Category: Egypt

Memory is stubborn

Invention of the Mizrahim

By Susan Abulhawa, 20 Sept 2017

 

The State of Israel was conceived at the turn of the 20th century in Eastern Europe by a group of elite European Jews who launched a movement called Zionism that sought to establish a physical nation state exclusive to Jews. It was a typical settler colonial enterprise, complete with the narrative of a divine mandate and a non-existent or savage indigenous population, central to which was the myth that Jews of the world formed a singular people, favored by God, who were returning to their singular place of origin – Palestine – after a three thousand year absence.

Although it was a project conceived in Europe by Europeans and for European Jews, they lacked sufficient numbers to build a population large enough to conquer the indigenous Palestinian population. Thus, recruitment of Jews from the surrounding Arab world was a necessary inconvenience. They did so through propaganda and by creating false flag terror incidents (bombing of synagogues or Jewish centres) in order provoke an exodus of Arab Jews. A prime example of this happened in Iraq, where the oldest Jewish community in the world had lived for millennia as contributing members of Iraqi society, and who prospered, contributed to the arts and the economy, and participated in government.

But these Jews were not embraced as brethren by European Zionists. Zionism was decidedly colonial, and that meant that Jews of the Arab world were seen as incomplete, barbaric, dirty, uncivilised. Za’ev Jabotinsky, one of the forefathers of Zionism said, “We Jews have nothing in common with what is called the Orient, thank God. To the extent that our uneducated masses [Arab Jews] have ancient spiritual traditions and laws that call the Orient, they must be weaned away from them, and this is in fact what we are doing in every decent school, what life itself is doing with great success. We are going in Palestine, first for our national convenience, [second] to sweep out thoroughly all traces of the Oriental soul.”

A multitude of programs and protocols were implemented towards this goal. One of the most egregious was a large initiative of stealing the babies of Arab Jews and giving them to be raised by European Jews. But the larger efforts were simple propaganda campaigns that were implemented in schools, communities, and national projects.

The word Mizrahim, from the Hebrew and Arabic words meaning “those of the East,” was popularised to lump all of these peoples of different nations into a single miscellaneous category that erased their individual ancient histories and cultures that spanned thousands of years of life and tradition, replete with countless and invaluable achievements in their respective nations.

In essence, it was a project to strip ancient peoples of their identities, which was not unlike what they tried to do to Palestinians. Zionists were trying to create a new nation with a unified people. So, they could not abide allowing parts of this population to continue to identify as Iraqi, Moroccan, Persian, Tunisian, and so on, and certainly not as Arab Jews. At the same time, the racist impulses of colonialism could not abide putting these people on par with Jews of Europe. They could not simply be Jews in the new Jewish state.

Thus, the word Mizrahim, from the Hebrew and Arabic words meaning “those of the East,” was popularised to lump all of these peoples of different nations into a single miscellaneous category that erased their individual ancient histories and cultures that spanned thousands of years of life and tradition, replete with countless and invaluable achievements in their respective nations.

Before Israel, Jews of Iraq identified as Iraqi, of Morocco as Moroccan, of Tunisia as Tunisian, of Iran as Persian, of Syria as Syrian, of Egypt as Egyptian, and of Palestine as Palestinian. They spoke Arabic, ate the same foods as their Christian and Muslim compatriots, celebrated and partook in the same national events and traditions, lived by the same social protocols, and moved through their respective cultures as other natives did. And despite the similarities of their cultures, Tunisians were distinct from Egyptians, who were both distinct from Iraqis, who were distinct from Moroccans, etc. But Israel collapsed them all under a single identity, which was to be distinguished only from Ashkenazis, European Jews, who were higher up on the social order, and, of course, from non-Jewish Palestinians and Arabs, who were to be despised. The level of their resulting self-hate can be measured in the heightened cruelty they practise against Palestinians.

However, as Zionists would learn from Palestinians, erasing the identity of others is not an easy task. Memory is stubborn, and roots will continue to tug at humans long after they’ve been uprooted. Arab Jews continued to speak Arabic at home, to dance to Arabic music, eat Arab food, and dream of once again seeing the mountains, rivers, architecture, libraries, and colours of Persia, Babylon, North Africa and the Levant.

Israel has moved away slightly from early Zionism’s contempt for our part of the world. And while it remains a colonial project, bent on erasing the native Palestinian presence, their social efforts are more focused on “indigenising” themselves to the land. The obstinacy of Arab Jews in clinging to their cultural roots has provided a convenient avenue to lay claim to regional indigenous culture. So now, Arab foods (like falafel, hummus, shakshouka), traditional Arab clothing (like tatreez, galabiyas, keffiyehs), and Arab folkloric dances are all being rebranded as “Israeli,” yet another phase of colonial renaming, and they use the rebranded Arab Jews to justify their claim.

Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian writer and the author of the international bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury 2010). She is also the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, an NGO for children. Her latest novel The Blue Between Sky and Water has been translated into 26 languages.

 

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/invention-mizrahim-170920103701750.html

Photograph of three Mizrahi Jews reading a copy of the Hebrew Bible at a Jewish refugee camp, March 3, 1949 [AP].

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/11/20/memory-is-stubborn/

Peaceable revolution

louis gohmert

America’s Dumbest Congressman says ‘Selma’ shows why we should fight ‘radical Islam’

By Hunter (Daily Kos staff), Fri Jan 23, 2015 at 09:53 AM PST

 

One of the ways Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) retains his lock on the title of America’s Dumbest Congressman is sheer persistence. Other candidates may pipe up with occasional entries into the genre of mind-bending goofiness, but Louie Gohmert makes it a practice to demonstrate his skills on a regular basis in his very, very frequent speeches to an empty House floor. His particular skills lie in the free association category; Louie Gohmert can take any two random thoughts that enter his mind and make them about each other, and about Barack Obama being a bad person.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) on Thursday drew an interesting lesson from the critically-acclaimed movie “Selma,” saying it reminded him of the importance of fighting radical Islam.”I thought about the Egyptian peaceable revolution as I watched the movie ‘Selma,'” the congressman said during a speech on the House floor. “Thank God for Martin Luther King Jr.”

See, Louie Gohmert does not watch movies like you or I watch movies. His version contains running commentaries that only Louie Gohmert and certain breeds of dogs can hear.

“People in Egypt know about Dr. King,” he continued. “He wanted a peaceful demonstration and they were part of a peaceful demonstration. Unfortunately, radical Islam did not like being removed. They burned churches. They went after Christians. They went after Jews.”

This comparison would suggest that white Southern segregationists are the U.S. equivalent of “radical Islam,” what with the church burnings and going after peaceful protestors. Louie Gohmert does not think these things through. Ever.

The observation came at the end of a long monologue, in which Gohmert interweaved words of support for Israel, condemnation of Boko Haram, and praise of the military takeover of Egypt’s Islamist government by the secular dictator Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

All of which was mere decoration around the real reason for Louie Gohmert’s speech on the House floor, which was to explain that Barack Obama is bad for not supporting Egyptian junta leader al-Sisi by giving him more helicopters and tanks. Which is what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have wanted, we presume, or at least it would have made the movie Selma more of a high-budget, Michael Bay affair.

And this, my children, is why Rep. Louie Gohmert so easily retains his position as America’s Dumbest Congressman. It is not merely the quality of dumb, but the quantity, and in that regard Louie Gohmert is like a fire hose of dumb trained on the rest of us after we have had the audacity to go somewhere we were not supposed to go or demand something we were not supposed to demand. Which is why we should give him helicopters, or something.

 

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/01/23/1359738/-America-s-Dumbest-Congressman-says-Selma-shows-why-we-should-fight-radical-Islam or http://bit.ly/1uDI8h3

Photograph (modified) of Texas’ Abgeordneter mit Verhaltensauffälligkeiten (Reuters).  http://blog.bernerzeitung.ch/welttheater/index.php/33797/irre-worte-vom-crazy-onkel/ or http://bit.ly/1ECznEv

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2015/01/23/peaceable-revolution/

Most of these fundamentalists are illiterate

Tarif KhalidiPluralism was once the hallmark of the Arab world, so the exodus of Christians from the Middle East is painful to one Islamic scholar

By Robert Fisk, Sunday 23 February 2014

 

Tarif Khalidi is a big, bearded bear of a man, the kind you would always choose to play Father Christmas, or perhaps a Cossack leader sweeping across the Russian steppe, reins in one hand, sword in the other. But Tarif – or Uncle Tarif as I invariably call him – is an Islamic scholar, the most recent translator of the Koran and author of a wonderful book of Muslim stories about Jesus. I am thus surprised – but after a few seconds not at all surprised – to hear how well this Palestinian from Jerusalem got on with the Imam Musa Sadr, the Shia leader in southern Lebanon who did more to lift his people from squalor than any I can think of – until Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had him murdered in Libya in 1978.

“He took on the Christians of Lebanon in an extraordinary manner,” Tarif says. “He revived Islamic interest in Jesus and Mary. He was an extraordinary performer. He almost embraced Christian theology. He would lecture in churches with the cross right behind him!” But as we weave our way between religions, I realise what is grieving this most burly of professors – he teaches at the American University of Beirut – as he speaks slowly and eloquently of the almost biblical exodus of Christians from the Middle East.

“It is a tragedy and a blow to the basic pride of Arab Islamic civilisation. It is one of the most horrific developments of recent years. If Islamic civilisation has anything to show for itself, it is its record of pluralism and coexistence. I said the other day that if the Nobel Peace Prize had existed hundreds of years ago, it would be awarded to Islamic civilisation. But now the barbarians are at the gates, Christians are killed, nuns are kidnapped” – Tarif is referring to the nuns taken from the Christian Syrian town of Maaloula – “and bishops disappear. This strikes at the very heart of what we stood for.”

I ask him an obvious question. What did it feel like to translate the Koran? The answer comes straight from the shoulder. “I feel a big difference in rhetoric and eloquence. Some parts of it are very moving, very poetical. Other parts are humdrum, prosaic, repetitive. It’s an uneven text.” He pauses, and then says  that “there has not yet been a higher criticism of the Koran. It may happen, but it hasn’t. Christians indulged in this higher criticism of the Bible at the end of the 19th century. We need, for example, very seriously to re-examine things between men and women. The implication of these things have not been fully explored. Veiling, for instance. You need to re-think basic human rights issues. And what does ‘revelation’ really mean?”

Tarif is not criticising the Koran and he doesn’t use the word ‘re-interpretation’ – although I do, and he agrees this is what he is talking about. Islamic scholars have endured much harassment in the past for suggesting that it is time for Muslims to re-interpret their holy book. I suggest – with some hesitation – that I find Shia Muslims readier to discuss the meaning of the Koran than Sunni Muslims, and Tarif Khalidi agrees at once.

“Shiite clerics get a far more rigorous education than Sunni clerics. They have a solid education in the theological sciences. They learn Aristotelian logic before the Koran. I think theology is much more alive in the Shia community. Shiites are more theological, Sunnis are legalistic. And the Shiites have their ‘passion story’ about Hussein and Ali. It is an invitation to reflect on the need for justice.”

It is almost a relief to turn to the Middle East today, although Tarif’s response is unexpected. “I think the Middle East is part of a more general epidemic – it’s happening in the Ukraine, in north Africa. It could be a kind of contamination that runs through unstable societies. It’s extremely difficult to differentiate what in each case is going to happen. It’s very sad, the cost is very high in human life. And do you notice how these leaders haven’t said a single word about the casualties among their own people? They talk about reform, elections, a new constitution, but not a word about their own people’s suffering.

“Syria began as a legitimate war but now it’s a kind of melee, one side infecting the other with its fanaticism.”

Of Egypt, Tarif is a little unkind, especially towards Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first elected president who could be “described as a clown”. Morsi “was like a man who felt himself parachuted into a job he had only dreamed about. He had been in opposition so long, he didn’t know what to do when he got to power.” Every Egyptian, Tarif suspects, wishes to be a Nasser. Tarif doesn’t name names but I can certainly think of one army officer who would like to try on Nasser’s clothes.

Tarif, I should add, doesn’t buy my line about Christianity dying out in the West. He talks about Americans in the Mid-West and churches filling up because of Pope Francis. Asked by another journalist whether he has taken heat from extremists, Tarif replied that “nobody has challenged me, because most of these fundamentalists are illiterate – so that’s a mercy”.

Not so illiterate, however, that they would have missed Beirut’s most famous faux pas of recent years. The avuncular Tarif was lecturing at the American University about the Koran and the hoarding advertising his talk read: “The Koran, by Tarif al-Khalidi.” Mobiles rang at once and the offending advertisement was swiftly taken down before anyone had time to point out that the author of the Koran was God.

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/robert-fisk-pluralism-was-once-the-hallmark-of-the-arab-world-so-the-exodus-of-christians-from-the-middle-east-is-painful-to-one-islamic-scholar-9147720.html or http://ind.pn/1hnk3j8

Photograph:  http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/en/content/tarif-khalidi

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2014/02/23/most-of-these-fundamentalists-are-illiterate/

Dragged away to be shot over a shallow grave

The_lion_of_Egyptian_revolution_(Qasr_al-Nil_Bridge)-edit2Everything was possible

By Omar Robert Hamilton, Saturday, August 17, 2013 – 22:26

 

I sit, for the 12th hour now, alone and struggling for what to do. For the first time since I got on a plane for Egypt on January 292011, I am at a loss.

Worse days than today lie ahead of us.

We thought we could change the world. We know now that that feeling was not unique to us, that every revolutionary moment courses with the pulse of a manifest destiny. How different things feel today. I will not bury our convictions, but that feeling – youthful optimism? naiveté? idealism? foolishness? – is now truly and irrevocably dead.

I mourn the dead and I despise those killing them. I mourn the dead and I despise those sending them to their deaths. I mourn the dead and I despise those that excuse their murder. How did it come to this? How did we get here? What is this place?

It is February 122011. Hosni Mubarak has fallen. In the morning I will fly to America to finish a job, before moving permanently to Cairo to help build the new country. I am sitting on my mother’s balcony. We are smoking cigarettes and drinking tea to keep out the cold and talking; about all that we’ve seen and done, about all that we’re going to do. Everything, on that night, was possible. Our conversation ranges from the grandiose of the global revolution to the practical re-thinking of ministerial appointments to the minutiae of the requirements of the film school that should be established. We talked through the night. I took notes.

It is, perhaps, this memory that hurts me the most.

By the time I return from America the army had cleared two sit-ins, begun court-martialing civilians en masse and assaulting women protestors with virginity tests. The revolution now is smaller, but serious, focused and under sustained  attack. The un-fallen state, the deep state, the client state; once a month, every month, it attacks. It clears Tahrir in March, April, August and December. It attacks protestors at the Israeli Embassy. It envelopes downtown Cairo in a November mist of Pennsylvanian tear gas. It rains down rocks and Molotov cocktails from the roof of the Cabinet building. It welds shut the doors of the Port Said stadium deathtrap. Every month, people die fighting it.

There were moments when we could have broken the army’s grip on the country. We should have stayed in Tahrir after Mubarak was ousted. Tahrir was in the driving seat and hadn’t yet acquired the politicians to sell it out. But we left. Everyone said they would be back the next day and then, somehow, they weren’t. People wanted to shower and to sleep in their own beds. Then spontaneous cleaning brigades of earnest patriots spread through the city and by midday everything was nice and tidy and gone.

In November 2011 and in January 2012 the streets echoed with chants demanding the end of military rule. But now it had become the self-appointed role of the politicians to translate street action into political gain. Now, the army had people to talk to. Had all the forces that were supposedly against the military – the revolutionaries, the liberals, the Brotherhood and the Salafis – ever truly united where might we have been today? Dead, possibly. But maybe not. Maybe somewhere closer to a civilian state.

A real, ideological alliance was never possible. But a tactical, practical one might just have worked. But rather than work together each party repeatedly met with and made deals with the army, consistently placing the generals in the strongest tactical position. Everyone was to blame. The old, moneyed liberals who presented themselves as allied with the revolution lived in relative comfort, had historical ties to the army and routinely demonized the Brotherhood. The revolutionaries’ disdain for high politics meant that they effectively removed themselves from the equation. The Salafis were only ever interested in the deal that brought them the most power and their prized ministries – education and health. And the Brotherhood, long-enamored of their ability to put numbers on the street, was arrogant and duplicitous from the beginning – making serious electoral promises to the liberals, lobbying America and offering the army immunity and oversight of itself.

When in power, Mohamed Morsi refused to take on the Ministry of Interior. Instead, he appointed Ahmad Gamal al-Din who, as chief of the Assiut Security Directorate almost killed off the revolution there in January 2011 and then was the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ chief of General Security at the time of the Moahmed Mahmoud and the ultras massacres.

The main enemy of the people has always been the security state – the police and the army. We will never get anywhere until they are dismantled entirely. There was a moment when that could have been achieved, when a civilian state could have been built. But Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood would have had to choose the challenge of working with the disparate and bickering forces of the left and the liberals over dealing with the organized certainty of the military.

* * * *

I write now from Sarajevo. I sat yesterday in the Srebrenica memorial museum. While men were jumping off Cairo’s October 6 Bridge to escape the gunfire closing in on them from all sides, General Ratko Mladic was staring at the camera, speaking to history:

Here we are on July 11th 1995, in Serbian Srebrenica, just before a great Serb holy day. We give this town to the Serb nation; in memory of the uprising against the Turks. The time has now come to take revenge on the Muslims. 

I wander the streets alone. Every building is still mapped with the scars of war. I drink alone at the opening gala of the film festival I am attending, thinking of a woman in the museum video.

If I had cried out, if I had screamed that they couldn’t take him. If I had grabbed him. If I had done something. I don’t know. Maybe I would be able to live with myself.  

* * * *

It’s June 272013. We’re sitting in Estoril, at the corner table under the television. Of the six of us, three genuinely believe that the marches on June 30 will be very seriously attacked; that it is the perfect moment for the old National Democratic Party networks to throw the country into chaos, and so force the army to take control again. There is talk of kill lists. I spend hundreds of pounds on goggles I hope will keep the birdshot out of our eyes. I don’t want to march that day. I want Morsi gone, but the voices we are hearing are all feloul, and online instructions are circulating insisting no one chant against the army or the police. But all my friends are going, so what choice do I have? To watch them die on television?

We read it wrong. The blood that the army, the regime, wanted was not ours. Not this time. Is it because we are now irrelevant? Or because the backlash would have been too strong?

And on July 3, just as they did on February 112011, the army staged a coup. In February they removed Mubarak to sap public pressure and demobilize people. And it worked. What happened this time? Did the street pressure force the army to act, or did the army create the street pressure through Tamarod to get what they wanted?

* * * *

Can the side without guns ever win?

An Iranian friend once assured me that reform, rather than revolution, is what we want. That revolutions are only won by those most violent.

The first thing I read when I woke up today was Adam Shatz. He wrote,

Egypt’s revolutionaries mistook their belief in the revolution for the existence of a revolution. 

But what do we have if not our beliefs? They are the foundation of our actions, of our identities. And it was transformative: the belief we all shared, for a moment, in each other. In an eternity of disappointment and greed and malice that moment, that moment in which being human was finally worth something, in which having a community was preferable to being alone with a book, had a value that will never be lost.  You cannot underestimate how important these two and half years have been for people, how empowered, how unafraid people were. The existence of the revolution should not be confused with the existence of a political leadership and process. The revolution is dead when we say it’s dead. The revolution is dead when we will no longer die for it.

My apartment in Cairo is in Bab al-Louq and every time I go to the supermarket I see the doorway I hid in on November 222011, during the first battle of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. I smell the cloud of tear gas filling the street, see the locked glass door and the flashes of police gunfire coming closer and closer in the reflection. I hear the crack of a shotgun reloading, louder and louder. And I hear, with perfect clarity, my thoughts

Turn. Take it in the back. Maybe you’ll survive. Stand up straight. Stand up. They will remember you. It’s your turn now. People have given more. People have given their eyes. Alaa is in jail. They faced it bravely. Bravely. Stand up straight. They will remember you. 

I cannot stand up to death today. Today I am a coward who can only write. I see the revolution being dragged away to be shot over a shallow grave and I don’t know what to do. But I do know that, before it’s too late, we will grab it, we will fight for it. We have to, or we will never be able to live with ourselves.

 

http://www.madamasr.com/content/everything-was-possible or http://bit.ly/12e1CrQ

Photograph:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_lion_of_Egyptian_revolution_(Qasr_al-Nil_Bridge)-edit2.jpg

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2013/08/17/dragged-away-to-be-shot-over-a-shallow-grave/