October 31, 2006

Mothers sitting in the Dark.

My mother is growing more silent each day . She seems to be out of reach . Unlike her old bubbly active self . I have caught her many a times sitting in the dark , alone, slouching on her sofa .
"What on earth is wrong with you ?" A question I would incessantly repeat . And she just gazes at me and shakes her head . The look in her eyes seems so distant , so far away .
"You have been watching the news again , haven't you Mom ? " . She manages a faint affirmative nod , a yes with quivering lips .
"Don't do this to yourself please Mother , don't do this to me "
"It is finished " she replies , " It is gone ".
I cannot argue otherwise . Indeed , it is finished , it is gone .
My mother is my Iraqi fortress . I cannot see her crumble that way . I am my mother's daughter and I cannot see myself crumble that way either . Where will I find the strength for the both of us ?
Where will I find the conviction that "things" will stop ? Where is the light at the end of this long dark tunnel ? A tunnel that seems endless paved with meaningless deaths and a misery that seems to stretch to infinity .
So far I have not managed to find either .
Occasionally I switch on the light and bring up some silly subject to distract her . At other times, I dissapear into the bathroom and cry quietly . But most of the time I sit beside her and retreat into our common world , our familiar ground . And there , I listen respectfully to the silence that surrounds us . Secretly praying that in these moments , we will both find hope .

Happy Belated Eid , Abu Fadel.

Abu Fadel is dead .
Four hooded militia men , shias , forecefully entered his home on the 2nd day of the Eid at dawn and riddled him with bullets . He left 5 kids behind . The youngest is 5 years old. His monthly income was around 50 dollars . His wife is in a state of shock and his kids can't even cry.
They live in a majority shia area in Baghdad .He had refused to leave , he said he trusted his neighbors . He said " there is salt and bread between us " - an Arabic saying symbolizing a long term relationship, cemented by shared food and time .
No one knows why he was murdered as he was a quiet man who made sure to keep out of politics and other dangerous undertakings.

His very close relatives don't dare approach his neighborhood from fear of more bullets .
Who will bury him ? I asked 2 days later . " We are still figuring it out " replied W. "It's just getting there that is troublesome " he added . By troublesome he meant running the risk of getting killed on the 4th day of the Eid.

Abu Fadel's favorite quote used to be : " The door that lets strong wind in , close it and sit tranquil ".
Seems that the strong wind of "Liberation" managed to enter his home despite his sealed door.

And so it is for countless other Iraqis .

Happy Eid Mr.Bush, Mr Blair...Happy Eid to all your consorts and friends .

October 20, 2006

The Sexual Politics of the new Islamic dress code

The other night I was watching the satellite TV channel "Iqra" . An Islamic channel .
Here comes a program run by a young sheikh , "modern" looking and quite paternalistic like most of them are . His topic was the Islamic dress . It was not whether women should or should not wear it , it was how they should wear it . So he invited two women dressed the "Islamic" way , loose garment , head scarf , no make up . And the pannel consisted of four young men and these two young women . So the topic was ,believe it or not , what kind of Islamic dress is really Islamic and what is not .
So our young sheikh urges young muslim women to not only dress Islamically but to also make sure that their garments are very loose , very wide , very long so as not to show any of their bodies contours .
He was arguing that some women who dress the Islamic way were not Islamic enough because our young sheikh along with his male guests could still perceive a few contours despite it all. And consequently their perceiving some bodily shadowy forms would create a "fitna "in them. An upsurge of chaotic lust. He added that these young women were naturally responsible for controlling men's lust since they, the men. were unable to do so . So he was basically saying , your Islamic dress has to be very Islamic . Do not content yourself with a headscarf and some long tunique . No go further ; wear loose garments , something very wide , so us males , would not be disturbed by the shape of your bodies . One of the very Islamically dressed young woman said :"Well, we are doing that , but our husbands still look at other women who are not veiled or dressed the same way as we are . Don't you think that men should make a little effort too ?. "The sheikh was most displeased. Here he was (indirectly) pleading in public about his (and men's) uncontrollable lust and there she was asking him to control it .

I thought to myself , is this real ? Am I dreaming here or is this really taking place ?

Why is it incumbent upon us , muslim women to protect men ? Why is the burden of upholding morality and virtue be placed only on our shoulders , and sometimes at the price of our own sexuality ? Why should we be controlled that way when the men cannot control themselves ?
And if we have such great powers at our command just by virtue of us being sexual creatures of the Feminine , should we then not have the rights that go with this power ?
And if men are so weak in the sexual area and so easily swayed by the sight of an ankle or a bit of hair or the view of some diffused body contour , and if we women have to go to such great length to protect men from their own selves , would it not be simpler and more Islamic for the men to stay at home and cover their eyes and faces ? Makes you wonder does it not ?

Ramadan , Food and Satellite TV....

It has been over a month since I wrote anything here . Work, travelling and other preoccupations have prevented me from sitting still long enough to put thoughts on paper. Then came Ramadan, the Holy Sacred month for Muslims , like myself .
I remember the first time I fasted was when I was 12 or so . It was a real challenge not to eat .
I was the only one who fasted in the family and my paternal grandmother who was a Christian would wake me up before dawn and prepare me some food . Years passed and my motivation to fast simply evaporated . I do not know what was the exact turning point but I somehow felt that fasting was no longer something for me . In retrospect , having spent quite a few numbers of Ramadan in Middle Eastern capitals , I may know why .
Ramadan is welcomed with both apprehension and enthusiasm. It is after all a stoic act not to eat or drink when the temperature is above 35C . For smokers and coffee drinkers , it is a nightmare .
I saw a worker the other day carrying a heavy load , perspiring under the sun , and I said to myself , God bless his endurance . Ramadan is also a time of gatherings .There is a certain feel to it , something that one cannot describe in words , like a sacred celebration of something intangible . People become very generous too . Boxes and boxes of food are given away to charity , as for the remaining 11 months - well the poor have to fend for themselves . Money is spent freely - something that food merchants simply relish as they happen to increase the prices by about 20% during this month. There is also a constant obssession with food and drink - what to cook, what to buy , whom to invite for breaking the fast . Then the minute the Muezzin says "Allah Akbar" from the minaret , at sunset , people's frenzied rush towards the table makes me twirl with diziness.
This is at least what I have observed from the numerous invitations I have been getting for Iftar . Eat, Eat, Eat .... Some approach food gracefully and others just throw themselves on their plates with such gluttony akin to locusts . And once the main meal is finished , another table is set for sweets and people simply don't stop eating . This bulimic gargantuan binge goes on for 30 days .
Now I did not mention people's attitudes when they are fasting . Try crossing a street , or driving during Ramadan . Try having some official paper done . People are either too tired , hungry, thirsty or simply in a foul mood . My nerves are constantly on edge during fasting time , specially if I need to go and run some errand . I don't know if I am going to have a car accident, get insulted or have someone run over me .
Then you have the general atmosphere , the excess zeal of piety that suddenly befalls everyone and trust me , most of it goes out of the window once Ramadan is over and people return to their old habits .
Since evenings seem so long , Satellite TV next to food , provides " The Entertainment" for the month. Syrian and Egyptian serials , endless religious talk shows that makes you feel either very guilty (even if you are not a sinful per se) or simply numb with so many sermons .
And whilst watching TV , you eat and eat and eat and listen to more sermons and watch more serials until you drop dead from an indigestion or from utter boredom or both . And amidst all of that , you hear news of hundreds of dead in Iraq , Palestine or Afghanistan and you wonder what Ramadan is like for them and how can you really call yourself a muslim when these people not too far from you are being killed like flies .
Then comes the Eid and everyone looks very happy and possibly relieved but of course no one dares to admit it . And I just sit in a corner and observe this daily madness for 30 days and pray that next Ramadan I will finally muster the motivation to fast .