Arab Future Fiction: the Call for Interstellar Friend/Ship is a pretend manifesto, written as part of a performance created by Jassem Hindi and Keith Hennessy. The piece premiered at Kampnagel in Hamburg as part of the Live Arts Festival in 2015. The text was read in masks and flowers, with Edward Said and Nazik al Malaika resting on our laps.
“We walked among the smashed machines and looked through undrugged eyes
for engines of another war
and an attrition of the soul and the device.
With craft and plane and ship,
And gun and drone and field we played
We wrote an allegory of our regress
In other people’s tears and blood;
These are the tentative poetics of our rise.”
Ian Banks – The Player, adapted by Jassem Hindi
In 1950 we started a series of paintings entitled: Donna Haraway as the mythical city of Baghdad. With our future seeing night goggles and with the help of legendary oriental fatalism, we were able to predict the fate of the Arab cities. Baghdad, capital of poetry and gin tonic, would be torn apart, transfigured into lunch, to be devoured by a giant lion. Damascus, herald of political theater, would become an arena of wild fire, burning its own children and its legendary palaces. Beyrouth, the magical teapot of journalism and spear of the feminist wave, would retract like an old apricot. Trablos, Marrakech, Oran, Tizi Ouzou, Adis Abbeba, Aden, Sour, Homs, Alleppo, Alexandria, Tikrit, Bent Jbail, Tabouk, Wadi Sha7rour etc etc etc…
Using painting as a divination technique, and thanks to our sensitive little radar ears, we could extract the truth of our destiny from what was then only a frown on the desert’s brow.
Haraway inspired a rigorous practice of transformation, drawing the first lines of what the politics of friendship might entail. She reminded us that the treasure of the Arab world was its sense of hospitality and generosity, that we were not afraid of hosting the stranger within our midst, that we were not afraid of claiming that we were of no country, and that we had always hosted all cultures.
Unfortunately, the real Middle of the East perceives itself as a place with no future, with nothing to offer that isn’t tainted by sadness or madness.
We think of ourselves as incapable of performing the simple gestures of hospitality. We invoke our wars, our misery, and our home in ruins. Every situation hides a series of impossible tasks. The fragile status of women, the aggressive meddling of imperial interests, the pressure of wild capitalism, the corruption, the prejudices, the lack of historical understanding… All these stones in our way have made it impossible to imagine a future.
The question is:
What is left for us to offer?
The answer is:
Our capacity to tell stories. Our capacity to charm our friends with our imagination.
Our capacity to help them slip into the night.
كان يا ما كان في قديم الزمان هلآ منحكي وبعد شويه منام
Once upon a time a long time ago, now we’re talking and in a little while we will go to sleep.
We can liberate ourselves. We can seek refuge in our minds and in all the languages we can learn. We can reinvest joyfully in our collective destiny as eternal wanderers.
We need a fictional future. We need a new tent to host our guests, or a cave, a shack, a pyramid, a dome, or a hammam. We need science fiction. We need to be the astronauts of our territories. We have to walk all the way from Detroit to Ramallah – in space suits if we have to.
We need an inter-stellar program with a time travel department, a gender disruption department, a department for the satellites of solitude, a great animal reconciliation program, a research facility for biological and non-biological sentient presences, and a particle accelerator capable of clashing metaphors against metaphors.
…and under starry nights, wrapped in blankets of unlikely friendship, in the middle of our imaginary oasis, we will rest and brew phantasmagoric teas made out of queer plants we’ll have gathered on our adventures.
For us, the words of Captain Picard resonate strangely, as a promise of joy and hospitality:
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Arab friend/ship. Its eternal mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Written by Jassem Hindi – in collaboration with Keith Hennessy
Images by Jassem Hindi and Anja Beutler