2015

Armchair Activist

There are about 525 million web sites and 170 million blogs in the world: commercial and personal. Considering that web pages and the blogosphere only started in the Nineties, this is an impressive number! This blog is amongst them and, it feels quite awesome to be a miniscule part of this dazzling phenomenon.

We are living in an age where any person can voice their thoughts and opinions and send them “out there” on the internet. It is very empowering!

The younger Middle Eastern activists are admirable in this regard! They blog, as well as participate in protests, marches, media debates, orations and appearances at various venues. I read their blogs; I listen to their twittering; I follow their news and activities whether they are lying low in Sisi’s Egypt, biding their time before going into the streets again, or whether they are in the alleys of Occupied Palestine, or anywhere where they can make a difference. They make me proud, and remind me that in my old age now, I am only an Armchair Activist.

I wasn’t always waving the flags from my armchair, though. When I was a teenager, the Middle East, and especially Beirut, was a hub of political expression: newspapers, books, public forums and the street were our outlets. We would be in class when student activists from other schools would come around and inform the liaison student activists in our own school (we didn’t have cell phones, or texting) that a march would be taking place upon which we would file out joining a sea of other students and people who were in the streets already chanting and shouting. We marched for Arab unity, for Palestine, we protested the French occupation of Algiers and we had our heroes and heroines.

Jamila bu Hairad (sometimes spelled Djamila Bouhired), a young Algerian activist and freedom fighter, was our heroine. At the time, the Algerian population was in the streets protesting their ruthless occupation by the French colonists and, amongst the leading protesters was Jamila, whom the authorities captured, jailed and tortured in 1957. She was then sentenced to death by guillotine. Imagine that! Death by guillotine in 1957! Colonialism, whether it was French, British, Spanish, Portuguese or Any committed crimes of such horrid magnitude all over the world causing immeasurable pain and suffering whose aftermaths are still being felt all over Africa and the Middle East. Anyway, our marches and protests, together with outrage from all over the world, forced the French occupiers to commute that ghastly head-chopping of a sentence. Jamila remained in jail. We were so proud to have been part of the huge wave that made this happen!

Jamila’s story doesn’t end here. During the last days of that bloody war she was freed, and would later get married to the lawyer who had mounted a very strong defense for her, Jacques Verges. They moved to Paris, but today they are back living in Algeria. For us, this heroic and romantic story was an inspiration for years to come!

Our other heroine and idol was Leila Khaled. Leila is a Palestinian woman and a freedom fighter. As part of the Black September organization, she and her team hijacked an airplane in the Sixties which was later blown up on the tarmac with no casualties. On a second hijacking attempt, she was overpowered and imprisoned by the British and later released as part of a prisoner exchange. Today she lives in Amman, Jordan and is a member of the PNC (Palestine National Council). Her iconic image wearing the Palestinian kaffiyeh and carrying a machine gun was blown up on posters and plastered everywhere. We all had copies, and, at that young and impressionable age, we all fantasized about experiencing our own acts of heroism!

Irrelevant of what I might think of her actions today, at the time, it seemed to be one of the venues for us, the Palestinian people, through which to draw the attention of the world – that had totally ignored our plight – to the occupation of Palestine by Israel. If nothing at all, these actions put us on the radar screen . . . and, tragically, that’s where we have been stuck since then! Nevertheless, Leila and Jamila remained icons for generations of young activist Middle Eastern women.

With the onset of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the Sixties and early Seventies, the few of us Middle Eastern women, waving our liberation flags from the sidelines, were inspired by the likes of Leila and Jamila, of Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug. We subliminally incorporated them, their words and actions into our little individual struggles as we strove for our own equality and liberation. Those were heady times for us!

Beginning with protests and marches, my years of on-the-ground activism continued until about the middle Nineties, with a portfolio of more marches and vigils, of years spent at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, of protest demos against the civil war in Lebanon, of attending NOW conferences in New York and rallying for women’s causes, participating in peace dialogues with Jewish counterparts, orating and writing, and of Arab-American human and civil rights activities. This was a highly stressful period, but, nevertheless, exciting and thrilling.

Looking back on that now, I know that this is yet another reason why I sometimes feel so ancient compared to some of my peers in America; why I seem to have lived many lives compared to their one; why my brain cannot think in simple terms anymore but flows and branches out, spilling itself over from one fleeting thought into a deluge of reflections which incorporate history, traditions, experiences, heartaches and so many tragic events and nuances all shoving themselves into the most trivial of my discussions and encounters. That enormous baggage sometimes exhausts me! Would I do it all over again, though? Yes! In many instances, and in retrospect, I would do it even better. But, yes, oh, yes! I would! It was worth every second! And I hope that today’s activists, disheartened as I am sure they oftentimes are, will one day feel the same.

For everything there is a season, the saying goes, and, for me, it is the time to be an Armchair Activist happily dropping my thoughts, my feelings and some of my experiences into this vast blogosphere! It is all very exhilarating!

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1 thought on “Armchair Activist”

  1. So powerful and inspiring, as usual!!! I love you mama!

    Reem Arbid Laissez Fare Catering 571-230-0229 Sent from my iPhone

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