All those theres: Sargon Boulus’s Iraq

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4 September 2011: Baghdad via San Francisco, for Youssef Rakha, makes more sense than Baghdad

Thanks to a flighty wi-fi connection at the riad where I stayed that time in Marrakesh, I heard Sargon Boulus (1944-2007) reading his poems for the first time. Sargon had died recently in Berlin – this was the closest I would get to meeting him – and, lapping up. the canned sound, I marvelled at his unusual career. He was an Iraqi who spent more or less all of his adult life outside Iraq, a Beatnik with roots in Kirkuk, an Assyrian who reinvented classical Arabic. He translated both Mahmoud Darwish and Howl.


In Sargon’s time and place there is an overbearing story of nation building, of (spurious) Arab-Muslim identity and of (mercenary) Struggle – against colonialism, against Israel, against capital – and that story left him completely out. More probably, he chose to…

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Annoying Arabs to Avoid: The Arab Straw-Feminist, The Female Version

The Arab Straw-Feminist is another subspecies that inhabits the Middle East and North Africa, its natural habitat being her room in her parents’ house, and her main source of nourishment is Facebook likes. She is an odd creature, functioning at the most basic level of human intellect, and scientists are still searching the original home of this subspecies, with some suggesting it came from between the pages of a crappy Ahlam Mustaghanmi novel and then spread to the rest of the region.

The men of her country and Arab men at large are the target of her internalized racism, and she does not miss an opportunity to ridicule them and hold them against white cute men in the West as a standard.

The Arab Straw-Feminist is not familiar with feminist theory, nor does she know such esteemed figures like bill hooks, Audre Lord, or Angela Davis. The term Intersectional Feminism is alien to her, and she is not well-acquainted with the feminist scene in the West or elsewhere, instead opting to post quasi-feminist videos removed out of context on her Facebook page, using them to glorify a West she does not know beyond Hollywood movies.

And in the true spirit of straw people, she is out of touch with reality. This manifests itself in her inability to analyze the socio-economic and political reality of the society around her unless she falls back on orientalist stereotypes, since her feminism, like everything else about her intellect, is imported.

And since she has not had one original thought in her life, and does not really understand how feminism works, she attempts to persuade men into her side of the fight by amplifying what true manliness is like, such as saying true men do not hit women, or true men help their female friends and relatives, or true men are those who appreciate women, and the like.

The Arab Straw-Feminist whines all day long about ‘Eastern’ men. This blob of Eastern Men is characterized by inherent backwardness, savagery, lustfulness, and general stupidity. To her, the ‘Eastern Man’ is irredeemable unless he interacts with the ‘developed’ West, and learns from it how to be civilized and love women.

This brings us to the hugely popular category of the ‘Eastern Man’. The Arab Straw-Feminist tends to avoid specifying who this man is exactly, but her audience recognizes she means Arabs, and similar people in surrounding areas.

It is not unusual for this subspecies to adopt a cool behavior in cases of conflict and impending threat from outside ‘Eastern’ forces, such as sexist comments, so she will not be accused of irrationality and emotional outbursts typical of women in her area.

She happily devotes her internet connection to hate on Arab men, and exercise her internalized, unexamined prejudices against them. The Arab Straw-Feminist would also not mind siding with any foreign, developed Western elements against the men of her country, because after all, they need the push.

The pages of the many Arab Straw-Feminists tend to parrot one another, so following only one page is enough to give you an idea of the fast rate at which this subspecies is growing in numbers. Their main defense mechanism is headache-inducing Facebook posts that have proven their effectiveness in rebelling enemies of greater intellect and empathy.

Scientists studying this fascinating phenomena have mapped out the ways in which to avoid the Arab Straw-Feminist:

-Extermination. Cut off her internet connection, though in some circles this method is considered insensitive and socially unacceptable, and could fall into the realm of fighting free speech. Please adopt all levels of precaution before doing this, and think of the poor Arab man who will be accused of this deed and held at trial on charge of his Arabness and Easterness in the courts of the Union of Arab Straw-Feminists.

-Reality Brick on the Head. Bring her to visit America, and find her a job at an abortion clinic working undercover somewhere in the Bible Belt. And while you’re at it, make sure she is subjected to racial profiling, orientalism, sexual harassment, catcalling, and slut-shaming. Last but not least, assign her to write an insider’s report in Arabic about the struggles of black women and other minorities in the frame of white feminism that she so happily adopts, and encourage her to join a support group for liberated American women who had experienced the trauma of rape.

-Books. The easiest and less extreme option is to simply gift her with books dealing with actual feminism, and keep her updated on the most recent news of the many faces of feminism all over the globe.

We would like to assure you that the Arab Straw-Feminist is not evil, she is simply a snob who is misguided, misinformed, and seriously out of the loop. This does not mean that she cannot evolve out of her shell, -despite increasing evidence against this claim- on the contrary, she is definitely capable of learning from her mistakes, though the option of extermination remains preferable in cases of extreme frustration.

Annoying Arabs to Avoid: The Arab Englishman

One type of Arabs is the Arab Englishman, a subspecies observed all over the Middle East and North Africa. The Arab Englishman is not content to be like the rest of his kin, but opts to adopt not only the manners of his British counterpart, but also his language.

The Arab Englishman peppers his speech with English words, and will sometimes be kind enough to form a whole sentence in English. Do not expect the Arab Englishman to be proficient in English (he’s not), but do expect him to correct you when he finds the time from his strenuous duties to mingle with the lesser folks of his country.

The Arab Englishman will tell you that no, he is not full of himself. You envy him, because you exhibit typical Arab behavior, which he is above. Naturally.

This subspecies believes with unrelenting heart that they have been bestowed with a heavenly gift that sets them apart from the rest, and they will attempt to downplay this gift by telling you that there is a lot they still don’t know, using the English language, of course.

The Arab Englishman, contrary to his claims, has only seen England in pictures. He is a strong advocate for women’s right to wear what they want, but will insist on his girlfriend having a short hair cut because, as he will happily explain, it’s “cool”.

This subspecies is mostly concentrated in the Art and Music faculties of every collage; and oddly enough, Arabs who major in English literature do not exhibit the same behavior as the Arab Englishman, and are, in fact, despised by him, for the English of this Arab is superior to the mainstream English of the education system.

He does not know what the word mainstream means.

His English is the English of songs and movies, which he will always remind you, he can watch without subtitles.

He has not for once in his life picked an English novel, least an Arabic one, though you are likely to find in his Facebook page tons of likes for esteemed works such as “The Old Man and the Sea”, “Anna Karenina”, “Hamlet”, and “Twilight”.

The Arab Englishman’s favorite genre of music is Jazz. Jazz is classy and English, like he is. He might occasionally say Rock. Do not ask him why he likes Rock. It just feels right to him. He will sometimes have a picture of Marilyn Monroe in his room, despite never having watched any of her movies.

For this species, the Arabic language is crude, senseless, and devoid of beauty. He will tell you how he better expresses himself in English, and how English helps him express himself better. Similar to the previous sentence, the Arab Englishman tends to rather repeat himself, for lack of an extensive vocabulary, but he will manage to conceal this by exchanging words, and using them in their wrong places, relying on the ignorance of lesser Arabs who are not as proficient in English as he is.

The Arab Englishman’s biggest fear is for his lack of knowledge in the English language to be exposed, since he has built his entire persona around being better than others in this regard, and he will fight tooth and nail not to engage with anyone who actually speaks English, for fear of appearing small.

This is not to say that the Arab Englishman is completely hopeless; he is, in fact, capable of change. Whether by a conspicuous murder attempt on his life, or by accumulating enough English words to alleviate himself to the level of an Arab who happens to speak English.

Words they are likely to use during normal Arabic speech with others: “Shit”, “Excuse me”, “Oh My God!”, “Sorry”, “Cool”, “Fuck”, “Bitch”, “Man”, and the occasional “Welcome”.

Ways to avoid the Arab Englishman primarily consist of not engaging with him in discussions of new songs and movies, for obvious reasons. Some recommend you completely cut off contact with him, and others advice that you ask him for a challenge. I say neither, for the Arab Englishman is not a bad person, but merely misguided and rather pretentious, incompetent, and egoistic. And like he himself would call others he does not like, an Asshole.

When I Was An Orange Tree

An orange tree, small and lush, poses timidly at the side of an ancient stone stairs, half-way between earth and sky. The stairs, from down, appear endless; some say God waits up there, not with open arms, but with idle expectancy, like He knew you’d come, but wasn’t really waiting for you to show up.

An orange tree, bent but strong, hunches slightly over the stone, neither guarding divinity nor displaying interest in earthly manners. Something about it is too ordinary, simple, confined, disarmingly so. You expect too much of it, yet it is an ordinary orange tree.

When man fought God for the very first time, he did so on the backs of elephants. His weapons were his confusion, his limited perception, and his yearning for the primality of faith. Not faith itself, especially after encountering God, for he found that this deity was just as confused, just as limited, and just as primal as he was.

Those elephants he rode did not descend down to earth with him. They remained stuck on the ancient stairs, after earth become too little to contain them. The orange tree does not remember who came first, itself or the elephants, perhaps it was too young to recall. But in the spirit of true orange trees, it kept the perplexities of the two distant worlds, and what transpires in the stretch of stone between them, to itself.

At noon, the orange tree faces its wobbling shadow, for hours and hours, but time matters not here. Here, the orange tree leads a calm existence, at margins of divine fury and human suffering, caring for neither. When God invited it to share a glass of wine with Him, it politely declined; these nights were reserved for observing elephants swaying with enchantment from the Sufi music played from across the ocean.

In a world so unbelievably vast, the orange tree owns nothing but the little space it occupies, but one day, when the earth was drowned in a flood so violent it uprooted God’s throne, the orange tree found itself drifting silently away from the stone stairs, away from the elephants and the Sufi music.

Away from the scent of Paradise’s winery.

It landed in a swamp. A large one circled by tall trees bearing no fruit. Green was everywhere, alarming yet dull, one tree replicating itself a thousand times. Somewhere in the swamp was a walled pond, filled with water glistening like a starry sky, and inside the pond was an elephant and her calf, doing a ritualistic bath, tossing water from their trunks everywhere around them.

For a moment, the orange tree was a hunter. Its silent observation manifesting itself in eyes, brown and alert, a malicious intent sipping through its body. But something was approaching. Something bigger than the orange tree. A large vehicle driven by two men came crashing on the tranquil green around them.

The elephants wailed loudly.

Water rippled, the whole scene wavered, the pair of brown eyes disappeared; the orange tree remembered it’s a tree, not a hunter, when the two humans’ faces almost cracked open, their vehicle running over the calf.

Blood seeped into the water, the elephant cried out, a sound so human and terrifying, the swamp began swallowing it, the elephant mingled with the green around it, and the orange tree no longer recognized who was an extension of the other.

Green was devouring everything around it, the scene had no beginning and no end. There was no stone stairs, no elephants, no odd vehicles, just an orange tree, drowning, aware for the very first time of its being, of its existence.

It’s an ordinary orange tree. It’s an extraordinary orange tree.

It’s an orange tree forgotten by God.

Fairy Godmother Resigns

Since I caught liver infection, I’ve been in need of my fairy godmother, but she has not showed up in while, perhaps preferring to not mingle with me anymore, a wise decision in the myriad of terrible ones she had graced upon me in the past. But nonetheless, I missed her visits, now that I’ve been spending much time alone.

However when she did visit, it was abrupt and quick, like she didn’t want to be with me, or be around our house at all. I was thrilled to see her, appearing before me like she always did, but this time her eyes were tired and sunken, yet not affecting her youthful appearance. How old was she anyway? To me, it never seemed like she was aging.

Sitting over for coffee, she tucked a lock of hair behind her ears. “Why aren’t you coming here anymore?” I ask.

My fairy godmother chuckles nervously. “Well… I got a job. It’s taking all my time, sometimes I’m not even in town for several days.”

I can feel my mouth opening slightly in that dumb way. I took a sip. “I know the workforce in Syria has dwindled significantly, but I didn’t know they were hiring grandmas. Do they even know about your magical nature?”

She winked. “I suppose my magical nature kind of… helped, in me getting the job.” She put the cup of coffee down. “Magical creatures are in high demand.”

“But I thought no one was supposed to see you, except me. I just don’t get it,” I stared at her. “You’re a figment of my imagination.”

“Oh silly you,” she pulled a cigarette out of her Lucky Star packet. “I’m real. I’m real because you think I’m real. I’m the realist thing in your life.”

I hunched over the table. “It doesn’t make sense. I created you to fulfill my crippling emotional dependency and to be my friend, because I’m too much of a lazy, arrogant loser to make any. I imagined you as a figure with a specific job to cater to my needs and whims, to withhold judgment on me and assert my opinions because I’m too afraid of being wrong.” I tightened my grip around the cup. “You cannot just go and have another job.”

My fairy godmother fixed her shining, droopy eyes on me. It scared me, she was serious, unwavering. “You don’t know anything. You’re a sheltered twit with massive daddy issues suffering from a lack of purpose and I’m tired of your bullshit and your constant whining. You can’t go to the fucking supermarket to buy your own fucking cigarettes. I will not spend the rest of my life stroking your inflated ego. I’m exhausted. And above all this, you don’t even pay me!”

“I don’t have to pay you!” I shouted. “I made you. You wouldn’t even be here if I didn’t imagine you. You wouldn’t say all this dumb shit if I didn’t make you smart.”

She again made that move of tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, regaining some of her composure. “Listen, I don’t want be your fairy godmother anymore. I can’t fulfil your needs like I used to, I’ve become too integrated into the system, too human. Not to mention I’m happy with my job, I’m even thinking of learning a second language.”

“A second language…”

“Yes, French perhaps. My clients would like it if I spoke another language.”

“Your clients…? What’s your job anyway?”

“I’m a prostitute.”

A long silence stretched between us, so slimy it was as if we were wading through a swamp of shit. Dumbfounded, I carried our now empty cups to the sink. “A prostitute…”

“Yes,” she perked. “It’s really rewarding. You get to know all those men and how they feel. It was hard at first, but I got used to it. They’re not paying as much as before, but my needs are few, and I’m building a solid base of loyal clients.”

I stared into the dirty sink, following the pattern of poured coffee and apple peels. “How… how are you marketing yourself?”

“Word of mouth.” She replied. “One man comes, tells his friends. His friends tell their friends, and so on.”

“Wow…” I glanced over my back at her. “How do you feel about it? Is it ok to you, to sell your body like that?”

She shrugged. “I don’t sell my body, I sell sex. But since you created me, I carry a little of your religious guilt, but you also created me to manage around these things. So not only do I manage your religious guilt, but also the religious guilt of the men I sleep with.”

“You’re really getting around this thing, huh?”

“Yes, I am. And frankly, I’m enjoying the money. It’s not much, but it suffices.”

I turn around to face her again. “What the fuck would you need the money for? You only eat and drink for appearances and to keep me satisfied. You dress differently every time I see you so you wouldn’t need it to buy clothes. For what, seriously?”

“I’m giving all the money I earn to independent groups working with Syrian refugees. It feels good to alleviate the suffering of a few when there’s so much injustice.”

“How touching.”

She sighed. “I’m doing everything in my capacity. I have a thirst for life. I want to expand myself. I want to see the world. I’ve been confined to your circle, and honestly that’s not healthy.”

“The circle or me, personally?”

“Both. You’re leading a destructive lifestyle. All that coffee and cigarettes, no friends, no lovers, you’re not even writing anything good anymore. You don’t take anything seriously, especially your future. You’re also too cynical, too numb, like nothing matters to you anymore.”

“See?” I exclaimed. “That’s exactly why I created you. You’re supposed to tolerate me even with all my shortcomings.”

“Sweetheart, humans learn and grow, they get out of suffocating situations for their sake.”

“You’re not real!” I shouted, frustration engulfing me. “You’re not human. You’re not supposed to feel things. You’re not supposed to develop opinions. You’re my creation.”

She sighed. “Guiding you is weighing me down, emotionally. I think… I think you need to see a therapist, to get rid of that dictator inside you.”

“This is Syria, there are no therapists.”

“Then I’m sure you’ll find something on Youtube to help you.”

It was too much. My last lifeline was abandoning me, and now my nausea was coming back. “So…” I began. “You’re serious about this resignation thing.”


“Well, at least, have lunch with me?”

She shook her head. “No, I have to go, a client is waiting for me.” She got up from her seat, absent-mindedly dusting her frilly blue dress.

I escorted her to the door, where she held my face between her hands. “Take care of yourself alright? Make sure to rest well and follow the doctor’s prescription, ok?” I nodded. “I’ll visit every now and then, goodbye.”

Opening the door for her, I wondered when she stopped fading like she usually did and started using the door. Alas, shit like this no longer mattered.

“Bye, fairy godmother.”

“Bye, dear.”