Tuesday, July 31, 2012

On Brothers, Cousins and Strangers

Image of Iraqi car plate, with Kuwait listed as a city in Iraq. Image circulating heavily on facebook. 

Amidst the traffic of all the drama series competing for audience attention during Ramadan, couple of productions managed to catch, if not ignite the attention of Arabs and Muslims around the world. The famous Omar that narrates the historical significance of one of the most prominent figures in the Islamic history; Omar ibn AlKhattab, and another Kuwaiti series titled, ‘Saher Al Leil’ which takes place in Kuwait, during the Iraq-Kuwait war in 1990. 

Much has been written about Omar that I feel the only thing I want to say about it is that I am indeed watching it. It is interesting how the debate itself on the series has rested within two fixed positions, or rather statements: 
  • I watch Omar 
  • I don’t watch Omar
You can read statements as such on both twitter and facebook, with some offering explanations and others just sharing their decision; the main concern being the depiction of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh).

In the specificity of Iraqi online groups on Facebook that I have been monitoring lately, the debate on Omar took a different shape given the nature of the sectarian sensitivities within the Iraqi community. Some of the members of the different Iraqi groups were posting images of the series, especially scenes in which the character of Omar Ibn AlKhattab and Ali ibn Abe Taleb are together, either to bring awareness to the desired unity between Sunni and Shia Muslim Iraqis, or sometimes even to poke fun at one sect. Some of the expressed views in the groups I monitored about Omar were in fact suggesting that watching the series is indeed a ‘strong’ political statement against the status quo in Iraq nowadays. 

I apologise to the non-informed reader about the nature of the dispute between the different sects in Islam, and the symbolism of both Omar Ibn AlKhattab and Ali ibn Abe Taleb to the sectarian politics, I wish not to indulge in such details in this post. I just wanted to share some of my observations on the initial reactions in both the Arab public sphere ( I use the term loosely here) and the Iraqi one. 

meme found in facebook page. 

Very interesting observations were made as well in regards to the Kuwaiti series Saher Al Leil which depicts life in Kuwait during the Invasion of Iraq in 1990. I have not watched the series, and so will not offer my opinion on what the show is about. However, what I believe is fascinating is the sense of unity this series has provided amongst Iraqis from different sects, ethnicities, and political backgrounds. I myself have received emails and facebook messages from different Iraqis I know, that hold very different political, religious and social views all critising the series, and bringing back a rhetoric that has not surfaced for almost 22 years now; images of Iraqi Car plates, with Kuwait listed as a city, and images mocking the borders between the two countries. In fact, the same groups that had very conflicting opinions on Omar Ibn AlKhattab’s role in Islam shared almost the same views against what they described as a false and unfair depiction of Iraq in the series. It actually reminded me of the famous Arab proverb أنا وأخي علي ابن عمي وأنا وأبن عمي علي الغريب
which roughly translates to: My brother and I against my cousin, and my cousin and I against the stranger. 

I have included images I found on facebook, published here for illustration purposes only.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Accidental Seeds

No known Copyright Restrictions 

12 years ago, i said something: one sentence, a reactionary statement to a loved one that I probably did not even mean, or maybe I did. That 5-word sentence shaped both of our lives drastically. Good and bad changes came along on the different paths we led, but the truth is, it was that sentence that shifted the realms; sliding doors you can call it.

I never forgot that day, although i forgot everything and everyone that led me to it. It was a seed that I planted unknowingly in a distant past that I reap the fruits of today, and tomorrow. I had a conversation with my friend recently about those seeds we 'accidentally' plant and live/witness their bearings later on. I did not speak of the intentional actions we take in our lives to foolishly attempt to design a planned future we have no control of, but seeds that we sporadically scatter around, not aware of what consequences they bear.

Well that 12-years old statement that I take full responsibility of, is what led me 11 years later to research and examine the meaning of diaspora, and take interest in the dislocated. A sentence that I did not understand back then, led me, Maryam, to continue my education examining the meaning of being diasporic, and continue my search for the meaning of home. 

I wish not to indulge you in the private meandring of my mind, but I couldn't help but wonder today in the midst of all the unnecessary errands I was running, what seeds was I planting? What have I said and done that will ultimately decide how my tomorrow will look like? You see, I am a firm believer that we do not meet by accident, and that we each hold significant roles in each other's lives that will ultimately change our paths, or direct us to new ones that we are not aware of. This belief, agree or disagree with it, has led me to examine closely my relationships with people and events around me. I examine them with awe and wonder, mainly questioning the role(s) they played, or will eventually play in the shaping of my coming days. 

I recently met that person, who was kind enough to remind me about what I said 12 years ago, but with a hint of sarcasm and humor. He assured me that it was indeed part of a forgotten past, and that it had no bearings on any of us. But I knew then like I know now that this polite reminder was nothing but an attempt to shed light on the power of our words and actions, and how one slip of a tongue can possibly alter destinies.

I could write so much about this topic, about all the random things I've done or said in the last couple of years that led me where I am now. Perhaps I will, soon. But right now, I must admit that it is 
both scary and exciting to think of those accidental seeds. What might they be? Was it that book I just started reading, the email I decided to send today to an old friend, the smile I generously offered a stranger at the gas station this morning, or this very blog post I decided to write this late hour of the night?

Accidental seeds, indeed they are. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

An Idle Sunday

Photo found in Dr. El Sadek's memorial page. 

Death is a funny business, indeed it is. At some point it becomes less about the 'loss' of the deceased and more about how 'we' feel about the space he/she leaves behind. We keep thinking about how 'we' are going to survive the next minute, day or even year without him/her,how we will be able to champion our next smile, hold back the tears, and go on with our daily pursuits of happiness and eternal greatness.

Death indeed is a funny business. 

Yesterday, I and I can only speak about myself with such certainty lost the possibility of walking into the office of a man I've always respected and loved. I lost the chance of engaging with him in a conversation about education in the Middle East and what I, the once scared, almost-crying student that walked into his office in 2001, think of the world post-graduation. 
I, lost a potential of a good conversation and a warm smile that could have possibly renewed my faith in the education system. 

Like the university's buildings, and strong concrete pillars, I've taken Dr. El Sadek's presence for granted, at the back of my head, there he was with my friends and loved one. Granted! That's what he was, yes I did plan to go see him again once I am done with my crazy schedule, perhaps this week, or the week after. Or maybe, I wanted to visit AUS again during the fall, when the weather was more tolerable. 

Yes, I planned to visit Dr. El Sadek at some point in the near future, without even considering for a spilt of a second that this plan might not fall through. 

Death is a funny business because it remains to be the one uncontested truth in our lives, everything else seems to be debatable, even GOD is debatable nowadays amongst the enlightened  elites, but death is never argued, not for, and not against. 

Death, the one constant in our lives, the truth that never changes, never evolves, is always denied and ignored. We have a beautiful and scary way of ignoring this truth, striving hard to achieve immortality, be it through our words, our photographs or our work, we all ignore death so well that when the news of one of us passing 'away' comes, it shakes us to the core. 

I have been blessed and cursed with the daily reminder of this truth through personal losses of my own that have shaped my whole being. Every night I sleep scared that I would wake up to a quit(er) house, a phone number that is no longer in use, and a Facebook page that is no longer active. Every day I wake up naively rushing to the living room to make sure that both my parents are healthy and awake, and that my phone is buzzing with messages and missed calls from siblings and friends.

But in the midst of all this traffic of ideas and fears, I forget to worry about a person or two, and then comes an idle sunday when you wake up on the news of their passing. 

No matter how good I think I am in preparing myself, Death comes and reminds me that we are indeed, never really prepared. 

So here is to my naiveity, and to all the people I lost along the way. 

And here is to Dr. El Sadek, may you rest in peace and forgive me for forgetting to worry about losing you as well.