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Opinions and insight from a stranger's perspective

5 Things Not To Be In The Middle East

Africa, Red Sea, Persian Gulf. Middle East.

Welcome, welcome. Gather round. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the Middle East is in town. We have a great spectacle for you. All the way from Istanbul, we have the one, the only…Eerie Erdogan. From the pits of the Syrian Civil War, the Big Bad Bashar Al Assad. Unquestioned leader of ISIS, Baghdadi and the Bandits. From the depths of Iraq, Maliki the Menace.

…this isn’t a show nor are people gathering round to pay attention. The invisible people of the Middle East need visibility. The Middle East is often blanketed by the Muslim stereotype, filled with Arabs or if people can differentiate, Iranians and Turks too. The Middle East like any other continent in the world is diverse and the backwards nature of it has resulted in many of it’s rich different corners being edged out.

1. A Jew

The Arab-Jew Dilemma spans thousands of years and frankly the whole Arab conscious is against anything remotely kosher. Halal is ok though. The Jewish population are often dragged down by the hands of the Zionist lobby of Israel. Another stereotype they are faced with. The human tragedy going on in Palestine right now is nobody’s fault but the two warring factions.

Many innocent people have died at the hands of brutal and stupid bags of blood and bones. I found it very hard to call them anything human. The common theme with the 5 things not to be in the Middle East is that they face persecution and that a proportion of them, in some cases most, have had to leave their homes in fear of their lives and move to a country where it’s ok to be human beings.

2. A Christian

The Middle East is home to the Abrahamic religions and since the Jews aren’t welcome, you can include the Christians too. Apparently, similar to the Jewish population, the Christians are at fault for the West’s history of invading, pillaging and killing around the world. This is what the Middle East thinks. Faith is not a form of political identity but it was first used as an identifier. The early stages of the Islamic religious expansion of the Middle East saw faith being exploited by grouping together a people which was used to manifest power over them.

The Christians of the Middle East are a minority like the Jews who have faced persecution by fundamentalists as well as average Joes or should I say average Jabirs.

3. A Kurd

It finally comes from religion to ethnicity that the minority in the Middle East are the Kurds. Thousands of years of persecution, half of it was internal and the other half was external, nonetheless we see the Kurdish population stretch under 4 states: Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. The Arabs, Turks and Iranians are the dominant ethnicities in the Middle East and all of them have encountered problems with their Kurdish neighbours and in the Middle East when you have a problem with your neighbour, you kindly pick up the phone and call the army to invade, rape, pillage and kill any living thing within the vicinity.

Today we see something worse than what we say yesterday. The Kurds are faced with another enemy and that is the Islamic State. They just recently invaded the town of Sinjar where 200,000 Kurds fled their homes in fear. The death toll in that town alone is unclear just yet but is believed to be in the 2500 to 3000 mark. Many have died from dehydration and hunger in the mountains after fleeing there for safety.

The majority of the Kurds there are Yezidi which is a religion that predates all of the Abrahamic religions. Another reason why they have had minimal visibility.

4. A Woman

From religion, to ethnicity and now even broader, gender. This may not be a case of minority-majority but rather the patriarchal nature of the backward foundation of the Middle East, probably a large part of the world too.

Women in the Middle East are seen in two lights. The first is how beautiful and how strong and how integral they are. The second is how they belong to men and must obey. We can look at Saudi Arabia for instance and observe the female bike riding population as a result of not being allowed to drive cars, this being a recent legislation as some kind of push towards women’s rights. So progressive. Much equality.

One other aspect is the brutal and inhumane tradition of female genital mutilation. This practice is prevalent in the Middle East and Africa. This process include cutting parts of the vagina with a razor in order to desensitise them. This is in attempts to control women’s sexuality, something that belongs to the individual and no one else. The possible effects of these procedures are equally if not worse causing infections, pains, fatal bleeding, inability to get pregnant and complications during childbirth.

This is the decisions and actions of men taking away a natural born aspect of women. It is inhumane. Somalia has a frightening statistic and that is roughly 98% of women there are victims of FGM. That isn’t the only country with percentages in the high 90s; Djibouti, Guinea and Egypt also being in that bracket. These statistics are alarming to say the least.

5. All of the Above or anything that isn’t the majority

Minorities are always at the scope of some sort of conflict or a tainted view towards them. In an area drawn by identity, minorities are created because they do not fill the requirements. As a result they are seen as a threat. Some were originally there. Some are just inhabitants like the rest of them. Some are just unfortunate. Some just make different life choices. Egyptian Copts, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Jordanians, Algerian Berbers, Saudi Shia Muslims, Assyrian Christians, Turkmens, Baluchis. These are all just a few and the ones that I know of. Not even beginning to mention the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community in the Middle East which is one of the most targeted and oppressed communities there. So bad that it goes unmentioned.

Invisibility is a detriment to not only people but to society. Without visibility, political expression is not seen or heard. At a more basic level, without visibility, the people are prone to a huge deal of persecution and it becomes a matter of life and death. Identity is for the individual and politics has been expanding day by day, century by century to encompass all those by raising visibility for them.

Today is not one of those days for the invisible in the Middle East.

House of Kurds: The Politics of Politics

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The Kurdish issue in the Middle East represents a great deal of politics. It encompasses conflicting and complementing ideals. It is a neat and perfect package to learn from. The Kurdish issue is an anachronistic politics lesson. As of today, Southern Kurdistan (North of Iraq) has its own semi-autonomous region governed by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). It was spawned at the end of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. The Western invasion, illegal or not, came to the aid of the Kurds. The progression that has been seen in South Kurdistan since 2003 has been cumulative. Pre-2003 South Kurdistan was a completely different story. A similar story to its northern, western and eastern counterparts.

The history of the Kurdish people does not span a few hundred years. It spans at least a few thousand. The problem in clarifying this lies within its history which has largely been either destroyed, written by its oppressors or passed down through generations. What has consisted throughout the history of the Kurds and what has preserved their identity in the midst of political shifts is in fact their traits. I discuss this whole topic of political identity in my dissertation in further detail which I will publish at a later date.

To sum it up briefly, the Kurdish people have always been a tribal people who have always been concerned with local independence. The tribal mentality in itself has no regard for others except their bloodline. They have no concern for outsiders. This is an attitude that is still largely dominating today. What this means is that in light of the shifts of the political landscape, be it a few years ago where the Arab Spring reignited a fire in the Middle East or 1200 years ago when Islam became the imperial power, the Kurds were still concerned with their local independence, the people they only care for.

This has been thematic for the Kurds. When the Kurds were Islamicized, they greeted their rulers with open arms. There was no national conscious anywhere at that time. The Kurds were not a people. There were however tribes of Kurds. They identified with their tribe or religion. The concept of “I” rarely exists whereas “We” predominates in these tribes. These members are first a tribal member, then a Muslim or Yezidi. National identity, however, comes a poor third. This is fair for there was no national identity. Nationalism did not exist. However, the provisions Kurds went to just to maintain the status quo was devastating in the long run. Their grip on tradition meant they would surrender themselves under foreign rulers as long as the tribal leader and its inhabitants could maintain their local independence. We see a lot of that today in Kurdish politics, not needing to name names.

The longstanding and impressively devastating efforts by the Kurds to maintain their tribe and local independence reveals their stubbornness. The mentality of the Kurds has often been described as debilitating towards any degree of advancement. Their stubbornness to keep the current establishment or to submit to external powers who could grant them this was both a negative and positive consequence. The negative aspects range from periodic pillaging and invasion to assimilation and economic disruption. However, the most important aspect that far outweighs any consequence the Kurds have faced is actually their own stubbornness. This monolithic and inert tribal consciousness was protected by the Kurd’s strong grip on tradition. The lack of a civic and formal culture meant that no centralised government protected their interests. What can be argued is that the reluctance of giving up their subjective characteristic of political identity was what in effect created and protected their national identity unknowingly. The tribes effectively kept Kurdistan Kurdish even though it was heavily fragmented. This shows the political potential the Kurds could have collectively. All it needed was a suitable political identity that could unify it.

This explains the importance of the subjective characteristic of self-determination, independence and nationalism. For the Kurds under Islam prior to the 15th century, we see the Kurds opt for the continuation of their own political sphere. They were self-determined as far as they were concerned. They co-existed under the Ottoman and the Safavid empire in the same manner. There was no sense of national community amongst the Kurds but they operated in the same manner and the tribal mentality of ‘we’ was what nationalism has come to mean. This is crucial in understanding the politics of politics however absurd that sounds. The tribal mentality has been, dare I quip, a chief reason in the failure of a Kurdish state but it was not because of its supposed outdatedness compared to revolutionised models of governance. It was because identity as a form of political distinction was gradually becoming more and more refined by the outside rulers for the sake of power manifestation. However, what the rulers did not expect was that identity concerns the individual at a fundamental level. By just observing the time period which this article discusses, the more complex or simplistic identity became, however you view it, it was gradually going back into the hands of the individual.

The irony in how the nomadic nature of the Kurd became the downfall as well as the preservation of their identity reveals one of the greatest practical jokes on the world. The only concern I have now is that the identity of the Kurds has been preserved but now it needs mobilisation, it needs unification. We are still behind the world and so we must advance our tradition.

La Seine by Ranja Faraj

I wander through

the streets of a city near another

My feet sore from exploring

This pilgrimage. This march. This journey

Riding iron horses with compatriots, the fire doused

The banks of water to my left

Men committing their lives to another whilst merchants wander with wine in hopes of a better life

The inscriptions on the walls, the careful crevices, the gargoyles of Paris, the behemoth doors with paint peeling

Iron curtains cannot be closed with feeble fingers

yet the night blinds and the moonlight reflects off the sheet of water

Drunk and tired eyes, weary head, sore feet

Man made monuments as natural as the water that parts the city

A river that ferments the city

A river that keeps the city balanced

A river that astounds its visitors

Miller & Monroe

Image

 

I see people look up to Marilyn. I see people scrutinize her. I see people admire her. I see people slander her. Theres so much to say for someone who isn’t around to speak. I admire her. I admire her like I admire a good book. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a story. 

Someone else I admire is Arthur Miller. Death of A Salesman and The Crucible were two books I read whilst growing up. I loved his work. Miller was a clever man. He was a poet. He was a writer. He had a swagger about him too

Monroe and Miller were together for 6 years. Arthur married Marilyn. I never really looked into Marilyn until recently. She was clever. She was amazing. She did so much. She personally booked Ella Fitzgerald at an all whites club in 1955. She had her own production company, the second female to do so. She was first choice for Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, instead of Audrey Hepburn. Jean-Paul Sartre wanted her as star of his film Freud. She was an icon. She preached love as far as I’m concerned.

You know Frida Kahlo was a freak. She had orgies even when she was paralysed. I don’t know how but she did. Now she’s generally respected in her field. Well it’s not really next to her name when people talk about Kahlo, the orgies and the affair with Leon Trotsky. They talk about her life and her art and her work. However in Marilyn’s case, she’s branded because of what you deem socially unfit and you dismiss her. You cast her to the side.

She may have had tendencies you might not approve of. She wouldn’t wear clothes half the time she worked on set. She slept around and had affairs. Ok there’s boundaries but she is no less of a person. You know she apparently had an IQ of around 140-165 which is phenomenal and puts her in Einstein’s league. I don’t know if it’s true but it doesn’t surprise me. She was a queen of her time. She took advantage and is probably one of the most famous women to ever live. The president of the free world was in love with her. And his brother. Arthur Miller, Truman Capote, Jean Paul Sartre. These clever men, as do many others, adored her.

You take a magnifying glass up to any person’s life and they’ll seem crazy. If every aspect of your life was on show to the world, how do you reckon the public would view you?

Pawns are many

A day-to-day existence but counting years
Life is there
to be figured out, a discovery
Tainted by
youth and idealism
Wondering whether
the will of the world
would bend to mine

You are given a ticket and for a time
You are suspended in animation
Your time is one of learning
You study
For a bit
You learn more; you experience; you reflect
Retrospect

Society tells you you’re growing
Society tells you this is the next stage
The stage for you
to perform
for them
you then pick up your roses and retreat backstage

For the young calf
Dreams they sold you
The ticket to ride the train was a signature
Manufacturing, Breeding , Farming intellectuals
You leave the factory and you are a scholar, a craftsmen, an artisan
Only to be purchased by the elite

Pawns are many

A photo from my past, a series

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This is a photo of my mother and father, on the right, with my dad’s parents. My grandfather is on the bed holding my grandmother’s hand. I’ve never met my grandfather, Baba Faraj. I’ve never met my mother’s parents. The only one I have met is my grandmother, pictured.

I found a series of pictures in old family albums, this was one of them. It caught my attention because I only know few stories about my grandad but not many or specific enough to get a better understanding of him. I peered at this photo for longer than normal. I’ve seen photos and videos of my grandad before and I always got this aura from him. I see it in my dad too. It is a powerful presence. It is like an acceptance of something, as if he was enlightened. I don’t know what it is but I hope I will one day learn. My grandad was a lovable man but not because of a post-humous sort of glorification. It was a defining trait. Kids loved him, he loved kids. He was a family man. I see it. I see it in his face.

I don’t know much about him but I know the love he has created in the big family he had. My Dad has 6 brothers and 5 sisters. So the knowledge I have of him is fragmented from all corners of this tree. Its a collection of little stories and remarks and nostalgia that I have learnt from conversations. When I found this photo, I didn’t ask my family about it. I wanted to understand it from a perspective, my one.

I imagine this is picture is from the latter stages of his life. I say that because of the presence of sorrow and the glimmer of acceptance. The way my grandfather is holding my grandmother’s hand. It was very comforting, for me and evidently for him. This may be a sad moment but the way those hands are in song with each other. I have never seen such a perfect connection between two souls.  It seems they’re unaware of the person taking the photograph. So absorbed in each other. My father looks towards the camera. My father has never been an emotional man. I know the older generations of my family had a grit and tolerance as a result of the lives they had. They grew up during a hostile time. I guess it does desensitise you from a common reality, death.

I wish I got to meet my grandad. If anything, to get an insight about my father and his life growing up under him. In turn, to learn myself and my upbringing.

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