Death of Nilüfer
the drawing led to me being contacted for an interview meydan.tv/+jezos by exiled poet of Azerbaijan and dissident Gunel Movlud. The interview is in Turkish, the article is on the dissident media network of Azerbaijan)
I was inspired to make the drawing after hearing of the Death of Nilüfer after I heard the story from a comrade in Azerbaijan who I interviewed, you can read the interview in English here on OpenDemocracy or here on Arseh Sevom (who might soon translate it into Farsi)
Monthly Archives: August 2012
On the street down from Port de France, round the corner of dirty stinking Rue Mobarak in Tunis knelt a man with no eyes in his head, skin sucked in and sealed at the back of his sockets like the hollows of an emptied dozen-box of eggs. He wore a dust-caked suit that maybe some European nuns had struggled to put over him. It was day, dusty, the cold of spring in Tunis and when I saw him I realized it was not true what Tunisians meant when they said moyen, tout est moyen ici, ‘all misery is moderate here’. This man was without eyes on his knees, three empty mouths in his head and seemed someone had once scooped out his sight.
I could not keep my Dinar piece, so I bent to put it on the patch of cardboard on which he sat.
That instant he decided to move and stretch his legs, as he rose and lifted the cardboard divan my coin slid down unnoticed by him to the sidewalk.
Monsieur, I said. He mumbled in Arabic dusting off his mat of cardboard, I retrieved the coin.
Monsieur! I said again and tried to put the dinar in his hand, but he swung his hand speaking in Arabic, as if I was a nun trying to pick his lice again tell him about St Lucia
Monsieur! I now tried to drop the silvery coin with emblems of liberty and fruit harvest in his begging bowl, but missed again as he tried to find a comfortable way to sit on the mat with the English “down side up” (maybe it was a Mauritanian import) and symbol of a wine glass, an umbrella of bad luck. People walked by, sets of male and female many-scented behinds in tight violet and blue pants.
(Noise-shuffle of footwork as if a ritual mating dance was required before I could inseminate the center of his old tumor-hand with a cold Dinar-nickel depicting in faded metal relief the figure of a girl bring Spring bounty to the risen nation.)
He found his spot and settled, finally I placed the coin in his smoothed callused open palm; his palm shone as if he could now see through the silvery retina I had landed successfully in it. Something had made it impossible for me to complete the transaction and give him the charity without our touching. His blindness, his having two holes in his head, carved by a war criminal or a cruel castrating ogre-Odysseus, at least forcefully ensured physical contact, bending the knees of self-flattering alms throwers.
When my imagined Mother Teresa glow wore off I wondered if anyone had once tried to place shining coins in each hollow of his eyes.
Maybe that was the problem—when he died, in a suburb of Athens or Crete his loved ones did not care to place coins over his eyes as they haphazardly cremated him on cheap hay by the river while they smoked and spat, gossiping provincial in the midst of river-side burial.
So when he was to go to the Netherworld, he did not get far until animals of the netherworld ate his uninsured eyes and he ended up in Tunis, in the city of cold dry gray and dust on trade. Tunis where the tough-lunged brokers who were well-fed and moneyed from their struggles and government favors competed for the limited air.
He sat since then howling on his knees, death without eyes, waiting for the sunbarge to the Western lands of gold wheat and peace where he could rest amidst the flowers they call Sisters of Noamen.
Note from Tunis, Tunisia March 19 2012
Tunis without eyes by Arturo Desimone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at arturoblogito.wordpress.com.
above portrait of an Argentinean orientalist I met in Tunis
( the essay below was first published on Unlikely Stories : Episode IV Interdependency Issue in 2012.http://www.unlikelystories.org/12/desimone1112.shtml )
Arab Rites of Spring
The Arab Spring, named by non-Arabs after the anti-soviet offshoots of perestroika in formerly Russian-colonized Eastern Europe, as a construct of the Western imagination is in itself an Orientalist fantasy. The Egyptian artist Hala Elkoussy, in her mosaic “Room of the Myths and Legends” exhibited in the Carthage museum of Tunis, is right to adorn her tapestry-circus of demonstrators and missing children haunted by the spectres of the military state with images of the cheapest kind of internalized Orientalist spectacles, magicians making people levitate, swamis hanging upside down, the cobras and hypnotists—
Why would Arab revolutions be celebrated as poche causes in Western Europe and the United States by those who before would not hesitate to stereotype the former peoples as submissive fanatics, as people who blamed Israel and the West for their problems and only took action when a mediocre Danish cartoonist drew Mohammed (albeit this depiction of the Quranic illiterate prophet had him wearing an explosive bomb-turban)
Why would the former racists, the former patriots who saw their national martyrologies in the execution of Theo Van Gogh and in the fall of the September 11 towers, suddenly rush to celebrate the causes of Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, countries they knew nothing about? Why did Isrealis take to the streets as well, calling their demonstrations a revolution, inspired by the Arab revolution, to protest housing and employment crises in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—an Israeli revolution inspired by Arab revolts where there was very little mention of any kind of solidarity with the desire of Palestinian Arab population to not live under sustained occupation, there were important and pressing oppressions to take stances against such as the housing market in Jerusalem, no mention of house demolitions by the Israeli army—this is not entirely fair, one motivation of the outpourings in Israel was the Israeli Labor-lefts indignation towards the religious right and settler movement, though it seems Israeli concern with settler’s aggression and power-politics is primarily the fear of the religious neo-Judaism taking over and compromising Israel’s Secular-Zionist character, out of moral imperative the Israelis’ main concern has to be none other than the integrity of the Jewish state and the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of the non-religious or secular Zionists is a humanitarian side issue.
“Arab Spring,” the revolts in Arab countries against their dictators and oligarchs, reinterpreted and reconstituted in the commercial imaginary of Europe and America’s media is by no means a revolution of Arabs against clear enemies who are external to them, there is no mention in the historic coverage of how Ben Ali’s was a US and French client state, how Mobarak was an Arab-facade regime for the United States and an ally of Israel which earned him, perhaps sadly, more hatred from his people than all his police state crimes against Egyptians who were abducted and tortured in junta-fashion for decades. Elites in Europe-America adhering to a capitalist and business-oriented way of life could never support a revolution of any kind if they noticed this revolution opposed more than an image or a symbol, that is was against existing power relations, not only cultural but also economic and concerning international and beyond-national political hierarchies that transcended the meridian-like painted borders of cultures and clashing civilizations drawn by right wing Ivy League intellectuals serving as their states and corporations’ propagandists. The word revolution was archaic and politically incorrect, irrational and quixotic only until January 2011.
The Arab Spring was a revolution, by Western perceptions, of Arabs against themselves, Arabs against their inherent Arabness. Their sympathizers in powerful economic societies who witnessed their struggles in their media and then celebrated their domestic imitations of the quasi-religious and esoteric occupy movements (occupy is covered now daily in Tikkun Magazine of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and has self-appointed Hegelian prophets who act as its representatives such as the apocalyptic and at times apparently histrionic Zeitgeist movement)
did not see a movement of Arabs who were acting in accordance to their own, natural and civilizationally inherent morality, reason, emotion. The Arabs were acting on feelings and intellectual motivations, and a rationality and masculinity that were all in fact essentially alien to themselves, to their socieites, history and cultural, the Arabs had become alien from what is commonly argued or held to be Arab, they had not overthrown brutal dictators and drugdealers who had imprisoned their Arab philosophers and poets, they could not biologically or culturally be outraged at the police state records of disappearances, abductions of dissidents, organized robbery. Outside the Arab world those who accepted the neoliberal status quo had long believed the old European colonial slogans about Africa and the Orient, which continued and still lives to this day in the vocal-chords of Israeli politicians justifying onslaughts on Gaza, “The Arabs only understand the language of the use of Force.” The West was celebrating not a successful chain of historic Arab uprisings within the long centuries old history of Arab uprisings, their jubilee was at The Arab Epiphany, they got it, they understood a language that was not of brute force or sluggish conformity to domination, unthinking, irrational.
They had instead awakened to a force utterly foreign to them, propelling them in a Gandhian, pacifistic war against Arabness.
The enthusiasm has quelled for the Arab Spring and re-shifted to other grids of humanitarian logic. The current fashions are concern by humanitarians on how to adopt the Syrian revolution by way of NGOs and microfinancing, or focussing criticism on the admittedly Neo-Stalinist regime of Putin’s Russia for continuing its client state support of Bashar Assad as massacres continue—though well intentioned they conveniently have been led to ignore the US and British support of identical massacres in Bahrain.
It has shifted to the hysteropias of the occupy movements and Zeitgeist movements, inspired originally by Arab Spring. Perhaps the Western support will continue in the form of humane support of the Ennahda Moderate Islamist party, which sells itself to the Orientalists claiming it is a new kind of Islamism, inspired by European Christian-Democrat parties, violently pro-business and ultra-liberal in its financial and labor policies, pacifistic as violent Islamic revolution does not work, earning support from France, the United States and the Emiratis and Qatar, Islam and Islamism in this century has become capitalistic and about investment, enterprise, jobs, favoring those who want to be managers and against the arts and higher culture. The Europeans and Americans will likely now give their solidarity to this campaign of Islam Inc which as well takes responsibility for the history of shameful Arabness, even while these body-politics will estrange and suppress some of the secular voices who were integral to this Arab revolution, one of the many Arab revolutions in a century and like all one that was betrayed and corrupted.
A few nights ago on the Tunisian radio, a scholar was interviewed on the subject of the Pre-Islamic Mecca and its nexus of odd cults.
This pre-Islamic Mecca, as a center of idolaters, cults and forbidden thought is traditionally vilified in the Islamic tradition as jallihiya, ‘the barbarism’, or ‘the savagery’ and primitive fetishism which was dispensed of and prohibited by Mohammed in his Islamic political campaigns of violent emancipation and education out of these pre-Islamic dark ages. The Tunisian scholar described findings and observations on how the Arabs like much of the Meditterrenean of antiquity had a strikingly similar mythology to that of ancient Greece. The mythological systems of the ancient Mediterranean were a complex case of parallel lines of development, along with plagiarisms from one another, and the monotheistic Bible emerged out of this world, influenced by it as an artist is influenced by his forerunners. (There was some euphoria in listening to this inspired, wine-drinking Tunisian scholar on the car radio as my Tunisian girlfriend drove past such sites as the new Islamic bank, opened in 2003 by Ben Ali’s RCD, or the RCD mosque mosque by Ben Ali–the one jemma whose calls to prayers go unheard by the Islamist voters, which now no one attends in Tunisia.)
Some Mecca Arabs may have been cultic hellenizers, meaning Arab tribes directly included among their gods and idols those of Greece, Demeter, Apollo, Dionysus. The keeping of Greek idols probably went further, in terms of influences of Hellenicist literary thought–pre-socratic greek thought–impacting these Arab cultures.
Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi regime forbids any excavations by archeologists within the Arabian peninsula where the Arab people emigrated to the rest of the Mediterranean. This concerns excavations of ancient pagan sites as well as the anti-literate Saud’s prohibition of access to sites for archeologists who were banned after they found older Korans of Late Antiquity shortly after the final divisions of Shia and Sunni. These Korans had texts with different content than the present-day Koran currently accepted as the standard undiluted word from Arcangel Jibrail’s mouth to Mohammed’s dreaming ear in the cave.
It is important to mention one of many possible dimensions to the complexity of Arab heritage and civilization that bears little direct relation to Islam or Islamism.
Nationalist and humanist cults of antiquity and modernist Renaissance would not necessarily be an improvement on Islamist idealization of medieval achievements. Both these tendencies are nationalisms that aim to reconnect with sensations of blood and soil—though presenting themselves as one or other rational sobriety and morality they are really neo-paganisms, new kinds of mystical cults against reason, political militant gatherings in the tombs and necropolis.
Still, this man’s findings point to the complexity of Arabness. At this time Tunisians of the middle classes are arguing in the media whether their identity is theologically Islamic or closer to Europe, an insane set of illusory alternatives according to some dissidents and intellectuals who participated in the 2011 uprisings. The Arab Rites of Spring were celebrated as a revolution against the retrograde confines of the Arab soul as understood by the common Western orientalist, only to be replaced by the worst representatives of internalized orientalism: the pro-investment-banking Islamists who feel that a historically idealized Caliphate, static, immune to history and totalitarian is a defense against the residue of past colonization. Yet during the revolution some artists made signs and propaganda posters with such perhaps too-sentimentally-romantic slogans as “RCD deja, Dionysos Reviens” RCD, (Ben Ali’s and Bourguiba’s one party) Fuck off, Dionysos return to us”
In this time it is perhaps necessary to unearth and seek an Arab Demeter, or to go more deeply to the roots and origins of goddesses, to an Arab Artemis, an Arab Aphrodite.
By Arturo Desimone
Tunis, Tunisia, March 2012
Arab Rites of Spring by Arturo Desimone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.unlikelystories.org/12/desimone1112.shtml.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.unlikelystories.org/12/desimone1112.shtml.
Pictures: young man in Regueb on a mountain, near Sidi Bouzid
Girl with a child on her pack from the facebook page of the revolutionary activist Arroi