The Old Man or Problems of Patriarchy

By Dr. Omar Sabbagh

Tariq peered out of the window of the living room of his third-floor flat, watching a glow-worm of traffic inch its way in puma-wrapped technicolour across the wide thoroughfares of Al Barsha 1, Dubai. Of course, he’d quite gotten used to the way the traffic signals changed colour by the eon rather than by the minute, though he himself rarely drove in Dubai. No; the metro service in that part of the bustling desert-city was quite adequate; more than adequate in fact. Dressed in silky grey and sky blue, clean and limpid as a polished shell, the metro was a tribute to a thriving, flourishing, if makeshift, habitat. It docked, quite nicely for him, then wormed like a lean and obsequious bullet, out of one of the far ends or limbs of the huge Mall that neighboured his apartment, the apartment he shared now in his close-on two-year marriage with his wife, Maryam. After a few more moments of aimless pondering, he turned back from the window and scanned the room. The two main paintings adorning the walls were melees of blue and white; one a seascape in some no-man’s-land between abstraction and representational art – and he just loved the vibrant licks of white paint at the bottom, near-end of that sea, because he could smell the brine there and feel the nice metallic cool of the water on his feet. The other, opposite, had been a gift from a family friend, a wedding-present in fact, painted by the brother of a friend of his brother’s – a now highly-distinguished Iraqi painter who was Emeritus at some university and had had at least two major museums of fine arts named after him. This latter painting was supposed to be one of the few paintings done of the cantankerous modernist poet, Ezra Pound; and there was something both swarthy and atmospherically-androgynous about the young man painted there. Come to think of it, that made little sense. Though the painter in question was now in his eighties no doubt, even if he had painted Mr Pound, say, in the sixties, said Mr Pound would have been quite deftly aged by then, and certainly not the blue-faced Byronic youth looking so soulfully at an angle out of the frame, wrapped and cosseted and draped in some swarthy mantel that reached up from the shoulders and round the back of the head up to the somewhat shadowed brow. Tariq emitted a soft, daft chuckle to himself, as though responding to the quip of a nearby angel. Yes, he now thought to himself, I too am getting old. His phone now tinkled.

‘Hello?’ His voice was deep, gruff, a voice like the colour of his ghost-grey goatee beard.

‘Yes, I know,’ he continued in response to the voice on the other end. ‘I know that. But he’s the apple of my eye.’ While he slowly rubbed the mole by his nose on the right side of his brown-skinned cheeks, a gesture indicating enervation, he continued to listen to what this woman had to say about Teymour.

‘Gay? He’s not gay.’ The woman on the far end of this strange chinwag was adamant though; and she seemed to be offering a profane litany of evidence testifying to her statement. Tariq listened for another minute or so, then interrupted her long, belaboured monologue.

‘Listen, I think I know my own son! Now that’s quite enough.’ He placed the phone down and walked towards the entrance of the kitchen, nearly bumping into Maryam as she emerged therefrom bearing a tray with two mugs of simmering green tea.

‘Who was that, love?’

‘Oh,’ Tariq fibbed, ‘just someone asking after Teymour.’

‘Someone from London?’

‘Yes, I suppose so.’ As he clutched his mug, Tariq tried to shake off a stupor. The woman with whom he’d just spoken had distracted him. The idea that his own son, his only child from a previous marriage, might in fact be homosexual, well, it was a wholly new train of thought. It had never once occurred to him. And parry with it as he now did, some small and tender part of him was set wandering. Maryam now said, observing her husband surreptitiously,

‘Harried by a ghost?’

‘What’s that?’

‘You seem distant. What is it? Teymour ok?’

‘Yes, yes.’ He now conquered the makeshift demon, pulled off a wide smile and kissed his wife on the cheek. ‘I’ve some work to do in the study,’ he said, looking dearly into her eyes. ‘I must get this article finished by the morning. This business in the Yemen is getting out of hand.’

Maryam nodded as he trundled off, carrying his still steaming mug of tea. She watched him disappear through the doorway, as though hooded by thoughts. She knew enough not to press him on the matter, whatever the matter was. If it was important, she knew he’d let-on at the right time.

*

The next day, Maryam woke earlier than was her wont – though still, she now estimated, a couple of hours after Tariq. He was getting up earlier and earlier of late. After making a pot of coffee, pouring herself a mug of it, steaming in vermilion and black, she walked into the living room and spied an opened book laid face down on the long coffee table by the sofa. Seating herself, she picked it up. Its title ran: Delightful Murder. It was a book she knew, or at least knew-of; the one ‘literary’ foray made by the august Ernest Mandel himself! That Belgian economist, leading Marxist and Trotskyist leader for so long, had always had a penchant for detective fiction. She knew that because Tariq had once explained it, a few years back, when, recently-divorced, he’d been courting her in those first few months of their acquaintance. She could still picture that scene in a small but elegant and smoky bistro near the left bank of the Seine.

‘To this day,’ he’d said, ‘you do realise that the Penguin edition of the three volumes of Capital still make-use of his Introduction. God! In sixty-eight his little slim An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory sold over one point five million copies! Can you just imagine, I mean, just try and imagine something like that happening today! Im-possible.’ He was dressed all in white that evening, and the white glowed against his dusky skin; glowed like the glamour of his dark and sparkling eyes.

Perhaps it was the fact that he was nearly thirty years older than her, perhaps it was his oaky charisma, a mixture of deep seriousness and lightsome charm, but Maryam was smitten when he spoke with such impassioned verve. She wasn’t a political animal herself, though she did keep au courant with the world-scene; and more so now that she was falling in love with this older man so involved in the left-wing movements across the globe.

‘He’s most famous of course for his Late Capital. But my favourite of his works is his Marxist Economic Theory. That by the way was his doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne. It took him nearly ten years to write, and he does something quite special there – though old-hat in today’s climate, where such tricks are anachronistic given the high-brow sophistication of the intelligentsia, left or right.’

‘What? What did he do?’ It wasn’t just amorous interest; Maryam was genuinely intrigued. For her, books and the world of the intellect had always been a presence; but somehow, she’d just never been as invested as this older man, talking to her now with such heartfelt passion.

‘Well, while updating Marx, he mimicked him. He dealt with the various parts of the Marxist economic conceptual apparatus, but developed them in an arc that told the political-economic history of the civilised world that was now, as then, susceptible to such a penetrating critique.’

Maryam had frowned here. She’d placed her glass of red wine, which until then she’d held up in an inquisitive space between the table and her lips, as though poised there as a question-mark, back down on the table.

‘What I mean is: he showed how the conceptual tools of Marxist economics could be seen to grow, to develop organically with the history of economic organisation. He showed, in other words, how Marxist economic critique was no a priori theorising, but that it itself was deeply grounded in the empirical history of material civilisation.’

Maryam had thought it through, and as she was a highly intelligent woman, she’d now said, with eagle-eyed perceptiveness,

‘But then, doesn’t that paint quite a bleak picture of history?’

‘How so? I’m not sure I follow.’

‘Well, doesn’t that make it look like Marxism is kind of inevitable?’

‘Yes, I suppose it does.’

‘But then if Marxism is an ineluctable result of economic history, well, doesn’t that…’

Tariq had caught on now.

‘No, it doesn’t. I see where you’re going with this. No, it doesn’t. Marxism is still worthy as a fighting-promise, a fighting-proposition. Yes, in the sense you mean, it is a part of the way of the world. But no, it is also stuff from the briefs of the angels.’ There was both warm Marxism and there was cold Marxism, he’d said, switching now to his more clowning mode.

They had clinked glasses, glasses of delicious, crisp Beaujolais, and had drunk into the early hours that evening in Paris. He’d offered to take her there only the week before, to give her the grand tour. And she’d jumped at the chance. A year later they were married.

And yet, it wasn’t on that particular evening that Tariq had spoken of Mandel’s life-long love for detective fiction. But it was in the environs of that early time in his courtship of her. He’d said that certain minds, like Mandel’s, certain mathematically-minded intellects couldn’t resist mysteries. It was the architectonic neatness of their construction, their sweet mathematics, that attracted such rationalistic mindsets. And it wasn’t limited to social scientists or even hard scientists. There were certain literary minds that matched; he’d given the examples of G.K. Chesterton, or, one of the latter’s epigones, one of his most avid readers, Jorge Luis Borges. (Even if the latter’s literary mathematics wasn’t restricted specifically to detective fiction. In fact, the latter’s literary mathematics was even more tremendous in so far as it worked itself out in short stories that were far from detective fiction.) And, he’d continued, there were even religious minds that thrilled to the stuff. Such as the Oxonian and catholic stalwart for a whole generation, a good friend of Evelyn Waugh’s no less, Ronald Knox. Though hardly anyone knew about such figures nowadays. They were far more well-known during the post-war era. And part of the reason that he, Tariq, knew of someone like Knox, not himself being much of a ‘religious’ type, was because he too had been an Oxonian – if in a period, even then, posthumous, quite conclusively posthumous…

Maryam now toyed with the slim hardback in her long and delicately-fingered hands. Delightful Murder she recalled now, ogling the book-cover, to be a short social history of the detective story. But what was it doing here, laid face-down but open none the less, and not duly stacked away in one of the voluminous bookshelves of her husband’s study? As though in response to her mental query, Tariq now ambled out of the study, bearing a wide smile.

‘Finished. The Yemen piece; just sent it off. It should appear next week, I gather.’

Maryam decided now to stay silent about her mysterious find of the Mandel book, the Mandel book itself a short, taut discourse on mystery. Tariq seemed oblivious, but he did now say,

‘By the way, you were asking about that call yesterday.’

Maryam racked her newly-woken mind.

‘You know, about Teymour.’

‘Ah yes.’ She just managed to stifle a look of perplexity from playing completely across her features. ‘And?’

‘Well, it was just an old friend asking after him. I told him he was doing fine. I called him “the apple of my eye” because that’s what you call a child born in May.’

‘Is it?’

‘Well, that’s what I’ve heard. Anyway. Now that the piece is finished, and dispatched, I thought we’d go out for lunch. What do you say?’

‘I’m game.’

‘Good. Good.’

His face creased up, like a round and melting ember of coaly brown and bristly silvery-white, and Maryam felt warmed, as ever, as though wrapped in a soft, thick duvet of what was, it was certain, bona fide, mature love. She would be with him, she knew at some steep and stark gut-level, until forever kissed the cosmos.

*

They spent the rest of the day galivanting about Dubai, a city they’d only recently moved to due to the dire illness of Maryam’s father. She needed to be on the ground and, as Tariq was as much in love with her as a nineteen-year-old tossing and turning in the storm of a piercing first love, he’d not objected. He still travelled, but the move hadn’t disrupted that. In fact, as one of his specialisms in his political journalism was the Middle East, Dubai wasn’t so bad as a base. And that night, after they both had trundled, tipsy alike, to their third-floor apartment, they’d made love as though for the first time. Life, for the older man and for his younger spouse, was looking rosier and rosier than ever. Maryam had found the love of her life; Tariq had found more than that – a veritable lease of life!

However, the morning after was a riposte. While Maryam’s sleep was dreamless, or so it seemed to her the next morning, Tariq woke the next day having aged it seemed, by the djinn-spurred copiousness of his dream. It was the fey uncanniness of it all that most overwhelmed him.

He’d dreamt he was in Paris again. It was or seemed to be a lecture he was attending, during or near to the time of the famed student revolt in sixty-eight, the year the world teetered on the brink. Ernest Mandel was seated next to him, whispering it seemed the translation from the German of the young Jurgen Habermas. Which was strange, because that seemed to meld two different occasions, the former one having been in Germany, Frankfurt to be precise. But then that’s what dreams did. So, Tariq now thought, wiping the dream-spread sweat from his brow, fair enough. But as far as he could remember the words Mandel was spouting into his ear were not strictly-speaking political. He was spewing forth a launched and personalised invective against his protegee. He was threatening to kill his son, Teymour, even though Mandel had died close to the time Teymour was born, in the real world, in real time. He was launching a tirade as well at the young-old Tariq, for having written his first novel, a serial political satire, titled, Redemption, and ending it in the way he had. Tariq had made Mandel, the somewhat hyper-real hero of the tale, well-nigh hermaphrodite, ending the satirical foray with a scene in which he, Ernest Mandel, had nourished his own baby from what turned out to be his own manly breasts. Tariq had ended with that scene because he’d wanted the political utopian to be a sexual one as well. He’d tried to explain the logic to Mandel, on more than one occasion shortly after the book was published in the late eighties of the previous century. But in real time, years and years ago now, Mandel had been furious, and for the space of a few years had cut off ties with his protegee. In the dream, however, Mandel’s ire was directed against his son, Tariq’s that is. And then just as Tariq felt he’d had enough of the threats of the old man, Leon Trotsky, the original ‘old man’ himself suddenly appeared on the scene, to tread the boards of what was becoming an incredibly terrifying dream. Trotsky walked down the aisle of the lecture hall, unnoticed by any of the crowd or any of the panel, unnoticed by all except he, Tariq. As he approached the raised dais he motioned with his hand for Tariq to calm himself. He approached the two of them now, while Mandel was whispering still in Tariq’s ear. He leant in to Mandel’s ear and himself whispered something, something that seemed both momentous, ominous, as well as happenstance and by the bye. Mandel suddenly jerked his head back and burst into hysterics. He patted the young-old Tariq on the back now, while wiping the ludic tears from his eyes, telling him that it was OK after all, that he wasn’t intent on murdering his son. Tariq then looked up at the old man himself, and thanked him, his eyes and his face filled with depth-charged emotion. Trotsky smiled back. He said that he was delighted to be of service. And to keep the cause alive. And to keep the cause alive.

Omar Sabbagh is a widely published poet, writer and critic.  His first collection and his fourth collection, are, respectively: My Only Ever Oedipal Complaint and To The Middle of Love (Cinnamon Press, 2010/17).  His 5th collection, But It Was An Important Failure, is forthcoming with Cinnamon Press at the start of 2020.  His Beirut novella, Via Negativa: A Parable of Exile, was published with Liquorice Fish Books in March 2016; and a riveting collection of short fictions, Dye and Other Stories,was released in September 2017.  His Dubai novella, Minutes from the Miracle City is forthcoming with Fairlight Books in July 2019; and a study of the oeuvre of Professor Fiona Sampson, For the Love of Music, should be released by Anthem in 2020.  He has published or will have published scholarly essays on George Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, G.K. Chesterton, Robert Browning, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Joseph Conrad, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot, Basil Bunting, Hilaire Belloc, Henry James, George Steiner, and others; as well as on many contemporary poets.  Many of these works are collated in his To My Mind, Or, Kinbotes: Essays on Literature, forthcoming with Whisk(e)y Tit in 2019.He holds a BA in PPE from Oxford; three MA’s, all from the University of London, in English Literature, Creative Writing and Philosophy; and a PhD in English Literature from KCL.  He was Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the American University of Beirut (AUB), from 2011-2013.  He now teaches at the American University in Dubai (AUD), where he is Associate Professor of English.

Women Doing Politics in Lebanon

At the Women in Front Conference on Lebanese Female candidates in the 2018 Parliamentary Elections – Challenges and Barriers.

اكيد الأبوية المتغلغلة بالمجتمع اللبناني والقوانين والذهنية هي من أهم العوائق للمساواة الجنسانية ولتمكين المرأة في الحياة السياسية. طالما العقلية السائدة هي أن “دور المرأة(فقط) إدارة المنزل”، والجندر “مسألة نسائية” وليس مسألة وطنية، “وعلى المرأة(فقط) انو تفرض حالها وتكون كفوءة”، نسبة النساء في البرلمان اللبناني رح بتضل متدنية: ٤% … عيب علينا كلبنانيين ودولة لبنانية

(Dr. Pamela Chrabieh)

Women's Rights in the Middle East Today: Law, Religion and Culture – International Conference in Cyprus

I had the honor of participating in this wonderful gathering of scholars, activists and artists working on gender and women’s rights issues in Southwestern Asia and North Africa. Once again, Dar al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture and CAFCAW have succeeded in challenging the intellect and establishing a dialogue between diverse identities and currents. The conference was successful by the wide range of speakers and by the attendees who contributed to the constructive debates.

We finally presented excerpts of our paper Dr. Nadia Wardeh and I, entitled ‘Against the Current: Religious Authority, Gender and Interreligious Dialogue’. We argued that feminist and liberal thinking/doing interreligious dialogue is a marginalized reality in our region at the institutional level, and particularly when it comes to decision-making tables within and across religious sectarian borders. This is largely unsurprising in so far as the leadership of most religious communities continues to be predominantly male (and patriarchal). The way we see it, there is a need for a shift from complementarianism to egalitarianism, and especially the production and use of Christian and Islamic theologies of gender equality as pillars of thinking and doing interreligious dialogue.

Dr. Nadia Wardeh and Dr. Pamela Chrabieh
November 1, 2018 – Ayia Napa, Cyprus

Gender Justice/Equality in Lebanon Workshop

هل القوانين في لبنان تحمي حقوق المرأة وتعزز المساواة الجنسانية Gender Equality؟ ماذا عن تطبيقات القوانين والمعايير الاجتماعية والعقلية السائدة الابوية؟ وقوانين الأحوال الشخصية؟ كيف يمكن تمكين المرأة في القطاع السياسي والاقتصادي؟ ما هي الخطوات العملية التي يمكن للمواطنين والمجتمعات والأحزاب السياسية اتخاذها لتحقيق المساواة في الحقوق والفرص والواجبات؟ كيف يمكننا تفكيك الصور النمطية القائمة على النوع الاجتماعي؟ هذه بعض الأسئلة التي ناقشناها اليوم ضمن ورشة عمل عن المساواة الجنسانية في لبنان.
@hotelmonroe Beirut-Lebanon
October 14, 2018
Organized by CAFCAW
 Dr. Pamela Chrabieh Gender Equality Training Session

The Only Woman Composer


Above the traffic of the street below, pocking the low periwinkle sky with polka-dots of errant lighting, colour, Maryam was twiddling her thumbs.  Outside the wall-wide window, the vehicles in this, one of Beirut’s most uppity zones, made honking sounds like tweezers or like thick blobs of sound on the air, with the odd swift and rinsing tinkling of rickety breaks, with the loud, brash, desperate yelp of a beggar or two, with music, western and oriental, breaking out now and then from a car-radio, the windows down, a few bars of hackneyed melancholy, hackneyed longing; and now a wolf-whistle, heard in blindness from within her plush third-floor flat, heard, that is, without knowing its object – a stray casting of the net for a woman, perhaps, though that was unlikely; more likely to be a signal from one end or side of the street to another, between buddies with skins so wizened and brown they were grey – indicating, say, a sundry direction to go, or something happenstance of the sort.  This was, after all, the staple music of life, in all its deadpan, humdrum drudgery – and Maryam was presently at a loss.
For what she knew of music, in the very cut and timber of her bones, she would never let-on.  Music was everything to her.  It was for her, in a manner of speaking, the meaning of life.  Oh, of course she was a cultivated, literate woman, and had read of great poets whose primal concern had nothing to do with the represented content of their words, but rather with an incipient musical inkling or mood, to be filled-out and fortified to boot, in the moving architecture of their poems.  But that wasn’t the most signal memory that occurred to her now.  It was, rather, of a small passage of speech which a philosophy professor, whose lecture she’d happened to attend, had elocuted in a moment of deep and sincere enervation.
The tall, slim man from Texas, who held his cowboy hat plum against his paunch, as though there were a belly to hide or smother, had been dragged by questions from the audience for close-on half-an-hour.  You could see his nerves were on edge, as the amateurish audience tried to pick-apart his views and his explanations of such.  So, as the moderator silenced the barking crowd, the tall, slim professor from Texas presently calmed himself.  He took a gulp of water, looked down briefly as though to gather one final push of strength, and said:
‘Ladies and gentlemen.  I am now close to the end of my career as a professional thinker.  And I would like, only, to impart to you one final, simple lesson that is the upshot of decades of tussling with philosophical problems.  And it is this: music, rhythm, but a dynamic, moving rhythm – these are the catchwords of a successful, in the integral sense of flourishing, human life.  To petrify your movements in the world, mental or more dispositional, to get stuck, fixed in any one stance, however extreme or un-extreme it might be, that is the error I hope you may come to elide.  In short, music is the metaphor of reality, lived well – whether you want to call that a realism for yourselves, agents in the world, God, or the way things are, ontologically, or indeed just being at-one with yourself and the world in which that self is housed, an integral part.  In ethics, for example, the libertine and the ascetic or saint are the same person, for all intents and purposes; the one makes pleasure his religion, the other takes utmost pleasure of a sort at least in his religion.  No; the answer, or better, the solution, to enact a truly balanced life, is to be neither too pure, nor too sullied.  A bit of idealism here; a bit of selfishness, if not cynicism, there.  And this mixture, this texture, this weave, in constant, live oscillation.  This way, as we are creatures of and in time, with all the unfortunate paradoxes and aporias that entails for us, we might, just might grow to out-shimmy the prison of reality, making it our bower….’
Maryam couldn’t say what she was wearing that day, or what she’d eaten for lunch, or even whom she was with at the time, if she was with anyone, but this small speech had stayed with her, riveting her still – even if to be “riveted” was the life-error upon which the older man had so incisively dilated.  She’d had many relationships in her own life, after all, which had failed because of being so fixed and steeped – life-errors, she now thought, indeed.
There was Karim, for instance.  She’d stayed socketed in his wake for nearly three years after they’d broken up.  Whether she was being altruistic or selfish, though, was a touched, tough question.  Yes, she thought she felt she still loved him, and that was a generous, giving sentiment; or no, she was wallowing in self-pity, hitched to a bygone eon, in a way that gave her some small, secret, escapist pleasure, denying with relish the passage of time and her life.  But either way, she certainly had not “out-shimmied” reality then.  And there were others, too, on whom she’d stayed equally fixated.
That was the problem with being a woman.  She, woman, that is, might love to dance, to make merry in the music, but when it came to matters of the heart, for all her, woman’s that is, ability to carry outlandish burdens and to survive, adapt, and to help others survive terrors, even terrors – when it came to matters of the most personal heart, she was like a frozen number.  Sure, she, like many women, might dither, shimmy at the start of any loving-affair, setting traps and tests, trying-out her potential partner in all sorts of scenarios and situations, to see him in all the lights and shades, to see him in as round a way as possible – but all this was simply to make-sure.  Then, once in, she was in – irretrievably so.  And this could be problematic, aporetic as the philosopher would say, because men were like time, a kind of prison.
The paintings on the walls of her flat were in the main abstract.  Life of course, and life for a woman especially, wasn’t.  But what was music?  You could read a musical score, say, if that was in your line.  You could trace the elegant calligraphy of it.  And to listen to music, good music, music that stirred, and took you somewhere, somewhere new, different, but still and at the same time ratifying all the best parts in or at the home of your-self, your self-awareness – well, that was neither a picture you could see and recognise, nor was it wholly separated from the fabric of daily life.  It was hard to decide, even as a dilettante.  Words like “chromaticism”, “melody”, “tonality”, even “atonality”, echoed in her mind, and she wished she might be, become, a more knowing, telling part of that mysterious, miraculous world.
She’d decided what she must do

By Dr. Omar Sabbagh

زواج ميغان ماركل انتصار على الطبقية

انتظرت بعد أن هدأت موجة الحديث عن زفاف الأمير هاري والعروس ميغان ماركل؛ لأتحدث بكل صراحة عن أهم النقاط؛ التي تغافل عنها البعض، وبداْ أكثر اهتماماً بمن كان من بين الحضور.

يعد هذا الزفاف بمثابة نقلة في البلاط الملكي بل ورسالة تعايش نحن في أشد الحاجة لها الآن.

غالباً ما تكون الروايات من نسج الخيال؛ لتكون صوتاً يتمرد على الواقع، ولكن أن يأتي اليوم لتصبح فيه قصة “سندريلا” حقيقة فلابد أن ندرك معنى وقيمة هذا التغير.

ميغان ماركل ممثلة أمريكية ولدت لأم أمريكية من أصول أفريقية، وأب أمريكي من أصول هولندية وأيرلندية. درست ميغان المسرح والعلاقات الدولية. ثم سطع نجمها بعد أن لعبت دور رايتشل في المسلسل الشهير “سوتس”، وأما عن الأمير هاري فهو غني عن التعريف.

 للعائلات الملكية قواعد وشروط صارمة مثل عدم الزواج من عامة الشعب.

فالملك إدوارد الثامن ملك المملكة المتحدة تخلى عن العرش عام 1936؛ من أجل الزواج من واليس سمبسون، والتي كانت أمريكية الجنسية ومطلقة سابقاً.

مع العلم أنه قديماً كانت تمنع كنيسة إنجلترا الزواج من النساء المطلقات.

هل يبدو السيناريو متشابهاً ؟ ربما! ولعل هذه النبذة الصغيرة تعكس كيف كان البلاط الملكي والمملكة المتحدة آنذاك.

فاليوم يوجد تنوع عرقي غني في إنجلترا، فزواج الأمير من امرأة أمريكية من أصول أفريقية يخلق حالة من مد جسور الحب والتواصل والاحتضان للجاليات والأعراق المتنوعة التي لفترة طويلة شعر بعض منها بشيء من العنصرية. بالإضافة إلى الطبقية.  فجاء هذا الزواج ليجعل الشعب نسيجاً أكثر ترابطاً ويضيف لمسة تحضر وانفتاح لقبول اختلاف الآخر على علم المملكة، في وقت نعاني  فيه من الإرهاب ونقص في التسامح.

أما كونها مطلقة وتكبره بثلاث سنوات فهذه التفاصيل شغلت الرأي العام العربي أكثر من غيره؛ مما يجعلها رسالة أمل لكل امرأة وتحديداً العربية بأن هناك حياة بعض الطلاق، وبأنه ليس ممنوعاً أن تتزوجي بمن تحبين وأن كان أصغر سناً.

إذا أمكن للبلاط الملكي أن يغير جلده، فلربما حان الوقت أن يصبح مجتمعنا العربي أكثر رحمة وتقبلاً؛ ليلحق بقطار التمدن وترك التعصب بكل أنواعه جانباً

A Taboo Question Revisited

I live in a predominantly European neighborhood in a ‘cosmopolitan city in the Arab world’. It’s beautiful, modern, and quiet, with big villas surrounded by lots of greenery. It’s picture perfect, and every time I leave my compound and drive away, I feel like I am leaving a story book. As I drive, I see a mother and her children cycling their way to school, or a group of runners on their morning job, or more than couple of dogs with their owners on their morning walk. It’s almost like a little game I play on my own, the classic “I spy with my little eye.” And this morning was no different. I spy with my little eye, a little boy playing with his big fluffy white dog at 8 am in the morning. How cute, right?

Wrong. See, this was different. The boy was sporting a bright red t-shirt to match his red sunburnt face, and sandals to protect his little feet. But where were his pants? This boy was bottomless. No tidy whities or Spiderman boxers. He must have been about 10 or 11 years old, but so why I was I so shocked? I swear I must have looked like a stalker, because I couldn’t believe my eyes. I am about to get married, yet the first time I see a male genital I gawk at it and giggle like a 9 year old girl. If you are reading this and laughing, I don’t blame you, because it is in fact very sad. I know it is. How could a 21 year old female be so shocked to see a small male organ in public?

Can someone please answer me that?

Is it because I am Muslim? Is it because I am Arab? Is it because of my upbringing?

I went to the “x” school, in a very predominantly European area. Although this school has recently made it into headlines for having to be evacuated due to a “threatening call,” it is a really good school. Now, around the 8th or 9th grade I was sent home with an important letter to my parents.

I remember giving it to my mum and reading it together, but I honestly didn’t understand it at first. My mum later explained that the school wanted to know if I am allowed to attend sex education classes. And even though the 13 year old me rejected the idea over and over again, my mother signed the letter and forced me to go to sex education classes. I went to school the next day, and asked my Muslim friends if they are allowed to go to our sex ed. classes and most of them said no.

Ok, now here is the problem, why did their mothers say no? I was the only Arab girl in that whole grade at the time, there were some Muslims but they were not from Southwestern Asia, they were either Afghani or Pakistani. So maybe that was the reason; the mothers said no because their cultural and social upbringing didn’t accept their daughters to sit through a strictly professional class about sexual education. I say daughters, because if I remember correctly, the only male Muslim in our entire grade was allowed to attend sex. ed. classes.

I sat through exactly 3 sexual education classes. In one I learned how to put condoms on cucumbers, in another I learned about rape, and in the last about sexually transmitted diseases. The three classes spanned over three weeks, but it all came to an abrupt end. On the fourth week, I was told that all Muslim students would have to leave sex education classes and attend Islamic classes instead.

This is going to get a little bit confusing, but I will briefly explain how the schedule worked at this school. Students had 8 subjects every day for the five workdays of the week, and the timetable was never changed once it was set at the beginning of the year. The only one problem was that students did not have a slot for the Islamic lessons required by official authorities. Even though the majority of the students were non-Muslim, there were still around 8 students in my grade that were Muslim. So, I was suddenly denied of sex education classes, and was instead forced to go to Islamic classes. Who ordered that? No one knows. I asked, my mother asked, and neither of us ever got an answer. So sexual education ended with three classes for me. Any information I learned about sex or boys from my teenage years onward was from my very curious friends.

So if I took 3 Sex Ed. classes, why was I still so shocked about seeing that little boy? This story is very sad already, perhaps even pathetic or a little bit tragic. I still know girls around my age and even older, who wimp at the thought of a male organ or sex. And so why is that? Joumana Haddad, a Lebanese women’s right activist explained in an interview with The Guardian “We constantly and obsessively think about sex, but dare not talk about it. We rid ourselves of one so-called abomination with one hand, then practice intellectual debauchery, which is much worse, with the other.”

What I am arguing in this paper, is the fact that the words “women,” “sex,” and “Islam” grouped together as a concept shock people. I am not talking about married women specifically, rather I am referring to the general Muslim women population. In my opinion, I think this is so because of the lack of knowledge and proper education – the same reasons for the continuity of women circumcision and child marriage in many areas of the world.

To explore my thesis, I conducted a series of very small experiments with the people around me. Even though these experiments were in no way conducted scientifically or statistically accurately, I stand by my findings. My procedure was simple; I very casually asked 10 of my female Muslim friends with 2 questions, covering 2 areas that I believe Muslim Women have a problem with. Similarly, I asked 5 of my Muslim male friends, 1 question, that I believe can give a slight insight onto my topic. This paper will seek to discuss the different questions and then present my findings.

First question:

Many women, especially Muslim women, have been brought up with the idea that their genitals are “private,” which makes complete sense. But, I think the problem is that we begin to think they are private even to us. In biology class around the 8th grade, when the teacher explains about the female and male organs, the whole class starts giggling. At an age of 15, this is understandable. However, the cycle continues. The first time I reached out to understand how a vagina works – what it does and what it looks like – was at the age of 20. In my explorations, I came across the question: “If you don’t know how the female and male organs work and what they look like, how are you in turn supposed to understand sex or be even remotely comfortable speaking of it?”

So, the first question I asked the 10 Muslim women was:

“Do you know the parts of a vagina, what they look like, what they are called, and what they do?”

Here is what I found:

Only 1 woman was able to sketch out and label a model of the vagina perfectly; the other 9 were unable to answer my question. I also realized age does not guarantee knowledge. I asked women who were mostly in the same age group as me (20-25), but there were three women above the age of 30. The one person who gave me a correct description is 22 years old.

Second question:

The second question I wanted to discuss the word “shame” and how it is related to sex and Islam. If a woman has sex outside of marriage in Islam, it’s shameful, both to the woman and to her family. Similarly, if a married woman is to describe, or ask someone about her sexual frustrations, or even talk about sex, it is still shameful.

The book “Sexy and the Citadel” by Shereen El Feki, provides insight about everything to do with sex in the Arab world. According to an interview with The Guardian, El Feki states that, “Sex is the lens through which I study society, because what happens in intimate life is shaped by forces on a bigger stage – politics and economics, religion and tradition, gender and generations – and vice versa.” From this I learned that in order to understand sex in the Arab world, we must freely talk about it. The answers to all our questions cannot be contained in only books. Women must be able to freely ask questions, and understand without feeling shameful or even hesitant since it is an extremely natural aura.

So the second question that I asked was “Have you ever had any questions about sex that were never addressed, and if so why did you leave them unaddressed?”

Here is what I found:

This one was kind of tricky, and I realized I should have made the question clearer. But the answers I received were still very unexpected for the age groups that I asked. The three women above the age of 30 all agreed that they had more than a million questions when they were in their 20s, but never looked them up because it was considered wrong to ask such questions to their peers at that time. Two of these women said that they addressed some of their questions and concerns only after they got married, but that they still have unanswered questions. The other woman is single, and she said she only started to read about these things at the age of 38. The rest of the women I asked around my age group, I divided into two groups. The first group consists of 6 women who don’t know much, and the other consists of 1 woman who knows everything there is to know. This latter woman is also the same person who answered the first question correctly.

The group of 6:

They all asked me what kinds of questions I was referring to. I replied with an example: “Do you bleed after the first time you engage in intercourse?” to which d they all said “yes, of course you do.” (This is scientifically incorrect, and such a misbelief is also the cause of more than a thousand girls’ deaths every year in Egypt. When women engage in sexual intercourse with their partner for their first time and but do not bleed, they are seen as non-virgins and murdered by either their family or husband). When I explained this to them, they all replied that it is not their fault and that it was “embarrassing” to ask such things to anyone.

As for the men:

I asked my 5 male Muslim friends, “Do you think it is acceptable to engage in intercourse before marriage? If yes, why? Also, why is it acceptable for men and not for women?”

Their answers:

All five of my delusional male friends said intercourse before marriage is unacceptable but that everyone does it anyway. This is something I am willing to condone, as long as they know what they are doing is wrong. However, the answers to the follow up question were nothing less than plain shocking. All five men gave me some variation of all the things women are just too tired of hearing. “A key that can open many locks is called a master key, but a lock that can be opened by many keys is a shitty lock.” Or my personal favorite: “If you have 2 sweets and tear the wrapper off of one and throw both on the floor, which one are you going to want to eat more?”

Yes. These are my friends…

Yes. I need new friends…

However, in many way I am happy I did this; it taught me a lot, and inspired me to learn more about myself. While this paper is not an indication of the opinions and experiences of the general public, I believe it still gives adequate insight on this topic.

 ———————————————————————–

Edemariam, Aida. “Joumana Haddad: ‘I Live in a Country That Hates Me'” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2010. Web. 18 Mar. 2016.

“Sex and the Citadel” by Shereen El Feki.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

 

Reeds from Red Lips – Dr. Pamela Chrabieh (American University in Dubai News)

AUD School of Arts and Sciences Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies Dr. Pamela Chrabieh has recently edited and published a book entitled Reeds from Red Lips on Arts and Gender in Southwestern Asia.

The book includes diverse stories told through poetry and prose in English, French, Modern Standard Arabic and Lebanese, and encompasses a selection of conceptual photography artworks, digital visuals, cartoons and paintings. It features established scholars, poets and authors, journalists, artists and students, from Southwestern Asia or living in the region: Dr. Pamela Chrabieh, Norah Al Nimer, Katia Aoun Hage, Malak El Gohary, Amal Chehayeb, Lana AlBeik, Dr. Frank Darwiche, Noor Husain, Joelle Sfeir, Maram El Hendy, Dr. Omar Sabbagh, Karma Bou Saab, Farah Nasser, Haeley Ahn, Masooma Rana, Sandra Malki, Maya Khadra and Nour Zahi Al-Hassanieh.
In her book foreword, Dr. Chrabieh explains that the diversity of Southwestern Asian voices is “so vast that it is unlikely to work on an exhaustive review, and this is definitely not the goal of the book; neither is it to obtain a fixed view of the gender and art relation (…).  The book gathers the visions, journeys, statements, biographies and artworks of some authors and artists who either self-define or reject the gender binary by emphasizing the fluidity of gender and subverting gender conformity. It also displays a mosaic of languages and local dialects, visual techniques and writing styles; reeds that vibrate and produce different sounds and pitch ranges out of empowered lips”.
According to Dr. Chrabieh, “most of those who contributed to this collective work are part of the Red Lips High Heels’ movement (http://www.redlipshighheels.com/), an online gathering project of writers and artists I launched in 2012 in Lebanon. This movement advocates peacebuilding, human rights and women’s rights in Southwestern Asia. (…) Southwestern Asia has unfortunately been too often stereotyped, viewed as homogeneous and demonized, but the authors and artists featured in this book deconstruct prejudices. They tell stories of the rich pasts and current diversities of this part of the world. They prove somehow that the local belongings, realities, memories and histories are quite complex, a mélange of grey zones and multiple shades”.
Dr. Chrabieh adds: “I would like to express my gratitude to the many peoples who have been providing support to the Red Lips High Heels’ movement since 2012 and to this book’s project. I would like to thank in particular the authors and artists who allowed me to publish their works and my assistant researcher Haeley Ahn for her dedication and valuable input in the editing, proofreading and design of the book. To my students and former students at the American University in Dubai: thank you for inspiring me with your life stories, talents, skills and knowledge”.
Reeds from Red Lips is available on amazon.com:
Kindle Edition ASIN: B0711D71C1
(https://www.amazon.com/Reeds-Red-Lips-Pamela-Chrabieh-ebook/dp/B0711D71C1/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8)

SOURCE: AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN DUBAI NEWS

Never give up your right: a story of domestic violence, sexual abuse and daily struggle

Today is international women’s day.
It’s 4 in the morning and I can’t sleep.
Ironic.
I was born at 4 o’clock in the morning.
I was born a girl.
If I only knew then what I was going to go through in my life, I would have wished myself not to be born at all.
I was born in a family with an abusive mother and a silent father.
This is what I got from my parents who made me.
This is what I should be grateful for:
From the age of 7 – today I have been called a whore.
From the age of 0 -17, I was beaten almost daily by my mother.
At a very young age, 2 – 5, I was sexually molested, never told my parents though so I can’t blame them for it.
From the age of 6 – today, I was/am controlled in every action I did/do and in every spoken word I said/say.
The only difference today is that I am not beaten on top of it. My punishment is different. I am dead to them, so I still feel every strike I got on my body growing up but now in their rejection of me.
At the age of 15 they tried to force me into marriage but I got the man to think I am crippled when they forced me to speak to him on the phone, so I got free from that. They never knew why he suddenly changed his mind, they still don’t know today.
At this age I started to run away from home as well.
At 16, my first suicide attempt and I ended up in the hospital and after that at a child and adolescent psychiatric clinic.
My mother said: I wish you died!
I think that is the only sentence she and I ever shared in opinion, I had wished that too, so many times.
My parents here were so ashamed of me being at a clinic that they decided, as I destroyed my reputation in their point of view, that we all had to move to another city.
No, it isn’t a joke.
We moved, many many miles away.
And yes, because I had tried to kill myself and they were ashamed of me being at a psychiatric hospital.
Let that sink in for a while.
At 17, after getting rid of my sister, forced into marriage at 14, then it was my turn. But before that, a couple of months before that, I was sexually assaulted by a relative.
Here comes years of silence from my father, the Silent Watcher, until today!
So let’s get back to the forced marriage with the rape included at the so called “wedding night”.
All my life I have never been able to choose who to love and who to give my body to. My dear parents/relative/the “rapist forced husband” took care of that decision when I was young. The most beautiful experience I could have had, to fall in love and lose my virginity to the boy I love, was ripped away from me in the most disgusting way.
I can never make it undone.
I can never undo the pain.
I can never undo the screams.
I can never undo the tears.
I can never undo the number of times I begged him to stop.
And I can never undo the bloody towels they collected to celebrate my virginity as a display in front of everyone the day after my rape. My relatives and mother so proud about the amount of blood on the sheets.
And my father?
What did he do in all this?
Haven’t you learned it by now?
Silent at home, not participating, but as always, a silent watcher.
18 1/2 years old, running away with a baby at my arms from my raper and abuser after spending months talking to my father on the phone begging him to help me, telling him how my abuser beat me.
The Silent Watcher said nothing.
I ran away, I called the Silent Watcher and told him about my plan to get a divorce.
My  mother was screaming in the background and calling me a whore and the Silent Watcher told me I am welcome if I go back to my rapist and abuser but not welcome if I decide to get a divorce.
I ended up alone.
In the streets.
Suddenly homeless.
With a baby.
Do I have to tell you I lost her in court?
My abuser won.
My mother and all my relatives, who all my life talked about dignity, what a girl should and shouldn’t do and the meaning of family, they all became like my father.
They all became the Silent Watcher.
No one helped me.
No one cared.
No one came to court.
I lost her.
And me? What happened to me? I was moved from one juvenile home to another and even once in foster home care until I became 24 years of age.
At 18 – today, I have been called a bad mother.
At 18 1/2  – today, I have met my mother maybe 3 times and the last time I tried she called me a whore and a liar when I called her “Mother” and she refused to open the door for me.
And my father?
Well, the sin I committed  (getting a divorce), he and my mother did the same. He is remarried and still the Silent Watcher but also a silent abuser because I am not welcome to be myself anywhere near him.
It’s his way or the highway.
So, I have no father.
I never had.
I have no protecter.
So what does it mean in an honour culture society?  It means that anyone and everyone have been able to take pieces of me at all times with no struggle whatsoever.
I am a walking meatmarket and punching bag with a bullseye on my forehead.
Let me explain:
A woman, who lives alone and disobey her father, the culture and religion she belongs to, is nothing but cheap and free to anyone to abuse.
Years passed, I have been hospitalised many times in the psychiatric ward.
Why?
My tears and pain has always been the same and had the same reasons, the longing for my stolen and lost child and the big knife in the back by my family.
I tried suicide 3 more times over the years.
Last attempt 6 – 7 years ago.
Today I am ok, not totally, I am still damaged goods but I am here, am I not?
All my life I have been abused and I am still here.
I struggle every day to survive, and with the help of my pencil, and the love of my friends, I am getting stronger.
One beautiful day I will be strong enough to write a book about this. I will stand in front of everyone and talk about honour culture. Maybe it will take years as the hurt is still so deep but it doesn’t matter. Let it take time.
I will speak up.
I am not what my mother called me all my life, “Useless”.
And I am not my father’s daughter, “A silent watcher”.
You will hear and watch me fight back louder and with more confident in the future.
What I just wrote now was just the teaser/trailer.
I wrote this as my gift to all women around the world on the International women’s day:
Unite, fight and never give up your right!

Lebanon vs Sweden…Who wins?


A girl growing up trying to fit in but fails miserably, lost between two cultures…

I was born in a land of war, killing and bombing. I remember all the windows we had to change because the glass broke when the bombs fell outside like rain. Many of our neighbors soon stopped changing the glass but I remember that my father changed them EVERY time. He didn’t want his family to have nylon as windows. I remember that we often ran down to the basement to get cover from the storm of bombs outside. I remember that when I left to school in the morning I never knew if my parents or siblings or relatives would be alive when I went back home. Every day was a miracle when we all survived and were home, altogether as a family. We were lucky, other families weren’t. Many died during my first years growing up in Lebanon.

So, my father wanted to save us. I am sure he didn’t plan that his daughter would see a child with a head split in the middle for falling down from the balcony because of a bomb. I saw that my father didn’t want his daughter to see her relatives taken away by soldiers for months for questioning and coming back home all covered in blood from all the beating. I saw that too. So, my father made a promise to us, to move us to a safer country, and he did, one beautiful Saturday, to Sweden.

It was 1984, I was 6 1/2 years old when we moved to Sweden, and after living a whole year in a camp to wait for the residency, my family and I moved to our first home in this country in 1985.

It was a town where we were the only foreign family and my sister, my brother and I were the only students in school with dark hair. The Swedish kids made fun of me and called me names and for the next couple of years I was struggling to make myself accepted. I cried very often. I just wanted to go back and I asked my father many times why he took us away from the country where I felt like home, Lebanon.

It wasn’t only hard for us as kids, this was a hard time for my parents as well, a new country and children that no longer could speak the mother tongue right. We spoke a new language that they didn’t understand. They had no control over the situation – my parents began to, as they call it, save us from the “Swedish world”. They didn’t want us to change, but it was hard for us, my siblings and I. I was trying to be accepted at school and my parents tried to save me from being accepted. I was very confused.

Even my mother and father began to have problems, they grew apart and the fights and the screaming began. Both situations were alike: hiding from the bombs in a basement and hiding from the fights in my room, life hasn’t changed for me, it got worse, at least back in Lebanon we were hiding together as a family but in Sweden, we were hiding from each other.

Everything deemed strange, my parents wanted me to hate it or not to get close to it: Swedish people, black people, Muslim people, even people with a strange haircut, everything became a threat to their kids and soon I was banned from even leaving the house or talking to anyone or having friends.

I thought that in time this will change and my parents will be different, but no, it got worse, they even banned us from watching Swedish channels.

-No Swedish TV, they said.

This left an even bigger gap between us in the family. Everything was forbidden.

I told my father:

– I thought you brought us to this country so that we could live in peace and to have our freedom, but this Dad, this is prison and its painful. Why don’t you let me adjust to this country, why?

He didn’t answer me.

My older brother left the house and didn’t want to have anything to do with the family, and because he left, I became the oldest of the kids and got the blame for everything that happened.

At home I had to hide the fact I had Swedish friends and  that my best friends were a Muslim girl from Iraq and a Swedish girl. I learned soon to live a double life, like a double agent in FBI or something. At home I never said anything, too afraid to be judged. I never smiled, I never asked for anything, and in school, my mood was always swinging. I was on top and happy some days and screaming and fighting other days, but at least I was reacting, I was alive.

 One day I asked my father:

– Do you want me to hate peoples who are different? Weren’t there different peoples in Beirut? Different religions? So if it was ok there, why isn’t it now? You never told us to hate anyone in Lebanon.

He never answered that either.

I thought about it. Of course there were people of different religious identities and colors, and I remember that we all shared the same basement when we were hiding from the bombs, listening to the same radio for news, praying the same prayers, sharing our food and water with each other, and hugging each other when we could go back home in one piece. Why can’t it be the same here in Sweden?

We weren’t the only family having to deal with this dilemma. Others were in a similar situation.

 Today my parents are divorced, they live in different cities. They hate each other and they can’t deal with the fact that they have family obligations. We are strangers to each other, so tell me, was it worth it? Was it worth surviving the war? Was it worth moving to a country with no war and no bombs? Here, we don’t have war, but we are no longer a family. This country ripped us apart!

I went for a vacation to Lebanon, after 19 years in Sweden to see if I would feel like home there, but I didn’t. The gap between the people  nowadays are as big as the gap in our family, if not bigger. There are gaps between people because of religion and race, between rich and poor people. Even politics is dividing people and families. I was so disappointed.

Where is home for me?

I am an outsider in Sweden as I am a Lebanese girl and I am a stranger with weird European ideas in Lebanon.

Have you ever talked to a person that says that the best time of her life is when she was hiding from bombs in a basement?

Well, I am that person.

I know it doesn’t make any sense to many, but that was the best time of my life.