l'Americaine.

Real stories, with complex characters in their own simplicity, derived from Reality, my Reality as an Arab Woman.

Now that's my kind of movie.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

The Kiss of Death.

I've been meaning to write about "this" for quite some time, but as usual, a new level of the Iraqi inferno grabs my attention away, and keeps me postponing "it".

And what is this "it" you may wonder. This "it" is when "love" kills you.
Nope, it's not some romantic, passionate, Romeo and Juliette story, nor a Layla and her Majnoon Qais, but it is tragic nonetheless...

Was watching a program some months ago, on Arabic Al-Jazeerah on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in the Arab World.

The producer cleverly attempted to broach this "sensitive" and taboo subject, by presenting it as a religious program and invited a guest speaker who is a specialist in both medicine and religious sciences i.e Islamic theology.

And I, in turn will use this TV program to broach the subject here, on this blog.

HIV carriers are on the increase in the Arab World. No one would like to admit that but that is a fact. We all know how HIV is transmitted and we all know that the practice of safe sex and the screening of blood banks is a must.

So this is not what really caught my attention in the program. What caught my attention is that HIV and STD's are also on the rise among married heterosexual couples in the Arab World and not just among homosexuals.

The invited guest's speciality was epidemiology and infectious diseases. And in the realm of his practice, he encountered several cases (undeclared in public statistics) of straight couples for the most part married, infected with STD's and HIV in particular.

In 99% of the cases, the woman was infected by her husband. A husband who had unprotected extra-marital relations, with other women and sometimes with other men.

In 99% of the cases, the man believing himself to be invicible, had refused the idea of protection i.e the use of a condom.

So Mr.returning from his business trip, or his night outing comes home and offers his wife/partner the kiss of death.

Of course you understand that talking about this subject in the Arab World is very taboo. A lot of denial surrounds it and a lot of rationalizations, to the effect that "us in muslim societies don't have such things", "sweep it under the carpet, and don't let the neighbors know-- what will people think"....etc.

The wall of tradition and culture is so dense that it is nearly impossible to talk about this subject in public without being accused of being "decadent, lewd and immoral."

Meanwhile, AIDS victims die in silence, quarantined in rooms made of shame and guilt.

But I really want to focus on the married man who believes himself to be invicible, master of his fate, and above reproach. I want to talk about the Arab man whose ego is greater than the universe and greater than God, about his irresponsibility, his delusions of power and control, his permissiveness, his promiscuous philandering, and his double standards...and ultimately his deceitful hypocrisy.

Of course not ALL Arab men are that way and Arab men are not the only ones. Men in in general, share similar traits in varying degrees, irrespective of their nationalities or race.

However I find these traits more offensive in Arab men compared to others, because of the double talk, because of the hiding, because of the hypocrisy and the duplicitous, double standards that charaterize gender relations in the Arab world.

And because I am sick and tired of seeing women fall ill or dead as victims of these "cultural practices."

A lot of horrors vis à vis women in general and Arab women in particular, go under the heading of "cultural practices" and it is high time to expose them for what they truly are. And what they truly are are nothing but "male practices" against women.

And infecting the female partner because of a deceitful, demented, narcissitic male ego is a CRIME.

Let me give you an example of a demented narcissistic male ego and take that as a yardstick...

I remember during my University years in England, hanging out with a bunch of fellow Arab students. We were young and supposedly carefree...and "sharing experiences" was much easier then...

I distinctly remember a summer night, we were a group of about 6, hanging out in some pub, one of the guys had his eye on a woman standing by. A total stranger. And you know how guys talk.

Him -- I am going to score tonight.

Me -- Score what? I see no football game here

Him -- Score this woman -- pointing his finger at his potential prey.

I was hoping to close the subject as I was not terribly interested in his alleged, would be, sexual prowess.

Me -- whatever you do, be safe.

Him -- nah! she looks "clean" (as in disease free.)

Me -- and who says she is "clean" and who says you are "clean" ?

Of course with the approach he had, one cannot be sure as to how "clean" he was.

Him -- Of course am "clean", he replied indignantly, like how do I dare insinuate that he might be otherwise...

Me -- and how do you know she is "clean"

He smiled with a sly twist to his mouth, a sly twist I cannot forget till this very day and looked down at his crotch...

Him -- He told me so

Me -- He told you so? and I burst out laughing and could not stop, and I could see he was getting more and more embarassed...

Him -- yes he told me so, he insisted - he is my radar.

His dick was his radar...and his radar told him that he and she were "clean."

Getting back to the TV program and HIV contamination -- I am willing to bet you a million dollars that those who infected their partners also believed their "radars" spoke to them...

The "radar" told them - You are a man, you are entitled, it's nothing, your partner will never find out, it's only a safe, passing lust, you are protected by divine powers, condoms are not manly and they bother you, and you are above being uncomfortable, your pleasure is paramount, your desires are absolute, your gratification must be instant. You are the Man. You are the Conqueror, the Invicible Warrior of women, You are the Owner of the Radar...

And am sure male readers can fill in the rest....

So he does what he does and goes back to the faithful, patiently waiting, loyal, well socialized, well tamed, well domesticated --by the same "cultural practices"-- wife, and gives her the Kiss of Death of his invicibility...Because his "radar" told him so.

And don't think these men are "ignorant" or "uneducated"-- some of them may be, but a lot of them are quite aware of the risks, but they are simply too "radar" driven...in other words --too selfish, too egotistical.

And selfish people continue doing what they are doing because they are not held accountable, nor are they held responsible in an all male, egotistically driven society. When it comes to them, all laws suddenly become lax, all prohibitions loosen up, all decrees have exceptional clauses, all "cultural practices" conspire to absolve them...

The Arab male ego who has hijacked the Feminine, who has hijacked Religion, who has hijacked God Itself and substituted himself instead, reproducing God in his own image and worshipping his own reflection...

The Arab male ego, the grandiose "radar" who possesses, controls and crushes, who owns and disposes, who chooses and repudiates at will...

The Arab male ego in its deceitfulness and hypocrisy...

The Arab male ego -- the giver of the Kiss of Death.

Painting: Iraqi artist, Rawee Bazrakan.

Sunday 13 April 2008

Thoughts in Red...

I've been away from my computer for a few days but in my head, I have not stopped writing...

Everytime I witness a scene or another, everytime I hear a sentence or formulate an idea, everytime I feel a deep truth dawn on me...I register it in my mind, pretending I have some invisible keyboard, recording words lest I forget them...

This business of "recording" has become very important to me -- it feels like am racing with Time, swimming against the current...

I feel I owe it to myself and to Iraq to do so...Truth be told, insofar as the Iraqi people are concerned, I still have mixed feelings. I am not sure whether I am a self hating Iraqi or more of a realistic Iraqi. But that is not the point of my "essay", if one may call it an "essay" that is...

I strongly believe that Arabs, of which am part, are at defining moment in history, a crucial crossroad, where many traps, impasses, and culs de sac lay in front of us.

This is both a blessing and a curse. I'll explain myself...

A blessing, because in the darkest hours, one can find the sliver of light, that very thin ray of light...

A curse, because if we collectively fail to seize that sliver of light, we will be doomed to yet another cycle of "obscurity"...

I don't wish this to turn into some sort of philosophical "treatise", yet there are certain insights, I have been privileged to be aware of by virtue of having been around long enough -- to witness and therefore know...

There are certain traits to the Arab people, and I am deliberately using the word Arab as opposed to Middle Easterner, simply because I have observed these traits across both the Middle East and North Africa (fake categories imposed upon us).

One of these traits, one of these predominant traits is what one may call a "sense of duty/obligation" translated into a "sense of sacrifice".

This probably derives from many factors, one of which is the predominance of Monotheistic religions (both muslim and christian), where this concept of "sacrifice" converges...

Now sacrifice should not be taken in a literal sense, even though it may carry a literal meaning...Sacrifice must be taken in a symbolic sense with all its ramifications...

It feels as if we have all become Abraham's sacrificial lamb for the sake of Truth.

Again Truth is not to be taken as meaning one particular truth over another, not so much as an absolute truth but more of a contextual Truth at a specific time in History...they say it's nothing but conjectures.

Excuse me, but when I see so much fresh blood being poured onto the streets of Baghdad or Gaza, I need to believe in some sacrificial lamb...

When I say so much blood, I mean daily blood...DAILY.DAILY.DAILY. Human blood sacrificed at some altar, and am still trying to figure out the God that presides over it.

Is it the God of Globalization, the God of America, the God of Judea and Samarea, the God of Babylon, the God of Mecca or the God of Jerusalem...?

Which God is it that demands so much blood? But most importantly why Arab (muslim) Blood ? What kind of vampire lives off Muslim Blood ? And does blood have a race or an ethnicity or even a religion ? It's all Red to me...

OK take that as FACT - All Blood is RED. Yellow, Black, White, Colored...it's all RED.
Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhists, Pagan, Animist, Atheist, Agnostic...It's all RED.

So what makes one blood cheaper than another ? What makes one life cheaper than another ?

Yesterday I saw a scene, let me share it with you - A Palestinian boy was hit by an Israeli explosive, he was dying in front of the camera...A man next to him was yelling " Say the Testimony of Faith, say there is No God but God, say it..."

Blood, red blood was pouring profusely, covering this boy's shirt, his trousers, and finally the white sheet that covered him. Say it --- There is no God but God...Say it, there is no blood but Red blood... God manifests Itself in what unites us, Red Blood.

So why is mine cheaper than yours ?

Excuse me but why are your kids so precious and ours not ? Why are you families so important and ours not ? Why are your lives so sacred and ours not ?

Let's go back to Blood. If I mix mine with yours, will you know which is which and whose is whose ?

You would not, it's all RED.

I saw an Iraqi kid bombed out, with blood pouring out, gushing out, he was not even crying...he just stared. Stared at You...

I am so fascinated with Red, I don't even dare wear it anymore. A reverence for Red, the Sacred Red, the fountain of Red...

And who said Paradise is made pastel colors. A light-- blue, pink, green or even white?

Ask the daughters and sons of Ibrahim (Abraham), they will tell you, it's nothing but Red.

Paradise is Red.

Painting : Iraqi artist, Jaber Alwan.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

How Many More Years

From Howlin' Wolf and from me ...

Stuck in a Conversation...

A friend whom I quite like, told me not too long ago,

He said -- You know what Layla - your problem is that you're stuck...

Without batting an eyelid I responded -- no shit! how did you guess ?!

- Come on now, you know...All you think, write, speak, feel about, is Iraq and its tragedies. You are closed to the real world, you are closed to us, to our lives here and now..It's like you live in another universe, in another reality...come back here, come back among us...come back to us...

- You are right, am divorced from you and your reality...It's true, I live over there even though am here...But let me ask you something. How come you're so much here and am so much there ? After all you are an Arab yourself, and you're not exactly living in some remote country, away from it all...you are next door. OK let me assume that you are a few kilometers away, a few hours drive, but what about those who, like myself, surround you daily...Do you see them ?

- Yes of course I see them...but what can I do about it ? I have to live my life...I have to get up in the morning, go to work, earn a living, pretend life is normal, or as normal as can be ...

- I understand...but how come I can't do the same...how come am still stuck over there...while you seem to be very stuck over here ?

- You need to switch off...others are living their lives, normally...You are not Jesus nor Joan of Arc...I know you are ambitious, but you will not liberate Iraq that way...

- Well thanks for reminding what I have not forgotten...There are no more Jesuses nor Joans of Arc...I am ambitious and contributing to bringing down the Empire is one of my ambitions...

- Oh sure, and you will do that through your blog, right ?

- I do have illusions or delusions of grandeur but not that grand...but I do follow my heart, and where it takes me I will go...Your heart seems to be pointing in a different direction...

- That's what I call romantic idealism...I am not a romantic idealist myself...I am a pragmatist.

- And is that why you refuse to see the obvious ?

- The obvious ? Of course I see the obvious !

- Oh do you really ? Is it so very obvious to you that a whole country has been wiped off the map just like that, in a matter of a few years and 5 years is nothing in the annals of history... it is actually a very short period...and that it happens so easily, so flippantly, so inconsequentially--does not strike you as very obvious?

- Well, yes...but...

- But what ?

- But, life goes on ya Layla...

- Yes life goes on in your country, you still have a country, but for those who don't have one anymore...for those who don't have a place called home anymore...does life go on the same way ?

- Nope I guess it can't...

- So, do you still see me as stuck ?

- Yes I guess I do, now.

Painting : Iraqi artist, Sabah Majeed.