Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Heretical Headache!

There are so many things to write about these days, so many things. But so little time to do it.

Should I write about the Saturday night extravaganza at the Sheraton Hotel, featuring a rare fashion show in Syria and a rather interesting performance by the Iraqi singer Kazem al-Saher? Or should I join in the speculations concerning the upcoming visit by the President to New York? Or should I wax angrily and disdainfully poetic over a recent Egyptian video-clip meant to denounce Islamist terrorism and falling much short of the target? Or the ongoing campaign by the Syrian government to appear steadfast if not nonchalant in the face of its current diplomatic isolation and increasing economic woes?

Too many choices. Too much input. Too little time to sort things out. So, let's not sort anything out. Nothing matters. Nothing really matters. Not tonight darling, I have a headache. I really do have a headache. I can be on the receiving end of headaches it seems. Damn! What an Ubermensh I turned up to be!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Shadowdreamer!

Back in the early 90s, back in those crazy days following my graduation from the University of Wisconsin– Stevens Point, I fell in the strange habits of coining new terms, or what I thought were new terms at the time. The terms included: the Voidman, which became the title of my first volume of poetry, Mindscapes, which was the title of my first real attempt at a diary, and Shadowdreamer, the title of what I can only describe as an alternate diary.

Going through the yellowed pages of this “alternate diary,” in a rare opportunity at remembrance these days, shadowdreaming appears as possessing two interrelated meanings.

In the literary sense, shadowdreaming seems to be the practice of letting oneself fall into a state of near-madness and then writing everything that comes to mind. Everything, no matter how mad it may sound. For the whole purpose of the exercise is, in fact, to decipher the deeper complexes lurking within one’s psyche, guiding his every action and whim by approximating and dabbling with madness without sinking completely into it.

In the more philosophical, or rather, psychological, sense, shadowdreaming is to speak with the authority of a god while possessing none of his powers and while knowing and acknowledging this fact at a certain deeper level. In a sense then, you are speaking with the authority of a god while simultaneously ruing the lack thereof, and, consequently, excusing yourself from acting, from participating in life, because life is a mess, and you are not a god, so you cannot put it in order, and so you don’t have to act. In fact, you’d better not act. You cannot clean up the mess. You might even make things worse, if you try.

Admitting that I was a Shadowdreamer, and regretting the fact thereof, is what got me back to Syria in 1994, and what got me started on this whole “dissidence business.” I just wanted to traverse that formidable distance from shadowdreaming to visionary, I guess. I still do. I never belonged to the shadows, and never well. That is exactly what I will leave Syria soon – what drove me back is driving me away.

To give more of an idea of what Shadowdreamer is about. This is a rather telling entry, dated December 6, 1993; 2:05am:

“This is a last ditch attempt to save my sanity. Are we clear on this?”
“Yes. We are.”
“So, how are we going to start?”
“Let’s begin by talking about ethics. This seems to be the crux of the matter, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is.”
“Well then, let me start by saying that, personally, I think they’re a beautiful construct, a beautiful construct that has often proven impractical. I mean, how often do we have to find ourselves in that most notorious of situations where the heroic action, the needed action, is, in essence, quite unethical? So unethical, in fact, that we are forced to reverse the very polarity of our minds so as to see it as the most ethical of all actions possible? Why can’t ethics work without such mental stratagems, the way they’re supposed to?”
“Frankly, I don’t know. But I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that ethics are not the product of one mind. They, rather, come from the minds of many a pure spirit whose own quirks of soul must be mirrored in his/her particular ethical construct. And the question to me is not ‘why can’t ethics work the way they are supposed to,’ but ‘why can’t we all be pure spirits?’ Why can’t we all take part in building and upholding the ethical constructs necessary for our survival, instead of letting a minimal percentage of us usurp this responsibility?”
“Do you have a better answer?”
“There was a time when I thought I did. But that was long ago.”
“Not that long, remember?”
“Well, it certainly feels like it’s been a long time. But all this doesn’t matter anymore, does it? It’s going to be over soon. Judgment is coming. I’ve lost this battle long ago. It’s too late for last ditch attempts.”
“You know what I think?”
“No. But I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”
“I sure am. Not so long ago, you used to be a life-affirming man, sure of yourself and your abilities, with plans and dreams like most people around you. Then, there were few mishaps, few wrong decisions, nothing major though. Yet, you crumbled. You let go. You were torn apart. And you know, this makes me think, although it might be too late as you’re saying: was this image...was this man real at one point, or was it all an act?”
“Do you want an honest answer?”
“Yes. For once.”
“It was all an act. I’ve always had uncertainties. My conscience was always burning inside me. I’ve always been...suicidal.”
“Yes, suicidal, like all conscientious people.”
“All conscientious people are suicidal?”
“Yes. All conscientious people are suicidal?”
“And if they are not suicidal, they are not truly conscientious, I guess. Right?”
“Indeed, something must be wrong with them.”
“You Know? I guess you’re right. It doesn’t really matter anymore. So, why don’t we both shut up and shadowdream together, while we can still tell the difference.”
“Between sanity and shadowdreaming?”
“Between sanity and shadowdreaming.”

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Conference in Venice – Part Three!

“Irak sotto nueva dittatura”

Well, well, Venice is still capable of boisterous pronouncements I see. This graffiti scribbled in bold red on a hapless wall in Old Venice is proof enough that no matter how old a city gets and not matter how senile, it is still capable of making such boisterous pronouncements. The words of defiance streaming out of Damascus then, should come as no surprise.

The words and addresses if the conference organizers and participants, in contrast, were thankfully much more humble, albeit, at times, they could still be too apologetic.

“Modernization is not synonymous with westernization.” Said one of the speakers.
Oh really. Can anyone name one thing that is modern but not Western? Whenever I ask this question, people are often tempted to refer to Japanese ingenuity. Obviously they haven’t heard of Commodore Perry and gunboat diplomacy.

Will gunboat diplomacy work with a certain country I wonder? It might be worth considering.

The problem with reform in the region, the reason why we don’t have enlightened despots at work, is simply the total corruption of our political and economic elite. We have thieves and thugs for decision-makers, avaricious morons for policy advisors and dreamy nincompoops for technocrats. How on earth can we modernize with this lot? Add to the mix the highly illiterate and unskilled populations, and the conflicting interests and strategies of the superpowers, and the net result is: the Broader Middle East and North Africa Region – a black hole “glittering” in the heart of the world.

Ideas anyone? Independent media outlet for liberal actors. Multitasking. Capacity Building. Carrots & Sticks. Etc.

Wanted: a democracy that does not change anything, that does not upset any scheme, that does not antagonize any elite, that does not contradict American and European interests, not to mention Israeli interests, and these days, Chinese interests, Russian interests, and soon Indian interests and nuclear Iran’s interests. In brief, all interests, except the people’s interests. They don’t really count, do they? After all this is the Broader Middle East and North Africa Region. Democracy is not going to change that, is it? Well, it's not supposed to, damn it.

I knew from moment one at the conference that I was not going to take part in any of its debates. And I didn’t. The only thing this lot of dissidents, activists and oppositionists can cooperate on is to organize more conferences and issue more memoranda.

No, this is not because we are complete morons, albeit, and for the record, some of us indeed are, but because we are all stars now, stars in the firmament of our growing discontent. Stars can orbit, collide with and cannibalize each other, they don’t cooperate together. This is not part of their basic qualities, nor is it a skill that can still be learned, not in our age group anyway.

Still, at one point, I was tempted to ask the Question: how can a haphazard groups of westernized liberals attempt to transform a society that rejects them on all levels? For once, I’d want to attend a conference that is squarely centered on this very issue.
We are the only people that can help modernize our societies, but our societies continue to reject us, because we are too modernized, i.e. westernized (even though some of us are not really worthy of the epithet, but that’s another issue reserved for the times when we can feel more free to vilify each other, as honest dissidents and activists would and should). So how can we do it?

“Politics is dead in our part of the world.” Indeed. But, how can we train a new generation of political activists, of liberal political activists to be exact? The problems have been diagnosed a thousand fold, but so far few brilliant suggestions for solutions have been made.

But perhaps, we don’t need brilliance. Perhaps we are already doing a lot of the hard work, to no avail. Perhaps what we need is exactly what we cannot have at this stage: luck. Albeit we are all willing to be lucky, otherwise we won’t be in this “business.”

And I have been very lucky so far my love, haven’t I? My helplessness continues, but my luck never runs out.

Now that this conference is over, and I am back home, and I have finally emerged from that long series of interconnected illnesses, and just before I leave you for another conference, I can tell you, even promise you, this: nothing in the world is more real to me than you. You are my first priority, and you will soon be my last. I am going out of “business,” my love. But I plan to do it with a bit of style. You know me. I just can’t help it.