Sunday, March 27, 2011

Accusations and Other Stories

I posted this video on posting it I explained my reason “I like the first bit showing photos of Cairo University and the evolution of dress there.”

I was surprised then by a backlash of anger from many Muslim friends who accused me of several things: spreading Islamophobia, spreading hidden message through a ‘trend’ of posts and radicalism.

The idea that posting a video can be construed as spreading Islamophobia, or have a hidden message or accusations of radicalism was shocking to me. They are three different accusations about one movie, even though my comment about what I thought was interesting about the movie was crystal clear.

I asked friends what my message was, or what was offensive about the film, but I was not given a clear answer. I was left to ponder over these reactions on my own and draw my own conclusions.

At first I thought it was intellectual terrorism, much like that of objections to any sort of accusations to the army. However I hadn’t made any accusations, so I discounted it and now I’m sure it had to be the film itself.

I have one objection about the film, the choice of music and editing while showing the contradiction between the veil and the rest of the clothing. In a way the point is driven too hard, and I prefer subtlety in films. The interesting thing about the film is that there is no narration, and all other shots taken in the film are from real life. There is something genuine about the reality portrayed in the film which I have captured with my own eyes, without making any judgments on Islamic teachings.

The objection can be to the same scene that I object to, but it can also be to the merely non Islamic point of view of presenting the culture of the Hijab. In films, you’re allowed not to cover all angles of a topic, you’re allowed a director’s eye that captures what you see.

The conclusion is that anything remotely linked to religion is taboo to talk about if religion is not exonerated. This is very worrying in my opinion because it seems that any culture permeated by religion cannot be discussed. It is at the same time worrying that this exact sentiment has been spread by the Ekhwan, saying that criticizing Ekhwan may be equivalent to criticizing Islam.

I must admit there is something even more worrying; discussions about certain topics are based on emotions, without an objective clarification as to why there are objections. The idea that people are emotionally driven is worrying for me. I too am passionate, but I would take the time to explain to my friends my point of view.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I'm Voting No

I’m not out to convince anyone. It’s a little late for that. I’m not going to even try and express any logic because others have done so convincingly enough over the past few days. I’m just keeping track of how I feel.

An image saying 'No to constitutional changes' which I've come to like.

I’m voting ‘No’ because I don’t like the changes. I don’t like the plan, I don’t like the army and I don’t like the manner in which all of this was handled. The changes themselves are measly and I will never sign a document that accepts changes to this old broken down contract called the constitution. I don’t care if you’re going to draw up a new one after this. The word ‘change’, that old rotten constitution with the same crappy numbers associated and the same old articles are too disheartening.

It’s been made very clear to us that ‘Yes’ is the right answer. It’s been made clear through the media, by direct advertisement, by false information and most of all by telling us what happens next when we vote ‘Yes’. The other scenario has been kept as a mystery. We don’t know what will happen if we vote ‘No’ just like we didn’t know what would happen when Mubarak steps down, just like we didn’t know who would be appointed if Shafik steps down, just like we don’t know anything about the country’s finances.

Fear of the unknown has kept us enslaved and it seems that for many, instinct still drives them away from the unknown. In almost every fork in the road during this revolution, the unknown has led us to gains, although not always better places.

I’m voting no, knowing full well the arguments of stability, economy and time, and all of these other things that have no factual basis. We are being driven towards fear for no good reason. No one knows what tomorrow brings, not even those who are inciting these fears.

I’m voting no because I don’t trust what’s to come next. I don’t trust the candidates that will try and be elected once more and I don’t trust them to pick the people who will create the constitution for generations to come. We’ve never been given what we wanted, so why are we expecting it now?

There is one question as to why someone should vote yes or no. It’s a question of trust. Do I trust the decision makers to give me what I want without pressuring them into it or not? My answer is no, and that’s why I’m voting no. These changes aren’t enough. We are voting on who writes the constitution and who is not to be president. I don’t think that whichever parliament comes next will be honest enough to write the constitution (or pick those who write it) and I don’t think a president who comes without one is equipped to provide and approve it.

I don’t trust people, but that’s how I’ve always been. I don’t trust our media, they will never show good candidates and they haven’t changed since the revolution started. Alternative media is in an all out war with mainstream media. Truth does prevail, but it takes a bit of time even with Facebook and Twitter.

I don’t trust the army because if they had good intentions, the law allowing political parties to form would have been activated ever since they took power. Everything is done slowly and reluctantly and I doubt that any ruler gives people freedom if they don’t demand it.

On a very personal note, I cannot vote ‘yes’ while those abroad are not given an opportunity to have a say in their nation’s fate. I know that many want to vote no. More than that, I cannot vote ‘yes’ with a clear conscience while thousands of revolutionaries and heroes are missing, locked up in military prisons after being tortured by our so-called defenders. They have been deprived of their vote; of their voice and of their chance to be a part of the decision. It may seem slightly out of place to think of their vote in this referendum considering how much torture they’ve endured and their unsealed fate, but to me it this is what they are fighting for. This is exactly what they should be doing if we were truly living in a democracy. I feel a sort of treason validating a plan by an army that is torturing young men and women who made us proud as we speak. They are the ones who have put their lives on the line for us to get a chance to vote and they are the ones that should be deciding. I feel they’ve earned it, while we, from the comfort of our seats have not.

I have plenty of valid logical reasons to vote no, but they don’t seem to matter much. Reasons can be countered with facts and lies. The real reason that’s left is that it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right to have my name signed on changes to a document that has claimed the lives and livelihoods of many. I will not tell my children that I ever agreed to such horrible terms of slavery even for a day. I myself have often blamed previous generations for not standing up for what’s wrong. I see no reason to play politics and sign something I will never be able to explain to any generation to come.

I value my signature. I will not associate my name with this venomous constitution while I have a choice. I will not be complicit in signing these horrible terms even for a day and even if it’s symbolic. I’m aware that the argument for ‘yes’ is that this dreaded constitution won’t come back to life, but that’s not what the paper I’m signing is going to say. I will read the paper I’m signing and if it says constitutional changes or if it mentions the articles by their same old rotten numbers, I will most certainly vote no.

I’m voting no because I can afford to. I can afford to object to something inadequate and I can afford to aspire to idealism. I appreciate the freedom I have. It is not the one granted to me by these temporary rulers, but one that I have from within. I have an obligation to my values rather than to my fears. For the first time Egyptians have the chance to have their signature mean something. To read a document, to understand that the words mean and to make a decision that will change their lives and the lives of others.

I’m not playing politics. The truth is that I don’t need to. I don’t need to vote as though I’m leading anyone, I don’t need to vote as if my vote seals Egypt’s fate. I’m trying to answer the question at hand as best I could. Sometimes we just really need to read the question.

I’m not pretending to know what’s best for the country, I’m not playing leader, I’m not trying to be smart. I’m only trying to do what I feel is right, to answer the real question at hand.

I’m voting no.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

For the State of Denial, I Recommend a Shrink

"Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence."

The naivety of those standing up for the army is infuriating. I know such words may be offensive to some, but ignorance is offensive to me. I’m not talking about ignorance of the facts, no one knows everything. I mean ignorance of how to interpret these facts.

Photo: Singer Ramy Essam's tortured back (distorted)

Why is it that Egyptians are so adamant about protecting the army? The facts don’t indicate the army’s loyalty is towards people. Are we expected to simply applaud the army for not wiping out innocent civilians? That’s all they did really. You may say it’s a big thing, but they had no choice in the matter. They do not believe in our cause. Following that order would have meant the collapse of the country but more importantly of the army itself. It is unlikely that soldiers would have been able to carry out orders like these especially when the demands were undisputedly just. Soldiers are not trained to murder unarmed civilians of another nation, much less their countrymen. Is it really worth saluting someone for not being a cold blooded murderer? Or were our expectations of them so low?

The real test was when the army took over. But what did the army do when it took over? They only promised to uphold Mubarak’s promises. What else did they do? Nothing. Lots of propaganda and nothing more. They allowed some of those who were corrupt to be tried, but they were scapegoats rather than a real quest for justice. The army, in fact, is building a shameful history of protecting many of the corrupt figures. They have not been a force to realize the demands of the revolution, if anything, they insist on hindering them every day. In short, they’ve assumed dictatorship.

Dictatorship can only be allowed temporarily if only to fulfill our demands and give us our rights. So far, none of that that has happened. On the contrary, the army protected thugs, allowed the shooting of Christian protesters, unlawfully arrested citizens, artists, journalists and human rights observers. It practiced torture that we set out to abolish and generally exercised a great deal of injustice.

I can back up every accusation, but it doesn’t matter because there’s a psychological impediment to people believing the most compelling of evidence. To believe that the army is an oppressive tyrant would be a pathway to hopelessness. There are a few reasons that the army presents obstacles that seem too monumental to overcome. One is that the army is powerful. Even though people have taken down one tyrant, the police, they feel that it would be difficult to take on the army in a similar manner. (I’m not saying that we should.) The other reason is that it would be psychologically catastrophic to realize that no institution in Egypt upholds justice.

Even the classist rich elite need that sense of justice. They would sooner believe that asking for what’s yours is illegal than believe that it’s your right and you will be punished for it.

There are three types of coping mechanisms:
Simple denial: not believing that anything actually happened.
Minimization: admitting the fact but not its seriousness through rationalization.
Projection: admitting the fact and its seriousness but not the responsibility.

The body of evidence is overwhelming, but I’ve seen all the various forms of coping, especially rationalization amidst the educated. These reasons make it futile to convince those in denial of the army’s actions. According to Anna Freud, denial is a mechanism of the immature mind, because it conflicts with the ability to learn from and cope with reality.

Personally, I recommend a shrink.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Bridge on the River Nile

I went out tonight, not just to determine why Copts are protesting in the streets, but mostly why the protesters insisted on stopping traffic on the vital 6th of October bridge.

I left home on a bicycle and made my way through the strangely diverted traffic. When I got to the top of the bridge I saw a very empty 6th of October bridge, with a few cars parked on the side and in the middle of the road. No cars were allowed to pass by a group of young men who took ownership of the bridge. Further along down the bridge I could see thousands of protesters just outside Maspero, the television building. They had their volunteers set up searching anyone who enters the protest site and looking at their IDs ala Tahrir republic.

I must confess that at the time I could not see with clarity how the protesters were thinking. With Tahrir, it was always easy. We all knew what needed to be done and I am able to answer the questions put forth by the Kanaba (couch) party as to what was needed. With these protests, I needed to gauge the mood. Unlike some of the Kanaba party who insist on getting things wrong just because they don’t understand protesters’ motivations and thinking, I went ahead and did something unthinkable; I tried to understand.

I asked one of the protesters, vigilantly set on not letting any car through, as to the purpose of his actions. He answered with an air of impatience, obviously having had to answer that same question over and over again. I made it clear to him that I understood all of his concerns and agreed with his goals but was merely concerned with the technique. He answered a little more patiently and explained the situation.

A church in a small village called Soul in the governorate of Helwan was attacked and demolished. Furthermore, a great majority of Christians were kicked out of their village and threatened. Those who tore down the church claimed it as a mosque and accused the church of practicing magic.

As I talked to the young Mena, he explained that people there were unsafe, that they can’t protect their women and can’t protect themselves.

Why not just stay outside Maspero, why stop traffic?

He said that they were outside Maspero for three days and nothing happened, nothing changed, no one heard them. “I’m the first person against doing something like this, but we have no choice, we need to do this to have our voices heard. We’re doing this for all Copts so that they can feel safe in their homes.”

“My friends are surprised that I’m doing this because I’m usually very calm. But now I’ve had enough.”

He added, “My father came driving on the bridge and I would not allow any exceptions. I told him to park the car and wouldn’t let him through.”

For over thirty years Copts have tried to be heard. Today it seems there is a lot of listening going on and it may be an opportune moment. I doubt that they’re abusing the situation, for it was the Copts who started the most effective protests near Maspero and Shubra after the bombing of the Saints Church earlier this year that gave us a hint that 25 Jan was possible.

It’s easy to be judgmental and claim that this sort of action should be condemned, but the young man spoke with so much conviction. He held that bridge as if letting one car through was the complete destruction of his cause. They young men managed to let some ambulances and private cars through depending on the urgency. As we were speaking, a group of young Muslim men came to talk to the protesters on the bridge, telling them they were watching television and that they understood what was happening and that real Muslims would not have done this. It was a great moment of understanding but also filled with so much rage and confusion.

It’s difficult to fathom that their voice has been heard. Decades have passed with the voice of Coptic Christians silenced either by ignoring their cause or asking them to stop because there really are no problems. I came out understanding their desperation, and the urgency of their cause. They were attempting something extreme in order to fight the extreme. I would not say I approve of the method, but I don’t have any method of my own that I’m sure would work. I left the bridge hoping that their voices would be heard and that everyone would be able to cross from one side to the other.