goodbye dear robert

as we start the new year, i can’t help but reflect on the linearity of time (a western concept imposed on many of us). i hope to continue to struggle against that programming. in urdu, for example, kal means both yesterday and tomorrow. it’s the same word. there are no borders between the past, present and future.

we lost a dear friend and comrade yesterday, on new year’s eve. my friend Robert Navan. i went to ireland three times, in 2013, 2016 and 2018. each time i met robert. he always gave me a little tour, took me out for coffee and pastries, for cuban food and beer in the most authentic pubs (even though i stuck with lemonade) and had plenty of recommendations about what to do in dublin.

most importantly, robert supported my work via the progressive film club. they screened ‘pakistan one on one’ and organized a brilliant screening/community event for ‘a thin wall’ (one of the best post-screening discussions i’ve ever had). they also put together a retrospective of my work and showed all three documentaries, including ‘the muslims i know.’

how lucky, how amazing to have audiences engage with my work, on the other side of the pond, in a country that’s special to me. i have always been proud to say i have wonderful friends in ireland, all of them opposed to war and imperialism, all of them fervent supporters of justice in palestine. robert was/is one of them. an old school socialist who had been to cuba many times. he told the best stories. they will continue to be with me. how i will miss him. rest in power my friend <3

with robert navan, dublin, 2013

morocco in the semi finals

yes, there are serious problems with fifa, with professional sports in general, with the horrors that come from hosting large scale international events, and with oppressive war-making regimes. btw most countries of the world fall within those parameters.

however, whatever happens on wed, when morocco goes against france in the semi finals, this much is clear:

1. solidarity from the global south: whether african, amazigh, arab, maghrebi, middle eastern, south asian, muslim, brown or black, people from the colonized south have rallied and celebrated morocco’s history-making games en masse

2. we are the majority: from 1492 to 1914, most of the world was colonized by tiny european nations with limited resources and infinite animus toward each other. therefore, 80% of humans are still coming to grips with colonization and genocide

3. colonialism never ended (it simply transformed and metastasized): we are still controlled by and embedded in racist, capitalist systems so the fight is not over. this is why when the western military-industrial complex goes into overdrive and never-ending wars are activated (like the war on terror or the war on drugs), they whisk together disparate regions and peoples with no regard for history, culture, or political realities – afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, libya, syria, somalia, sudan, yemen, the philippines, cambodia, vietnam, laos, colombia, cuba, guatemala, haiti, honduras, mexico, nicaragua, panama, and puerto rico can all become a monolithic ‘other’

4. consistent support for palestine: palestine has become a symbol of colonial subjugation and a rallying cry for resistance to global systems of oppression. it’s obvious that no amount of political or economic finagling can change that. people are not their governments or regimes, many of which are installed and protected by the colonizing west. the palestinian flag is a f—k you to censorship, political blackmail, and economic arm twisting

so whatever happens on wednesday friends, this is a historic moment. let’s remember it.

what a day yesterday!

morocco beats portugal and makes history. the global south celebrates en masse. it’s also my birthday. i get to hear from lovely people i’ve known across decades and continents – primary and middle school in brussels, high school in islamabad, college in karachi, university in connecticut, filmmaking / activism / beloved community in rochester, new friends on long island, like-minded compadres on facebook, and family all over the world. my husband and i spend the day in nyc. we meet our kids and have dinner at ‘let’s meat’ in koreatown. after enjoying an excellent meal, we walk to my son’s apt, eat cake, play with the fabulous loulou, and watch ‘top gun: maverick’ together. how fun is that? thank u everyone for all the warmth, love and sweet wishes – i couldn’t be more grateful <3

Farha on Netflix

i finally watched ‘farha,’ a film by jordanian director darin sallam, on netflix last night. i knew that it’s a film about the nakba (or the catastrophe) in which more than 700,000 palestinians were forcibly expelled from palestine in 1948, to make room for the jewish-supremacist state of israel.

i also knew that the israeli government has been applying pressure on netflix to censor/remove the film from their library. a bit funny considering the heretofore love affair between israel and netflix. you can read about it in belén fernández’s excellent piece ‘netflix and israel: a special relationship’ in which she shows how “netflix has been willingly subsumed into the israeli hasbara industry.”

the nakba is a vast and important episode in human history, yet sallam’s approach is small, specific, and spare. the story is told through the eyes of a 14-year old girl who becomes an unwitting witness to shocking atrocities committed by israeli soldiers. as we spend most of the film seeing the world through farha’s eyes, we too are called to witness and testify.

the experience transforms farha – gone are her dreams of studying in the city and investing her life in her community. the nakba was meant to destroy palestinian society, very deliberately, one bureaucratic and military step at a time, over multiple decades and generations.

israel’s war on ‘farha’ is enraging. not only because palestinians might be some of the few people in the world who are not allowed to tell the stories of their own dispossession and ethnic cleansing, but also because the facts of what we see in the film are not new. the terror (including theft, rape and massacres) wielded against palestinians during the nakba is well-known and well-documented, including testimonies by israeli soldiers who carried it out.

u’d have to live under a rock not to have heard of the deir yassin massacre, for example. many parts of tel aviv itself are built on depopulated palestinian villages.

in any case, the bots are out in huge numbers trying to sabotage farha’s ratings, so pls watch the film, ‘love’ it on netflix (two hearts), make an imdb account, give the film 10 stars, go to the film on google and letterboxd and give it 5 stars. write a review if u like.

let’s make sure we see more stories by and about the oppressed and their histories, and less state propaganda packaged as art. we can make a difference.

the prime of miss jean brodie

watched ‘the prime of miss jean brodie’ again last night, with the magnificent maggie smith. this film, made in 1969, always shocks me on account of its boldness and contemporary relevance. the characters, including the titular jean brodie, are deeply flawed, their trespasses unsettling, the emotional tenor of the film (novel by muriel spark) is ambiguous, everything painted in grey, without the comfort and predictability of black and white. in short, it’s a fearless portrayal of life with all its contradictions and unsavory realities (including the allure of fascism). i remember a teacher somewhat like that in high school, back in islamabad. it was an all girls school. i was never in her orbit but she created some commotion in our midst, before being let go.

part of nature

i try to take breaks in between editing (which requires sitting at a computer for long periods of time, staring intently at a screen).

it’s super windy today, so much so that temperatures feel 10 degrees lower than they are. the husband was too cozy reading his book, so i put on my hat and jacket, grabbed my ski gloves and went to west meadow wetlands reserve (next to our house) for a 45 min walk.

i half walked, was half carried by the wind. it was invigorating to feel its force on my body and skin. the trees around me were twisting in the same gusty gale, the grass flattened by it, combed with little bits of sunlight, a few obstinate leaves held on to their branches like yellow tongues licking the sky, everything imbued with a deceptively warm rusty glow.

the clouds waited patiently, capturing and refracting each shade and emotion. the sun finally set in a climactic scene, birds windsurfed overhead, deer walked by me as if it was the most natural thing in the world. what a beautiful home, our planet. it’s the lifeblood that activates our minds and bodies. grateful to be alive, to be present.

highlights from my playlist: tu aja (remix by DJ usman bhatti), yamaha (dacosta), more than this (roxy music), 1979 (the smashing pumpkins), island in the sun (weezer), and float on (modest mouse)

My questions for Shirly Bahar

The obligatory selfie after a satisfying dinner. It was a full house at Hofstra on Nov 9th for a discussion about Shirly Bahar’s book, ‘Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, the Body, the Home,’ and my film, ‘The Injured Body.’ Here are my questions for Shirly:

1) You say that although oppression and racialization have impacted Palestinians and Mizrahim differently, the documentaries you discuss in the book share a political commitment and performative affinities. They defy the removal of the pain of Israel’s marginalized people from public visibility.

You discuss how documentary performances of pain by Palestinians and Mizrahim, when seen together, invite us to contest the segregation of pain and consider reconnection. Could you elaborate on that?

2) There is one sentence in your book which hit me hard. It is the commonly held notion that ‘the trauma of witnessing destruction directly harms the usage of language.’

Meaning that those who are occupied (on whose minds and bodies violence is constantly enacted) are never seen as credible witnesses of their own pain, of their own lived experiences, based on dominant codes of credibility. It’s like the gaslighting I was talking about in the context of microaggressions. You take issue with this notion. Could you tell us more?

3) Since we are talking about language and violence, I also wanted to bring up the constant threat of violence. You talk about Palestinian children experiencing ‘withheld violence.’

Your words reminded me of Fanon of course, and the muscular contraction of the colonized body. What does this imply in the P/I context?

4) I would like to end with something you say in the book, that ‘it takes perpetual learning and training to try and relate to the pain of others in a politically informed and committed manner.’

You also say: ‘More often than not, those who care for the pain of others are found in relative vulnerability themselves—political, physical, mental—thus chancing their becoming further undone.’

I think of the #BLM movement and its principled support for justice in Palestine. Could you expand on this important point.

from the metamorphosis by franz kafka

it’s incredible that this book (written in 1912) continues to be a propos, fascinating, a literary feat today, in 2022, exactly 110 years later. it provokes disbelief and uproarious laughter, remains steadfast as a masterpiece, and ends with heartbreaking pathos.

there are as many interpretations of ‘the metamorphosis’ as there are readers (and that means a lot). some believe that gregor samsa “like other of kafka’s doomed protagonists, errs by failing to act, instead allowing himself to be acted upon.” others draw comparisons to willy loman from ‘death of a salesman’ and write about the degradation of modern capitalist work. there are those who see a freudian twist to the story and focus on gregor’s overbearing father. still others think the metamorphosis relates to gregor’s sister, grete, and her evolution over the course of the novella.

my take is sobering. to me the metamorphosis is about othering. the idea of otherness has been addressed elsewhere but mostly in terms of gregor’s own alienation, loss of identity, and lack of agency.

i see othering that can make someone seem ugly, disgusting, and less than human. without being threatening, difference can be turned into something dangerous and attacked with impunity. and this change can happen overnight, so that the other can now be crushed underfoot, starved to death, and left to die.

in the same way, children can be arrested, villages bombed, people tortured with the benediction of the law, and those committing the violence whine about being the victims. it’s always the monster who forces their hand.


tomm el-saieh’s work at the clark art institute

i went to the clark institute to see tomm el-saieh’s work.

his paintings are kaleidoscopic, pulsating, shimmering. they push and pull. they embody languages, sounds, hieroglyphics. they feel like sacred scrolls, like maps with districts, neighborhoods, borders and connecting grids, like cities or skin cells that grow, evolve and transform organically, much like his paintings.

he uses patterns, abrasions and erasures. they are disorienting. one must focus and refocus one’s eyes. parts emerge, recede, resurface. they throb, balloon, shift. like a shallow depth of field where the foreground and background keep switching.

the paintings have texture, like quilted fabric. i’ve never wanted to touch a canvas so much.

my favorite is kafou (below) from carrefour, a commune in haiti – i couldn’t stop looking at it. then there was canape vert, vilaj imajine and wanga neges.

tomm el-saieh was born in haiti, where his family has had roots in port-au-prince for 5 generations. his father is palestinian-haitian and his mom israeli. he lives and works in miami.

the berkshires

today we went to the berkshires, a place that’s been close to my heart for almost three decades. from staying at the cranwell and cross country skiing (while my mom and sister kindly babysat our toddler), to enjoying fall with a cousin and her fam, to taking the kids skiing there almost every winter, and to my husband bringing me back (and giving me all the time i needed at mass moca) after my daughter left for college and we became empty nesters, the berkshires have always been a part of our lives. we started going there when we lived in CT, and kept it up from long island and then from rochester.

saw so much beauty today, my eyes couldn’t hold on to all of it. so i took countless pictures because i wanted to remember everything.

we started with the clark art institute in williamstown with its white marble museum building designed by architect daniel perry and its breathtaking reflecting pool (part of a complex hydrological system that reduces water consumption by 50 percent). more about the art i saw later.

#clarkartinstitute #williamstown #massachusetts #berkshires #partofourlives #fallbeauty #fallphotography #fallinstagram #autumnphotography #autumninstagram #marblebuildings #architecture #reflectingpools

wandering goose farm

the place where we’re staying in west pawlet, vermont, announces its (good) politics as soon as u turn into their driveway. there are signs everywhere, including the largest one which says: all lives don’t, until black lives do. yesterday i went to their tiny store by the roadside and was impressed that it was based on an honor system. u take what u need, enter the items/addition in a large register, and pay via cc, venmo or cash based on the info they’ve provided. it reminded me of berlin’s ubahn which works the same way. there are no gates or turnstiles. people are supposed to buy their tickets, validate them before getting on the subway, or any other public transportation, and that’s it. someone might check once in a while but no one did for the entire week i was there. i had my active pass on my phone, but was never asked to produce it. by visiting the store, i also found out that laurie, my host, is a wonderful artist. it makes a lot of sense. i bought one of her beautiful cards with birds on it.

#goodpolitics #farmlife #honorsystem #berlin #ubahn #artist #art #pawlet #vermont