“We need history for life and action, not as a convenient way to avoid life and action, or to excuse a selfish life and cowardly or base deeds.”
-- Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History.
A couple of mornings ago, when I read the news and saw a clip from Aljazeera about the fall of the wall in Rafah, I asked myself, what other choice does one have but to explode the wall in order to be able to buy bread and fuel for survival? What else can one do when the “international community” chooses to stay silent about one of the most hideous crimes in history? What else can one do when the hypocritical harbingers of democracy turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the violences of the inhumane State of Israel?
What else can one do when the messengers of “change” who raise millions of dollars for their presidential campaign (No, not just McCain, but the much loved Obama) write letters to the UN Security Council, urging it not to pass any resolution to lift the wall without understanding “Israel’s right to respond”? I guess a democratic election does not count unless it is approved by “us” who spend millions on our election campaigns and penalize others with hunger and death for not choosing a “democratic” government!
But it is not just the US politicians who are complicit with the State of Israel’s violence against the Palestinians. Sadly, those of us who read and contribute to Iranian.com and are often so opinionated on every matter and feel so compelled to write about everything that happens in the world, have been complicit with this violence by being silent about the recent Palestinian situation.
To escape this deadly silence, I decided to write about the events around me which have to do with Palestine, stating and not stating Palestine anywhere, and being in a “Palestine state of mind.” Some times the fall of walls by those under siege is what it takes to break out of the writers’ block suffered by those of us sitting in our comfortable homes far from the reality of war, agonizing silently.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw ReOrient, a festival of short plays about the Middle East in San Francisco. I was disappointed not only by the low turn out of Iranians in this event, but to see that there is barely any report or critique of it on Iranian.com. I may be mistaken, but I have a feeling that this lack may have to do with the fact that the plays are not about Iran.
Am I wrong to think that most of the Iranian immigrants only support event that have to do with the commemoration of a “homeland” left behind? That most Iranian-Americans do not give a damn about coalition building with other immigrant communities, especially with Arabs? That while our claims of “universal human rights” abound, we choose to stay silent when it comes to Palestine, as if Palestine is not “our” issue?
ReOrient is not just about Iran. In fact, two of the five plays are about Palestine, one being a monologue performed as a standup comedy. There is a line which highly resonates and is repeated in this monologue, written by Yussef El Guindi, directed by Arlene Hood, and brilliantly performed by the very talented Sara Razavi. She (the Palestinian) says, “Among the drama of nations, if nations were types of dramas, Palestine would be a monologue… A lone voice… you hear it in the distance; you hear its wails; you wish it well… you wish it would stop… you wish it would go away … when you know it won’t shut up or go away, you begin to tune it out… you tune out this monologue.”
Unfortunately, I think many of us have tuned Palestine out and frankly the Arab-hating sentiments that have filled our national imaginations do not let us see the pain and hear the voices of Palestinians who are being killed violently by the Israeli tanks or die softly behind the Israeli walls. We refuse to notice as we go on with our comfortable lives, pretending that Palestine does not exist.
Another ReOrient play, based on Simin Behbahani’s poem, “I Sell Souls” is not necessarily about Palestine, but certainly speaks to the silence surrounding it. Before writing a few words about this play, allow me to issue a preemptive disclaimer for those who may leave loving comments: I swear to you, I am not an Arab, an Arab-parast or any derivative thereof. Nor am I an IRI spy or a ReOrient agent! If anything, I am not sure if Golden Thread would approve of my appropriation of their plays here, as I may be jeopardizing their “centralist” position and pissing off the few rich Iranians who may some day support Iranian theater for the sake of its prestige. So, don’t blame ReOrient or the Golden Thread for my pro-Palestinian position. Believe me, if it were up to me, I would call it “DeOrient” to do away with the “Orient” all together and I would question the geopolitical discourses that -- as Edward Said argues -- have imagined the Orient to construct a civilized European self. But that is another discussion.
Despite my placement of the drill on the poppy seed (matteh roo khashkhaash gozaashtan) about the name of this festival, I strongly believe that ReOrient is a must-see, especially when there aren’t many plays about the Middle East that challenge stereotypical images of this vast geographical designation.
It is true that the funding for artistic, journalistic, academic, and non-academic knowledge production about the “Middle East” and Islam has seen a surge since September 11. But it is also true that many of these productions repeat the stereotypical representations of the “Middle East” and are complicit with the discourses that reproduce it as un-free, violent, and in need of liberation.
ReOrient challenges these stereotypes and provides a much more nuanced image of the “Middle East” than many plays which seem to find their way to the stage at this historical moment (hence, the need to support it as I doubt that it would be fundable by mainstream funding sources).
While one or two plays in the festival are unnecessarily long, the ones that are written, directed, and performed well certainly make it worth seeing. (In case you are wondering: other plays in the ReOrient deal with the 2006 bombing of Lebanon, the post 9/11 surveillance in the United States, and the Arab/Jew dichotomy in Israel.)
Back to “I Sell Souls”… Torange Yeghiazarian’s abstract play which is based on Simin Behbahani’s poem, “I Sell Souls” is not only aesthetically beautiful (the music, poetry, performance and images are at times breath-taking), but it leaves the audience thinking and wondering about the relationship between one’s body, one’s soul, and the luxuries of life. What is the price that one pays to indulge oneself in worldly pleasures while shutting one’s eyes and lips in order to refuse to see and speak of injustices and violences in this world? How does one console oneself when one sells one’s soul?
A question that comes to mind after seeing this unique play is the gendering of the characters (body, soul, and soul dealer) and its relationship to selling out. Why is the feminine body (Lynne Soffer) less resistant to the temptation to indulge in pleasures offered by a man in a suite who signifies material pleasures and luxury (Garth Petal) than the masculine soul (Julian Lopez-Morillas)?
What would it mean if the roles were reversed? Is there a dichotomy between the body and the soul and if so what artistic choices result in the gendering of the characters? What is the connection between the soul and soil in the background image, and at what moment does the dance of the light and water shift to the earthly walk on the soil? This play surely leaves the audience with plenty to think about.
In a scene, as the body rests upon the soul and the soul-buyer rests with satisfaction on the body which seemingly shelters her soul, we hear: Silence… Silence… Silence… This silence feels eerily familiar when it comes to Palestine these days. One wonders if the silence towards the siege in Palestine has something to do with the selling of souls.
Or perhaps one can wonder, as the Monologist tells us, if the stateless Palestine has become a state of mind that everyone has experienced at some point: when one talks and no one listens. That is when one could say, “I feel like I am in a Palestine state of mind.” But this state of mind could also connote something more positive: when under siege, one breaks all barriers and continues to survive against all odds. And hopefully, that is when one could say, “I feel like I am Palestine.”
To end on an uplifting note, here is a video from DAM, a Palestinian rap group.
|نسرین ستوده: زندانی روز
|Saeed Malekpour: Prisoner of the day
|Lawyer says death sentence suspended
|Majid Tavakoli: Prisoner of the day
|Iterview with mother
|احسان نراقی: جامعه شناس و نویسنده ۱۳۰۵-۱۳۹۱
|Nasrin Sotoudeh: Prisoner of the day
|46 days on hunger strike
|Nasrin Sotoudeh: Graffiti
|گوهر عشقی: مادر ستار بهشتی
|Abdollah Momeni: Prisoner of the day
|Activist denied leave and family visits for 1.5 years
|محمد کلالی: یکی از حمله کنندگان به سفارت ایران در برلین
|Habibollah Golparipour: Prisoner of the day
|Kurdish Activist on Death Row