Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The first books I read for Kamal Salibi were The Bible Came From Arabia followed by Who Was Jesus. I remember spending a whole day and night locked in my room until the faint morning light crept through my window and I'd realized that it was the next day and I was still without a second of sleep. It was November and it was raining outside and foggy and just typical of London. I always loved the weather in London when I looked out of the window - but never when I had to walk out of the door. I had class - and I wanted to speak to my professor about the books - so I changed and braved the rush hour of the tube to get to school.

I used to love our professor, this Indiana Jones type of character who had converted to Islam and married a Muslim woman and stunk of alcohol. I assume he consumed whiskey like water, probably even used it to wash his face and brush his teeth. I was much younger, and I don't mean just in years, and I had found in him someone who was ready to answer my questions in a very captivating manner and from a place of experience and knowledge that I lacked. After class, I followed him to his office. I was at that time most interested in researching and studying the three monotheistic religions, hence why I felt it necessary to study contentious work that defied convention - regardless of whether it was complete and utter nonsense - such as Kamal Salibi or Patricia Crone or Christoph Luxenberg amongst others. As I sat in the mess that was his office, he talked to me about a paper he wanted to share with me that addressed the issue of Paraclete/Parakletos in the Gospel of John. He had always been interested in finding and emphasizing the nexus between, especially, Islam and Christianity.

I told him I had been reading Salibi's works on the Bible. He pleaded with me not to waste my time on such works. "Why?" I exclaimed. "Because it is, to say the least, an exhilarating read, however it is based on an unsound foundation of merely philological examination of history with complete disregard to archaeological evidence and without a multi-disciplinary investigation of varied sources." I remember I did not like how he brought me down and I did not understand why - at least not right away. Now that so many years have passed and I have read Salibi's seminal A House of Many Mansions, I understand what Professor Indiana Jones there was trying to convey to me. Salibi, in this book, presents a reinterpretation of the Lebanon myth(s) and a departure from an earlier history of Lebanon which he had written several decades earlier. While I feel that Salibi is good at disregarding certain facts when writing history (as with many in the business of writing and rewriting history), this book qualifies as a fine examination of the different perceptions of the history of Lebanon as held by the different politico-sectarian groups within the Lebanese makeup. It is one of his best regarded works, particularly when compared with his controversial studies on the history of the Bible.

I am regretful that I had to cancel on a chance to have tea with him some time last year. I had a pressing matter to attend to and I somehow took it for granted that the opportunity to meet with Salibi would not be lost. I wonder what I would have said to him or whether I would have been star struck. My friend tells me that Salibi was quite expansive and talkative and that I would have been at ease talking, rather listening to him. Anyways, I wanted to say something or write something about this man. That he is really brave for asking the questions he did and for looking at the world from a different angle and for undertaking such research and arriving at such conclusions. Whether there may be some truth in his postulations or whether he was completely mistaken. At least he tried. Now that he has passed from this world, I wonder if he has come to learn the truth of what there is after death, who Jesus really was, and whether the Bible came from Arabia.

Here is an excerpt from A House of Many Mansions, which, sadly, still holds true for our Lebanon even after the passing of several decades :

"Officially, the Lebanese Republic still exists within its internationally recognized borders, and so does the state...The state [in reality], however, has long ceased to exercise sovereign control over its national territory. There remains an administrative bureaucracy which continues to provide a cover of legitimacy to public and private transactions, as well as a minimum of public services of deteriorating quality. Otherwise, particularly where security is concerned, citizens are left to fend for themselves. In different parts of the country, different Christian or Muslim gangs are in control...The people of Lebanon remain as divided as ever; the differences among them have come to be reflected geographically by the effective cantonization of their country, and by massive population movements between the Christian and Muslim areas which have hardened the lines of division.

In all but name, Lebanon today is a non-country."

Monday, September 12, 2011

While I drove back home last night, I was blinded by the high beams of this ambulance coming up behind me. I moved over and in a few seconds it had disappeared into the dark. That feeling of sickness in my stomach - that I seem to have been carrying around recently - intensified twofold. I think the ambulance was probably driving at more than 160 kmh. I know because I, too, was driving like I had an urgency. How very irresponsible on my part. I know. But I longed to get home from what seemed the longest drive of my life. A bit exaggerated but it seemed unending. I could only think of how I still needed to park the car, go up to my house, get out of my heels and clothes, get into something comfortable, brush my teeth, wipe my mascara and just hope that exhaustion would numb me into sleep. A few moments later I drove past the scene of the accident, which involved three cars and it seemed terrible. I recited a quick prayer and kept driving as fast as I could.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

When I was going through some old boxes earlier tonight, I happened on a stack of old photographs that I had overlooked and forgotten about. I sat on the floor and spread out the photographs.

Before me was another world. A world that my mother, father, and grandparents belonged to and loved – and often poeticized – and that itself belonged to the past. Not much a distant past because, in some absurd way, I belong to a segment of this past. Who I am is inescapably a consequence of this past that preceded me.

There was a photograph of my grandmother sitting on a chair and behind her was her portable little radio. She looked like she had been caught by surprise in a moment of unreadiness. She was never one to enjoy posing for the camera. I remember sometimes – whenever it wasn’t the news - Umm Kulthoum’s voice on the radio resonating across the house as my grandmother prepared lunch. I had no idea what Umm Kulthoum looked like until one day I saw this woman through the television set standing on stage with her handkerchief reciting in the same voice I heard from the radio. There was an eroticism, in the noble form of the word, that she represented and that later when I grew older, I fell deeply in love with.

That was the television, which represented for me a world of endless possibilities. I was enthralled by its images, sounds and stories. I would wait for everyone to disappear into the kitchen or sit on the balcony and I would take up my favorite hobby – after, of course, playing dress-up in grandma’s shoes and frocks. I was particularly fascinated with old films from Egypt, and I was living vicariously. There was something magical about this melodrama of forbidden love in black and white from the golden years of Egyptian Cinema. But then, I became more interested in colored films from the 60s with the typical virginal heroines and later with the slightly unrestrained women of the 70s. And most of these films, in some way, inspired what cannot be described in words, a certain feeling of sadness - but one that rarely concluded without that glimpse of hope.

And the reason for this excursion? Maybe my attempt to confer meaning on a past that seems to be weathering away, for which I feel a deep sense of regret...

It is nearly five hours past midnight and I can hear the adhan in the background. For as much as it is soothing, it reminds me more than anything of how awfully tired I am.

I walk to the balcony where I sit and write against the backdrop of buildings that have long gone to sleep. I feel stifled by an intense kind of fear. Most of my days I live in a sense of panic that does not necessarily seem to be connected to anything in particular. Or it could be that my stomach is ulcerated. Sometimes I even rethink my need to be around people, even the dearest of people to me. I just feel unable to contain their sounds and voices and words and emotions.

I think I am starting to lose the dream in my heart. This said, it could be very possible that it is only a feeling that shall pass once I get some sleep. I will sit here for a few more moments and listen to this beautiful song that takes me to younger, and happier, days.

Friday, September 02, 2011

It has not been particularly hot this summer, unlike last year. But, many things were different last year... A few days ago it rained in the early hours of the morning, and the day persisted in greys. And today I sat in a bistro with a friend and I could feel the sun shy. It hardly worked its way down my shoulders. I watched a few tourists walk in and out, several women engaged in conversation, and a young couple lounging in the corner. There were very few people around us and many tables were empty. It is as if autumn has arrived – sooner than its time. Somewhere after main course, I could feel a little bit sick to my stomach. It is difficult to explain such a feeling or why it happens to me these days. The most I can say is that the numbness is gone and I am now, perhaps, a bit terrified. But what has made me this way? And my natural instinct is to run away. Or escape but I long more to be found. And I find myself in the midst of a dance, where change and loss flicker around me in a complex reciprocity. I am not sure what to do about it. Sometimes, it is all too much for me. But I love it – maybe because this new, in all its unpredictability, promises beauty, just immense beauty.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Feeling introspective tonight.

I have been trying to learn this beautiful piece over the past few weeks. I will eventually be able to play it without looking at the notes. But, tonight I just want to listen to it. And I want to think of that beautiful little French city on the river. And how far from it I have come.