Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 1)

Based on Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad's seminal novel "Tawahin Beyrouth" (or "Death in Beirut" as it has been translated), we will follow the story of Tamima Nassour a Muslim Shiite girl from the south of Lebanon as she goes to Beirut - a Beirut already in turmoil (the novel was published in 1973 and saw the war coming).
Tamima ends up joining the Palestinian Fidais (or Kamikaze). In a world today where "terrorist" is slapped on anyone and everyone these series of 12 monologues aim at recounting Tamima's story backwards, as if from a police investigation with protagonists who knew the victim. And with these 12 facets, we shall know or try to understand why is that someone so young and beautiful would end up taking such a desperate measure.
Called “Inter/Sect” these monologues collectively refer to Tamima’s relationship with a man from a different sect, but also talk about the intersection of the destinies of all these people orbiting around that central elusive character after the fact.


It was late October at 2 p.m. and she was hungry so she rang the bell. My son Aziz – everyone calls him Abou el Ezz but she invented the nickname Abou el Hol for him, the Sphinx - took off the earphone of the transistor and went into her office at the port workers’ union. She either asks for a plate of foul or hummus. He asks her for the newspapers once she finishes with them and he buries his face in them all day long and takes them home in the evening.
Aziz is the guardian, office boy, and courier all at once.  Apart from “hello” and “yes Miss” he never speaks to her. Through Aziz, I know she is working on a report on the use of hashish among the port employees. She was na├»ve enough to believe some of the workers when they told her they quit.  I went to her office and bluntly told her he couldn’t quit smoking.
“Abou Sharshour” she says, my name is Abou Aziz but everyone called me “Abou Sharshour.”Sharshour is the hook we porters used, although all other porters have one, it was nickname for me – maybe because I wore it on my chest when others wore it on their backs. And she goes “Shame, your friends can leave it but you can’t?”
“You believe them? The just moved the den from under the shop to behind the warehouses. This is what they did to avoid the police. They say the union has assigned spies on them and that the idea comes from you. Where did they did get that creature on top of us? We must get rid of her and her spies. They don’t love you, but I do.”
“Tell me why you love me before anything else and then we see about the hashish. Come sit on this chair and tell me why you love me.”
“I can tell you why I cannot leave the hashish. Either her or the hashish. And she is not coming back. You understand now?”
And she says she doesn’t understand so I cry. I cry like men should not. Like men should not especially in front of women. “1948, in Jaffa. My daughter. The jews killed her. They went into my house from the edge of the city through the orange groves at dawn. Oum Aziz had gone to fill the jar with water from the well with Aziz who was just two years old. They cuffed me and threatened me with machine guns and tried to rape Adla. They were three and yet they couldn’t. They tied me to the door after cuffing me and then took her behind the house. I could hear her scream and the sound of an argument and she was still screaming and the argument grew louder and then a curse word and then a bullet! And she screamed no more and there was gigantic laugh. Two of them came back and untied me and pushed me to see the third trying to get from her what he couldn’t get while she was alive. She was your age and had your height and your skin tone. I see Adla whenever I see you and that’s why I love you and that’s why I cannot leave hashish.”
Two days later, as she was leaving the office and the sky was getting dark, two porters tried to attack her but I had followed Miss Tamima knowing that one day such a thing would happen. I struck them both and beat them threatening to kill them if they ever touch her again. Since that day, I sit on the stairs of her office and never leave the vigil until she finishes work and safely goes out of the port. And then I go back to my hashish.
One day Aziz left early, said a friend from Jaffa was waiting for him outside. “Goodbye Abou el Ezz” – he corrected her “Abou el Hol, the Sphinx, I know you invented it for me and I shall never forget that. Please put the key under the rug for me to be able to open up tomorrow when you leave.”
On the 29th of December Lebanon was waking up to learn about the tragedy. During the night, an Israeli commando backed by air force stormed the airport and destroyed thirteen grounded civilian planes on the runway in what it says is in retaliation to the two Palestinian Fidais who have hijacked an Al Aal plane in Athens and who were supposed to have been based in Lebanon.
She took a leave for a month, she was sick. But one day I saw her in the office she was grabbing some personal papers from the locked drawer. “Where is Abou el Ezz? Where is Abou el hol? The sphinx!”
“The day after the airport bombing he left a paper in the union’s office saying he is going and doesn’t know when he will be back – if he will be back. Abou el Ezz is going to take revenge for his sister. He joined the Fidais. Since then I have left the hashish and added the transistor on my chest to the sharshour.”
2nd of February 1969. I gave her the letter to read to me. The second letter that got through. “What good news brings you Abou Sharshour, sit down.” I say:  “It was delivered by a different person than the last one.” Miss Tamima starts reading: “Medical Assistance Committee Number 16, Aziz Yafawi was hit during a combat with the enemy and he is now under treatment with a felicitation on the courage he displayed during the battle and a promotion to the rank of major. Hopefully it is just a small wound and congratulations on the promotion. Major Abou el Ezz! Don’t you want to congratulate him? When will the messenger be back to take the answer? Dictate to me and I shall write.” I simply say: “Ask them when he will be back to war.”
The letter that followed had a Post Scriptum, a long one addressed to Miss Tamima. Abou el Hol, the Sphinx, holds her picture in his wallet. Where did he get it from? He took it with a small machine he hid under his jacket. “Do you allow me to speak to them about you Miss Tamima?” Speak Abou el Hol. Speak to them and tell them that the beauty whose photo is Oum el Ezz, your female equivalent!

March is about to be over. Miss Tamima is next to me on the front row on the funeral convoy of Aziz. I am now waiting for her to finish writing. I am to deliver the book to a man called Hani Rahi. Then I meet her once more with the man, who will give us our assignments. “We are going to war, this much I know.”

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