Thursday, June 21, 2007

Slapping hands


Dining with a group of Jordanian and American friends several nights ago, I unleashed a force whose magnitude, in all my thinking, can only be compared to what happened when they crossed the streams in Ghost Busters. The spur of this tidal wave seemed pretty innocuous. I simply noted that in my three-ish weeks in Jordan, we hadn't really discussed politics yet. Before I had closed my mouth, the juice was loose. What followed, a rousing, fist-pounding-on-table discussion of Palestinian statehood, Iranian influence, and American conspiracies, among other things, ended in agreement on not much more than the belief that the situation in the Middle East is as complicated as ever.

Recent developments in the region are overwhelming, among them: Mahmoud Abbas channeling Ronald Reagan in discussing what he called a Hamas military coup in Gaza and what the U.S. seems to hope will be a Fatah political coup in the West Bank; the challenge of Fath al Islam in Lebanon; new accusations of Syrian meddling in Lebanese politics; the continued strangle-hold on political freedom in Egypt; rumors of Turkish military incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan; not to mention the greater issues of Iraq, it seems few would disagree with our contention regarding the complexity and magnitude of current events.

If anything seems to be evident from our work so far on this blog, it is the tension between these issues of geopolitical strife and the content of everyday life, at once more "mundane" and "humane," to quote Ilan Pappe, than the larger systems of ideology, authority, and force at work in the region. I've especially appreciated being privy to sharp humor.

I struck up a conversation with a cab driver the other day on my way home. His people were from Ramla (different than Ramallah), where in 1948 tens of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly dispossessed by Israeli forces under the leadership of a young officer named Yitzhak Rabin. I asked my cab driver what he thought about the current Civil War between Hamas and Fatah. "Ma feesh hal," he lamented. There is no solution.

As we sat in traffic, a line of cars zoomed past in the other direction, young people hanging out of the windows and dancing, horns blaring. Jordan University holds separate graduation ceremonies for each of its faculties, so these episodes of rhythmic honking and clapping had been pretty commonplace over the previous week or so.

The cab driver, laughing, looked over to another idling driver and shouted, "Look! Palestine must be free! We can return!" I couldn't help but laugh. He punctuated the moment with the half hand-shake, half hand-slap preferred by joke tellers all over the Arab world.

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