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52 Days Away!

map of Gouna and Hurghada

A map I picked up 4 years ago in Egypt

The obsession with Trump in the media and commentariat such as Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald and David Frum is reaching epic proportions.

This does not include the thousands of liberal/progressive (this is the mealy-mouthed version of Liberalism that is too ashamed to say its own name) bloggers who rant daily on the Internet on the malediction that is Trump.

Without seeming to realize it, the entire country has gradually drifted into terminal lunacy, like a frog sitting in a saucepan of cold water on a lit stovetop burner. As the water heats up, its body compensates for the gradual rise in temperature, and the frog doesn’t jump out. Eventually, Pepe is boiled alive.

nyc antifaThe Thinking Man or Woman is the anti-Pepe that jumps out.

He does not waste words or time bemoaning Trumposis, or embracing the doomed antifa cause.

Nor does he attempt to make sense out of an insane system that is guided by a loathsome agenda.

He recognizes a brown shirt when he sees it.

He pities the economically naive and politcally gullible segment of the Trumpian base that is “conservative” about everything except saving the planet.

But he is not a fool.

He knows voting is for suckers, that the game has always been rigged.

Instead, he stands apart — noble, and tall, with a firm and manly jaw line — from the general madness of peasants, hands unsullied by voting levers that even industrial-strength sani wipes would fail to decontaminate.

From his aristocratic perch, The Thinking Man evaluates the situation objectively.

If, on an overall basis, the policies of a particular country seem unsuitable, he will leave for more temperate pastures. This particular stance is of course only possible with multiple passports, and a bank account that provides an escape hatch from doctrinal suffocation or provincial entrapment.

厂-pepe-the-frog-is-getting-boiled-i-guess-with-4599930

How’s that “Fuck your feelings” thingie workin’ out for ya, Pepe

The Thinking Man does not attach himself too closely to any one country; an exit strategy must alway be in place.

After all, all countries, like most people, have more or less sordid histories to one degree or another.

Moreover, The Thinking Man is an agnostic, in politics, business or especially in spiritus. When it comes to religion, he will, at best, cautiously murmur something about agápē, for all religions, too, have lurid pasts.  All saints have skeletons in their closets, and many sinners, as the song goes, were once saints.

If you are young and idealistic, you might tell yourself: no, that is so wrong.

You might instead cry out: I will stay in America! I will change the system! I will make the world a better place!

This is of course a complete waste of time. My generation attempted to change the system once. There were millions of us who wanted to do so. Nothing changed. What chance do you have, junior?

Everyone knows the world is set up is to protect the connected and the well-heeled.

Everyone knows the primacy of sex, money, and power.

If you are young and smart, you will have ample opportunities to enjoy these illusory pleasures.

For instance, there has never been a better time to become rich through technology. Solar, for example, is now huge.

With the knowledge that comes with a deep mastery of cutting edge technical skills, be it advanced solar panel research, or designing driverless car systems, or whatever opportunities one chooses to target, it’s possible to achieve relative financial independence at a young age. But then what? Give it all away? Move to New Zealand? Sue Internet ‘zines? Become a serial entrepeneur? Trade out for another, better wife or husband? Buy a bigger brownstone in Brooklyn?

If, on the other hand, you come from money, you will seem to have all the advantages. This is another illusion, of course, for you will most likely sink into a drug-addled, alcoholic morass, or engage in a parasitic lifestyle that is otherwise depraved and pathetic. This almost always happens.

The Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard are bursting at the seams with vile bodies who, er, embody Balzac’s dictum:

Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente
est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait.

Leaving the United States in the age of Trumposis is the Thinking Man’s only reasonable option.  Better keep thy counsel and stay far away from the obsessions, the lies, the constant agita, the fruitless investigations, the wild accusations, recriminations, molestations, and drama queen bullshit.

Obviously the Republican party is out to screw the poor, the old, and the defenseless.

Obviously a significant percentage of white Americans are racist anti-Semites.

Obviously the United States is a war mongering nation that cannot get over its love affair with guns.

Obviously there is no respect for personal privacy in the United States, unless (1) you have the money, time and inclination to occlude your digital and public footprint in a variety of tedious ways that will complicate your existence exponentially, and (2), had the foresight and perspecuity, as I did, to deregister your vote from your state’s election database (in some states, you will have had to have refrain from voting for at least two successive presidential cycles in order to foil Trump’s operatives).

Now what about being a first generation Arab immigrant in America in the age of Tromposis?

Some say, the hate is normal. Each generation of immigrants dumps on the next one. Soon, Arab-Americans will start to vilify some other Yahya-come-latelies.

Except that Arab Americans are not new to this country.  They didn’t just get off the boat yesterday. In fact, they have been around since the 19th century.

One hundred years ago, downtown Manhattan was a thriving Syrian enclave.  Right where they banned the building of a mosque after 9-11.

But still the human garbage that appears on the Australian Rupert Murdoch’s various hate mongering media outlets talk about Arab Americans as if they are not part of the fabric of the United States.

So, if you are an Arab-American, as I am, the choice of becoming an expat is a no brainer.

The drumbeat of some sort of heinous “Moslem registration” system is getting louder, and various travel bans and increasingly intrusive facial scanning for US citizens exiting Gulag America at domestic airports will soon become a reality.

“Denationalization” is being peddled in the White House by grotesque hate scumbags, such as Frank Gaffney, Pam Geller, and the rest of the despicable crew that trades in Islamophobia for a living.

So… you could leave…. or… remain costive in America, accept second-class citizenship, and forever look over your shoulder, every time you leave your house, for fear of some alt-right thug lurking in the bushes.

Is this a life?

I do not define my existence through any religion, nor do I practice one. But I need to know that I have that right, should I choose to do so. I need to know I will not be discriminated against when I travel, or apply for a job, or am up for promotion, or wish to buy a house, or belong to some club.

This is no longer possible in America for many; not just Arab-Americans.

I will spare you the soap box rationale, and cut right to the point.

Following the election of Donald Trump, I decided I’d finally had enough.

I’d had it with putting up with my ethnicity being endlessly reviled in the media and slurred with impunity by local and national right-wing politicians; or with being made to feel by neighbors that I somehow do not belong here — even though I have owned the house I live in longer than most of them. I’d had it up to here with being made to feel, in ways large and small, somehow less than, a ticking menace to society, a suspicious Other.

If America chooses to betray its own alleged principles, so be it.

Perhaps the noble experiment turned out to be the biggest illusion of them all.

I no longer care.

After all, the Thinking Man never forgets that Patriotism is nothing if not a provisional game, played by knaves and fools.

Look at the map up top. That is where I shall be chillin’, exactly two months from now.

There, in my troubled country of origin, I shall be far away from the Trumpian confederacy of nunces that has overtaken America. There I can finally be in touch, again, with my inner Epicurean.

hurghada

Tee patch, from better days

I plan to kick back in Gouna, where the beauty in the surrounding desert can take your breath away, maybe sip a cool glass of Stella beer once in a while, perhaps after a pleasant day spent writing fiction or movie reviews. I shall snorkel in crystal clear water over pristine reef. I may join the Rotary Club and engage in charity work with Bedouin children. Most of all, I look forward to visiting with friends from time to time, friends who would never think of labeling Islam, or any other religion for that matter, in deeply insulting ways.

America?

It shan’t be missed; and though I have lived here for half a century, I’ve made no plans to return.

 

Late breaking news: This is of course a rather disturbing, if not ominous development. I’ll be hanging out in Nice first, come early September, before flying to Hurghada, then taking a private car to Gouna. If Egypt is too unstable, my UK/EU passport allows me to reside in, say, France, should I choose to do so — at least while Brexit negotiations drag on.

 

The Trail of Tears

the trail of tears

The Original Trail of Tears

The dust is settling after the horrific shootings in DC and elsewhere this week. The right are seizing on this attack as the handmaiden of Liberalism.

For example, right-wing, pro-gun racist Congressman Steve King has blamed the attempted murder of House Majority Whip Scalese on none other than, get this… former President Obama.

In other venal lunacies, Chaldeans are being rounded up by ICE in Detroit and sent back to Iraq where their prospects of surviving a week without being killed or raped will be on the dim side.

Also, the Orango chumpster’s beloved Muslim travel ban, though again found by courts to be illegal, is tacitly ramping up, with various passengers, some of them born-in-the-USA teens, other naturalized American citizens, all with apparently valid American passports, are being denied entrance back in this country.

And in the spirit of harmony and peaceful coexistence, various marches and events are being held around the US to spew even more anti-Arab venom, this a speciality of a hate merchant impressario with a dubious Lebanese War backstory, who’s one of the leading profiteers of Islamophobia in the US, and who never tires of thinking of new stunts to inflame right wing zealots and insult peaceful Arab-Americans who are trying ignore the taunting and humiliations and survive in these United States.

Meanhile, some Americans pols are starting to think that perhaps they ought legislate while packing weaponry. Would it be a terribly inappropriate pun to call that a less than capital idea?

This is all starting to remind me of the John Wayne and Richard Widmark Westerns I used to watch on open air Cinema Night at the tennis stadium in the Gezira Club in Zamalek, only the blood being spilled ain’t catsup. America is falling back on its movie legacy of the Old West mythology that was conjured up over a century ago in Hollywood by Tom Mix and Nicholas Selig. Talk about being disassociated from reality, which for many here is still distilled through a prism of the O. K. Corral.

In my current (but soon to be former, thank God) neck of the woods, a few white enraged geezers are keeping their distance after I was compelled to call the police a few months ago.

This was after prolonged menacing behavior toward my wife and I outside our house, which we have lived in far longer than any of the small group of racists who moved to our street about 10 years ago.

I will not bore you with the details, but if you wonder why it is that I am leaving America, after soaking up Manhattan to the gills for decades, there is certainly that to consider, that, and many other things besides.

There are only 80 days left before exiting stage left to safer environs. It seems like just a few days ago that I took a pic (see below) of my watch, which I just had refurbished in preparation for scuba diving in the Red Sea; but in reality, almost 3 weeks have passed.  

 

Omega 1

For the last few days, I realized my blood pressure was going up, and I was, alas, back to food bingeing. I suppose the looming inevitability of it all was sinking in. The days ebb and flow; often it rains, for these are the sub tropics, and it is summer; I almost never leave my house anymore. I do not relish turning into a quasi hikikomori, but if the choice is between being a temporary shut-in or risk being shot, I will err on the side of caution.

As I read today’s news, or rather, skim the headlines (I find I am becoming less interested in particulars now, and surf the Internet just to get the general drift of things: I rarely if ever watch any news shows on cable anymore), passing thoughts occur to me: in particular, what if for some absurd reason I’m not “allowed” (despite being a citizen who’s paid a fortune in taxes and insurance premiums!) back in the country?

That would bother me, but not intensely so, only philosophically — as in, (insert your favorite anti Yankee imperial dog Guardian comments section rant here) — and even then, mildly so, as I do have options, and in fact intend to return only sporadically until things dramatically change.

My UK passport lets me live in France as an EU national (till March 2019), and my Egyptian ID card allows me to stay in Gouna as long as I please, without having to pay the Egyptian government for the privilege of residing there permanently, if I choose to do so.

gouna lagoon

Gouna is an upscale resort town: orderly, safe, pleasant. I look forward to moving there in mid September.

 

I do not want the Moslem Brotherhood to take over, again, ever, in Egypt; so we tolerate certain things, knowing there is room always for gradual improvement.

In the end, if you are 60+, you really do have to start making decisions about how you wish to spend the last leg of your life. Since my corporate career days are long over, I have enormous freedom in that regard.

For me, it becomes a matter of physical and mental health: I am about 90 per cent back from a rare thyroid disease that almost killed me in 2010. I can’t think of a nicer place to spend the next year than in my country.

gouna sea

 

Beyond looking forward to a sort of indolent life of bohemian luxury in Gouna, amidst old friends and new acquaintances. Some of these friends will have known me since I was a kid growing up in Cairo, and I will feel a distinct satisfaction in returning to my country for an extended period this time round.

Being an Egyptian in Egypt is deeply satisfying: for starters, it’s not a country whose existence was predicated on a dolorous trail of tears.

Moreover, we’ve been around for a while; a couple of hundred years is the blink of an eye in the context of Egyptian time.

There’s a virtually unequalled, deep, and fascinatingly layered history here that is alive all around you in Egypt — if you know where to look, and learn how to properly see.

But I am — after decades of living in Manhattan, and then a decade-and-a-half in Fla– Americanized through and through; though my chameleon-like persona will most likely shed the most egregious of surface characteristics sooner than you can say Amreekani.

 

leaving amerida

Entrance to my refuge from it all in Fla

 

Perhaps like many protean multi-cultural Americans, with dual or triple hyphenated identities to navigate, who emigrated to the United States thinking it waS Paradise, I am no longer as angry at how things have turned out: disappointed, perhaps, but not angry, or surprised.

Not anymore.

 

Lalami, or your life

unneccessary woman

How do you replace a country?

By creating the fiction of a new one from the sinews of the one you lost.

Indeed, immigrants to the United States have always created a rich fictional narrative that indelibly defined their place in the sun.

So where is the great Arab American writer novelist?

Fein, oh fein?

As elucidated by Dr. Ramsy Battoum, the famous Syrio-Greek literary critic, who recently sat down for a wide ranging interview with the Paris Review:

Even if one takes into account the inevitable and ubiquitous Laila Lalami, or the sporadic Rabih Alammedine, Arab American fiction has proven to be stunted, moribund, obscure and second-rate. Compared, for example, to the extraordinary cadre of Jewish novelists who redefined American literature throughout much of the 20th century, Arab American novels have, alas, proven to be nothing more, in effect, than thinnish gruel indeed.”

Dr. Battoum, who is widely reviled in certain circles as a self-hating Moslem, continues with his interlocutor:

Just look at the work. Arab America fiction lacks originality or even basic creative vitality, despite having as monumental a subject matter as 9-11 there for the writing, which the late Norman Mailer once said would take writers at least 10 years to absorb. Well, its been 16 years, and still nothing. The Dates of Wrath is not a very good book; in fact, it is a very bad one. Arab-American novelist Raouf el Kharouf’s metaphorical idea for imagining Cairo’s Bourg mistakenly taken down by F-35s during a joint US-Egyptian training maneuver is in outrageous poor taste. The sad truth is that Arab-American literature has remained unsure of its place in the American literary firmament. Its fictional palette is derivative, its stock characters defined not by the imagination of true writers, but by hacks who seek to contextualize external political events, lament the past, or gratingly prove through forced novelistic historical marches that Arabs were part of the American experience since the days of Spanish conquistadors.”

In this inflammatory interview, which elicited howls of protest from Salman Rushdie, Woody Allen, the Egyptian Jon Stewart, Bassem Youssef, and the artist known as Ganzeer, Dr. Battoum continue to harp on this theme, by making the following questionable if not libelous assertions:

“This is primarily a victim literature, unable or incapable of being truly American. For example, it’s use of American vernacular invariably feels… acquired. I’ll just leave it at that. This is not the situation with Arab-American literary or cultural criticism — Edward Said immediately jumps to mind — despite the fact that he borrowed many of his best ideas from my work.”

Holding up the coming issue of Mizna on Islamophobia, the flagship magazine for Arab-American literature, Dr. Battoumi singled out a beautiful poem called Tell Me What You See, reproduced here in its entirety.

Trans. to exquisite Arabic by Google

It’s Zareef.

Or even better, it’s Falafel Zareef.

He’s pushing his shiny cart on a busy street corner.

He’s cries out: “Felafels, felafels here!

Strangers rush by on the sidewalk.

Some of them stop by the cart.

They want a quick felafel to go.

With extra hummus.

They hand over their baladi dollars.

Thanks, they say.

But then the unimaginable happens.

After the carnage is over, the strangers turns around and stare at Zareef.

He doesn’t blend in so much any more.

He’s growing a beard, a big thick black one.

Or is he?

In the following rant, Dr. Battoum dismembers Tell Me What You See rather harshly:

As someone whose interest in literature has driven me to earn advanced degrees in Classical Philology at Harvard, the Sorbonne, and Oxford Universtiy, I summarily reject this coy poem as complete garbage. Yes, I’m cognizant of the reputation of this publication’s feminist cadre of junior editors for completely mangling submissions. Yet, shame on Mizna for accepting this sort of tripe for publication. It’s neither prose nor poetry. It is just someone sitting in a room at his computer typing. It is just something from Minnesota, like Al Franken without the laughs or the Hazelden clinic.  I have had enough of rubbish poesy from the likes of Mizna, and find that I have to look elsewhere to hear the music of the real poets of the desert; for example, there is a modern-day Bedu writer, totally uncompromised, from Trans Jordan, whose work has not yet made it to the US in translation, due to temporary difficulties with the Israelis.  His work is engaging, dynamic and not weighted down by the usual cloying aromas of couscous and Om Ali.”

Dr. Battoumi concludes his unpleasant broadsides with the following:

The wadi of Trans Jordan fiction may not be wide or deep, but nevertheless it is literature that is defined by a Hawitat writer who has some real skin in the game. He is not the product of one of those innumerable, elitist, soporific MFA programs, so popular in the US, but which genuine writers such as Carver and Cheever repeatedly dismissed in private as places more suitable for getting laid or drunk and collecting a paycheck than producing literature. Wadi Rum is this writer’s Breadloaf, and goat milk his Fullbright scholarship.”

We look forward to catching up Dr. Ramsy Battoum in his next outing, which we trust shall not be anytime soon.