Category Archives: Posts

2012 in Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 20,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


My latest article originally appeared in Gulf News in November 2012:


Shattered windshields, tree trunks lying inside sunken car roofs, snapped branches strewn on sidewalks, darkened shop windows, barking dogs and dark puddles everywhere. This was the scene around Gramercy Park away from which I headed out of the downtown Manhattan area in search of electricity and phone signals to call my parents and let them know that Sandy had been kinder to me than she had been to others a few blocks from where I stood. It was Tuesday, October 30, a day after Sandy the Frankenstorm had laid out her vexation for the East Coast to see. If someone had told me that in a few hours I would be whisked away from the corner of 40th and 2nd Avenue to be checked into the five star Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue with every other UAE national student in the city, I would have thought it a cruel knight-in-shining-armour joke gone awry. The events that followed would see this scenario manifest, much to my astonishment and much to my delight. I stand here corrected and in awe of my country’s remarkable job at standing by its people.

Before the dust had settled and we had a chance to take in the temporary respite of our rather swanky shelter, a newspaper was doing a story on UAE citizens affected by Sandy. The story, an unfortunate mess of amplified facts, focused on all the wrong things putting the extravagant accommodation at the forefront and missed the point entirely. What was supposed to be a story on the exceptional job done by the staff members at the UAE Embassy and the UAE Mission to the UN in taking care of its citizens became a story about “privilege”. Reinforcing negative stereotypes, it was circulated on social media sites, prompting messages of praise and support and other messages of bitterness and pique. All stimulated by a cursory examination of a story requiring more responsibility and vision.

Let us cut this short and focus on the real story. Fact is, most of the named students had never stepped foot into the Waldorf Astoria before this incident and none were privileged in any other way than to have a UAE citizenship. So when it came to superstorm Sandy, this meant that they could call the emergency hotline at the UAE Embassy in the US, like many other embassies on the East Coast, to notify them that they were to remain affected by the power outage for quite some time. No one called it suffering and no one complained. They were all prepared to wait it out like every other person in New York and charge their phones at streetlight poles. They all walked up in the wee hours of the morning from their downtown dwellings in search of a cup of coffee heated over a gas plate for caffeine-starved New Yorkers on a dark morning. They had slept through the outage and strode up zombie-like and weirdly excited in the post-Sandy eeriness that had enveloped the city darkening its windows. The day after Sandy struck, downtown New York’s neon signs and traffic lights were transformed into black orbs staring down at pedestrians and drivers.

The UAE responded to every call it got in a prompt manner. Fellow UAE citizens employed at the Embassy walked over the bridge to the city at dawn, all the way from Queens, because there was no transport. They personally ensured every one of those who had followed standard procedure and reached out was taken care of. The fact that by sundown, the same day, all affected students were out of harm’s way is surely worth a mention and a monumental hat tip. It is not a question of frivolity or where the UAE decided to put its students up because the truth is that they would have taken any of it all the same. It could have been a motel, a hotel or a trailer for that matter. The focus is supposed to be about a job well done to respond to citizens reaching out to their country, not a show-and-tell of the corporate agreement and special rates diplomatic bodies have with a certain hotel for diplomatic purposes. It is about a country that cares about every single one of its citizens, diplomats, vacationers and students alike. Once power is restored below 39th Street and the ghost town that is downtown New York City has life breathed into it, the students will join their colleagues back to their normal lives away from the hype of the Waldorf Astoria to the charming New York style shoebox studios they call home. In the meantime, they are and will remain thankful to their government, to the people who showed up in the silver-coloured minivan to pick them up, taking them to a safe location with electricity and working phone lines so they can call home and speak to their families.

This is about giving credit where it is due. So, before we all get caught-up in all the pomp and circumstance, let’s not forget what we came here for.

This one goes out to the person who publicised the hotline number, to the employees who picked up the phone, to the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Washington D.C., who personally contacted every caller, to the advisers at the embassy who were in contact with all the students and to the personnel in New York who single-handedly oversaw the UAE-style “search-and-rescue” mission of every one of us students and followed up every day. No time was wasted, no red tape, no resource was spared to ensure that no UAE national was left behind.

Your Highness UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, Your Excellency Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Your Excellency Ambassador of the UAE to the US, Your Excellency Ambassador of the UAE to the UN, you’re running a really tight ship.

Sandy Left a Mess, Here’s How You Can Help Clean Up

Below is a list of events across the city happening tomorrow and into the weekend. Please help wherever you can!


  • Friday, November 2 – Sunday, November 4, 10am-8pm: Drop off canned foods, clothes, and cleanup supplies at 8000 Cooper Avenue (the former Borders Bookstore site). For questions about the donation drive, please call Council Member Elizabeth Crowley’s office at 718-366-3900.
  • Friday, November 2 – Sunday, November 4, 10am-8pm: Drop off canned foods, and men’s, women’s and children’s coats, and blankets at 83-91 Woodhaven Boulevard, Woodhaven, NY 11421. For questions about the donation drive, please call Assemblyman Mike Miller’s office at 718-805-0950.
  • Friday, November 2 – Saturday, November 3, 10am-1pmClick here to volunteer in Brookville Park or Baisley Pond Park with clean-up efforts.


  • Friday, November 2 – Sunday, November 4, 10am-1pmClick here to sign up to volunteer with clean-up efforts in Happy Warrior Playground, Annunciation Park, Carl Schurz Park, Anne Loftus Playground (at Fort Tryon Park), Randall’s Island (Friday and Saturday only) or Hudson River Park (Friday only).


  • Friday, November 2 – Sunday, November 4, 10 am-1 pmClick here to volunteer with clean-up efforts in Van Cortlandt Park or Orchard Beach.



NYC is currently sheltering over 6,000 hurricane evacuees at 15 consolidated shelter sites in all boroughs. They are looking for medical volunteers this week and at least through Monday to help provide urgent care and triage whether an individual needs to be sent to the ER.Non-physician staff are also needed to help register patients and coordinate the clinic

The shifts are 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. The longer shifts allow for continuity of care. If you cannot work the entire shift, you can be scheduled for the times you can come.

If you can volunteer now (or are interested for future emergencies), please register at then call Maryanne 347-396-2723, Sharon 347-396-2744, or Sonia 347-723-2744 to schedule time/location

Volunteer Registration

New York Cares is accepting volunteer applications through their website, volunteers should create an account so they can be contacted if they are needed.

John Jay High School in Park Slope, which was set up as an evacuation shelter, is looking for volunteers to work six to eight hour shifts helping out. They are also seeking belts and clothing for men and children.

The Red Cross is looking for volunteers to assist in shelters throughout the region. Shifts are 12-hours and volunteers work over multiple days. Training will be afforded to those without experience. Sign up by filling out an online application here.

Sign up to Mayor’s office which is asking volunteers to register at NYC Service.

The Food Bank For New York City – see if your local pantry or kitchen can use volunteers by going to the locator.

The Humane Society of the United States and American Humane Society are seeking help animals in shelters.


For more info, check out:

This Google crisis map shows area Red Cross shelters and NYC evacuation centers. Borough President Marty Markowitz Tweeted this information earlier urging people to help.

Ya Toto, We’re Not in Iceland Anymore | Arab Countries in the 2012 Gender Gap Report

The World Economic Forum released its 2012 Global Gender Gap Report on October 23rd ranking 135 countries that comprise over 90% of the global population. Based on 14 indicators, the report measures the gender gap and ranks the countries from 1-135.

1. Economic participation and opportunity –  female labor force participation, wage equality & percentage of women in high-ranking positions.

* Ratio: female labour force participation over male value
* Wage equality between women and men for similar work (converted to female-over-male ratio)
* Ratio: estimated female earned income over male value
* Ratio: female legislators, senior officials and managers over male value
* Ratio: female professional and technical workers over male value

2. Educational attainment – looks at female literacy and frequency of enrollment of women in higher education.

* Ratio: female literacy rate over male value
* Ratio: female net primary level enrolment over male value
* Ratio: female net secondary level enrolment over male value
* Ratio: female gross tertiary enrolement over male value

3. Health and survival – compares female – male life expectancy and mortality rates.

* Ratio: female healthy life expectancy over male value
* Sex ratio at birth (converted to female over male ratio)

4. Political empowerment – number of women holding political office & number of female heads of state over the past 50 years.

* Ratio: females with seats in parliament over male value
* Ratio: females at ministerial level over male value
* Ratio: number of years of a female head of state (last 50 years) over male value

The ranking works as follows: each country is given a score from 0 being maximum inequality and 1 maximum equality for the 14 indicators and finally the scores are averaged to get the final ranking.

Problematic as they may be, it is nonetheless interesting  to look at where countries stand on such lists that act as socio-political currencies trading at high values.

So, how does the Arab world fair out? Here’s a snapshot on the 22 member countries of the Arab League:

  • 8 out of 22 member countries of the Arab League do not even make it to the list – countries not listed being: Somalia, Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Palestine and Sudan.
  • All Arab countries are in the bottom half of the chart, the highest ranking country (UAE) standing at 107
  • All GCC countries make it to the list
  • Saudi Arabia barely makes it to the list outranking only Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen
  • Yemen sits at the bottom of the list at #135

And while WEF was busy putting its report together, here are some images from what these women have been busy doing.

In order of appearance:

1. UAE 107

2. Kuwait 109

3. Bahrain 111

4. Qatar 115

5. Mauritania 119

6. Algeria 120

7. Oman 125

8. Jordan 121

9. Lebanon 122

10. Egypt 126

11. Morocco 129

12. Saudi Arabia 131

13. Syria 132

14. Yemen 135

15. Somalia N/A

16. Comoros Islands N/A

17. Djibouti N/A

18. Iraq N/A

19. Tunisia N/A

20. Libya N/A

21. Palestine N/A

22. Sudan N/A

Got Spivak?

Download the full report here.

This article originally appeared in Al Jazeera on my birthday in August 2012:


“In the name of God, Merciful to All Compassionate to each,” he begins. “Ha Mim * The revelation of the Book is from Allah the Exalted in power, Full of Wisdom. * Verily in the heavens and the earth, are Signs for those who believe. * And in the creation of yourselves and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth), are Signs for those of assured Faith,”he continues reading from the small navy blue gold-embellished Quran in his hand.

“And in the alternation of Night and Day, and the fact that Allah sends down Sustenance from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and the change of the winds – are Signs for those that are wise*,” he concludes, sets the book on a table next to him and sits up straight on a black leather chair.

In the centre of what looks like a living room adorned with the bohemian flourishes of a Brooklyn loft sits a young goatee-clad Egyptian man with kind eyes and a smile on his face. His name is Moez Masoud and he has come to help you exhale.

The holy month of Ramadan is notorious for its wide assortment of television viewing. Broadcasting tycoons and media moguls of the pan-Arab television industry spend the better half of the year carefully preparing the brain stuffing that they would peddle to Arab audiences from Mauritania to Jordan via free-to-air television networks over 500 plus channels come the holy month. The Super Bowl of pan-Arab television beaming to 22 Arabic-speaking countries, Ramadan marks the most important season in Arab television viewing and by far the most lucrative.

Extravagant commercialisation

A typical Ramadan television buffet with varying selections year on year includes your hyper-dramatic 30-part series brimming with taboo-tackling attempts delivered by heavily botoxed, nipped and tucked actors and actresses from across the Arab world – with a special taste for the Kuwaiti, Egyptian and Syrian persuasion

Further down the Ramadan table is a smorgasbord of Egyptian melodrama, hair-raising classical Arabic epics and comedy shows from Saudi to Lebanon. Guaranteed to rack up millions of cross-generational Arab eyeballs, courtesy of the post-iftar TV watching tradition, Ramadan becomes the jackpot for free-to-air pan-Arab TV stations comprising a big chunk of their annual revenues.

To disguise the extravagant commercialisation of the average Arab-Muslim’s television screen in a hat-tipping superficial show of respect to the purpose of the holy month, Islamic shows are sprinkled across every programming grid and Ramadan television offering. Masquerading as the spiritually illuminating aspect of this TV carnival, the religious shows pale in creativity, content and entertainment value when compared with their sexually charged, taboo-laden dramatic counterparts.

These afterthoughts of Ramadan television programming include an age-old tradition of tacky sets, bright lights, kitschy call-in graphics and many a bearded talking head. For variation, a presenter will be thrown in to the mix for a little something.

There’s your celebrity Quran-readers who make an appearance every year, usually an hour or so before iftar followed by your staple live Q&A Fatwa Sheikh Show with list of questions that seems to have been dropped down as a recycled standardised list of Ramadan concerns for the past decade. “Does toothpaste nullify my fast?” “Can I taste my cooking while fasting if I don’t swallow it?” “What’s the best time to pray and perform dua’a (prayer)?” and so on.

For the soul-searching, information-rife, questioning Muslim youth, there is little consolation in such superficial attempts at spiritual pacification. Outside the grasp of the television screens, Ramadan is the season for those seeking to use the annual routine-shuffle and disruption of the quotidian to grapple with the tough questions of the spirit and matters of the heart.

Riddled with questions about their place in the world, an increasing number of Muslim youth in the Arab world are becoming impatient with this regimen; and they want answers. It’s a scary world out there. Rohingya Muslims are being massacred in Myanmar, Syria is a battlefield of warring ideologies spilling blood, girls are being married off to their rapists and Pamela Geller is on yet another anti-Muslim mission across the US transportation systems. It is not easy being Muslim.

Islamic discourse

In an era of hyphenated Muslim identities: Secular, Islamist, Reformer and Progressives, of epidemic sectarianism and of mushrooming Islamite governments across the region, the medieval methods of zealous televangelism simply won’t cut it. And they don’t.

In responding to this mess with hardline religious austerity, mainstream Islamic discourse has rendered itself irrelevant to a Muslim youth seeking to find its place in the world. Fearing the blasphemy tags of an older generation of preachers, an increasing number of Muslims, especially the young among them, have turned elsewhere to deal with their theological dubiety, spiritual wanderlust and varying forms of identity crises.

Exasperated by the images and descriptions of earth-bound apocalyptic destruction awaiting the “ummah” delivered in high-pitched sermons by antiqued religious doomsayers beseeching their people to repent, the curious senses of one too many an Arabic-speaking Muslim youth have, this Ramadan, turned away from the oversaturated television sets and radio stations to YouTube, to get their “daily dose of Moez Masoud”.

Flicking their laptops open to his YouTube channel, Masoud’s parched audiences are greeted with a reassuring smile that tells them from inside a buffering screen that it’s all going to be alright. Quenching their theological thirst, his audiences find in Masoud a voice of reason that speaks their language, understands their problems and quite simply “just gets it”.

A PhD candidate at Cambridge University and graduate of AUC’s Business programme, the 34-year-old is one among a new Muslim televangelist generation, much like Amr Khaled, Mustafa Hosny and the charismatic Jamie Oliver-meets-Anderson Cooper Ahmad Al Shugairi. But what seems to set Masoud apart is his emphasis on the soul, belief and not so much on the practice.

He sets aside the sternness with which Islamic clerics have in recent years grown accustomed to speaking of the faith and focuses instead on the true meanings of Islam and the beauty he says it has been stripped of. In the place of punishment, he speaks of compassion, instead of anger, he speaks of peace, in a world of of haram, he speaks of halal – the Islam of mercy, the Islam of beauty, the Islam of love.

Be it his most recent Rihlat Al Yaqeen [“The Journey of Certainty”] and Thawra Ala Al Nafs [“Revolution against the Self”], or his older English-language beginnings such as “Parables of the Quran” and “So Close No Matter How Far”, Masoud’s high-quality productions and sophisticated concepts set him apart. Philosophy and psychology foci comprise his modus operandi – and it’s resonating far and wide.

Wrath of the zealots 

Braving the wrath of the zealots, Moez Masoud is an anomaly in his choice to tackle the rudimentary of Islamic spirituality. Considered by The Economist “as one of the world’s five most influential Muslim preachers”, Masoud seeks to revive the Islamic tradition of spiritual musing.

Soothing the troubled onlooker, he contrasts the habitual chastising somewhere on a screen nearby and encourages questioning and doubt, zeroing in on what he calls “The Big Questions: Who has created me? What am I doing here? Where am I going after I die?” After being told time and time again that such utterance of doubt should not be broached, audiences flock to Moez for a welcome perspective that tells them otherwise. It’s okay to ask questions, it’s normal to wonder, to be conflicted. You’re okay.

Armed with a reading list of the most relevant variety, Masoud speaks a new language that sounds approachable, updated and most importantly, real. The World Economic Forum speaker has spent the past two Ramadan seasons speaking to a Muslim audience rife with questions about Islamic topics ranging from faith, hope, belief, fear, self, anger and doubt.

Comparative religion, snippets from non-Abrahamic faiths, Neo-Atheism, mythology, Socrates, Nietzsche – even Darwin made it into his show. His guest list alone strikes a unique sounding cord by tallying up commentary from the likes of Cambridge University’s TJ Winter, aka Abdal Hakim Murad, and celebrity talk show host Imadeddine Adeeb – juxtaposed with sheikhs from The Noble Azhar University of Islamic Studies and famous Egyptian actors.

Maestro of consciousness, Masoud speaks to the sensory faculties, the realties and then some. “Like a massage to my soul,” describes an avid viewer. Clean editing, elegant graphics and sophisticated set design gives the show an upmarket feel complete with welcome production TLC.

With great cinematography and tasteful art direction, Masoud’s aphorisms are delivered to the audience from a variety of locations, including his trendy living space, walking the streets of London, cross-legged in an Istanbul mosque and riding a train somewhere in the UK. Echoing back to the likes of singer Sami Yusuf, Moez Masoud is sight, a sound and a thought for sore souls.

Call it hipster Islam, call it Sufism, call it a spiritual revolution, Masoud is ushering in a new discourse in Islam rapidly gaining an audience that seldom finds solace elsewhere. Until mainstream television channels decide to play catch up and reinvigorate the rhetorical stalemate clouding their screens, toss out the dinosaurs and deal with the realpolitik of the times, refugees of spiritual content will continue to flock to YouTube. They will patiently await the videos as they buffer to be in better company; the company of the smiling suit-clad harbinger of therapeutic Islamic discourse waiting for them inside their screens, reminding them “it’s all going to be alright”.

My article from Al Jazeera | In The Company of Moez Masoud

The Great Twitter Takedown of Pammy “The Hater” Gellar [a Storify Story]

The #NYC Twittersphere has been up in arms since the wee hours of the morning firing on all cylinders against the hate-laden subway ad fiasco courtesy of ex-car salesperson turned self-appointed head cheerleader for Team Israel, Pammy Gellar. I bring you some of the best-ofs. Not on my time, Pammy.

Check out my Storify story.

Created using:

Tomorrow marks the day we commence our journey to begin a special Ramadan program across different provinces in Turkey with the country’s largest NGO, Insani Yardim Vakfi.


Tomorrow marks …

Omar: Facts About the Largest Arabic Drama Production in History

Amidst a frenzy of justification-promos (a lengthy montage of Hollywood epics ranging from Man in the Iron Mask to Kingdom of Heaven explaining how the West has spoken for us enough, we should take matters into our own hands) explaining why they decided to embark on this colossal epic bio-pic series, MBC released a infographic fact sheet with interesting stats about the production of this controversial work.

These ‘educational’ pieces of information (promos, infographics) present a very interesting case study on how the government-backed Saudi-owned Dubai-based media powerhouse conglomerate is tackling the storm of boycotts and attacks on its decision to depict the equally controversial historical figure Omar Ibn Al Khattab, the second caliph and companion of the Prophet Muhammad. These are uncharted waters. Will MBC weather the storm and win the narrative-setting battle of Omar’s place in the publics’ imagination? Or will this be the beginning of their demise as the blasphemous TV network that went too far?

I leave you with a translation of the fact sheet:

The Largest Arabic Drama Production in History

1970 swords
650 spears
1500 horses
3800 camels
4000 arrows
400 bows
170 sheilds
15 drums
14200 meters of fabric
137 statues
39 costume designers & tailors
1600 pieces of pottery
10000 silver coins
7550 slippers

322 actors and actresses
10,000 extras in the battlefield

299 technicians from 10 countries

The Old City of Makkah and its areas were reconstructed across 12,000 sq meters
29 in-studio sets
89 outdoor shooting locations

322 days of filming & post-production
= 463.680 minutes
= 72.820.800 seconds

A Subjective Power List of 100 Arab Women

Everybody loves lists. We all make them, we await them and hold on to them as seemingly validating methods of objective legitimacy. Across the world, everybody puts them out at the dawn of a new year – Forbes, Time, FastCompany and endless publications work tirelessly at year’s end to tell the world who the next game changers are going to be, who we must pay attention to and who we must emulate.

The Arab world is no different in that regard. We have our own lists: the infamous and increasingly colorful Ahlan Hot 100, the moola-heavy Forbes Arabia Rich List, even Wamda compiled it own Twittersphere influencers list.

In January 2012, Arabian Business published a report titled 100 Most Powerful Arab Women. The Arabian Business list provided no rationale or criteria by which the names were selected, many countries were left out, including Iraq, Libya and Comoros Islands to name a few and limited its selection to a set number of industries. This tally of powerful women left a number of questions unanswered: How do we define power? Influence? How do we define ‘Arab’ women? What  constitutes ‘Arab’? What makes a powerful Arab woman – industry? contribution to GDP, budget controlled or someone’s definition of what a ‘powerful’ woman should be? Whose definition is privileged? By what standards do we select?

The list below in no way attempts to claim objectivity – quite the contrary. As the title suggests, the list is entirely subjective – as all lists are. It does not aim to challenge or negate the list provided by Arabian Business, rather, it seeks to add to the already comprehensive and deserving list of names 100 more women who are equally deserving of recognition. It does not privilege a country over another, an industry over the next or an ideology over its nemesis.They come from across the entire Arab world and exert power in a multitude of industries, activities and across various definitions of power. The women below are powerful in that they are influencers, changemakers, teachers, rebels, refuseniks, creators, artists, thinkers, innovators, motivators, leaders  and above all but a slice of their diverse societies and an even more diverse Arab world.

Without further adieu, a subjective list of 100 powerful Arab women — in no particular order:

1. Nawara Negm

2. Dr Madawi Al Rasheed

3. Sakina m’Sa 

4. Salwa Mikdadi 

5. Maysoon Al Suwaidan

6. Dima Khatib

7.  Naha Mint Ould Mouknass

8. Yanar Mohammed

9. Rim Turkmani

10. Badrya Al Beshr

11. Lila Abu Lughod

12. Ahlam Mosteghanemi

13. Zainab Salbi

14. Dr Manal Taryam

15. Dr Ella Habiba Shohat

16. Jackie Reem Salloum

17. Nadine Toukan 

18. Aysha Taryam

19. Mona Kareem

20. Dr Heba Raouf Ezzat

21. Nawal El Moutawakel

22. Huwaida Arraf

23. Fartun Weli

24. Huda Al Attas

25. Noura Erekat 

26. Lubna Hussein

27. Helga Tawil-Souri

28. Afra Al Basti 

29. Thuraya Al Arrayed

30. Shadia Mansour

31.  Dr Mai Al Dabbagh

32. Zeina Khodr

33. Samar Dahmash Jarrah

34. Buthaina Al Ebrahim 

35. Péri Cochin

36. Asmaa Mahfouz

37. Leila Labidi

38. Zleikha Muhtaseb

39. Lamya Gargash

40. Annemarie Jacir

41. Aminetou Mint El Moktar

42. Hind Mezaina

43. Samia Halaby

44. Hessa Hilal aka. Reemiya

45. Dr Rawya Saud Al Busaidi

46. Ethar El Katatney

47. Intisar Al Aqeel 

48. Julia Boutros 

49. Hafsa Al Ulama

50. Maysoon Zayid

51. Jenan Moussa

52. Soultana

53. Laila El Haddad

54. Reem Acra

55. Helen Thomas

56. Ilwad Elman

57. Hebah Ahmed

58. Maryam Khawaja

59. Hayv Kahraman

60. Huda Nunu

61. Khadija Safari

62. Tala Badri

63. Sinan Al Ahmad

64. Lina Matta

65. Sausan Al Shaer

66. Maryam Bin Fahad

67. Rima Maktabi

68. Mayyasa Al Thani

69. Ghida Fakhry

70. Nawal Al Hosany

71. Debbie Al Montaser

72. Munira Buruki

73. Razan Al Mubarak

74. Mona Seif

75. Fajer Al Saeed

76. Fathia Ali Bourrale

77. Hayat Al Fahad

78. Samira Al Saad

79. Joumana Haddad

80. Dr Ebtisam Al Kitbi

81. Amira Yahyaoui

82. Hoor Al Qassimi

83. Souad Massi

84. Sandi Hilal

85. Maha Gargash

86. Wedad Al Badawi

87. Najwa Karam

88. Laila El Houni

89. Khadeeja Al Marzooqi

90. Dr Aysha Belkhair

91. Laila Al Shaikhli

92. Larissa Sansour

93. Maryam Yusuf Jamal

94. Maya Mikdashi

95. Hind Beljaflah

96. Arwa Aburawa

97. Farah Al Attassi

98. Nahla Al Fahad

99. Jamila Al Neyadi

100. Hiam Abbass

When Words Fail, Read Literature

This week, my own words fail me. How does one begin to speak of Gaza? Does one begin with the tragedy that exists? Does one speak of the war? The children? The political climate? The aid? The Rafah crossing? The prison on the sea?

How does one begin to write about Gaza?

This week my own words fail me, so I turn to the words of another – from 1956.

What I share with you is in my mind an essay before its time that exhibits a most profound foresight on the tragedy that is today: Gaza.

Letter from Gaza is a letter from a Palestinian who returns to his wreck of a neighborhood in Gaza where his mother, sister-in-law and four children remain. That is all that remains. He is writing to his friend who awaits him in Sacramento.

The story is written by Ghassan Kanafani, a write who, as described by Hisham Matar “work marks one of the most significant developments in modern Arab prose fiction.” It is only fitting to necessitate an understanding of the man behind the pen – his story, rather before reading the story he puts forth. A Palestinian born in Akka (present day Acre) in 1936 from which he and his family were forced to flee to Lebanon in 1948. Kanafani wrote 20 volumes of short stories, novels, essays, a study on Zionist literature and a study on Palestinian literature under occupation. Kanafani died at the young age of 36. In 1967, Kanafani joined the PFLP (Popular Front of Liberation of Palestine) – a political movement built on Marxist philosophy. 16 years after Letter from Gaza, Kanafani along with his niece, Lamis Najem, was assassinated by the Mossad in a car bomb explosion.

When academic works, human rights organization reports, news articles, criticism, accounts of war and seemingly “neutral” displays of factual information all collectively fail to express a tragedy, in this case: Gaza – we turn to literature to ease the hardship. Woe to us spectators.

Later, when you are done, I invite you to yet another dose of literary opium to ease the pain –  Shahadat’s Contemporary Literature in Translation Series which features works in translation by six poets and writers from Gaza.

Letter from Gaza by Ghassan Kanafani

Dear Mustafa,

I have now received your letter, in which you tell me that you’ve done everything necessary to enable me to stay with you in Sacramento. I’ve also received news that I have been accepted in the department of Civil Engineering in the University of California. I must thank you for everything, my friend. But it’ll strike you as rather odd when I proclaim this news to you — and make no doubt about it, I feel no hesitation at all, in fact I am pretty well positive that I have never seen things so clearly as I do now. No, my friend, I have changed my mind. I won’t follow you to “the land where there is greenery, water and lovely faces” as you wrote. No, I’ll stay here, and I won’t ever leave.

I am really upset that our lives won’t continue to follow the same course, Mustafa. For I can almost hear you reminding me of our vow to go on together, and of the way we used to shout: “We’ll get rich!” But there’s nothing I can do, my friend. Yes, I still remember the day when I stood in the hall of Cairo airport, pressing your hand and staring at the frenzied motor. At that moment everything was rotating in time with the ear-splitting motor, and you stood in front of me, your round face silent.

Your face hadn’t changed from the way it used to be when you were growing up in the Shajiya quarter of Gaza, apart from those slight wrinkes. We grew up together, understanding each other completely and we promised to go on together till the end. But…
“There’s a quarter of an hour left before the plane takes off. Don’t look into space like that. Listen! You’ll go to Kuwait next year, and you’ll save enough from your salary to uproot you from Gaza and transplant you to California. We started off together and we must carry on. . .”

At that moment I was watching your rapidly moving lips. That was always your manner of speaking, without commas or full stops. But in an obscure way I felt that you were not completely happy with your flight. You couldn’t give three good reasons for it. I too suffered from this wrench, but the clearest thought was: why don’t we abandon this Gaza and flee? Why don’t we? Your situation had begun to improve, however. The ministry of Education in Kuwait had given you a contract though it hadn’t given me one. In the trough of misery where I existed you sent me small sums of money. You wanted me to consider them as loans. because you feared that I would feel slighted. You knew my family circumstances in and out; you knew that my meagre salary in the UNRWA schools was inadequate to support my mother, my brother’s widow and her four children.

“Listen carefully. Write to me every day… every hour… every minute! The plane’s just leaving. Farewell! Or rather, till we meet again!”
Your cold lips brushed my cheek, you turned your face away from me towards the plane, and when you looked at me again I could see your tears.

Later the Ministry of Education in Kuwait gave me a contract. There’s no need to repeat to you how my life there went in detail. I always wrote to you about everything. My life there had a gluey, vacuous quality as though I were a small oyster, lost in oppressive loneliness, slowly struggling with a future as dark as the beginning of the night, caught in a rotten routine, a spewed-out combat with time. Everything was hot and sticky. There was a slipperiness to my whole life, it was all a hankering for the end of the month.
In the middle of the year, that year, the Jews bombarded the central district of Sabha and attacked Gaza, our Gaza, with bombs and flame-throwers. That event might have made some change in my routine, but there was nothing for me to take much notice of; I was going to leave. this Gaza behind me and go to California where I would live for myself, my own self which had suffered so long. I hated Gaza and its inhabitants. Everything in the amputated town reminded me of failed pictures painted in grey by a sick man. Yes, I would send my mother and my brother’s widow and her children a meagre sum to help them to live, but I would liberate myself from this last tie too, there in green California, far from the reek of defeat which for seven years had filled my nostrils. The sympathy which bound me to my brother’s children, their mother and mine would never be enough to justify my tragedy in taking this perpendicular dive. It mustn’t drag me any further down than it already had. I must flee!

You know these feelings, Mustafa, because you’ve really experienced them. What is this ill-defined tie we had with Gaza which blunted our enthusiasm for flight? Why didn’t we analyse the matter in such away as to give it a clear meaning? Why didn’t we leave this defeat with its wounds behind us and move on to a brighter future which would give us deeper consolation? Why? We didn’t exactly know.

When I went on holiday in June and assembled all my possessions, longing for the sweet departure, the start towards those little things which give life a nice, bright meaning, I found Gaza just as I had known it, closed like the introverted lining of a rusted snail-shell thrown up by the waves on the sticky, sandy shore by the slaughter-house. This Gaza was more cramped than the mind of a sleeper in the throes of a fearful nightmare, with its narrow streets which had their bulging balconies…this Gaza! But what are the obscure causes that draw a man to his family, his house, his memories, as a spring draws a small flock of mountain goats? I don’t know. All I know is that I went to my mother in our house that morning. When I arrived my late brother’s wife met me there and asked me,weeping, if I would do as her wounded daughter, Nadia, in Gaza hospital wished and visit her that evening. Do you know Nadia, my brother’s beautiful thirteen-year-old daughter?
That evening I bought a pound of apples and set out for the hospital to visit Nadia. I knew that there was something about it that my mother and my sister-in-law were hiding from me, something which their tongues could not utter, something strange which I could not put my finger on. I loved Nadia from habit, the same habit that made me love all that generation which had been so brought up on defeat and displacement that it had come to think that a happy life was a kind of social deviation.

What happened at that moment? I don’t know. I entered the white room very calm. Ill children have something of saintliness, and how much more so if the child is ill as result of cruel, painful wounds. Nadia was lying on her bed, her back propped up on a big pillow over which her hair was spread like a thick pelt. There was profound silence in her wide eyes and a tear always shining in the depths of her black pupils. Her face was calm and still but eloquent as the face of a tortured prophet might be. Nadia was still a child, but she seemed more than a child, much more, and older than a child, much older.

I’ve no idea whether I was the one who said it, or whether it was someone else behind me. But she raised her eyes to me and I felt them dissolve me like a piece of sugar that had fallen into a hot cup of tea. ‘
Together with her slight smile I heard her voice. “Uncle! Have you just come from Kuwait?”
Her voice broke in her throat, and she raised herself with the help of her hands and stretched out her neck towards me. I patted her back and sat down near her.
“Nadia! I’ve brought you presents from Kuwait, lots of presents. I’ll wait till you can leave your bed, completely well and healed, and you’ll come to my house and I’ll give them to you. I’ve bought you the red trousers you wrote and asked me for. Yes, I’ve bought them.”
It was a lie, born of the tense situation, but as I uttered it I felt that I was speaking the truth for the first time. Nadia trembled as though she had an electric shock and lowered her head in a terrible silence. I felt her tears wetting the back of my hand.

“Say something, Nadia! Don’t you want the red trousers?” She lifted her gaze to me and made as if to speak, but then she stopped, gritted her teeth and I heard her voice again, coming from faraway.
She stretched out her hand, lifted the white coverlet with her fingers and pointed to her leg, amputated from the top of the thigh.
My friend … Never shall I forget Nadia’s leg, amputated from the top of the thigh. No! Nor shall I forget the grief which had moulded her face and merged into its traits for ever. I went out of the hospital in Gaza that day, my hand clutched in silent derision on the two pounds I had brought with me to give Nadia. The blazing sun filled the streets with the colour of blood. And Gaza was brand new, Mustafa! You and I never saw it like this. The stone piled up at the beginning of the Shajiya quarter where we lived had a meaning, and they seemed to have been put there for no other reason but to explain it. This Gaza in which we had lived and with whose good people we had spent seven years of defeat was something new. It seemed to me just a beginning. I don’t know why I thought it was just a beginning. I imagined that the main street that I walked along on the way back home was only the beginning of a long, long road leading to Safad. Everything in this Gaza throbbed with sadness which was not confined to weeping. It was a challenge: more than that it was something like reclamation of the amputated leg!

I went out into the streets of Gaza, streets filled with blinding sunlight. They told me that Nadia had lost her leg when she threw herself on top of her little brothers and sisters to protect them from the bombs and flames that had fastened their claws into the house. Nadia could have saved herself, she could have run away, rescued her leg. But she didn’t.
No, my friend, I won’t come to Sacramento, and I’ve no regrets. No, and nor will I finish what we began together in childhood. This obscure feeling that you had as you left Gaza, this small feeling must grow into a giant deep within you. It must expand, you must seek it in order to find yourself, here among the ugly debris of defeat.

I won’t come to you. But you, return to us! Come back, to learn from Nadia’s leg, amputated from the top of the thigh, what life is and what existence is worth.
Come back, my friend! We are all waiting for you.

– Ghassan Kanafani, 1956
Rest in Peace