03: 31 am

There is an ocean in my heart. It beats with a sense of urgency. Its water runs deep. It murmurs and shatters on the shore of old longing before it gets swallowed in moving sands. If you observe it carefully, you can catch the trails of Eurydice and Orpheus in a haunting pattern. They are both swaying between the earth and warfare’s dust. They are both trying not to look back, while the looked at stares back at them. Struggling with the mechanism of absence and presence, they are sculpting a narrative of loss. Both the seer and the seen are dallying in my heart, wanting to go in, to be in, but the in is still taken hostage by a sense of fog. My heart knows that by looking back I can alter the results of an experience. So when I look back at my origins, at my scattered roots and how they resemble so much the roots of Beirut, the Beirut that I love like one can love a deep old bleeding wound, I ask myself, am I making Beirut disappear into the seen or into the real, am I making myself disappear into the seen or into the real of Beirut?

A man is running in a grey street, foggy with warfare dust, holding in each hand a grocery bag, a surviving-war type of grocery. Batteries, aspirin, matches, cigarettes, candles, dry beans, lentils, rice or pasta, most probably rice, oil, bread if he got lucky in the queue, anything edible in a can, powder milk, soap, disinfectant, thick scotch tape to hold together broken windows, and a message in sugar for a child to say I’m sorry for losing my temper this morning, I hope I’ll make it alive and give it to you. A man is running in a grey street foggy with warfare dust, I notice his tense shoulders, the devastation and the smell of death around him. The landscape is familiar, like a snapshot from Beirut throughout the 80s till mid 90s. But this is not Beirut, this is Aleppo, and the man is running as I’m writing.

October will be leaving 2012 tomorrow, yet the sun is still fiery red with dispatches of thunders. My mind keeps hurrying, slaloming between invisible checkpoints, towards Syria, sometimes to Aleppo, sometimes to Damascus. Last time I was there was in Spring 2003. I spoke about it once while tearing up after reading Syrians writing their longing for their beloved homeland and their yearning for a sense of normalcy. They now relate to Fayrouz and Ziad Rahbani songs in the same way us Lebanese related to these songs during the long winters of war. I know what it feels like to tie a hope for a sense of a place in a mandeel (handkerchief) holding on to Fayrouz, Ziad Rahbani and Marcel Khalife singing Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry. I know how it feels to be forgotten by the entire world and finding comfort in some tarab while you’re sitting under the flying bombs. I know how it feels to use the last battery to play songs rather than save it for the next newsflash because you can’t take it anymore, because it’s either the voices in these songs or the harrowing echo of people crying out to God, vacillating between cursing and pleading.

I reminisced how we used to drive from Beirut to Blad Al Sham, Syria, to follow some theater courses, to attend local and international seminars, and to buy essences of jasmine and gardenia from Souq Al-Hamidiyah, near the Umayyad mosque in Damascus. And books. We used to drive to Damascus to buy books. Syrian authors and dramaturgists, Mohammad Al Maghout, Sadallah Wannouss and Nizar Qabbani, Arabic poetry from many different countries, and European theater plays, Durrenmatt, Brecht, Strindberg and Beckett translated to Arabic. We’d return from Syria with so many gems. Astérix and Obélix translated to Arabic, food, soaps, spices, dark chocolate covered orange peels, new friends and stories. We share, us Lebanese and Syrians, a cultural and historical memory, the good and the bad mosaics, because we have a collective memory. They know what we’ve been through and what we’re currently going through and we know what they’ve been through and what they’re currently going through. And to witness the Syrians endure the same patterns of war, from the harrowing tragedies to the very details in songs, the little details of war, breaks my heart.I was told in private I wish more people understood what you meant by collective memory. So I started writing, bifurcated and opened some old boxes. It is hard, almost impossible, to write about a collective memory in this particular tense present. It is hard to write about a place I’ve been trying not to look back at, all the while looking back at, in private notebooks, for years. But I will try. I will try to write about Ariadne’s thread, which one must hold onto when submerged by currents of war.

We are in a state of war. It is an organized assault on the spiritual, physical, mental, rational and emotional level of the human being. The assault has hijacked the inward and the outward cognition resulting in a massive loss of perspective.  We are exiled from our original capacity of being and from our willingness to act within our multiple humane possibilities. The heart and the conscience, when not completely forgotten, are reduced to soporific enactments to fit one-dimensional images. Values are adorned like brands simply to fit in. Tragedies are exploited for narcissistic ambitions and recycled as sensational entertainment. Everything is flattened to a tabloid dimension. The assault is so ubiquitous and perverse that it has radically affected nature itself. Unmanned drones are replacing kingdoms of bees. People are keen on exhibiting their humanitarian aura when a Circus Maximus is willing to fund the glossy opportunity for them. Where are they when invisible heroes get assassinated in broad daylight by the very Circus Maximus? They continue their grotesque mise en scène with a scripted reaction to fit in, opting for the easiest way out, oblivious how their passive cowardliness, from the lowest echelon to the highest one, indulge a fascistic assault on humanity itself.

If I have to describe war to someone who has watched it only on a screen, I’d begin by describing its texture. War has a specific texture that permeates to the bones. It is synthetic. War is synthetic and you, a civilian, become hostage of its synthetic reality. You vacillate between a sense of indeterminacy and a state of fog, by being occasionally remembered for some political agendas yet forgotten repeatedly on a daily basis. War disrupts our nature of being, forcing an internal and external displacement. You become exiled from your native space and from your native memory. You are forced to live within the perverse tension between existence and death concentrated in a tight parenthesis. This acute tension, which people might experience in some rare moments through their lifetime, becomes your daily reality. Your normal state is of acute stress. Bliss is met with heightened anxiety; because you’re inspecting the shadows looming behind and oh yes here they are looming indeed. You know too much to lull your brain on new age embroidery. You become an expert in noticing fraud, lies, uncanny patterns, hidden cues, and disparate yet connectable dots. You discipline yourself to dissimulate your inner startle to ineffable triggers. You don’t want to interrupt self-complacent monologues oblivious to what you’ve been through. It will change nothing to the running order. The petty sorrows and sanctimonious gigs will still be measured on par with what you’ve been through, and you know better not to disrupt the status quo. Anyone who could have helped you has already helped you. In war, you witness monsters committing the unimaginable and people risking their life to save another fellow’s children. You adjust your expectations accordingly, because the scale of what matters and who matters changes drastically. War exposes the countless lies and truth within the intimate interactions of our inner and outer lives. It exhibits the strata of darkness and light between human beings. You become a mystic even at your worst hedonistic stage because you’ve been through hell already. You’ve watched your house along with other houses crumble down, yet you were still considered lucky because you didn’t disappear underneath the dust. You know each day is your last day. Your generosity is vast like the sea.  War survivors don’t form clubs to meet each other on Sunday, but they do recognize each other like a ghost would recognize another ghost.

War goes beyond the destruction of a land and the annihilation of a people. War sets its own force of gravity. Its mechanisms are embedded in an everlasting spiral. War manipulates the causes and effect of history, taking victims out of the narrative so a whole other story can be told in literature, in school textbooks, in academia and in the manipulated synthetic memory. War is perverse, it promises you to ceasefire yet it spirals overtly and covertly. In fact it starts for real when you think it has ended. Soon you discover the truth, that the pre-announced end was just a brief interlude. You learn that you’ve been lied to. You learn that war never ends, because war never ends. That war you are hearing about in the local or international news report? That war is in fact the first war humans have started. It’s the same one. It never ended.

War never ended, war never ends. War rolls in especially when the lucky ones are comfortably seated in their peaceful armchairs enjoying peaceful rhetoric on human rights and democracy drafting an ominous treaty while simultaneously blackmailing other lucky groups into selling and buying shells and drones to counter what they created in the first place. War never ends. It feeds from the silent wicked atmosphere running for decades under the patronage of a foreign-implemented dictatorship fond of horrific secret labyrinths. War never ends. It sneaks in among medallions, tributes and selective pathos. It lingers behind statues to remind you of the myriad of subterfuges and how missed or well-hidden details can kill as much as bullets, white phosphorus and unmanned drones. War never ends. It exaggerates some numbers while reducing other tragedies to mere silhouettes on a tabloid cover. It snickers at you right in your face while they are honoring false heroes, hijacking sacred verses, and printing monsters with a fabricated aura on posters. War never ends. It sells hope in treacherous ramifications deluding youth and their hungry urge to be underneath the spotlight. War never ends. It casts its shadow behind protests, manifestations and sit-ins. It kidnaps silent heroes and tortures them in invisible dungeons. It lurks behind the shoulders of activists rushing to center stage to rage at the bourgeoisie before doing their homework. It nests in anarchists pockets who didn’t bother to study about hedge funds, naked credit default swaps and derivatives speculation by commercial banks, for the trap to break some commercial glass was gratifying enough. It sabotages worthy causes because the people who meant well never studied the monster. War never ends. You know you’re imposed a lie and you swallow it. You’re in a minority within a minority. You build intimate patterns to shield yourself and preserve your sanity. And what emerges from these patterns is a constant – whether conscious or unconscious it doesn’t matter – exploration of the dualities and polarities of life. You constantly struggle with the creative and destructive tensions between evil and good.

Those who remained awake by not compromising their  humanity during the loudest part of war know the truth. Most of them are silent. They are silent behind their elegant wit, their sardonic shield and their generosity. They nod and distance themselves rather than tolerate the intolerable. They exchange brief snippets of what they know is the truth. They smile at foreign activists who often feel the need to give them a lesson. Apparently their faces don’t reveal what they’ve been through, because they didn’t sell their survivor status to Circus Maximus. They drown their pain at the bottom of a swimming pool. And they keep on picking the bullet riddled sequencing of their memory on different planes. Because once you’ve decided to survive, you ought to properly survive. You ought to nurture a connection in a geography of disconnections.

Once you’re expelled, once you’ve managed to escape, or once you no longer recognize your place of origin, the habitat of your roots, there is this notion, slowly reigning in, that you don’t figure and you won’t figure unless you fight war’s own force of gravity. You are born with a natural right to a place and when that place disappears you still have to hold on to your right for a sense of belonging. Even if it becomes –for it definitely will- a love and hate relationship, you still must hold onto that. This is what ties your personal, intimate and subjective memory to the collective one. Places after warfare destruction often look like ghosts. There is material evidence of life but with an absence of life itself. Soon the imported material with the slow metamorphosis of its people renders it unrecognizable. The archives of the present disappear. Your body having no access to that place, by not being allowed or able to physically return, or by being physically present but you no longer recognize it, you must ritualize even more the act of remembering the land and the language, in order to remain connected to the collective. Because once you start losing your relationship with the land, slowly you dissolve the relationship with its language. Once you start losing your language you slowly disengage from the land. Language enables you to position yourself and resettle your experience appropriately in the present of your landscape, so you wouldn’t be paraphrased in an exploitive parameter, or written out of the real story.

I was born to parents from different nationalities. Lebanon was already in a state of covert war. A couple of years later, the overt Israeli invasion and multiple civil wars erupted in my landscape. I was raised into many languages and cultures, in a city that was and still is in transit. I experienced twice the loss of a house from war during childhood so the sense of belonging never crystallized in me. Wherever I am, whichever country or city, I’m always in the longing for elsewhere rather than in the belonging. I am always dallying, longing, dallying, longing, wanting to go in, wanting to be in, but once in, I want out. I can feel home with a soulmate, when I’m swimming laps for hours and when I was living in Italy (but that’s another story). These are the spaces in which I have felt something that could resemble a sense of belonging. But if there is one thing that has been constant in my life, although manifested in different languages depending on the period, it is my writing and my tall pile of private notebooks. I have been writing since my early childhood. My mother taught me to read when I was three years old and since then I had always pencils in my pockets. Whenever we had to run for an improvised shelter I would insist to carry my journals with me. I was frenetically checking on the state of my heart, the acuity of my perception and the intensity of my imagination. Looking back now I realize that my writing was a political act in se since I was a child.  I was engaging in the act of recording, remembering. I was revealing my potential that was constantly threatened and sometimes getting denied by the circumstances in my landscape. I was resisting war’s gravity.

A man is running in a grey street, foggy with warfare dust, holding in each hand a grocery bag, a surviving-war type of grocery. And my heart sinks because it is an open street with no walls to shield him from bullets. He is running, risking his life, to feed his family. I don’t know his name. I’ve never met him. But I know the type of cold sweat you go through when running in an open street foggy with warfare dust. I know him. I know his voice, the cough nested in his chest, his accent and the dark horses visiting his present nightmares. I know his current and past order of priorities. I know the type of olives, bread, yoghurt, tobacco, scents, rose ice cream, sesame sweets, Damascene white sheets, and other vital commodities necessary for that sense of normalcy he longs for. I know the kind of early dawn he yearns for, an early dawn promising marjoram, thyme, sage, mint, saffron, cinnamon and cumin for the day. I know his questions, and like him, I don’t have many answers. I know, because he is Syrian, because I am Lebanese, because I am who I am, because he is who he is. Because he will express grief, anger, love and awe by remembering Allah. Whether he is Muslim, Christian, Alawi, Druze, Ismaili, Jewish, or agnostic communist atheist Marxist, they will all say smallah smallah when appreciating beauty, hamdillah for gratitude, Allah yekhalleek for please, wallah for really or honestly (works same for an ironic oh really), Allah yehmeek for stay safe, Allah lay semhak for damn you, Allah yekhdak for to hell with you, and hamdillah ala salama for welcome back. Because Allah is in our native language, our daily language, from the day we were born, whether we are conscious of this baraka or not. Because he is Syrian, because I am Lebanese. Because the same person who whispered to me about the collective memory was praying for the historical Umayyad mosque in Aleppo to be spared, only a few days before it was damaged. I never met the man but I know him, because that man is connected to my collective memory. Because there is so much of Syria in Lebanon and there is so much of Lebanon in Syria, collective strata of light and darkness, darkness and light, that are present in my personal memory.

The ocean in my heart is still beating in a flux of urgency, with its water running deep, murmuring then shattering on the shores of Beirut before getting swallowed in its hijacked present. Eurydice and Orpheus are still swaying in a haunting pattern, between what could have been and what it has become. They are both trying not to look back, while Beirut looks back at them, all three sculpting a narrative of loss. All three of them are dallying in my heart, wanting to go in, to be in, but the in is still taken hostage by a state of fog. My collective memory is a deep well of tangled languages; maps and roots, echoing the dark drop plummeting down at the end of a rope and the piece of Italian sky reflected in the water. If you reach out for the bucket you can smell waterweed, sand, sea salt, pomegranates, cold sweat from running through fog, powder smoke, sea algae, figs and olives, dank Slavic moss, Arabic adrenaline, sulfur dioxide, warfare dust, burned wood blood and books, Lebanese jasmine and gardenia, Sicilian basil and orange blossoms, Roman caprifoglio, hot sweat, tears, chlorine and Parisian vetiver.

My way of being keeps on divorcing myself from the synthetic definitions that cannot touch my inner map. My identity is like the window glass of a car in winter. My writing is that genuine attempt of drawing maps on that pan window with the tip of my fingers. Sometimes I succeed in connecting longitudes with latitudes and sometimes I am only mapping a state of fog. This is where I start driving that car and leave, promising myself this time it’s forever, yet I keep looking back.Those who have gone through long journeys of war and wandering, write as they walk. Our writing often echoes that place where a collective memory, a personal memory, and dispatches of grief and love gather around a state of fog. The weight of our collective memory is supported by our innate sense to hope. And even in the absence of possibilities during this very tense present, I still write pursuing an effort for a collective love.

06:28 am

While putting in order some of my black notebooks, I stumbled upon an old moleskine agenda. I opened it wondering which day and circumstance I’d be reminded of. Sometimes I tend to recognize more my particular mood affecting my handwriting rather than my scribbled sentences. My handwriting fluctuates between scholar, chaotic, reserved, messy, restless, elegant, impatient and childlike, a bit like me. I’ve never succeeded in taming my handwriting. I noted it was hurrying fast, in an angular and thin line,on that opened page. Then I checked the date and I smiled. On that day my frozen fingers were eager to return to the warm glove tucked inside my red duffle coat’s pocket. I was scribbling some thoughts I deemed way too important to let them run their fleeting course. Although I can barely read what I’ve written down, I do remember what was so important to me on that freezing day.

Winter 2010 – 2011 was Polish in my moleskine agenda. That winter was solemn and serious. Snow fell early, heavy and high, as if looking down at us from above, sermonizing us with now you Slavic people behave and be all quiet ! Snow was everywhere, all over us, covering the forests, the green and open spaces, the cottages, the sad and ugly advertisement billboards, the balconies of the communist architecture type buildings, the villas, the lampposts, the shortcut pathways, the playgrounds, the trees, our hats, scarves and my disheveled hair.

I remember the first snowflakes of 2010. They graced Warsaw by descending on a November night while I was sitting on a bench in front of Chopin Park waiting for a night bus. I had just seen another disappointing art film at the contemporary art institute. I was listening to Fayruz on my iPod gazing at the snowflakes falling in slow motion, sparkling in a vertical enlightenment reflected by the bus stop’s lamppost. I was so mesmerized by their crystalline grace that I remained there watching the art film I should have seen at the contemporary art institute. I didn’t want to let go of that moment and its magic, so instead I let two buses pass me by. One bus driver shook his head while warning me – quasi yelling – that the next bus was the last one for the night. I thanked him, laughing. For a second I felt I was back in Italy where everybody gets crazy spontaneous and protectively warm with me. I was happy because I knew that next morning was going to be somewhat blessed. Snow was going to extinguish all the worldly and urban noise and chatter.  The legions of ducks and birds will regain their autochthones status, astonishing us with their proper savoir-faire while we do our clumsy best not to slide in the muddied snow. Life will feel clean and quiet for a little while.

I spent many white days walking in Warsaw during that winter, photographing the snow and getting lost, sometimes for real and sometimes for the sake of fiction. I remember that particular day chosen by coincidence while opening that old moleskine agenda. I had scribbled something in Arabic like “Must check my eyes at the ophthalmologist, they are acting funny. Or maybe not. Let them be.” I was walking in my neighborhood, like a chief scout feeling very proud of my stamina. The quasi Siberian white blanket made me feel I was in one of my favorite Russian films. It was quite easy to trick my brain into forgetting where I was and to be somewhere else. I often tend to correspond chapters of cinema, art, literature, theater and music with moments in real life since I was a child and I do get criticized for it. Apparently this habit is diagnosed as escapism, eccentricity, frivolity, sentimentalism, drama-huggerdangerously-hanging-on-nostalgia, Rim-this-is-not-art-this-is-real-life by everybody or being a  sharid ghazali in Arabic by my father. The sharid ghazali expression comes from an old Arabic poem about a deer that often wanders and gets lost. The irony of my name – chosen by my father,and meaning a gazelle or a deer in Arabic- was not lost on my way of being.

At one point during that day I arrived at an intersection where I had to wait for the lights. I often feel that intersections and crossing lines are quite theatrical in the urban space. An urban parenthesis that tells you a lot about people’s dynamics in the city you currently inhabit. You have a group of people at the other side staring at you while you are either defiantly staring back, looking at some detail trying not to mind being stared at, or if you’re lucky, you’re just totally absorbed by your impatient dog. We’re both spectators and actors at intersection points. Sometimes someone will smile at your disheveled hair and you feel through that second a glimpse of a connection in which you stop being a stranger. While on other occasions your childlike absent-minded face doesn’t win the general consensus from the jury staring at you from the other side and your wanderer sharid ghazali status gets accentuated.

On that day, among the group waiting for the green light facing me from the other side, there was a man holding a strange shape. The strange shape was enveloped in some green plastic thing. The shape was big and looked like a fish, a huge fish. I started wondering where did he catch that fish. Was it from the frozen Wisla river very near? Did he dig a hole? Is it still alive? You can wait a lot for the lights at crossing intersections in Warsaw, even more at that precise one. And if imagination is your friend and your iPod is running on Vivaldi’s winter, you can develop many stories for that fish, which I obviously did. I mentally knitted many stories with a Slavic atmosphere for that wrapped fish. I even recalled a Polish or Russian fairy tale, about an old fisherman, a cat, a big fish he caught one day and a fairy mermaid with long golden hair. Both my Polish mother and Polish grandmother used to tell me this story when I was 4 and 5-year-old. I remember both used to narrate it quite differently, the focus of the pathos would be sometimes on the cat, sometimes on the old fisherman. The end was tragic but I don’t quite remember the synopsis, all I remember is that sometimes my heart would ache for the fisherman, sometimes for the cat, depending on the narrator.

I couldn’t help but think what if that man was that old fisherman in some eerie parallel cosmic quantum thing. My mind had vicariously brushed away all my neighborhood’s urban signs on that intersection. I was here but not quite here, in between here and somewhere else. When the green light granted us common pedestrians the permission to walk to the other side, the man holding the big fish started heading towards me. As we briefly met while crossing the street, I realized he was not carrying a giant fish, which he might or might not have caught from the Wisla river. The strange shape was not of a fish but of a tree. It was the third week of December, that tree was destined to be a Christmas tree. I was genuinely surprised and thought he was running a bit late with his tree for Christmas. I got used to my parents, especially my Lebanese Muslim father, putting on the tree and the whole delicate lights celebrating Christmas a month prior the nativity date in Beirut. The wrapped fish was a wrapped tree. The man was not a fisherman but a tired man with a resigned face smelling Polish cigarettes longing for a hot bath and dinner. My mind had just created an optical illusion.

I thought that moment was quite endearing and closed my old moleskine agenda and opened my present one. On the current day I scribbled something in a nervous handwriting about how people everywhere are playing chess without learning the board, and that at the present moment only snow, a massive divine snow, could save us. I frowned for one second and then I remembered the context. I was reacting to a vile non-trailer of a non-film – an attempt at desecrating the Prophet Mohammad صلى الله عليه وسلم  and Islam- presented to the world as the catalyst of another film, throughout a well rehearsed, engineered and familiar mise en abîme. Some actors were being played with, some were being played at, some were being played with and definitely enjoying their roles, others were being played with yet arrogantly presuming they were the players, while many others were sacrificed for that chess game. Some other actors just like scripted falling dominos are going to play later on in Lebanon as I am writing this down. And some like me were and are still resigned watching the whole sick charade, the whole debacle of the ongoing engineered clash of civilization, in silence. If you vocally condemn it, you get to face as per script, since the whole maze is actually scripted, the non-sequiturs of “oh so you approve of the killing and the violence in reaction?

What hurts most, besides the cost of life from all sides, and the repetitive, strategic and vicious attempts at desecrating Islam, is the ominous nature of the synchronized familiar events culminating in the same chess game on the same chessboard with the same protagonists, knowing from where it stems and where it is heading and not being able to prevent one single move, not even one single position. It is like watching a disaster in motion and you’re not even allowed to scream because you’re genuinely afraid your screams will polarize even more the unfolding abyss, since the whole aim is to polarize the remainders of our common humanity to achieve a universal black out. I am exhausted from knowing too much. The solitude of knowing too much can be harrowing when life is engulfed with people who aren’t willing to know yet they have all the means, privilege and responsibility to know, the very same people eager to loudly sell their fallacies.

My mind drifted back to the Polish snow, the man carrying a tree which looked like a big fish, and the fairy tale narrated by my Polish mother and Polish grandmother, the fairy tale in which my heart would ache consecutively either for the cat or for the fisherman, depending who was narrating the tale. There was no coincidence in me opening my old moleskine agenda and being greeted by snow and a fish that was actually a tree, and opening my current moleskine agenda and reading me scribbling a yearning for a massive divine snow. I pondered on the way our eyes choose to notice, to focus and frame, and how our minds narrate. How do we focus? How do we choose to focus? How do we frame? How do we construct our frame? How do we narrate what we choose to frame? And more importantly, how do we narrate what comes unexpectedly into our frame? How do we deal when we don’t understand? Do we choose the difficult path or the displayed shortcuts, the prêt-à-penser tool kits with prefabricated answers handed out by the oligarchy, plutocracy, media, academia and literary milieu more and more merging together? Are we aware of the optical illusions, are we differentiating between the ones we abide by to belong to some privileged yet confined spaces, and the ones we comfort our inner child with?

I remember reading, while studying philosophy in high school, that one of Plato’s students asked him, near the end of his life, “What is it that you have attempted to achieve in your life’s work?” Plato remained silent and then replied ” to have raised human debate above the level of opinion“. We are living in an era of unabashed opinions touted as truth by people claiming that there is no such thing as a universal truth. Yet they assert this non-sequitur as their own universal truth expecting us all to abide by it. Not only they are confusing the very meaning behind their chosen words but they are also contradicting themselves, imbued with irremediable prejudices and pretensions, bringing confusion and belittling into things that matters the most, with propagandistic triviality.

Scholars, academics, critics and soi-disant savants, when debating, only approach the spiritual through a historical, psychological or phenomenological angle, angles that can easily be replaced or put aside, because these angles aren’t concerned with the cosmology, the metaphysics, the mysticism, the Self and the sacred. I can understand and tolerate the lack of a sense of the sacred culminating in our era, for everything has been strategically enforced to climax on this pinnacle. I can understand the failure in understanding symbolism, its principles and its methods. Since basic notions nowadays are perceived rather than assimilated thanks to the commodity fetishism dialectic and its pervasiveness in almost all sorts of disciplines.

But to be intellectually and morally unaware of the crucial axioms of the sacred is something, and to be intellectually and morally resolute in destroying the sacred and its legacy is something else. For not only this cruel and destructive drive affects those enforcing it, but it affects those who don’t want to be included in this nihilistic current. This accelerates the demise of our world by polarizing our identities and debilitating our proper sense of what matters most, such as knowing the difference between the relatively real and the absolutely real. The mainstream theory of evolution has flattened all the levels to one thin horizontal line with no possibilities for emanation. In fact the very word of emanation has been reduced to that list of redundant words such as insightful, enlightening, inspiring, amazing and awesome used here and there when one isn’t quite sure how to articulate a position. Where are the current insights, mazes, inspirations, light and awe pray tell? The irony was lost on us the minute someone bought Piero Manzoni’s tin can.

People are concerned with the freedom of speech. I applaud their cause and understand their worry, for I have studied human rights in my post-post-graduate academic curriculum and I am well familiarized with its political conundrum. My multiple roots stems from historical lands in which people have been assassinated for their valiant speech. But where is that speech which I am supposed to defend in that vile non-trailer of a non-film? If you have watched it and you’re positioning yourself on the chessboard as its savant defender I hope for your Socratic rigueur you’ve acquired an authentic knowledge of Islam and the essence of aniconism, keeping in mind that aniconism doesn’t only regard Islam but Judaism as well. How many of you are aware that the international instruments prohibits any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence[1]?  Or that the respect for religious beliefs and symbols and the respect for freedom of expression are two indissociable principles that should go hand in hand [2]?

Besides, are you positively certain that you are indeed enjoying the freedom of speech within your space and frontiers? How many of you are aware that before Jullands-Posten newspaper published the infamous caricatures attempting to desecrate the Prophet Mohammad صلى الله عليه وسلم back in 2005, that very same Danish newspaper refused in 2003 to publish caricatures of Jesus Christ  عليه السلام, judging them to be offensive? The illustrator Christoffer Zieler did in fact propose a series of caricatural vignettes about the Christ’s resurrection, but they were rejected. The reasons were explained in an email sent by the director of Jullands-Posten, Jens Kaiser. “I do not think the readers of  Jullands-Posten would appreciate these cartoons – Kaiser wrote – I think it would cause an outrage, I won’t be using them.” The illustrator himself narrated the occurrence to the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. Did your freedom of speech provide you with that quite telling fact?

When protests over Jullands-Posten infamous cartoons were organized in Beirut a couple of months later – for a particular agenda concerning Lebanon’s intramuros politics-  they got hijacked as per script by agent provocateurs and their angry mob, who first vandalized the Swedish embassy confusing it with the Danish one, vandalized and stole banks en passant, and vandalized churches and terrorized Christian neighborhoods in Beirut for the delight of the Western press and media. Throughout that tragic synthetic happenstance, many Lebanese Muslim clerics who participated in that protest thinking it was a genuine peaceful one, were physically attacked by that angry mob when they opposed the appalling vandalism and defended their Lebanese Christian compatriots. These Lebanese Muslim clerics ended up being sheltered by their Lebanese Christian compatriots in their flats in those terrorized Christian neighborhoods waiting for the end of that synthetic tempest. Did your press and media bestowed with the freedom of speech report that quite telling fact or did they follow the scripted narrative of Lebanese Muslims lacking sense of humor reacting with violence over essential art (sic)? And did your freedom of speech teach you to seek these telling details in a particular context before positioning yourself on a chessboard, even as simple commentators?

I am personally more concerned with the state of our thought and the well-being of that said thought before worrying over the freedom of a vacillating speech. Chaos arises from a terrible lack of proportion, as well from a lack of a proper scale of things that matters. You get to the root of the matter first. Truth or knowledge if you prefer, thought then speech. Both knowledge and thought should equally co-exist in order to enact a proper speech. And for a proper thinking you need to allow and discipline its required mechanism and space. The way we look at life, events, circumstances, people and things depends on our state of being and the way we have been nourishing our mind, our intellect, our heart and our spirit. It depends on the way we have been disciplining our stamina in seeking the truth. All this is related to an intense inward movement. Our outward movement is closely influenced by our inward movement, and by our awareness of the necessity of an inward movement.

People often lament the current dystopian and hectic lifestyle and the lack of silent spaces devoted to meditation and reflection. Right now I am seriously wondering what do they genuinely intend by meditation and reflection? The very same people who failed to understand the unraveling abyss behind another desecrating act. I am trying hard to understand the personal concept behind a reflection or a meditation used in their discourse when I see them failing to understand the very essence manifested behind reflection and meditation. So what is a reflection or a meditation in our current modern world? Is it like some sort of an afternoon nap, a beauty sleep, or an aromatic spa treatment? People spend money to stretch on their mattress accompanied by exotic sounds to achieve some kind of physical awareness. They travel extensive distances to become adept of vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, raw food lifestyle in order to acquire a special glow. They are all concerned with that particular well-being that is exclusively entrenched in an outward movement aiming at an outward finale, from an elaborated tattoo to the ambitious unblocking of some chakra point, joyously confusing folklore, rites and spiritual traditions.

But what about the inward space and the inward movement? When was the last time you’ve wandered inwardly or been invited to wander inwardly? I am not referring to the pop spiritual trends circulating everywhere like fast food chains, from the motivational podcasts by an enthusiastic cheerleader selling entrepreneurial wisdom or the incense flavored activities organized by some charismatic guru. No, I am referring to the inward movement, the one that doesn’t require accessories or a specific membership to some circle. It doesn’t fit on a Saturday afternoon, or on a package deal of a three times per week schedule. It is raw hence quite difficult to achieve. It is concerned with the quality and the nature of your intention hence it demands from you to practice humility, the real humility, not the one performed in front of an audience or for some political correctness. It teaches you about the Absolute,in order to bow and prostrate in front of Truth and Beauty. It basically summons you to sit down, literally and metaphorically. It demands a lifetime discipline, because its essence is a lifetime journey back to the source or to the roots. It is the real thing, the one once you start aiming for it, you realize it might take you an entire lifetime to grasp its very first step. The one in which you will keep on failing and trying and failing, and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a moment of grace, from withstanding a moment of deep mental despair, in which you’ve realized how much you’ve been arrogant and poor despite all your sincere and genuine self-awareness, despite the myriad of subliminal experiences and harrowing losses you’ve been through, despite all your intellectual, cultural, ethical, moral, artistic and humane achievements. (Trust me, you can still be arrogant and poor).

The latest prepubescent argument over the desecrating act of a vile non-trailer of a non-film is get over it. Basically shit happens and freedom of speech, huzzah ! I’ve been told recently to get over it by people who have absolutely no idea what that it I need to precisely get over is. Where that it came from and where that it is heading. And how many other it this  it will add to our common abyss. I’ve been told to get over an it  incessantly throughout my life and when you speak many languages you get told to get over an it in all these languages.

I’ve been previously told to get over Abu Ghrayeb, Guantanamo, Bagram. Get over Iraq. Get over Fallujah. Get over Afghanistan. Get over Palestine. All still ongoing mind you. Get over Syria. Get over Lebanon. Get over Qana massacre 1996 and Qana massacre 2006. Get over the white phosphorus and the unmanned drones. Get over the lies branded as truth and truth branded as lies. Get over the fact that the people I read and re-read, the people who nourish my inward movement, my brain and my intellect, the people who have aligned my moral, ethical and spiritual compass are all dead. Get over the fact that hate speech and hate crime laws are alas arbitrary procedures enacted to fit a certain political discourse and agenda. Get over the fact that capable people want to protect the freedom of producing ridiculously vile garbage in words and films while sporting their environment friendly recycled tote. Get over the fact that capable people are more concerned about protecting and defending vile garbage desecrating Islam rather than understanding the essence of aniconism and its necessity.

I can’t get over the fact that never in the field of human history has information and knowledge been so widely, freely and rapidly provided at the click of a mouse downloading a file,  yet the looming ignorance is staggering, because it is an acquired ignorance. We are dealing with a resolutely acquired ignorance. I can’t and won’t get over my list of grievances. It is like asking me to get over my memory and over my being. My quiet presence when prompted will always remind you that I am carrying the East and the West in my heart and in my roots. My way of being is a decent proof that the whole clash of civilization is one synthetic grotesque farce. A deadly grotesque farce for sure but still nonetheless a synthetic one. But when one is too concerned with one’s precious material self one fail to genuinely realize the ultimate truth that we are all in it together.

You ensure a free speech only when authentic thought is practiced based on authentic knowledge. If this simple truth is too complex, then don’t be surprised when some quiet people will consider some of the omnipresent cacophony deemed as speech, and its accessorial arbitrary freedom, as mere dangerous noise, same like the synchronized synthetic riots and the anarchist and extremist manifestos, all stemming from a diseased narcissus bent on nihilism, cluttering our soundscape and spiritual horizon.

Don’t be surprised that the same quiet people are anxiously waiting for the first snow of the year, because yes indeed, at this point, only snow can save us. With the hope that some of us, those who have gazed at the snow throughout the day and the night, watching its different passages, still remember the spiritual, mystical and symbolic essence of the snow in its covering and uncovering, veiling and unveiling motion, and in its descending, purifying and replenishing movement, all manifesting within the spectrum of infinitude. And if you do notice our silence, don’t mistake it for acquiescence.

1 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2200A [XX1], (1966), http://untreaty.un.org/cod/avl/ha/iccpr/iccpr.html.
2 UNESCO Executive Board Document, Respect for Freedom of Expression and Respect for Sacred Beliefs and Values and Religious and Cultural Symbols (174 EX/ 42) and Decision 46, adopted by its 174th session (174 EX/Decision 46, 2006). Report on UNESCO Action in Favour of the Respect for Freedom of Expression and Respect for Sacred Beliefs and Values and Religious and Cultural Symbols (176 EX/23) and Decision 23, adopted by its 176th session (176 EX/Decision 23,2007).

05:02 am

I am gazing at a face, wondering whether I am watching sleep visit him or him visit sleep. I’ve been exiled from the land of sleep for many years. The thoughts inhabiting his shadow have merged in a nervous quietude nestled between the opaque and the feverish transparency of the skin. That quietude feels like a drop of water frozen in suspension, waiting to run its course once morning’s dust filters in. Here I am, breathing the moment in its wholeness, photographing it with my eyes, yet my hands remain quiet and do not reach for my camera.

Unspoken contracts are always broken when photographing a loved one. Photography enables us to capture the atmosphere carrying our transiting moods despite our guarded frontiers. You can tell a lot about the person in a photograph, and you can tell a lot about the person who took that photograph. The face of a loved one looks different when photographed. That same face looks different from one photograph to another, as if it detaches little by little, amused by the generous lassitude of the unveiling process, until it abandons itself completely, giving away more facets of itself and of its aura, before it disappears, shadow to light, dust to dust.

This phenomenon is intensified in the analogue process. For the analogue film, by visually inscribing the passing of time, is the most faithful companion in documenting death. The entire ‘breathing’ process of the analogue film, tracing the material ephemerality, is a reminder of our inevitable death. And nothing frames the truth like death. Nothing frames truth’s evasiveness and divisiveness like death. Especially when the sun is high in the sky, the shadows around us are so tall we’re tempted to delude ourselves into thinking we’re giants.

Photographs reveal more than what that face agreed to offer. The face gets distracted by the shadow and the light  inhabiting a space. So many nuances are floating in that space. And the more one remains attentive, the more one respects an economy of form, the more nuances are captured on film.       Photographs reveal what that face was giving in motion had we paid more attention, or sometimes less, during the happening. Yes, less attention. We focus better when we focus less, when we zoom out, when we look from a discreet or oblique angle, when we allow errors to run an intermittent progression of synchronicity in a composition.

Photography is meant to record our ascent or descent into a dimension of the unseen. It teaches us that what is seen is not necessarily present and what is present is not necessarily seen. A good photographer  is connected to that pure insight that can only come from the heart. A good photographer seeks the unknown, like a familiar stranger among strange familiars, carefully present, yet unafraid of disrupting the curtains, gently planning the recording process while leaving room for error. The best photograph is always the one we caught by accident. It stands out from the batch with childlike insolence, defying Fibonacci and other polite legions of eloquent taste. But for that fortuitous accident to happen, one must diligently prepare and compose. One must practice the acquired till it becomes innate, and then one must persevere in one’s steadfastness so the innate remains innate. It is a strenuous task that requires discipline and balance, for only when one is really in control one can lose control.

We often only recognize some angles of a loved face in photographs, when the face becomes an ellipsis in hiding an emotion or entertaining a mimicry, the beginning of a movement, a hint of a sigh, the interjection of a wit, while the rest remains a mystery. But what we do get to recognize in its plenitude, if we’re willing to engage, is the current state of our being. Photography captures the distance between us and the loved one we’re photographing. It unravels the distance between us and our periphery. It dissects the space like a meticulous architect. It tells us whether it’s palpable, stretched out, elongated, or shrinking en route to becoming atrophied. Or worse, whether the distance has been completely negated by the lovers, so closely wrapped onto each other like two shells of a mussel, fragile and hollow.

Photography maps the geography of our connection and its nature. When photographing a loved one, I am willing to take the risk of discovering whether the distance between us is a matter of a perspective over a moment or a perspective over a foundation. Do you recognize yourself in the way I am looking at you? Do you agree with the angle? Can you acknowledge me from where I am standing? Are we still connected? Do you feel at home in the frame my eyes have narrated you within? Or do you feel trapped? Have I respected your aesthetics or have I politicized them according to my ideals? Or worse, have I assigned a silent role for you to fit in my wicked cinematic penchants? Do I lovingly know you or have I made you anew? Are we being honest with each other? Are we being present in that present? Do you see that shadow over there, like a lingering movement caught in hesitation on paper? Could it be the scar we both were adamant it would never reappear? Or is it a new one, a new scar we both have never suspected of existing?

Photography examines our own relationship with distance. Whether we acknowledge the necessity and the wisdom behind a balanced distance.  The verdict becomes fiercely acute when somebody else photographs our loved ones. It feels almost like a betrayal. A black and white analogue can be quasi violent in its intensity. And then you realize you haven’t mastered your distance. You still need to practice. Harry Callahan comes to my mind and I reminisce in awe. Harry Callahan is one of my most revered photographers. And the perfect distance he entertained with his lifetime muse, his wife Eleanor, documented in his photographs, is perhaps the utmost photographic homage to an intimacy that has succeeded in creating a masterpiece of a harmony.

Some of our photographs carry many of our unresolved expectations and intimate promises. When I frame a moment, I am telling myself this is important to me, I do not want to forget the value imbedded in this moment. I do not want to lose the poetry that made me witness the truth of that moment, despite the upcoming trials and tribulations. I am also pledging not to forget what I am recording. For I do not want to need to return to that photograph I have just taken, in order to remember the truth of that moment.

In fact I very rarely go back to the photographs I have taken. I almost never go back to the analogue ones, that’s for sure. And never to the ones I keep in private. I simply don’t need to. They are all awake in me, even the photographs that I’ve lost, the ones I willingly left behind and the ones I deliberately did not take. I’ve started to grasp this personal dichotomy in me very lately and I’ve yet to understand what lies underneath it. All I know it can be sometimes unbearably intense to be able to close my eyes and have an analogue roll cascading in full blown neo-realism, just like that, more than often uninvited.

Photography is a test. Testing our sincerity, our gratitude, our priorities, our ability to gasp in awe when faced by truth or beauty or both. Testing our vacuity versus our depth. Testing the quality of our presence. Are we sleepwalking or awake? Do we need to be reminded of our values? Are we the same person who took that photograph decades ago or have we lost our core? Have we forgotten people that were so fiercely dear to us only to be reminded when we practice nostalgia by looking at past photographs? Or do we carry them like an invisible coat, because we kept our promise not to lose the poetry that resides in each one of us. Photography tests us against death. Where do we stand with death around the corner? Are we ready or not yet? Are we being attentive? Photography is a relentless quest for harmony between light and shadow, memory and loss, always in transit. How much you’re willing to expose yourself to, how deep in between the lairs of a contrast you’re willing to seek whatever you’re looking for.

Photography to me is a ritual, a sacred ritual. One wrong step, one moment of narcissistic forgetfulness and you slip in the sorry side of banality, within the unabashed sewers of commonness and facility. We’re submerged by snapshots reconstituting pictures seen elsewhere. Pouting lips duplicated in pictures resembling other duplicates of pouting lips. These snapshots do not stem from a personal imagery nor from a genuine yearning. They were snapped to fill an obsessive need to assert one’s anxious vacuity in the current maelstrom of subterfuge. Documenting an identity based on a culture of commodity fetishism, accumulation and mimesis.

I feel alienated by the present aesthetics in photography. From the glossy predictable mainstream, the new-age-vintage, the soporific snapshots ridiculously complacent with the precious self, the porn-chic, the ghastly porn-not-so-chic, the harrowing porn-sans-chic, the rehearsed melancholy, to the exploitative and predatory aestheticization of depression and other human calamities such as war and humanitarian emergencies, the zenith of unabashed monstrosity. All of them insistent in their pervasiveness, united in capturing every single second and every atom of our intimate, personal, mutual and universal condition, auctioning everything and anything on the same level, thus flattening it all. Repeating the sad process ad nauseam until the very notion of a microcosm loses its function. The microcosm is shrieking nowadays like a street vendor: “forget about the macrocosm, it’s all about me now, embrace the very miniature me, duplicate me, worship me!” Never mind the lost divine behind the symbol, we’re living in an era celebrating gratuitous randomness and addictive extremism, desecrating what has been long forgotten for the sake of a commanded enthusiasm.

Morning is here all awash with dust. I can smell the sea stretching out on the shore. Soon the happy people mistaking usurped ideals for seashells will run their invisible war. The urban traffic will swallow the fleeting breeze. My Slavic anxiety will return, sailing on its Levantine tide. I look back at the face I’ve been contemplating throughout the night and I smile. I recognize the freckles. These freckles are new and identical to mine. I too have joined some new freckles to my previous summer ones. And I’ve added them all to my scars. They are my medallions, my surviving-the-non-survivable medallions. This summer feels like time has been trying to remember in vain what summer was meant to be. I’ve been swimming among dispatches of grief. Summer is full of news of people burning themselves like fireflies in front of parliaments, East and West. News of historical, beloved cities bombed to oblivion. News of people burning like bonfires in their houses, in their fields, screaming for help but the falcon cannot hear the falconer, for the ceremony of innocence is drowned.

I am eager for autumn to reunite me with my camera, so I can re-anchor my eyes to a lens, in order to balance a distance between myself and our state of siege, its dystopian noise, the invisible checkpoints and the rest of war’s archetypes. A distance between life’s disavowed ghosts and myself. So I can pretend to un-know what I know without hoping for what I can’t possibly hope for.