Tuesday, August 02, 2011

It Wasn't What It Was

It wasn’t your infectious giggle that made me fall in love with you

I swear

It was that awful quiche we had to share at Coco’s

It wasn’t the fact that your skin glowed when you blushed

I swear it wasn’t

It was the smell of coffee we had together huddled in the back of Caribou

On a cold November night

I swear

It wasn’t the way you looked at me

Or how you sent shivers through me with your touch

Or how made my heart burst with every beat

No. It was the way you explained the French menu to me

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Ingredients of History

Can we truly believe in history?

I have come to the conclusion, recently, that we shouldn’t. Let’s think about this for a moment. What is history? The first definition you are likely to find on history, is this: history is a narrative of events; a story.

Looking under the definition of a story; this is what you will find: a story is a recital of an event, or a series or events. More amusingly though, it lists such a story as being either a) an account, b) anecdote, or c) a lie.

Thus, in effect, we more or less admit to history having a fictitious aspect to it. Unlike with science, history cannot truly “prove” anything. It’s up for interpretation and it is, more often than not, nothing more than the perspective of whoever was the storyteller at the time. The only thing it can prove is the storyteller’s own agenda, his own precedence.

Yes, the main events cannot be disputed, or questioned, as some can actually be backed by some sort of scientific proof. But mostly, the history of humanity has been written, or controlled, by those who were in power, those with influence.

History is not written by those who were defeated. It is written by those who have won. Won wars, won battles, won political struggles. It’s an affirmation of their superiority, be it directly or indirectly.

Whichever way we look at it, whichever angle we decide to take on history, if there is one fact to it, it’s that it has been dictated by violence, something that as human beings we have always been drawn to. Of course, there are other accounts, other versions of history, written by the “other side”, but that’s often been disputed, refuted or marginalized.

We believe blindly in history because we seek a form of consolation, to justify where we are today, and how we have reached there, regardless of its validity. We are prepared to take history as it’s been told, and not as it had occurred. Partially because we love a good tale. Dramatic retellings of past events are far more appealing then, say, scientifically proven past facts, if any existed.

With all the technology and science that man has mastered, the chances of proving history once and for all is as far fetched and unrealistic as some of the most outrageously creative science-fiction novels. It’s all up in the air. We take things for face-value because we don’t have another choice, or that if there was one, it was too inconvenient to obtain

History is up there for whoever wants to claim it, like stars and galaxies far, far away. We know that they are there, we know that they affect us, one way or the other, even if we don’t comprehend it, but we cannot, for the life of us, find them tangible. Perhaps there is some comfort in the thought.

We can keep making our own histories, but that doesn’t mean that it had truly happened.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Arabs Online: Between Fact & Fiction

For years I had grown concerned about the impact the infamous Arabic online forums has on forming public opinion. When many internet-users across the globe used this tool to create, innovate, engage and discover, we Arabs took it upon ourselves to turn it into one giant puddle of misinformation and abuse.

The forums are considered by many to be the only reliable source of information and news, which is remarkably ironic since it rarely ever basis it’s content within the realms of reality and fact. So much so, that it had managed to turn many myths into indisputable facts, be it in terms of political issues, religion, history or science.

One of the reasons behind this is the lack of serious investment in the Arab world – and the Gulf region specifically – in online content and the extent of the strict regulations and censorship imposed by the authoritarian bodies. By restricting the possibilities of creating serious, independent online sources, we have created a vortex that had to be filled one way or the other.

These forums had one characteristic in common, they had hardly any moderation and had high tolerance – if not even promote – hatred, racism and sectarianism. Users hiding behind their anonymity, with their colorful names and avatars, felt unchained and free to abuse such a platform to attack, demean and undermine anyone who opposed their own views.

As the Arab Spring finally hit our shores, we have witnessed that same abhorrent attitude transfer from the forums to other social media outlets that have become widely available to everyone.

In Bahrain in particular, Twitter users shot up by 82% over the past few months, a staggering statistic, considering the small population compared to other Arab countries that have witnessed similar unrest.

Many of these users took the same approach they had in their forums and applied them on these outlets, which have become synonymous with strong political and citizens journalism movements.

Trolling is nothing new in cyberspace. But we Arabs took it to the next level. In addition to bullying, we added the small matter of fabricating news, events and falsifying evidence, as well as prosecuting people for their views, opinions, accusing folks of high treason and advocating violence against them. And that’s not all of it.

We need to relook out relationship with the Internet in this part of the world and really calculate how its use (or abuse) can have a significant lasting impact on our lives.

I have always been shocked by the gullibility of some Internet users, who take anything they see on the Internet, and namely those infamous forums, for face value. I’ve heard people believing things they read online that are written as a hoax or a joke!

But now we’ve seen it all. Thanks to Arabs, the “Internets” will never be the same again.

And neither will we.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Another Random Moment

I'm tracing a vivid memory as I stare out into the flickering dark waters.

The breeze laps at my neck and I suddenly feel a great void within me, as if I had misplaced something precious to me and I cannot seem to recall where I had last seen it.

The memory lingers, and then transforms into another.

I've been feeling misguided by my wanton for a familiar touch. For a whole month, my heart pumped liquid pain through my veins instead of blood.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Song For A Generation

If there is one song that captures the feeling, aspirations and fears of a generation of young, moderate Bahraini, it is the haunting and bittersweet “Rebellion” by Bahraini folk singer/songwriter Ala Ghawas.

As we live in extraordinary times and witness an era that has ravaged our humanity, our peace and our nation, the words that resonate with us are that which we hear so achingly sung by Ala in this song.The song is originally a very personal one to Ala. It is perhaps his most personal of all his songs. It tells of his heartbreak at losing a dear part of him, a close friend, to cultural and social prejudices.

Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics of “Rebellion”, which starts with:

Father, I’m running through the fire

I don’t want to belong, I just need a place to admire

Which makes me think of how our Bahrain, the one we were all used to, before the recent tragic events that unfolded. It’s a cry for help, for someone to hear us, help us. It evokes an image of our country on fire, us running through trying to find salvation, our search for not a place to belong, but to embrace.

My friends are gone, one by one

To the fighting, they just can’t live without it

How many of us have lost friends because of what happened? Either because of our strong difference of opinions, or due to fear, or even a friend in one of those who had lost their lives?

And yet in spite of this bloodshed, we continue to fight each other. We continue to distance ourselves, as if fighting has become the only thing we know how to do, even though it was never in us before.

You know I’ve never lost the faith within

If God is with us, then who’s with them?

In the second line of this verse, we find perhaps one of the strongest statements ever put to song. “If God is with us, then who’s with them?” we all claim that god is with us and are sometimes blinded by faith so much that we forget the very basics of what makes us human.

Towards the end of the song, Ala spells out his guts, bears his soul out to us, and in those next few words, paints a picture of how perception, ideas and conflict can either break us or make us stronger.

I don’t wear the black

I don’t close my eyes and ears

To prove piety

I don’t grow my beard

I don’t preach slaughter

I don’t raise a sword for the lord

To show loyalty

And that’s what I see

What’s wrong with unity?

Indeed, what’s wrong with unity? If there is one thing we desperately need today it’s abandoning our own prejudices, religious phobias and piousness, and to remember why we were all here to begin with.

Friday, April 15, 2011


I never used words to hurt you

The way you used your burning gaze on me

To leave a gaping hole in my soul

It was only after thirty-six days that I found

The last memory we made

Fractured by your fall from grace

Would have been easier for you to drag me

Through the thorny sheets of your bed

Than to remove yourself from me

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Not So Random Anymore

My new book, The Randomist, is a collection of memories, tales and reflections based on my own personal experiences as a Bahraini young man and a writer, combining cultural and social commentary with personal anecdotes. These include columns, essays and blog posts.

It was supposed to be launched around springtime, but due to the current instability in my country, and around the region, it’s put on hold for now. I am even considering adding a few more bits about the recent events that my country has witnessed since February 14.

What’s fascinating is how different these writings sound now, some of them even relevant, directly or indirectly, to this current unrest, while others now paint an image of a country that was and never will be. I’m looking at it now with completely different eyes.

I had received my mockup sample a few weeks ago. It looked pretty good. Hard cover, dust jacket with 240 pages. The cover features an illustration by my good friend artist Mariam Haji and is designed by myself.

But there were also a few glitches that need to be ironed out, the biggest of which is the size of the font, which is way too small for a hardcover book. So that’s a technical issue that needs to be corrected. Apart from that, I’m happy with the look and feel of the book. And with it’s content as well. Again, some editing here and there gotta be done before the final copy is printed.

I still hope that the book will come out before the end of the year, probably even later in summer. But I wonder what it will mean to me, to my Bahraini readers, and how will others perceive it now.

It doesn’t seem that random anymore.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Fearless Words

For years I’ve wondered why our literature was merely limited to stories of folklore, tradition and culture. In spite of the rich political history of this little island, you will find it rather hard to find any piece of fiction that tackles the many crucial periods that Bahrianis have had to go through.

Perhaps the only such period that has been touched upon, mostly in our books and silverscreen, is the time of British colonialism.

As a teenager I, and my entire generation, have lived through a significant time of instability in Bahrain, back in the early 1990s. Our country was turning upside down, yet none of us truly grasped the gravity of that situation.

Many people around me were affected, but somehow it didn’t really hit me. I personally didn’t understand it, didn’t have a clue.

Still over the years, I often wondered why no one ever wrote about it. In our history books, our novels, our poetry. It was as if none of it had occurred. A big part of it was because we were all still scared of talking about it. It was taboo.

The few mentions of it in some political books were either banned or censored. But as a fiction writer, my main concern was its nonexistence in local pop and modern culture. I personally hesitated a great deal about introducing these elements in my work. In fact, one other writer warned me that I risked writing about it, I might end up being exiled!

But I found that you can be political in your fiction without talking about politics. An English literature University professor from Canada who reviewed my short stories, explained to me that he found that many of my stories had political undertones, which helped him get a better understanding of contemporary Bahrain.

Twenty years later after those events in the early 90s, we are facing another historic moment. But a lot has changed since then. Unlike back then, everything is out in the open nowadays. Nothing can be hidden and everyone has access one way or the other, to information.

But it was in the way that the events unfolded since Feb 14 (and still continue to do so) that broke down so many barriers, perhaps the biggest of them: fear.

What will this mean for Bahraini art and literature? Will we suddenly see a shift in tone and context? Will artists and writers feel more emboldened by these events to let loose in expressing themselves?

Some will argue that is already the case. The fact that many artists have appeared regularly at (Pearl Roundabout) is a strong statement. Many of them have created new artwork on the spot, inspired by the movement and recent events; from traditional paintings to installations.

Bloggers, writers and journalists are voicing their opinions louder than ever, talking about taboo subjects that no one dared to tackle before, at least not publicly. Things such as social injustice, political reform, government criticism are the topics on every Bahraini’s mind.

But the true testament is yet to come. When the dust settles, will we see this trend asset itself on the longer term? Or will it fizzle and fade?

The momentum will carry it, and undoubtedly, things will never go back as they were in Bahrain. And most certainly, writers will begin telling the stories that have unfolded over these past few weeks, in more than one way.

Friday, January 07, 2011

What It Means To Be Bahraini

I’m looking up to the sky and I see these little parachutes coming down like rain on us, swaying in the cool December breeze. Attached at the end of them are little packages and boxes bearing treats, goodies and gifts.

Next to me my friends are yelping in excitement as they see the national guard parade passing by, followed by a fleet of decorated trucks. Bahraini flags, emblems and red and white confetti is everywhere. Some young ladies dressed in traditional gowns are tossing mashmoom leaves on us as they pass by on their trucks, while the Ardah is not far behind.

Later that day, we would be standing out in the desert, staring up into the starry nightsky, waiting for the next firework to explode into a million tiny suns, in red and yellow and white and green. Everyone “ooos” and “aaahs” at the sight.

This is how I remember spending National Day. It used to be an occasion that we looked forward to as kids. The National Day parade was a memorable highlight, while the fireworks was something we’d wait for anxiously every year.

Bahrain has come a long way since then. It’d be na├»ve to pretend that nothing has changed. A lot has. For better or worse.

The ever expanding economy, the aggressive development and influx of foreign influence has had a great impact in reshaping Bahrain and reinventing the definition of a what it means to be Bahraini.

Being a Bahraini is to be accepting and tolerant of others, to be passionate yet moderate, shrewd yet understanding, receptive and yet adaptive.

As much as we’d like to grumble about it, we have a lot going for us. Our country is small, but it has a lot to offer. My only wish has always been to see Bahrainis, the true born-and-bred Bahrainis, take a stronger initiative and a more positive approach in making it theirs. Our generation may have had its up and downs, but it’s the generation that will pave the way for future ones by setting an example.

I remember when I was younger, I couldn’t wait to get out of this place. I felt that it was too tiny, to enclosed, and I wanted to explore the infinite possibilities the world had to offer. But as I grew up, I’ve become more fond and more protective of it. My father was right, he told me that no matter where I went and how long I went for, that I will always have one home. And that that home will always have a place for me.

*This piece appeared in Time Out Bahrain, December issue 2009.