For the editorial of this issue, we have chosen to write texts which respond to each other, and which reconsider, each in its own way, this idea of “The Arab of the Future”.
Ah there you are, we finally meet again. Each of us is on his new shore. Have we suffered these absences, since our first acquaintance, at the time of our first issue ? Very little, from what I have learned. No one bore wounds in their own flesh, meaning no one got ill, or got convicted, none of us is fading away in their cell. We have not known of any tragedy. Maybe some visible or invisible hands fiddled with our close-knit families and our loved ones. But we do not say everything to each other, those are our private degradations, we do have our secrets, the murky flow of our squeamishness.
Maybe one of us is fleeing to avoid military service, carefully avoiding to cross the border of their own country. Maybe one of us is creating a shadow of themself so the administration of a country believes they are loyal, while they fill in as they should : live in Tunis or Casablanca and make believe they are elsewhere in Paris, renewing permits here and there, spreading proof of love. New beginnings have broken through, each of us is thriving alone in their new embarkation. We barely suffered these absences and yet, now that we reunite, in what we will produce together, it will not only be about us. Because we are many and because our project is to merge our voices and associate ourselves. This time around a collective future for which we have merged many texts, and many images.
But to think of the future, when never before it has been more uncatchable, seems to me the work of a lifetime. Each of our conversations that try to answer these matters ends up in a dead end. What can we ask from the future ? Maybe one where being an Arab would be bearable. A future where the fear and panic that accompanies the handing of our IDs and passports would disappear. Freer days, with better news to hear. Freed from the fear that has moved into our deepest loins to endlessly repeat that tomorrow might be worse than today, that nothing we stand on can hold us. Summoning a future that we wouldn’t bare, that we would be able to tame. What I wish for, what I hope for, really, is a future where we would cease to run away. Where the need to leave would be nothing but distant chimera. Where a feeling of belonging to something would eat up the desire of exile. Where the elsewhere would not be a fantasy.
A future where we would feel home, somehow.
First I was like you, filled with hope, in response to this instruction – « the Arab of the Futur ». But then I got worn out, I felt tiny, incapable of such as task. All of this is getting tiresome. This instruction is always tainted by politics, steadfast in a spoilt land.
But maybe we shouldn’t be mistaken by our project: to gather around writing…It is intrinsically political, we cannot resist this fact. We organize ourselves so that our words exist, less captive, so they testify.
Of course, we mustn’t bear the weight of these tragedies nor know all their intricacies. It would be very arrogant of us and I know how much you disregard writers with such brutal ambitions. These ambitions hold the catalyst for our enemies.
Needless to be completely powerful to stop being helpless. We could just be delicate monsters, I’d wish for that. Be innervated and vulnerable stains
Imagining the future is a project that needs a considerable dose of faith. Faith seem essential for the future, for the idea of it. It requires a certain emotional attachment, it implies to imagine futurities the way human relations are crafted.
Perhaps I do not have what it takes anymore. I can barely bear the present anymore.
To be enchanted back into the future, I would need faith in change. Better or worse change, it does not matter as long as it is change. And I cannot bear this belief any longer. It was all there when I began this sketch, the faiths, believes, in a narrow corner where they entered me. And though it did leave my life and my vision of things its power was not completely stripped away. So I know believe thinking of the future is a poor idea and I distanced myself from it, flaunting away with pride. The present seems enough, in its greyish colours, provocative idleness, it’s insolent silences, it’s systemic violence, and its empty repetitive episodes. The present is encroaching with force enough to strangle my dreams and even my nightmares along the way.
My ambition of the future died within me a slow death as my selfishness grows instead in the freed empty space. I have stopped caring for what does not directly concern me, and I even barely hold my own pain and insignificance. Maybe this break of any engagement was interrupted from its inception, like a logical defence against the waves of shit but this rift is only taking place now as if nothing preceded it.
Despite all this, sometimes, and only sometimes, it seems that my lack of concern is only a confortable lie that I invent stronger each time, a shell to protect myself from the brutality of existence. But each time I feel the warmth of caring for a given situation, imposing itself without warning, and confronting me with its piece of truth. I then begin again to resist it, doing my best to keep my confortable shell of denial intact.
I do this operation thoroughly, carefully, consistently.
So now that we are about to publish this issue, I feel a vague impression of shame at my wounded selfishness, nakedness and fragility and no desire to speak.
I also ask myself, to what point does this idea of “Arab of the Future” leave room to our lives in the here and now. Is it not yet another flight ? We cannot really blame ourselves for not wanting to face the present, for our present is quite disgusting. What we call “Arab” today is someone dying in the sea, or in a police station, in a bombing, in a protest. It is also someone dying with boredom, in a country that does not belong to him, nor to her, and that is to be left at all costs. An Arab can also be dying, slowly, of anxiety, in a country that rejects the very presence of Arabs, and that takes pleasure in electing anyone who threatens to throw them out. So yes, we grabbed futures, and we invested in them, we give them everything we ever dreamt of. Progress, decoloniality, welfare, it does not really matter ultimately. In the end, it is just a good piece of fantasies, to avoid looking at what is happening to us. But “our” lives, our situations, now, it is now that we need to look at them, at the very moment at which we try to run away towards the shores of the future.
We have all included a hidden “I”, shy, unsure of his presence, even sad. Mine would like to hide on a Tunis roof rather than write from afar about two things that already evade my restless “I”.
Where to begin? Where to end? Should we begin? Let us not write any endings and rather remain in the unsettled present, the beginning where forms are made, where clay takes a distorted shape, figures always in lack, always being made, while our hands drown against the mud.
We are speaking of futures. Speaking of jumping current time, running over crumbling bridges to invent another side. Did we get it all wrong? Was it just about now, about the presentenness of the now, where you are, how you are, who you are. After all, it was not about the future but rather today and the multiple repeated-déjà vus of the immediate. Did we throw the Arab of the present, because he was too close, too inmate, crawling from under our skins, haunting from behind our every steps. Did we get too scared of sharing bodies with his incessant winning, ghostly figure, and his perpetual nightmares?
Or it was satire, mad cravings for the future, when you are in the four-walls-no-door room of the now, from which nothing ever escapes.
A ghost went to town today. In its solitude, it started eavesdropping. A woman is humming in the back room of a café, alone in the dark, smoking one cigarette after another. On the phone she tells the same story for the billionth time: her stingy roommate locked the spices in the closet so she wouldn’t use them. Buy your own spices! And your own olive oil! You earn money, right? Every time she tells this story, the ghost gleans new info. The stingy roommate is actually her mother, with whom she lives, miserably, and who ceaselessly complains about her daughter to her sister. The man on the phone is the aunt’s husband that she needs to convince of her side of the story. Earlier that day, while the woman was struggling with the oil runoff in her kafteji, the ghost heard the story of a woman and her mother, who were being sued by her own brother, because of some money issue. The mother regrets wanting a son so badly and ending up with this kind of boy. A son that throws the clutches of the state at her. There, this is the result of an afternoon emptied from its usual music. Oh yes, this is unlikeable, those earplugs you shove in your ears to say to the world ; I prefer my chants to yours, though they are constantly renewed. But never mind.
When I talk about “An Arab of the Future” and make mine this emptied etiquette of “Arab”, I say “our” lives. By default. Because I refuse to say “their” lives. “Their” lives, them, there. No, it’s impossible. I know that we do not mix, that we do not meet, that it has been years since I moved out of this part of town, that I only come for little walks, to remember old lights and old laughters that went to rest six feet under. I now live in one of those buildings where heavy metal doors are added to protect you from robbers but also beggars “that are scary”, as they beg at your door, that come so close, so powerfully close.
I refuse to say “their”, because at the second that one says “they”, people have been already put in a cage, a bit like in the exposition coloniale. But “our” lives, is also what “mines” are,their doubts, their bursts of littleness, their incomprehensions. “Our” lives, there, in all of their bloomings, I would like to twist myself in them.
You see Malek already in the thread of words that I read from afar, there are others than you that aggregate. The mother, the sister, the father, the state and that ghost that is your alter-ego. And in that dance they have all begun to do, while I listen to you speak, there are many others too, restless in the darkness.
I told you at times: I prefer a writing project stillborn rather than an imagination that configures in the cloister of my navel.
Though it was to say that I wanted us to be focused too, twice as considerate. So it is only from our life that we will ever write, within its textures, the presence of others aggregated like the voices on the phone you heard. The others surfaced, we memorized them, we repelled them, or we began to enter with them in the onerous abyss of links and love. We blinded eyes; tear tongues in all sorts of mute violence. It is also valid for our close ones but also for all the far away presences that we only represent.
I understood as such, this project of the “Arab of the Future”. We had to unlock the means to be more attentive, in the present to prepare for more fertile dregs, to be less blinded towards all these presences. It will be a work of perseverance, against a certain dismembering, that being the project of our leaders against us.
When we invited you to think of the Arab of the Future, we did not define it. He, she, it, could be Arab or not. Be it today and not tomorrow. But aren’t we trying here to give a word that has systematically been used to stigmatize and silence others a new virginity? Aren’t trying to make it inclusive when in our countries, it was and remains exclusive ?
I was talking to a friend the other day, a fellow Moroccan. He was describing to me pieces of lands, that, I was told, were ours. He described people in the mountains and in the fields, theirs dialects, their prayers in chelha in the mosques. I listened. I was discovering what I sincerely thought I knew already, in its complexity and heterogeneity. But between conceptualizing diversity and experimenting it, there is one hell of an abyss. An abyss of unsaid, of unthought.
What was defined in our invitation to write together was the “we”. “We” thinking, that was the idea. And there lies the problem. We do not have a word to designate ourselves righteously as a collective.
What to do then ? Would it be safer for us to not say “we”, to write about what is strictly individual while thinking of it as extremely specific ? Wouldn’t we be murdering writing, thought and action, right there in their small nest ? For yes, these things are done in group.
I agree with you here Kaoutar C, while we solely write from the insides of our lives, the others make their way in them. In the silent violence that this “Arab of the Future” inflicts on the Amazighi and other non-Arabs among us, the scandal of a historical oblivion makes its way towards us.