Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog
Archive
Blog

The rainbow flag is raised during the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila’s concert in Cairo on September 22nd 2017 (Credit: Egyptian Streets)

A brief glimpse on the etymology of the word homosexual in the Arabic language is reflective not only of the widely held belief and internalized homophobia in contemporary Egypt, but also of the nature of the laws persecuting queer bodies and viewing them as a threat to Egyptian society’s morality[1]. Multiple variations exist: Luti is derived from Quranic verses, referring to the practices of male sodomy the people of Lot engaged in that resulted in their destruction in the sinful city of Sodom; the more derogatory Shaz or ilq literally translates to deviant, pervert,  or faggot — mind you, it’s still the most common linguistic utterance used in the Egyptian dialect; the recently coined Mithli, meaning same, is the closest to the English word homosexual or same-sex lover.

Much like feminism — only recently acknowledged in the Arabic language as nasaweya — homosexuality is seen as un-African/Arab or Egyptian. It’s vilified as an imported Western product that tries to taint the Islamic Arab cultural values and lure its youth into debauchery and immorality to further destabilize the region. Homosexuality is also condemned as a pathology that needs psycho-medical treatment or as a major sin. Its sinful nature is interpreted in Quranic verses and Hadiths of the prophet that state how homosexual acts invoke God’s curse on earth and in the afterlife [2]. Alternative interpretations of Queer Muslims reconciling both their religious beliefs and sexual orientations have been made, but they are not recognized as valid by religious institutions or predominantly conservative societies in the East. While there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality, there are plenty of laws that were purportedly put in place to combat prostitution but which actually persecute LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. The charges issued under these laws vary from inciting debauchery to engaging in immoral acts, to inducing sexual deviance[3]; the sentences fall between 1 and 12 years of imprisonment.

Homophobia and violence directed against bodies that dare challenge the heteronormative patriarchal norm are nothing new. So why write about this now? In recent days a wave of allied support and LGBTQ+ pride as well as a counter-hate sentiment in Cairo have taken social media by storm. The events unfolded as follows: the biggest Mashrou’ Leila concert that took place in Cairo this past September saw a bittersweet display of the pride flag. The raising of the flag was met with surprising acceptance and even support by concert-goers and social media posts. Ultimately, however, the government and Egyptian society’s hate, animated by a fear for love and freedom, calls for the punishment of LGBTQ+ bodies and their allies.

Read more

Gotta get your partyin’ in somehow (Credit: Sabrina Slipchenko, BVG)

“Life’s not all about dancing, kid” I say with a pointed finger. I’m in the mirror giving myself a pep talk. There are readings to do, papers to write, yadda yadda- but I just wanna boogie. And why not, anyway? I didn’t come to Berlin to spend my Saturday nights in bed with Christian Joppke’s treatise on liberal democracy. The angels of my better nature are all a buncha nerds.

But there’s something exhausting underneath this necessity. There’s a scale underneath, weighing “cool” experiences against “not cool” experiences. If I don’t balance book learning with wildness, somehow I feel like a failure. Maybe I don’t have to take the night out, just because it exists. Maybe I don’t have to feel like life is moving too fast, without me. Maybe well-being means something other than staying up ‘till 2 am breaking a sweat. I just don’t want to be 80 years old, on my rocking chair, thinking of all the readings I’ve done. Or maybe it’ll be less lonely that way, later.

Two people wading through Irma’s flooding (Credit: USA Today)

Various Caribbean island states and the southern coast of the United States were devastated this summer by a sequence of catastrophic hurricanes. Killing roughly 241 people, hurricanes Irma, Maria, Harvey, and Jose wreaked havoc on the lives of thousands, literally sweeping away livelihoods and costing 100s of billions of US dollars in damages. Mainstream media outlets in the US have covered these disasters extensively with CNN reporting on the tragedies of fathers killed by flying tree limbs and dolphins found on front lawns. In reading these sorts of stories, I found myself troubled, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with their subtle ideological slant. Yes, mothers and fathers have been killed by these hurricanes; this is most certainly tragic. But in the narrative media tragedies being displayed to the public, I sensed a veiling of the further-reaching travesty of these hurricanes: that these events are the ominous manifestations of a changing climate.

Read more

“The Significance of Looking Upwards,” a drawing by Hannah Scharmer (Credit: Hannah Scharmer)

Learning. How does one learn? For whom is one learning? These questions have followed me as long as I can remember. Throughout my academic experience, my answers varied from “I am learning for the satisfaction of a good grade” to “I am done with learning.” Now, I find myself back in an academic environment (after a year of working) and suddenly, expectedly, these questions are more relevant than ever.

Now in the fourth week of the semester, I am beginning to — through dialogue and self-reflection — discover new answers to these age-old questions. I decided to explore my thoughts on this subject through a specific format inspired by the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules by Sister Corita Kent [*1]. The original set of rules were introduced to me during the Language and Thinking course, and I decided to explore them further due to individual interest in both the format of the piece and the topic itself — how to think and learn.   

∙∙∙

RULE ONE: Work harder (whenever you can)

RULE TWO: When you can’t work (harder), use your energy wisely. This means to not self-destruct, but to self-construct.

RULE THREE: Force yourself to produce. Anything. Always.

RULE FOUR: Never throw away your art.  

RULE FIVE: Before critiquing blindly, engulf yourself in the concept. Before critiquing anyone else, look at yourself. Before critiquing yourself, critique your critique.

RULE SIX: Contradictions = Movement

RULE SEVEN: First ask yourself “have I done enough?” Then ask yourself, “am I being honest?”

RULE EIGHT: The beginning of a class is for you to check, not showcase, your understanding of the matter.

RULE NINE: Allow yourself to admit that you don’t know.

RULE TEN: Consider your exploration of the world (aka a bus ride, a conversation, and so on) at least as important as a lecture. Treat it accordingly.

During the process of creating this piece, the significance of thinking about thinking became clear to me. This is the whole point: to act with intention, whether this be the act of being in a classroom or in the act of thinking. It seems to me a waste to do anything but this. The rules presented in this piece both instruct a certain mode of specific behaviours and, through their effect, ask the reader to question, critique, reflect, and (most importantly) think.

*I would love to hear/discuss your ideas on learning and being a student, and thinking, and being in general.

Notes:

  1. Kent, Corita, and Jan Steward. Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. Allworth, 2008.

 

Read more

Petite France, a historic district in Strasbourg and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île. (Credit: getyourguide.com)

On the 28th August 2017, I crossed from Germany into France — from the little town of Kehl into the city of Strasbourg where I will remain for the upcoming academic year as part of the Erasmus exchange program with BCB. As I had never visited France, I was more than excited for my Erasmus Exchange, and curious about the similarities and differences I would find between these two nation-states at the heart of the European Union. But, despite the attention I afforded the view from the bus window, I’m still not sure exactly when I crossed the border. There were no bells or whistles, no fanfare, no berets or baguettes in sight. The landscape remained unchanged and my fellow passengers continued to doze, or stare at their mobiles, uninterrupted. It was only when we disembarked that I noticed how road-signs and the displays in shop windows were no longer in German, but French. Listening in on the conversations of those who buzzed around the terminal, I quickly recognised its distinctive melody, a smooth and slippery river of sound falling unintelligibly upon my dumb ears.

Almost a month later and I can’t help but think the true wonder isn’t how similar these neighbouring countries seemed to me initially, but how language and culture are preserved despite their geographic proximity, and how deeply the notion of the border runs within the human psyche.

Read more

Modified Pride graphic. (Credit: trinityeverett.org)

“I used to beat on queers.” My dad’s words were pulled from his throat like a prime bass on a fishing line. We watched it, muted, as it fought for air at our feet.

My girlfriend’s hands were clammy with nervousness and July. My family’s hands were blissfully unaware, a few yards away, dancing breezily on the patio, lazily choking the heads of beer bottles, drunk with barbeque. My dad’s hands were across from us, folded calmly, faintly rainbow with past blood.

He taught me how to tie my shoes, how to attach “ma’am: and “sir” to the ends of my sentences. Before I grew front teeth, he taught me not to stick my hands on the stove. I did anyway, I got burned, I should have listened, he “told me so.” I developed a subtle but unwavering faith in him; after all, he had lived forever.

Somewhere, in the pits of my eager subconscious, this faith grew muscles. I learned to trust authority figures like I learned to trust my dad. They told me so, and so I listened, and so I avoided being burned. Teachers, government officials, policy makers, and religious leaders were to be trusted. It was for my own good. I only notice this faith now that it is gone.

I am sure I owe it to that Fourth of July. I was ten years old, stumbling out of the closet with no moral compass of my own. When I approached the light my eyes were dazzled; blinded by a naive heart, I paraded Justine around to my family like the first light bulb. Eureka!

They all thought we would be better off as friends. In a time warp, before my dad grew teeth, he might have assumed that we would be better off as stains on his knuckles. With barbecue sauce still on our shirts, he sat us down and confessed how disgustingly unnatural we were. It was for my own good.

He still bought me a birthday present that year. The “I love you’s” still flowed, unchanged. However, the waters flowed on too, and I have not stepped in the same river since. On that day, a dangerously rebellious question began to sprout on my psyche: “but…why?” Why was person-plus-person love so offensive? Why was everyone offended but me? Who was wrong? Nothing felt wrong. Nothing felt wrong, except him feeling like we were wrong. What else was he wrong about? His opinions on same-gender relationships clashed violently with mine; my sudden doubts about his morality knocked me out cold. The newfound skepticism tasted like fresh blood.

If I continued to let my dad’s lessons mold me, unfiltered by own reasoning, I would be left with an inherited and impersonal rulebook for living. The conflict on Independence Day became a catalyst for my own independence, an acquaintance with truth. I was to counteract, to question, all that I accepted blindly from authority figures. It was for my own good.

 

Read more

The Speakers and Moderator of Panel VII (credit: Tamar Maare)

Organized by the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam in co-operation with numerous esteemed institutions including our very own Bard College Berlin, the three-day conference titled The Impossible Order: Europe, Power, and the Search for a New Migration Regime brought together researchers, artists, historians, academics activists, journalists and students from all over the globe to reflect, act and help resolve current issues facing Europe’s outdated migration structures and discourses. Divided into 7 discussion panels, performances, and an art exhibition, the conference aimed to tackle highly politicized and controversial questions surrounding how Europe’s migration regime is reacting to recent demographic changes and migration movements. The conference challenges the regulation of migration and further complicates the notions of ‘integration’ and diversity by looking at the history behind global migration movements.

Chaired by Dr. Kathrin Kollmeier (ZZF Potsdam), Panel VII on Crafting New Narratives considered how the forms in which migration narratives are verbally (re)produced not only influence the way academics conduct historical research but also how humans, as active cultural agents, conceive of and perpetuate hierarchical social structures and categories of knowledge. The speakers examined the interwoven nature of discourse, politics and identity by tracing discursive labels throughout history and analyzing the views of the employees in the Ausländerbehörden (Immigration Offices), ultimately putting forward a redefinition of ideas of national belongingness, collective identity and inclusion.

Read more

Charlottesville Anti-Racist Counter-Protesters Face White Supremacists from the “Unite the Right” Rally

I had thought that the scariest sight that weekend would be the images of the “Unite the Right” rally. Men can be scary enough on their own. Men with violent ideologies are simply terrifying. The white supremacist rally was toxically masculine, looked utterly fascist and sounded like a historical period that should never be repeated. The Nazi and KKK symbology, the light from their absurd Tiki torches, the Confederate flags, the rampant anti-Semitism, the collared shirts that made them look almost respectable, the chants of “Blood and Soil”, the Swastikas. Even following it online was too much. The white supremacist rally on August 12 felt too evil to be real, yet it wasn’t quite surprising or something out of the blue.

But then that car ran into the protesters, and it was worse than we could ever imagine. 19 people were injured and one was killed in a deliberate attack by a fascist extremist.

“Just stay safe please,” I irrationally felt compelled to text someone I care about simply because 1) he happened to be – although a hundred miles away from the action — in the same state at the time of the chaos, and 2) because he had gotten his life threatened by white racists in Virginia years ago in Obama’s supposedly post-racial America.

Post-Trump, though, it seems that even white people can be victims of white supremacy. Heather Heyer, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, died that day while fighting fascists. The last post on her Facebook wall has turned her into a martyr for anti-fascism: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”     

Read more