A fictional letter
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August 19, 2014
(You are likely to remain a dunce when it comes to Arabic, so I will be sending this email in English.)
I do not claim to have anything to say about class struggle. My poor education wouldn't allow it. I may, however, recollect tentative learnings I have acquired as a child (It's ironic how the word "learnings" is erroneous), unaware; all shall be married to what I have discovered in cinema, from the pillow shots of Ozu to the muddy farmlands of Tarr, not omitting the exquisite confusion of contemporary South Korean "waves", exemplified in the tales of Chang-dong and Joon-ho.
Setting aside these pretensions, let me write to you about Libyan gatherings. Right here, in the Tripoli, things are not too different from those in Tunis. My interest lies in my hometown and the rest of the cities occupied by the Bedouins.
Of the myriad get-togethers in here, as in everywhere around the world, I shall be briefly reporting to you a pair of essential "events". If you're a man, you get to invite people to a feast (weddings excluded). These feasts range from the formal celebrations of a child birth to the weekly nights of "Carta", playing cards with the boys. If you're a woman, you are authorized to organize and administer a Lam'ma. The word dates back to the age of early Arab settlers, meaning "gathering": nothing strange here. A Lam'ma entails considerable management, no less significant than selecting the perfect mutton for a feast. A Lam'ma usually takes place in the afternoon with light dishes, mostly consisting of various confectioneries and a traditional Asida.
What permeates these gatherings is "tolerance" in its ugliest forms. First, there is no class struggle in here. Ironically, for me, this is a red flag. We all aspire for a classless society, but I care not to repeat what smarter students write in their exam sheets and say that this isn’t possible in our current state of humanity.
We, Libyans, are not a "people". That is why you see no class struggle. Withn these feasts and Lam'mas, you witness individuals sharing a meal, regardless of social status. The diplomat sitting with the "worker" at the same "tray", as does the wives of Qaddafi's ministers (now "ministers", only) with the English teacher's fiancée (Connoting poverty).
This is definitely not a utopia. I do not associate freedom of expression/pluralism with class struggle, no. But in our case, this suggests a robust rejection of liberties. These people (Those conserving the status quo) seem to agree that we only need "security", electricity, and cheap merchandise.
Following the recent turmoil in here and in Tunisia, the meter of nostalgia is reaching new heights. Those who were at the outset "revolutionaries", grew to be fond of the "good old days". They have nothing to offer. These are the people who speak to us of the "reality", where we should choose the best of the worst. They speak of their "experience" and how the "real people" do no need revolution and change.
Hamza, as I have told you many times, I personally have gained nothing from the revolution. In fact, things have gotten worse for me ever since. This does not mean I will look back on the Qaddafi years as though they were heaven! Nothing is worse than a life under dictatorship. Period. At least now, amidst the chaos, this land is changeable.
Indeed you should be thankful. You should not be thankful and complacent, no. you should be thankful that now you are starting to involve yourself in this state of changeability. No state or country is perfect, as shall be. We live our lives aiming for the best of all; the best of all is the best of us: affirming the skeptic nature of all lives, confirming that our differences formulate our unity.
Your Arab Settler friend,