Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘mai ghoussoub

Maid living in the Mistress house?

There are many States that allow private agencies to import foreign maids to serve in private families.  The maid lives in the house with the family and work from 6 am to midnight, always standing and serving, and cleaning until the last member of the family is gone to bed.

The maid in Lebanon cost $150 a month and the entire yearly amount is paid to the agency upfront when the commissioned maid arrives in Lebanon “legally”?  Most of the time, the contract of the hired foreign maid is for two years.

Maids arriving to Lebanon are mostly from Ethiopia, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and from other African States.  Workers at gas stations are mainly from Egypt.  Construction workers are from Syria.  Sanitation workers are from Bangladesh.  You have the impression that every foreign State has a specialty work to do in Lebanon.

Lately, a semi-official report from Madagascar’s Minister of Public and Social Affairs, Nadine Ramorson, denounced in the weekly “Jeune Afrique” the ill treatments of the maids in Lebanon and that many returned home dead or badly injured.  The number of maids from Madagascar climbed from one thousand in 2006 to over 7,000 in 2010.

Before the civil war in Lebanon that started in 1975, maids were hired from Syria.  The child maid’s father would show up once a year to cash in his dues and leave without even sitting and talking to his child daughter of less than 13 of age.

When a kid, I never asked the maid to fetch me a glass of water or for any personal needs; it is shameful to see parents considering as legitimate and right for their kids to be ordering maids around for simple tasks they can and should be doing on their own.

I can testify that the Lebanese, in general, are racist with respect to the poorer classes.  It is worse, when this domestic or worker is from a foreign land.  A black colored worker is called Black or coal.  The higher the number of maids the higher the status of a family.  I can see families bringing more than one maids to events and ceremonies in order to wash dishes, take care of every whims of kids, and serve on tables.

There were periods when Lebanese were respectful to older members and had a sense of shame working others overtime.  Social life is going bad.  You may pay a visit to our prisons to witness the carelessness we handle human rights and human dignity.

Many foreign maids are incarcerated for months without any due process, simply because they could not pay to renew their work permit or purchase a ticket home.  Many maids had committed suicides and we never hear of these cases or the follow-up investigations, if any.

Fact is, we the Lebanese are living in a big prison, with no way out if you have not the money to getting out.  Maybe 5% of the Lebanese are well off (mainly the public servants and families of deputies) but the rest of us are living under $150 per month, with a standard of living higher than Paris and London.

It is no enigma if most Lebanese are servile to their sectarian leaders who were the culprit of this civil war that lasted more than 13 years:  They want to survive and seek political and employment supports.

It is no enigma of this growing racist tendencies when the leaders of the civil wars returned as ministers and deputy after the civil war and have been totally absolved of their genocides by a Parliament of their own.

We have no dignity left to start demonstrations and revolts.  If it were not for Hezbollah’s steadfastness then, Lebanon would have been a State from the past, a non-entity….

I published in my autobiography the following passage:

“At the time it was the custom for well-off family to hire girl child helpers from Syria around Safita.  My family was no exception. The father of any of these children between 10 to 12 years old would visit once a year to collect his money and leave.  Over the span of 6 years, we had 3 child helpers. The first one was named Salimeh and she was my age of 12 but was much taller, robust and all muscles; I recall that I used to box her buttocks, hard as rock.  She was not pretty but she loved us dearly and we got used to liking her cheerful attitude.

The next one was even younger and she used to get lost every time she had to accompany my younger sister Raymonde from school.  Once she lost her way and Raymonde was already at home and she saw Raymonde on the balcony and she hollered to my sister “come down to go home”.

The third helper was short, hard working and pretty and she was in love with me and I was at the age when I could not stand romance and drooping eyes.  I was glad when her father took her away but she was in cry and would not leave.  Mother was hard on the helpers and she made them wake up very early and work all day long for over 13 hours, but mother was meticulous that they keep clean, eating of our own food and wearing decent clothes.  It was hard for me to accept the conditions of these helpers once I became conscious of their alienation, away from their homes for over two years sometimes.”

The late author, Mai Ghoussoub described the life of one these kid helpers in her book “Farewell Beirut” and how she turned out to be a ferocious and fearless fighter during the civil war; most importantly, she never tried to get any revenge on her “masters”, even though the eldest son had raped her and she was confined never to leave the apartment; the girl was just utterly happy to feel free.”

Deep Well of Wrath (May 14, 2009)

 

The late author Mai Ghoussoub wrote an article “When we clap for not shouting”.  She was subjugated with a chain of gruesome events that overwhelmed her with wrath.  The duo Bush Jr. and Sharon of Israel were coordinating their barbaric genocides and spreading havoc:  Iraq was a slaughter house and Sharon bulldozed the Palestinian camp of refugees in Jenine; hundreds of civilian Palestinians were buried under the rubbles and the World Community failed to pursue its investigation of the massacre.  Mai Ghoussoub remembered that “when you are blue, what else but Blues?”  Thus, she walked to an underground Jazz club in Soho.  Gilad Atzemon was playing clarinet and saxophone and singing Jazz that Thursday night. 

Gilad’s Jazz group is called “The Orient House”; the name of a Palestinian cultural center in Jerusalem that Israel had closed down.  Gilad is an Israeli “refusnik” of the Zionist ideological activities that Israel has applied consistently and shamed the civilized world.  Gilad addressed the audience saying “The next piece is presented to the Palestinian people facing the worst disgusting regime in the world” After being taken aback Mai clapped her heart out; no body shouts in these particular clubs that are reserved for escaping political frenzies. Gilad then performed combination of North African tunes with jazz and then placed another proclamation attacking Israel recent invasion of Lebanon.  Mai did not stop clapping the harder for the night; it was her relief from shouting her wrath the louder.

It might be convincing that behind our specific anger there is a layer of deeper feeling of wrath but when a overbearing army destroys, kills, and maims unarmed civilians and refugees then what layer of wrath could be hidden any deeper?

Then you discover many hate books on Islam and Moslems published after the September bombing of the Twin Towers. For example, the Irish novelist Michael Howilbick who was awarded Ireland literature international award and replied to his interviewer “Killing a pregnant Palestinian mother is a good thing since it rid us of two Arabs”.  What about the latest book of late Italian Oriana Fallachi who dared write “Moslems proliferate like mice”?   Fallaci lived during the fascist Mussolini period and she should know that this sentence of “proliferating like mice” was used by Mussolini and Hitler as preliminary projects for racist genocides.

How much Freedom of Opinions should be extended before we scream “Enough is enough”?  We claim that words do not kill; it is human who kill.  We say guns do not kill; it is man who kills with the gun.  Fine with freedom of opinion and freedom of publishing but when publishers and media hawk these hates products for entire religions and entire people without any discrimination then genocide planning must be in the planning. Should we sit tight, in the name of freedom of speech, for the massacre to take place and then apologize?

I have extensively reviewed in November 8, 2007 “Fallaci interview Fallaci and Apocalypse” and it is posted on my blog.  You may also read my critique in two posts

“Are there moderate Moslems?” (October 26, 2007) and “An alternative version of Oriana Fallaci’s apocalyptic interpretation of St. John’s” (November 2, 2007).   I replied rationally point by point to Fallaci’s Islam bashing and her insane apocalyptic vision soberly and patiently. 

The Blemish (May 8, 2009)

 

            The blemish is this emotional feeling that prevents sleep to visiting you.  It is being illiterate among a literate society.  Illiteracy is the surface fact but the deeper felt blemish is that you lacked the courage to overcome what keeps you miserable and mediocre.  You had the mental and physical capability to learn to read (forget writing), you had facilities that were instituted specifically for you but you failed to taking advantage.  The blemish is that you know that you have no credible excuses for failing to wipe out your degrading attitude that ruined your life and the loved ones around you.

            The German judge and author Bernhard Schlink published “The Reader” of an adolescent who used to read aloud to his older lover Hanna after making love. The lady disappeared and he discovered that she was being indicted for contributing to atrocities in concentration camps during the Nazi regime. Hanna turned down a promotion in the industrial complex she worked in and accepted to be a prison guard.  Hanna decided to confess that she wrote a report on a church burning that contained prisoners and nobody dared to open the doors. Hanna was ready to spend her life in prison instead of confessing that she was illiterate.

            Blemish and the feeling of culpability are different. For example, if you feel guilty that another person was indicted or punished because you failed to confess your responsibility is within the realm of your set of moral values.  There are instances where it is hard to distinguish between blemish and guilt when they relate to character flaws that can be rectified but instead degenerated into blemish for cowing to confront and surmount the difficulty.

            The feeling of blemish does not have to be that drastic.  It is any emotional feeling that pressure you to prefer sleeplessness to cover up temporary cowardly attitude in order to hide facts; facts that are benign most of the time and are due mainly to ignorance and archaic traditions.  Late author Mai Ghoussoub admitted not sleeping one night in Tokyo because she did not know how to take the metro there and refused to ask for guidance; Mai’s blemish was not allowing Japanese to thinking that she is not a cosmopolitan girl.

            The blemish must be more prevalent in our modern society.  Technology is progressing at the speed of a bullet train and many positions require that you keep up-to-date.  Catching up with modern consumers’ good and facilities is daunting and discouraging.  I blamed my inadequacy until I learned to email.  I blamed my incompetence until I was shown how to publish on wordpress.com and that this facility was available for free; I blamed my unfitness for socializing until I realized that I don’t have to and that I rather read, write, and publish because that is what I love to do.

I blamed my impotency for accumulating money because I could not suffer a life long job (just to receive retirement compensation) until I realized that I have a choice of switching one type of humiliation (covert real slavery) to another benign imaginary slavery:  lack of money is mainly a blemish in the mind of society that values greed and financial success over anything else.  My new societal blemish is not handicapping my productivity that suits me better mentally, physically, and emotionally.

At a certain age your range of choices are limited and you have to make the effort, while young, to experiment with the available opportunities to learn varied skills that one of them might turn out to be your consolation prize for living longer than expected. Continuing education is no longer a luxury; it is a new created value that refers to individual and nations with dignity.  Failing to pursue educating your mind and elevating your culture to global problems is becoming a serious blemish to mankind.

A Typical Day (May 2, 2009)

Note:  I have been writing my diary since July 12, 2006, the day Israel preempted a devastating war on Lebanon.   Israel  failed in its strategic goal of taming the Lebanese resistance led by Hezbollah.  I decided to post a sample of a typical day with a few explanations; sort of a “Reality TV” show with no direct picture.

I got up at 5:15 a.m. and had a cup of Nescafe and a smoke in the enclosed balcony facing north.

I stepped down to my study and locked the main door behind me. I realized that I forgot my keys inside. I ascended two floors to my sister’s Raymonde to borrow the key to my study on the ground floor.

Victor (my brother-in-law) opened and he was going down to retrieve a notebook from his car; he opened for me the door.  Victor asked me to carry up the repaired sewing machine for Raymonde

In other days, I may be asked to carry bags of vegetables to mother; bags that were left in the car trunk when he arrives late after 9 p.m.  (Last week, we had the last rain of the season and the thunderstorm burned our new TV and my computer monitor.  From now on we will have to suffer 7 months of dry season).

I read, edited two articles and resumed my diary. I filtered a Jeri-can of 4 gallons of tap water (yes, our tap water cannot be consumed unfiltered).  My nephew William was in charge of the filtering before he rented a small apartment in the coastal city of Jounieh.

For the filtering process, I devised two steps to go up at sink level in order to raise the Jeri-can almost safely into the recipient; it is a dangerous exercise that I worry about every time.

I went up home around 7:30 a.m.  Dad is having his Turkish coffee at the kitchen table and mother is sitting beside him in pain: mother has sort of arthritis but never desists working hard.

Dad will shave and wash his head with soap; he refuses to wear any kinds of head cover in any season.  Mother will work hard all morning to let pain and aches forget her.

I exercised for 45 minutes and then worked in the garden; I gathered greens for salad, plowed a little, and watered my patches with the little water that we get from this stupid government.

This work is followed by the frustrating jeremiads of mother claiming that we are short on water. We have plenty of water in Lebanon but it does not reach home:  the best this government could do is turns on the quasi potable water three times a week for six hours each time.

I shaved and dressed up in a suit (I dress up in April because it is the only month that sustains a suit; it is an occasion for me to dust off my wardrobe).

I spent my morning at the Maitre Phares Library; this private library is now managed by the Saint Joseph University, the Law Department.  I return books and magazines and borrow others (read my post on Maitre Phares library).

I published three posts on wordpress.com and replied to comments and emails. I returned the “Courrier International” and the Arabic book “Ain Wardeh” and borrowed the French book “A World Adrift” by Amine Maaluf and the Arabic/Lebanese “State of Cities” by Mai Ghoussoub.

I took pictures of Layal Kanaan who is flying to Orleans (France) to submit her dissertation on French linguistics among the Lebanese; Layal spent a month patronizing the library to write in a peaceful and quiet environment.

I left the library early around noon because I had to attend a play by my niece Chelsea at Saint Joseph school. I bought hair spray from Storiom for mother.  I joined my parents for lunch; mother had cut her hair by herself, as usual, and dyed it. I removed to my study.

Raymonde picked me up at 1:30; mother was tired and could not join us. The play writer and actor George Khabbaz was the guest of honor and he came late; the play was re-played for Khabbaz.  Chelsea was excellent in acting and in dancing and represented the cynical and malevolent student girl who abhors clowns.  Chelsea played her role very well and exhibited the worst inclinations that she could dream of being.

William and Hanane arrived late but they watched part of the re-run and took pictures; they were in a hurry and returned to Jounieh.

I had an hour nap till 4 p.m.  I overheard in my bed that the 4 Lebanese highest military officers will be released this afternoon after the International Court found them innocents of participating in the assassination of late Rafic Hariri P.M.

There will be strong pressures for four judges to resign because they covered up information and detained the officers for 44 months without any kinds of indictments; it was detention for political reasons.  Many heads should fall and the government is in hot water, especially Seniora PM, Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblat, Sameer Geaja, and Marwan Hamadeh. The last person created the false witnesses.

I removed to my study and wrote a new article on minorities in the processes of disappearance in Iraq. It is 6:30 p.m. and the public electrical utility went out around 6 p.m.

The Lebanese citizens have been harassed for lack of public electricity for over thirty years; we barely receive 10 hours of utility per day and we rely on private providers with generators at exorbitant prices.  Yes, we pay twice a month for electricity.

I visited with George Tannous (our neighbor) who was released late from the hospital around 2 p.m. because the surgeon was late to arrive and sign the release form.  Aunt Montaha was there and then her daughter Joelle came in from work to pick up Montaha.

I resumed reading at Raymonde’s around 7:30 p.m. and watched some news. Raymonde gave Adrea ride to Vanessa; Adrea wanted to go to a theater play in Chateau Trianon but the 20,000 LL fees were not available.

Chelsea’s friend Maribelle is sleeping over:  tomorrow is holiday because of the Workers’ Day on May 1st.  Chelsea and her friend are waiting for Victor’s to return from work with the laptop: they have a project to do and need to surf the net.

I had supper at home and got in bed by 9:15 and had many dreams.

“Girls: Customs in the Levant” by Mai Ghoussoub

Note: As a series on customs in the Levant I decided to publish an article by late Mai Ghoussoub  titled
“Missed Opportunities”.

“It took me a long time to understand why my mother loved to tell the story of the doctor who delivered me. Whenever there was a willing audience, she would tell it. I must have heard it a thousand times.For her story to make sense, you need to know that I am the second female born to my parents and that my sister and I are their only progeny.’When Dr Razook left the delivery room, his face was tense and he walked past your father without looking at him. Your father was waiting anxiously for the baby to be delivered so that he could join me. (In those days, husbands were never allowed to witness the birth of their child). The attitude of the doctor terrified your father, who thought that something terrible must have happened to me and to our baby. When he knew that I had given birth to a healthy baby girl, he was delighted. Dr Razook did not like to deliver girls, especially if the parents were his friends, and he felt his reputation as a gynaecologist was perturbed by every female he brought into the world. As for your dad and me, we did not care one way or the other, boy or girl’.The story of my birth as told by my mother is a perfect metaphor for my country of origin. It is the story of juxtaposed values and contradictions. Yes, it is OK to be born a girl but the story never ends here. There is a ‘but’, a Mediterranean ‘but’ and a westernized OK that have to coexist, and modernized citizens somehow have to juggle and survive within the spaces of this coexistence. And they have to do it with grace and honour, My parents are from the generation of Middle Easterners who lived at the time of transition from the traditional values of large families to the westernized nuclear family with a maximum of two children, raised and educated in the best schools you could afford. They dreamt of bringing up free, responsible individuals – individuals who were nonetheless constantly reminded that they were the custodians of their family’s honour, especially if they stood on the female side of the gender border; individuals who had to watch constantly for ‘what the neighbours say’ about them and their parents, their uncles, cousins and other relatives.

My story, the way I tried to live my life, is a desperate, not always unhappy, effort to reconcile at least two epochs, two modes of behaviour, two value systems that prevailed simultaneously and very concretely in pre-war Lebanon.

Let me come back to my mother. A clever woman, she was considered very marriageable thanks to her good looks and was consequently withdrawn from school, in the late 1940s, by her parents at the age of sixteen. She had loved her school and treasured the knowledge she had acquired there, mainly in the sciences. She had no say about her parents’ decision and anyway she had fallen in love with my father. My father, a modern young man, cared very little about the difference in their religious confessions and courted her openly because he had ‘good intentions’. They felt madly in love and married when she was seventeen and he twenty years old. They despised marriages of convenience or calculation, believed in true love and had the Hollywood movies, already triumphant over the screens of Beirut, to confirm the rightness of their romantic choice. There were a few couples like them in Lebanon in those days, but they were not the rule. Nine months after their wedding, they brought my older sister into this world. They were delighted; they adored her. One only has to look at the infinite number of pictures they took of her, and at the journal my mother kept, in which are recorded every smile, every tooth that appeared on the baby girl’s face. It occurred to me once that the same Dr Razook had delivered my sister, and that he may have been as disappointed by his deed as he was when it was my turn to show up. But, for some unexplained reason, it was only my appearance that seemed to be a worthy story for my mother to narrate. The reason should have been obvious to me. It may not matter to the parents if the newborn is male or female, but in the wider society there is nothing to boast about when you bring only girls into this Middle Eastern world. You have to be very keen on bringing up a small, well-cared-for family to stop after the second child and not try for the special one that will perpetuate your name and speak for the virility of the father and the blessing of the mother.

Garçon manqué was the term I kept having about me. Tomboy. The French expression is more revealing. A boy missed. An opportunity missed. But the values, which the post-industrial societies had introduced in our Levant reality, were tangible enough and no third child was to be expected. So my story meets that of my society. I am female, accepted as such but unconsciously or very silently wished different. The context in which I was born, the Lebanon of the 1950s, was a paradigm of this dichotomy. Some named the two poles in this combination modern and traditional, others used the labels east and west, now the term post-modern is frequently used.

I can think of a perfect metaphor: un garçon manqué, a missed boy, and “une opportunité manquee”, a missed opportunity. A country that has missed its democratic and tolerant potentialities. A happy alternative. But …

To go back to my gender and its implications: like any child who finds him/herself at the centre of attention, I started to play the role that made me successful among the members of my family and their friends. I started to behave as a tomboy. I wrote to Father Christmas asking him for a cowboy outfit. When I played with my dolls I did so discreetly, for the pleasure of mothering or dressing them was hampered by a sharp feeling of guilt and the fear of disappointing the grown-ups. I joined the boys in the courtyard after school to play football and all was free and fun until Sit Zalfa, an imposing old neighbour, saw me fighting physically over the score with one of the boys. She used to terrify us with her severe chignon and her Turkish and Italian vocabulary. ‘Pronto,’ she screamed, pointing her stick at me and then in the direction of my home. She visited my parents and told them that it was not ‘right’ for a nine year-old girl m mix with the boys of the neighbourhood. That was the end of my street life. What the neighbours said proved more powerful than the cute image of a garçon manqué. The neighbours’ opinion had a decisive influence on my parents, who still insisted that it did not matter to them if I were a girl or a boy. We were already in the early 1960s, and Lebanon enjoyed the rule of a functioning parliament; a coop d’état had been defeated and my mother as well as my aunts dressed in the latest Parisian fashion. My mixed school was preparing to separate the girls from the boys: yes, even the French Lycée adapted its rules to the Arab Mediterranean reality of Lebanese society. Religion and religious teaching were not allowed inside the secular institution, but girls who were approaching puberty had to be separated from boys. A garçon manqué in a girls’ school did not make much sense. A segregated secular Lycée would have been an anomaly in France, but we were not in France, even though we spoke French and believed, in the values of the Enlightenment.

I had heard my parents calling me a tomboy, and now I started hearing my mother asserting that I was very good in the sciences, the objective ones. Accordingly I became good at mathematics and physics. My grades in French literature, a subject I adored, did not impress my mother, whereas her face would beam with joy whenever she saw me resolving some geometry or calculus problem. This was a safer way of replacing the boy who was never to be born; safer than playing and fighting with the boys over a football kick. For sciences do not jeopardize virtue or reputation. At school, when I was not yet fourteen years old, I read The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir and heard of free love, but a concert by Johnny Halliday, the French pop star, was cancelled by the Minister of interior, the ‘progressive’ Kamal Jumblatt, who believed that ‘western degenerate images’ did not suit our moral values and might be harmful to our youth. Along with all the citizens of the Lebanon in the 1960s, I learned to live with these conflicting attitudes and values. jugglers we became: with more or less graciousness, sometimes over some broken eggs, we wove our way through mini skirts and scarves, chanting anti-imperialist slogans as well as the Beatles. The kitsch singer Taroub sang for an Arab public, while her sister Mayada set Arabic words to western pop songs. When a dance called the Hully Gully invaded the night-clubs of Lebanon, the famous Diva Sabah sang Hully Dabke Yaba Of:

Hully Gully est connu chez tous les occidentaux,
Hully Dabke Yaba Off est connu chez les Orientaux, presque le même et tout le monde l’aime.

Neither we nor Sabbath could have guessed that the Occident and the Orient were going to sing to totally different tunes. From Radio Cairo the mesmerizing voice of Umm Kulsum was asking for a rifle – A’tini Bunduqiya’ – a rifle to liberate Arab land. We were reading Jean-Paul Sartre and starting to demonstrate for the liberation of Palestine.

By the early 1970s l was studying mathematics and French literature. Male and female subjects. Feminism was on the agenda: George Tarabishi translated Sheila Rowbotham, Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was available in the bookshops and Sonia Beiruti, a TV broadcaster, invited a few of us to her TV show to debate women’s emancipation. Two scenes from that period keep recurring in my memory. First scene: on this Tv show, I said I wanted to be a free woman and to be independent, to work so that I would not live off my father’ or a future husband’s money. My father, who was watching the programme, felt deeply humiliated. He took the words as an insult to his honour. Second scene: during a student demonstration, a few women jumped on the shoulders of their colleagues to lead and chant revolutionary slogans. Everybody in this demonstration had seen the pictures of May 1968 in France and the dynamic images of the women lifted above the crowds by their co-objectors. ‘Scandalous,’ screamed some passers-by, as well as a few demonstrators. The women were put down very quickly. We may have been influenced by May 1968 but we were not in the Latin Quarter of Paris; we were still on the shores of the Mediterranean.

We were a parliamentary democracy we had no kings and no army generals ruling over us, but many of our politicians were the sons of landowners or sons of other politicians. They all spoke of democracy and we called for our right to independence as women while armed militias were being formed and operations to restore women’s virginity were easily available. Somehow, I see a parallel between my studying mathematics at the American University and French literature at the Lebanese National University, between my gender that held me responsible for the family’s reputation on one hand and my county’s coexisting contradictions on the other.

Feminism was an obvious route to follow for somebody like me – a woman who had believed that men’s spaces were not totally impermeable, not mysterious or difficult to handle. You play with boys, enter their classrooms, obtain better grade than many of them and then you are asked to obey them or accept an inequality that places them above you? This was very difficult to swallow, especially if Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex has been widely read among your French educated friends and her assertion that ‘on ne naît pas une femme, on la devient’ (one is not born a woman, one becomes one) is a cool slogan to raise. Old feminism, that of the pioneers such as Hoda Shatrawi or the active lawyer Laure Meghayzel, felt inadequate to our youthful impatience We did not want only equality, the right to be professional while ensuring that we were first and foremost ‘good mothers’: we wanted to claim loudly and shamelessly that nothing could stop us from realizing our wishes and that our bodies belonged to us.

Engels, Reich and Alexandra Kollontai’s teachings gave a social dimension to our belief that ‘all is possible’. The country itself believed that its rise as the financial-tourism heaven of the Middle East and its enriched Gulf region was unstoppable, that the Palestinian resistance fighters were the local expression of the Vietnamese freedom fighters. We spoke out loudly against the hypocrisy of our society. We were getting more radicalized in our beliefs, and so were the contradictions and the conflicts in Lebanon.

A time came when, in the middle of the bloody and cruel sequences of the civil war, I started to miss the so-called hypocrisy of pre-war times. The feeling that ‘I want everything and I want it now’ dissipated. I looked with different eyes on the liberalism of my parents who had to bite on their Mediterranean wound and let me be. They tolerated my freedom of movement, even though my tomboy image was long dead and buried under the powerful influence of Sitt Zalfa and her ilk.

I moved to the other side of the Green Line, where I thought people would be free from the prejudices of my own milieu. There I found a reversed mirror detonating with the same kind of intolerance. What we called hypocrisy before the war was the best form of compromise people had found for living together. The taboo preventing one from spelling out one’s dislike for the other had been a good discipline. Look around you and see how ugly it all becomes when people feel no inhibition in their intolerance. I am not calling for censorship, far from it. People have the right to express their feelings, however despicable we may think them, but this should not discourage us from doing all we can to relate hatred for the other’s colour, race or sexual choice to the notion of bad, uncivilized and immoral and to link the violent expression of this hatred to legal judgment and action.

Yes, it took me a long time to realize why my mother loved to tell the story of Dr Razook and my birth. It took me longer to realize that the contradictions my parents had to live through opened great new spaces for me. And if they had not hoped for me to jump over the limiting fences my gender imposed on me, I may have been confined to living, all my life, on one side of the border(s) and I would have never learnt that we were all as human or as bad as ‘the other’ during the ugly years of our civil war. If my mother had not told this story, would I have had the confidence, some eighteen years ago, to face the London bank manager who was reluctant to deal with me as one of the directors of Saqi Books and ‘would rather see my male boss’? Would I have had the courage to bend the long aluminium rod that holds my sculptures, would I have been capable to be ‘the other’, to integrate among the others without pain and often with plenty of fun? I may have been a missed opportunity for Dr Razook and others like him; I still believe that I am better off missing the narrowness of the choice that would have been my secure lot and instead taking the risk of following my individual routes.

 

Mai Ghoussoub
Writer and artist who has written widely on culture and Middle Easter issues. Her latest publications include Leaving Beirut and Imagined Masculinities (co-edited with Emma Sinclair Webb).

“Farewell Beirut”, by Mai Ghoussoub (Part 3, November 16, 2008)

Note: Paragraphs in parentheses are my own interjections.

The third part of my review was hard and I delayed it too long because the demons that Mai is battling with are spread throughout the book.

I decided not to try to have a coherent or logical links among the different emotions that were troubling Mai and I will leave it to the readers to do their own homework and reflections.

The main theme in “Farewell Beirut” is “revenge” and the associated concepts of honor, genocides, nationalism, heroes, traitors, denouncers, martyrdom, punishment, hate, love and the fundamental human emotions that might be interpreted differently through the ages, and civilizations but where the moral values of wrong and right should not be left to personal matters of point of views.

There are cases of transient insanity such as degraded human values, mocked tradition, and disobedience of State laws and rules.

For example, why we tend to be more lenient toward the rotten moral values of officials simply because they didn’t show rigidity in the mind?  If we admit that “traitors” are the product of dictatorship and wars and that this breed of people are present in locations fraught with danger (then most of us might have played the role of traitors under the right conditions).

People have the tendency to be more lenient with deficiency in morality than with extremist positions in ideologies and religious beliefs.

For example, burning witches is related to extreme social and religious dogmatism as a reaction for seeking consensus in an established social order.  Heroes are not necessarily that honorable; take the case of this child who denounced his father who helped a few Gulag prisoners to escape to the soviet authorities and in return was awarded a medal of honor and much propaganda.

Take for example the French women who had sexual relationship with German officers during WWII and many of them begot offspring; they had their head shaven since hair is the most representative of female pride.

These head shaven ladies were the scapegoats to releasing the emotions for frustration and rage among the hungry Parisians. The worst part is that the mothers brought their kids with them to watch the dishonoring ritual. The women watchers are badly dressed which reflect a bad conscience in being part of the ceremony.

While the German used modern techniques to hide their genocide, the French “victors” adopted medieval means to humiliate and get revenge on the traitors and informers.

John Steinbeck said “We cannot take pictures of war because war is fundamentally emotions“.

In our back head, we always have fears for the reaction of those we have persecuted. The French star singer Arlettie reacted furiously and said “What! Are they also meddling in how we use our sex parts?”   Many women had to survive under siege and everyone according to his potentials and skills.

The Argentinean navy officer Adolfo Silingo said:

“I was responsible for killing 30 people with my own hands and I do not feel remorse or repentance because I was following orders and I got used after the initial shock surprise. We knew that we were killing humans but we kept killing them!  The civilians were in a semi comatose state from torture and we threw them out of the airplane like puppy dolls.

Most of the navy contingents participated in these mass killings” Adolfo is spending his life drunk on the streets trying to forget the “dirty war” during the dictatorship against his own people.

General Paul Tibits who dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima is not penitent.  These kinds of people were once considered heroes: how do you view them now?

Hanna Arndt would like to comprehend “Why these people did chose to stop thinking?

Brecht screamed in one of his plays “Woo to the nations that count too many heroes!

Simone Veil didn’t take it personal that she was incarcerated because she was Jew; she was interested to know “how people are propelled into a climate of condemning and defaming others

This question is pertinent “Is it legitimate to hide truth in order to secure social peace?

How can we manage to forget and yet not take chances for the recurrence of the same sorts of atrocities?”

It is most difficult to find common denominators among the concepts of justice, moral values, and politics when judging cases of genocides.

Bertolt Brecht said: “Tragedies is about human suffering expressed in less seriousness than comedies. The perpetrators of genocides are not great criminal politiciasns but simple people who allowed horrifying political crimes to pass”

“Farewell Beirut”, by Mai Ghoussoub (Part 2, November 16, 2008)

Note: Paragraphs in parentheses are my own interjections.  The names and characters in Mai’s manuscript are not fictitious; she personally eye witness the stories.

 

The main theme in “Farewell Beirut” is “revenge” and the associated concepts of honor, genocides, nationalism, heroes, traitors, martyrdom, hate, love and the fundamental human emotions that might be interpreted differently through the ages, periods and civilizations but where the moral values of wrong and right should not be personal matters of point of vues.

In part one I related the stories of “Um Ali”, “Said”, “Abu Firas”, and “Hashem”.  This part would be more related to fundamental questions that Mai Ghoussoub tried to struggle with and to investigate moral issues. But first, I present the story of Fadwa.

“Fadwa” was sent overseas in 1916 in order to avoid famine and be married to Salem.  In those years parents sent their children by sea supposedly destined to America because they paid high fees but the ship Captains landed them instead in Africa telling them “We reached America, get down” and thus many Lebanese ended in Africa and kept sending letters to their folks not daring to acknowledge their wrong destinations and parents resumed sending people to “America”.  Fadwa’s mother reminded her daughter that she is from a much higher social stratum than her future husband Salem and that Fadwa should remind her husband of that difference.  Fadwa landed in Ghana (Africa) and begot five boys and one girl and she expected Salem to worship her for giving him so many boys.  Fadwa refrained from mingling with the Lebanese and Syrian families on account that she is of a higher level and had many helpers at home.  When Ghana got its independence Fadwa was sent back to Lebanon with all her children for fear of reprisals.  At the airport, the immigrating ladies made sure that Fadwa overhears their conversations that Salem was cheating on her and that he had married an African girl and has African offspring.  Salem joined Fadwa a month looking much older and deprived of wealth; but he didn’t expect the hatred and all consuming feeling of revenge that were eating up Fadwa.  The couple slept in separate beds and Fadwa never called her husband by his name or even faced him; Salem was the “He” or the “decrepit old man”. Salem’s old friends were admonished never to pay him further visits. Salem was homesick to Ghana because he spent most of his life there and the family surrounding was not cheerful.  Fadwa never smiled and children were scared of her outbursts and rigidity.  When Salem became handicapped, Fadwa confined him for perpetuity in the house and never cooked his preferred dishes and locked on the sweets and chocolates on grounds that they are forbidden to his health.  Salem died miserably.  Fadwa died shortly after Salem, totally frustrated and a very unhappy old lady that could not feel that the fruits of her revenge were satisfactory.

Mai returned to visit Lebanon after the civil war.  She is repainting her apartment to erase the slogans that militias have painted over the walls; she kept the slogan “Those who teach us lessons in moral values are hypocrite and insolent”. In the seventies, saying that a person is sure of his opinion was a bad connotation of someone who refuses to detach from traditions.  It was a period when moral issues were not absolute; a person had to take into consideration the environment, the period, and all the facet of the story.  Opting for neutral stands were cherished values. That was fine and dandy until you are confronted with these sample accidents: thousands of women raped in Bosnia, racist gangs killing whole families in London, cutting off the sexual parts of a 4-year old girl by its family living in Paris according to customs.  Then you realize that wrong and right are no longer personal opinions.  Vaclav Havel said “The concepts of justice, honor and disloyalty are palpable nowadays”

A chapter compared the act of martyrdoms of the young 16 year-old Lebanese girl Nouha Samaan against the Israeli invaders in South Lebanon and Flora in 10th century Andalusia (Spain). (Between 1983-87 at least 3 young girls committed suicide acts against the Israeli forces of occupations, such as Sanaa Mheidley, before the young males replaced women). In Flora’s period Spain was ruled by the “Arabs” and mostly the Moslems from Morocco and it enjoyed a long period of prosperity and cultural development and tolerance for other religions and ethnic immigrants.  The mother of Flora was Catholic and her father a Moslem and they lived in Cordoba. By the age of 16 Flora became a ferocious, one sided Catholic zealot; she proclaimed in front of the tolerant judge that the Prophet Mohammad is a cheat and the devil.  The judge had the right to execute her but let her go.  Flora would not desist. She associated with the bigot preacher Yologious who claimed that the educated Catholics have taken the road to perdition: instead of focusing their readings solely on the Bible “they are reading literary manuscripts, scientific books, learning to write well and composing poems”.  Many young disciples of Yologious were harangued to sacrifice their lives for Catholicism and finally Flora had to be executed.  At that time Europe needed “martyrs” while the Moslems were tolerant.  In this century Europe stopped commemorating its “martyrs” while the Arab and Moslem World need “martyrs” for their struggle. (To be continued)

“Farewell Beirut”, by Mai Ghoussoub , (November 14, 2008)

Farewell Beirut is fundamentally an autobiography and is of 220 pages and containing 15 chapters of short detailed stories that late Mai Ghoussou witnessed.

Mai Ghoussoub, a writer, sculpture, theater promoter, and a co-founder of the publishing house Dar Al Saki, was 54 when she died of complication from a surgery in London on February 17, 2007.

Mai participated in the Lebanese civil war by caring for the downtrodden Palestinians living in shantytown of refugee camps. She lost an eye by a rocket that hit her car while aiding in a clinic of Nabaa in East Beirut, and she suffered greatly for three years out of that injury.  Mai decided to leave Lebanon in 1979 and lived for a while in Paris and then moved to London.

Mai suggested to her old school friend Andre Caspar, who was hitchhiking in the USA, to join her and open a library that would offer Arabic books and manuscript.  The library led to instituting the publishing house Dar Al Saki in 1983. Mai married Hazem Saghieh, a writer and newspaper editor.

During an art exhibition in Shore Ditch London, Mai and her Israeli actress friend Anna Sharbati donned Moslem attires and held tennis rackets to stir any climate of conservatism in London, but nobody noticed them.

Mai recalls that at the age of 12, she was attached to her French teacher Nomie.  To please her teacher she wrote a lengthy fictitious essay that ended with an injunction for revenge on harms done to her.  Nomie gave her only 10 out of 20 points because the want for revenge is the basest of emotions… Mai retained that lesson and struggled with it most of her turbulent life, especially during part of the civil war.

First story.

Tiny and sickly Latifa was barely 9 years old when her Syrian father “rented” her for a year to work as maid (house helper). Latifa was to get up before any member of the family and go to bed in a corner of the kitchen after every member was asleep and work non-stop most of the time. Latifa, treated worse than a slave, endured all the miseries and humiliations. Latifa’s father used to show up drunk once a year to be paid without even bringing his daughter a token of a gift or spending any time with her.

Latifa was raped by the eldest son of the family and she was no longer permitted to leave the apartment. During the civil war in Lebanon, tiny Latifa was to brave the snipers and rockets to bring food to the family.  Latifa joined the militias of the neighborhood and moved with them; she covered her face with a hood (cagoule) so that nobody would recognize her, but her large eyes could not conceal her.  Latifa never took revenge on her “masters”, but tried her best to move forward.

Latifa got famous as “Um Ali”, and one of the toughest fighters in Beirut.  She was killed mysteriously and her “masters” had no photo of her to plaster it on the street in remembrance of a “martyr”.  Latifa lived incognito and died incognito.

Second story.

Said was the only son of the owner of a small grocery.  His family was constantly worried for his upbringing.  Said was a short, stocky, jovial and smiling helper; he delivered the groceries to the homes and was liked by the entire neighborhood; he wanted to join the “hospitality” business.

The civil war changed Said: he joined the militias and became a tough fighter.  There were plenty of rumors about Said’s deeds during the war; a sniper, a blackmailer, a leader of a group of fighters and anything that warriors are expected to end up doing among scared and humiliated citizens.

Said opened a small hotel after the war.  The author was unable to label a definitive judgment opinion on Said as she recalled him when Mai was settled overseas.  Can a man be fundamentally good and change to the opposite when circumstances change?

Third story.

Hashem is an Iranian refugee in Beirut, fleeing the new Khomeini Islamic regime.  Hashem is well like and funny and has strong and definite positions against the Western States and cultures.  He immigrated to Denmark during the Lebanese civil war and married the tall, beautiful and blonde Kirsten.  Kersten did her best to assimilate Hashem’s culture and tradition; she befriended his friends, learned to cook Iranian and Lebanese dishes, helped bring Hashem’s family to Denmark and had promised him to wear the veil when they decide to return to Iran or settle in Lebanon.

Hashem fell in love with Maria, a Chilean girl, while attending a Danish language center.  Maria didn’t care for Hashem’s friends or even his health; all she cared for was her relationship with Hashem.  Kirsten didn’t like the situation; she never reprimanded Hashem verbally: her eyes and silence and posture expressed her displeasure.

Hashem was killed in Danmark in 1989; Kirsten set up an official obituary in her church and in the mosque; she organized the funeral to its minute details and delivered the eulogy; she persisted on keeping Hashem’s memory every year and obliterated Maria from the picture. From now on Hashem solely belongs to Kirsten.

Mai volunteered her aid in the clinic of the Chatila Palestinian camp at the start of the civil war; she cataloged the medicines and shelved them accordingly. A young Palestinian leader visited the camp and saw Mai; he sent one of his sbirs to fetch Mai to his headquarter. Mai and Abu Firas enjoyed a secret amorous affair for long time until Mai’s brother got injured.  Abu Firas made the error of visiting Mai at the hospital; Mai’s family and acquaintances got wind of her marginal affair and she had to leave Lebanon to Paris when her brother recovered.

Mai never carried a weapon or engage in any skirmishes.  Mai was comfortably installed in Paris when she received a long distance call from Lebanon; Mai refused to take the call of Abu Firas:  instead, she wandered in the streets of Paris to relieve the anxiety of the onslaught of her memory of the civil war.

Mai had questions nagging at her “would she ever be able to convince herself that she didn’t participate in the civil war?”, “would she be able to erase the facts that she met assassins and didn’t oppose their deeds?”

One thing that Mai is convinced of is that she allied to mercenaries on ideological grounds and let her country go to hell.

“Post-modernism: the Arabs in a video snapshot” by Mai Ghoussoub (March 4, 2007)

I am reading the Arabic booklet entitled “Postmodernism: the Arabs in a video snapshot” by Mai Ghoussoub.

I think that I will have hard time untangling that concept. I guess that postmodernism is related to people’s behavior in the megalopolis where minorities, the variations in ethnicity and cultural differences need to be managed within a mentality and set of laws that prevent daily contacts to degenerate in negative confrontations.

The globalization and the spreading of information might be relegating the forerunners and cultural elite to the background, leaving the professionals to run the show with wider democratization to the consumerism tastes of like or dislike of shows, programs or consumer products.

One of the postmodernism mottoes is: “We need no prophets anymore; we are enlightened enough, we have the information that we need to seek and are professionals enough to have to follow gurus or those of the modernist critics for arts and cultures.

The discrimination between what is real and what is a picture of the real or a simulation of reality is blurred. There are many techniques to manipulate facts. And facts are tempered with so that it is difficult to sort out what is true and what is false or tricked.

The power of a clip for a song is that it offers vaster perspectives to the lyrics in a way the kids retain the video and what it is conveying of allegories.

The modern wars are typical examples where those who ordered and planned a war are following the war through CNN as most of the viewers do

Thousands dies in the war and 10 times more will die in the post war period, but what millions of viewers retain of the war are the pictures exhibited on CNN or Al-Jazeera; it is like a one-month of fighting can be reduced to 5 minutes of condensed video pictures if we chose to.

In the Arab World what is new and what is creative still mean the same thing, until the consideration of the individual becomes a confirmed given.

“Imagined Masculinity”, edited by Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb

March 1st, 2007 

I have read three chapters of “Imagined Masculinities”.

One of the chapters written by the Turkish Jew Moris Farhi is funny.  The kids Moris and his friend Selim, used to accompany his family Armenian servant Sofia to a Turkish bath called “Paradise”.  The manageress Teyze hanim (Lady Aunt) allowed the two kids to bath with the females because their testicles did not yet drop off; the kids heard this chit chatting and started to continuously checking their testicles and wondering when they might drop off; they roamed the streets looking for any pairs of testicles in case theirs might drop off and attach the found ones.

The kids heard a lot of myths told by Gypsy kids about female genitals and breasts and would surreptitiously investigate the category of women in the “hammam” through seemingly closed eyes. The kids would try to discriminate the temperament and emotional sexual performance of women according to the size of the aureole of the breast, the shape and elasticity of the labia and the size of the clitoris, sesame, or lentil, or chick-peas and whether the pubic hair is shaved daily (a status of riches) or occasionally.

 Chapter 2: Hassan Daoud on moustaches.  It appears that in older times, village leaders instituted various styles of moustaches depending on ranks and nobility; whomever wore moustaches not adequate to his rank was forced to shave them; thus, when a person used to leave a single hair from his moustaches as a guarantee for a loan, the lender would know the capacity of this fellow to repaying his loan.

The Lebanese army used to, or still is, allocate a monthly stipend for soldiers with appropriate moustaches as large as for any additional child he had.  I can generate two plausible hypotheses for this practice in our army:

First hypothesis: Emir Majeed Erslan was the defense minister most of his life since our independence and he wore these fine but ridiculous moustaches that circled upward and would swear on his moustaches; I guess he might have induced the army to encourage the officers and soldiers to carry these moustaches so that he would not be laughed at or mocked by the new generation of Lebanese.

The second hypothesis is that our army is a carbon copy of the French colonial army in structure. laws and behavior; I guess the republican French army held to the standards of the elite Napoleonic “grognards”, who were selected among the most hairy and owe-inspiring virility of their large moustaches, among other factors.

            Now, why moustaches are no longer a la mode? Pick and chose one or several of these reason:

First, women don’t like moustaches because they rub roughly their skins, they send the implicit message that the man is not interested enough to beautify his looks to please them and insist on the virility value of moustaches, or because the upper lip would cease to look like the man version of pudendum when shaved;

Second reason: after our many defeats with Israel we are no longer fond of imitating our valorous grandfathers; well, may be after the Hezbollah victory we might experience a resurgence of the moustaches, hopefully left unkept and wild; or

Third reason: Nose mucus sometimes stick to moustaches along with food and other sticky materials and finger-pointing to these humiliating debris can destroy the resemblance of virility; or because the Mullahs, and religious men are no longer appetizing for the modern generations and they need to remove that visible aberration; or because the modern sharp and safe razors, manual or electric, provided the adequate leverage for fashion alternatives.

Chapter on circumcision: The Tunisian Abdelwahab Bouhdiba wrote a chapter on circumcision. Nothing in the Koran, what the Prophet Mohamad admonished, states anything related to the need to get circumcised or “khitan“; it is Muslems and not Islam that imposed circumcision to the conquered people who opted to join Islam.

Even in the 3,000 pages of the “Fatawa Hindiyya” or the 2,000 pages of “Ihya” of Al-Ghazali the act of circumcision was never accorded a compulsory duty, barely a “sunna” act or strongly recommended.  Al-Ghazali recommended that circumcision of boys must not be done a week after he was born as the Jew did but after the boy’s head at least grew steady hair. The excision of girls was basically irrelevant and this act was demoted to at best a “makruma” or a pious act.

Clearly, circumcision is a tribal sign, a tattoo, for inclusion in the Muslim communities; like it is within the Jewish communities, although the Jew attached this act to the Torah in an attempt to create a tight tribal relationship.  In any case, circumcision has become the number one obligation among the Muslims and festivities of violence accompany these events; the ceremony is an almost a carbon copy to the ceremony of wedding and which could be interpreted as the preparation of the boy to matrimony, a few years earlier before the girl loses her virginity when the boy is married off.

The circumcision of a boy occurs when he is between 8 and 12 years old and the ceremony is accompanied by very loud noises to cover the crying and shouting of the victim.  The advantage of circumcision is to direct the boys away from lechery, and because the head of the penis becomes much less sensitive than the wife would enjoy a longer copulation time which she usually needs and wants. Actually, getting a hard on becomes mostly an act of good imagination and a willingness to please the mate.

The author Abdu Khal wrote a section about his circumcision ceremony (brit milah in Hebrew or the cutting according to the covenant) in the early forties in South Saudi Arabia close to the borders with Yemen. Abdu was to go on pilgrimage to Mecca with his grandmother because his dad has died and he was the only male in the family; thus, he was to be circumcised first.

Abdu was to dance all the way to the open place of the “makhatina” podium for the cutting of his foreskin (orla in Hebrew), accompanied by the “zaghareeds” of the women and loud noises, then he was to stand erect, akimbo, hands on his hips and looking far in the distance; he was not to blink or swoon or flinch “takhabbab” otherwise he will bring shame to the whole family as long as he lives.

Abdu proved to be a man and asked the circumciser to cut another slice in honor of his uncle and then another slice in honor of his mother.  His mother carried him away promptly in fear that he would mutilate himself for the whole tribe.  Abdu suffered three gruesome months from infections to the wounds which festered and spread to his testicles and could have died.

            The act of circumcision of the male boys (zhakar for male in both Arabic and Hebrew) seems to be a common ritual in nomadic tribes starting for hygiene reason and then taking on several structural and religious dimensions and interpretations like the prerequisite step toward learning.  The ancient Jews used to perform circumcision late and in mass ceremonies then they decided to have it the 8-day for the newly born.

My personal hypothesis is that during the captivity in Babylon or other dire circumstances that prohibited mass celebrations this act was transformed and made more confined in secrecy early on.  Thus, a more public ceremony consisted on the cutting of the hair at the age of three when the boys are taught the Torah and the religious doctrines. Since a woman should be kept close to her natural state and uncut, thus impure, then the boys should have something cut off, like pruning or grafting trees, so that they grow better, more knowledgeable and productive.

It appears that productivity is purely in terms of procreation since the male spend their life studying the religious doctrines and most of the work is done by the women, even earning the daily bread.

The haircutting ritual of Jewish boys at the age of three “halaka” as pronounced in Arabic was adopted from the Muslim rituals when families visited holy shrines; the Palestinian Jews (musta3rbim) spread this ritual which was primarily a Sephardic or Middle Eastern custom and the Kabala adopted it in the sixteenth century until it became widespread among the Jews in Israel.

Miron is a town near Safed where the shrine of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai is the target of the pilgrimage; the ear-locks are left intact and the rest of the head is shaved; time for the boys to start going to religious pre-schools “heyder”, wear the four-cornered undergarment, recite the Jewish statement of faith (Shema Yisrael) and accompany his father to the synagogue.

Theoretically, the boy who looked like a girl with curly hair now looks like his father “tsurat yehoudi“; the boy is now completely attached to his father, separated from the female sex, and oriented to acquiring the religious wisdom and knowledge.  It appears that during the early crusades in Medieval Europe the Jews were under pressure to convert to Christianity; the early indoctrination to Torah of the Jewish children was a counter response to inoculate the Jews from later pressures.

Chapter on Turkish manhod: “Our Bulen is now a Commando: Military service and manhood in Turkey” by Emma Sinclair-Webb is a chapter concerned with the military service rituals into manhood. Military service is another form of masculine initiation to manhood; in the poor counties the families and communities gather to celebrate the joining of the recruits in the military.  While the poor recruits might obtain advantages from military service in the form of health check ups, dental care and better nutrition, as well as an opportunity to get away from their restricted locality and in some cases to learn to read and write, the extension of the military service to over a year and a half has very negative impact.

The first few months are pure trauma of experiencing constant curses, contempt and punishments designed to erase any residual personality or individuality, to empty the mind and feelings, shaping the recruits into the single mould prepared by the militaristic dogma.  The recruits are made to lose their self-confidence by encouraging alienation and mistrust among themselves and that they cannot do anything correctly without the superior commander direction and control.

The recruits are given names that express their insignificance in most armies such as “Tommy soldiers” or “Mehmetcik” (Little Mehmet); the connotations are that the recruits are uncomplicated “chap” from the lower orders in the social structure constituted by the officers, ready to “perform any act of self-sacrifice without bating an eyelid”.

The recruits are invariably schooled at feeling infantile or at best children, forming the backbone of the army but nevertheless much less than the heroic “real men” or soldiers or officers.  In most countries, in addition to prison terms, dodgers of the military service are ostracized from society; they cannot find a job, or vote, or obtain passports or leave the country; in many instance they cannot marry because of the taboo attached to their lack of masculinity or responsibility to care for a family.

In wars, over 40% of the recruits are sent to the riskiest zones to fight internal or external enemies; if a recruit dies he is labeled a martyr or “shahid” and if he is crippled or traumatized then he receives much less health care than what a regular soldier receives in hospital facilities or psychiatric treatment.

            I will try to summarize a chapter in “Imagined masculinities” titled “Male gender and rituals of resistance in the Palestinian Intifada a cultural politics of violence” by Julie Petite.  Of the four years of the first Intifada beginning in December 1987 through 1990, an estimated 106,000 Palestinians were injured.  If we count the beatings this estimate could reach the number of over 200,000 or 10% of the total population of the Palestinians living under the Zionist occupation.

Most of these injured Palestinians are youth under the age of twelve or more than 60% of the youth passed through beatings and methodical investigation and incarceration.  Anton Shammas wrote in 1988: “For twenty years now, officially there has been no childhood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  A 10-year-old child shot by the Israeli military forces is reported to be a young man of ten'”

            The Palestinians consider the Israeli soldiers as cowards and devoid of any sense of honor and for good reason. When you challenge someone you pick the one able to taking up the challenge; otherwise there is no honor in the challenge.  When the Israeli soldiers challenge the unarmed Palestinian youth the repost do not take place, there is no challenge and the encounter degenerates into mere aggression.  Such aggression deprives the Israeli practitioners to claims of honor and morality; the Israeli soldier is thus considered as lacking in the emotional and moral quality of manhood.

            Most of the incarcerated youth return home and supplant their fathers in the family hierarchy and are called on the mediate disputes and lead the neighborhood politically and organizationally.  The unconcerned and apathetic youth is transformed after the beating and interrogations into an active underground member and who had the opportunity to receive education during his prison term by the educated Palestinian prisoners.

It is normal that family violence increases after the release of the Palestinian prisoners and the females take the brunt of the outburst, especially lately when the Israelis reverted into focusing on the sexual maltreatment of prisoners with the adverse consequences on the prisoners and his family after his release.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2021
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