the interrogations of shamshouma

Archive for the category “humanitarianism”

Lebanese suffering on STL stage: narrating violence for the international community


One can criticize many things about the special Tribunal for Lebanon’s, about it being politicized, somewhat meaningless and absurd in the light of the  weekly explosions that have become a matter of mundane occurrences in Lebanon. But what  undeniably interesting about this tribunal is that it offers Lebanese a humanitarian and international  recognition of their suffering by turning them into witnesses of violence.

For the first time in the history of Lebanon, Lebanese (granted, a selected few) are invited to sit and talk in a court of law, whether in person or through video teleconference, to an international and Lebanese audience about their suffering and loss from the 2005 explosion. While acting as witnesses of violence itself, and of their own suffering, the Lebanese are asked questions by both the prosecutor and the defense lawyers. This act of witnessing and narrating suffering invites Lebanese to frame their encounter with violence in an international discourse that (re)defines what it means to be human, what it means to suffer, how to prove your suffering physically and psychologically and how to speak about violence.

Not only that, the Lebanese, for the first time  (Although I vaguely remember a quite similar international “Remy Bandali” moment in the 80s), are getting a taste of what it means to have the international community, our Alma mater,  recognize, register and record, sometimes quite specifically and scientifically, their suffering, for the purpose, we are told, of attaining justice and retribution from violence.

Nazih Abou Rjeily  providing testimony via video teleconference about the death of his brother

Nazih Abou Rjeily providing testimony via video teleconference about the death of his brother in the 2005 explosion in Beirut

By narrating their suffering on the international stage of law, those few and selected Lebanese communicate the most intimate details of the loved ones they lost from the explosion. Whether they suffered unfathomably before they died, how their sudden death affected their family and kins, how long it took for the family to find the body, the types of psychosomatic diseases that afflicted them after their loss, صhow did they broke the news to their parents, how hard it was to grieve for them, etc… Watching one witness after another, I do not feel like I am intruding on their lives or that I am being a peeping shamshoumah, snooping around for dirt about their suffering. Their heartbreaking stories are familiar and close to home.  I listen to their stories and cry sometimes.  I look at them on their international “stage”, sitting between two STL flags, with their headphones on their heads, trying very hard to deliver “the truth” and answering the questions of both lawyers and judges.

These suffering narratives very quickly became quite uncanny. They were both simultaneously familiar and quite disturbing and unfathomable. Suddenly, I feel jealous of their cathartic speech . Why do they get to act out their suffering? I can’t shake this overwhelming feeling of jealousy. I start thinking about the other families from recent explosions, families who lost loved ones during the street fights of 2008, the 2006 war, or the series of explosions that hit Lebanon after the 2005 explosion. I think about the civil war and all the people who lost loved ones, all the injured, the mutilated, the trembling ones, and all the innumerable  horrid stories left untold and unrecognized . I am sure they are jealous too, I think..

It seems to me that in Lebanon, there is this unspoken cultural convention: talking about and narrative your own suffering from violence is not celebrated. It might be tolerated if one is going to admit that “everyone else has suffered as well”. Everyone has suffered in Lebanon because violence, although does not equally hit all social strata, is so entangled in our everyday life, is so constantly anticipated , expected and awaited, that we seem to constantly suffer with each other in silence.

While watching the witnesses talk about their brothers and fathers, and describe their mutilated bodies in the explosion scene, I could not remember how life continued after this explosion, I could not imagine how people picked up the pieces, literally and figuratively, and went on living. I could not remember how we all survived at the edge of life. But then again, we have been doing that for a long time. When the country is on the palm of the demon, its people must remain very very quiet. Their bodies must remain still, they must function the same way everyday. Everything must keep very still so that not to upset the demon. So we keep waking up and going to work, then go back home. We keep walking, taking services, eating, drinking coffee, drinking whiskey and chatting. As if nothing is the matter. We slowly forget previous explosions. there are so many now anyway. We must forget and anticipate  future ones.

it is the smart thing to do, when you’re on the palm of a demon.

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The vagina, the anus, the mouth and the breast: ‘uncivil’ and ‘civil’ anatomical politics in Lebanon


In the last few years, and quite visibly in this last year, Lebanese people have been, unusually, under a lot of pressure to regulate and control their body parts through drastically different types of techniques and institutions. Four main body parts emerged as the main new sites for Lebanese governance, some of them more imminent and problematic than others: The vagina and the anus, regulated through the infamous homosexuality and virginity tests that the police and intelligence state apparatuses are conducting on certain Lebanese subjects; the mouth through the smoking ban, and the breast through the national breastfeeding campaign that the ministry of health and World Vision launched this year. While some of these bodily regulations have not yet become a regular form of governance, others are implemented routinely in hiding.

Yes, I know what you are thinking.  Is it a coincidence that the state police, state institutions, lobbyists, middle class activists and international humanitarian organizations are choosing to regulate body parts that are deeply associated with sexual pleasure? Of course it is not a coincidence! If there is any true conspiracy theory, it is this one!
I call ‘uncivil’ the vagina and anus regulations, and ‘civil’ the mouth and breast ones, not to put a moral judgment on these kinds of regulations but to highlight that the former is seen as an non-modern way to regulate a subject’s sexuality. Let us not be mistaken though, everybody’s vaginas and anuses are under scrutiny by institutional power everywhere. There is just a biopolitical way of regulating and controlling, through medicine, public health and psychology, and an ‘uncivil’ one, through the state’ police and intelligence apparatus. Arguably, one is less creepy than the other, but both gaze upon our sexual body parts to ensure a normal masculinity/femininity.

Why the Lebanese state would choose such an ‘uncivil’ way of “checking up” on our vaginas and anuses, and not a safe, public healthy, NGO-run campaign way, is, I think, something to register and analyze.
Let’s start with the ‘civil’ regulations since we all like health so much.

Banning smoking in Lebanon (or, how to govern the citizen “by the butt”)

On the first day of the smoking ban, I asked the “service” driver about it, do the taxis also get affected?
“They fine us the same amount they do for restaurants, 135000L.L. if they catch us smoking. If you smoke in my car, it is I who will be fined as well” .What did you think of the ban, I asked: “…I don’t know miss…it’s like…, I am sorry to be rude…but it’s like they are holding us by the ass. The state is holding us by the ass. I inhale fumes from cars all the time, the fumes that come from the Saida garbage mountain,  I inhale that also everyday… you know?”
Holding us by the ass? Another body part?! I don’t think this post can handle any more!

But what the service driver is saying is really insightful. He is talking about the different kinds of regulations that the state administer. He is less against “regulation” per say than against the way the state has suddenly[1] decided to govern us, ”by the ass”, by us upside down, and governing certain body parts that have no direct impact on structural forms of violence and oppression, like  the Saida’s garbage mountain that is directly affecting people’s lives.
This is what biopolitics does sometimes. It puts the responsibility of life and health onto individual citizens by inviting them to govern their own behavior, to be responsible for their own health. By relocating the responsibility of health from the state to that of the citizen, other more structural forms of oppression are left unaddressed.

I get off the service and head to T-Marbouta in Hamra. Outside in the square, a concert is being prepared by AUB students and staff to celebrate the beginning of the smoking ban. A guitarist walks in the square with his cigarette in his mouth. Two people jump on him and plead him to walk away from the square and finish his cigarette then come back. Other AUB students are roaming the streets of Hamra giving out brochures about the ban “If you see anyone smoking in a public space, it’s your responsibility to report him/her”. Holy shit, I think to myself, as many terrified smokers were panicking at that time.

Smoking in public spaces has been a long-term cause for many activists, AUB academics and public health professionals in Lebanon. The fact that their lobbying worked in a country like Lebanon is  really commendable. But it is important to also look at and think about the new spaces that were re-appropriated because of the ban, the “shared public spaces” that the ban created in bars, restaurants and “public” transportation (which are not really public). What kind of a public space is that? Who inhabits these spaces and who does not anymore? Do these spaces reveal structural forms of violence or do these structures become hidden and unnoticed in them?

The ban also created interesting and new spaces for smokers, like smoking on sidewalks in groups while drinking, and getting to know other people. The other night, smokers were given a “5 minute cigarette break” during a concert and head outside to smoke, with their drinks. I guess there was too many of us so the police stopped by and asked what was going on, “That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?! Now you deal with it!” screamed some people (well it was actually one person…and it might have been just me, and I might have just whispered it to myself). But there was this feeling of solidarity about it all. One guy came up to my friend, who is not a smoker, and started comforting him “don’t panic, it will only take a month, then everything we’ll be back to normal…this can’t go on like this!”.
People were genuinely surprised about the ban. Sometimes we over-exaggerate the failure and weakness of the state and its power to regulate us. But hey, strangers are getting together and talking during  5 minutes cigarette breaks, so, state you better watch out!

The national breastfeeding campaign: turning the breast into a natural right”
It seemed to have gone unnoticed, but the breastfeeding campaign ad that the ministry of health, “partnering” with World Vision (or is it the other way around?), broadcasted on national television is really telling of how much the breast is a crucial site for regulating women’s bodies in Lebanon.
The ad caught my attention because it is charged with gendered and moralist images of what a Lebanese woman should be. I screamed the first time I saw it really. I also keep my eye out for breast campaigns (be it for cancer, esthetic surgeries, or breastfeeding) because they can tell us a lot about how women are thought of and imagined by the state ( or Lebanese state/World Vision in this case).
If you have missed it, here is the ad

The ad, published on World Vision’s site, configures breastfeeding as a child’s right. “Support children’s right- choose breastfeeding”.  The classical “you’re a horrible mother if you don’t breastfeed” message. As a good faith-based organization, World Vision understands breastfeeding as “pure goodness”. A woman who does not breastfeed is not only a horrible mother, but she is also “bad” and non-religious.
Let’s move on to analyzing the ad now. Different looking women, all middle class and pretty looking, are shot talking (more like lecturing) about breastfeeding. Playing with her children, playing a business woman, going to the beauty salon, playing a doctor, or being a good wife to her husband, all these  scenarios  were chosen through which the state/World Vision addressed breastfeeding through a one-sentence message each.
The message does not need a lot of deciphering: “if you love your child, no matter how busy you are, you should breastfeed him/her because the milk is good, natural and healthy. Breastfeeding also makes you skinnier and does not make your breasts fall down, so you don’t have to break any of the esthetic norms dictated by society and you can always remain beautiful and even skinnier than you are already are! You can’t ever say that you have no milk, because the woman playing a doctor in the ad says that of course you will have milk! Breastfeeding makes your kid smarter and healthier. Your mother did it, so you should do it too. And to top it all, your husband approves and has personally thought about the whole issue and figured out that breastfeeding is a “right” for you and a “right” for your child. Your husband has always your rights and that of your child on his mind.”
It is quite fascinating that the ad’s conclusive statement is pronounced by the husband/man. But then again, it is not really that surprising, is it?
This breastfeeding campaign seems to corner women from every possible cheesy way. Moralist arguments about breastfeeding and the pressure that women find themselves in, to breastfeed, is universal I am sure. And again, these kinds of biopolitical regulations completely undermine and forget structural forms of violence that Lebanese women find themselves in, especially in terms of always looking pretty and ageless.
By transferring all the responsibility of breastfeeding onto the woman, these kinds of campaigns abstract the breastfeeding activity from its social and cultural meaning and its effect on the woman worker, or the woman whose whole value relies in her perky breasts and looks. Suddenly, to breastfeed or not to breastfeed becomes an issue that individual women need to handle on their own, without challenging social rules and norms that pressure her not to breastfeed or without allying with women to negotiate these norms and fight them. Through campaigns like these, these fights become individual ones and are rarely talked about as a social problem.
If you’re into breast campaigns like me, you should compare our national campaign to regulate the breast with the Saudi’s national campaign for breast cancer where King Abdullah himself appears in person to talk to Saudi women citizens.

and read about it here
And now for the uncivil.
Gazing at the vagina and the anus (or, where did the state’s masculine power go?)
Let us not be fooled. All of our vaginas and anuses are penetrated by the state’s gaze. The difference is that “in Europe and developed countries”, gazing at the vaginas and the anuses becomes the work of the medical apparatus, and also of psychology and psychoanalysis. The medical gaze of vaginas and anuses is mainly focused on “health”, “hygiene” and “disorders”, which ends up regulating sexual practices and behaviors in the way medicine and psychology thinks of as “normal”.
Virginity and homosexuality tests on the other hand, require quite a different gaze than one that is regulating health and prolonging life. It has nothing to do with the life of the subjects, and more to do with creating and maintaining specific forms of bodies, those with un-penetrated vaginas and anuses.  These tests done by the police seems to happen as a way for the state’s muscle apparatus to check up on its own masculine power.

Lebanese demonstrators hold signs against anal “tests” on men suspected of homosexuality during a protest in Beirut on August 11, 2012.

It’s really incredible that the state chooses to gaze at the subject and govern him/her through the anus and vagina. But it actually makes a lot of sense. The only form of state power and governance left in Lebanon is its hyper-masculine apparatus of police and intelligence; and even this form of power is being castrated on a daily basis by different social and political agents in and outside Lebanon.  What’s left for this apparatus is to check for the masculinity of its subjects, manifested in sexual relations, as a way to check for its own masculine power

It remains to think about who is threatening enough to get these “tests” and who does not. Who is a good subject for the police and Lebanese intelligence and how is a scary one. The recent sexual harassment and beatings targeting peaceful protesters of civil marriage outside of the state’s own legitimatizing institution, the parliament, is in need for both legal action and social analysis to understand the workings of state power. You can read about the testimonies of the protesters here.
PS. Lebanese governance?!
I started this piece by assuming that it is the Lebanese state that is producing all these different forms of anatomical politics. However, it has become quite difficult to draw any kind of argument pertaining to the “state” in Lebanon. As many other countries, Lebanon government is influenced and sometimes run by international Non-governmental organizations, international aid money, be it through a country or a private donor. State institutions, municipalities and local organizations depend on their international humanitarian “partners”.

The ministry of social welfare, called MOSA in the NGO circle (it took me a whole to figure that one out!), seems to be a “partner” to all of the international humanitarian organizations residing in Lebanon! It is therefore difficult and problematic to talk about state biopolitics and/or non-governmental biopolitics, since the presence of a non-governmental organizations assumes the presence of a governmental one. All in all, the boundaries between an NGO and a state institution have been blurred in Lebanon, as in many other countries. What we have here is an NGO-State or a State-NGO form of governance, for the lack of a better and more theoretically enticing word .
This further complicates the analysis of current anatomical regulations. After all, power does work in mysterious ways, chez nous au Liban.

For UNHCR, a Crisis is just another day in the office


I saw this amazing poster in one of the NGO offices I visited, I had to restrain myself not to burst out laughing while vomiting in my mouth

Hello, we are UNHCR, we take pictures of places of conflict and re-appropriate them to show how hard and tiring it is for us to work and solve these conflicts, because, you know, we are kind of like that movie with Nicolas Cage, The City of Angels. We are jaded angels who help humans when they suffer. We also juxtapose pictures of Angelina Jolie next to Dying Somali kids, Syrian refugees and any kind of African women, so that the image is bearable enough to look at in order to donate money and save those dying Africans and Arabs
We are amazing, except when we bully, racially harass and arrest Sudanese asylum seekers on strike in Lebanon to demand their right for refugee status, but we did that because these people do not appreciate our angel-like work, ma32oul?! Nice to meet you, what do YOU do to make the world a better place?l

Sudanese Asylum seekers in Lebanon: a battle for visibility and human rights


There are many ways in anthropology and cultural studies to describe an un-human, a person who does not fit into our category of humanity, someone that somehow is not visible to us socially as a human. My friend once told me a story that I never fully believed. It was about a man he used to bully. One day, his friends and him decided to treat this man as if he was invisible. When he called them, they would ignore him. If he came up to them, they would act as if he was not there. They acted as if he did not exist for around two weeks until the guy was crying so hard they had to stop. “He almost went insane”, said my friend.

It is hard to “talk” about and represent people who exist but don’t “really” exist, the invisible ones, those we ignore everyday and act as if they are not there. Beirut is full of these invisibles. When I was walking in Hamra the other day, there was, in the middle of the sidewalk, a woman talking to a man: “kifak, shoo akhbarak? Kif el madame? Kifak be hal shawbeit?” and between them, a man with his back twisted all the way to the floor, spreading his arm and hand between them, looking at them both and listening to their conversation. An invisible man, I thought.

We do that all the time, ignore certain people, try not to have eye contact with them, etc. On a more structural and institutional level, however, this is somewhat what the UNHCR is doing with the Sudanese asylum seekers in Lebanon, by acting as if they don’t exist as humans with rights and dignity.

These Sudanese communities are not refugees yet. Lebanon works as a transitional country between the refugee-to-be and the host country (in this case USA). However, in the waiting time between abandoning the Sudanese nationality and seeking refugee status in the States, Sudanese refugees-to-be become invisible, and are treated as such by both the Lebanese State and by the very institution that is supposed to help and protect them.

The story of the Sudanese asylum seekers, the invisibles, is both appalling and telling of the paradoxes and gaps in what is consider “human” and “human” rights by the international community.

(A spoiler alert: it should go as no surprise, unless you are a silly idealist and humanist (whatever that means these days) to you that structural racism plays a big deal in producing what is human and what is not in this story, and also what is “sexy” in terms of refugees right now, ie what does the dear donor himself acknowledges as refugee, as war, conflict and suffering.)

The Sudanese community in Lebanon who are seeking refugee status in the US (because, unlike other communities seeking refugee status, for some reason, Sudanese will only be received in the US and not Europe and have no choice in the matter) are claiming that they have been waiting for too long for their refugee status to become valid.

Although the reason for the delay is a “security check” that is required by the American State, the waiting period is unjustifiable and leaves these communities in a very exploitative position in Lebanon. In this liminal space, sudanese asylum seekers become incredibly vulnerable and invisible socially. They are exploited both by the UNHCR staff and by Lebanese society and state, who treat them both as non-humans, as less than humans, by depriving them of their basic human rights.

Living in Lebanon without any form of social protection or support, without any way to work except to rely on an unsystematic delivery of services from UNHCR, is only producing more exploitation and racism towards these communities:

“My landlord kicks me out of my house once every other week…He knows I have no papers so he takes advantage of that. When I get home I find my stuff thrown outside and I talk to him and he says: “I want you to pay 100.000L.L. more. I tell him I don’t have that much money. He tells me, go ask the UNHCR for more money” this is one of dozen stories of abuse and exploitation that these communities undergo without any protection from the UNHCR or the Lebanese state.

Many of these Sudanese communities agreed that they are being treated “like children” by the UNHCR. When they come to ask about their refugee status, or when they come and ask for aid, the staff laughs at their accent and talk to them “as if we are kids”. One of them said that “I went to ask for food and money, but one  staff asked me to get a job: “Why wont you get a job, he said, smiling. You look fit and healthy, go work and make a living . “You know I cannot work in Lebanon” I told him, why wont you give me what I am entitled to?”

Stateless and invisible to the International community, Sudanese asylum seeks decided to use their only available and last human trait to protest: their bodies. They went on hunger strike to become visible as humans in distress. Like Khader Adnan’s hunger strike, Sudanese refugees are asking for recognition that they are humans and that they deserve dignity. By their hunger strike, they are signaling the failure of UNHCR in protecting them in Lebanon and their distress over what goes on inside this institution.

some Sudanese asylum seekers talked about how they were ridiculed and mocked “like children” when they started their sit-in outside of the UNHCR building. “They will walk and laugh at us in our face. When they finally allowed us to meet them, they promised us all these unrealistic promises and gave us nothing concrete. Then they did not do anything. We tried to explain to them what our demands were and why we were protesting, but they seemed not to listen”

On August 4th, after 50 days of hunger strike, UNHCR seems to have had enough of this “childish” game. Sudanese strikers were arrested and detained in the Adlieh prison for daring to be too visible. 23 days later, 14 of them are still in detention. Ironically enough, one the Sudanese Asylum seekers  had said before that the only way to become visible enough to get a refugee status is for them to go in prison. He told the story of an asylum seeker who was beaten up by a Lebanese man and went to the police station to complain. When they asked for their papers, he didn’t have any so he was arrested and put into prison. Shortly enough, his refugee papers magically arrived and he left to the US. This Sudanese trouble maker made enough trouble to become a refugee.

However, the detainees will not receive any refugee papers. This time they became more visible. The arrested Sudanese Asylum seekers are apparently bullied and threatened by the UNHCR to sign a commitment not to protest outside of the UNHCR doors. Their very release is conditioned onto signing this commitment.

If this turns out to be right, UNHCR would be violating the basic right of any human being,  the right to protest for dignity and recognition of his or her humanity. This situation seems shocking and surprising. How can an institution that draws its authority from the International community and whose function is to protect and serve asylum and refugee communities end up exploiting them and endangering their very own human rights? Who supervises the international community and the United Nations, that supervises us all?

It is very crucial to show support for these Sudanese Asylums seekers and help them become more visible as humans with un-debatable rights to protest and complain. Join the solidarity protest this Wednesday for the immediate release of the detainees by the very own institution that claims to protect human right values and principles.

The demands of the Sudanese asylum seekers are the following:

-The immediate and unconditional release of the detained strikers/asylum seekers.

-The cessation of the UNHCR’s abuse of their power and position to violate the asylum seekers and refugees’ basic rights when they should be protecting and supporting them.

-A new memorandum of understanding between the UNHCR and the ministry of Interior stipulating mainly that asylum seekers or applicants to refugee status should not be arrested and/or detained under any circumstance; particularly and especially because they don’t have residence permits or legal papers (pending the UNHCR processing).

 “Refugees like Syrians and Iraqis are not treated like that, why are we?” good question, I thought. Have I heard other refugees complain? No, I thought to myself, as i sat listening to the Sudanese Asylum seekers tell us about their strike a few weeks before they were arrested.  But in the future, I will. I will witness other forms of structural exploitation of refugees and displaced communities from different communities in Lebanon, which will lead me to realize that there is something essentially flawed with what we refer to as “international committee” itself and its apparatuses.

But that is a story for another day. Our story today is about invisible ones.

Support the Sudanese Asylum seekers’ search for their humanity. We all seem to be losing our humanities very quickly these days..

Dying to be human: Khader Adnan’s politics of life


Khader Adnan, a Palestinian and Islamic Jihad activist from Arabeh, has been on hunger strike for 65 days to protest against the continuous abuse and humiliation he suffered during interrogation, as well as his unlawful detention without trial by the state of Israel, in what is now being termed as “a new Israeli record for the country’s longest hunger strike”. Khader Adnan’s hunger strike, which started shortly after his seventh detention on December 17th 2011, has stirred up a massive local and international solidarity campaign by activists, prisoners and Non-profits organizations

Khader’s hunger strike is becoming a site of protest over the politics of life and what it means to be human in Palestine.It is unveiling the paradoxes of humanity as emergent and articulated in discourses of human rights, Islam and biopower. Kader’s hunger strike is a powerful political action that is redefining and extending the domain of protest, by threatening problematic and global definitions and practices of humanity, as articulated in discourses of human rights and Islam.

Through Khader’s hunger strike and the reactions it is producing, the paradoxes of these institutions of the human become more apparent and visible for criticism and scrutiny.

The paradox of the human in human rights discourse

Perhaps the most succinct expression that  best describes the political action embedded in Khader’s hunger strike, as well as the debate around it, is “Dying to live”,  adopted as banners in rallies,  as graffiti and as a twitter hashtag (#Dying2live)  that follows Khader’ health and medical state daily. Another significant statement is also #KhaderExists.

Both of these poignant and powerful expressions are strong critiques of the  problematic paradox  in human rights discourse, that is becoming more and more visible, on what it means to be human. It is what Jacques Ranciere interrogates in his article “Who is the subject of the rights of man?” (2004) when he identifies a discursive shift  “from Man to humanity and from humanity to humanitarianism”.

Human rights, assumed to bring together universal rights of freedom, dignity, equality (etc) to all forms of humans, regardless of gender, nationality, race and culture, turned out to be the rights of the rightless only, of victims, of those who lack these basic rights, those who need humanitarian interference.

In order to become a visible subject of human rights, in order to claim his basic rights of respect and dignity as a human, Khader Adnan is starving himself in a sign of protest, because the only way for him to become human, to claim his humanity, is when he turns his life into “bare life”, to become what Giorgio Agamben calls a Homo Sacer (‘a sacred man”), “a man who may be killed by anybody, but may not be sacrificed”, a man stripped from all civil and social rights, who is in the process-of-dying but must be rescued by humanitarian intervention.

Khader reveals to us this problematic paradox of the human so clearly, so powerfully. Statements like dying to live, and khader exists are critical resonances of this paradox, where human rights can only be invoked through its absence and decline, where humanity can only become visible when it is absent or slowly deteriorating.

The problem of political action in Islam

What Khader’s hunger strike also reveals is a fascinating and important debate in Islam one what is the defining line between political action (or jihad) and suicide, a debate which is also at the core of what it means to be human and the preservation of that humanity, both physically and ethically. The fatwa issued by AlAzhar religiously forbade Khader’s hunger strike because it assumes a sort of intention to kill one’s self , to commit suicide, and this action should not be equated with jihad, which should be sought and achieved through “guns and money”.

While I am no near being an Islamic scholar, a first reading of this fatwa reflects a debate in Islam that is emerging (and i bet has been there for quite some time) on what constitutes lawful political action and what is mere suicide. is Khader’s hunger strike a political action or a de-sacration of his body? It seems that the reactions to the fatwa have undoubtedly confirmed the former, especially that many other prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails have now started a hunger strike themselves.

Finally, What makes Khader Adnan’s hunger strike so powerful in my opinion, is his persistence on intentionally threatening his own physical existence and undermining it, as a Muslim, for the sake of less immediate needs and rights for existence like respect and dignity. Khader exists, and he exists more than all of us could ever imagine existing.

 


The interrogation of the Good.


One of Shamshouma’s favorite activities is to interrogate the “good”! So it seems very suitable to start my first post writing about it. It is kind of like Lars Van Trier’s movie Dogville, good people are dangerous. Liberal communists (or the democratic left), humanitarian capitalists (like Bill Gates), philanthropists and the good Samaritans who function and inscribe to a global code of ethics around love, the eradication of poverty and violence, the importance of charity and donations and humanitarian emergency action, are more likely to be seen as doing good than as a major obstacle against the possibility of a real and progressive struggle to social justice and change. But they are.

What makes the discourse of “the good” so powerful, so commonsensical and seductive is that no one can be against love, health and aid. How can you be against human rights? But the problem is that this form of pragmatic universal morality, interfering to solve concrete problems like poverty, AIDS, famine etc, in a quick way, systematically blocks any possibility for a real form of sustainable politics of social justice.

But what can we do with a good person who really worries about poverty and violence and can afford to worry? Who can fight against poverty because he profits from it? Who has no corporate interests because he co-owns the corporation and does charity work through it? Humanitarianism, philanthropy and liberalism are all moral universals that turned into entrepreneurial industries, which not only create and reinforce the social production of capitalism, but also work towards keeping the system’s status quo in stagnating balance.

In Violence (2008), Zizek makes his position towards “the good people” very clear when he cites a poem by Bertolt Brecht entitled “the interrogation of the real”

Step forward: we hear

That you are a good man.

You cannot be bought, but the lightning

Which strikes the house, also

Cannot be bought.

You hold to what you said

But what did you say?

You are honest, you say your opinion.

Which opinion?

You are brave.

Against whom?

You are wise.

For whom?

You do not consider your personal advantages.

Whose advantages do you consider then?

You are a good friend.

Are you also a good friend of the good people?

Hear us then: we know

You are our enemy. This is why we shall

Now put you in front of a wall. But in consideration of

Your merits and good qualities

We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you

With a good bullet from a good gun and burry you

With a good shovel in the good earth”

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Un pajaro de papel en el pecho / Dice que el tiempo de los besos no ha llegado

Mobilizing Ideas

Activists and Scholars Debate Social Movements and Social Change

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