Come take my hand: thoughts on white supremacy and the refugee crisis

When I was young, my second cousin, who is about fifteen years older than me, used to play with us during our summer holidays in Cairo and Alexandria. A few years ago, when I met him at a family gathering in Egypt, I was told that he would not shake my hand anymore, because I am a woman and he and his wife do not touch people of the other gender. At the time I felt a little irritated, maybe even insulted, and – to be honest – I ridiculed their decision. Maybe that is how Europeans are feeling now about the papierarrival of a great number of refugees with all their cultural peculiarities. Maybe that is why Switzerland has issued a law obliging students to shake their teachers’ hands if requested. Maybe that is also the reason why Germany is discussing the ban of the so-called ‘burkini’—a full-body swimsuit used by veiled women—from public baths.

Thinking about it now, I realize that my cousin did refuse to shake my hand, yet he never asked me to follow his example and stop shaking hands, neither did he ever force any of his beliefs onto me or even ridicule me for having my own cultural quirks. I was the one being intolerant and judgemental all the while considering myself superior for being secular and liberal. I hear people in Germany worrying about all the Arabs and Muslims coming here, because ‘we don’t want to apply the Sharia here’ or ‘soon we have to celebrate Christmas in a Mosque’ or ‘they just don’t want to integrate and learn our values’. I am confused: where are the mobs of Muslims demonstrating for an implementation of the Sharia in Germany? I haven’t seen any—none of the new-arrivals, none of the third generation Turks, Iranians and Arabs living in this country. Where are the veiled women throwing burkas over bikini-bearing Germans or at least boycotting public baths due to the unfamiliar nudity? Where are the Syrians or Iraqis or Afghans forming political parties to abolish handshaking in Germany? Last time I checked, it was Europeans forcing their allegedly superior values onto the newcomers, being intolerant of other people’s religious freedom, supporting racist, xenophobic generalizations about ‘the Muslims’, refugees, Arabs etc.. Last time I checked, it was Europeans who felt irritated and insulted, because someone asked for the freedom not to shake a hand without ever trying to make this a general law (by the way, I hardly know any Muslims who don’t shake hands). Continue reading

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Arab Hip Hop – from Local Inspiration to Global Revolution

Hip hop ain’t dead, it never died, it just moved to the Middle East, where the struggle’s still alive.

(Arabian Knightz – Uknighted State of Arabia)

Arabian-Knightz-in-the-Arab-hip-hop-festival-in-QatarThe message from the song “Uknighted State of Arabia” by Egyptian rap crew Arabian Knightz, featuring 29 musicians from all over the Arab world is clear: hip hop artists from the Middle East and all over the world need to unite to bring back the spirit of hip hop music and talk about the different struggles against totalitarianism, occupation, poverty and oppression. Arab hip hop can be a great inspiration to the global movement, considering its important role in voicing the different revolutions that took place across the Middle East in recent years. As rapper Karim from Arabian Knightz—known by his stage name Rush—explains:

Guess what, they’re all pointing at us right now. They’re like, ‘Listen, when they had a revolution, these guys were talking about it, and when we have riots you guys are talking about ass and tits? Where is us, where is our problems?’ Hip hop is about the struggle, so we’re actually putting a bunch of them on blast without even doing it purposefully.

But how does hip hop fit into Arab culture? Is it an American invention or something authentically Arab? Does hip hop have the potential to unite different struggles in different national and social contexts? And is that aforementioned struggle a crucial part of hip hop culture or just one of many possible approaches? These are some of the topics that I talked about with Karim. Arabian Knightz is an Egyptian rap trio – composed of artists Rush, Sphinx, and E-Money – that formed in 2005 and employs a mixture of English, Egyptian Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic in their songs. All following quotes are by Karim, unless labeled otherwise. Continue reading

Sisyphus in the Arab Prison

Night was no longer night, since there were no more days, no more stars, no more moon, no more sky. We were the night. We had become nocturnal: our bodies, breathing, heartbeats, the fumbling of our hands moving effortlessly from one wall to another in a space shrunk to the dimensions of a tomb for the living, although whenever I say that word, I should use “surviving” instead, yet I really was a living being, enduring life in extreme deprivation, an ordeal that could end only in death but that seemed strangely like life.“

(The Blinding Absence of Light)

Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel „The Blinding Absence of Light“ is an attempt to describe the agonizing experience of former Moroccon prisoner Azīz Binbīn… an attempt that can only fail, because how can one describe 18 years without ever leaving a 4 ½ square meter cell, without ever standing up straight, without a glimpse of light, without medical care, and without a single word to and from the outside world? How can one imagine to sleep standing in order not to freeze to death, to live in a tiny room with a hole for a toilet not eating anything but beans for six thousand six hundred and sixty-three days, to pull out one’s own decaying molar with a piece of wood, and, finally, to not only survive such a horrific ordeal, but to stay human all the while?

When reading some of the numerous accounts by and about prisoners in secret desert prisons of Morocco, underground torture facilities in Syria, or other unfathomably cruel prisons throughout the Middle East, my mind often reached the limits of what it could – and wanted – to imagine. Continue reading

A country of masters and servants

DSC00628„Today we are washing the dishes“, says my German friend as we are sitting in the middle of the desert after a great meal prepared by our two Bedouin guides Sameh and Sayed. „I don’t like being served“, she continues and I know exactly what she means. I have been feeling like that countless times during the weeks and months that I spent in Egypt. After some discussion – and because we were lazy – we figured: If we were in a restaurant in Germany we would also see no reason to help in the kitchen after our meal. Sameh and Sayed are being paid for doing this job. And yet, there is something that just does not feel right about it.

I think about this a lot in Cairo, because my Grandmother has a driver, Hassan, a maid, Mona, and a cook, Soheir, who work for her regularly. I like them all very much and they like me, too. Maybe because I behave differently than other Egyptians that could afford employing them. I always sit next to Hassan, never in the back seat. He is almost like a grandfather to me. I never give orders to Mona. I sit with Soheir in the kitchen and learn recipes from her. And these things are not to say that I am such an awesome, generous person that is even kind to the servants. No, it means that these people to me are not servants, they are people who are employed at my Grandmother’s and who are in every way equal to me. But unfortunately that is not how society sees them, sees us. Continue reading

How to react to sexual harassment..?

Recently I watched the movie Cairo 678. It is a great study of sexual harassment in Egypt and its psychological effects. At the beginning of this movie a car passes by a girl, the driver grabs her by her blouse and pulls her with him, then pushes her to the ground. I cannot imagine what I would have done if that had happened to me. But I am afraid that I would have been too surprised to react. The girl in the movie, however, – and it is based on a true story – jumps up, runs after the driver, stops him, starts beating him and eventually takes him to the police station. She was prepared. She was prepared by years of sucked-up anger, ignored insults and bruised honour.

SONY DSCIn the book ‘Shantaram’ Gregory David Roberts writes that most of the time when we do not talk back, do not help someone else or defend ourselves it is not because we are cowards. It is because we just aren’t prepared. I remember the first (and fortunately only time) that young boys in the street did not just bother but actually touched me… I was so angry afterwards. Not mainly at them, but at myself, because I had had no clue about how to react. They were young boys of maybe 12 or 13 years. I had no reason to be scared of telling them off. And so – as Roberts says it: “What we call cowardice is often just another name for being taken by surprise, and courage is seldom any better than simply being well prepared.” Continue reading

I still remember… the revolution – أنا لسه فاكر… الثورة

A few months ago I went to an Arabic film festival in my hometown in Germany. I saw a movie called „Tahrir 2011 – The Good, the Bad and the Politician“, which pictured the different sides involved in the revolution. Most of the film consisted of images from the protests, powerful videos that showed people praying while being attacked with water canons, the make-shift hospitals where volunteers of all types treated the injured and the mentally exhausted, and, especially, it showed those thousands and millions of voices chanting, chanting, chanting for freedom and peace. When I saw those images I was thrown back into the time of the revolutionary climax and I had such a strong urge to go back to that time of hope, solidarity and excited astonishment at what people were capable of. I thought to myself, that if every Egyptian watched these videos once a week nobody would give in to the resignation in the light of unsatisfying politics and the frustration that befalls a country when the revolution ends and bureaucracy starts.

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So, with this in mind, I decided that I should try to contribute something to reminding people of what they have so incredibly  achieved and what they should not let fade away so quickly. The following series of photos and interviews are the result. Each picture shows one person and their most important memory from the days of the revolution. The title of the series and the beginning of each sentence is: „I still remember…“ Please scroll down to see the larger images (English translation below the picture). Continue reading

Why I am going to boycott the Egyptian presidential run-off elections

This sign from the revolution days just got a whole different meaning…

After the Egyptian parliamentary elections last November, where the Muslim Brotherhood won the majority of votes, I asked my grandmother whether she was going to vote at the Shoura Council elections aswell. She told me that she would not. Why?

„Last time we all went to vote. And now see what happened: the Muslim Brotherhood won anyway.“

At that time I told her: that’s democracy. It happens that the party you support does not win in the end. But resigning and not voting again because of that will make it even worse. Like in the Shoura Council elections, where the Brotherhood was even more successful than before – with a very low turnout of less than 20%.

So, with this in mind, why have I decided not to vote in the run-off for the presidential elections? Continue reading