Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 3)

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 September 26th 1968. I saw the girl in a glimpse as her mother was packing Jaber Nassour’s belongings to go back to Mehdiyyeh. I was having coffee with Rose and I laughed at some curse that Rose said in her native dialect of the north. I laugh wholeheartedly. Preparing for the next parliamentary elections forced me to remain in my native Kfar Zarrou’ for a while.
Upon my return, Rose invited me to dinner that Saturday to meet the girl, I was wearing a silk shirt and one of my navy blue ties. I only drink Arak from Zahle and was expertly preparing my shot and explained to Tamima about the “art of drinking”, I even prepared a small Arak shot for her, but she refused. I ask her a few things about herself, tell her that I aim for the parliament. I have enough educated youth in the Bequa’a and peasants who are fed up with feudalism to back me up with their votes.
“I am against being called Bek” I tell rose, “lawyer or Oustaz would be enough. Plain Akram is even better.” I drink and eat, eat and drink and laugh. Rose is smart, she keeps going to the kitchen leaving us alone for longer periods of time. I pat Tamima on the shoulder in one of those ever-prolonged absences, my eyes sparkle. She reciprocates the glare but ends up drawing the chair a little farther. As Rose leads me to the door, I can see her finger doing a sign of “next time” – so next time it is.
21st of October, she is at my office and I got her a job. Secretary of the union of the port workers’. “Three hundred liras a month, two or three hours of work a day, no more. Just typewriting.” As I lead her to the door, “Miss Tamima!” and then when she turns: “Nothing. Nothing. Good luck.”
There was a second dinner, according to Rose to “celebrate the job” but it all came down was a fiasco. Rose meticulously prepared the third dinner and even added a large bouquet of carefully arranged red roses on the table in that seldom-opened room. The gold watch Rose picked as a gift came wrapped and had my visiting card inside the box and was delivered a few days prior to the event. Tamima had said was the only exception she was ready to adorn her hands with, according to Rose.
9:30 p.m. and she still did not show up. I stood there drinking my Arak – shot after shot. I go: “I think she is in love.” Rose says: “Who? Ramzi Raad? If she loved your journalist’s friend’s poems, why wouldn’t she love your golden watches and your prestige which is worth the gold of the world.” At 10 p.m. she got through the door. She was holding the box of the watch in one hand and her purse in the other. She put the box on the table in front of me and apologized for not being able to accept it.
Sometime in mid-December, I visit her at the union. I apologized as to what happened in Rose’s house. I ask about her new living arrangements with Mary Abou Khalil, about university and the like – and then – with no introduction whatsoever, I proposed to her. I said I broke off “with the other woman” - I never called her Audette. I was looking for a partner, a housewife, a muse, a sister in arms in my political struggle, a mother to my daughter – no, more of a friend to her. “I want all of this all rolled into one – I know it is too much to ask.”
I gave her a week to think as I had to go to the Bequa’a and have Ramzi Raad write those articles I had commissioned him about the Yaghmouris – my feudal political rivals. “The Bequa’a is like Akkar, and like the South: places where Lebanon’s nose is being rubbed in the mud. We have to work, we have to work.”
She told me: “I don’t need a week and I don’t need to think.” And when I took her hand to kiss her saying goodbye she retrieved it.
Rose is crazy! Rose is crazy! No, the only one is crazy is me for listening to her! What as silly insignificant man I am. I wanted Tamima for a wife, that same woman whose virtue I had proposed to buy only a few weeks earlier with a gold watch. She had smiled at me with the same smile as those who came to console him after his failure in the last election. But hers was full of pity.
The scene played in my mind once more, fifteen months ago: The car that was overturned, the blood on the road, the corpse, my wife’s… And the scream that pierced the fog of Dahr el Baydar on the way from the Bequa’a to Beirut and that still pierces his daughter Zeina’s room every night: “Mama! Mama!”
After a week with Ramzi Raad in the Bequa’a, the result of which were six articles that inflamed the press, came the attack. They ambushed me in Chtroura. The yaghmouris of course, who else – not them, the cowards, three of their punks. They were aiming for Ramzi Raad who had stayed in Zahle upon the invitation of a friend. It was the surprise passage of a police patrol that stopped them from going all the way. I was moved to the American University Hospital in critical condition.
“Tamima Nassour is excellent but she is not for me and I am not for her” I say to nurse Mary Bou Khalil in my room while convalescing. “Tamima is a good, good, good girl” she replies. But the past is the past. Zeina came with her grandmother to visit me. She asked Mary: “When are you going to take the bandages off daddy?” I go: “She will never take them off unless you kiss her on both cheeks.”
Yesterday, the 26th of December was Mary’s day off. Now is back and I look at her and I smell her perfume which overwhelms the bouquets of flowers I keep getting. She takes the thermometer out of my mouth, I hold her wrist with my left hand – the right one still being in plaster. I say: “I hate flowers in hospitals, and there is only one smell I love in the hospital.” During the long nights of pain, she spoke to me like nurses do and Tamima came up, but for me it was a closed chapter, and so was Audette. “ A man squanders her heart so much!” I concluded.
It didn’t take long for things to develop. I proposed. Again. But this time it was different. It was not to spite Audette or to let Rose settle her accounts with her through me. It was because there was a viable option. And a mother for Zeina to top it all. I was still in the hospital room, I spent my days reading, I received a few friends, and the evenings were for speaking to Mary. I told her to pick any apartment from the new high rise buildings that were mushrooming around town. And I promised to move her mother and two sisters to one that was close to ours after the wedding. And if need be, I would sell a parcel of land in the Bequa’a to cover the cost.
“Tell Miss Tamima that Akram Jourdi will be a good friend to her” I said to Mary. . The visit to the hospital broke the ice and she gave us her blessings!
The first Sunday of April – that’s when we agreed the wedding to be. We were in late March already. The man called Hani Rahi came by asking for Tamima at Mary’s apartment. It was the same day when she told me about Jaber Nassour’s phone call and the names he had called Tamima and Mary even said that he held her responsible. I said I must talk to Tamima that same night and spoke candidly with Mary about her own part in this.
I say to Mary: “Wheareas I may be open minded, but I am a Muslim as well and a lawyer to top it and only wants what’s good for Tamima. Before she had one major problem now she has two: Her past relationship with Ramzi Raad and now her wedding plans from this Rahi guy. If Marriage there is, the only solution is for her to go with him to America after his graduation without anyone’s knowledge. But till then there has to be no further contacts, not even by telephone, between the two of them. These barricades will vanish in the future. They take time to vanish. In the meantime, jumping above them is only possible from one side. And from the other side, those who dare do it are either the crazy ones who risk their lives or those who can defend themselves. And she is incapable of such a defense. Jaber would slaughter her.”
That night brought different news as well. Zannoub, the girl who works at Rose’s house, was pregnant of Jaber Nassour. But upon reflection, I came to the conclusion that there was no other way but to have Rose and Jaber take care of the operation. Or to hide the maid until she delivers which is much more risky and has consequences far more serious than can be handled.

It turned out both choices had consequences far more serious than can be handled.

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