Welcome to the second newsletter of Hummus For Thought, a monthly collection of thoughts and recommendations, curated by Joey Ayoub (hello) from Geneva, Switzerland. It comes out on every first Sunday of the month, 8:00 am Central European Time/West Africa Time.
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The James Baldwin Corner
Readers of the first newsletter know by now that each newsletter will start by something related to James Baldwin. They will also know that I am wildly inconsistent so here are two things on James Baldwin.
The first is a journal, one which I hope to get published in one day. It is called the James Baldwin Review. Yes really, it’s a thing. It is published by Manchester University Press and it comes out every year. I have the first four issues (2015-2018). You can buy the print copies or just read them online.
As for my own essay, they had already accepted it last year (for the 2020 issue) but I wasn’t able to meet the deadline due to my then-heavy depression. The essay is an extension of what I wrote for Al Jumhuriya last year entited Lebanon’s “Others,” Part 1: Palestinians and Syrians. I never wrote parts II or III so the chapter I’m writing for the James Baldwin Review will be all three together. Part II focuses on migrant domestic workers and part III is a sort of synthesis, a “Baldwinian reading of Lebanese-ness” through its ‘Others’.
The second is a very moving conversation between James Baldwin and Mavis Nicholson on her show Mavis on Four. This was shown on television the day after Baldwin’s death on December 1st 1987 and was one of his last interviews.
I’ll bring your attention to two things James Baldwin said. The first is “we are not talking about racial prejudices, we are talking about the structure of power.” We’d call this structural racism today to emphasise the structural component and the power dynamics that ultimately victimise/scapegoat those being racialised in a given society.
The second quote refers to his decision to move to France in 1948: “I was invisible in France, and that was what I needed.” This is why I moved to London in 2015. Incidentally, London is also where I properly discovered James Baldwin. My partner and I took a class organised by Black History Walks at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, South London in 2017. (They still give those by the way, if you want to check them out. This year’s was done online due to COVID-19.)
What I’ve Written
I’m happy to announce that the book chapter I co-wrote with Jade Saab has been published as part of the book A region in revolt: Mapping the recent uprisings in North Africa and West Asia, also edited by Jade. Our chapter is on the Lebanon uprising of October 2019.
Here’s the summary:
A wave of mass protest movements has spread across North Africa and West Asia, including Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran. The mass protests have much in common, from opposing authoritarian regimes and worsening economic situations to demanding radical changes in social relations. Despite their similarities, each protest movement operates under different conditions that cannot be ignored. The specific historic, political and economic contexts of each country have determined who the key actors of the uprisings are and their location across old and new divides. This book elaborates on these similarities and differences to paint a clearer picture of these movements and draw out lessons to inform future struggles.
Edited by Jade Saab, a Lebanese/Canadian Researcher at the University of Glasgow, the contributors include Azza Mustafa and Sara Abbas (on Sudan); Hamza Hamouchene and Selma Oumari (on Algeria); Zeidon Alkinani (on Iraq); Jade Saab and Joey Ayoub (on Lebanon); and Frieda Afary (on Iran).
Insightful, timely analysis of the uprisings in Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. The book … demonstrates that the uprisings…carry the unyielding spirit of people’s resistance and struggle against both imperialism and local oppressive regimes.— Haifa Zangana, Iraqi novelist, author, artist, and political activist and author of Dreaming of Baghdad.
Whereas there is a plethora of books on the 2011 [Arab Spring] upsurge, this book is the only comprehensive overview of the second wave of revolt, which is here analysed from the standpoint of the popular struggle. —Gilbert Achcar, Professor at SOAS, University of London, author of The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising
A rich and informed account of the popular uprisings that have emerged across the Middle East in recent years. … [T]his book is a powerful testament to the new generation of activists who continue to seek long-term revolutionary change in the region. Adam Hanieh, author of Money, Markets, and Monarchies: The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Political Economy of the Contemporary Middle East (CUP 2018).
I have also written a short piece for Waging Non-Violence in coordination with the War Resisters’ League on the principle of lesser evilism and why anti-authoritarians in the US must vote Trump out of office for everyone’s sake. If you’re an American right now, my sympathies go to your anxiety levels.
Finally, I have a long interview up on Asia Art Tours. I’ve been on their podcast a couple of times (see here and here) and had Matt Dagher-Margossian, the host, on Fire These Times in a two-parts episode (see here and here). The interview is the result of a back and forth between us on Lebanon, the US, trauma, world capitalism, the environmental crisis, and so much more.
Well, I’m trying to write a ‘one year since the October revolution’ type of essay for Crimethinc but I honestly haven’t been managing that mental space all that well. It’s just very difficult for me to write on Lebanon these days as the August 4th explosion, symbolically perhaps, signaled to me that I am now in exile, something that I have been worrying about for years now. I’ll try and write it for November, but December seems more likely I think. In the meantime, here are the two pieces I’ve written for them:
- Lebanon: A Revolution against Sectarianism (November 13, 2019)
- Lebanon: The Revolution Four Months in (February 24, 2020)
I’m also still writing that anti-social media piece I mentioned in the 1st newsletter.
I’ve joined No Fly Climate Sci as part of my pledge to never use an airplane unless I absolutely have no other option. The idea is fairly straightforward: most of us fly when we don’t have to, and that is an expensive luxury that is doing environmental harm in the time of the climate emergency. This is especially true in Europe where train networks are far more developed than in most of the rest of the world. The fact that people still choose to take the plane for even short-distance travel is deeply immoral, and the EU must seriously adopt a Green New Deal of its own if we want to even have a fighting chance at ensuring a future on this planet. I now have a profile on their page explaining why I joined the initiative.
NoFlyClimateSci is an experiment in speaking #ClimateTruth. It was started by Dr. Peter Kalmus in 2017 for two reasons:
- To raise the public’s sense of climate urgency in order to accelerate large-scale political action;
- So that those who fly less would have a place to share their stories, and in so doing realize they weren’t alone in their climate urgency.
I had Dr Kalmus on The Fire These Times some weeks ago to talk about the climate emergency.
Lebanese Film of the Month
Before starting this section I’ll briefly mention that Netflix has a Made in Lebanon collection now!
I really appreciate that there are a number of Maroun Baghdadi movies in there. Whispers is my absolute favorite. In it, Baghdadi follows francophone Lebanese poet Nadia Tueni in the middle of the Lebanese wars. It’s also next month’s movie so more on that on December 1st! Besides Baghdadi’s films (Beirut Oh Beirut, Whispers, The Little Wars, All For The Fatherland) I recommend Panoptic, Zozo, Very Big Shot, Ghadi and of course last month’s recommendation: West Beirut.
So anyway: this month’s film is Waves ’98 (2015) by Ely Dagher, a short movie of 14:53 min and by far one of my favorite films to have come out of Lebanon in the past decade.
You can watch it here:
One of the most fascinating aspects of this film is actually off-screen: Waves ’98 was released just before the 2015 waste crisis. Coincidentally, the film includes a newsreel mentioning a previous waste crisis, which so happens to be the precursor of the 2015 one. This gives added weight to the central character’s worry that he does not ‘want to end up like them’ (his parents’ generation).
You may have noticed me using this film from time to time, including with a screenshot in this recent conversation with the left-wing Hongkonger website Lausan. Waves ’98 features prominently in my own PhD research as well, in a chapter focusing on cyclical temporality in postwar Lebanon (basically, the feeling that time/history is repeating itself).
LebaneseCinema.com + more updates
I mean, I’m guessing the title is obvious right? This website will be dedicated to Lebanese Cinema. I will be posting essays on the topic (by myself and others), book recommendations (not just on cinema but on related topics like postwar Lebanon, art in Lebanon, Middle Eastern cinema etc) and a monthly movie recommendation. The latter is what you’ll already get in this newsletter, but probably longer when I have the time to write more.
It won’t just be on Lebanese Cinema, although that’ll be my focus. I’ll also include content on Syrian, Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian and Turkish cinema.
I’ve been studying Lebanese cinema for three years now as it’s a central component of my PhD at the University of Zurich. I’m fairly confident at this point that it’s something of an expertise of mine. I’ve been looking for ways to share that knowledge and a website felt like the obvious medium.
I should say here that I’m treating LebaneseCinema.com as the beginning of a project which will likely take some time to do. I want to start a video channel and upload video essays on Lebanese Cinema and related topics. By related topics, I mean basically everything I am concerned about: climate change, security, philosophy, mutual aid, gender studies, indigenous rights, the Syrian revolution, the Palestinian cause, transnational resilience, our digital world, and so on. Easy topics.
This costs quite a bit so I’ve been just trying to learn the skills myself, which is why I’m being slow. I really love channels like ContraPoints, Pop Culture Detective (who will probably be a guest on The Fire These Times soon), The Cold War, Kurzgesagt, Megaphone, Philosophy Tube and others. In terms of the style I’ll be aiming for, I think Pop Culture Detective is the closest.
Here’s a really good video of his. The topic of ‘adorkable misogyny’ will likely come up in our podcast conversation. Stay tuned.
If this is something you’d like to see happen, please know that I ask people to donate at the same links for all my projects to avoid any confusion (for myself first and foremost). So by donating to my Patreon (or BuyMeACoffee or Paypal), you’d not just be supporting The Fire These Times but also Hummus For Thought, Lebanese Cinema and so on.
More info here: hummusforthought.com/support
There’s even another project coming up soon on the intersection between the climate emergency and our digital lives. It’s a project I’m launching with my good friend Christophe Maroun and we’re looking for funding avenues for that too (if you have money, hello my friend). I’ll likely update you on that next month.
Podcast episodes I’ve listened to recently
You can find these podcasts on most podcast apps.
This podcast by the Loughborough University’s Anarchism Research Group (ARG) “presents leading academics, activists, and intellectuals exploring themes in anarchist theory, history, and practice”.
I heard about this podcast through the ARG’s mailing list. If you’re interested in anarchist theory/history/practice you can subscribe to them here.
“To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”
The Feeling Bookish Podcast is an ongoing literary conversation between the writers and old friends Robert Fay and Roman Tsivkin. It’s everything from Thomas Bernhard to Ursula K. Le Guin. Produced by Heston Hoffman.
BULAQ is a podcast about contemporary writing from and about the Middle East and North Africa.
This is the inaugural episode of Transnational Solidarity Network’s podcast. In this episode, we introduce the Transnational Solidarity Network (TSN)–a group of anti-authoritarian anarchists, socialists, Marxists, and leftists of different backgrounds, coming together to fight all oppressive systems and uplift people’s movements for freedom and justice from around the world.
The Fire These Times episodes of October 2020
(I also update Patreon supporters every month on the previous month’s episodes.)
Book of the Month
I recently read Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday: Memories of a European (Die Welt von Gestern: Erinnerungen eines Europäers) and it’ll be my recommendation for November 2020.
Rather than tell you why you should read this book, I’ll link below a conversation with George Prochnik, author of “The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World”.
Articles I’ve read recently
Repeated Quick Pro-tip: I use Pocket to save and archive articles – no, I’m not being sponsored by them (if you work at Pocket and want to sponsor me I am, ahem, available) – and I had the amusing honor of reaching their top 1% of readers in 2018.
Repeated Disclaimer: me sharing an article does not mean I agree with everything that is written. It just means I find it interesting.
So before sharing the list, I want to recommend the English edition L’orient Le Jour, L’Orient Today. It’s quickly become my main anglophone source on Lebanese news. No one asked me to recommend them. I just like their work and will likely contribute with my own writing eventually.
- ‘Total destruction’: why fires are tearing across South America
Wildfires, mostly caused by land clearing for cattle grazing and soya production, have set four nations ablaze
by Uki Goñi in Rosario, Sam Cowie in Santarém and William Costa in Asunción, October 9 2020, for The Guardian
- An interview with Nigerian anarchist Sam Mbah
by LibCom, September 3 2012
- Obscurity and a Drop of Hope: Interview with Syrian Filmmaker, Soudade Kaadan
by Isis Nusair, September 21 2020, for Jadaliyya
- This anarchist thinker helps explain why we feel so driven to help each other through the coronavirus crisis
by Ruth Kinna and Thomas Swann, March 27 2020, for The Conversation
(disclaimer: Thomas Swann is co-editor of Anarchism, Organization and Management: Critical Perspectives for Students alongside Martin Parker and Konstantin Stoborod. There will be an episode of The Fire These Times on this book and guest may include Thomas)
- “Nothing Left to Lose”
After the Beirut Explosion, Lebanon’s Women-Led Civil Society Is Building on the Edge of Despair
by Sarah Aziza, October 17 2020, for The Intercept
- The Most Important Global Forecast That You’ve Never Heard Of
by Bill McKibben, October 14 2020, for The New Yorker
- Normalization cannot silence Arab resistance forever
Israel will one day have to face Arab opposition to its alliances with dictators who care little for the people under their rule.
by Samah Salaime, October 13 2020, for 972mag
- Israeli conscientious objector begins third stint in military prison
Conscientious objector Hallel Rabin was sentenced to 25 days behind bars for refusing to join the Israeli army over its policies toward the Palestinians.
by Orly Noy, October 21 2020, for 972mag
- ‘Demands not met’: Anti-government protests resume in Iraq
Hundreds of protesters gathered in Baghdad, southern provinces, demanding reforms and end to corruption.
by Arwa Ibrahim, October 25 2020, for Al Jazeera
- How Syria’s disinformation wars destroyed the co-founder of the White Helmets
In November 2019, James Le Mesurier, the British co-founder of the Syrian rescue group, fell to his death in Istanbul. What led an internationally celebrated humanitarian to take his own life?
by Martin Chulov, October 27 2020, for The Guardian
- Monuments and Memory
How did hard totalitarianism go soft in Tito’s Yugoslavia? Acclaimed abstract commemorations of World War II offer clues to the transformation.
by Dušan Veličković (Text) & Donald Niebyl (Images), Fall 2020, for The Wilson Quarterly
- How Iraq’s Top ISIS Scholar Became a Target for Shiite Militias
Husham al-Hashimi helped the Iraqi government understand and hunt down ISIS terrorists. But his last work was on Shiite militias, and they assassinated him for it.
by Hassan Hassan, October 4 2020, for Newlines Magazine
- ‘At 47, I discovered I am autistic – suddenly so many things made sense’
Other people’s lives always seemed more effortless, but it took my daughter’s autism diagnosis to realise why
by Rachel Rowe, October 19 2020, for The Guardian
- Among Syria’s Revolutionaries
Razan Zaitouneh and Colonel Akaidi understood how the Syrian revolution would go better than I did
by Robert Ford, October 14 2020, for Newlines
- ‘White Australia’ Policy Lives on in Immigrant Detention
The government’s abuse of refugees in offshore facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea has its roots in the country’s racist, colonial history.
by Behrouz Boochani, September 20 2020, for The New York Times
- Falling in line: Why the Second Intifada was a watershed moment for Israeli media
Working for a leading Israeli newspaper during the uprising, I saw firsthand how the media turned into a mouthpiece for government propaganda.
By Meron Rapoport, October 7 2020, for 972Mag
- A Black Belgian Student Saw a White Fraternity as His Ticket. It Was His Death.
Sanda Dia’s death after an initiation ritual was regarded as a tragic accident. Newly released videos and photos have made it a symbol of growing intolerance.
by Matt Apuzzo and Steven Erlanger with Koba Ryckewaert and Monika Pronczuk contributing reporting, October 4 2020, for The New York Times
- The debt crisis looming for poor countries
by Ben Parker, October 8 2020, for The New Humanitarian
- The Conscience of Silicon Valley
Tech oracle Jaron Lanier warned us all about the evils of social media. Too few of us listened. Now, in the most chaotic of moments, his fears—and his bighearted solutions—are more urgent than ever.
by Zach Baron, August 24 2020, for GQ
- Russian Journalist Sets Herself on Fire and Dies, Blaming Government
The self-immolation by the journalist, Irina Slavina, 47, a longtime Kremlin critic, came a day after the authorities in her hometown of Nizhny Novgorod had searched her apartment.
by Ivan Nechepurenko, October 2 2020, for The New York Times
- Lebanon: A new contract for domestic workers has been temporarily stopped from going into effect. Here’s what’s going on
by Abby Sewell, October 28 2020, for L’Orient Today
- The Great Barrier Reef Has Lost Half Its Corals
Researchers in Australia blamed climate change for the loss, which they said could diminish critical habitats for fish and other marine life.
by Maria Cramer, October 14 2020, for The New York Times
- Lebanon: It’s the economy, stupid
by Ishac Diwan, October 16 2020, for L’Orient Today
- What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Center of Life?
“Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be No. 1. Our worlds are backward.”
by Rhaina Cohen, October 20 2020, for The Atlantic
- How Europe’s wood pellet appetite worsens environmental racism in the South
by Danielle Purifoy, October 5, 2020, for Southerly
- The Things That Remain
by Farrah Berrou, October 28 2020, for TimAtkins.com
- Fixing Failing States
by Thanassis Cambanis, October 28 2020, for The Century Foundation
- A room, a bar and a classroom: how the coronavirus is spread through the air
The risk of contagion is highest in indoor spaces but can be reduced by applying all available measures to combat infection via aerosols. Here is an overview of the likelihood of infection in three everyday scenarios, based on the safety measures used and the length of exposure.
by Mariano Zafra and Javier Salas, October 29 2020, for El Pais
- Armenian leftists: We consciously choose peace
by multiple authors on Left East
So this the second newsletter folks. The next one will be on the first Sunday of December. If you want to get in touch please send me an email to j [dot] ayoub26 [at] gmail [dot] com and we can exchange Signal/Whatsapp numbers or even schedule a call.
Last point and this is the bit that no one really likes doing, but: if you find any of my work useful, whether it be Hummus For Thought, The Fire These Times, my articles or even my archiving and commentary work on Twitter, please consider making a one-off or a recurring donation on Patreon, PayPal or BuyMeACoffee. If you can’t afford it, you can still help by leaving a review of The Fire These Times wherever you listen to podcasts and/or share with your friends and family.