13 September 2008

Beirut to Beijing and Beyond

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:21 pm by lilithhope

Hi everyone,

I’m leaving today to start my big Beirut to Beijing oveland trip. To mark the occasion, I have started another blog on which i will be writing as often as possible, keeping an online diary so to speak of the journey.

If you are interested, please visit:


Also, don’t hesitate to circulate to anyone you think may be interested.

Thanks for your support,


8 September 2008

Nature’s equilibrium

Posted in Comment tagged , , at 11:53 pm by lilithhope

Havana harbour

While grateful that hurricane Ike caused no fatalities on the Turks and Caicos, I know that such thanks is counterbalanced by the fact that it claimed 61 lives in Haiti and is currently threatening thousands more in Cuba.

Unfortnately, as is so often the case, one’s celebration coexists with another’s despair.

7 September 2008

Hurricane Ike over my home

Posted in Comment tagged , , , at 12:20 pm by lilithhope

Click image to zoom in [Image of initial wind radii]


The archipelago of islands outlined in red just north of the eye of the hurricane is the Turks and Caicos Islands (NOTE: at the time of writing, that was the case. but the map has been moving with the hurricane, following it on its course. Therefore, the eye of the hurricane is no longer near the T+C islands, which lie due north of Haiti)

My dad is hiding under our house, in the little ‘bunker’ i helped him construct in 2004 in preparation for hurricane Frances, the last storm to seriously threaten the Turks and Caicos Islands. Now, hurricane Ike is hovering overhead with its 200km plus winds gashing away at the lowlying Caribbean islands, with my friends and family coweing beheath.

My ingrate brother, after throwing one of his regular temper tantrums in reaction to my father’s dogmatism, literally abandoned dad, and took off to the local TV station, his workplace, leaving my 57 year-old pop to finish boarding up the glass windows and doors of the house by himself. So much for family solidarity in times of crisis.

Fortunately, the mobile fones are still working. Talking to dad, i can hear the winds roarng outside. When i express concern for him (the house is on a remote end of the island, Providenciales), he shrugs it off, and, in his characteristic Aussie accent, states that he’s “more worried about the bloody dogs”. Three out of his four beloved mongrels have gone to hide in the bushes, along with his two cats. His only company is Smiley, an old, deaf and half-blind mutt, who he has always cared for faultlessly. Smiley is obviously more loyal to him than his own son.

But neither my father nor brother will be the worst off in the wake of this feat of Mother Nature. Like the images being beamed across the planet of Haiti’s recent catastrophy that resulted from tropical storm Hanna last week, those who bear the full brunt of Ike will not be my family and friends, those expats who long ago claimed the pristine British Overseas terriroty as their home. No; they have the money, and therefore soild enough homes to withstand the storm. If worst comes to worst, their losses will be material.

Those who are bound to suffer the most will be the Haitian refugees, those who come over on slooth boats thinking that they are being brought to America. Yet they arrive on Provo, and are given no protection, no status of asylum seekers or refugees. Recently, the Turks and Caicos government has disallowed work permits for Haitians. They are seen as a black plague, infiltrating the precarious colonial paradise. They will be the ones to suffer the most, because even though they fled their home nation in order to seek better lives elsewhere, they will suffer the same fate as their compatriots back in Haiti: the corrugated iron and plywood houses of Cite du Soleil were reproduced in Five Cays, and will not withstand hrash winds, rains and flooding. The slight change in geography offered no change in livelihood, except perhas for the worst: in Haiti, at least they were at home. On Provo, they are cast as outsiders by Turks Islanders and expats alike. And it is them who stand at the receiving end of the worst that Ike can dish out.

Obviously, the Hatian refugees are not the only ones at risk. Anyone in low-lying areas like Blue Hills, the Bight, and Leeward will be at serious risk. Out of those three areas, Leeward is by far the most well off, and most of its residents will have flocked either off island or to a friend’s place on high ground. Once again, as with so many national disasters, from the 2004 Tsunami to the 2008 cyclone in Myanmar, the victims will be decided according to economics. And although human suffering cannot be accurately measured in numbers, it is simple numbers and figures in terms of wealth that dictate who will suffer more or less.

And as in any colonial and even postcolonial society, economy, and in this context the extent of tragedy, has a colour. I expect that those who will be least effected, in terms of non-material losses, will be predominantly white, while more substantial human losses will be sustined by those of darker skin. The main exception to this will be local government officials, who have been funnelling away millions of the islands’ wealth for years and years, and who have megalomaniac homes that attest to that fact.

Ironically, Prime Minister Michael Missick, who is currently being investigated by a British commission under accusations of corruption, had designated today as a “national day of prayer and fasting” in order to request that God help him in his judicial ordeal. Indeed, there will be many people praying and fasting today and in the days to come, but for very different reasons that Missick hoped.In his concrete bunker by the water pump, my dad suggested that God is probably punishing the whole country for putting up with Missick’s lies, bribery and greed for so long.

At that, I wondered about the extent to which the ongoing colonial legacy there will also be ‘punished’. Not tht i believe in divine retribution or anything, nor do i wish for any ill to befall any of my friends and family, the vast majority of which fit into that legacy. I just constantly wonder about the repercussions of privilege, or, reciprocally, the extent to which privilege can alleviate repercussions.

Ofcourse, aside from abstract intellectual contemplations, I am also hoping for the safety of my loved ones.

Why Condi went to Tripoli

Posted in Comment tagged , , at 12:04 am by lilithhope

Condoleeza Rice’s self-proclaimed “historic visit” to Libya and meeting with Colonel Qaddafi last week can probably be better explained by the latter’s affection towards the US Secretary of State than any solid geopolitical strategy:

“I support my darling black African woman.

I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders

Yes, Leezza, Leezza, Leezza… I love her very much.”

Indeed, it is rumored that after the Colonel had finished serenading Ms. Rice from beneath her second story balcony with a Arabic-English cover of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love you Baby” (no doubt another nod in the direction of a self-confident, African-American woman), the two dignitaries discussed the possibility of the US quieting its accusations of Libyan human rights abuses in return for Libyan facilitation of extraterritorial rendition/torture tasks of US terror suspects; similar to the current deal in place with Libya’s neighbour, Egypt.

Against the intimacy of this recent rapprochement, cynics are questioning the real reasons behind Rice’s trip. Some are saying that this recent move hints that the Secretary of State is setting the stage for a career shift which could come in Janruary 2009, after the November 2008 elections, by weeding out admirers who could potentially come to constitute back-up vocalists in a post-politics career in entertainment.

When questioned about her affiliation to the Libyan president, Rice stated: “Outside the dribs and drabs of internaitonal diplomacy, we really bond through music. He’s introduced me to some cool Arab singers, like Farid al Atrash, while I’ve opened him up to some American singers. He took an immediate liking to Barry White”. With a smile, she added: “Mo has a ravishing voice.”

It is speculated that with another meeting scheduled in October, the two could crack a demo, and, with the right production, a single could be ready for release for the Christmas/Eid el Adha seasons.

4 September 2008

Paradoxes, abstractions and indulgences: the myth of Lebanese joie de vivre

Posted in Comment, Lebanon Diaries tagged , , , at 8:39 pm by lilithhope

The notion that Lebanon is a country of brazen paradoxes is a commonplace conclusion arrived at by many foreigners who come here for any significant amount of time. So commonplace, in fact, that such contradictions have become the template for Westerners’ representations of this quagmire country in both the media and academia alike. The stark social disparity, in which up-market, glitzy neighbourhoods are situated a stone’s throw away from dirty, overcrowded refugee camps; the incomprehensible speed with which the nation goes from being on the brink of civil war to lapping up the vastly exaggerated, pop-star blessed and firework-christened festivities of a superficial band-aid of a peace deal; the relentless drive towards luxury and indulgence in the face of institutionalised marginalization and repression… This is Lebanon.

Often, these anti-intuitive, ill-fitting pieces are considered to be the root reason for why Lebanon, and Beirut in particular, wields such a powerful magnetic pull on all who stray into its sphere. Lebanon can be both heaven and hell, and this is a powerful source of attraction for those who, coming from outside, are privileged enough to derive cheap thrills by walking the precarious tightrope between the two universes. This ‘naughty-but-nice’ message resonates ironically in each and every tongue-in-cheek regurgitation of this countries’ well-meaning but largely vacuous mantra: “Welcome to Lebanon”.

The paradoxes of Beirut are all-pervasive, and manifest themselves almost all aspects of life in this city that inhabits the borderline between the sane and the absurd, the shining and the decrepit. It is not rare to perceive a bullet-ridden, blackened-by-smoke carcass of a building lurking in the shadow of a towering shard-glass luxury residence. Nor is it uncommon to witness the merging of the worlds of a fashion victim and a mine victim: a diamond- and gold-clad, collagen-lipped tummy-tucked breast-enhanced platinum blonde stops to buy a pack of Davidoff slims from a legless old man on a street corner. Not surprisingly, it is the former who is offered bank loans to ‘remedy’ her condition, while the limbless latter is extended no such compassion. The focus on extravagance in favour of post-conflict reconciliation or shared humanism has led many to ask why the Lebanese seem to have their priorities so skewed.

Several attempts have been made to reconcile Lebanon’s paradoxes, to understand how such unabashed pleasure flourishes so shamelessly aside such festering pain. The general consensus to emerge from academics, bloggers and journalists alike is that many Lebanese suffer from some form of ‘national amnesia’1, or as ‘Angry Arab’ As’ad Abukhalil would say, ‘Lebanonesia’, that drives them to forget their conflict-plagued past by filling themselves with the petty frivolities of the present. A similar diagnosis was recently echoed in an article published in The Times a couple of weeks ago, in which the author, Alice Fordham, claimed the existence of some “Lebanese tendency” to ignore troubles and focus on fun, which represents “a national psychological defence mechanism” 2. In a more patronising tone, the author continues:

These people have endured decades of internal and external strife and they live in a country where sectarian rifts are getting deeper and, very likely, storing up trouble for the future. If they focused on what had happened and what was likely to happen, they couldn’t cope. So, in Beirut at least, they go to the rooftop nightclubs or the road of bars in the beautiful, battered area of Gemmayze and make the most of the clubs that stay open no matter what the security situation… So if it is denial that fosters this charm, then it is hard to condemn it… Everyone here has deeply held affiliations, inherited and totally incompatible with the views of their friends. Who can blame them for skirting around the issue and thinking instead about society, style and about how great they’re going to look after their surgeon is finished with them? ”.

Yet while the middle and upper class Lebanese are good-naturedly chided and admired for their ability to put painful aspects of their national past behind them by focusing their energies on trivial pleasures, some of the darker characteristics of Lebanese society are glossed over.

In the effort to paint the Lebanese as victims of social and political conditions that precede them and choosing to frame their pleasure-seeking as a coping mechanism, their own role in aggravating the bottomless rifts that haunt this country and perpetuating other socio-political injustices is ignored. For while the Lebanese pride themselves with their hospitality, spouting the phrase “ahlan wa sahlan” at the drop of a hat, they are simultaneously resolvedly reluctant to critically assess their own agency as causing the persistence of divisive sectarian identities and the lacunae in dealing with the ghosts of the civil war, both factors which continue to push the Lebanese into armed conflict with on-another. Perpetual escapism and denial can only lead to the exasperation of the causes of social and political differences.

Moreover, those Western journalists who romanticise and victimise the Lebanese predicament are also guilty of naïve abstraction. By excusing the middle and upper class’ superficial obsessions with physical beauty and material wealth as means of escaping the bigger issues around them, one condones their choice to not be part of the solution, and hence their role in deepening certain social divisions. Moreover, if one were to examine the fact of Western representation of the Lebanese more closely, many assumptions are taken for granted. Significantly, any vocal celebration of the apparent Lebanese ‘joie de vivre’, charm and hospitality is a selective reading of how outsiders are received here, most importantly because it tends to be race blind.

Racist attitudes towards those of darker complexion are very common in the Arab world. The word ‘abeed’, which means ‘slave’ in Arabic, is commonly and unquestioningly used by many Arabs to refer to individuals with black skin. My half-Sudanese half-Latvian friend stormed out of the 2006 African Nations Cup final in Cairo because a group of Egyptian boys in front of us were referring to the Cote d’Ivoiriens on the pitch using that very word and others of a similar lexical set. In Lebanon, the situation is compounded by the Lebanese tendency to see themselves as also superior to other Arabs, a consequence of their supposed Phoenician roots3 and lighter skin.

In Lebanon, this twin prejudice is clearly apparent in the division of labour, which fixes those of darker or more alien features (Sri Lankan, Ethiopian, Philippino) in the most base jobs, including street cleaners and live-in domestic help (aka personal servants), while other slightly more coffeed Arabs, such as Syrians and Iraqis, form a large portion of the manual labour force. In fact, I would even go as far to argue that regardless of their political leanings and sect, upper-middle class Lebanese Sunni, Shia, Druze, Maronite and Greek Orthodox probably have near-identical takes on social justice issues, whereby they probably do not question the ethical implications of importing individuals from East Africa or East Asia, locking them in houses, controlling their movement by retaining their passports and paying them a (for lack of better word) shit wage.

Such racial prejudice is not restricted to labour, and is equally present in the realm of leisure, that sphere in which the Lebanese are so allegedly adept. While Lebanon’s many pleasures are praised by foreigners right and left, the extent to which one has access to the jilted universe of the privileged largely depends on one’s complexion. While myself, Fordham and other white Europeans and Americans are received with open arms, the same hospitality is often brutally refused to non-white visitors. A Kenyan acquaintance of mine and her compatriot were recently flatly refused entry to one of Jounieh’s plush beach resorts. No, the facility was not full, as others continued to enter unimpeded. The two girls were, simply, perceived of as being too dark to partake in Lebanese luxury. An Indian acquaintance relayed a similar story to me, in which the wife of the Sri Lankan ambassador was once chased out of a swimming pool at a mountain resort by to hotel staff amongst cries of “Maids are not allowed in the swimming pool!”

Those narratives indicate that the extent to which an outsider can access the celebrated Lebanese hospitality depends on skin colour. Ask any non-white foreigner in Lebanon about their experiences with ‘Lebanese hospitality’, and their narratives are worlds away from the charm that Fordham mentions. Her race blindness toward this issue is blatant when she states: “[Beirut’s] reputation for fun and the Lebanese reputation for charm and hospitality do attract visitors who support the many employees of hotels, shops and beaches”. She does not indicate the discrepancies in treatment of those who are ‘attracted’, nor does she question the extent to which employment in the tourist sector may also have a racial dimension. Therefore, while it is glaringly obvious that the revered Lebanese hospitality is tainted with a white Europhilic stain, such prejudice is glossed over by flattering portrayals of the privileged Lebanese as soldiering on in the bars, clubs, mountain villas and beach resorts despite violent clashes or the constant threat thereof. Such portrayals play into the image that many Lebanese wish to give of themselves, one of victimhood, which exempts them from questioning their past and present responsibilities in the continuing shambolic disintegration of this country.

The suffering that has been endured by the Lebanese people in over 15 years of civil war and foreign occupation is undeniable. But the solution to such suffering is not abstraction. Foreigners who revel in the open, accepting, welcoming image of the Lebanese should be aware of that those attitudes are, quite literally, skin-deep. Furthermore, representing the Lebanese as tortured by history and as passive victims in a confessionalist political system that precedes them chooses to ignore the ways in which they are responsible for exacerbating many of this country’s problems along class and race lines. By romanticising the paradoxes and forgetting the agency of many Lebanese in perpetuating social injustices, we only assist in hammering another nail into the coffin of this increasingly decaying nation.

1See Deeb, Lara (2006) An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, p. 67.

2 See Fordham, Alice. “Bombs and Botox in Beirut”, The Times, 15 August 2008.

3 For a critique of the Lebanese claim to Phoenician heritage, see Salibi, Kamal (1990) A House of Many Mansions. University of California Press

28 August 2008

Let them dream of Palestine

Posted in Comment tagged , at 3:05 pm by lilithhope

Mahmood Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, arrived in Beirut today and is currently meeting with Lebanese president Michel Sleiman.

According to reports, Abbas stated: “We are against the naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon”.

Now, what a completely hollow thing to say! As a Palestinian teenager from Shatila told my S.O. not so long ago: it is in the interests of the Palestinian administration if the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continue to live in squalour. Because as long as the refugees in Lebanon are maintained in a situation of desparation by being denied free movement, access to quality education and employment opportunities, voting rights etc, the Palestinian nationalist cause remains alive. If, on the other hand, Palestinians were naturalised into Lebanese citizens (which would have its own undesired demographic and hence political impacts in Lebanon), if Palestinians were allowed to live decent, fulfilling lives and no longer treated as second-class citizens, then their desire to continue the battle for nationhood would be weakened.

I do find this approach so disheatening. Essentially, it maintains that it’s ok for a whole group of people to suffer social ostracisation, to live in conditions of poverty, to be harassed by the police and army, to be disallowed from working in over 30 proffessions (for more details on how the Palestinians suffer systematic discrimination in Lebanon, see this Amnesty report). The president of a people is saying that it is alright if they are suffering now, because it is a means of preserving an abstract nationalism.

In order to keep ‘the cause’ alive, people’s livelihoods are being dashed.

How much of today should be sacrificed for the dreams of tomorrow?

I wish Mahmood Abbas would ask that question to all the refugees in all the 13 camps in Lebanon. I don’t think he’d be too happy with their answer. Incidentally, I wonder if he will  visit the camps. I’d guess not, because i’m sure some Future party-sponsered Sunni militant would be lying in wait in order to knock him off…

Regardless, it is always such a shame to see people being played as pawns in the big political chessgame.

26 August 2008

Alternative in all but substance

Posted in Lebanon Diaries tagged , , , , , at 2:54 pm by lilithhope

Last weekend was my penultimate one in Lebanon before embarking upon a “Beirut to Beijing” overland trip, which is due to begin in mid-September (I intend to document my travels on this blog, so stay tuned!). Appropriately, the occasion was rendered more memorable by a psychedelic trance music festival, Forestronika, that took place up in the Chouf mountains, at the (apparently) eco-friendly camp-site, Eco Village.
I had been looking forward to this weekend for a while: in my mind, it represented a last moment of indulgence release before assuming the responsibilities of packing my backpack and setting out on yet another nomadic ramble across this vast planet… (For some reasons, contrary to other times in my life when I have gone traveling, this impending journey does not seem like a release. Obviously, the prospect of traveling into Iran, and through Central Asia in order to cross into Xinjiang, China, is a highly thrilling one, but it does not fill me with as much giddy anticipation as one would expect… )

So this weekend: I imagined that Forestronika would be the Lebanese equivalent of Glastonbury, complete with organic food, wooden cutlery, rhythmic beats, live impromptu jams floating up from here and there… How far off the mark I was!

First of all, there was the tedious homogeneity of the music. Ok, yes, it was an ELECTRONIC music festival, specializing in psytrance, so obviously I didn’t expect anyone to be getting on stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. But on Friday, apart from a great drum and bass set, the mediocre and boringly repetitive psytrance beats continued unabated throughout the night, all the way into the morning, and by Saturday noon the diabolic pulsating was showing no sign of relenting! So, at 12 when I stirred from a 4 hour sleep, keen to munch some carrot cake and sip a coffee against some soft chill out tunes in order to recover from the previous night’s excesses, the hard core trash trance was hammering my already hammered brain into nauseous pustules of insanity… How NOT to cure a hangover?

Apart from the music, I was disappointed to see that no activities had been organized. With a venue like Eco Village, which boasts fruit orchards, rock-climbing, sandpaper toilets and other nature-friendly characteristics, one would think that, similar to other music festivals, the virtues of engaging in eco-friendly activities would have been promoted. I imagined workshops on how to grow your own organic fruit and veg, or information encouraging people to recycle at home (recycling is a quasi-alien activity in Lebanon: when my Significant Other recycles our glass bottles in the bins down the road, the nearby army personnel look on with a mixture of amusement and disbelief). However, instead of those activities, there were generators spouting thick, black smoke into the air, limited recycling, NO ashtrays, and more generally no attempts to fuse the alternative music scene with an alternative lifestyle scene (see here for a Daily Star journalist’s regurgitation of my ideas about this; yes, ‘tis I that vacuous “one partygoer”).

This joined in with a broader failure that left me dissatisfied with the festival: the sense that a potential platform for forging a deeper sort of alternative identity had been sorely missed. More precisely, I experienced none of what I would call the ‘festival ethic’, one of creating a fun, community- and learning-centred environment. An environment in which music is a driving force for not only partying, but also the nexus for being part of a larger group that attempts to disassociate itself from social norms in more ways than just loud music and long hair; namely, by imparting potentially ‘alternative’ values: ecological awareness, non-violent protest, direct action, communitarianism.

Obviously, the meaning of ‘alternative’ will change from one place to the next. The best example of this is the fact that Glastonbury, once a small-scale hippie bumpkin fest, is now the most popular weekend in the U.K., attracting well over 100,000 people. But although Glasto has made the shift from ‘alternative’ to ‘mainstream’ (like so many before it: Che Guevara, the kuffiyeh, punk…), the sort of socially responsible ethics that it is expounding would be quasi-revolutionary here in Lebanon, where only rarely are people capable of thinking outside the confessionalist box.

I suppose the crux of the issue has to do with the reluctance of the Lebanese who are active in the alternative scene to consider themselves as the basis for some sort of civil society that could potentially shift identity away from those of creed or sect that ruthlessly dominate here. Instead of seeing an attachment to underground music as a gateway to forging a different social identity, it seen as a complete escape from the factors that define Lebanese identity. Therefore, the potential platforms for manifesting social discontent or asserting a different sort of identity from the mainstream Lebanese quagmires are engaged in with a certain shallowness, a frivolity, a reluctance to push the envelope too far. That attitude could be summed up in a phrase that was included in Eco Village’s “Rules and Regulations” notice that was posted on the inside of our (kindly shared) mud cabin:

“Rule 1: No Politics”.

Literally, before any mention of sensible waste disposal, noise, fire hazards or other potentially dangerous practices, the activity that was prioritized as being of most threat was political discussion!

Admittedly, perhaps my own analysis is symptomatic of that relentless desire to link everything that occurs in Lebanon with politics (I have previously even linked the weather to politics… perhaps it is pathological. Those who party party hard hard hard in order to distance themselves from such an inextricably political existence could, legitimately, hound me for once again falling into the everything-under-the-lebanese-sun=politics trap. In my defense, I just wish to raise the question of why the Lebanese underground has not assumed counter-culture characteristics, as so many other movements have done in the past: the hippies with their civil rights and anti-war agenda, les 68-ards with their workers solidarity, the punks with their anti-establishment rebelliousness. Even the rave movement of the late 80’s early 90’s had an element of rejecting private property and reclaiming public space to it…

But perhaps it is me who has to modify my analytical lenses. Perhaps, in a country where every single aspect of life is mired in politics, the act of pure rejection of politics is in itself the height of revolt. In Lebanon, being a-political could be construed as the most brazen act of dissidence…

And maybe it is. But the feeling that I am left with after last weekend is one in which Lebanon’s nascent alternative community is spending too much time on the dance floor and not enough time creating a counter-culture identity that could be the beginning of solving some of this country’s problems. With a little less intoxication and a little more well-placed dedication, the potential for subversion is indeed fertile.




21 August 2008


Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:28 pm by lilithhope

Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.”

-President G. W. Bush, in a speech to Russia regarding the current conflict in Georgia.

15 August 2008

Olympic party and protest

Posted in Comment tagged , , , at 3:25 pm by lilithhope

Another Brit was detained in China today after unfurling a “Free Tibet” banner from atop the China Central Television building in east Beijing. He is the eleventh foreigner to be detained by the Chinese authorities since Wednesday because of Tibet-related protests.

Meanwhile, in other pockets of the capital, countless numbers of ordinary Chinese are also being detained for attempting to voice their frustrations regarding the government. Like Mao’s Hundred Flowers Campaign of the 1950s, in which dissidents were encouraged to express their grievances against the government, only to subsequenyl suffer ‘re-education’ for their non-conformism, the Chinese authorities have once again duped the population into thinking that it is safe for them to articulate their greivances.

The government established three ‘protest parks’ around the city where individuals who felt compelled to speak out certain government policies, mainly those related to the Olympics, such as the levelling of the a traditional area of downtowm Beijing composed of old houses known as ‘hutongs’ in order to build an ultra-modern shopping centre. However, the protest parks are empty.

What’s more is that you need to apply for a permit to protest in the first place, and those who are venturing to obtain such permits are simply going missing: one minute they are on their way to the police station to request a ‘protest permit’, the next they are simply absent and unreachable. Essentially, the protest permission is a means of trapping principaled citizens like rats. And who knows what sort of treatment they are being subject to: are they undergoing the re-education of their parents, or just being stowed away until the media avalanche that has accompanied the Olypmics subsides?

And then there’s the attacks in Xinjiang, the ‘other Tibet’: another province inhabited by a non-Han Chinese ethnic group with a different language and different religion, which also wants its independance form Beijing. So far, 31 people have been killed in 2 weeks, in what has been called “the deadliest upsurge of violence seen in Xinjiang for many years” (Al Jazeera). The Uyghur sepratist movement has experienced sporadic bouts of action over the past 20 years, each of which has been followed by a brutal crackdown by the central authorities. The current reportsof mass detentions and checkpoints in Xinjiang show that that pattern is repeating it.

All these different yet linked events signal that people in China are trying to use the media spotlight currently on Beijing in order to express voice their discontent with the system. One of the interesting things about it, though, is the way that among the various battles being fought, foreigners to China have clearly chosen theirs: Tibet. It is interesting that no Westerner is hanging a “Free Xinjiang” banner from any public building, or that they prefer to focus on what is happening in that far off, mystical mountain-top Buddhist land than what is going on in the streets of the city around them (house demolitions, arbitrary detentions).

But look at the information available about all the various protesters: countless people detained in Beijing because of the protests, countless more detained in Xinjiang as some form of collective punishment, and a whole 11 foreigners detained because they want their 5 minutes of fame in nobly defending the Tibetan cause. We realize that we have no numbers for the former two groups of people being detained, only ‘witness testimonies’ or vague statements from human rights associations.

How many people have gone missing from the streets of Beijing, Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang) and Kashgar (second city of Xinjiang) in the past week? How many names do we not know?

The Westerners that protest against the Chinese government know that their passports make them immune to the harshest treatment, and it seems like therefore they go about their protest with some sort of arrogant pride. They know that they can contact the embassy for support.

And what of the Uyghurs? What of the hutong dwellers? There is no knight in shining diplomatic BMW with tinted windows who will try to find out their names, contact and inform their families, attempt to extradite them. The best they can count on is a smidgen of investigative journalism and a press release from an NGO. The plight of their struggle for justice will not be adopted by some feisty twenty-something expat who could add a dimension of solidarity to their cause.

No, the Uyghur will remain marginalized and therefore continue in their violent resistance campaign, international deafness forcing their screams to become louder and louder. And the hutong dwellers, the peasants, the civil society activists, the bloggers and other Han dissidents… well, suffice to say that they’ll probably be keen to keep a low profile in the future.

13 August 2008

Mahmoud Darwish: rest in peace

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 2:28 pm by lilithhope

It is for you to be, or not to be,
It is for you to create, or not to create.
All existential questions, behind your shadow, are a farce,
And the universe is your small notebook, and you are its creator.
So write in it the paradise of genesis,
Or do not write it,
You, you are the question.
What do you want?
As you march from a legend, to a legend?
A flag?
What good have flags ever done?
Have they ever protected a city from the shrapnel of a bomb?
What do you want?
A newspaper?
Would the papers ever hatch a bird, or weave a grain?
What do you want?
Do the police know where the small earth will get impregnated from the coming winds?
What do you want?
Sovereignty over ashes?
While you are the master of our soul; the master of our ever-changing existence?
So leave,
For the place is not yours, nor are the garbage thrones.
You are the freedom of creation,
You are the creator of the roads,
And you are the anti-thesis of this era.
And leave,
Poor, like a prayer,
Barefoot, like a river in the path of rocks,
And delayed, like a clove.

You, you are the question.
So leave to yourself,
For you are larger than people’s countries,
Larger than the space of the guillotine.
So leave to yourself,
Resigned to the wisdom of your heart,
Shrugging off the big cities, and the drawn sky,
And building an earth under your hand’s palm — a tent, an idea, or a grain.
So head to Golgotha,
And climb with me,
To return to the homeless soul its beginning.
What do you want?
For you are the master of our soul,
The master of our ever-changing existence.
You are the master of the ember,
The master of the flame.
How large the revolution,
How narrow the journey,
How grand the idea,
How small the state!

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