Welcome to the first newsletter of Hummus For Thought, a monthly collection of thoughts and recommendations, curated by Joey Ayoub (hello). It will be out on every first Sunday of the month, 8:00 am Central European Time/West Africa Time.
If you wish to be subscribed to this newsletter, you can do so at hummusforthought.com/subscribe (the widget appears at the bottom of every page as ‘follow HFT via Email’)
I’ll start this first newsletter with a nearly two-hours long conversation between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni that was recorded in 1971.
In this conversation, you’ll hear Baldwin and Giovanni discuss the inter-generational differences between them (Baldwin was 53 and Giovanni 34) while building a truly beautiful rapport. I personally have difficulties finding similar interviews today where you are made to feel like you’re in the room with them because there are no other distractions, a feeling reinforced by excellent camera work as I’m sure you’ll agree.
I’ll be starting every newsletter with something by James Baldwin, so you better get used to it. If you’re only just getting into Baldwin, I’d recommend watching Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro (2016) as a fairly good primer. BrainPickings has a good selection of Baldwin-related writings and quotes here.
As for myself, I always recommend you start with his book The Fire Next Time, published in 1963, and which is the inspiration to my own podcast The Fire These Times.
What I’ve written
resilient: broken is an essay that took me a while to write. It was published on Mangal Media on September 22nd, 2020 with a wonderful illustration by Selin Çınar. In it, I approach the notion of us Lebanese being ‘resilient’, which I argue, through my own story, is actually a sign of being broken. This was written in the aftermath of the devastating Beirut explosion on August 4th.
Lebanon’s multiple crises also expose the racist Kafala system is an article I’ve written for the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, and which was published on the 1st of September 2020. This follows a more traditional format and it’s an argument I’ve already made before (see here and here) but with the additional knowledge brought about by my reading of Daryn Howland’s thesis “racist capital: the racialization of migrant labor under the kafala system in Beirut”. I actually interviewed Daryn on The Fire These Times in July and it’s an episode I recommend if you’re looking to learn more about Lebanon’s racist Kafala system and the structures that allow it to exist in the first place.
The trans-generational climate crisis is an essay I’ve written for Shado Magazine and which was published in Shado Issue 03: Climate Justice. Although my piece is on my private blog as well, I highly recommend you buy the issue. It is filled with thoughful essays and is beautifully illustrated. I had previously written an essay for them on the chants being used by protesters taking part in Lebanon’s October revolution.
I also published an essay anonymously for security reasons. While I obviously won’t get into it here, I will say that you can get the gist of it by listening to my conversation with US-based Hongkonger academic Shui-yin Sharon Yam on The Fire These Times.
Upcoming piece: On anti-social media
So I’m currently writing a piece on my decision to delete Facebook and Instagram and to take a step back from Twitter (which I can’t delete for work-related reasons, yet). That decision is also why I’m starting this newsletter, as I wish to be more directly involved/connected with the people I interact with online than the sort of quasi-relationships usually developped on platforms that are quite literally designed to keep me addicted.
The arguments put forward by Jaron Lanier, one of the founders of the field of Virtual Reality, are what really helped me be convinced of the things I already had doubts about, namely that the cons of these social media platforms outweigh the pros. I had heard of him before but I got into his work more since seeing him on Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, which has some shortcoming but is overall a pretty useful intro into the damages being caused by the ‘social’ media and tech giants, and particularly Google(/YouTube) and Facebook(/Instagram), although Twitter doesn’t come out looking very good either.
I haven’t decided where I’ll have it published yet. If you know of a publication that may be interested, I’m all ears! It’ll be republished on joeyayoub.com in any case.
In the meantime I’ll recommend two conversations that Lanier had on this topic, and I will also recommend his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018) with its self-explanatory title.
The two episodes:
- Jaron Lanier Wants You to Delete Social Media on American Innovations (April 11th 2019, 43 minutes)
- Jaron Lanier’s Ideas for the Future on Vergecast (April 9th 2019, 43 minutes)
I’ll squeeze in a third one just because it was fun to listen to as well:
- His episode on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s podcast ‘Creative Processing’ (October 8th 2019, 1h12min)
Lebanese Film of the Month
Given that my PhD research is on Lebanese cinema, I’ll take advantage of that to recommend one Lebanese film every month. I might include a second recommendations every now and then because I am annoyingly inconsistent.
For this first newsletter I am going to recommend one of the first Lebanese films I’ve ever watched: West Beirut (1999) by Ziad Doueiri. To the extent that we can say that Lebanese cinema has a ‘classic’, this is probably it. It’s a film I revisit every now and then and one which took on a highly symbolic role in my life as it just so happens that the day I first watched it was the day that Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005.
Someone uploaded the entire thing on YouTube with English subtitles:
Rest in power, David Graeber (1961-2020)
I had the privilege of knowing David, although not as much as I would have liked. We met each other near SOAS, University of London between 2015 and 2016 as I was doing my MA in Cultural Studies there at the time and he used to hang out around campus occasionally.
We bonded over Madagascar and Kurdistan and he always asked about Lebanon when we got the chance to speak more in-depth. His book Debt: the first 5000 years (2011) is one of my favorite books, and I’ve found his books Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar (2007) and Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (2004) to be really helpful as well. I always thought I’d just meet up with him again the next time I went to London but that unfortunately didn’t happen.
I’ll leave you with a tribute published in the New York Review of Books shortly after his death.
The Fire These Times episodes of August and September 2020
I also update Patreon supporters every month on the previous month’s episodes. If you want to support on Patreon, click here.
Articles I’ve read recently
Quick Pro-tip: I use Pocket to save and archive articles – no, I’m not being sponsored by them (if you work at Pocket and want to sponsor me I am, ahem, available) – and I had the amusing honor of reaching their top 1% of readers in 2018.
Disclaimer: me sharing an article does not mean I agree with everything that is written. It just means I find it interesting.
The articles are not categorised and I prefer they remain this way. I strongly believe that reading as many different pieces as possible is a great way of strenghtening critical thinking about the world.
- What about Whataboutism?
Viral Loads and Hyperactive Immune Responses in the China Debate
by Ivan Franceschini and Nicholas Loubere, July 7 2020, on MadeInChinaJournal.com
- The Argument of “Afropessimism”
Frank B. Wilderson III sketches a map of the world in which Black people are everywhere integral but always excluded
by Vinson Cunningham, July 13 2020, on NewYorker.com
- On Kenosha and the difficulty of recognising Nazism in the US
Nazis have not disappeared. They have simply said they are not Nazis.
by Yannick Giovanni Marshall, September 8 2020, on AlJazeera.com
- How to Form a Radical Feelz Circle
by emmi, August 9 2018, on EmotionalAnarchism.com
- Broken and Barred: On Personal Tragedy in a Closing World.
The US-based software engineer and former Shenzhen factory worker nearly lost it all this year. But she won’t let anything — not a pandemic, personal grief, immigration restrictions, or the worst job market in years — destroy the life she built.
by Sun Ling, September 4 2020, on SixthTone.com
- Four Principles of Degrowth and why they matter
an intro to the book Exploring Degrowth: A Critical Guide (2020)
by Anitra Nelson and Vincent Liegey on PlutoBooks.com
- Longview Anarchism: Transcending the Existential Threat of Freedom
by Emmi Bevensee, September 28th 2017, on C4SS.org
- Killing a neighbourhood
For residents of Montréal’s Parc-Ex, a new university campus brings new hardships
by Emmmanuel Adams, August 26 2020, CanadianDimension.com
- 40 Ways to Fight Fascists: Street-Legal Tactics for Community Activists
by Spencer Sunshine & PopMob, August 27 2020, on SpencerSunshine.com
- Climate Apartheid Is the Coming Police Violence Crisis
Unless we win serious changes now, the worst is yet to come.
by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, August 12 2020, on DissentMagazine.com
- Why China Is Capitalist
Toward an Anti-Nationalist Anti-Imperialism
by Eli Friedman, July 15 2020, on SpectreJournal.com
- Allowing the privileged few to flee Hong Kong isn’t liberation
The reality is that the interests of Hong Kong’s people have always come second when the west confronts Beijing
by Yangyang Cheng, July 13 2020, on TheGuardian.com
- ‘Free speech has never been freer’: Pankaj Mishra and Viet Thanh Nguyen in conversation, July 24 2020, on TheGuardian.com
- Why you should care about what’s happening in Belarus
by Natalia Antonova, August 13 2020, on Conversationalist.org
- Why Protest Tactics Spread Like Memes
by Tracy Ma, Natalie Shutler, Jonah Engel Bromwich and Shane O’Neill, July 31 2020, for NYTimes.com
- Teju Cole on photographing Switzerland, instead of adding to the “endless books about Mexico”
by Matt Alagiah, July 20, 2020, for ItsNiceThat.com
- What You Need to Know about the Battle of Portland
by Robert Evans, July 20, 2020, for BellingCat.com
- The alarming reality of made-for-TV authoritarianism
by Jon Allsop, July 21, 2020, for CJR.org
- The Business of Building Walls
by Mark Akkerman, November 5 2019, for TNI.org
- Watching The Next Generation in a Time of Pandemic and Uprising
by Talia Lavin, July 2 2020, for StarTrek.com
- It’s time to organize: Lessons learned from dissent in mainland China
by Summer, July 3 2020, on Lausan.hk
- How Denial of Bosnian War Crimes Entered the Mainstream
by Hikmet Karcic, June 30 2020, on BalkanInsight.com
- The unknown Arabist
During the Nazi period, Hedwig Klein worked on a dictionary intended to help with the translation of Hitler’s diatribe “Mein Kampf” into Arabic. But it didn’t help the Arabist: she was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. The dictionary, however, remains a bestseller – with no mention of Klein’s fate.
by Stefan Buchen, April 7 2018, on Qantara.de
- When did I become ‘white’?
Those Greeks and Italians who may feel ‘white’ should be reminded that Greeks, Italians, Jews, and even Irish Catholics were not considered ‘white’ for a long time
by Foris Kapetopoulos, October 31 2016, for NeoKosmos.com
- The Infinite Heartbreak of Loving Hong Kong
As China moves to impose a law that would criminalize dissent, Hong Kongers are facing a dark new era.
by Wilfred Chan, May 23 2020, for TheNation.com
- The Mizrahi feminist archiving the ‘unspoken histories’ of Israel-Palestine
by Natasha Roth-Rowland, July 10 2020, for 972mag.com
- Transnationally Asian
A new media neighborhood for an emerging world
by E. Tammy Kim, July 21 2020, for CJR.org
- The scariest thing about global warming (and Covid-19)
“Shifting baselines syndrome” means we could quickly get used to climate chaos.
by David Robert, July 7 2020, for Vox.com
- Don’t worry about ‘rewriting history’: it’s literally what we historians do
by Charlotte Lydia Riley, June 10 2020, for TheGuardian.com
- Surviving monstrosities: An interview with Yassin al-Haj Saleh
Syrian writer and former prisoner of conscience Yassin al-Haj Saleh speaks to Belarusian activist Marina Naprushkina about the global rise of authoritarians, the “plague” of Putinism, and why the time is ripe for new political movements.
by Marina Naprushkina, June 25 2020, for AlJumhuriya.net
- Moving forward, falling back: What’s in store in the new normal?
When this is all over, what will the fabric of Gulf societies seem like? Can the ever-widening schisms be mended?
by Abrar Alshammari, June 5 2020, on Migrant-Rights.org
- Detox | Cease your reproach
by MadaMasr, June 20 2020, on MadaMasr.com
- Artists help us leap into the unknown
by Kim Gurney, June 2020, on AfricasACountry.com
- Our lives are not conditional: On Sarah Hegazy and estrangement
by Tareq Baconi, June 23 2020, on MadaMasr.com
On the Beirut August 4th Explosion and its aftermath
Reflections & Investigations
- resilient: broken my piece for Mangal Media
- Inside Beirut’s Broken Heart by Nasri Atallah for GQ Middle East
- Beirut Port: A History of Political Wrangling and Institutional Failure – interview with Reinoud Leenders for the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies
- It Sounded Like the World Itself Was Breaking Open
by Lina Mounzer for the New York Times
(I also spoke to Lina shortly after the explosion on The Fire These Times and used the title of her NYT piece as the title)
- The Inexorable Collapse of Lebanon
by Christoph Reuter for Spiegel.de
- Broken Lebanon: Economic crisis takes its toll on country’s mental health
by Kareem Chehayeb for MiddleEastEye.net
- ‘Plotting our escape’: Lebanon braces for new emigration wave
by Timour Azhari for AlJazeera.com
- Broken Glass, Blood, and Anguish: Beirut After the Blast
by Seema Jilani for NYBooks.com
by Sara Mourad for RustedRadishes.com
- ‘We lost everything:’ grieving Beirut neighbourhood struggles to rebuild
by Ellen Francis for Reuters.com
- We Lebanese Thought We Could Survive Anything. We Were Wrong.
by Lina Mounzer for NYTimes.com
- Time for a full clearout. Why we will not forgive the men who did this to Beirut
by Lina Mounzer or TheGuardian.com
- Losing Beirut: On Life in a Shattered City
by Rima Rantisi for LitHub.com
- Paramedic Who Died in Beirut Explosion Is a Symbol of Lebanon’s Grief
by Maria Abi-Habib for NYTimes.com
by Daniel O’Connell for MadaMasr.com
- On the Aftermath of the Beirut Explosion
by Mona Harb on Jadaliyya.com
- “Our hearts are shattered into pieces”: Relatives remember loved ones who died in Beirut explosion
by Natacha Larnaud for CBS News
- Nightmares, flashbacks, fatigue: Beirut faces mental health crisis after blast
by Raya Jalabi, Michael Georgy for Reuters
- When the Healing Place Exploded
by Zeina Hashem Beck for TheRumpus.net
- Writing in Crisis: A Conversation Between Beirut and New York
by Lina Mounzer and Mirene Arsanios for LitHub.com
- Lights Out, Beirut
by Zeead Yaghi or ThePointMag.com
Podcast episodes I’ve listened to recently
I listen to a lot of podcasts and I won’t list them all here. I actually already have a list of recommended podcasts on my private blog but it’s not up to date. I’ll try and work on that soon.
You can find these podcasts on most podcast apps.
So anyway, here they are.
I was a guest on the Mangal Media podcast but it’s actually not why I’m recommending it here. It’s a fascinating podcast, less than a year old, and it tackles issues in the so-called ‘peripheral’ countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, Bosnia and so on.
I recommended all of the episodes but here is a great recent one:
This podcast is hosted by writer/post/activist Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and each episode is a deconstruction of two seemingly opposed ideas such as Ethical/Unethical Fashion, Black/White, Illegal/Legal Migrants, and so on.
It Could Happen Here
This podcast is hosted by Robert Evans who also hosts/co-hosts two other great podcasts, Worst Year Ever (as in 2020, US-focused) and Behind the Bastards (+ Behind the Police). I actually recommend all of them but I’ll focus on It Could Happen Here because it’s one of the best out there.
The main thesis of this podcast is that a civil war is possible in the USA. This might seem obvious to anyone who hasn’t been under a rock in 2020, but the thing is though that this podcast is from early 2019. The episodes of It Could Happen Here are not just guess work. Evans uses quite a lot of research, including his own, on the American far right movement as well as his own journalism work around the world. I should add here that this can have relevance to your life regardless of whether you follow the US/are in the US. The general arguments apply pretty much everywhere.
There’s no point recommending a specific episode because you need to listen to them in order (10 in total), so I’ll just link the first one.
This one was a very random find but it’s really interesting. Conspirituality is a weekly podcast that dives into the world of conspiracy theories, right-wing extremists, fake ‘wellness’ crap and whatever is in between. If you’re particularly anxious about such things QAnon and other cults or cult-like movements, this podcast helps frame them. You’ll understand how racism, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and so on actually fuel these worlds. I’ll link you the first episode.
Sortir du Capitalisme
Well this one’s in French so I’m going to French it up now.
Sortir du Capitalisme est un podcast qui étudie plusieurs sujets du monde entier d’un point de vue de critique et (évidemment) anticapitaliste. Je recommanderai cet épisode: Aux racines historiques de l’idéologie nazie
(J’étais leur invité en décembre dernier)
The History of Vikings
I’m sure you’re confused by this. This is actually one of my favorite podcasts even though my knowledge of the Vikings is pretty basic. They get into the Vikings, Norse myth, history of medieval Scandinavia and Iceland. Here’s a great episode:
The Arts of Travel
I’ve been on the Arts of Travel twice and Matt Dagher-Margosian, the host, has been on my podcast once (in a two-parts episode), so I’m obviously biased here. That being said, this podcast is objectively very good. Matt interviews people from around Asia and beyond on politics, arts, travel and whatever is in-between. Here’s a great recent episode:
For The Wild
This will be my last recommendation of this month, and it’s still my favorite one. I’ve been listening to For The Wild for a couple of years now and it’s actually helped me get through some pretty difficult existential questions about the impact of our species on this world. Here is one great episode:
So this the first newsletter folks. The next one will be on the first Sunday of November. Part of my motive for deleting Facebook/Instagram and significantly reducing Twitter is to be able to have longer conversations with folks without the pressure of being on manipulative platforms so if you want to get in touch please send me an email to j [dot] ayoub26 [at] gmail [dot] com and we can exchange Signal/Whatsapp numbers or even schedule a call.
Last point and this is the bit that no one really likes doing, but: if you find any of my work useful, whether it be Hummus For Thought, The Fire These Times, my articles or even my archiving and commentary work on Twitter, please consider making a one-off or a recurring donation on Patreon, PayPal or BuyMeACoffee. If you can’t afford it, you can still help by leaving a review of The Fire These Times wherever you listen to podcasts and/or share with your friends and family.
See you in November.