‘A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution’ by novelist Samar Yazbek is part journalism, part personal memoir, and all literature. It’s literature of the instantaneous sort, a staggered snapshot of the first four months of the revolution, a public history of “a country succumbing to the forces of death,” and an interior history too. Yazbek tells us about her headaches, her insomnia and Xanax addiction, her crying fits, her fears for her daughter and herself, her constant panic. How sometimes in the speeded-up context the rush of information precedes all feeling: “The daily news of killing,” she writes, “was more present inside of me than any emotion.”
Samar Yazbek has always been problematic. Having consecrated herself “to the promise of a mysterious freedom in life,” she left home (in Jableh, on the coast) at sixteen, later divorced her husband and lived in Damascus, a single mother, working in journalism and writing sexually controversial novels. When Syria rose up against the Asad regime she publically supported the victims and their cries for freedom. And she’s an Alawi, a member of the president’s largely loyalist sect, of a well-known family. As an unveiled and obviously independent woman, a secularist and daughter of a minority community, her support for the revolution proved the lie of regime propaganda, which characterised the uprising as Salafist from the start.
So leaflets slandering her were distributed in the mountains. She was called a traitor, made recipient of death threats, publically disowned by family and hometown. Naturally she was visited by the mukhabarat and made to experience, vicariously at least, the domestic wing of regime propaganda – for the theatre of blood is as important inside Syria as the projection of civilised moderation used to be abroad – by being walked through a display of meat-hooked and flayed torturees.
Earlier this week, I found a message in my inbox by an Israeli, who’s a Jazz musician, who’s paying gig was canceled because of a successful BDS movement campaign to get Swedish Jazzist, Andreas Öberg, to cancel his gig in the Eilat Red Sea Jazz Festival. Usually, the extent of my response, when I get unsolicited mail from angry Israelis, is to take a screenshot and add it to my “Love Letters” albums on my Facebook profile. Call it an artistic form of exhibiting political repression, racism and sexism, if you will (but what does culture have to do with politics, I wonder…). This time, however, since we’re not talking about your typical angry Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, but someone who has lost a paying gig. I think it merits a response (even though, as I will argue below, I am actually not the address for cultural worker grievances).
by George Bernard Shaw, The New Republic, 21 February 1922
[In his article, The Creed of an Aesthete (in our issue of January 25th), Mr. Clive Bell said: “Mr. Bernard Shaw … is not an artist, much less an aesthete … he is a didactic.” He referred to Mr. Shaw’s rejection of the Darwinian theory because, by depriving Beauty, Intelligence, Honor of their divine origin and purpose, this theory deprives them of their value. To Mr. Bell’s mind, Mr. Shaw feels that “if Life be a mere purposeless accident, the finest things in it must appear to everyone worthless.” The sooner Mr. Shaw knows that this is not so, the better, says Mr. Bell, and proceeds to explain his own creed: “always life will be worth living by those who find in it things which make them feel to the limit of their capacity.” “The advantage of being an aesthete,” he declares, “is that one is able to appreciate the significance of all that comes to one through the senses: one feels things as ends instead of worrying about them as means. … Whatever is precious and beautiful in life is precious and beautiful irrespective of beginning and end.”]
As will be seen in the above article, my friend Clive Bell is a fathead and a voluptuary. This a very comfortable sort of person to be, and very friendly and easy and pleasant to talk to. Bell is a brainy man out of training. So much the better for his friends; for men in training are irritable, dangerous, and apt to hit harder than they know. No fear of that from Clive. The layer of fat on his brain makes him incapable of following up his own meaning; but it makes him good company.
As a BDS activist, whose main focus is cultural boycott, I’ve come up against a very common Israeli claim (individuals, small business, and government officials) that “culture has nothing to do with politics”. Most commonly it comes in the form of a puzzled “rhetorical” question: “What does culture have to do with politics?!” As if asking this question closes the discussion, because it’s so obvious that art, music, books, films, theater and dance are a pure form of entertainment that has no intellectual, political, anthropological value. As if cultural products aren’t bought and sold as commodities and status indicators.
Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd. in the Service of the State of Israel
kaaGhazi hai pairahan har paikar-e tasveer ka
Robed in paper are all pictures manifest:
this world is nothing but
by Huma Dar for my N, Z, many Shahids, and the One
The moon did not become the sun. It just fell on the desert in great sheets, reams of silver handmade by you. The night is your cottage industry now, the day is your brisk emporium. The world is full of paper.
Write to me. —Agha Shahid Ali, “Stationery”
The tilted goblet drips
liquid lunatic luminous.
And makes a slippery mess
of Highway 1
memory and desire —
relentless, ebon, a plumbless
dream of falling.
Like tresses distraught
entwining your imagined arm (make the bleeding black night all yours) your aching memories knotted in my gut
my exiled ghost lost, found
and willfully entangled
in the lines of your words
your stone-cold feet in my shaalfa —
an ablution performed in blood.
Our friend Tony Karon joins Rashid Khalidi, Peter Beinart and Ethan Bronner on Al Jazeera’s Empire.
The dawn of a Palestinian state has been a long time coming. After 65 years of dispossession, 45 years of occupation, and 20 years of failed peace attempts, on Thursday Palestine took one step closer to joining the community of nations. With a final vote of 138 to 9, an overwhelming majority of nations at the UN General Assembly voted to recognise Palestine as a non-member state. This upgrade puts Palestine on par with the Vatican, and also could allow Palestinian claims to be filed in the International Criminal Court. This recognition came just days after another in the long line of catastrophes Palestinians have faced. Under a brutal Israeli bombardment of Gaza, nearly 200 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more were wounded. Empire asks: Must the Palestinian dream of a state be Israel’s nightmare? And what does the path to a just solution look like?