Tuesday 30 September 2008

Ramblings on Arab Men - Part III

The Prodigal Son

Mashallah, he's a boy, they would all exclaim. Mashallah indeed.

A dick in gold ? Not yet, but they will erect one soon in his honor.

Fathers and mothers, please don't frown, it's a girl. You can also erect a statue if you wish. Yes, I know you are smiling, but why do I see the disappointment in your eyes ?

He is already thinking, how will I protect her from the beasts, the male beasts. Are they all beasts Daddy ? She is already thinking, oh God, how will I preserve her virginity, lest they think am a bad mother...

Oh what a burden on your shoulders, dear parents. That slit, that tiny slit, so much cause for worry, for angst and for ultimate rejection.

Oh, but he's a boy, there is no real need to worry. He's safe, he will become a beast himself, and who can fear for a beast ? OK, he may not turn into a real beast, but a metaphor of a beast or maybe a Tarzan, or the prodigal son...

No bicycle, no horseback riding, no playing, no mixing, no talking, no smiling, no laughing, no life...Be a good girl. Uncross your legs, pull down your skirt, put a scarf on your head, lower your gaze, disappear...Yes, disappear, you are too much trouble...you are the cause of all Fitna, of all Chaos. Let us tame her, let us domesticate her, let us clip her wings, let us pretend she is not there, let us pretend she is a boy...

Me, practicing favoritism ? No way. Am not that way.

So why did you frown when you saw a she and not a he ?

Ah, women, too much of a headache. They have needs, they feel, they cry, they quiver inside, they ache and they pain..." You are too emotional, you are paranoid, you are too much" and the message is -- Be a man now !

But the prodigal child is no girl. He will grow to be a "man". Sure, he will be inculcated with some "laws" but with the implicit understanding that he can break them...or trespass them, or do away with them. After all, they are his laws. Made by little boys who grew up to be "men" just like him. Surely there must be some hidden understanding there, some unspoken consensus. Push the laws to absurdity, and God becomes a HE, and only a HE, and everything falls into HIS image.

A capricious, jealous, possessive, God, who hates women. And the seed of misogyny is planted.

Let me get personal here.

When growing up, I used to hear it often, from the females surrounding me, family, neighbors, friends, and they would say - "Makoo aleh harraj, huwa walad."
Meaning, there is no need for shame or embarrassment, he is a boy.

That literally translated itself into all sort of liberties, mini-freedoms handed to the boy because "makoo aleh harraj", because he would not cause shame or embarrassment.
Unless he deflowers a girl and gets her pregnant, that was the only red line. And even then, he would get away with it.

So his desire, his pleasure, his sexuality is no cause for "harraj", for shame or embarrassment, but the girl's was/is.

She was/is expected to hold up the virtues and morality of the whole family, of the whole clan, the whole tribe and this virtue and this morality lied in her honor, i.e between her legs. Crude as it may sound, but so true.

In consequence, her desire, her pleasure becomes a cause of not only shame but danger to be controlled at all costs, since she is the repository of Virtue and Honor.

From that basic precept, came all sorts of injunctions to apply that initial belief and to socialize into full control the recipient of this belief. So the common sayings would go like this -- "women are more patient, women don't need sex as much as men, women can control their desires unlike men, women are more emotional than men, therefore less "biological", women are into love and not into sex, women are monogamous by nature, women are..."and the flip side of these injunctions are - "women are dangerous, women are whores, women are chaotic, women are insatiable, women are too needy, women are..."

End result is the same - Women need to be controlled, to safeguard that one basic thing - the honor of the family, the clan, the tribe, the society. Whichever way you look at it, the end result is the same. Either by reinforcement or by exclusion in order to bring back into line...

And here are planted the seeds of a misogynistic patriarchy.

And frankly I don't like using these terms -- matriarchy, patriarchy -- and for many reasons. First of all, I don't believe matriarchy was particularly clement towards women, and I don't believe all patriarchy was particularly evil towards women.

I realize that this might come across as a theoretical mind fuck for most, but for instance I can point out the many instances of the practice of female excision/circumcision in what was considered predominantly matriarchal societies. Go and explain that if you can...

Hence my distancing myself from Western feminists...And that is not the only reason. But I would like to dedicate a whole post to the Western feminist one day...but not tonight.

Tonight I want to concentrate on the prodigal son.

This prodigal son has a very peculiar relationship with his mother. His mother is probably the only woman in his unconscious that defies all stereotypes of what a woman is or is not. I am sure you have heard that one often. "Toutes les femmes sont des salopes, sauf ma mère." -- All women are bitches except my mother. And some would add, "surtout ma mère" --especially my mother. At least they are in touch with their hatred here and have broken the psychological taboo. So maybe there is hope, after all...But I would not hold my breath.

I remember an Arab guy I dated, who had to sleep in his mother's lap at age 27, even if it was for a few minutes, every morning...

Good God, how can I ever compete with that one ? (cracking up with laughter here)

You must admit, it is impossible. Right? Yes right. Who can compete with the all loving, all engulfing, all controlling matriarch that rules the Arab male's psyche ?

No woman can. Unless she becomes a bearer of prodigal sons herself...

See what I mean ?

Painting : Iraqi artist, Mohammed Yass.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Ramblings on Arab Men -- Part II

The Mental Slave.

Oh, just look at him, just look at him. Bowing and bending over backwards.

Just look at him. So courteous and stylish in speech. He selects his sentences with most accurateness, presents them on a silver platter and bows some more. She has blessed him with a tiny bit of approval. After all, she accepted to see him, date him or even marry him. He bows some more.

"Come here, go there", he obliges like a faithful dog. After all, she looked at him. Him the darkie, suddenly blessed with the white maiden's hand.

A shoe polisher, this is what he is, in his head.

He polishes his image, his origins, his country, even his beliefs, to please the white maiden. She comes from Mother Britannia, Auntie Samia, Hail Frau Hitler, Oh la la, Moulin Rouge la France or some Viking left over of some female dragged by her hair in the caves of Scandinavia...and you can add whatever you wish...

And like the shoe that he is, spineless, with no dignity, he abides by her rules.

Everyone around exclaims with jubilation " My, he is so nice, so different."

That of course earns him more pats on the head, more old bones thrown his way, that he licks with gratitude, forever grateful to be considered in the first place.

You see, I sometimes have a vision of him as a dog, sometimes as a shoe polisher, sniffing the whiff of shoe polish, with "cultural" reverence.

There is one thing you need to know about the above specimen of an "Arab man", he comes under all forms and shades. He can be your stereotypical colonial slave, your wanna be Jihadist, your internationalist leftie, or your nationalist Arabist...and you can add whatever you wish.

Of course, you and I can argue, that it is a very good thing that this specimen is "an aware, respectful, in awe" object. Sure.

I mean after all it is a good thing to respect women and abide by their rules, pay courtesy, be polite, be in awe. I personally have nothing against it. Except...

Except when this thing lands back home, in his familiar territory, in his familiar terrain, come and have a look at him.

Please come and see him sitting with his legs wide open, his balls dangling on the sofa, playing House Master. Please come and hear his language, ordering about, as if he just discovered his God sent mission. Come and laugh at his airs, his airs of sultan, his airs of virility, a royal virility...an air of a poor castrated bastard, who left his balls behind and has come to invent and grow a new pair in front of you.

He will flex his fake muscles in your face, and pretend that he is it. He will use a language that the two cents rotten putrid, unwashed, warty, fucked up, females that ruled and rule his head will never accept. He will puff his cigarette, cigar or whatever the fuck he smokes, flick the ashes, blow the smoke with an air of disdain and say "you know the problem with you, Arab women...you are too..." Too this and too that. Not enough of this and not enough of that...When the bastard shoe polisher was sniffing the floor for approval...

And oh how he looks back in nostalgia to the day when he was an object, a dog, an exotic dildo, to be used and thrown away...like some fucked used piece of tissue.

But he loves it. He loves it that way. He feels infused with life when he is humiliated and treated like the dog that he really is. His slave mind keeps reminding him of his natural place. So why are you so upset with what I have to say now ?

Oh yes, let me tell it to you the way it is. Running all the risks there are to face...

Let me tell it to you the way it is, because it is high time someone does.

Let me tell you about the moral corruption of the Arab male, boy do I know him.

Let me tell you about his double standards, his fake manhood, his fake self...let me tell you about his fake values, his fake conscience, his fake everything...

Let me tell you about the years, the decades, the centuries where I and countless others had to sit and listen to his bullshit. Let me tell you about the time wasted listening to him preaching, listening to him orating, listening to him politicizing, listening to him reflecting...and all the while you discover and you know the slave dog, shoe polisher in front of you.

And you nod your head, smile and say "sure, habibee", "sure thing dear", and you see him sitting on this fucking sofa with his balls dangling, polishing shoes in his head.

He sits, watches TV, surfs the web, or whatever the fuck he is doing and he pretends he is with it. Oh, the militant one, the aware one, the one...

He sits and fucking pontificates all day and all night, while admiring his little thing in the dark corners of his mind.

Oh, is it still there ? Masha'Allah, Hallelujah, he managed to safeguard it after all...Seems the toxins from the shoe polishing, the wastes from the dildo's batteries did not affect it, yet...

But wait, whom will he brandish it in front of, but you ? Look at me, look at it, this is us. We are here...

Oh, so you are here now, are you ?

So where you you motherfucker, when your sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, partners and lovers were being tortured and raped by Mother England and Auntie Samia ?

Where were you, when your daughters, wives, sisters, mates...were being exiled in Syria, Amman, and Egypt, prostituting themselves ?

Where were you, you motherfucker, fake son of a bitch when they became destitute, hungry and cold ? Where were you ?

So where were you, you slut ? In which garçonnière, in which brothel, in which cabaret? So what kind was it, you little mental whore? Russian, Morrocan, English, or some other nationality, that you have added to your list, your bragging list, classified by geographical location.

Or did you go and pull your wallet with a 10 dollar bill, out of compassion for the Arab one, the Iraqi one ?

Do you want to know where you were you son of a bitch ? I will tell you.

You were in some mosque, praying Allahu Akbar, or behind some computer typing away your Arabism, or in some bed, admiring your dick, while being used like some dildo, or in some pub saying cheers and impressing and pleasing some more...

This is where you were. And this where you have always been.

And you expect me to understand and respect you ? Ha!

You fucking shoe polisher, you dog, you prostitute, you mental slave, you deserve nothing but my contempt.

Painting : Iraqi artist, Mohammed Yass.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Ramblings on Arab Men -- Part I

An Introduction.

A controversial topic, certainly so. Controversial for a multitude of reasons, some personal, other political. And a bit of both really.

Also controversial, because anyone can turn around and say "surely you can't generalize that way." True, to some extent. But surely I can generalize, insofar as I can reveal socio-cultural TRENDS that make Arab men despite and in spite of their variations, more or less the same across the board, regardless of exact geographical location, class, status, education, religion...etc.

Of course one can argue that what you are about to read is ALSO applicable to men worldwide. My reply would be yes, to some extent, in various degrees.

HOWEVER, the topic at hand is Arab men ONLY, for tonight at least.

Now the personal controversial bit is caused by several factors.

Firstly, an inner one -- which you may call some form of loyalty. Not really a misplaced loyalty but a loyalty that derives from the glaring fact that Arab Men as they stand today, are really, socio-politically speaking, quite impotent.

Let me clarify this further. For instance, when I look at a picture of an Iraqi man, a father, a husband, a brother, a relative or a friend -- stripped of his dignity, home, family, belongings, livelihood, education, rights...

When I see him naked, humiliated, insulted, denigrated, imprisoned, tortured, raped, bombed, murdered or exiled.

When I see him lost, confused, overwhelmed with responsibilities, anguished about his own future and that of his family, his wife, his children...

When I see him under Occupation the way I see him, (and that also applies to a Palestinian man under Occupation), do I really have the moral/political right to talk about Arab Men ?

Do I really have the ethical right to talk about their oppressiveness, their repressiveness, their double standards, their cluelessness in interpersonal skills, their patriarchal narcissism, their authoritarianism -- all in relation to gender ?

What I mean is, can I really broach the subject now ? Is it the right time ? Can I afford rocking the boat even more, when I see gigantic waves flooding and swallowing it all ?

I am taking the Iraqi man and/or Palestinian man as a starting point, because they as males in the Arab world, are direct recipients of a brutal, ruthless Occupation.

I say to myself -- It is not like life is honky dory in this part of the world, and we have solved all our problems, so we can relax, sit back and discuss gender issues. After all, our men are getting massacred left right and center, and thrown in prisons, dumped in morgues and streets, without the luxury of a decent burial.

These are the kinds of thoughts that preoccupy me when I think of gender matters in the Arab world.

And of course, by extension, I think of all the problems that assail the rest of the male population in the Arab World - economic insecurity, a heavy load of responsibilities for the immediate AND extended family, authoritarianism and abuse in the work place, poor access to education/training, medical services, poor wages, lack of political rights, etc. Of course, all what I have enumerated above comes in different degrees, depending on class, background, status, rural, urban...etc.

Yet, despite my being quite conscientious of the predicament that the average Arab man finds himself in, I still can't help but notice a common denominator, that does cut across the social, economic and political conditions, he (the Arab male) finds himself in. That common denominator is his treatment of Women. In other words, GENDER - except maybe for his mother. Ah! Oedipus, where are you my son ?!

I think a whole post, chapter, book should be devoted to the relationship between the Arab son and his Mamma. Am sure Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Latin and Greek Readers would identify with this bit too. I suppose that would include the Indian subcontinent as well and parts of Asia, and Africa. So I guess it is not strictly some ethno-psychological Mediterranean/Middle Eastern thing.

Anyways, let me not sidetrack here, I will let these other people deal with it, their own way.

Again, I want to be very fair here. The word "treatment of women" is not accurate.
Because if I really look at the statistics, there are more abused, battered, raped, women in the West than in the Arab world. So I really need to be careful in my choice of words.

OK, let me go back to basics. Maybe that will elucidate the rest.

The ONE area where the issue of control, double standards, licentiousness, laxness, traditionalism, conservatism, authoritarianism, in sum the ugly face of Patriarchy is most felt, is in the area of Sexuality.

I guess that is going back to basics, right ?

To simplify it for you, grosso modo, with a deliberate generalization on my part to make a point (this does not mean I am unaware of the nuances and the differing degrees), if you want to really see where and how gender "inequality" takes root, it has to be in the area of Sexuality, again in the broad sense of the term.

This is turning out to be a long essay, already. To be continued...And am sure you are eager to read the rest. Just pray that I don't get lazy on you and myself.

And by the way, this might prove to be a totally inconclusive "study" and an exercise in futility. Who knows ?

Good night.

Painting: Iraqi artist, Mohammad Yass.

Monday 22 September 2008

Blue Ashes...

The room had gone stale, stinking of smoke and ashes. A burned out fire, drawing out the oxygen.

I open the window, I remember our meeting, I inhale deeply and exhale...I remember the air being sucked out of me, and I take another breath. One meeting replacing another, one face another, one name another...

R. was like a breeze of fresh air, and I was waiting to exhale...Exhale the memories, the promises and the words whispered in the stillness of the night. Exhale them all, for I had been holding my breath...

The staleness of the room felt heavy, and the smoke turned into another curtain, blinding my vision, a fog of false hopes...

I agreed to meet R. I felt no particular anticipation, I did not hold my breath, I still needed to exhale... I agreed when I glimpsed in his eyes, a silent plea, even though he tried hard hiding it...A pair of eyes replacing another? And I was waiting to exhale...

I saw him again, the following day, late in the afternoon, I was late.

I am not sure whether that was deliberate on my part, or if I was still being pulled to that stale smoky room, where sentences had been buried, in every corner and in every crack...

Maybe I was late because I was undecided as to what I should wear, knowing in advance what I would wear and pretending I did not. I knew it was going to be black slacks and a black shirt. So why the hesitation ? Maybe it was my urge to wear the single row pearl necklace that my father had given me a few years before he left us, me. I had not worn it in years, but that afternoon, it was imperative that I find it. I knew it was in some little box in one of the drawers, but like everything else, I had left it there for too long, and could not remember where I had placed it. Left it in forgetfulness or maybe because wearing it was too painful.

I stood in front of the mirror, pulled my hair up, and delicately placed it around my neck, caressed it as if rubbing some magical piece of jewelry, like those sultans rings that embraced secrets...

I dabbed my usual perfume, the one I had been using for the past few months - Ange ou Démon. But that day, I was neither. Neither an angel nor a demon. I was just me with a pearl necklace.

Y. kept pushing me in that role, half angel-half demon. He could not see beyond these two images.

His world was black and white, saints and whores, pure and polluted...and I was stuck in the image, somewhere in between, dying to exhale...

He had me where he wanted me, well framed, a mirror for himself, where he would either love or hate his own reflection. And I was stuck in between, dying to exhale... Dying to come out from this frame, smash the mirror and stand in front of him wearing my pearl necklace...My attempts were futile. I should have realized that I was placed as an added ornament, an extra decorum in his inner tower, his fortress...Another trophy. Another conquest. Another caged one...

I was lured and lulled into it for reasons I ignored then. Maybe today they make sense.

Y. had been preparing his terrain for quite some time. He had observed me from close and from afar. He read through my lines and heard my conversations. My omissions, what I had left unsaid, and what I had revealed. I suppose he got intimate with me from a distance, taking note of my vulnerabilities, listing my weak spots, assessing my insecurities and my strengths...He was a predator and he had decided I was his prey.

And one day the occasion presented itself and he presented himself. Suave and sure of himself, with an air of arrogance balanced out with a humble admiration. I suppose this particular mixture was enticing. I should have known better...But that day I was no angel and no demon, I was just me.

Y. and I met and talked for hours, day after day, week after week, month after month...Long conversations. Y. had a hard time listening, after all mirrors should not really talk, but only reflect back...
Personal discussions were very difficult, one could not have intimacy with a mirror. Mirrors are made for self admiration and adulation. So he believed.
Y.also flexed some muscle in front of this mirror, this angel-demon mirror of his, making sure that all his past conquests and scores be faithfully recorded, and leaving blank spaces, blank dots for the present, so even though framed, I will only tiptoe within a well delineated space, a space that he had constructed for him and for me. And every time I wanted to get out of the mirror, the puppeteer would play his erotic puppets and dangle them in front of me, forever reminding me of the fragility of glass...

Y's emotional sadism would sometimes take a more macabre turn, and degenerate into a quasi pornographic dance with demons. He'd hurl insults, demean me, humiliate me, undermine me, then would smile and say ever so calmly "come on, it was just a joke."

At times, he would profusely apologize, but his apologies, I later realized, held no sincerity, he was just going through the motions of pretence, so he could secure once more opportunity to lash out his fragmented, incongruous, hollow self on me.

And in his own image, one minute I was the angel, the virgin, the pure and one minute I was the devil, the witch, the whore...And I was stuck somewhere in between, in the middle, waiting to exhale...

When I think back on that period, I try to figure out what was his grip made of.

Believe it or not, it was Iraq. As crazy as that may sound, but that is the truth.
The door he used was just that - Iraq, the broken, destroyed gates of Babel.

He knew that that was my weakness and my passion, the source of my grief and my hope.

Thinking back, I realize he was just another invader, another occupier, using and abusing a ravaged terrain so he could come out as a hero, a victor, a winner... trampling on me in the process. But that did not seem to matter, since I was nothing but a mirror, holding my breath, his breath...dying to exhale.

A narcissistic emotional sadist coupled with political opportunism. Is that not what invaders and occupiers are made of ? Is that not what torturers and rapists are made of ?

I remember sitting in that stale room, at my desk. In front of me was a plain beautiful ceramic turquoise ashtray, which I had carefully carried with me from Baghdad to destination X.

Blue ceramics were a typical handicraft of Baghdad. And this turquoise ashtray filled with cigarette butts and ashes, reminded me of Baghdad. I loved that ashtray, I was attached to it. It meant so many things to me. I can even write a whole post on it.

Y.calls. One of his abrasive, cruel phone calls. He masterfully throws the words that he knows will hurt right on target, right where it is most raw, like some expert...

The ashtray is full of butts, cigarette butts and ashes...

He talks of the butts, his butts, the many butts he conquered and is about to conquer. I light another cigarette, adding another butt to the butts, flicking more ashes on the grey pile that is hiding the turquoise.

He continues his mind game, his vindictive revenge through,across the receiver, me. I am silent for a while, contemplating my turquoise ashtray, pushing the ashes to one side with the tip of my finger, so I can re-appropriate its color, the turquoise color...

One wrong move and it falls to the floor, smashes in two, my Baghdad ceramic, smashes in two, right in the middle...split in the middle, gone...

The cigarette butts are all over the floor and the ashes thrown, blown away in all directions...

Finally I see it, the turquoise blue, a beautiful blue like the depth of the sea on clear day, but broken...

I hang up, leave his butts and mine lying on the floor, like consumed corpses. I leave them lying amidst the ashes with my Baghdadi ceramic turquoise ashtray slit in the middle, cracked beyond repair, broken beyond mending...

I leave it there with the butts around it and the ashes sprinkled all over, like some gun powder. I leave it there like I have left Baghdad with its cadavers dispersed covered in desert dust...

I place my hands on my throat, as if to trying to swallow something that has stuck there in the middle. As I move my hand towards the middle of my chest, towards my heart, I stumble upon the pearl necklace that my father gave me. I caress it one last time before heading for the door, onto the street, towards the café where R.is waiting for me. And I exhale deeply...

Painting : Iraqi artist, Haidar Dahluz.

Your Departure...

Ya Rayah, gone with the winds...

I am celebrating with drums, a darbuka, a def and a thousands bendirs,
my heart is quivering in delight
like the strings of some old wooden luth
that has found life again
clapping and jumping
whirling in an ecstatic dance
happily ululating like women at a wedding
celebrating your departure
a joy
a blessing
a deliverance...

Sunday 21 September 2008

The Story of "O"

I am very tired but I am overtaken by this urge to write about "O", a dark story, with missing pieces, yet so plainly obvious. It is actually so obvious, that it is difficult to see.

I am very tired and writing about "O" may relieve some of my mental fatigue. Maybe writing about her story is exorcising parts of mine. The cast and the characters may carry different names, but the demonic shadow that moves them is essentially the same.

I bonded with her story. Maybe I saw in hers, things that I have refused to see in mine. Things that I have purposely tried fending off, postponing...

Maybe I still refuse to see the connection, what binds us together, that same wave that has engulfed both of us, by surprise, each in our own way.

Or maybe I do see it too clearly and that clarity scares me for it will lead me to deeper truths, truths that will shake whatever leftovers of a foundation I may have kept nursing, about humans, humanity and men.

Or maybe realizing her truth, I am thrown back to mine, and where will I escape once that happens ?

Can I really afford to stand naked again, undressed, exposed and totally vulnerable ?

Can I relate to you her story without undressing and exposing her again ?

A difficult choice. It feels like some things are best left unsaid, buried, leaving others to guess. And at times, it feels like, expose them even more, let all hell break loose...with the hope of a conclusive and final catharsis.

I am very tired and am oscillating between the private and the public. Between carefully protecting and screaming it out loud...

I meditate on my choice of a title - The story of "O". Her name does start with "O".

I remember a novel circulating many years back, some Marquis de Sade version of brute sadism, bearing the same name. I suppose it was consensual. But not with this "O". Nor with her nor with her younger sister.

Maybe if I allow the story to tell itself and allow my fingers to act just like channels typing away its bits and pieces, maybe then I would be absolved of the responsibility of protecting the intimate sacredness of a victim. The intimate sacredness, or what used to be an intimate sacredness, now ravaged. A ravaged abyss covered by a silence made of a few muted words.

An intimate sacredness transformed into a mute silence, as if the inner no longer exists and only silence can fill the void left in its place.

And the few incoherent words are just like patches of a old blanket, coming from somewhere deep, from some corner where language used to have a function, where it served a purpose, and is now occasionally uttered by a mind that has fallen into a semi psychosis.

The psychosis affirms its grip on the last remaining symbol of her femininity - her hair. And even that is not spared. All her hair has fallen out. She covers her bald head with an ugly, cheap wig. Her sister just sits there in a corner like a mummy, ancient yet so young, embalmed in a thicker, catatonic silence.

"O" looks ashamed, embarrassed for being there, here. Ashamed for still being alive.
She is in need. Dire need. All kinds of needs. The most urgent is food and shelter.
This basic need takes up most of her time, maybe a blessing in disguise, at least for parts of the day...but at night, she just blends herself into the darkness, hoping to disappear before sunrise.

Her other needs have become so distorted, engulfing the little of any seeming sanity left.

Almost impossible to get her full story. She just said, they had a big house in an up scale neighborhood in Baghdad. She lived there alone with her sister. Twenty armed men dressed in black stormed the house. She inaudibly muttered, lowering her gaze into the bare dirtied floor, as if trying to become one with it, "and you know what happens to two women alone."

She was quick to add, with that same subdued voice, beaten into submission and with a trembling fear resurging in her eyes, that she also prays at the newly built Shia mosque next door.

By adding this last sentence, she hoped to appease her interlocutor, just in case...

And so did I.

Painting: Iraqi female artist, Shada Al-Rawi.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

A Snapshot at the Fountain.

I really have the blues tonight. Could it be a conversation I had with someone, or maybe I got up from the wrong side of the bed, or maybe the encounter at the fountain, this afternoon.

I trust my legs to take me where they need to go...So when I go walking, I just let them lead the path, my own way of letting go, I suppose.

I walked for over an hour, and I really don't know how it happened but I stopped in front of some fountain. An old mosaic fountain. The water was not gushing with force, simply dribbling, caressing the fountain head only to fall in some nearly empty basin, a sad looking fountain, a sort of neglected fountain which probably had its heydays, its glory way back...but no longer.

I just stood there, and just looked at it, for some unknown reason...
I had no coin attached to some wish, to throw, but I guess I must have wished for something, am not sure what it was though...Maybe one of my usual ramblings with myself...or some secret hope, that I don't even utter to myself.

I was so intensely taken by this fountain and my own little inner universe that I paid no attention to what was happening around me. I do remember the place being totally empty when I first arrived. That is probably why I allowed myself to linger on...

Then suddenly, a woman totally dressed in black with a digital camera, stood next to me. She was wearing an Abaya, all black, and the Abaya was covering another black outfit, and on her hair was another black scarf covered by the Abaya. I heard her say to the two other women with her, "Take a picture of me." And she grimaced and let out a shrieking laughter...

She had her back to the fountain, she had her back to the timid water while I was facing it. I wish I was a photographer, it would have made a perfect black and white snapshot. Somehow our two figures standing next to one another, but facing opposite directions was very telling. Telling on some level that I did not comprehend there and then.

The two other women approached the fountain, and I could feel one getting too close to me. I could sense her curiosity, she looked at the fountain and finding nothing of interest there, turned her back and asked for another snapshot. I did not move, I just stood there motionless. I heard the accent. I knew its origins.

These three women were accompanied by three men. They all approached the fountain, but they all turned their backs and opted for yet another snapshot. Two of the men had their shirts buttoned up with no ties, even though they were dressed in suits. And of course the proverbial three day unshaven beard.

The silver rings shone alongside the silver colored digital cameras.

I understood they were some sort of delegation, an official delegation taking a break for a couple of hours.

A delegation from Iraq dressed in black Abayas, in black chadors, Iranian style with men wearing no ties, Iranian style. The uniform was a giveaway.

Something in me trembled. Still I did not move. Could they really be my fellow country men and women ? Since when do Iraqi delegations walk around looking like some Iranian officials? In black chadors ? Iraq has become a black chador ? Oh my God, reality never ceases to settle in... An inescapable reality.

One of the women kept staring at me, as if to figure me out, maybe she could find a cue that could tell her who I was or where I came from. The man with no tie, carrying a laptop and another digital camera, smiled...I tried a faint smile but he must have noticed my lips quivering. As I looked into his eyes, I wondered how many death lists he had ordered and signed. As I looked into her eyes, I wondered how many times she rejoiced at the news of some Iraqi being abducted, tortured and murdered.

I moved away, slightly, to one side, as if putting a distance between us, an invisible distance, an invisible barrier, an invisible wall. A bit like the walls they constructed. I did not even try to beautify it with any colors like I would do to any wall. I just left it blank, empty, void...

I continued staring at the fountain, its old worn out mosaic pieces, some were missing, some were chipped, some were erased with time and neglect. I tried to imagine it flowing again, brimming with pure limpid water, with a million copper and silver coins reverberating at the bottom, coins filled with wishes and well wishers...

I tried, I tried very hard, but the shadow of this black wall obscured my imagination, as if sucking life out of it, out of me, drying it up...
And all I had left was a timid water, trickling softly, caressing an old, abandoned, erased mosaic Fountain.

Painting : Iraqi artist, Ghaib Al-Janabi.

Thursday 11 September 2008

In a Temple...

I love Temples...I have visited all sorts of temples, they are eternal places beyond any denominated religion.

I must admit though, I have never set foot in a Synagogue, I think it must be political...

OK, I know, Judaism and Banee Israel are not all Zionists, there are after all 10 to 20 of them, out of millions who are not. Not very a good marketing strategy for visiting a Synagogue, you must admit.

But still, temples are simply Divine, when they are empty, bien entendu. Nothing pollutes as much as humans. The rest is pure Spirit.

Nothing beats the smell of benzoin, burning at the Blessed Mother's feet, or a few Lilys of the Valley bowing down at the sight of Jesus. And have you seen the flickering candles, dancing in unison, waiting for deliverance? What a sight.

Nothing beats the sobriety of a Mosque, the space of Freedom as reflected in the arches and the domes. Nothing constricting here, nothing but space. No pictures, no statues, just you facing the "roundness" of the architecture, the rounded "void"...

Being urged to find it in yourself first, that same sacred space - you need to purify first, purify with ablutions, with clean flowing water or rub yourself with mud - before entering. Before penetrating the gates...

Water and Mud, two elements belonging to the Feminine principle. Belonging to Mother. To Her. Water and Earth - purifying elements, before you can find yourself...

I remember reading, that the Perineum is nothing but a Greek or Latin word for the Sacred Gate. If you don't know what the Perineum stands for, I strongly urge you to rediscover the Female anatomy, arming yourselves with a dictionary.

You see it's all about Sacred spaces. How you enter it is as important as to how you are, once there, once inside...and as important as to how you exit from "it."

Sacred Spaces are generous, they allow anyone in. But do they always respond to the supplicant's pleas ? I think not.

I remember an Islamic saying that goes this way - If your prayer is not sincere, Allah, God, rolls it up in a bundle and throws it back in your face, like some old worn out cloth...

Temples go a long way...The first one was dedicated to Ishtar. The Materia Prima, just like the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary was chosen so was Ishtar. They both had a mission.

No, no, not some victim, nor some martyr, their mission was pure Love.

Ishtar sunk into the abysses...Only to re-emerge United. Only then was she granted the divine powers, those of a merciful, graceful Love and those of a ruthless Wrath.

Have you known the Abyss? It is a temple by itself...A temple of the underground world, where one is forged, in a burning fire...You may call it Hell.

Ishtar has been to Hell and back. Dante's inferno is piece of cake in comparison.
This idiot never made it anywhere.

Every woman is an Ishtar.

No wait. I take that back. Not every woman, only a few women are...

The Abyss is the morgue, the prison filled with innocent ones, the underground torture center...The abyss is the loneliness when everyone else has left after the funeral...The abyss is when you are dressed in black because you have been robbed of colors...

Do you know the feeling of hovering in between ? In between Madness and Sanity, in between Life and Death, a limbo, a purgatory, another Abyss.

Do you know it ?

I pull the black robe up and step down, take a few steps down only to see it spiralling down even further...I reach the bottom, it is cold, it is damp, it smells... The bottom becomes a vast sea of putrid waters...I swim, holding my breath, counting the corpses floating, searching for mine...

So do you know the abyss ? Have you ever experienced the underworld ? Did you ever manage to re-emerge from it intact, united and whole ?

Only a few women have...They are the Ishtars, they are the Virgin Mary's, they are the Temple and the Gate...They are the Sacred Space.

So tell me now, how are you to approach this Temple ? And what Prayer have you got to offer ?

I am no longer drowning, nor hovering...I pull my black robe, I climb the steps up, one by one...Past the Gate, into the Temple, into that Sacred Space of a merciful Love and a ruthless but necessary Wrath.

Painting : Iraqi female artist, Nadia Mohammed Yass.

Saturday 6 September 2008

Dance me to the End of Love...

A song creeping out from my Secret Garden, only to retreat back in again...

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We're both of us beneath our love, we're both of us above
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I'm gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love