I was in Paris, again, like ten months ago. Then it was Charlie Hebdo, now it was Bataclan, the Carillon, La Belle Equipe, Le Petit Cambodge. It was places people go to when they want to have fun, when they want to meet people, when they want to live.
One person who really impressed me in these days that I was there was the Brazilian architect Jose Lira. I met him through Patrice Maniglier who edited a very good issue of Les Temps Modernes about Islam and the State. Jose was at Le Petit Cambodge when the shooting began, he was sitting at a table outside.
Here is what he wrote:
“These are the times when we are at a loss. We don’t know what to do, what to think, I don’t know what to say, but many friends have written to me, concerned, all the terrible news coming from Paris are amplified through the distance, also thanks to the awful tone of news media, resounding with a public that likes tragedy, blood, fear. There was even someone who made up that a Brazilian architect had died in the attacks… I write to tell you that I am well, and to share a little bit of what I am feeling. Perhaps this might help you and me think some more, perhaps feel more closely what happened. I still have not been able to read much about what happened, and I confess that I am shocked by the way the news are treated, in a way that is sometimes too abstract, sometimes too sensationalist. The fact is that I cannot forget the fragile but serene gaze of the victims by my side yesterday evening.
I had spent a blissful Friday afternoon in the company of two former students from the School of Architecture at the University of São Paulo; soon other friends, almost all of them Brazilian and architects, joined us. We decided to have dinner at the Petit Cambodge, a delicious restaurant, in a vibrant, youthful part of the 10ème. At around 9:30, when we were almost done eating, the shots began. We were eating at a sidewalk table, the sound of the machine-gun was very close to us, I saw sparks on the other side of the sidewalk. I swear I first thought those were fireworks, perhaps part of a performance in this neighborhood so full of artists and irreverent people, and I thought it was odd that everyone got up and started running. How extreme! But the shots wouldn’t stop and began to hit all the dishes and bottles all around, and impulsively I joined the flow of people who were running from the restaurant to a grocery store next door. Once in there, I realized that only two of my friends were there; we didn’t know where the other five were. Back inside, there were about twenty of us, and no one had any idea about what had just happened. One of my friends was bleeding, perhaps from glass shards on his forehead.
Ten minutes later, the firemen arrived and we left; then came the police, as always truculent and insensitive. The scene was indescribable. A Holocaust at the level of those back in the day in Cambodia. I didn’t know where to look, there people on the ground, groups of friends comforting the wounded, people crying, some people already dead lying alone, others almost dying. We were looking for our friends. I saw one of them on the ground, assisted by her French friend, also covered in blood. I approached her. A beautiful young woman, her body so small, her skin so fine, very wounded, who spoke to me serenely in Portuguese: “I need to get out of here, I need to get to a hospital.” We tried to comfort her, to embrace her, to stay by her side while waiting for the medical help that had not arrived yet. The firemen helped her with oxygen and a blanket, but they did not know who needed the most help, they did not know what to do.
Two other friends appeared, in good shape, and took us to one of my former students, an amazing young man, a person from the most precious kind, who was splayed inside the restaurant. He was very hurt, but conscious, my friends surrounding him, helping him as we could, while he kept repeating with us that he would stay strong. Once in a while I trembled, I begged for medical help, I glanced to one side and the other and was met by the serene gaze of the other victims, perhaps the only people who, partly in shock, partly in the humble or resilient manner of vulnerable people, observed all that movement like angels, waiting, processing, looking at the world from up high, perhaps, more than us, stunned by this world which each day becomes more terrible, more intolerant, more filled with hate, with ressentiment, with fear, with despair. I could not move to help the others, the men, the women, their bodies so fragile, more or less wounded, with their eyes attentive to everything that was happening. We were magnetized by the single goal of saving our friends, and the firemen and the police still not knowing whom to rescue first, who was in worst shape, telling us all the time: “There are 10 dead, there are 20 dead, there are 40 wounded, patientez!”
I will not get into this issue now, but it is very strange to see so much security, so many military and police on the streets of Paris, and so little preparedness to deal with the eventual victims of what they most fear. I will not get into this, because I just want to tell you that what really concerns me, and increasingly so in life, is the feeling in the singular, the pain in the singular, people in the singular. Something so hard to convey, to share, as we know; and also (and not only) for this reason so ignored by the analyses, the news, the leaders, their technicians and technologies, by the aggressors, by people and groups, accustomed to speaking of tens, of hundreds, of thousands. I don’t speak of their personalities, of whether they are intelligent or not, cool or square, happy or not so much, successful or frustrated. But I speak of their bodies, their pain, the look in their eyes, their frailty, their smallness, our skin that tears so easily, our bones that break, really, our organs that sometimes fail, our breathing, labored sometimes. Our voice that murmurs, whispers, whines, talks, asks for help if needed, when possible, our bodies which collide, can’t move, can support other bodies, comfort them, protect others at risk, run when threatened, our kind of automatic reactions that proclaim all the time: “I want life,” I want to preserve life, this potency of feeling, acting, thinking. So brutalized today.
But what I wanted to say is that five Brazilians, among them myself, did not have their bodies hit by shots. Our two friends underwent surgery and are recovering. We are all together. Their fragility and their strength, their serene and vulnerable gaze, their delicate way of saying “I feel pain, I don’t, here, please help me,” all of this will make a difference. Because life does not wait. We will go back to Brazil soon. And well. To this Brazil that has given us so many signs of intolerance—religious, ideologic, ethnic, politic, moral, gender intolerance. But, after all, our home. Thank you for your concern!”
Le Petit Cambodge
I was in Paris, again, like ten months ago. Then it was Charlie Hebdo, now it was Bataclan, the Carillon, La Belle Equipe, Le Petit Cambodge. It was places people go to when they want to have fun, when they want to meet people, when they want to live.
Western and Provinz
Sissi Tax is world famous in Styria, particularly in Köflach, where she was born in 1954. At the same time, she claims that wherever she is is a province. In her poems and books she explores those far provinces of language (especially of the umlaut, the society for the preservation of which she founded herself) and the mind, and besides writing numerous books, working as a prolific translator, and being the most „Stamm“ of all guests of Paris Bar ever (half the waiters are her adopted sons), she has been a contributor to 60pages, writing about films. With Julia Zange and Paul Feigelfeld, she discussed some of her older and some of her newer writings, dialects, accents, umlauts, Western movies, and much more.
Sein warmer, klagender Gesang stieg auf, breitete sich aus, wogte aus der menschenleeren Gasse der beiden grauen und klotzigen Kaufhäuser zwischen die er sich, gegen eines scheu gelehnt, gestellt hatte und legte sich auf die nebelige und herbstkalte Einkaufsstrasse auf der früh morgens die ersten Menschen noch schlaftrunken aber eilig vorbeizogen. Als dieser Klang den Körper erreicht hatte, schwoll ein süss- dumpfer Schmerz, stach dann in die Lunge, der Atem blieb stehen, augenblicklich süchtig geworden wandte der Leib sich betäubt, aus sich heraus tretend der Musik zu, tappte betört, langsam und magisch hingezogen auf sie, so wie sie aus diesem Mann und seinem Akkordeon quoll, zu. Wie ein Hall, ein Rückschlag, schlug die Musik vom Gesicht als Druckwelle kommend gegen die hintere, innere Schädeldecke und drückte bei ihrem Weg nach vorne zurück säuerlich rieselnde Tränen durch das Gehirn, durch die Augen wieder hinaus. Ein Abschiedslied, dieser gewaltige Klang an die ferne, unmögliche Heimat in dieser kalten und einsamen Gasse und Stadt. Langsam schlichen sich neugierig ein paar ältere Männer an ihn heran, schüchtern, hin zu seinem heilenden, versöhnlichen Gesang.
I visited Lageso again today. That’s what they call the official post in Berlin where refugees have to register. Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales [Office for Health and Social Affairs Berlin], abbreviated as Lageso.
Like Pegida. Or Hogesa. It’s been an autumn of abbreviations with six letters. Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident. That’s what one is called. And Hooligans Against Salafists.
These are the scary six-letter-groups that have changed Germany. Especially Pegida, who march through Dresden every Monday and are getting more and more radical. They carry signs that say “traitor” on them and have a gallows with them that they hold ready for Angela Merkel.
And yesterday I happened to read two columns that spoke of a “putsch” against Merkel. This is the mood in Germany at the moment. Just as The Economist is calling Merkel a model European, which isn’t true either, CDU politicians and political journalists in Berlin with bite reflexes are working to push Merkel out of office.
But what for? And why?
Back to Lageso. I was there for the first time in the end of summer. The people there were quiet, they were tired, they had made it. They were in Germany. There were about 400 people, I’d say, that were waiting to get a number, with which they’d continue to wait to get an appointment to make an application, which they then had to wait again to have processed.
That was strange to begin with. Even in Berlin, where a lot of stuff doesn’t work, an airport for instance, that’s supposed to cost 5.4 billion euros instead of 1.1 billion and may never be finished.
Is this Germany, some of them asked, the country where everything works and is on time according to cliché?
Is this Germany, many asked, when they saw the images of Lageso a few weeks after I was there, in late-September, early-October?
They were images of dismay, images of desperation, images of distress. “This is worse than in Turkey, worse than in Hungary,” said a Syrian refugee. “If I had the money, I’d go back.”
I was there one morning to behold the scene. Five thirty. Darkness. The shaded forms can be seen from a distance. They’re standing on the street, ten, 20, 200, more. Men on one side, women, children and families on the other.
The door opens at six. The people make a dash for it to secure the best place, they want these numbers, they need these numbers, it’s all about numbers. As if in the 21st century they couldn’t regulate everything online that isn’t working here. Every morning the same scenes, ambulances driving off with the injured of the mad scramble.
Maybe it’s not supposed to work. There are stories of corruption in Lageso, there are stories of violence against refugees by security guards, there was a boy, Mohamed, who got lost in the chaos and was only found weeks later, abused and murdered.
“We will manage,” that’s what Angela Merkel said. The help and the openness of a large share of the population reflect this.
“We won’t manage,” that’s the mood that they spin, the media, the politicians. Images like the ones from Lageso are useful for demonstrating that it isn’t working.
The chaos is produced synthetically, so it often seems, so some say. The chaos shows we won’t manage.
And that was the point at which I had to cringe for a second when I read your mail. I thought, yes, you’re right, yes, that’s the view that I wanted to present, forms without dignity, without civilization. That’s the image that should be generated, because it can be manipulated to dehumanize the refugees, to reduce them, make them into an abstract quantity, into a number.
I wanted to present this mechanism to you. And I realized all of the sudden, that this sight, this point of view, this thinking has made a greater impression on me than I thought.
You talk about the state, the nation, the framework that the Europeans gave to politics – and you talk about it critically.
You say that it’s old thinking, that it’s dangerous thinking. And you’re right.
“What the Left has missed, is the utopia of internationalism,” my friend Nils recently said at lunch. If you believe in the nation as a solution for anything, then you’ve already lost.
But why did it sound for you like that’s what I wanted to suggest? Or did I even say it that clearly?
Alternatively: The state, the way it currently exists, may actually function better than the supranational constructions, the EU for instance, which degrades into egoisms.
Aman, how do you see an ideal order? What do you see for the future? What can Europe learn, from India, from other parts of the world?
What Europe is going through right now is a renationalization not only of thought, but also in politics. Egoism. Pop-psychological conjecture. Old role plays.
It is horrible. It’s as if you were to break through the base and realize that there’s no net, nothing to stop you and hold you up.
Is the continent breaking up again right now in front of our eyes? Sometimes it seems like it. The dramatic part of this is almost less, as you rightly say, that it’s breaking up, which is dramatic enough – the really dramatic part is that there’s a thought vacuum, a perplexity in policy, which you observed from a distance very well and precisely and better than I did.
In a certain sense you caught me. You noticed something in me that I don’t want to see. I consider myself to be outside of a world of thought that only talks about “self-defence” and “invasion” and “measures.” They just decided that Syrian refugees will only receive a provisional admittance and that there families in Syria won’t be able to join them here, where they would be protected.
They should remain amidst war, in distress and in misery. How can a country overcome this moral blemish? This kind of decision?
But am I myself so far removed from this policy? In your words a self-evident utopia appears, one that I’m missing. With the relentless news reports here it’s hardly possible, it seems sometimes, to lift your head up and regard the situation clearly and to see yourself in this scenario, one character among others.
You spoke of Abdul, who is a mentch, as my friend Igor would say, Yiddish for a person of integrity; he is a musafir, that’s what you call him, and it’s good that you told me about him, because of course there’s dignity in him, there is beauty and there is liberty in him.
But we want to see the people that are coming as weak. We want to see them as a mass. We also arguably want to see them as degraded, to whom we can give back some dignity out of our good graces.
We, we, we.
Who is this we?
It’s an awful train of thought you’re referring to. It’s an extremely Western, European, German view. It’s the egoism of colonists. It’s the white man’s burden, again and again.
Abdul, the mystery, the man that crossed the German-Swiss border in bright cycling gear, who was happy here and then again not, because happiness is an attribute not a condition. This Abdul that disappeared again, who knows where to – this Abdul is existence in the emphatic sense.
Not in this pitifully threatened, threatening tone, which is used when talking about the mass of refugees, as beings who remain in the minority in their passiveness.
A person is most dangerous, so it seems, and also most normal in what he or she does. Free and self-determined.
This person is the threat. For any order.
Thank you for showing me that again with Abdul’s story.
It was very quiet again today in Legaso by the way. I’m going to try and find out why it was like that today and what changed. And I’ll report back to you.
Sincerely yours, as always,
How we would have met in real life
- Thank god not everybody lacks of sense of humour on Fountayne Road…
- Haha I thought it wasn’t a joke at first but, as I’m a cat person, I got it was a joke, he was just a comfy furry ball there on a cloudy blanket. Although I don’t live in Fountayne Road, no idea who added me there, but I liked the group so I stayed.
- Haha, so you just look for cat pictures on the page.
- No, I just enjoy nice posts and think if i’d rent the rooms you guys post.
- Are you looking for a room?
- No, I think I’m going to Berlin after all. Was thinking about Stockholm before, but I was kinda looking for a while, yes. Now I’m in Buenos Aires.
- Ah, bad choice, London is the best.
- But so expensiiive
- True but true…
- Haha I’ll go visit
- Well let me know, I’ll introduce you to the cat!
I see you know Blair, he’s my neighbor.
- Yeah, I don’t remember how, though. Very weird how I ended up in that group.
- Facebook is so funny.
- INDEED. But if it wasn’t via FB we would all connect the same weird ways somehow.
- Well without my stupid cat joke and someone randomly adding you on that private and selective group I don’t really see how. I guess you’re an artist if you want to go to Berlin.
- Maybe we bumped into each other somewhere or if it was on the internet maybe a forum or chat room. Haha no, I’m kinda sick of artists right now. I’m a writer, but I don’t know, also studying Audiovisual Design. Maybe I am an artist or want to be one. Fuck. But I also translate and subtitle, that’s so not artsy.
- :) Subtitle is cool.
- And write for magazines. Yeah, it’s incredibly tiring though.
- How would I watch my hacked movies without it…
- Right! I “volunteer” for this art site that uploads art documentaries and the volunteers subtitle them to Spanish. It’s a pirate site. So yeah, translators… We are really charitable.
- Yeah, modern slavery for art. What’s the site? I’m interested.
- Haha no, I think it more like passing and sharing the culture to people who don’t understand Damien Hirst’s bloody accent. Lalulula.tv is the site.
- Well I don’t understand Damien Hirst’s art so getting his accent would be a good start…
- Hahaha I do love the shark at the Met, though. But I love sharks.
- And cats.
- Now I’m subtitling one about Olafur Eliasson. And cats too and bats and spiders and snakes. And red pandas.
- Oh bats are so cute!!!
- Haha bloody cute animals on internet.
- Haha yeah. Anyway, lalulula.tv is a great site.
- It looks like. I will check.
- Well, it’s English with Spanish subtitles only.
- Now I’m trying to imagine how we would have met in real life.
- I kinda always think about that regarding people I’ve met on the internet.
- You would hear me in a gallery telling a joke about a dead cat to my friend. You would take it seriously at first. Be sad.
- And think about my dead cat River Phoenix and be sad, yes. Then keep drinking to try to get loose and not be sad.
- Then I would tell you it’s a joke and you would be mad at me.
- Would I?
- Then I would tell you My Own Private Idaho is one of my favourite movies.
- Depends on the joke, but I don’t think so.
- And you would forgive me haha.
- Of course.
- And you would invite me for a dulce de leche.
- Because it is a great movie! And my cat had this amazing name. I’m not so fond of dulce de leche… too sweet… but the one from Uruguay is better.
- Good choice! I’m from Brazil, in a little city North East they have a very special one made with fresh milk directly coming from the cow.
- Really? Where? My great grandmother was from Rio Grande do Sul.
- Rio but the city is called Ipira in Bahia.
- Oh so you’re almost Brazilian :)
- Hahah we could say, I like that.
- Have you ever been here?
- Buenos Aires.
- No, I almost did 3 years ago to visit an old friend of mine. We used to play in the same band. But it was too expensive. Shame.
- Oh shame indeed. What band?
- It was called Alleph.
- After the book from Jorge Luis Borges.
- Yeah, got the reference.
- Now my friend plays in a band called Morbo y Mambo. Do you know them by any chance?
- Oh I love that band! Saw them at TRImarchi Graphic Design Festival in Mar del Plata. Great guys.
- Oh cool
- Who is your friend?
- Manuel. But it was more than 10 years ago and so brief…
- The bass player. Yeah. You know him?
- Not really, by friends in common but yeah.
- That’s so crazy. Thank god for that cat.
- Hahahah. See? But I don’t have him on FB, I just know him from events.
- Don’t ruin it, say you know him, say it’s your childhood friend!
- Hahaha I have 162 mutual friends on FB with him.
- Haha yeah a lot.
- Just how many Facebook friends do you have? I only share 95 with my closest friend and we basically moved to the same countries almost at the same time and you share 162 with someone you don’t know.
- I have like 1500 friends.
- Yeah I know. Comes with working at magazines.
- Ah yeah OK makes sense. Have you ever sorted your page and unfriended people who you didn’t remember?
- Yeah but what happens is that the first ones to appear are the ones I do know then I get tired and I don’t delete anybody.
- So, to change the topic, are you writing?
- Oh yeah, I mainly write personal stuff at the moment. Really short, I can’t write long for now.
- Is it fiction?
- So purely your experiences.
- Exactly. That’s what I can write about lately.
- Is it? You can say if it’s rubbish.
- No I haven’t read yet :)
- Great haha.
- Interesting the idea of writing experiences. Choose the ones you will talk about.
- Yeah, not that I choose too. It just happens.
- Haha so you just write whatever happens to you?
- No, it’s just whatever comes out as writing. Sometimes I write in my mind but don’t write it down.
- I had that since a few weeks. Well I guess our meeting is worth writing about ;)
- It is, I will write about it.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. These are all very important questions you raise; before I get to them let me share with you a story of musafir who travelled from Somaliland to Germany. It is a complicated story with many twists, but here I reproduce just a small section.
Let’s call him Abdul.
I met Abdul in 2012 at Berbera, a port along the Horn of Africa that also serves as Somaliland’s sole international airport. I was on assignment for my newspaper.
Abdul, who was working with a friend of mine in Hargeisa, picked me up at the airport. We got talking, and to my surprise, he spoke fluent Hindi.
Abdul also spoke fluent English, and German, and Arabic, and Telegu and Dutch and a smattering of Amharic. He had lived in Hargeisa, Mogadishu, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Addis Ababa, Tripoli, Basel and three different German towns.
He began wandering when he forged a Indian visa in the 1990s and made his way to the South Indian city of Hyderabad, where he worked as an enforcer in a local gang. After five years, he got bored of his life of crime and returned to Somaliland.
“But in a few months, I got bored of home and decided to go to Ethiopia,” he said, as we drove along the long straight highway that connects Berbera to Hargeisa.
He spent a few months in Ethiopia and then caught a bus from Bahir Dar to Khartoum, Sudan. From Sudan he made his way to Tripoli, and from Tripoli he crossed by boat into Italy where he said he was fleeing Somalia’s endless civil war and applied for refugee status.
His papers were processed and he was sent to Basel, Switzerland, where he was assigned refugee housing, given some financial assistance, but was not allowed to work.
“But what is the point of coming to Europe if you can’t work?” he said, “and so I started working illegally in an Indian restaurant. The owner really liked me because I could speak Hindi to all the Indian tourists who came to the restaurant, and of course because my salary was low.
“I would befriend the Indian tourists and offer to show them around the city. At the time many of the Indian tourists couldn’t speak good English – only Hindi – so they were very happy to find a Hindi speaking guide.”
Eventually the Swiss authorities found out that he had been working in violation of his refugee status and so Abdul decided to escape to Germany.
“Everyday I went to the Swiss-German border and I observed. The border police, they checked everyone and ask for papers – every car, every truck, every man, woman, child. They check everyone, except sportspeople.
“They don’t check the people who are on cycles, who wear cycling clothes, and a small bag on their back in which you can put maybe three pens. Every weekend, these people come cycling from Germany, they cycle all day in Switzerland and they go back in the evening.”
So Abdul buys a cycling costume in bright colors. He has no money to buy a bicycle so he buys a screwdriver. At night, he slips the shaft of the screwdriver through the shank of a bicycle-lock and steals the bike.
The next morning, he waits on the Swiss side of the border for the German cyclists and joins them soon after they cross the border.
Pedal, pedal, pedal pedal, along Basel’s picturesque streets; pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, into the beautiful Swiss countryside. By afternoon, the cyclists loop back, the border looms, the policeman waves them through without checking for papers, and Abdul is in Germany.
In Germany he walks into restaurant, orders a beer and sips his beer till closing time when the owner asks him to leave.
“I tell the owner, I don’t know anyone here, I don’t have a place to stay. Will you help me? God will help you.”
Ok, says the German, you can stay here for just one night, and locks him into the restaurant.
“I don’t sleep. I clean everything: the windows, the floor. I cleaned all, I cleaned well, I wash, I dry. I clean the glasses, I clean everything.”
In the morning, the owner can’t believe his eyes.
“You are a worker,” the German says, “You stay with me from today and I will pay you money.”
Abdul stayed on in the restaurant, he married a German citizen, he had a son; he had marital problems, a divorce, and about five years after he left Tripoli, he came back to Somaliland.
“Why did you come back?” I asked
“It is a very complicated story, I had problems with everyone – my wife, Europe, the police, everything.”
A few months later, I was speaking with my friend from Hargeisa, Abdul’s boss, on the phone.
“How is Abdul?” I asked
“Abdul – the man who lived in India, and Germany and Sudan, and everywhere.”
“I don’t know. He is crazy. One day we had an argument and he left the job and vanished from Hargeisa. No one knows where he is.”
My reason for sharing this story is that I feel that the current writing about humanity’s march across Europe has produced the refugee as an abstract figure. In your email you write,
“The people who are coming, are reduced. They are no more than what they are. They have nothing more than what they have and if even their dignity were to be taken from them, they would be left with nothing more than a plastic bag with which they have been on the move for months. They are naked existence, devoid of all civilisation. And civilisation responds by pretending they don’t exist.”
How have you produced this figure of the refugee? What do you mean when you say they are “naked existence, devoid of civilisation”? Is civilisation a gift of the nation state, that you lose the moment you leave your home?
And who, or what, is this “civilisation” that “responds by pretending they [the refugees] don’t exist”?
Is Abdul – the musafir from Somalia – a naked existence devoid of civilisation?
No, he is an intelligent, ambitious, thinking agent of free will who sees an international border as a puzzle to be decoded.
European governments are eager to produce the figure of the helpless and desperate refugee because it suits them. If you are helpless, desperate and fleeing a civil war then you must be grateful for everything that Europe gives you – you must be grateful for a winter-proof tent in a large field with three meals a day.
This is the narrative produced by Power across the world; don’t fall for this trap.
In India, it is used by successive governments to justify the acquisition of community lands and the displacement of millions of people in the name of progress and development. It is a simple strategy in which a way of life is first stripped off all meaning, joy and value in public discourse. Then the intervention of the state is projected as an act of “humanitarian rescue”, a collective civic sacrifice at great cost to the taxpayer.
This “sacrifice” then justifies everything that follows. Luckily, very few people in India actually expect the state to rescue them from its own depredations.
At this point Europe’s governments are still pretending that they can actually control the march of the musafirs; that they can “solve” this “problem”. But there is no solution to the march of history – we can only live through it and hope to alter its course.
You ask: “Here we have the question of whether time that runs backward processes all that went before. The modern in reverse – the results, forms and triumphs of the modern age change back into what was there before. However, what would this mean for democracy, human rights, individualism, secularism, nation and state?”
I feel we need to stop thinking like the state – these are state-driven categories. They put the state at the centre of the conversation and we are reduced to making appeals to our local representatives.
America’s upcoming election is a fascinating example of how even the language used in electoral processes is completely exhausted and devoid of meaning.
If you haven’t watched the debates, I urge you to do so – these debates offer us a surreal and hopeful moment to think harder, think better, think sharper.
To conclude this email, let me leave you with another image: don’t think of the musafir as a naked existence plodding through a cynical landscape under police escort – this is a figure that doesn’t challenge your view of the world; this figure only produces pity and hopes for rescue.
Instead, imagine a young, muscular Somali man kitted out in sleek lycra and spandex, speeding across the Swiss German border on a stolen 7-speed bicycle.
He doesn’t need Chancellor Merkel to find a place for him in Germany – he has found it himself. Now how are we going to respond to, think through, and celebrate, his actions, choices, and life?
It was the fall of the refugees, it was the fall that Germany changed back and forth and back and forth, unsure about itself, unsure about how to handle this challenge that some called a crisis. But really, a crisis for whom? There are people coming, desperate, dying, knocking at our door. Can you really deny them help? Can you really deny them the right to live as happy and pleasant as you? The answer of most people was: No, we have to help them. But this mood shifted. Emily Dische-Becker, a long-time human rights activist living in Beirut for years and now based in Berlin, has helped a band of Syrians to make their way to Germany. She accompanied them from Croatia to Berlin, she witnessed the difficulties of crossing the borders, she worked on a film which will be shown in 2016. She is an important voice in a time of free floating opinions and a public lost between hysteria and humanity.
I asked about your use of the word play, because I was afraid you meant it in the sense of “Sex and the City”-feminism, in the sense of empowerment exhausting itself in serial anonymous sex, on how many orgasms a woman achieves. Now, I see what you mean. In Nigeria, for instance, there is a burgeoning feminism that intersects between “Sex and the City” and Raunch Culture. This feminism, for all its braggadocio, seems to consist chiefly in the idea that positioning oneself as a bitch is liberating. I use positioning in this sense: you never escape the feeling that it’s all a pose, a concession to fashion. You get the feeling that underneath this sexual pose is a pervasive sexual frustration and conservatism. I argue that this [sexual] ‘liberation’ is not liberating at all: it is simply an attempt at convincing oneself that one is empowered and using the corresponding pose to revenge oneself against men.
To agree with your use of play by revisiting what has been said: Freud likened every sexual act as involving four persons, by which he also meant the fantasies each partner takes to bed. What is missing sorely in relationships is the thrill of discovery and astonishment, the thrill of being naked – that is of being open, without artifice or disguise and be seen this way, of being yourself – as against being nude, that is, not seen for who you are. Being naked involves what you said: the acceptance and exploration of each other without attempts to dominate or define. Being nude, on the other hand, involves belligerent tensions because you are on display, objectified. In this lies the contradiction. How do you achieve the former in a society where we are all buyers and sellers? How does love escape being a commodity, in the sense of the fetishism of sex (once it’s stripped, necessarily, of acceptance, exploration and equality)? In the film “Paris Is Burning”, a character, Venus Xtravaganza says: “But I feel like, if you’re married, a woman in the suburbs, a regular woman who is married to her husband, and she wants him to buy her a washer and dryer set, in other for him to buy that, I’m sure she’d have to go to bed with him anyway and give him what he wants for her to get what she wants. So, in the long run, it all ends up the same way.” Under existing class relations, sexual relations tend to involve commodification, objectification and domination. I will come again to “Paris Is Burning”.
What you write about wanting to go topless and its attendant ‘danger’ of objectification is still somewhat problematic (at least, for me). To make a somewhat unrelated analogy: certain African writers, who decided, in response to what is usually referred to as cultural imperialism, to write in their own language. These writers, I insist, are trying to solve what is a political economic problem linguistically. It seems to me that this desire to want to go topless inputs the responsibility for staring sorely to male admirers. If, as you say, admiration could also be a form of objectification, would you accept that going topless could also be a form of exhibitionism? Are men, for fear of being labeled, to pretend that they don’t see you, that they don’t find your breasts sexually moving? And the women who also find you sexually attractive this way, would they also be objectifying you? I agree with you that it could be subversive. In this sense: society actually encourages women to show themselves, but you must wear your nudity like a designer dress. That is to say, your body must be sculpted to unreal standards (I prefer unreal to unnatural because there is nothing natural or unnatural about human sexuality or the human body).
Here, I’m reminded again of the conversation I had in a small unisex gathering about FEMEN. Whereas you can legitimately say that its activists encourage breasts that conform to certain specifications, it is also possible to question whether the opposition to FEMEN activists is also because, in a society where men has always been stripping women in films, fashion, photography, it is an affront to them for women to take off their clothes by themselves without the male factor which necessarily involves objectification. So, yes, in this light, to go topless with a female body that challenges prevailing specifications could be an act of subversion. Just that it comes with its own dangers. This danger, of course, does not involve, in any way whatsoever, blaming the woman or placing responsibility on her for men’s actions. No, not at all. I can’t resist saying this: since part of the photography of the construction of the savage involves nudity, do you think that wanting to go nude implies a return to the savage?
What you say about women needing to cover involving shame is valid. I’ve argued that this shame, which involves fear and denial of a woman’s sexuality, is why Virgin Mary had to be constructed without a vagina. As an aside, I wonder how you’d classify the woman who parted her legs to show her vulva in front of Gustav Courbet’s painting “The Origin of the World” in which the “origin” is actually not shown. Is this exhibitionism or subversion? And yes, what you say about showing breasts in their diversity easing self-hate in women reminds me of a personal experience. But, I wonder if women are also aware that men also have this with respect to their penis? Really, my thinking is that men are much more insecure about the size of their penis than women are of their breasts. Just that men have a better way of bonding with other men and coping with this. Thus, braggadocio becomes a pose, a longstanding one. I must also point out to you that breasts and vaginas were not things of shame, especially in the streams and villages of my childhood. Now, to a large extent due in part to Catholicism, the rise of political Pentecostalism, porn and raunch culture shame has been invented. You say it would be healthy for a society if we can hang out naked in the sun without it having to mean anything sexual. Yes, but only a healthy society can offer this. So, I’m inclined to agree when you wonder about another cultural setting in which shame would not come into play anymore, “probably a less violent culture,” you say.
To round off our conversation you ask what I think I learnt and benefitted from feminism, how feminist perspectives supported and inspired me to free myself from the strains of masculinity. Since you mention Pasolini, I must tell you that I love Pasolini. Again, I reference “Paris Is Burning”. There’s a sense you can say identity is performance, that prevailing notions of femininity and masculinity are constructs arising from social codes which acceptance and performance has naturalized. I mention Paris here because its subject matter demonstrates that gender can be performed: it can be constructed and deconstructed. How did feminism facilitate my notion of masculinity, you ask? Because I was totally outside gay culture, ‘feminism’ made it possible for me to construct my identity deliberately feminine, in a way, deliberately homosexual – to shock and confront the aggressively male and macho pose of the black masculinity that I was never able to fit into. As a black male person, who’d been fascinated, by what it means to be a woman, the fact that I could put kohl on my eyes, a ring on my nose and ear, dress feminine and still come back home without blood on my body had been a source of power. Femininity in men (as opposed to effeminacy) I feel, is a source of power. It is why, to the extent it is possible for me to use this term, I’ve never ever felt attracted, in any way whatsoever, to men who fit the traditional notions of masculinity – understand that I don’t use labels like straight and queer. To really end with “Paris Is Burning”, one of the strongest sexual impulses I’ve ever felt was what I felt for Octavia Saint Laurent, a transgender female character in the movie – what I felt was quite irrespective of her birth gender, which was quite meaningless to me. Perhaps, it is that I’d always been attracted to the masculine in women?…
Angst essen Seele auf
Quoting a film from the seventies by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Fear is a main subject in societies nowadays- from the Near, Middle and Far East all the way to Western Europe.
The concept of fear got me thinking: I am a woman of turkish origin who grew up in Germany and decided to live and love in Turkey. Turkey is under the regime of an authoritarian nutcase. The authoritarian nutcase is offering refuge for more than two million refugees from various countries like Syria and Iraq in Turkey. In Syria there is currently a civil war going on between the dictator Assad and various rebel groups of the opposition plus on top of it by a so called Islamic State. Iraq is long lost for various reasons. ( „Various“ is the nom du jour as everything is so fucking messed up and I don’t know how to get the facts right by now.) The citizens of Syria and Iraq, from among many others wartorn regions in the world, are fleeing their homelands and countries with Germany as the praised land in mind. Germany is the country that most of the refugees are fleeing to by risking their lives tremendously by choosing unsafe passages through „various“ (sic!) countries like Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Croatia and so forth. The german chancellor Angela Merkel goes out of her way to, on the one hand, invite refugees from aforementioned countries to seek refuge in Germany and, on the other hand, is planning to implement transit zones on the borders of fortress Europe and offering aforementioned nutcase huge monetarian help in order to keep refugees from Germany and Europe. German people disagreeing with Merkel’s open door policy are starting their own way of showing their right to civil disobedience by putting refugee camps on fire on a regular basis.
Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Germany and all of its people are somehow representative for other countries and its people following the same logic.
This is a very simplified way of putting together factors in an equation in order to make my point to which I will come now: As weird and logical as it seems at the same time, Fear is what all these various factors in this incoherent compilation have in common.
I myself am living under a subconscious and sometimes very conscious non-definable fear in Istanbul. I am not endangered as I am not a member of an ethnic minority in Turkey. I strongly support humanist and leftist believes which I am too scared to declare in public right now ever since the first attack on civil society and oppositional groups of mainly left-wings which happened in July in Suruc. A suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of students who were on their way to rebuild the long embattled town of Kobane which got freed by kurdish fighters from the IS and killed more than 30 people. The suicide bombing is supposed to be planned and executed by the IS which never claimed responsibility for it. The turkish government made these claims in order to justify their now proclaimed fight with the IS and more importantly the PKK. Ever since the landslide loss of the ruling party majority in turkish parliament the countries state of affairs hit the downslope. Outright threatening of the opposition, killing civilians in Kurdish regions by claming to fight terrorism. detaining journalists, oppositional politicians, shutting down newspapers and tv channels to name only but a few of regulations is showing the nutcases’ fear of losing his power over the state of Turkey and its people. The second attack in Ankara where again two suicide bombers attacked a gathering of freedom protesters and more than 100 people died in the killing nurtured my rising fear and helplessness in this country. When I was too scared to claim my freedom of speech and attend a peace protest, more than 100 people died because they wanted to overcome their fear and show their strong will for peace. It is terrifying to understand that you die when you fight for your right to protest the status quo. The power of fear is ruling the ruling party of Turkey and it has its people in stranglehold. To maintain a clear vision of if the government is nurturing the IS or fighting it or who is working for whom under which circumstances or which outside forces are again threatening the state, let’s the conspiracy theories go galore and your sane brain AWOL.
To continue: Turkey is offering refuge for more than 2 million people and it is not the safe haven as the government wish it to be seen. Granting no basic civil rights, neither monetarian help nor the right to work legally, refugees are forced to work as cheap labor under miserable conditions and endure racist attacks by Turks. The refugees’ fear to die in the civil war of Syria or the unstable conditions in Iraq ,and after maybe having lost family or friends before, put them on the trail out of their homecountries. By endangering the life you wish to protect you overcome your fear and put yourself on the way. Fear is your force to stay alive which you put aside. You risk something which is your life because apparently life is worthwhile maintaning once you don’t have the privilege to choose.
Germany now is the country that most of the refugees are longing for in order to be safe. Safe from death and fear. Chancellor Merkel announced that Germany is able to welcome 800.000 refugees this year (without raising taxes) and refugees keep coming in. „Wir schaffen das“, is the famous remark by her which struck me for a mere second as it made me wish to believe that Germany can change after all (???) and offer asylum for people in need as it is indeed a very wealthy country and make up for their role as one of the biggest warfare exporters in the world. Nonetheless Merkel is faced with utter refusal by her own coalition partners and the utter racist population in the country who is in fear of being overrun by muslims. Her fear of losing her power and her face her integrity after admitting the refugees to come and now realizing that Germany as a whole is not that humanist and charitable after all, lets her negotiate some utterly despicable deals with the aforementioned nutjob (utter and utterly is prominent in this part of the text.) Money for keeping the refugees away to put it in a nutshell regardless of Turkey’s ruling party’s disrespect for civil or human rights. The blatant opportunism of this thinking is unbearable. Again here the fear of turkish people is at stake as Merkel is reinforcing Erdogan’s power fantasies.
For all who can’t read or write or remember recent history and evaluate present times: Turkey is not a safe third country according to the EU as it wishes to be or as Germany suddenly wants it to be, without even ever accepting Turkey as a candidate without restrictions. Oppositional parties, kurdish people in Kurdistan as civil targets, journalists, newspapers or civil society groups- everyone forming their own right to oppose the ruling party or are a minority is under attack. As it can’t grant safe living conditions to all of its citizens it can’t grant these conditions to refugees.
This means that the fear of the refugees to stay in their countries or to stay in Turkey will lead to more fleeing to the fortress, no matter what. The wish to live is bigger than the fear, in case of the refugees aka the people of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Eritrea, Sudan and many more wartorn countries as they are humans in the first place and not refugees per se.
Fear is embracing all of us and has us in its grip.
Irrational fear of sth bad might happen is opposed to rational and certain fear where sth bad will happen.
People in safe countries are more plagued with irrational fear.
People in unsafe countries are under constant fear of i.e. dying or being injured or traumatized.
Germany is a safe country.
Syria and Iraq are unsafe countries.
Turkey is on the verge of getting an unsafe country.
Once Turkey is an unsafe country the more refugees will come to Germany.
Hard facts put together rather simplistic.
Fear is egoistic and makes you only want to think for yourself. I among many fear for myself in Turkey, the people of Syria and Iraq are fearing for themselves in their countries, german people are fearing for themselves let alone all the governmental representatives.
I have no idea how to overcome this deadlock. I only know that being ruled by fear doesn’t mean to threaten, endanger or kill another person in order to feel safer. Killing or endangering others doesn’ t let you live safer, it endangers your own life. Fear is eating your soul to come back to the start. When your soul gets harmed you ask yourself what else is left.
My mother's flag
Turkey, October 29th, 2015.
We arrived earlier than expected. My mother walked out on the terrace, her hair still in curlers. Ah, she didn’t notice my text message that we managed to change flights. A little moment of embarrassment, when you arrive with a guest, who wasn’t introduced yet. “You’re early, way too early!”, she says with the notion of a mother, who knows her son to be rather late than early. “I won’t forgive you that one!” she says and laughs. We all laugh. A laughter is always a good introduction, isn’t it?
A laughter is also the perfect easement for people, who are used to keep their stuff under control: Get up, but more importantly make my father get up, make breakfast, make my father have breakfast, make my father take his medicine before his first bite of breakfast, and strictly before that: make him take four pills, which he inspects every day from scratch, again and again with utter care, as if he took a brand new decision about his life on each morning.
Is that his way to control what remains uncontrolled? Is her strict daily routine from early morning till late at night her way to keep control? Over the loss of control that his dementia brings along to both of them – everyday anew? Is it her way to exercise control in a country that shows you everyday how little its people are in control of things? Where people with power abuse every bit of it, commit crimes, break the constitution, ignore court decisions, as if there was no tomorrow, as if microphones and cameras were wild cards lie straight to people’s face, day by day? And do things that are beyond most people’s imagination – and they get away with it, just like that.
Since more than a decade the country’s agenda seems to be about the state gaining control: Control over the military, the police, the judiciary, the youth, schools, universities, civil organizations, women, social networks – basically every aspect of society, and first and foremost over journalists, media and social media. After the mass killing in Suruc and Ankara, after every major violent incident, the government imposed a news embargo – five times, only in 2015.
During the last 25 days, in the run up to general national elections, state controlled television channel TRT degenerated into a full-blown government propaganda outlet. This is how TRT allocated its broadcasting time to the country’s major political parties and its president, who is supposed to stay neutral, but in fact isn’t: AKP – 30 hours, RTE – 29 hours (RTE = Recep Tayyip Erdogan), CHP – 5 hours, MHP – 1 hour, HDP – 18 minutes.
It became worse: The day before, police forces with chains saws gained control over BugünTV – a former government allied, now anti-AKP turned television channel. All that happens during live news broadcasting, anchors call their colleagues from other media and report live from the occupied news room, they again report live on other television channels. The bare obviousness of this Orwellian act, the sheer demonstration of power, the perfidious usage of media appears as a powerful gesture of exercising control, and reminds how terrorists are actually using media and social networks to get their message across.
Today, October 29th, is Republic Day.
Before breakfast, my mother hangs the republic’s flag right over the table. 1923, when the republic was founded, my mother was thirteen, my father five years old. She was born as a republican native when in 1935 women obtained the active and passive right to vote. On November 1st, she will take my father, who can barely walk, and they will go to vote.