All posts by mara.ahmed

In memory of Sarah: Reflections on violence, fear and pain

The same regime that grounded its legitimacy on rescuing Egypt’s secular identity from Islamist fanatics, the same regime that professes itself as Europe’s inevitable bulwark against floods of refugees and Islamist terror, has terrorized and persecuted Queers and trans people on a regular basis to purport moral rectitude. Yes, patriarchy is also secular.

[…] Queer fear is sometimes contagious and relentless. It can be temporarily soothed, it can be made dormant; the physical conditions that allow it to unfold can be abolished or suspended, but it continues to nag you in distant places. It continues to live under your skin. You smell it in the cold air of your exile, it lies on the surface of the things and bodies you touch. It can pop up in the corners of a city, when you suddenly realise that it will remain alien, no matter how often you walked the streets and cherished the company of its people. It inhabits our contemplations on longings and loss, it manifests itself in the sheer absence of home, the same home that we – oddly enough – escape out of fear. More here.

sarah hegazi <3

heartbroken by the death of sarah hegazi, a 30 year old queer activist who was imprisoned, placed in solitary confinement, and tortured by egyptian police for raising a rainbow flag at a concert. she was given asylum in canada and had been living there, in exile, since 2018.

in her suicide note she wrote: ‘to my siblings – i tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me. to my friends – the journey was harsh and i am too weak to resist, forgive me. to the world – you were cruel to a great extent, but i forgive.’

the tributes by her community are beautiful and heartrending. ‘a reminder as queer people, that we are not meant to survive…’

as we rise up against police brutality here in the US and thousands march for black trans lives in brooklyn, i cannot help but think about the broader policing of bodies and minds, of the vulnerability of queer and trans lives, of the state’s brutal mechanisms of course, but also our co-option of its violent borders and othering in order to demarcate and maintain our own heteronormative privilege.

talking about the policing of borders, perhaps political asylum is not the panacea for oppression elsewhere, but rather less imperial policing of movements for justice and democracy emerging in the rest of the world. it would allow people to stay home, where they can be connected, supported, and centered.

we have so much work to do. rest in power sarah.

Hegazi, shown here in Cairo, was arrested after raising a rainbow flag at a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo last year. She was released on bail after three months in jail.

Borderless: A conversation with Mara Ahmed, Part 2

We did this interview in early May, before George Floyd’s murder and the uprising that followed. But I’m glad Claudia asked me about the pandemic and its impact on immigrants and communities of color. Here is the second part of my interview with Instruments of Memory:

It is uncertain how we are going to overcome the recent health and economic crisis that has hit immigrant communities and people of color the hardest.

When I asked Ahmed what would be a way to engage and support these communities at this time, she admits: “This is a big question. Many have said how the pandemic is a great equalizer. Sadly, it’s quite the opposite. The pandemic throws into sharp relief the gross inequities and cruelties of a maniacally greedy, profit-oriented, dehumanizing capitalist system. Income and wealth inequalities in the US are obscene. The global distribution of wealth is even more distorted and disturbing. It’s a suicidal system.

At this time of crisis, we need to provide resources to the most vulnerable: large public projects that provide employment and housing, healthcare, testing and personal protective equipment for all, and equal access to technology, which is essential for remote learning, online work, and social distancing. People’s lives depend on this.

We should also keep in mind that pre-corona life is NOT what we want to return to. This is the time to imagine and organize a just, kind, and decolonial world. We must be wary of disaster capitalism and remain committed to our vision, even in the midst of a disorienting crisis. It can’t be said often enough that we are all in this together.” More here.

The Struggle Against Police Is International. Our Solidarity Must Be Global.

‘This is a moment for more Americans to study the transnational connections of policing and state violence in an effort to forge a common anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle. We need more global protests as well as gatherings to devise ways to eradicate the scourge of state violence that disproportionately affects BIPOC throughout the world. As scholar-activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore has said, “The abolitionist future … has to be internationalist, because that is the only way that we’ll stop drawing the borders that regularize between and among people.”

Over the last two weeks, protesters abroad are saying the names of those who have fallen to state violence in the U.S. Throngs of multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multinational people have also sought to topple the symbols of enslavement, colonization and imperialism. We in the United States should be saying Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s and Eyad al-Hallaq’s names and amplifying the efforts of people to destroy the vestiges of oppression. The more we engage in these actions and expressions of solidarity, the closer we get to realizing that another world — free of state violence — is possible.‘ More here.

‘Impossible Documents’ — How An Enslaved Muslim Scholar Illuminates Southern Identity

one of the most fascinating conversations i’ve listened to in a while. about islam and slavery, islam in america, christian hegemony and slavery, a counter narrative offered in/by the arabic language and the only known writing by an enslaved human while they were still in bondage. enriches this moment that we are in by revealing layer upon layer of historical complexity and intersections.

‘In the 1700s, approximately 5% of the pre-colonial United States was Muslim. Most of them were enslaved, and one of the foundational figures of early American Islam lived in North Carolina. Omar ibn Said has confounded scholars and translators for more than a century.

An educated scholar from an aristocratic family, Said was enslaved and brought to the port of Charleston in 1807 from his homelands in the Futa Toro region of modern-day Senegal. His autobiography is written in Arabic with a Southern accent and includes references to West African locations and Sufi literature. In it, Said attacked his enslavers and the conditions of the American South while also illuminating his struggle to overcome the psychological imprisonment of slavery. He wrote because he needed to.’ Listen here.

What Did Cedric Robinson Mean by Racial Capitalism?

So what did Robinson mean by “racial capitalism”? Building on the work of another forgotten black radical intellectual, sociologist Oliver Cox, Robinson challenged the Marxist idea that capitalism was a revolutionary negation of feudalism. Instead capitalism emerged within the feudal order and flowered in the cultural soil of a Western civilization already thoroughly infused with racialism. Capitalism and racism, in other words, did not break from the old order but rather evolved from it to produce a modern world system of “racial capitalism” dependent on slavery, violence, imperialism, and genocide. Capitalism was “racial” not because of some conspiracy to divide workers or justify slavery and dispossession, but because racialism had already permeated Western feudal society. The first European proletarians were racial subjects (Irish, Jews, Roma or Gypsies, Slavs, etc.) and they were victims of dispossession (enclosure), colonialism, and slavery within Europe. Indeed, Robinson suggested that racialization within Europe was very much a colonial process involving invasion, settlement, expropriation, and racial hierarchy. Insisting that modern European nationalism was completely bound up with racialist myths, he reminds us that the ideology of Herrenvolk (governance by an ethnic majority) that drove German colonization of central Europe and “Slavic” territories “explained the inevitability and the naturalness of the domination of some Europeans by other Europeans.” To acknowledge this is not to diminish anti-black racism or African slavery, but rather to recognize that capitalism was not the great modernizer giving birth to the European proletariat as a universal subject, and the “tendency of European civilization through capitalism was thus not to homogenize but to differentiate—to exaggerate regional, subcultural, and dialectical differences into ‘racial’ ones.” More here.

paul gilroy In conversation with Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Paul Gilroy: I don’t know if you’ve come across the things that Achille Mbembe has been writing from South Africa in the last few weeks, but he has been talking a lot about what he calls ‘the Universal Right to Breathe’, and I was very struck by that, I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with him yet at length but I think this whole question of a more universalistic orientation – can I even say that I don’t even know if that’s the right word – I suppose I would want to say not universalistic because that sense of big, a common – a common vulnerability, a common sense of humanity. I mean maybe some of the things that are going on in this mobilisation, some of the things we’re learning from Covid, and here’s my utopian hat going over my head, maybe they speak to the possibility of a different future for the human than the one that we feared is coming towards us. I mean, am I going too far?

Ruth Wilson Gilmore: Oh I hope not, I hope you’re not going too far and in fact one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how there’s a bit of a divergence these last few weeks between what you just described – a different future for the human – as against a path that worries me very much which is one that is in the recapitulating a certain kind of apartheid thinking in the name of undoing the effects of apartheid in the world scale. And by that I mean the tendency that’s got me worried is the one in which people are insisting that only certain demographics of people are authorised to speak about – speak from or speak against – certain kinds of horrors, and other people have already existing assignable jobs based on their demographic – let’s call it a caste system – that they’re supposed to do, so white people are supposed to fix white supremacy and so on and so forth. That path, which is actually a pretty strong path, doesn’t excite me. I’m 70 years old, I’m done with it, I’ve been done with it a very long time. The path however which some of the young Black Lives Matter people named 5 years ago in that year of uprising in the United States, after the death of Mike Brown and Freddie Gray and so forth, the one in which they said quite simply ‘when black lives matter everybody lives better’ – that’s the path that is of interest to me. So, I for one would like very much, I endorse completely, reinvigorating the notion of universal; I don’t know what to call it, if the word universal is the problem that people stumble over. More here.

You can listen here.

Angela Davis on Abolition, Calls to Defund Police, Toppled Racist Statues & Voting in 2020 Election

Angela Davis: I want us to see feminism not only as addressing issues of gender, but rather as a methodological approach of understanding the intersectionality of struggles and issues. Abolition feminism counters carceral feminism, which has unfortunately assumed that issues such as violence against women can be effectively addressed by using police force, by using imprisonment as a solution. And of course we know that Joseph Biden, in 1994, who claims that the Violence Against Women Act was such an important moment in his career — the Violence Against Women Act was couched within the 1994 Crime Act, the Clinton Crime Act.

And what we’re calling for is a process of decriminalization, not — recognizing that threats to safety, threats to security, come not primarily from what is defined as crime, but rather from the failure of institutions in our country to address issues of health, issues of violence, education, etc. So, abolition is really about rethinking the kind of future we want, the social future, the economic future, the political future. It’s about revolution, I would argue.

[…] I think that these assaults on statues represent an attempt to begin to think through what we have to do to bring down institutions and reenvision them, reorganize them, create new institutions that can attend to the needs of all people. More here.

An Astonishing New Cancer Memoir Brings Radical Politics to the Genre

Anne Boyer: One of the things that happen when you get sick, especially if you particularly like to read, is that you get all these books in the mail. What I noticed was this incredible ideological onslaught treating everything as an individual experience as opposed to a collective, political one. All those struggles get put in these utterly rigid narrative containers in which we’re supposed to follow a sentimental heroine through the harrowing journey. It reproduces a sort of grim pleasure of watching women suffer. Cancer narratives are so, so burdened by this weight.

I think part of [the difference with The Undying] has to do with my being a Marxist feminist. That’s a political awakening from much earlier in my life. With economic troubles or troubles with sexual harassment or other kinds of gendered obstacles and violence, I decided that I could either see myself as loathsome and undeserving or I could expand beyond myself. I could not resolve to hate myself when I was young and these things were happening to me, so I began to reach out for a way to think about the world that didn’t require me to submit to the way that I was being treated inside of it. More here.


Repost from @instrumentsofmemory:

As I end my Instruments of Memory IG takeover, I would like to thank my team. Filmmaking is all about teamwork and I am lucky to have collaborated with some exceptionally gifted artists and human beings on ‘The Injured Body.’

I will continue to edit and transcribe interviews and I will be posting images and thoughts on my IG. Please follow me @mara__ahmed to stay in touch and learn more about the film. At this historic moment in our country (and around the world), let’s vow to eradicate racism in our families and communities, but also within ourselves. A better world is possible.

Thank you once again to Instruments of Memory and Claudia Pretelin for this wonderful opportunity.

Photographs of Rajesh Barnabas [Cinematography], Mariko Yamada [Dance Choreography], Erica Jae [Photography], Tom Davis [Musical Score], Imani Sewell [Soprano], Darien Lamen [Sound Design, Photo by Aaron Winters] and Jesus Duprey [Additional Camera]
(see more photos on IG)

Rajesh Barnabas

thinking in terms of work

friends, i am overjoyed to see a much larger, broader contingent of people embracing #BLM and anti-racism language. the word ‘performative’ has been bouncing around but i think that there is a sincere wish for knowledge and participation, and i applaud those who are brave enough to ask for direction.

it’s stunning to me that ‘modern life’ (in what we like to call the ‘first world’) is so terribly fragmented, that the grotesque inequities in this country are just now becoming visible to all.

i also hope that there will be a second wave of awakening and reckoning in which americans will recognize the violence and horror they visit on the rest of the world. the systems and hierarchies we are fighting here are worldwide. we cannot abolish the police, without abolishing the brutal occupation and ongoing annexation of palestine. the two are inextricably tied together.

as far as joining the movement and making a dent, it might help to think in terms of work. posting on social media is good, but what can we contribute in terms of work. the work can be community-oriented but it can also be internal. how do we eradicate racism (as well as sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, anti-semitism, islamophobia, etc) within ourselves and in our closest circle of friends. what should be our strategies when we encounter bigotry in our families? how do we change the DNA of our own thoughts and worldview?

work requires time and energy, it exacts a certain cost. this is what’s needed right now.


Repost from @instrumentsofmemory:

From Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric:

‘Perhaps each sigh is drawn into existence to pull in, pull under, who knows; truth be told, you could no more control those sighs than that which brings the sighs about.
The sigh is the pathway to breath; it allows breathing. That’s just self-preservation. No one fabricates that. You sit down, you sigh. You stand up, you sigh. The sighing is a worrying exhale of an ache. You wouldn’t call it an illness; still it is not the iteration of a free being.’

‘The Injured Body’ weaves together an alternative narrative strand told through dance and movement, mostly choreographed by Mariko Yamada. Since prejudice is largely a matter of reading bodies in particular ways and racism is received by and carried in the body, dance is the perfect medium to underline and explore the personal stories shared in the film.

Film stills with Mariko Yamada, Joyce Edwards, Nanako Horikawa, Andrea Vazquez-Aguirre Kaufmann, Cloria Iampretty, Sraddha Prativadi, Sejal Shah, María José Rodríguez-Torrado, Alaina Olivieri, Rosalie M. Jones, and Andrew David
Photography by Mara Ahmed @mara__ahmed

Mariko Yamada and Joyce Edwards. Photo by Mara Ahmed


Repost from @instrumentsofmemory:

Claudia Rankine in ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’:
‘Yes, and the body has memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight. The body is a threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through…’

The women interviewed for ‘The Injured Body’ share stories of micro-aggressions and parse their cumulative effect on the mind and body, but they also describe their visions for a world without racism or violence. This is a crucial part of the film, as imagining a better world is an important step towards achieving it.

In order to include a diversity of voices, we interviewed women one-on-one but also in groups, where the conversation was more fluid and informal. Here are some of our panelists.

Luticha A Doucette, Marcella Davis, Khadija Mehter, Muna Lisa, Yogi Indrani, Pamela Kim, Tianna Mañón, Mercedes Phelan, and Erica Bryant
All photography by Erica Jae (see all photos on IG)

Luticha Doucette. Photo by Erica Jae