it was hard not to be with my #rochester fam today. i know the cops used tear gas and rubber bullets and i hope that everyone is ok. i was in nyc to pack up my daughter’s dorm room and was surprised by the heavy police presence on park ave south. i followed the faraway sounds of a crowd and discovered a massive protest at union square. people were out there raising their voices and expressing their rage. but police cars were everywhere – controlling, terrorizing. cops were standing in lines, chopping up the flow of the protest. there was a helicopter overhead creating a sense of danger and confusion with its constant, overwhelming noise. we had to bring our kids home but for a little while i felt at home here in #nyc. this is an uprising.
eid mubarik everyone! and happy birthday to our daughter who turns 20 today! the baby of our family. officially speaking, for the first time in many years, we won’t have a teenager in our house anymore – the beginning of a new era. love u mims <3
my first experiment with a #headwrap. always wanted to wear one. was perpetually inspired by Luticha (the swankiest). finally saw a video posted by my dear friend Debora, looked online, and decided to use one of my scarves. love it so much. this is just the beginning folx – will keep u posted 🙂
went to #sunkenmeadowstatepark this morning. just 20 min from our place and such a wonderful beach and boardwalk! boardwalks are one of my favorite things in life, pretty much. but there were too many people there so we changed course and walked through the park. there was this broken fence in front of a fragrant bunch of wilderness and its heady scents of nascent spring took me back to my childhood in brussels, when we would wait for such a sunny day to go explore and stay outdoors for as long as we could. magic.
in #nyc to drop off our son at his apartment. sad empty streets everywhere but walking and biking are fire and spring is here. #chelseamarket #hudsonriverpark #newyork
everyone’s been talking about netflix’s ‘unorthodox.’ i watched the mini series recently and i agree, it’s well written, well acted, well produced. it certainly grabs u from the get-go and keeps u interested all the way through.
there are some unsettling scenes and cringeworthy situations, but there are also moments that move and inspire, in particular the protagonist’s love of music and her need to express that dizzying sense of emotive freedom. it’s always satisfying to see a woman come into her own anyway. i get all that.
but as a muslim, who’s used to the west’s obsessive depictions of muslim women escaping their oppression, i am sensitive to certain tropes that others might not recognize.
i could easily imagine a similar netflix series (and there might be a dozen or more already) involving a muslim woman breaking away from her exotic/bizarre (not legible to western audiences), patriarchal/religious, sensational/shocking milieu, and the collective sigh of relief and exhilaration that it would produce in western viewers, along with plenty of self-righteous indignation.
for the women in question, whose stories are being shared, their journeys are arduous, hopeful, and steeped in unquestionable power. no doubt about it.
however, i cannot help but note the self-congratulatory, give yourself a pat on the back framing of this genre of drama.
the politics are never too subtle and sit so well, so cozily, with representations of the ‘sacred space’ occupied by first-world democracies, the ones with a superior, universal, liberal culture that loves progress, gay people and women.
‘unorthodox’ hit so many of those typical binaries that are supposed to help us differentiate between what’s civilized and what’s not.
eating pork is esty’s first discovery of the west’s attractive irreverence. it reminded me of an article i read recently about la fete du cochon in france which is used to celebrate french traditions and seen as pushback against muslim immigration. just to illustrate how bacon symbolizes western enlightenment.
i think perhaps esty ended up drinking alcohol as well which is also read as a mark of emancipation.
the club scene is a typical portrayal of a repressed character from a backward culture, uninitiated in the mind-bending freedom of drugs and collective grinding, who learns to finally relax and concludes the night with an empowering sexual encounter.
esty is becoming ‘liberated’ before our eyes, checking off each box on the white feminist checklist of things to do, in order to go from object (baby-making machine) to free agent with tons of individual freedom.
i’m not criticizing any of these actions in and of themselves (eating pork, drinking alcohol, clubbing or casual sex). women are allowed to make these decisions in whichever way they deem fit. but when they’re combined into a stereotypical, white feminist manifesto, i have to mention how recognizable it is, to us the ‘other’ people whose cultures are constantly measured against this very specific and predictable criteria.
just some thoughts:)
this is a good introduction to amilcar cabral’s ideas on culture and resistance. a few keys points for me:
–capitalism depends critically on dehumanizing the colonial subject and central to this process is the need to destroy, modify or recast the culture of the colonized.
–the history of liberalism is one of contestation between the cultures of the ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ spaces: the democracy of the sacred space (facilitated by the enlightenment) is a democracy of the white master-race that refuses to allow blacks, indigenous peoples, or even white women, into that space, and then there is the profane space occupied by the less-than-human/colonized/other.
–colonialism maintained its power through attempts to eradicate the cultures of the colonial subject. the process of dehumanization required a systematic and institutionalized attempt to destroy existing cultures, languages, histories and capacities to produce, organize, tell stories, invent, love, make music, sing songs, make poetry, and create art.
–in the same way, neocolonial regimes have attempted to disarticulate culture from politics. yet culture is not static and unchangeable. it advances only through engagement in the struggle for freedom. otherwise it becomes a caricature of some imagined past comprised of customs and traditions, it becomes fodder for tourists’ imaginations.
–after independence, neocolonial regimes arose out of the defeat or attrition of mass movements, and gradually resulted in the demise of the struggles for emancipatory freedoms in africa and other parts of the colonized world. this is because the newly emerging middle class saw its task as one of preventing ‘centrifugal forces’ from competing for political power or seeking greater autonomy from the newly formed ‘nation’. the new controllers of the state machinery saw their role as the ‘sole developer’ and ‘sole unifier’ of society.
–‘development’ became a priority. impoverishment was seen not as a consequence of colonial domination and the continued extraction of super-profits, but rather as a ‘natural’ conditions of africa. the solution to poverty was seen as a technical one, supported by ‘aid’ from the very colonial powers that had enriched themselves at the expense of the colonized masses.
–in effect, after independence, the repressive arms of the state remained intact. the police, armed forces, judiciary, and civil service, were designed to protect the interests of capital and of the colonial powers and continued to do so. the only thing that changed was the administrator’s skin color.
–the idea of the nation, disconnected from ideas of liberation, gradually gave way to the politics of identity, tribe and ethnicity, and so we see genocides, ethnic conflicts, violence against minorities, and xenophobia post-independence. neoliberalism has exacerbated this depoliticization of culture.
–as colonized people, we need to reverse this process by ‘returning to history’ – seeing ourselves as being part of a global humanity – and achieve liberation by understanding culture not as folklore but as a ‘collective thought process of a people to describe, justify, and extol the actions whereby they have joined forces and remain strong.’
yesterday we were trying to thaw some chicken and i didn’t change the setting to ‘defrost’ on the microwave, so it got pretty cooked. my husband wanted to throw it. as usual, i wanted to salvage it. i added some yogurt, salt and pepper and tried to cook in a bit of oil but the chicken fell apart. what could i do with a bunch of shredded chicken? i added some grapes, an apple, toasted walnuts, mayo and honey mustard, scooped it on top of brioche bread and voila, delicious chicken waldorf sandwiches #quarantinelife
i wrote this in the middle of our move, because it means that much to me.
a new exhibit based on the work of radical bengali feminist rokeya hossain is now at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester (until june of this year). that’s something to rejoice, except that hossain’s muslim identity is completely erased in the discourse about the project both on MAG’s website as well as in artist chitra ganesh’s description of the work on her own website.
this erasure is particularly jarring at a time of anti-muslim progroms in india as well as the weaponization of the pandemic (it’s being called covid jihad) to stoke islamophobia.
so i had hired a local business to move us from rochester to long island on april 8th. then cv-19 hit and our movers backed out of driving to nyc, right in the eye of the pandemic. the owner is a small businessman, with young children. he said he didn’t want to take chances. i understood. so the movers came by and loaded our trucks yesterday. yes, we ended up renting two trucks instead of one – my bounteous artwork, packed in some 20-30 large boxes, is partly to blame:) this morning we traveled as a caravan – my husband driving a 26 foot truck, my son managing a 20 foot truck, my daughter in our sedan, and yours truly forging ahead in an suv. all i can say is, it’s good to have grown-up kids:)
navigation was easy all the way – empty highways, not more than 2-3 cars in service areas, a few people scurrying around wearing masks, no toll tickets, no delays on approaching nyc. the george washington bridge seemed haunted. just two cars in front of me. in my 27 years of living around and traveling frequently to nyc, i’ve never seen anything like it. it felt disturbingly quiet, unnatural, somber. throughout the trip signs on highways urging people to stay at home, limit travel, stop the spread, #flattenthecurve.
my brother called to find out how we were doing. the car picked up his phone call. he told me his ex-neighbor in NJ, the guy they lived next to for a whole decade and who saw his kids grow up, just died of corona. he had an allergic reaction to something, went to the ER, got infected, died within a few days. in his early 50s. i am not one to panic but this piece of news shook me.
so between these misgivings (could we have delayed the closing on our house?), the thrill of living next to a city i love, the waves of emotion as i realized i was gradually moving away from the people i love, the profusion of texts, emails, and phone calls from family and friends all holding me warmly in their prayers and good wishes, the bone-tiredness from packing up a commodious house filled with 17 years of life and film and art-making, and finally the news that bernie sanders had just ended his presidential run, i couldn’t quite focus on any one feeling.
yet there is a connection – a complete sense of disconnection. being uprooted with milestones and memories packed precariously in cardboard boxes, the fear of losing people we love, the undignified randomness of loss, the arbitrariness of what we mark as ours in time and space, the irrationality of viruses and politics, the fragility of life and human-made systems, the strength of love and relationships that bind us to a center – some multifaceted, metaphysical core that saves us from disintegrating into meaningless fragments.
we are home, in this new home. it’s a gorgeous apartment. small but perhaps that’s all we need for our small family. everyone is asleep. goodnight fam and pls stay safe.
pakistan air force in the 1960s: first person on the left is my khaloo (my uncle), followed by my mamoon (my mom’s brother), a lady i don’t know, and then my khala (my mom’s sister). don’t know the person on the right. it was a different era.
i have to write about this. so we are moving to long island on april 8th, inshallah, and i have been selling a lot of stuff on fb at fairly low prices – from a treadmill to a yamaha piano, to bedroom furniture, bookcases, cameras, skis and bikes. i’ve also donated tons: i post on fb, add pictures of the stuff, and people come and pick it up for free. there is plenty of social distancing as they help themselves from shelves in my garage, with no human contact at all. it’s been one of the loveliest experiences ever.
not only did i get to meet a large number of my rochester neighbors (an extremely diverse group based on race, ethnicity, class, gender, age, and more) but i also got to know their stories and their visions for the stuff they’re picking up.
some send me pictures of how they’re using those things in their homes. one young guy and his wife bought two bookcases, then joined them to another piece of furniture, added moulding, painted everything, and created a gorgeous entertainment center. he messaged me photographs.
it does my heart good to see how my things, which were loved and cared for, will have another life after they leave our home, that someone else will use them and cherish them as well. they are only things of course, but this opportunity to share with our community has been incredibly joyful.
many times when people buy one thing, i give them another for free. someone bought a camera, i gave them a tripod for free. the reactions are priceless, unforgettable. i love rochester so much, and this has been a life-affirming way of saying goodbye.
the fb groups i used:
rochester online garage sale
and then there’s my most glamorous sib. gul or dr syed. two years my junior. accomplished rheumatologist and mother of two. always up for some fun and adventure, gym-fit, natural fashionista. strong, strong, strong. focused and unsparingly direct. she was the kind of kid in school who could schedule study time for exams, with 100% accuracy, execute that plan with ease, and set aside a decent bunch of hours for R and R. always said she’d fail, inevitably aced her exams – all the way to med school. gul is mindful of the importance of family. makes great chai. has a quirky sense of humor. my favorite thing? when she and my brother riff off of each other and have us crying with laughter. she adds color, drama and style to our family. love u gul. [my sister gul with her daughter]
A few days ago, my friend Miles Krassen posted a piece about our current crisis. It is written by William Davies who says: ‘Rather than view this as a crisis of capitalism, it might better be understood as the sort of world-making event that allows for new economic and intellectual beginnings.’
I’ve been thinking for a while about the importance of having a vision for the future. In fact, I asked the brilliant women I interviewed for ‘The Injured Body’ to articulate such a future.
Over the next few weeks/months, I will try to post ideas that might point us in the right direction. I’ve already posted an interview with Nasrin Himada in which she talks about prison abolition and its entanglements with colonialism, race and class, and about how to think of lived politics within which we ourselves can constantly evolve.
There is much more. We can use this time to reflect and imagine.