Ghadeer Malek is a Palestinian writer and spoken-word poet. She immigrated to Toronto in 2003 and has been involved in Palestinian solidarity movements and young Muslim women communities in downtown Toronto. Ghadeer is the co-editor of Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance, and she coordinated the Young Feminist Activism program at the Association of Women’s Rights in Development. She is currently completing a Masters degree at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Ghadeer sent us this guest post ahead of her May 6 reading.
Introducing Min Fami
I have always believed that art can be transformative. That it can break what is normal and ordinary, and give us new forms of visual and spoken language that open to us new ways of sensing and feeling. Min Fami literally means “from our mouths”–and what we mean by it is simple: here is a book that is of our own voices. More importantly, as Ghaida Moussa, co-editor of the book, once questioned: what does it mean that a group of Arab women writers feel the need to write a book called Min Fami?
It means that we don’t need to be spoken of or spoken for; that we speak for ourselves, and always have.
In presenting multiple Arab women voices writing in various forms–from academic essays, to poetry, to spoken word, to art–Min Fami tries to urge its readers, whoever they may be, to challenge the image of that silent, passive, Arab woman with no agency, and to realize that in fact, we are embedded in histories of writing and resistance, that we always stood at the forefront of our struggles, and that we exist whole, made up of complex identities interwoven by physical and metaphysical spaces.
For writing to be political, it should be intentional in its purpose to educate, and engage in a process of learning and teaching with the reader: learning by presenting the world with something to dissect, echo and pull apart, and teaching by dialoguing about the conversations the book opens until creating something else becomes necessary. Min Fami is neither a start nor an endpoint, but is hoisted up by books that came before it, and is a jumping off point for those that will come after it. And for books sprouting alongside of it, Min Fami is another set of voices affirming and reaffirming that writing is important.
When Ghaida and I were writing our introductions, Egypt was marking its first-year anniversary since the uprising that toppled Mubarak. Those of you who are writers probably know the introduction is always the last thing you write. The book came together right before and as change was happening in the Middle East and North Africa region. For our friends in the region, it was seeing change happen and be undone, and for us in the Diaspora, home became more distant and we felt more isolated. Theoretically, I believed it was an urgent and important time to write, that a book like Min Fami could open conversations that would bring home closer and help better understand change. But in my words, I felt hesitant.
After all, what is writing when carnage and death are the images that dominate the news coming out of the region? What is writing when the death toll in Syria has risen to over 200,000, and almost four million people have become refugees? What does it mean to write when, despite all the great writers that have come out of Palestine, Palestine will commemorate the 67th year of the Nakba, the day of catastrophe or the lost dreams of a homeland, on May 15?
I called my introduction to Min Fami “Hesitations” because I wanted to be honest: the questions the book poses were not ones I had answers to, but are ones I am constantly struggling with. Receiving so many submissions in response to the call we put out made me realize that there are others struggling with the same. Every story we received was not the same, nor different. Each piece makes a sound unique to its author, and yet the strength that leaks out of their pens is one and the same.
I’m still unsure as to what makes something “Arab” in the same way that I am not sure what makes writing “women’s writing.” Is “Arab” a language, a history, a future we share or a border through which we exclude others? Is women’s writing about being women or writing women’s stories?
Perhaps hesitations are what make writing political; perhaps to write without hesitation is to be idle, to write without reassessment, questioning, or struggle. There is an honesty that gives life to writing, a plain truth that comes from a personal and shared understanding–words are born out of love, suffering, resistance, grief, reconciliation, understanding, and self-discovery. Without action, though, words are empty and cannot live outside of the pages on which they have been written.
It is struggle and acts of resistance that have allowed the pieces in the book to emerge from the same lands, to find the same histories and a common language. It is an honesty in our words that makes our voices speak through, despite, and beyond hesitations.
As readers, unless you find a connection to these pieces, unless they tap into a hidden path inside you that leads you to them, then they are just words, simply calligraphy bound together into one bundle of paper.
Ghadeer Malek visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, May 6, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Zainab Amadahy, Mark Silverberg and Jane Woods. The event begins with a special guest talk, “Getting Started in Book Reviewing,” by Emily M. Keeler of the National Post.