January 12, 2015

MeMu: Egypt on and against the wall

We have arrived in January, in Egypt, in 2011. Let's jump forwards to 2015 and move backwards from there. Keep in mind that this is mostly a view from outside the country that does not aim to provide a full overview, but rather a brief, personal summary of events.

It has become very depressing to write about the country. After the initial elation and momentum behind the uprising, the energy and resistance to the power of the day, the hope seems to have been punched out of an entire people. Several reports describe the country as having slipped back into an authoritarian regime that is even more repressive that what the uprising throve to overthrow. The new regime, which many see as a recycled, refurbished version of the old one with a new coat of makeup, has not only developed miracle cures for AIDS and many other ills, it has also invented a time- machine intent on sending the country back into an age more reminiscent of feudal times than of the so-called democracies of the 21st century. 



After four years, the sentence that sums up many efforts in the country is "Egypt’s revolutionaries mistook their belief in the revolution for the existence of a revolution.". After a time in which it felt like anything was possible, indeed had to be made possible by any means, realpolitik and the will of old power structures to maintain the status quo to their advantage seems to have prevailed.

For a time, it was everyones revolutionary duty to work tirelessly to make the country a better place to live in, to rethink and rebuild it in an image that did not have the face of a dictator, or the pharaohs as its main point of identification. No- one could deny anymore that it was in their hands to change their surroundings and that, in the face of long neglect of many mechanisms supporting the development of a nation, it was the people who had to take charge. There was no more hiding behind complaints of an seemingly omnipresent and plenipotent regime ruining the country. For two and a half years, Egyptians laughed in the face of successive regimes, power cuts, fuel shortages, a crumbling economy and an education system that still leaves much to be desired. 

2015 began with Spider- Man being arrested in Cairo for distributing gifts to children. He didn't stay in prison for long- the Egyptian J.Jonah Jameson does not have Spider-Man on his radar. According to news reports, even the police felt somewhat sheepish about the act, telling him they did not want to arrest him, but they had to follow orders. Orders are sheepish things to follow. 

In the beginning of 2014, the army unofficially took back the running of the country with a landslide victory, with voting figures from the past- 96% is a very high endorsement, on paper. Who filled out the paper is the dark side of the coin. What followed was a massive dismantling of the infrastructure of civil society organisations, NGO's, and the possibility to demonstrate your opinion in public spaces. The independent cultural sector, after three years of fulfilling its understanding of a responsibility towards the development of the country, was hit by massive restrictions to its mechanisms that allowed it to operate unhampered. It is very telling that journalists at private and state- run newspapers rebel agains their own editors, who had collectively decreed that they would not run news openly critical of the regime- or the army. We also learned that there are precisely 866 atheists in the country, and that they worship satan in a café in downtown Cairo.

The beginning of 2013 is a distant era already- the laughter with Bassem Youssef making fun  of Mohammad Morsi, the now- imprisoned former president- and the country gathering for this collective release every Thursday night. He belonged to an organisation called the Muslim Brotherhood, who ruled the country for a year. Much hilarity at the way the country was run, but also outrage at blatant incompetence. This incompetent and funny organisation was labeled a terrorist group after being dissolved by the government. Between then, and 2014, the people took to the street to voice their support of the ouster of the first democratically elected president. He was, by a coalition between the armed forces, oligarchs and religious authorities not aligned with the MB. Through some very clever propaganda, in form of what may have begun as a joke- the Tamarod campaign- they lead the people to believe that he had to go immediately. After he was formally removed from office, his supporters camped on a square that was not called Tahrir. Although he had lost all popular legitimacy, they insisted he was still their president. Many of them were shot, and some killed for their belief, instigating a new cycle of violence, persecution and fear between the MB and the army with the Egyptian public thinking it was watching from the sidelines. The 15th of August 2013 will go down as the day on which they were removed from the considerations of the political class in the country, as well as marking a massacre that killed almost 650 people

The start of 2012… another century. Another energy. Violence on the streets, in the stadiums, in front of palaces… The people had the streets to themselves, absent a police force. In spite of reports of violent crime and robbery, there was a will to build afresh, to explore the potential of the country. Shops- now closed- were being opened. Art spaces- now endangered- were being visited by a curious public. Festivals were held in public space- one example is the now-defunct El Fan Midan- Art is no longer on the square. The potential of the country was not perceived to lie in the big plans of politics, but in the development of personal potentials, in the sharing of knowledge, in a critical exploration of the past. In June, Morsi was elected president, winning out agains Ahmed Shafik, the old regimes electoral ladder back to power. Even though it seemed the Islamists were taking over the country, spirits were still held high, voices were raised even higher in protest, or argument. He would, after all, be gone after a maximum of four years. And he did provide the country with some golden moments of comedy.

2011. We don't talk about 2011 anymore. The memory is too painful. Recalling the hope and unity, the anarchic energy of small groups and the promises made to many selves that this was finally, euphorically, our time and our world. But the signs to what was to follow were there from the start. "The army and the people are one hand." Thinking back, it is as if a floodgate for repressed emotions had been opened to relieve the pressure, to restore eroding humour and re-establish trust in the hand that turns the wheel. And that hand is, unfortunately, not that of the people. 

And so, we have a narrative, of sorts. A schoolboys summary of events far larger than himself, filled with personal memories, news clippings, but above all, with pictures that were drawn of those events on walls. They merged in research last year, a painful act of reminding myself in order to have a complete, somewhat independent timeline of the events surrounding that brief string of words you have just read. 

Memory is notoriously unreliable as a document. So we turn to documentations of events,  either personal records, or in the case of interconnected, seemingly random occurrences that form the stories of the life of an uprising, we turn to the documents we call historical. The old adage that history is written by the victors comes to mind- they usually own the printing presses and have the ability to spread their version of history until it becomes the accepted mythology. Thus history is as unreliable as the memory of the individual. Hence:


narrative

Line breaks: nar¦ra|tive
Pronunciation: /ˈnarətɪv
  
/

1.1[MASS NOUN] The narrated part of a literary work, as distinct from dialogue:the dialogue and the narrative suffer from awkward syntax
1.2[MASS NOUN] The practice or art of telling stories:traditions of oral narrative
1.3representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conformto an overarching set of aims or values:the coalition’s carefully constructed narrative about its sensitivity to recessionvictims

Origin
late Middle English (as an adjective): from French narratif-ive, from late Latin narrativus 'telling a story', from the verb narrare (see narrate).
I remember someone once jokingly telling me that the history schoolbooks in Egypt had been rewritten thrice since 2011- in the 2012 edition, the people had undertaken the revolution, in 2013, it was the Muslim brothers and in 2014, the army had reassumed its position at the campfire as the chief storyteller of Egyptian events. 

To bring together the many threads of that tale is an undertaking as large, if not larger, than the events themselves. 

It took 70 years to compile a first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary- conceived in 1857, published in full on the 19th of April 1928. It is not the largest dictionary to ever be compiled. The editors insisted that it be a comprehensive dictionary, listing words and their histories. not found in the dictionaries available in those times. They called for volunteers to read, copy and mail them quotations from books, both historical and current- by 1888 they had collected about two and a half million individual quotations- 1000 a day. The published edition- 10 volumes in 1928, 12 volumes in 1933, received over 5 million quotations, submitted by an estimated 2000 volunteers. About 2 million quotations were published in the dictionary. And so, we are presented with the standard narrative of the ever-evolving English language. (A concise narration of that process is to be found in "The Professor and The Madman" by Simon Winchester- proof that the truth makes excellent fiction.)

If one were to apply this method to the history of the Egyptian uprising, one would have to interview between 89 and 115 million Egyptians (the figure often quoted for the population of the country is the one I read in the 1995 edition of the Egyptian schoolbooks), and somehow manage to edit those tales into one very extended narrative. Sondos Shabayek is doing something in that vein with her performance project "Tahrir Monologues" and follow-up projects, Dalia El Bassiounys "Solitaire" examines a family narrative, and there are more than 25 documentary or docufiction films- "The Square", "The Good, The Bad and the Politician", "Art War", "The Secret Capital" are examples- examining various fragments of 2011 and the years that follow. And I don't even dare estimate how much has been written synchronously about those years, both in Arabic and other languages. 

Following the idea that nothing exists on its own, that events, objects or people exist in a nodal network, one would then have to consider expanding the scope of this research to include the rest of the world- after all, we are talking about one of the most medialised events in recent memory. Even working with what statistical researchers call a representative sample, it would be a megalomaniac undertaking. And then, someone would have to edit the research into a format that, while impressive and representative, does not sink a cargo freighter with its sheer weight. 

I'm glad to report that, having undertaken a comprehensive research based on news reports, blog posts, interviews and many other more esoteric sources- human rights reports, NSA documents, leaks, conspiracy theories- my ambitions in that direction have been satisfied with the publishing of Walls of Freedom. I know how much work and research went into it, how many months were spent sleepless by all involved, fuelled by the above-mentioned feeling of revolutionary responsibility. 

MeMu has its roots in that act, and a personal feeling that history and memory, whether personal or public, are too precious to be swept under the carpet. It is, in some ways, a continuation of my part in that book. See you in 170 years or so. Or next week. 

January 9, 2015

Collecting thoughts on Charlie

A collection of things, both interesting and inflammatory I've been reading over the last couple of days. Make up your mind which is which. This media coverage is disgusting and does not lead to a productive debate- between individuals or groups, ethnic or political, leading to any change in perception.

The solidarity shown by many media outlets, governments- and private people- is less than skin-deep, serving only to assuage their guilt, or to demonstrate their lack of it.

What is quickly becoming obvious is a lack of grounded understanding of a) the motivations the publishers of the news sheet had in putting out their sometimes shocking, sometimes smart, sometimes crass magazine every month b) the very real pain and mourning of family members, relatives and friends to the dead c) the risks of free speech and self-expression, which by now, I believe the above understood fully d) the recent history of the publication, going back ten years or so, and the brand of humour the authors ascribed to.

It has been reduced to a symbol to be interpreted as suits the needs of those 

who multiply it.

At this point, if I were to draw a cartoon about the event, it would reference a caricature by
Ganzeer, in which two terrorists were depicted against what I believe to be a stereotype of a Muslim cleric. I would replace the cleric by politicians, media observers, both far-right groups and Islamists, bloggers intent on hastily adding their voice to a debate they feel they have to part of, but are, in my opinion, premature in their participation. They're all smiling at the camera and exclaiming "Je suis Charlie!" happily, while standing over the bleeding, bullet-riddled corpses of the dead. Hanzala watches the scene, a silent reminder of those forgotten in the media debate.

There is no excuse for the events unfolding around us, whether it is a Boko Haram Massacre,  the recent suicide bomb attack in Lebanon, the Yemeni Car bomb attack, the Paris Murders, or the incitement to sectarian violence in European countries. 

A utopian view makes me hope that the events of January 7th will lead to a greater understanding and embracing citizens, whatever their background or ethnicity, as part of a pluralistic society, accepting differences, but also recognising the many common points and needs all members of that society have. A dystopian reality makes me question whether this utopian vision will ever happen.

Charlie Hebdo on Wikipedia / Charlie Hebdo sur Wikipedia

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

as of 11.01.2015



"Everything is forgiven" The day the counternarrative became the narrative.
Cover for the January 14th edition of Charlie Hebdo



The first step in fighting extremism is to break through our denial. The republic wants to think of itself as a place where minorities live in harmony with their society. “Liberty, equality, fraternity” are the principles we aspire to. Well, I’m sorry to break the news, but since the 1983 March for Equality and Against Racism—the first-ever response in France to a wave of racist crimes against people of Arab and African background—very little has changed.
Fighting Denial and Suspicion in France — OSF
Only a few credible causes have remained on the market of ideals, and the only one which seems to oppose imperialism today is the Islamic State (IS) or al-Qaeda. Besides, the way that those two organisations are depicted, like existential threats to the West, help make them credible. By exaggerating the threat of IS, we increase its attraction. Instead, I think that IS is not an existential threat; of course, we must fight it, fight its roots in the Iraqi and Syrian situations. But we have to be careful with the idea, heard these days, that we are engaged in a Third World War, this time against terrorism, thereby forgetting that the previous world wars opposed states, and not concepts.
Islamophobia becoming undeclared racism in France, says Alain Gresh — Middle East Eye


The people watching are, in some ways, imprisoned too. Gavin John Douglas Smith, in an article titled “Empowered watchers or disempowered workers”, convincingly shows how powerless most CCTV-operators feel. They are forced to look at situations without any way of influencing them, whenever something important happens they are pushed aside by somebody higher in rank, and they have zero freedom as they have to strictly follow procedure. They are actually being used as a small piece of human cognitive processing inside a giant automated surveillance system. They have to do the pattern recognition that computers aren’t capable of yet. We’ll get back to this theme later on.
Ai Weiwei is Living in Our Future — Medium.com



Zwei Wochen nach den blutigen Anschlägen auf die Redaktionsräume der französischen Satirezeitschrift Charlie Hebdo in Paris werden in Europa Forderungen laut die Befugnisse der Sicherheitsbehörden weiter auszuweiten, um Terroranschläge wirksamer vereiteln zu können. So setzte die deutsche Bundesregierung die umstrittene Vorratsdatenspeicherung wieder auf die Tagesordnung, dabei hat Frankreich eine ähnliche Regelung bereits umgesetzt. Doch die Anschläge in Paris konnten nicht verhindert werden. Derweil zeigt das Beispiel Ägypten wie missbräuchlich und willkürlich ein Staat mit uneingeschränkten Befugnissen bei der Telekommunikationsüberwachung agieren kann, wenn diese mit dem Anti-Terror-Kampf legitimiert werden (in Die Wochenzeitung am 22.1.2015).
Ägyptens restriktive Netzpolitik Sofian Philip Naceur



By the same token, we can readily comprehend the comment in the New York Times of civil rights lawyer Floyd Abrams, noted for his forceful defense of freedom of expression, that the Charlie Hebdo attack is “the most threatening assault on journalism in living memory.” He is quite correct about “living memory,” which carefully assigns assaults on journalism and acts of terror to their proper categories: Theirs, which are horrendous; and Ours, which are virtuous and easily dismissed from living memory.
We Are All ... Fill in the Blank — Noam Chomsky


Mit der jüngsten Haltung, sich nicht vom IS-Terror distanzieren zu müssen, haben sie deutlich gemacht, wie tief das Gefühl der Minderwertigkeit in ihnen steckt. Denn irgendjemand könnte glauben, dass die Grausamkeiten etwas mit uns zu tun hätten. Kaum auszuhalten, wenn dieser Eindruck entstehen würde. Dumm nur, dass er sehr wohl etwas mit uns zu tun hat. Zum einen findet dieser Terror im Namen unserer Religion statt, und zum anderen sind die Männer und Frauen aus unseren Reihen – egal, ob Konvertit oder von Elternhaus – Muslime.
Die Opferrolle der Muslime in Deutschland nervt — Die Welt


I read that this is your September 11. Reading this commences a race within my own soul, between empathy and horror. Empathy for the reasons that are obvious. But why horror? Because I am an American who lived through and saw what happened to my country after that day. And I implore you, with all the authority I can muster, which isn’t much, I suppose; only the authority of an American who admires your country and its history and would rather drink a glass of good Burgundy nowhere else on Earth than the Place de la Contrescarpe: Do not do what we did, do not become what we became.
Hey France, Don’t Do What We Did After 9/11 — The Daily Beast


Interview with Makhlouf and Anwar, Caricaturists from Egypt (German)  — ORF


“The concept of radicalisation emphasises the individual and, to some extent, the ideology and the group, and significantly de-emphasises the wider circumstances – the ‘root causes’ that it became so difficult to talk about after 9/11, and that are still not brought into analyses,” writes Mark Segwick. “So long as the circumstances that produce Islamist radicals’ declared grievances are not taken into account, it is inevitable that the Islamist radical will often appear as a ‘rebel without a cause’.”
The convenient myth of radicalisation — Middle East Eye


So when the French government meets with officials from the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and other Western nations to discuss how to better cooperate on combating terrorism, they would be well-advised to focus on the causes rather than the symptoms. Resources are better spent on assisting indigenous reformers in the Middle East, whether secular or Islamist, in their efforts to create more political space for freedom of speech, association, and expression
How to prevent another Paris? Experts debate issues that divide, unite — CNN

The Egyptian grand mufti, the country’s most influential Muslim cleric, said the cover was “racist” while Dar al-Ifta, an Egyptian Islamic educational authority, described it as “an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims”.

A leading association of Muslim academics based in Qatar and lead by preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi claimed it would “stir up hatred”.

Muslim leaders appeal for calm as Charlie Hebdo special hits the streets — The Guardian

Gerard Biard of Charlie Hebdo told AFP on Tuesday that the Turkish version was "the most important" of the five foreign versions of the weekly being published a week after 12 people were killed in a jihadist attack on its Paris offices.
Charlie Hebdo Turkish version to counter 'attack on secularism'- Yahoo News


It is thought that this sequence of events triggered something in the collective human psyche that night, as it became apparent that rather than fighting hypocrisy the answer is to simply embrace it and make it the universal norm. A still-sleepy Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations said: ‘I am happy we can all finally agree on something. The United Nations is the model for this type of thinking. I am going back to sleep now but tomorrow we will outline a new proposal to embrace this surprising turnaround in the human condition.
World Agrees Hypocrisy Is Our Only Hope — Karl reMarks

Paris - Der Trauermarsch für die Opfer der Anschläge von Paris wird in Erinnerung bleiben. Wegen der überwältigenden Solidaritätsgesten, in erster Linie. Aber auch wegen der skurrilen Details, die rund um die Aufnahmen der marschierenden Staats- und Regierungschefs bekannt werden.
Israel: Ultraorthodoxe Zeitung radiert Merkel aus Pariser Trauerfoto— Spiegel Online

More than 40 world leaders and top officials and politicians from around the world joined about 1.6 million people as they marched in Paris today [January 11] to denounce the terror attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. The attacks, over three days, have left 17 people dead in France, including cartoonists and police officers. More than 3.7m people are estimated to have marched across the country today, making the rallies the largest in the nation's history. Similar but smaller solidarity gatherings were held in Cairo, Beirut, New York and Madrid, to name a few, in support of freedom of expression.
They Are Not Charlie: They Torture, Jail and Kill Journalists in Their Own Countries — Global Voices Online


Why? According to the lawyer, Charlie Hebdo will “cede nothing” to terrorists and extremists seeking to silence their voice.
Have Charlie Hebdo’s staff quickly forgotten the show of support from the Muslim population of France, and the Muslim world, against extremism?
From every day Muslims in Europe, children in Palestine and Lebanon, to Al-Azhar and the Arab League, Muslims across the globe joined together in declaring their stance against terrorism.
Charlie Hebdo Turns Its Back On Muslims, Plans New Prophet Muhammad Cartoons — Egyptianstreets.com


Audibert made it clear that in light of Netanyahu's intention to arrive, an invitation would also be extended to Abbas. And indeed, several hours after Abbas announced that he would not be traveling to Paris, his office issued a statement stating that he would in fact be at the march.
Hollande asked Netanyahu not to attend Paris memorial march— Haaretz


Reporters Without Borders singled out leaders from Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as being responsible for particularly harsh environments for journalists. These countries rank respectively 159th, 154th, 148th, 121st and 118th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom in a league table compiled by the group.
Presence at Paris rally of leaders with poor free press records is condemned



Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, was quoted by the website nrg.co.il as saying that he regretted that "after every anti-Semitic attack in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statements about the importance of aliyah [immigration to Israel], rather than employ every diplomatic and informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe."

European Jewish group slams Netanyahu's call for French Jews to immigrate to Israel- Haaretz.com


Many in the past few days have pointed out that Charlie Hebdo was a racist, Islamophobic publication that perpetrated the colonial stereotypes of Muslim fanaticism. I do not want to get bogged down in “je suis Charlie/je ne suis pas Charlie,” which is proving to be a very lively debate on the limits of freedom of speech. Instead, I will say this: current events are an incentive to think beyond the colonial mindset. The colonial administrators that I read every day believed that Muslims inherently had different brains. For them, Islam clung to the skin and the genes, saturating the individual and leaving them no space to be social beings. They were “only Muslims” and nothing else, to borrow the title of Naomi Davidson’s recent book.
Charlie Hebdo and the Limits of the Republic — jadaliyya.org



Daily tabloid Hamburger Morgenpost targeted in arson attack after reprinting French magazine Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
German newspaper attacked 'over cartoons' — AlJazeera



The ideology and strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and Daesh does not advocate the creation of civil war in the ’West’, but on the contrary to create it in the “East” and hermetically separate the two worlds. Never has Sayyid Qutb, nor any of his successors, called to provoke confrontation between Muslims and non-Muslims in the territories of the latter.

Who ordered the attack against Charlie Hebdo? — Intifada.net


What is extraordinary, when even the most cursory consideration of recent history is taken into account, is not that this horrific incident occurred, but that such events do not happen more often. It is a great testament to the enduring humanism of the Muslim population of the world that only a tiny minority resort to such acts in the face of endless provocation.
Charlie Hebdo and the hypocrisy of pencils — Redflag.au.org



Below are cartoons drawn over the past several decades by Cabu, one of the most emblematic cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo (if not the most). Cabu was murdered along with his colleagues this past week. He was 75 years old.
The Charlie Hebdo cartoons no one is showing you.— Daily Kos
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Before 10.01.2015


Is it time for me to be celebrated for my brave and noble defense of free speech rights? Have I struck a potent blow for political liberty and demonstrated solidarity with free journalism by publishing blasphemous cartoons? If, as Salman Rushdie said, it’s vital that all religions be subjected to “fearless disrespect,” have I done my part to uphold western values?
IN SOLIDARITY WITH A FREE PRESS: SOME MORE BLASPHEMOUS CARTOONS — The Intercept



It is almost as if there is no hope. So many of us (Muslims) would rather not look in the mirror and address our shortcomings. We do not want to acknowledge our accountability for many of the problems we face in our part of the world and have exported to others. Yet those Muslims who do are finding it near to impossible to be heard.
TERRORISM AND THE NEED TO ACKNOWLEDGE ACCOUNTABILITY
Inner Workings of my Mind — Blog


Es klingt, als würde Heinen das in diesen Tagen inflationär benutzte Bekenntnis „Je Suis Charlie“ nicht als Zeichen der Solidarität zu verstehen, sondern als wehleidiges: Ja, uns wird auch Unrecht getan, durch diese bösen Rufe auf Demonstrationen und das alles.
Zeitungsverleger instrumentalisieren „Charlie Hebdo“-Anschlag für Kampf gegen Pegida


Les musulmans priés de condamner des terroristes : quelle folie !



But for Andeel, the outrage isn’t always just about religion.

“Part of this hatred has to do with the kind of feelings Egyptians are exposed to all the time. They hear about terrorism, death and violence on a daily basis in the media,” he said. “People have gradually lost their respect for and value of human life in general.”

“Imagine an oppressed Muslim deprived of all of his rights, someone who has not achieved a single success in his life, seeing armed men, in the name of Islam, killing those westerners who make fun of Islam,” Andeel continued. “It is a moment that this oppressed person wants to be part of. He strongly identifies with this utopia.”
Despite gov't statement, many Egyptians divided on Charlie Hebdo killings — Mada Masr


Le corolaire pratique de cette observation est que ces cérémonies de commémoration ne sont pas triviales. Derrière leur paravent de neutralité positive, elles sont des actes symboliques performatifs. Ces cérémonies nous enseignent quelles vies il convient de pleurer mais aussi et surtout quelles vies demeureront exclues de cette économie moderne et humaniste de la compassion.
Ces morts que nous n’allons pas pleurer — http://blogs.mediapart.fr



Joe Sacco: On Satire – a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks — TheGuardian


Muslim scholars responded quickly to the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which killed 12 and injured 10. Slamming the incident as un-Islamic, scholars express anger towards the perpetrators who "betrayed and tainted" Islam rather than defended it. In addition to vehemently condemning the attack, the scholars' comments reflected a concern about the damage it causes to the image of Islam and Muslims.
How Muslim Scholars View Paris Attack (In-depth) — onislam.net


Charlie Hebdo was not in reality a model of freedom of speech. It has ended up, like so much of the “human rights left”, defending U.S.-led wars against “dictators”.
What to Say When You Have Nothing to Say? — Counterpunch.org


First, many of the most vocal ‘defenders’ of Charlie Hebdo are very new and selective fans of the satirist magazine. For instance, it is amazing how many Islamophobic and far right people are declaring their love for a magazine that until recently they would criticize as a ‘communist rag’ (after Charlie’s biting satire mocked their own heroes, from Jesus Christ to Marine Le Pen). These are the heroic defenders of free speech, like Geert Wilders, who want to ban the Quran because it incites violence.
No, we are NOT all Charlie (and that’s a problem) — opendemocracy.org


#JeSuisAhmed is an inspired attempt by Muslims to participate in the collective grief without capitulating to the demands that they apologize or condemn a massacre in which they had no part. It also allows them to avoid proclaiming support for a publication which routinely published extremely racist caricatures of Muslims, as well as other marginalized groups. But, perhaps more importantly, it forces non-Muslims to recognize the ways in which the crimes of religious extremists not only target them but victimize whole groups of Muslims.
“Wait, I’m Not #Charlie. I’m #Ahmed.” — Good Magazine


Here’s what’s difficult to parse in the face of tragedy: yes, Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical newspaper. Its staff is white. Its cartoons often represent a certain, virulently racist brand of French xenophobia. While they generously claim to ‘attack everyone equally,’ the cartoons they publish are intentionally anti-Islam, and frequently sexist and homophobic.
In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Criticism — http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com


Time and again, law-enforcement experts and civil-liberties advocates have warned about the perils of profiling based on religion or ethnicity. It goes without saying that it is morally wrong to impose guilt on individuals who happen to share the same immutable characteristics or religious faith as a criminal. But it also poses serious dangers to society.
Did Religious Profiling Allow Paris Terrorists to Proceed Undetected?


Let us not forget the pregnant Muslim woman who was attacked for wearing a Niqab in the Parisian suburb of Argenteuil. She not only suffered from anti-Islamic taunts by her attackers, but also had her veil ripped, hair cut off, and most depressingly of all, her soon-to-be born baby murdered via miscarriage.
Paris, #BlackLivesMatter, the Cultural Violence, and the White Western State — thefeministwire.com


Des petits détails encore une fois inexplicables, comment se fait-il que la chaine de la télévision d’infos en continu israélienne i24 ait annoncé les origines franco-alégrienne des assaillants dès 15 heures ? alors que aucun médias français n’étaient capable de le dire, et comment JSS annonce bien avant les médias français les noms de ceux-là ? Et comment se fait-il que le gouvernement américain relayé par CBS annonce la mort d’un terroriste et la capture de deux autres à cette heure, 1 heure du mat’ ? le scénario et l’attaque de Charlie hebdo serait ‘il déjà écrit ?
Les incohérences de l’attentat de charlie Hebdo, voici l’enquête qui va vous faire bondir — lepetitrapporteurdunet.unblog.fr


Cartoonist promises to draw Mohamed every day for the rest of the year in protest of Charlie Hebdo attack — Independent.co.uk


But it’s wrong to approach this issue as an either-or question, to blaspheme or not blaspheme. Free speech allows us to say hateful, idiotic things without being punished by the government. But embracing that right means that we need to acknowledge when work is hateful or idiotic, and can’t be defended on its own terms. We need to recognize, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias argues today, that standing up for magazines like Charlie Hebdo is a “regrettable” necessity, in part because it provides cover for anti-Muslim backlash. “Blasphemous, mocking images cause pain in marginalized communities,” he writes. “The elevation of such images to a point of high principle will increase the burdens on those minority groups.” And the more those groups are mistreated, the more angry radicals we can expect to see.
Charlie Hebdo Is Heroic and Racist — Slate.com




But rather than exulting in this, we ought to find it regrettable. The fact of the matter is that racist and Islamophobic attitudes are a huge problem in the everyday lives of Europe's Muslim population. Far-right political parties are on the rise, and mainstream parties are moving to co-opt their agendas. Blasphemous, mocking images cause pain in marginalized communities. The elevation of such images to a point of high principle will increase the burdens on those minority groups. European Muslims find themselves crushed between the actions of a tiny group of killers and the necessary response of the majority society. Problems will increase for an already put-upon group of people.
Two — but only two — cheers for blasphemy — Vox.com

In real life, solidarity takes many forms, almost all of them hard. This kind of low-cost, risk-free, E-Z solidarity is only possible in a social-media age, where you can strike a pose and somebody sees it on their timeline for 15 seconds and then they move on and it’s forgotten except for the feeling of accomplishment it gave you. Solidarity is hard because it isn’t about imaginary identifications, it’s about struggling across the canyon of not being someone else: it’s about recognizing, for instance, that somebody died because they were different from you, in what they did or believed or were or wore, not because they were the same.
Why I am not Charlie — Paper-bird.net

January 5, 2015

MeMu: Walking around with a Camera.

Projects are 0.1% inspiration 89.99% perspiration and legwork, 5.84% artwork, 27.2% communication, 52.3% endurance and the rest can be filled with shots of Tsipouro (or whatever hard liquor makes your brain cells buzz and of course, actual percentages may vary. Statistics are wildly unreliable…).

Today, I'd like to focus on some of the 89.99% that are represented by the legwork involved in such an undertaking- some of the research behind the conception of this multidisciplinary project. In part, I'd like to do this to talk about the process, but also to give myself some critical distance from the depths of the project.

As mentioned earlier, I've been documenting street art and graffiti for a number of years, meaning that I actually walk around cities looking for walls, galleries, little details that enrich otherwise barren facades and hidden messages shining through a coat of paint. It's a good way to explore the territories, both ideological and representational, that are deliniated in a city, of familiarising onesself with art forms and practices. It has also proved to be a good starting point for many a conversation about (street) art and culture, which may take an occasionally surprising turn.

Picture blatantly stolen from Suzeeinthecity
Upon arriving in Berlin in the year 1999, I was struck by how different this city was to my native Cairo, how much more colourful it appeared. Part of the colour came off the walls, which were painted with occasionally massive pieces, messages from anonymous exclaimers, a new symbolic world to decypher. I took part in a few demonstrations, noting, over and over that they left stencils and political messages in their wake.

Emess
Returning to Cairo in 2004, I was reversely struck by  how barren the walls were. One of the few spaces that seemed to allow for an interruption was the ramp of the 15th of May bridge in Zamalek. There, I marvelled as I read the words "Don't be Afraid, it's just Street Art." It proved a revelation- in Egypt, this is possible!- a cartoon lightbulb went up in my mind. I began researching whether other projects had managed to materialise somewhere under the surface of  contemporary culture. At the time, I found a lot of nothing. Much later, and after some very sporadic discoveries, I came across this post- by Suzeeinthecity- outlining a brief history of street art. Even later, meeting Rana Jarbou provided me with further and very welcome insight.

Emess
I returned to Berlin and found that the pieces that resonated with me the most were not the more elaborate artistic pieces. Rather, I found myself looking for small-scale expression, usually no bigger than an A3 sheet of paper, in the form of stencils with a message. Less artistic, and by the standards of graffiti writers, not even art. But they have their place in the public sphere and they have their purpose beyond the gratification of the author. They spread criticism, love, statements, hate, opposition- subconscious injections to the public discourse. A growing awareness of the meaning of these expressions lead me, who does not consider himself an academic, to texts by thinkers and philosophers, urbanists, artists and architects. I began discovering that an academic subculture was growing around the graffiti subcultures and that several writers and researchers had begun- after the French academic invasion- to investigate street art with some intensity. It had entered the discourse- a nodal network of decentralised knowledge and reflection, a reflection of the object it was examining.

I went back to Egypt in 2009. Nothing had changed, yet. We went to the beach and drew in the sand.

Dave the Chimp
In the meantime, I had visited Dublin, Rome and London, documenting as I went along, the spread of local opinion- and art- on those walls. A couple of years of research had already attuned me to names such as Banksy, Faile, Cartrain and many other, less known names, and I knew which spots might prove to be a fruitful hunting ground in the chase for the elusive tag. London was a revelation, even compared to Berlin- it was there that, mainly through thoughts about Banksy, I started to understand that graffiti and street art was moving out of the streets and becoming- dare I say it- art.


I had also begun to see the process that underlie graffiti, and that these moved very much counter to what I understood as a hegemonic discourse of space. Graffiti artists- or street artists, there is a difference- don't ask for permission to speak. They disrupt and inject, the art from is illegal in many places. They counter what Micheal Bamberg calls a "Master Narrative", or at the very least give it the chance to listen to a voice that would usually not be given the permission to speak. The voice has taken the permission, and it has spoken. Deal with it.


A few years later, two, to be precise, and after much walking around and looking at walls of brick and mortar, I was clicking through a digital wall. I noticed a photograph of a gas cloud envelopping a mass of people crossing a bridge I was very familiar with- Qasr el Nil bridge in Cairo. It was a massive plume of smoke, and soldiers seemed to be pouring forth from it in riot gear. The date was the 25th of January 2011.

To be continued.





December 30, 2014

What is a MeMu?

After a long, self-imposed hiatus on writing and publishing any news on this blog, current events lead me back to this space. Racking my brain what I would write about, and after many unpublished attempts at expressing what happens in a mind that is slowly putting itself back together again, it is research that leads to this post, the first in a series of hopefully many to come.

Over the last three years, I have written a lot about social uprisings, personal reflections on societal change and a whole load of nonsense- I stand by it fully- reflecting my state of mind at the time. This year, 2014, has been full of activity and action. It has been, from my personal perception, one of the most special years of my life, due to a number of personal and professional developments, regressions and decisions. Never mind this year and the past, welcome, dear reader to the here and now, enriched by those memories and framed by the experiences of the abovementioned years.

"If graffiti would change anything, it would be illegal" The question to ask is maybe: what does it change?


In the heat of events, it is almost impossible to step back and reflect on what you have been witnessing. One of the main foci that has shaped my experiences over the past years- readers who have been following this for a while will know this- is my interactions with street art scenes in Germany and Egypt. At the end of 2013, along with friends, we initiated a project called infiltri- now somewhat defunct- to document the topics discussed in street art. I have taken part and led street art workshops with children and refugees, written on the streets of Cairo and other cities. It has not always been easy, or fulfilling, to follow this interest, but it did lead to the question above: what, indeed, is a MeMu?

MeMu is a research project which began in Berlin 2012 and carried over into many other cities I have had the pleasure- and occasional pain- to visit over the past two years. One of the activities I engage in when travelling, is the documentation of local street art scenes. Having taken part in Mad Graffiti Week Berlin, I became aware of the changing nature of the spread of social messages online and off, realising the interpollination between those two spheres- the online could not be separated from the offline anymore, and actions in one space was mirrored by a reaction in another. The momentum generated through the interaction between those two spheres is global and very visible- if you read the writing on the wall.

Working on the book "Walls of Freedom" with Don and Basma, the significance of street art as part of any social movement became apparent, both as a means of communication- a grass-roots medium, if you will- and as a vehicle to the creation of spaces of offline meaning. Much reading and research followed, leading me, amongst others, to one Richard Dawkins and his "Selfish Gene". In this book, written in 1976, before the internet, digital photography or, indeed street art, had entered the mainstream of our lives, Dawkins discusses genetics and culture in the same breath- a gene is framed as a virulent idea that seeks to survive and adapts to its current environment.

Street art works much in the same way. Once created, it survives its environment and replicates out of it, creating a new understanding with every person it reaches. Never knowing what the persons' context is- something termed the invisible public by danah boyd- means that once an image of street art hits the web, it will mutate in unexpected ways, if not as an image, then as a part of our perception of a culture. The author never knows how the work will be interpreted, or how it will continue to spread, sometimes within the space of a globalised day, which ideas it might spark or whose ire it might elicit.

Offline, though every street artist hopes for the creation of a space of meaning around their work, they do not know how it will be accepted, or when it will be erased. Two examples for this kind of space come to mind readily- Mohammad Mahmoud street in Cairo and Exarchiea in Athens. Though both are located in central parts of their city, they are, through the presence and preservation of street art, marked as alternative territories of ideology. The inhabitants of those areas fight to preserve these murals, as they feel they represent, both artistically and spatially, their ideals.

The online attention given to these spaces adds a performative aspect to street art that goes beyond the action of expressing your opinion in public space. Even though a single artwork may be erased, it continues to carry the meaning of its existence and former presence. Spaces, once marked, are identified globally as a "world" of meaning (world refers to one Jean-Luc Nancy, whose thoughts from beyond the grave are an influence on the research), which exists either within, or without our understanding of it. Faced with the fact of its unmitigated existence, how do we react to this space of meaning? How do the creators- artists, activists, etc.- uphold the world once they have created it? What happens when an outside force, with an understanding alien to that world, enters it and attempts to reframe it in their understanding?

I began writing. MeMu had started to manifest. MeMu, or as it shall henceforth be known, Memetic Murals is a research and action project that has now begun. #MeMu_15 is how it will be identified on media that use such tags. I am a bit excited and even more curious to see where it takes us.

In the coming weeks, I will publish some case studies and examples from the document that has grown around MeMu thoughts, and thoughts that surround those case studies. And so, welcome to this.