had the honor of interviewing filmmaker mats grorud (who directed ‘the tower’) and dr. dina matar (chair of the centre for palestine studies at SOAS) for witness palestine film festival today. a brilliant conversation that we hope to share soon. went for a walk to port jefferson afterwards and got a chocolate ganache raspberry cake from la bonne boulangerie. i’m sold on long island folx. all i need now is for all my friends to move here.
this picture broke my heart. three generations of this beautiful family, a family that looks like mine and so many other families i love, were killed violently by a white man in canada. what hatred and dehumanization have to be deployed for someone to drive their truck into human bodies, bodies made of flesh and bones just like their own. how can someone endure the sickening shock of that murderous, uneven impact? the horrible thud of it? i asked those same questions when an israeli soldier drove a bulldozer into rachel corrie’s body in 2003. she was a vibrant 24 year old, a righteous young woman protesting the demolition of palestinian homes in the gaza strip.
anti-muslim racism and palestine. the connections are unshakeable. in palestine too, the brutalization and extermination of the muslim body is systematically normalized. even the smaller, more delicate bodies of muslim children.
as this happened in canada (the land of nice people), some zionist members of the rochester community were going into overdrive, calling #freepalestine the modern-day equivalent of the swastika, going full-throttle against linda sarsour (calling her an antisemite for her anti-racism work and her palestinian american identity), organizing pro-israel rallies, and trying to derail the political careers of local leaders because they dared to speak up for the human rights of palestinians. it is surreal.
additionally, we are not allowed to talk about it. we are not allowed to talk about our own collective death. i will have to write about this in more detail. for now, i just want to send all my love and solidarity to my entire muslim community everywhere in the world. our lives are NOT disposable.
for the first time since we moved here, a little over a year ago, we met with a group of people. went on a ‘healing hike’ with the long island progressive coalition to uplands preserve, cold spring harbor, new york. so incredibly beautiful! spent 3 hours discovering how milkweed attracts monarch butterflies, what poison ivy looks like, how the white flowered mountain laurel is difficult to move or transplant on account of its sensitivity to soil chemistry, the subtle perfume of the multiflora rose (a climbing, rambling shrub), how woodpeckers communicate with one another, how the tulip poplar (also called tulip tree) is neither tulip nor poplar but closely related to magnolia trees, and how the american chestnut is super susceptible to chestnut blight, a fungus introduced to north america in the early 1900s which reduced the great american chestnut forests to a simple sucker sprout population that rarely produces any chestnuts. v cool to meet other activists as well – especially nia adams who traveled to rochester during the daniel prude uprising and knew all the brilliant women involved with free the people rochester. it was 81 F but we spent most of our time in fragrant shaded woods so didn’t really feel the heat.
In early May, we went to see ‘Blindness’ at the Daryl Roth Theatre in NYC. It’s ‘José Saramago’s timely, sinister story of a world in chaos… narrated with savage rage by Juliet Stevenson.’
Blindness is no ordinary play. Its setup is designed specifically for Covid-appropriate social distancing. This is how it works: People are ‘grouped in pairs who have come together… distanced from other pairs, and, at first, each pair sits under its own spotlight. There is no stage; the show occurs only in light and sound. Above audience members’ heads are a series of glowing neon tubes in primary and secondary colors, perfectly vertical and horizontal and meeting at right angles, reminiscent of the work of the artist Dan Flavin. The story, ably delivered, in a recorded monologue, by Stevenson, comes through headphones sporting “binaural” 3-D technology.’
The neon tubes move up and down, and for vast portions of the play, we are immersed in complete darkness.
As Kate Wyver wrote in the Guardian, ‘the piece is claustrophobic by nature, but when wearing the required mask… breathing suddenly feels much harder. At these points, the lack of sight is disorienting and the binaural sound design properly takes effect as the violence of the piece crawls beneath your skin. It feels as if Stevenson is whispering right into your ear, stroking your arm, holding that dripping knife.’
Light and sound have never been used more effectively to create patterns, moods, textures, and a sense of space and time. I was not surprised to learn that this is a Donmar Warehouse (London) production. I saw ‘Julius Caesar’ set in a women’s prison, brought to pulsating life by an all-female cast in 2012. Never forgot it.
The play’s narrator, or Storyteller, is voiced by the incredible Juliet Stevenson who’s absolutely dazzling here.
One of the strongest moments for me was towards the end, when the exit door opens. At that moment, Stevenson is describing her scarred city, come to a violent halt, littered with corpses, garbage, and dogs tearing apart flesh from the freshly fallen. That hell comes to an end, like a bad dream, when the door opens. We see a swath of beautiful green, welcome respite for deprived eyes. Yellow cabs pass by in the distance, pedestrians much closer to us. We hear the faint hum of a functioning city. Such relief and emotion.
Makes one wonder how a breakdown in food systems and other services would impact New York, how the idea of modern cities in general is ridiculous – rendering people helpless, isolated, vulnerable to shocks, fragile.
I was left with some thoughts about Saramago’s book. How he uses blindness as a metaphor — the stripping away “of the mirrors to the soul,” which ‘loosens the fragility of human and psychic bonds, and divests us of the will and rationale to maintain them.’
‘Near the end of the novel, when the blind people are getting their vision back, he has one of his characters remark:” I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”’
Although Saramago’s blindness is a ‘white disease,’ a ‘milky sea’ that spreads by visual contact, like the evil eye, an analysis of the text thru the lens of Disability Studies is important. A little surprised that in a city, where a raging, highly infectious white blindness is breaking down existing systems, people who are already blind (and adjusted) don’t play a more powerful, positive, central role. Less comfortable with the fact that Saramago’s Storyteller/protagonist (she is the all seer, leader, organizer, moral compass of the story) is the only person who has sight.
A remarkable experience all in all, and very much in line with my interest in audio storytelling (the Warp & Weft).
i wrote this piece in the middle of the bombing of gaza. it’s a critique of raoul peck’s “exterminate all the brutes” and it pivots on his terse (and highly problematic) treatment of palestine. it got published by mondoweiss today. i know that a lot is going on right now that’s urgent, but i also think it’s more important than ever to root out liberal zionism from what’s considered the left:
No, Palestine is not complicated, Mr. Peck. It’s settler colonialism unfolding “live” before our eyes. As the Nakba continues in 2021, with full on ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah and war crimes in Gaza, it’s more egregious than ever to hide behind evasive language or recycled Zionist tropes. More here.
there is a ceasefire in place at the moment with a break in the bombing of gaza, thank god, but that does not change the reality of settler colonialism, ongoing ethnic cleansing, apartheid, an illegal blockade, military occupation, the imprisonment of children, checkpoints that negate freedom of movement, and non-stop human rights violations. this has been going on, in various forms, since 1948.
it’s been painful to read posts on social media, by well-meaning people who couch their support in abstract language, never mention israel as the aggressor/colonizer, or engage in bothsidesism (pray for both sides, mourn lives lost on both sides, there are extremists on both sides, etc). essentially, they are affirming the equivalent of ‘all lives matter.’
the majority of people have been silent which is even more unsettling.
israel has one of the best equipped militaries in the world (thx to our tax dollars), palestinians do not have an army, air force or navy. they don’t control their borders, with no sovereign title over the west bank or gaza strip. this is why we see the obscene disparity in numbers of people killed and wounded.
another set of numbers might be helpful:
per capita GDP for gaza: $876
per capital GDP for israel: $34,185
gaza is sealed from all sides by israel. every few years they ‘cut the grass’ by bombing one of the most densely populated areas in the world. then they don’t allow concrete in, so palestinians can’t rebuild their homes. materials needed to construct vital water infrastructure are not permitted either so there’s a chronic water crisis in gaza. israel limits the amount of electricity gaza can access per day. they even restrict the amount of calories allowed for its population by blocking food.
another interesting fact:
children constitute about half of gaza’s population. the median age is 17.
there is no reason for not knowing – this information is freely available, a lot of it provided by the UN.
i look at this media/social media landscape and understand why grotesque crimes against humanity have been possible in history. it’s easy to look back and decry slavery and genocide. it’s much harder to recognize it, speak about it, and resist it while it’s happening.
those who have spoken up, written posts, made calls, protested, declared their position and invited wrath from their communities, thank you. we see you and we find hope in ur integrity. “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” inshallah.
Last year, I worked with JVP to organize a Palestinian film festival. One of the films I suggested was the story of a 15-year old boy named Obaida. The festival didn’t go anywhere, but we develop a sense of connection to the people on the screen. We learn a small part of their story. We feel like we know them a little. I just found out from a post by the film’s director that Obaida was killed earlier today. An Israeli soldier shot a bullet through his heart. I have no words, just deep grief and immense rage. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. May u rest in peace, sweet child.
Matthew Cassel (May 17):
I write this through tears after learning that Obaida Jawabreh, who I met in his refugee camp two years ago when he was just 15, was killed earlier today by an Israeli soldier’s bullet to his heart. Obaida was so curious, I was supposed to be the one conducting the interview but he spent our few days together asking me more questions than I asked him. He wanted to become a chef, but surrounded in every direction by Israeli military, checkpoints and settlements, even chasing such a simple dream was always going to be tough. He died before his 18th birthday. My heart goes out to his family, especially to his dear father Akram, who would send me the sweetest messages on holidays long after our meeting. He loved his son and wanted nothing more than to watch him grow up away from the occupation. Together with Defense for Children International – Palestine I made this video on Obaida in 2019. May he now rest in the peace that he was denied throughout his life.
thinking about my overwhelming experience that ad hominem attacks are often made by men. in political arguments, especially over palestine and other decolonial questions, men will very quickly resort to personal attacks rather than offer cogent counter arguments. it’s no coincidence that women are perennially stereotyped as ‘emotional,’ by men, when the most common logical fallacies are what they reach for instinctively. perhaps that’s the nature of guilt – to project one’s shortcomings/offenses onto the other.
thank u Chen Chen for sharing this poem. i am writing a paper about language right now, esp the violence of having to use the colonizer’s language and thus inserting them between oneself and the world, erasing oneself by losing one’s mother tongue and one’s collective memory bank. but i am also writing about cesaire and achebe and how they took the colonizer’s language and exploded it — forced it to understand them, the people it had violated. i shall add this poem by noor hindi to the list.
[POEM] Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying by Noor Hindi
Colonizers write about flowers.
I tell you about children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks
seconds before becoming daisies.
I want to be like those poets who care about the moon.
Palestinians don’t see the moon from jail cells and prisons.
It’s so beautiful, the moon.
They’re so beautiful, the flowers.
I pick flowers for my dead father when I’m sad.
He watches Al Jazeera all day.
I wish Jessica would stop texting me Happy Ramadan.
I know I’m American because when I walk into a room something dies.
Metaphors about death are for poets who think ghosts care about sound.
When I die, I promise to haunt you forever.
One day, I’ll write about the flowers like we own them.
Respectfully, I would like to ask what workshops, guest lectures, actions or even op-eds have been forthcoming from the Levine Center to End Hate as a response to the spectacular hate and violence we are seeing from Israel, violence enacted on the bodies of Palestinians, including children (nine kids have been killed in Gaza). Pls call them and ask: (585) 461-0490. The Levine Center is part of the Jewish Federation, which supports the occupation of Palestine. Yet the Center has embedded itself in anti-racism work. We need to hold them accountable. One cannot fight racism in one context and buttress it in another.
Noura Erakat and Mariam Barghouti in the Washington Post: As May 15 marks the 73rd commemoration of the mass expulsion of Palestinians from cities such as Haifa, Tarshiha and Safad in 1948, let the world bear witness to Jerusalem today. This is how refugees are made, this is our ongoing Nakba. Our freedom struggle is not for a state but for belonging to the land, to remain on it, to keep our homes, to resist erasure. But somehow calling it by its name on social media, revealing to the world what has been happening for decades, seems more offensive than our ongoing displacement at gun point. There’s no denying the reality: This is Zionist settler colonialism, where if one settler does not take our homes, another settler will. When will the world open its eyes to this injustice and respond appropriately? We do not need more empty both sides-isms, we need solidarity to overcome apartheid.
Dear friends, A Thin Wall is now free to watch on the Bandra Film Festival channel on YouTube. Produced by Surbhi Dewan and myself and shot on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, it is our love letter to all those who were lost and displaced, forced to leave home and cross colonial lines. From the wonderful review by @ind.igenous: “Filmmaker Mara Ahmed’s documentary, ‘A Thin Wall’ is a haunting and thought-provoking account of the partition. Strung together are stories, memories and experiences of those who suffered, leaving behind what they called home, plunging into the unknown. Yet, like wilted flowers inside an old book, love still remains on each side of the border. The documentary reminds one of Zarina Hashmi’s art, of a constant search for home, and the pain of separation.”
a quick trip to the village of abiquiu to see santo tomás el apóstol church, and then off to abiquiu lake. reptile fossils dating back 200 million years have been found here. i kept looking, but no luck:) the water is a gorgeous blue-green color and the entire area is layered with colorful rock formations – dark reds, oranges, pinks and browns. my phone couldn’t do justice to the landscape. needed a wide-angle lens. too much beauty to behold.
not far from dar al islam is plaza blanca: ‘Made famous by local artist Georgia O’Keeffe who made a series of paintings called “The White Place,” these landscapes are located in a valley of the Rio Chama hills, near the village of Abiquiu. This area of New Mexico is now on the grounds of the Dar Al Islam education center and mosque. Although private land the center welcomes visitors. Plaza Blanca is part of the Abiquiu Formation, which consists of re-deposited volcanic ash and other sedimentary rocks that are about 20 million years old.’ — a resplendent temple as sacred as any place of worship, right next to a mosque.
today we walked to the french pastry shop and creperie to pick up some tarte aux fruits and eclairs and had breakfast outdoors, in the santa fe plaza. then off to abiquiu. first stop: dar al islam. it’s ‘a Muslim village begun in 1977 by American and European converts who wanted to live amid the Native American pueblos in northern New Mexico. The village, which was constructed in Abiquiu, New Mexico, boasts an adobe mosque as its centerpiece. Completed in 1981 and situated on 1,600 acres, the mosque and adjoining madrassah include vaulted ceilings, domes, archways, gardens, courtyards, and a library. The Dar al Islam community of several dedicated families consists of educators, artists, poets, and writers who want to “build bridges between Muslims and the wider North American community by communicating the deep spirituality and beauty of the Islamic tradition by living it.”’
i’ve never understood the difference between folk art and ‘art.’ after all, expressions of cultural heritage, folklore and tradition also come into play in the creation of ‘high art’ (it’s not suspended in some kind of vacuum). the distinctions between artifact, craft, ornament and art are so many borders and hierarchies that we shouldn’t respect. at the museum of international folk art, i saw such beautiful objects from all across the world. their permanent collection is impressively lavish. they also had a special exhibit called ‘sewing stories of displacement’ – it tells stories of ‘forced migrations, new transitions, and memories’ through embroidery and weaving. the people looked familiar in one of them. i read ‘railway station’ written in urdu across the top. it’s about displacement – ‘the forced migration of kahuta residents (in pakistan) after the area became a site for the national atomic bomb project in 1976,’ something i had never heard of before. the power of art.