Politics & Society

HFT Newsletter #5

Welcome to the fifth 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 morning of the month.

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Initial Reflections

I did not expect to start this newsletter with the news of an assassination, but here we are. Lebanese publisher and activist Lokman Slim was assassinated in southern Lebanon on the 6th month commemoration of the Beirut explosion, February 4th 2021.

Slim had been receiving death threats from Hezbollah supporters for years, and the cult’s online machinery was promptly unleashed to try and whitewash this heinous crime. Some pseudo-academics even jumped to the occasion, to find some footage of Slim of what they called anti-Shia sentiments – Slim was a Lebanese Shia – while cautiously adding that ‘we must condemn this assassination’. One wonders what the purpose of supposedly incriminating videos following an assassination is? Other than to justify it, to plant doubts in people’s minds, to render the assassination of a civilian into the latest gaslighting campaign.

Their house was not in order however. Within minutes of Slim’s assassination being confirmed in the news, Hassan Nasrallah’s own son tweeted that “losing some people is actually a win and an unexpected boon #noregrets.” Hezbollah’s useful idiots did not account for Nasrallah’s own son being this blatantly idiotic. They’re supposed to maintain a more respectable online presence. That’s what loyal soldiers do.

Slim’s murder took us all by surprise. The activist community in Lebanon is not very big, and people know each other, or at least of each other. But unfortunately, this murder shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Slim himself had been saying for a long time that he continued to receive death threats from Hezbollah supporters. They even plastered these messages on walls around his home in Dahyeh in late 2019: “Lokman Slim the traitor & collaborator.” “Glory to the one who silences his voice.” “Hezbollah is the honor of the Umma…”

Again, they’re not exactly subtle. And yet we will be told to not see what we see with our own eyes, not think what our minds know to be true. We will be asked in the weeks and months to come to look elsewhere, to consider 200 other scenarios except the scenario that actually makes sense because all the evidence is pointing towards it. This is how gaslighting works. Emotional manipulation is one of the pillars of the Lebanese sectarian regime.

I am nowhere near a threat to Hezbollah as Slim was, but even someone like me – whose contributions are largely online and in writing – managed to get some members of that cult angry. I published a Twitter thread about some of my experience, the bits I’m comfortable mentioning publicly in any case. After years of back and forth, I’ve now decided to not go back to Lebanon. I hope this is not permanent, but I have no way of knowing at the moment. I cannot trust any institution in Lebanon to protect me from Hezbollah, especially as we know that they are comfortable assassinating civilians in cold blood – again.

I make this promise, to myself first and foremost, and to everyone else as well: whatever message they wanted to send with Lokman Slim’s assassination was received loud and clear. We will do the exact opposite. As Monika Borgmann, a filmmaker & co-director of UMAM Documentation & Research, which she co-founded with her husband Lokman, said: “zero fear.” I’m not as brave as she is, nor as Rasha Slim, Lokman’s sister, who said that his assassins are the ones who should be crying. I did cry, and I am afraid. I am actually still terrified of Hezbollah because they hold the fate of my entire country in their own hands, and they are unwilling to let go.

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. They have degraded themselves from a group mostly resisting a brutal occupation to brutal occupiers themselves. To the extent that any of this is a choice, I have chosen exile. I cannot do what I am doing, nor what I want to do, in Lebanon. Those who have normalized this party for so many years, those who have chosen to ignore heir slaughter in Syria, those who have chosen to ignore their rabid sectarianism – you have blood on your hands. This is a direct accusation, one which I know will be ignored.

I will also say this: The criminal dynasty ruthlessly ruling over in Syria will be defeated. Samir Kassir said, not too long before they murdered him too, that ‘when the Arab Spring blooms in Beirut, it announces the rime of roses in Damascus’. The reverse is also true, and the revolution that Syrians launched will bring down this murderous regime and its allies in both Syria and Lebanon.

Alongside @dalalmawad, @CarmenGeha & @samermakarem I spoke to @thebeirutbanyan podcast, hosted by Ronnie Chatah. This was a raw episode, as it was recorded just a couple of hours after we heard the news. Here’s the episode.


The James Baldwin Corner

We start our newsletter with the usual James Baldwin corner. This month, I’ll bring your attention to this speech he gave at the University of Chicago in 1963 entitled ‘The Moral Responsibility of the Artist’


What I’ve Written

You can now read my essay on ‘Hezbollah’s Resistance® against resistance’ on Discontent.Me. This was written over a year ago so the timing of its publication with Slim’s assassination is coincidental. Unfortunately, what I wrote end of 2019 has some resonance to what’s happening now:

“To make that happen, a different kind of militarization was required, that of thought. This form of militarization is a necessary component of Hezbollah’s military intervention. To put it simply: There has to be a threat for Hezbollah to defend the Lebanese from. If no such threat exists, one must be created.”

It will also be on joeyayoub.com in a week or so. Here’s a preview:

I was featured in Mozilla’s Internet Health Report 2020 alongside really cool people. My take was rather modest:

“There is a way to create a better internet, one that does not rely on manipulation. Finding it is a goal that we must all reach, for everyone’s sake. The centralization of power of the internet giants and their manipulative algorithms is significantly contributing to the wrecking of whole societies.”

As you may know by now, this has been a concern of mine for a while even though I don’t quite know what the solutions are (smarter people do though), but it’s a topic I’m approaching from a cultural analysis lens. As best I can anyway.


Documentary of the Month

I’m a total sucker for archeology docs and this one was great.


Book of the Month

I’ve been reading Daniel Tammet’s Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing. I had come across his first book Born on a Blue Day around when it came out in 2006 and his second books Embracing the Wide Sky a few years later. They were both very influential in my teenage years as they spoke to a nagging feel I always had of being not just different but too different. This feeling varied from positive to negative. I was sometimes happy to be on my own going through books or scrolling through Wikipedia or some other website which allowed me to open a billion tabs of stuff to read. Other times however, I became very anxious because I had no idea why other people were so difficult to communicate with (spoilers: to them, I was the difficult one).

But anyway, Tammet has repeatedly described the importance of having libraries growing up, as they could allow him long meditations on particular topics he was interested in. This is something that I know I will also regret. Libraries weren’t around in Lebanon while I was growing up. At least, nothing on the scale that other people may be familiar with. The very concept of the public had been erased during ‘the war’ and privatized after ‘the war’. As I grew up in the latter, the only available libraries were the university ones. They were not accessible, to say the least. And so, I now associated most of my past with the missed opportunities

This is what happens when you let a child’s curiosity die out. To be fair to my parents though, they did do their best to provide me with whatever books I wanted. But there’s nothing that can compare to a (well-funded) public library. The very possibility of letting your mind wander is what I was being deprived of. I always knew in advance what I was going to read because, well, these were books that we bought! I was able to wander a bit when my collection was large enough, but it never was quite the same.

This, incidentally, is why I always feel a mix of happiness and sadness whenever I see a public library now that I live in Europe. The happiness I suppose is obvious, but the reason I felt sadness is because I can’t help but wonder what I could have known, enjoyed, experienced had I had access to a simple library for all these years.

The closest thing to a public library growing up – besides the one at school, which was rather small and boring – was the internet. This was a blessing, as I don’t know who I’d be had I not had access to Wikipedia which would usually lead to some further searching. I almost never managed to close down all those tabs. It was fun.

But one thing that Wikipedia could never compensate for was the physical act of walking through a library and not always knowing what you’ll stumble upon. I think so anyway. I only found that out when I started university, but by then I think that initial curiosity was long dead. I was too busy during my undergrad years having to prove myself against tests to have the time to wander. I managed to do it a few times, and I cherish those memories, but that was it. It was never like in the movies or books, because in those movies and books there were public libraries. It’s an incredibly frustrating thing to grow up with the knowledge and confidence that you could thrive if only you had access to something as simple as a public library, and constantly being reminded by a traumatized ‘postwar’ society that no such thing existed.

This isn’t an entirely sad story though. That curiosity is back now. I spent quite a bit of my 20s trying to revive it, and I guess it makes sense that I feel I’m ‘getting there’ at the age of 29. I just wish it was an earlier exposure, and I wish those much younger than me in Lebanon have access to it now. But they don’t, for the most part, and you will likely see some of them write exactly what you just read in a decade or two, assuming they manage to get out of conservative restrictions long enough to have that realization.

For many others in Lebanon, they will have a fire burning within them for a long time. They will try and nurture it, maybe even try and act on it, but unless there is something, anything, that is there, that fire would eventually die out. It is exhausting to always know that you could know more than you currently know while also knowing that the reason you don’t know more than what you currently know is simply because you’re excluded from the space that you need (apologies for that annoying sentence).

This is why Tammet’s Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing is a wonderful read. Tammet also struggled with restrictions growing up. His school didn’t provide him with what he needed to grow, but he did have access to some public libraries at some point, and that made a world of differences.

So, with that in mind, let us all support public libraries and demand that they get the funds they deserve.


Recommended Webinars


Miscellaneous


The Fire These Times episodes of January 2021 + upcoming ones

 

Three upcoming ones in February:

+ more to come.


Miscellaneous


Podcast episodes I’ve listened to recently


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 fifth newsletter folks. The next one will be on the first Sunday of March 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.

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