After decades of eating freedom sandwiches at home and freedom sandwiches from abroad, people in the Middle East have developed an aversion to the brand of freedom with the democratization spread and happiness garnish. There is a limit to how much people can swallow of even a good thing, let alone, the kind of freedom whenever tried for mere taste, turns out poisonous or fatal. And so, to survive being force fed trash from all corners, people stopped buying freedom sandwiches no matter how well prepared, nicely wrapped and stylishly packaged. A variety of home specialties help them endure what has become a lifestyle free from freedom, democracy and happiness, until such time those sent to the Middle East to fight an endless war, come to the realization that while people always willingly died for freedom, they never knowingly accepted dying for freedom sandwiches.
With war after war generation after generation, people in the Middle East were driven into reviving ancient home specialties. For starters; they do not take anything at face value. For main course; they dream politics all night and talk politics all day. For dessert; they read upside down and between the lines. To finish; they are forever in love with theories, as theories do not kill, people do.
In our part of the world, one does not have to be a political activist or political anything to talk politics as talking politics is regular conversation. It is as regular as eating bread before during and after meals. Only while eating bread is all too normal, talking politics around meals round the clock is more like an eating disorder, related to people feeling they have no control over their lives. Instead of talking about real nice gardens and unpredictable weather, people talk about real wars and their all too predictable results. Instead of wondering about the latest fashion while sipping cappuccinos, people wonder how many seasons it is going to take for the dÃ©modÃ© being human to humans is back in fashion.
As with all regular conversation, what people say is never devoid of a kind of intuitive wisdom that comes with experience or age, or there lack of, as with children and Faulkner’s Benjys. As with all regular conversation, it ranges between the light hearted therapeutic to the justifiably seriously gloomy.
You hear a light hearted political conversation for example, while standing in line with two falafel addicts who are passing time while waiting for their falafel fix. They would be discussing US foreign policy in relation to the deteriorating falafel taste, in relation to privatization of resources, in relation to Israeli occupation. As absurdly likely, that by the time it is their turn to collect their order, they would come to the obvious conclusion that the deteriorating falafel taste is directly related to the falafel man using car oil for frying, and that with the price of petrol going up all the time, the man will be forced into honesty and into using human edible oil.
To know what the majority of people think or what has become to be known as “the pulse of the street” – a new technique whereby streets measure pulse of people and you measure pulse of streets – you take a taxi and ask the taxi driver to go ten times around the block. Unless if taxi driver is from the intelligence circle and wants you to do the talking; taxi drivers do not say their politics under duress, it is duress if they do not discuss their politics. The driver will tell you his life story from the moment he was born to the moment you asked him to go in circles, and all in a political context. Some may go back as far back as Ottoman times, but most would start with the Nakba of 1948. If you happen to be a foreigner, it is all the more reason why the taxi driver would want to talk politics. He would want you to tell your government what Israel is doing to all of us. Just in case your government has not heard because phone lines are always busy and the internet is always jammed. With taxi drivers, there is no such thing as language barrier. While most would know either English or French, depending on type of liberation and enlightenment the country had , taxi drivers make sure you understand all that is said either by using the universal sign and gesture language, or the speak louder to be understood technique.
If you are in the mood for hard core politics and the seriously gloomy; Palestinian children under Israeli occupation are the people to discuss politics with. Sadly, instead of their talk basically revolving around sports, school work, latest gadgets and little girls and boys’ issues; Palestinian children foremostly discuss subjects ranging from contaminated air, food and water, to the subjects of land theft, settlers, checkpoints, house demolitions, prisoners and the wall, and all the way to the subjects of humiliation and death. It makes you question the premise that knowledge is always good. That is not to say that children under democratization do not form or voice political opinions on matters such as the triple hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan. Two little girls aged six and nine, came up with the following conclusion after it has been explained to them by an adult, “A man lied to another man that if he kills people he will go to heaven. The stupid man fell for the lie and now both are going to hell.”
Generally, people fall for lies and become good subjects for indoctrination when they lose faith in themselves and in their own ability to find the truth. On the other hand, people make bad subjects for indoctrination when they lose faith in others and in the ability of others to say the truth. In the Middle East, the acute discrepancy between what people witness and experience and what is said or unsaid by empire builders and their supporting team of propagandists about those experiences; lead people to either hopelessness thus becoming easy preys for cults and ideologies that parody religions. Or, lead people not to take anything at face value and question all that is said or unsaid, with the hope that there is always light after darkness. But what all people have become impervious to is; liberation jargon.
With time and experience and with the amount of lying coming from all corners, people developed autistic bionic ears and infra all colours eyes, where upon impact with eyes and ears, words take new meanings and spellings. The last thing people need is a surprise war or a surprise occupation if they were to believe whatever is being sold as truth. When people hear that peace is on the doorsteps, they stock food and those with money put it under their Swiss pillows. When people hear that democratization is spreading, they know that some people in power are being uninstalled for not being bad enough and worse people are getting installed. Having been liberated, enlightened and civilized by the British and French as per the 1916 Sykes-Pico ‘not conspiracy’ to carve up the Middle East; all three words are spelled with an O as in occupation. As for civilization and derivatives, the word has simply become redundant. Belonging to great civilizations that were built ever since forever; people in the Middle East do not know whether to laugh or to cry when they hear daily civilization forecasts like the weather forecasts. The all too many experts on civilization sound like a commercial for selling a bad product.
Great and enlightened as Western Civilizations are, the Middle East gets to experience long spells of the dark side of those Civilizations. Every so often, the Middle East gets enlightened with white phosphorus and silver uranium. Often enough, there is one occupation or another liberating a country, and next thing you know it is six different countries and brothers are at each other’s throats. Apart from the killing and the destruction, just when you are so impressed by how well cultured and mannered, they shock you with their extreme generosity by giving presents, including to themselves, of things they do not own in the first place. There is of course everything right with saying thank you for services rendered or sorry for trying to annihilate you. But it defies all etiquette behaviour to give as presents things you do not own and then make others pay your debts and dues.
One would be impressed with free thinking in general and free media in particular if they were not in the habit of taking sleeping pills during genocides and Prozac when it comes to what Michael Jackson is up to. The idea being that while genocide is an everyday occurrence; what Michael Jackson or Paul Smith is up to is a threat to morality and humanity. Just as one would be greatly impressed with progressive thinking, if people were not regressing into having competitions in creative racist thinking. The irrationality of calling long dead fathers and yet to be born children, terrorists; lead people in the Middle East to question the rational behind killing some stories and over killing other stories. Depending on the level of distortion in the free media, people read between the lines and upside down to get proper perspective. Being at the receiving end of a systematic and daily smear, they can tell if the stench coming from media is mere slur or cold blooded character assassination. When a magazine that poses as liberal and progressive adopts the Fox syndrome, there is no miscalculation there. One Fox plus one fox is double fox and malicious plus malicious is double malicious.
East West, North and South, it is always good to feel good about ourselves. Ever since forever however, conflict that leads to war arises when some of us human beings start to feel that they are better than others and therefore more deserving, more everything.
What is worse than some us feeling they are better is when some of us feel they are the best. For then, we get empires and endless wars. Since people never accepted being enslaved either by those who feel they are better or by those who feel they are the best; ultimately, the clash is always between arrogance and dignity. That the great religions that teach humbleness and humility as core values survived thousands of years, and ideologies that are based on racist thinking withered; may be proof that it is us human beings who are in conflict or the cause of conflict, not the religions.
Besides endurance, the specialty of all times for people in the Middle East and what they are world famous for is their love for conspiracy theories in particular and theories in general. Give them theories any time any place, they just love them, for neither the theories nor the endless love for them is what kills people. There is this huge difference between thought and act or between theory and practice. It is like the difference between living and living as subjects of experiments in an open air lab. It is the difference between reading about napalm by the fireplace and being burned at 1000 degrees Celsius. It is the difference between thinking how lovely it would be to own the world and being at receiving end of that love in the midst of an endless war. It is ultimately the difference between being free and having a freedom sandwich.