Adonis Diaries

Archive for December 21st, 2016

Lebanese woman and Jew: On Sephardic Jews and Middle Eastern Cultures

“ARAB JEW

by Ella Habiba Shohat,   Irvi Nasawi

 

When issues of racial and colonial discourse are discussed in the U.S., people of Middle Eastern and North African origin are often excluded.

This piece is written with the intent of opening up the multicultural debate, going beyond the U.S. census’s simplistic categorization of Middle Eastern peoples as “whites.”

It’s also written with the intent of multiculturalizing American notions of Jewishness. My personal narrative questions the Eurocentric opposition of Arab and Jew, particularly the denial of Arab Jewish (Sephardic) voices both in the Middle Eastern and American contexts.

I am an Arab Jew. Or, more specifically, an Iraqi Israeli woman living, writing and teaching in the U.S.

Most members of my family were born and raised in Baghdad, and now live in Iraq, Israel, the U.S., England, and Holland.

When my grandmother first encountered Israeli society in the ’50s, she was convinced that the people who looked, spoke and ate so differently–the European Jews–were actually European Christians.

Jewishness for her generation was inextricably associated with Middle Easterness. My grandmother, who still lives in Israel and still communicates largely in Arabic, had to be taught to speak of “us” as Jews and “them” as Arabs.

For Middle Easterners, the operating distinction had always been “Muslim,” “Jew,” and “Christian,” not Arab versus Jew. The assumption was that “Arabness” referred to a common shared culture and language, albeit with religious differences.

Americans are often amazed to discover the existentially nauseating or charmingly exotic possibilities of such a syncretic identity. I recall a well-established colleague who despite my elaborate lessons on the history of Arab Jews, still had trouble understanding that I was not a tragic anomaly–for instance, the daughter of an Arab (Palestinian) and an Israeli (European Jew).

Living in North America makes it even more difficult to communicate that we are Jews and yet entitled to our Middle Eastern difference.

And that we are Arabs and yet entitled to our religious difference, like Arab Christians and Arab Muslims.

It was precisely the policing of cultural borders in Israel that led some of us to escape into the metropolises of syncretic identities. Yet, in an American context, we face again a hegemony that allows us to narrate a single Jewish memory, i.e., a European one.

For those of us who don’t hide our Middle Easterness under one Jewish “we,” it becomes tougher and tougher to exist in an American context hostile to the very notion of Easterness.

As an Arab Jew, I am often obliged to explain the “mysteries” of this oxymoronic entity. That we have spoken Arabic, not Yiddish; that for millennia our cultural creativity, secular and religious, had been largely articulated in Arabic (Maimonides being one of the few intellectuals to “make it” into the consciousness of the West); and that even the most religious of our communities in the Middle East and North Africa never expressed themselves in Yiddish-accented Hebrew prayers, nor did they practice liturgical-gestural norms and sartorial codes favoring the dark colors of centuries-ago Poland.

Middle Eastern women similarly never wore wigs; their hair covers, if worn, consisted of different variations on regional clothing (and in the wake of British and French imperialism, many wore Western-style clothes).

If you go to our synagogues, even in New York, Montreal, Paris or London, you’ll be amazed to hear the winding quarter tones of our music which the uninitiated might imagine to be coming from a mosque.

Now that the three cultural topographies that compose my ruptured and dislocated history–Iraq, Israel and the U.S.–have been involved in a war, it is crucial to say that we exist. Some of us refuse to dissolve so as to facilitate “neat” national and ethnic divisions.

My anxiety and pain during the Scud attacks on Israel, where some of my family lives, did not cancel out my fear and anguish for the victims of the bombardment of Iraq, where I also have relatives.

War, however, is the friend of binarisms, leaving little place for complex identities. The Gulf War, for example, intensified a pressure already familiar to the Arab Jewish diaspora in the wake of the Israeli-Arab conflict: a pressure to choose between being a Jew and being an Arab.

For our families, who have lived in Mesopotamia since at least the Babylonian exile, who have been Arabized for millennia, and who were abruptly dislodged to Israel 45 years ago, to be suddenly forced to assume a homogenous European Jewish identity based on experiences in Russia, Poland and Germany, was an exercise in self devastation.

To be a European or American Jew has hardly been perceived as a contradiction, but to be an Arab Jew has been seen as a kind of logical paradox, even an ontological subversion.

This binarism has led many Oriental Jews (our name in Israel referring to our common Asian and African countries of origin is Mizrahi or Mizrachi) to a profound and visceral schizophrenia, since for the first time in our history Arabness and Jewishness have been imposed as antonyms.

Intellectual discourse in the West highlights a Judeo-Christian tradition, yet rarely acknowledges the Judeo-Muslim culture of the Middle East, of North Africa, or of pre-Expulsion Spain (1492) and of the European parts of the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish experience in the Muslim world has often been portrayed as an unending nightmare of oppression and humiliation.

Although I in no way want to idealize that experience–there were occasional tensions, discriminations, even violence–on the whole, we lived quite comfortably within Muslim societies.

Our history simply cannot be discussed in European Jewish terminology. As Iraqi Jews, while retaining a communal identity, we were generally well integrated and indigenous to the country, forming an inseparable part of its social and cultural life.

Thoroughly Arabized, we used Arabic even in hymns and religious ceremonies. The liberal and secular trends of the 20th century engendered an even stronger association of Iraqi Jews and Arab culture, which brought Jews into an extremely active arena in public and cultural life.

Prominent Jewish writers, poets and scholars played a vital role in Arab culture, distinguishing themselves in Arabic speaking theater, in music, as singers, composers, and players of traditional instruments.

In Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Tunisia, Jews became members of legislatures, of municipal councils, of the judiciary, and even occupied high economic positions.

(The finance minister of Iraq in the ’40s was Ishak Sasson, and in Egypt, Jamas Sanua–higher positions, ironically, than those our community had generally achieved within the Jewish state until the 1990s!)

The same historical process that dispossessed Palestinians of their property, lands and national-political rights, was linked to the dispossession of Middle Eastern and North African Jews of their property, lands, and rootedness in Muslim countries.

As refugees, or mass immigrants (depending on one’s political perspective), we were forced to leave everything behind and give up our Iraqi passports. The same process also affected our uprootedness or ambiguous positioning within Israel itself, where we have been systematically discriminated against by institutions that deployed their energies and material to the consistent advantage of European Jews and to the consistent disadvantage of Oriental Jews.

Even our physiognomies betray us, leading to internalized colonialism or physical misperception. Sephardic Oriental women often dye their dark hair blond, while the men have more than once been arrested or beaten when mistaken for Palestinians.

What for Ashkenazi immigrants from Russian and Poland was a social aliya (literally “ascent”) was for Oriental Sephardic Jews a yerida (“descent”).

Stripped of our history, we have been forced by our no-exit situation to repress our collective nostalgia, at least within the public sphere. The pervasive notion of “one people” reunited in their ancient homeland actively disauthorizes any affectionate memory of life before Israel.

We have never been allowed to mourn a trauma that the images of Iraq’s destruction only intensified and crystallized for some of us. Our cultural creativity in Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic is hardly studied in Israeli schools, and it is becoming difficult to convince our children that we actually did exist there, and that some of us are still there in Iraq, Morocco, Yemen and Iran.

Western media much prefer the spectacle of the triumphant progress of Western technology to the survival of the peoples and cultures of the Middle East.

The case of Arab Jews is just one of many elisions. From the outside, there is little sense of our community, and even less sense of the diversity of our political perspectives. Oriental-Sephardic peace movements, from the Black Panthers of the ’70s to the new Keshet (a “Rainbow” coalition of Mizrahi groups in Israel) not only call for a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians, but also for the cultural, political, and economic integration of Israel/Palestine into the Middle East. And thus an end to the binarisms of war, an end to a simplistic charting of Middle Eastern identities.

Ella Habiba Shohat is Professor of Cultural Studies and Women’s Studies at CUNY. A writer, orator and activist, she is the author of Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation (Univ. of Texas Press, 1989) and the co-author (with Robert Stam) of Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (Routledge 1994).

Shohat co-edited Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation and Postcolonial Reflections (University of Minnesota Press, 1997) and is the editor of Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, (MIT Press/The New Museum, 2000). She writes often for such journals as Social Text and the Journal for Palestine Studies.                                                      … more about the author

Darkest just before dawn

Trying to express hope following the series of Black suicide bombing?

Marcus Ampe when looking over the happenings of 2016 told his public that when we should have to choose a colour for 2016 it probably would be ‘black’. (For the decade and no end for this black color). Even the darkest black colour you might find.

Certainly in Belgium and neighbouring countries we have seen many black moments caused by people living very close to us. Hundreds of people who lived in cities like Brussels (Molenbeek district), Verviers, Charleroi, Mons, just to name some of the most mentioned living quarters of those who killed many in Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and further away many cities in Syria.

A so called liberation of human race was on their lips by causing so much agony in name for their sort of Islam (Wahhabi sect?)which has nothing to do with real Islam, a religion which has ‘salam‘ or ‘peace‘ in its name.

2016 may have been the year where Bad came over Good and brought with it Hate over Love.

Though many still may believe in

Good over Bad. Love over Hate. {When it looks like hate is winning}

May we really believe that

“Good always wins”? (Not in a climate of inaction and lack of reflection)

When we look around us it seems just the opposite. Those who do not mind to swindle and do whatever they can to make themself rich without taking care of others, seem to win.

Marcus Ampe warns us for the political scene which is changing drastically almost everywhere in the world, not for the good. He warns for the populism which is going over Europe and the United States as a virus.

As a Christadelphian he likes to look at what is prophesied in the Bible and by looking at that sacred book is Not at all surprised of what is going on. In his eyes we can follow the notated signs of those old writings and see that we are heading to a third World War, though it may still many years before us.

He likes to compare the last few years with the 1920ies and showed us also how the present days are very much related to the 1930ies, which should sincerely worry us.

He does not speak of an apocalyptic change like certain Christians may do, but likes to warn us to prepare ourselves and our kids for the coming period where very right wing politicians may gain lots of votes and even come into power.

Perhaps Jyoti Chauhan Singh, an Indian lady who reads Tarot cards and came to live in the United States, perhaps thinks on similar lines, saying the same as Mr. Ampe that

it is happening in every corner of this world. People around the world are bringing this change by their votes, by their say, and by their actions. Be it Brexit or current US election, or stimulated political environment in my home country India. This change is too much. Too much for us to handle and accept, and to adapt to. {When it looks like hate is winning}

Is that not the danger we shall have to face in the coming months?

Are not many politicians going to make use of and are going to instigate people against others and nourish the fear many already have?

For Mrs. Chauhan Singh the present President elect in the States was

not elected against a virtuous leader. It was not the fight between good vs evil. It was just bad and worse fighting with each other. You guess which is worse and which is bad. But, it was never a winning situation for USA, no matter who would have won. {When it looks like hate is winning}

I do not know why Clinton would have been so bad, because honestly her stupidity about the e-mails was not really a criminal act, like so many Americans would like us to believe.

If they consider such stupidity already a crime or sin than the many frauds and bankruptcies of Donald Trump which many Americans never seemed to have remembered or noticed, would be “cardinal sins and death penalty crimes

We also may notice that many people seem to have some nostalgia to some times they had it better, though at those times they ware hoping for better times and for having more material richness.

But as we could know beforehand all those modern gadgets they can have today are not making them more happy. The opposite today lots of people are more lonely and feeling poverty more harsh than years ago, though we may see less poverty stricken people. Less tramps on the streets.

With a smiling or is it a sarcastic face Mr. Ampe may tell us that many people would love to go back to a time they are imaging there was, but which has never been so. Mrs. Chauhan Singh alsy pointing to the same fact

With this election, Americans have spoken very clearly that they want to bring back ‘good old days’. Doesn’t matter if those good old days are going to be good for rest of us or not. They want to go back. They want someone with traditional values, traditional promises. Although seeing the lifestyle of elect president I hardly think he is an epitome of traditionalism. {When it looks like hate is winning}

Mr Ampe analysed some body language of Mr. Trump and showed us how clever that man must be playing with his public. This cleverness should make us even be more alert. He also compare certain tactics with the way how Erdogan managed to come in his dictatorial position today.

How he was patient enough to go from mayor of Istanbul, even having spent some years in prison after his mayorship to come stronger and more radicalised out of it, imposing the traditional Muslim values and going in against the civil state of the old creator of a dream state Turkey.

(WikiLeaks divulged documents demonstrating that Erdogan is behind the creation of Daesh)

We shall have to wait and see  to know how Donald Trump is going to use his power and how Marine Le Pen is going to drive her wedge through France which seem to be the under the spell of Muslim extremism and Islam fear.

Mr Ampe, like Mrs. Chauhan Singh seems to do also says we may not loose hope and contrary to how lots of people are concentrating on their own self, we should look more to others and try to come up for the weaker ones.
Mrs. Chauhan Singh writes

Losing hope is never an option. If we are given this result, we must be hopeful that there must be something good coming out of it. Give him a chance. He has already shocked all of us; he may surprise us too. Do not lose hope. Instead hope for him to change his ways, his words, and his actions, for the betterment of this country. {When it looks like hate is winning}

When it looks like hate is winning

One of Mr. Ampe his main teachings, also as a retired teacher of ballet history, is that we should learn from history and that we should make others aware of possible traps lots of people in the past did not notice but became victim of. According to him by knowing the past we can avoid the same mistakes, which have been repeated so many times, because people did not know their history.

We always shall look at things and would love to see things changed. Man is not easy satisfied.

One also can wonder when  our world evolves if/ when and how many people would be ready for such changes, and if they are for the better or for the worse. In most cases lots of people are just not ready for the changes taking place.

Problem is not in these major changes but our inability to accept them. {When it looks like hate is winning}

One might also ask whether we shall be able to find enough people who shall be really wanting to pursue peace. To find enough people who really want to “raise awareness that peace in itself,” and willing to take steps with which to motivate others to go that track of peace making is something we should go for. Too many may be very confused and may not be sure which dreams might be the best for them.

Though according to Mr. Ampe we should come to work together towards mutual peace and to the broadcasting of hope and positive thoughts, trying to take away the confusion there is today and putting right the wrong ideas about some people, religions and ways of life. He believes the change must come from each of us and that we are responsible for the evolution of the day.

According to him, we ourselves are to convey the message and have even to adopt a certain attitude and should form a shining example. According to him, there also should be peace as a base in our own daily lives.

This peace will also make the connection with the other and this will be like a snowball effect to be implemented on this world.

When it looks like hate is winning

+

Preceding articles about overviews for 2016


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

December 2016
M T W T F S S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Blog Stats

  • 1,442,507 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 784 other followers

%d bloggers like this: