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HFT Newsletter #3

Welcome to the third newsletter of Hummus For Thought, a monthly collection of thoughts and recommendations.

Welcome to the third newsletter of Hummus For Thought, a monthly collection of thoughts and recommendations, curated by Joey Ayoub (hello) from Geneva, Switzerland. It comes out on every first Sunday of the month, 8:00 am Central European Time/West Africa Time.

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Initial Reflections

In this past month I have had some time to reflect on upcoming projects. We’d gone into another lockdown in Geneva lasting for most of November and my routine was disrupted. This may not be a big deal to many or most people but I have difficulties getting some things done, things that others wouldn’t have to think about, without certain structures that I put in place in my daily life. The idea isn’t necessarily that these routines must always be respected, but that I could fall back on them should I start feeling a bit, let’s say, agitated. So I must admit that this past month has been difficult, but overall it was okay.

I’m sure I’m not alone in being worried about what the future holds, although I’m also relieved that Cheetos Mussolini lost the US elections.

To me however this month has been about what was already lost. I started November with the news that my eldest dog, Yamcha, passed away.

It is of course very difficult to express what our furry loved ones mean to us and I won’t pretend to be able to do so here either. These are just a few words, perhaps the beginning to something longer in the future.

I don’t fully understand social norms beyond what I’ve had to learn to maintain a functional existence. This has always been the case, as far as I can remember. From an early age, I preferred the company of animals and books to that of other humans. It would be many years before this was given a name in my life, but that’s for another time.

Yamcha was nearly 15 years old when she died which means that I have shared almost exactly half my life with her. We got her when I was in my teens (her name comes from a character in Dragon Ball) and were inseparable for many years. Yamcha needed my physical presence to be present with me, and that meant a lot to a troubled teenager who had difficulties communicating with others. Yamcha couldn’t ‘take a hint’ when I was depressed and needed, or so I thought, to be left alone. She was there regardless, my only constant in my world of never-ending calculations.

Her passing hit me hard because it was in those long days of solitude that I understood that I was never actually alone, something that I only realized when I left Lebanon and was, for the first time in my life, without my dogs, without Yamcha. The image that I had of myself spending long hours watching films or reading books or learning languages on my own was both true and false. I did do these things, but I was never actually alone. It just felt that way because we were so inseparable that I sometimes forgot we were two different sentient creatures.

So that’s all I’ll write on Yamcha for now. If you’re lucky enough to have companions in your life, never forget to give them the attention they deserve.


The James Baldwin Corner

We start the Hummus For Thought newsletter with our monthly James Baldwin corner. Here’s a conversation between Baldwin and Maya Angelous, with whom he got quite close over the years.

I will also add this reading by Angelou of James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk” part of the 1989 documentary, “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket” which you can also find in full here.

From PBS: “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket” is considered a classic. Without using narration, The Price of the Ticket allows Baldwin to tell his own story: exploring what it means to be born black, impoverished, gay and gifted – in a world that has yet to understand that “all men are brothers.” The film premiered on American Masters in 1989.  Since then, repeated PBS broadcasts have reached millions of people. And it returns to PBS for a special re-broadcast on August 23, 2013 to help mark the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.”


The Fire These Times + other projects update

To mark the first 50 episodes of The Fire These Times I released an episode in which I reflected on these past few months as well as making some announcements about future projects.


What I’ve Written

A long written conversation I’ve had with Matt Dagher-Margosian of Asia Art Tours is now published. You can find part 1 and part 2 on his website (highly recommended). I also published it in full on my private blog.

I’ll include the quotes that Matt featured on his site as a sort of teaser. I hope you give it a read as I put a lot of myself in that one.

I have been defeated, and I think many others in Lebanon feel the same way, by the ruling establishment. To use a crap metaphor, I don’t know whether they will win the war, but they have absolutely won this battle. They have won it so thoroughly that seasoned activists in Lebanon are profoundly depressed and exhausted. Mental health struggles are so frequent that they have become the norm, worsened only by the fact that most of us still lack the vocabulary to discuss them.

I am still deeply traumatised, but I know I’m healing, and that is already something. Being able to fix my own broken parts is what’s allowing me to focus more on our world’s broken parts. Our broken parts are also the world’s in the end. I do genuinely believe that whatever we can do to be kinder and fairer to ourselves is what we also need to be doing. 

The notion of a ‘collective’ should be deconstructed as well here. I don’t believe everyone who experienced the explosion experienced it in the same way. Perhaps in the moment and its immediate aftermath that was true, but once the dust settled, so to speak, those who are already equipped with sectarian narratives simply used them to suit their purposes.

To paraphrase the queen of sci-fi, Ursula Le Guin, capitalism today has a similar allure to the divine right of kings. Using that example, so much of today’s discourse simply assumes that those kings and queens are where they are because they were appointed by some religious or natural law. I view the inability to imagine a world with no borders or a world without patriarchy or without nation states to be within that same tendency.

I mentioned ‘emergency mode’ above which is what I consider the necessary response to our problems, the sort of emergency mode that climate scientists are urging us to get into. This likely requires a mix of pragmatism and idealism, to be very grounded in the facts on the ground (knowing the facts on carbon emissions, deforestations etc) while rejecting their continuity when doing so leads to a catastrophe. In other words, we need to be accepting the reality of reality while actively rejecting it in favor of a better reality

I love Lebanon, I love its land and its mountains, I love the cedars that we’re murdering, I love the sea that we’re murdering, I love the incredible wildlife that we’ve almost completely exterminated. . . But I do not love the nation state of Lebanon, I have no sympathy for the Lebanese Republic, itself a barely-concealed lie maintained by mass murderers and oligarchs, and I do not believe that those who call themselves Lebanese in modern Lebanon deserve happiness and dignity more than those who do not call themselves Lebanese.

The language here is accidentally revealing too. Liquid fear. . . Isn’t it also liquid because those who are fleeing their homes are forced to take the sea as it is less treacherous than a land full of humans and their borders? Their fear is literally liquid, not just metaphorically. They fear the sea, and the land is deadlier. And isn’t it also liquid because global warming is causing rising sea levels which is making all of these even worse? God, or whatever she’s called, sure loves irony.

What I would say to people is that it’s not your fault for being born in capitalism, but it doesn’t mean we have no moral responsibilities. Create seemingly self-contradictory practices to counter this world’s problems, put your heart into doing this, fail a lot of times, and always try and be kind to yourself and others. This requires doing two things at the same time, to be critical while also giving yourself some time to breathe and recover.


Upcoming pieces

Still trying to write that promised piece for Crimethinc on the one year+ mark since the October 2019 uprising started in Lebanon. Hopefully an update on that soon. I’m also still writing that anti-social media piece I mentioned in the 1st newsletter.

What I can semi-confirm is that an essay I’ve written about how fantastic and unproblematic Hezbollah is (this is sarcasm) will likely be published in December on a new independent magazine called Discontent, so watch that space.


Lebanese Film of the Month

Whispers (1980), by Maroun Baghdadi

DVD cover (my copy)
Maroun Baghdadi (center) with Nadia Tueni (right) filming Whispers.

The Lebanese film of the month is Maroun Baghdadi’s beautiful 1980 Whispers. In it, Baghdadi follows Lebanese francophone poet Nadia Tueni through a Beirut that had already, by then, seen five years of civil war.

Years ago, I had shared two videos on YouTube, one of which picked up some views. It shows a young woman dancing in the middle of a crowd. They seem to all be students, maybe recent graduates, roughly the same age, with a 30 year old Marcel Khalife playing the Oud for the crowd. It is a very weird feeling to watch this scene forty years later, given everything that has happened in Lebanon in the 1980s, and 1990s, and 2000s, and 2010s, and 2020..

In that same film, you’ll meet Haitham Haddad, a student at the American University of Beirut, who speaks to Tueni about how he’s coping with the war. It is also the last scene of Whispers so I guess watching it would count as a spoiler. Here it is for those who want (on the left).

Nadia Tueni would die three years later, in 1983. Among her many writings, one sentence always stuck with me: “I belong to a country that commits suicide every day while it is being assassinated.”

Where to find it: I got my Baghdadi collection in (pre-economic crisis) Beirut but I looked up potential avenues for those of you who wish to order his films online. It’s not on YouTube or Vimeo, although you can find the trailer there.

If you’re in Lebanon you can probably just contact Nadi Lekol El Nas directly and ask them. They have two separate box sets of Baghdadi’s films: Documentaries and Fiction. It’s not exactly affordable (about 100-110$ per box) but it’s a pretty good collection if you’re into that kind of thing. I also found the boxes on BuyLebanese.com and Amazon. If you are outside of Lebanon you can also directly contact Nadi Lekol El Nas. I emailed them to confirm this.

Or, you can just watch it on Netflix! As I mentioned last month, Netflix has a Made in Lebanon collection now and Whispers is one of them. If you can afford it however, I recommend the boxes.

Here are some random scenes:


Miscellaneous

Have you seen this video of AfroDabke? No? Well watch it. Yes? Well watch it again.

It’s by the Popular Art Center in Al-Bireh, Palestine and features 130 Dancers from 5 Palestinian governorates. Dancers and contributors are: African Community Society (Jerusalem), Watan Dance Troupe (Gaza), Baladi Center for Culture & Arts (Bethlehem), El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe (Ramallah & El-Bireh), Naqsh Poplar Art Troupe (Jenin) and AfroDabke group/PAC (Ramallah & El-Bireh). It’s directed by Ashrafh Al-Nabali.

Thank me later.


Documentary of the Month

This 42-minute long documentary by DW is both heart-breaking and extremely well-done. It was written and directed by Dominic Streeter.

This is a documentary about the fentanyl epidemic in North America, focusing on Vancouver. It takes the view – which I 100% agree with – that hard drugs are a public and mental health issue, as opposed to the criminalisation route usually taken by most world governments. In it, you will learn from users and ex-users themselves how the system fails them, how the police is complicit in their oppression, and the often-misunderstood cost of gentrification. It is a tale of both urgency for these places and a warning for others.


Book of the Month

So my book recommendation for November 2020 is The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History, released in 2019 by Columbia University Press. It is edited by Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg, includes a foreword by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury and an Afterword by British academic Jacqueline Rose. Authors include both Palestinian and Israeli writers (and I think other nationalities): Mark Levene, Gil Anidjar, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Honaida Ghanim, Nadim Khoury, Alon Confino, Mustafa Kabha, Yochi Fischer, Omer Bartov, Tal Ben-Zvi, Omri Ben-Yehuda, Hannan Hever, Refqa Abu-Remaileh, Raef Zreik and Yehouda Shenhav.

I am absolutely using Flip to get your attention.

This book has had a deep impact on my way of thinking and even led me to include a section of my PhD for a comparative analysis based on it (and on few other books like Reconciliation in Global Context: Why it is Needed and how it Works, which I’ve reviewed for Al Jumhuriya last year, and The Holocaust, Rebirth, and the Nakba: Memory and Contemporary Israeli-Arab Relations by Yair Auron).

Bachir and Goldberg write in the introduction: “One trait common to both dominant historical narratives is that each relies – alongside the adoption of a foundational catastrophe – on the simultaneous and forceful negation (explicit or implicit) of the catastrophe of the other […] Each side is convinced that it is history’s ultimate victim, while denying or downplaying the suffering of the other side in order to validate its own claim […] the historical narration of these traumas should be empathically disrupted in order to de-fetishize the traditional redemptive national narrative”. (Please note that these are selected quotes and therefore can’t be representative of the entire intro, let alone the entire book and its multiple authors)

The book is divided into four parts: the first part is devoted to “identifying and examining the intellectual and conceptual resources that enable a new historical and political syntax in which the Holocaust and the Nakba can be thought together constructively”; the second part is devoted to “the challenges that bringing the Holocaust and Nakba together pose to dominant accounts of history and their celebrated methodologies and voices”; the third part is devoted to “the travel and deployment of traumatic signifiers and symbols in the connection between the Holocaust and the Nakba in literature, poetry and the arts”; and the fourth part is devoted to Elias Khoury’s recent novel Children of the Ghetto: My name is Adam, the first of a trilogy. “In this multilayered work, Khoury continues his thought-provoking and inspiring literary contribution on the entanglement of the Jewish and the Palestinian catastrophes.”


Speaking of books, I contributed a Lebanon chapter in a book called A region in revolt: Mapping the recent uprisings in North Africa and West Asia. I already mentioned this in Newsletter #2 (link) so I’ll just add that most of the authors and I had a chat on Sunday November 29th which you can find below. A shortened audio version of this will also be published as the 56th episode of The Fire These Times which will be out next week. That will be the last episode of 2020.


November 2020’s Recommended Webinars

Usual disclaimer: recommending webinars does not mean endorsing everything etc etc etc. I am just sharing what was interesting to watch.

Preview wasn’t working so here’s the link: https://vimeo.com/483645787

December webinars
(Feel free to add others below)

Organizing the Diaspora: The U.S.-China Conflict, Anti-Asian Racism, and Transnational Solidarity
December 4, 4:00-6:30pm PST | 7:00-8:30pm EST
facebook | RSVP

The Afterlives of Past Disquiet. Legacies, Unwritten Histories and Transnational Solidarity
December 7-10, 6–8pm CET
link | register on past-disquiet@khist.uzh.ch to receive links


Miscellaneous

Saleem Haddad has an online masterclass on Global Queer Literature. Check it out here. I’ve registered for the January 2021 one.

I’ll also add that Saleem has been on The Fire These Times in May to talk about his movie Marco, his book Guapa and his love for the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa.


The Fire These Times episodes of November 2020


Support Independent Journalism

Every month I’ll add an updated list of independent journalist outlets that I believe should be supported. If you know of any more, please send them to me by email at j[dot]ayoub26[at]gmail[dot]com.

  • InkCap: Independent journalism on nature and conservation in the UK, run by Sophie Yeo. You can support InkCap with a monthly or yearly Substack support.
  • The Public Source: Beirut-based independent media organization dedicated to reporting on socioeconomic and environmental crises afflicting Lebanon since the onset of neoliberal governance in the 90s, and providing political commentary on events unfolding since October 17th 2019.  You can support The Public Source with one time donations or with a monthly Patreon support.

    Disclaimer: I’m a Patreon supporter and I have interviewed Editor-in-Chief Lara Bitar (link), Contributing Editor Julia Choucair Vizoso (link) and Investigative Journalist Kareem Chehayeb (upcoming) individually on The Fire These Times.

Podcast episodes I’ve listened to recently

Instead of recommending podcasts as I’ve been doing so far I’ll just put a list of the podcast episodes that I’ve listened to recently. More specifically, the ones I’d recommend.

Although I’ve used their Spotify links to embed them, I actually use PocketCasts for my podcasts.

The History of Vikings: When Vikings Met Muslims: Bjorn Ironside & the Emirate of Córdoba with Dr. Ann Christys (couldn’t embed it for some reason)

The Vegan Vanguard – 49. Final Fantasy 7: Towards an Eco-Anarchist Future (w. Green, Ash, and Jacob)


Articles I’ve read recently

Repeated 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.
Repeated Disclaimer: me sharing an article does not mean I agree with everything that is written. It just means I find it interesting.
Important Note: I am subscribed to Uneven Earth’s monthly readings and a number of the climate change/green politics-related pieces recommended below came from them.


Voila!

So this the third newsletter folks. The next one will be on the first Sunday of January 2021. If you want to get in touch please send me an email to j [dot] ayoub26 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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.

By Joey Ayoub

One reply on “HFT Newsletter #3”

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 Cheetos Mussolini 👏👏👏👏👏👏 OMG that’s the best title ever. Mine is a bit long as orange swamp thing, so I’m going to adopt your description and yes, thank the universe he lost the election. Let’s hope he fades into obscurity

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