Thalia Beaty | 15 Jun 2013
Two musicians, Khaled Sanoussi and Ahmed Heyman, have decided to play music in the streets of Cairo. Their project, El Mazzikateya, is one among many that claims the streets of the city for expression, whether artistic, political, or otherwise.
The right to use a street corner for music is neither forbidden nor guaranteed, but it has often been difficult to do. The plot of the 2010 film Microphone turns on this ambiguity. Directed by Ahmed Abdalla, the semi-fictional film follows underground artists and musicians in Alexandria as they try to find space for their work. After being denied access to galleries and concert halls (in part by officials at the Ministry of Culture), the artists decide to put on a concert at the café they frequent. Before they even finish setting up the stage, a group of men sitting near by comes over to ask, “Where is your permit?”
While the film is fictional, the question is real, and it is not just the government, represented by policemen or officials, who wants to know. People from the neighborhood or passersby often also inquire whether groups have the right to use a public area. Heyman says that policemen will warn them about disturbing the neighborhood and will ask them to stop, but that this has only happened occasionally. It seems that the good will of the crowd that gathers around them is the “permission” that they need.
Since the fall of the Mubarak regime, many taboos have changed in Egypt, but the use of public space continues to be curtailed in certain ways, but not in others. For example, vendors in downtown Cairo, who do not have permits, sell their goods on the road itself. While they block traffic, the police leave them alone, most likely because it is not worth the fight.
El Mazzikateya is pushing the boundaries of the use of public space not to contest the power of the state, but rather to bring enjoyment to Egyptians and to raise the status of musicians in society.
In their words, “All over the world, people play music in the streets. They depend on it for a source of income. They play for fun, but in the end, they are doing something that they love.”
“Unfortunately, in Egypt there isn’t this [musicians playing in the streets]. We have many artists. We have many musicians. People draw, sing, and play, but they are embarrassed of their profession, and of how people will see them. They are embarrassed about what the street will think.”
“Because of this, we decided that we would go down to the streets.”
Ashley Barnes | 14 Jun 2013
This is an excerpt from one of several articles and op-eds published in recent weeks discussing the necessity for Palestinian activists to connect with communities who have also experienced struggles for independence and equality. Susan Abulhawa writes explicitly about the inherent interconnectedness of black and indigenous struggles around the world and the need for solidarity between them. See the full post here. Susan is also the author of the international bestseller Mornings in Jenin and founder of Playgrounds for Palestine.
Sameeha, a brilliant Palestinian writer in Gaza, noted that such reductive stereotypes are precisely the things that hinder badly-needed alliances among oppressed peoples. She, along with Rana, the indefatigable, ever-smiling and warm organizer of PalFest in Gaza, also pointed out that too often, when we speak of engaging “the world,” what we mean is Europe and the US, because someone convinced us somewhere along the line that these were the only places that mattered. That somehow our freedom can only come from the same nations that facilitated and cheered on the destruction of our society.
That, of course, is far from the truth. But understanding this requires that we reorient the Palestinian struggle to align with indigenous struggles — struggles of the marginalized and voiceless — which I consider to be spiritually and politically black because there is no equivalent to the savagery inflicted on the black body over centuries by white supremacy.
To me, blackness is what has been and is the recipient of colonialism and supremacy, with all that this entails in clashing forces of internalization of inferiority, resistance, black power and black empowerment.
In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon describes the narcissism of inferiority that results from white colonization and enslavement of blacks. He said: “Black men want to prove to white men, at all costs, the richness of their thought, the equal value of their intellect.” This single sentence describes the Anglocentric nature of Palestinian discourse with “the world.”
The conversation we have with Europe and white America is one in which we are always trying to prove our humanity. One in which we beg for acceptance and solidarity, and one from which we accept the various sympathies of a white man’s burden as if it were true solidarity, or something of a slice of bread that comes with an admonition that we have not behaved well.
This is not to say that true solidarity has not come from white individuals. I would not deny the love and sacrifices of men and women like Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, Vittorio Arrigoni and many more. I do not deny the kind of solidarity that transcends ethnicity. But there is an undeniable difference in the way peoples of different ethnicities relate to us.
With Africans, including American descendants of those who were enslaved, there is no need to preface our words. There is never a sense that we need to prove our worth or the righteousness of our struggle for liberation. This is what I mean by “natural allies.” They are people who know, viscerally, what it means to be regarded as vermin by most of the world. Those who know what it is to be the “wretched of the earth.”
There are still some Jews who remember that, perhaps. They too are our natural allies. But to continue to knock on European and white American doors, including Israeli doors, begging, “Please help me, please look at me, I am human as you,” is not helpful. It is not helpful to continue to accept conditional handouts that are turning our once proud people into a nation of beggars, willing to dance for butter. It is humiliating, weakening and, more importantly, unnecessary.
That any Palestinian should entertain the notion of “negotiations” with Israel for the basic dignity of freedom and home is a screaming example of the narcissism of learned inferiority. This is the essential blackness of our fight. In this way, our struggle for liberation is spiritually and politically black in nature.
One of the features of this negative narcissism is the aspiration to all that the oppressor entails, while simultaneously hating him. Fanon describes this aspiration to whiteness more eloquently than I ever could. In the Palestinian case, I will add that there is another layer to our condition, which can be described as the narcissism of victimhood.
I remember the first time I heard Edward Said speak in person. It was at an Al-Awda Right to Return rally, I think the first one we held, in 2000. He said that “we [Palestinians] should remember the solidarity shown to us here and everywhere.”
I think of those words often because I don’t think we do enough to honor the spirit of what he said. We don’t recognize the origin of the solidarity shown to us. We are so immersed in our own pain and suffering — however understandably so — that we regard our victimhood to the exclusion of other suffering, much as (although not quite with the same worship) our oppressors have done.