Introducing the first edition of The Derivative (المشتق)
We are launching the first edition of The Derivative (المشتق) which, weather permitting, will be a bi-annual online publication that emerges out of a necessity to think – and hopefully— feel together. We reached out to three editors, proposing to each of them a 3-letter word, which we are thinking of as compact keys with the ability to unfurl the complexities that surround us. We hope that the intersections of these unfurlings map out a mode to address a series of profound and urgent riddles. For instance, what does it mean to hear a 400-year old echo through the mouth of a 7-year old child? What are the contours of our subjectivities when we organize into collective formations and become indissociable from one another, and what new forms of law and surveillance do we become subject to? How do we think of our bodies when care for our health becomes inseparable from protecting the more vulnerable among us?
1- Arrest 1…….. Face 100
“ما تخلوهن يستفردوا فينا!” “don’t let them individuate us!” this is how protesters warn one another not to drag behind, to stay close together, to avoid being yanked away from the huddle by cops, by army, by regime thugs.
It’s November 16th 2019, Samer is in a mass of people on the Fouad Chehab bridge, also known as the ring. As has become customary, the thoroughfare is blocked by protesters, collectively chanting their refusal to vacate the streets until their demands for a dignified life, free from decades of systemic corruption and extraction, are met. As has also become common practice, police and army intelligence in civilian clothing are lurking about, trying to disrupt the movement.
Sensing that something is not right, Samer and his friend Ali decide to separate from the crowd and make their way home. As they walk a few meters down the street towards the Gemmayze district, they are accosted by army intelligence in civilian clothing and hurriedly shoved out of the line of sight of their comrades gathered on the ring. Soon after they are intercepted, Ali’s back is broken by a run-up kick to the spine while Samer’s face is slammed to the asphalt. This is the beginning of a two-day ordeal where the pair are blindfolded, kidnapped, repeatedly beaten, insulted and threatened with guns. Samer and Ali – but also many others—learn a hard lesson about the real meaning of “strength in numbers.” Indeed, the movement quickly realizes that so long as it remains an indistinguishable mass, it is strong, and when protesters part ways, one by one, or two by two, they become vulnerable.
Regime lapdogs target those whom they are only capable of understanding as leaders: those who take turns echoing chants in the center of the clusters of crowds. Since these individuals are singled out for the power of their collective utterances, protesters amplify the collective voice at every arrest, kidnapping, summoning, questioning. Upon release, the individuals rejoin the crowd, and recount hearing the collective voice through the walls of the police station or the courthouse. They describe how comforting it was for them, and how destabilizing for the authorities, to hear chants that remind that s/he who has been amputated from the huddle belongs to a much larger body: “Take one of us, face a hundred” echoes one chant. “We’re not scared, not at all, go ahead and arrest us all”.
Then we follow other struggles from far and close, struggles that light up our hearts right when we think they might be extinguishing. There are much older struggles, from much deeper, much darker histories of unspeakable subjugation. Not only do they give us hope and courage, but they also make us look at ourselves, at our own shortcomings and blind-spots. We check in with friends across the ocean, and learn valuable lessons from them. Solidarity is not just a word, we have work to do. We have black lives that matter here as well, but also Palestinian lives, Syrian and Iraqi lives.
It’s June 4th 2020, demonstrators march in Brooklyn to protest the death of Jamel Floyd, a 35-year-old black man who died asphyxiated, after guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center pepper-sprayed him in his cell. Seven-year-old Wynta-Amor stands in front of the detention center, her powerful voice exuding from her tiny frame, urging protestors to “Say His Name!” in call-and-response fashion. Inside, detainees begin to knock on their cell bars. “Do you hear all those people knocking?” Wynta-Amor asks, “they want to be free!”
“Say His Name” is a call that refuses to let the countless black persons killed by police die as faceless statistics. But how to reconcile the necessity for singularity — to name every single one of those killed by police brutality, to re-humanize them after they were executed like animals, to keep count of their numbers obsessively— with the fact that every one of these deaths is a life extracted from family and community, a life extinguished by systemic racism, decimated by a centuries-old machine for subjugating black life.
A former Black Panther who was recently released after spending nearly 50 years in prison is deeply moved by Wynta-Amor’s video. “This is 400 years of pain being channeled through this little child” he says.
3- What can we say that is to be said? شو بدنا نحكي لنحكي؟
Talking to the service driver is the fastest way to get your newsfeed. It is certainly faster than getting your news online, even with the fastest internet connection in this city. These days, any human interaction will also do the trick. A walk from my coffee stand to my barber up the block, for example, provides me with the day’s headlines: the price of the dollar, the number of new COVID-19 cases, the items missing from the government’s subsidies list, the maddening frequency of power cuts, and the impossible rise of prices.
The spectrum of violence deployed by the regime is vast as all hell. From humdrum to gory, it drains out your valuable time through traffic or red tape, and it commits mass murder. It fails to provide drinkable water, and it drowns out entire ecosystems to enact yet more land grabs. It holds you in polluted cities too dense for you to breathe, and it defaces ancient mountain chains to extract concrete. It drives you to suicide or cancer, and it shoots you dead on the street for daring to ask for a better life.
But how to speak to this all-encompassing onslaught on human and non-human dignity? How do we address its consequences beyond a compulsive monitoring of the situation, beyond the service driver’s enumeration of painful truths that no longer resonate? How do we account for such a scale beyond resorting to facts and figures? And how do we do so from the specificity of our context, laterally across to other sister struggles elsewhere?
The Derivative (المشتق) experiments with modes of address that grapple with the above questions. With Edwin Nasr, Rayya Badran and Hisham Awad as editors of the first issue, we begin the process with a series of shared readings and collective discussions about the notions of فرد, of صدى, of رقم (individual, reverberation, number). Each editor then approaches five contributors for texts of vastly distinct registers. They also approach an artist (or in the case of Edwin, five DJs) to respond to the theme with artworks that will accompany each text. Ayman Hassan, of studio Zumra, conceived an interface that responds to this unfurling, and has proposed a movement of reading that accommodates for the gradual accumulation of weekly texts, across the various key concepts.
We must destroy and dismantle over and over again. There is much to fight for and defend, despite having so much taken from us. But if we do not build shelters along this long, long path, if we do not create spaces to be together, to think, to inspire and be inspired, and yes, take pleasure together, then we have lost half of the struggle already. This is a humble attempt to put down building blocks for an expanding community, present in spirit via www. for now, until we can come together physically.