Mes Arabies / My Arabias
February 3rd, 2007

Mes Arabies "My Arabias" book is the first part of the Arab World Trilogy, published in 1999 by Actes-Sud in Arles, France... Assaoudia the second part, was published in 2005. 

"My Arabias" doesn't exist in the dictionary nor in any other reference book. I invented it to satisfy my need as a writer who works with light. This light reflected on the realities of my world registers itself backwards in my mind's eye. These visions are my words based on a negative image, the fruit of a ten year inner voyage in the shadows created by the landscape of my feelings. I went searching for what I already knew.

The West is fascinated by the East because the mix of races coexisting in the Near and Middle East is very representative of the peoples of ancient times. The Arab world, however, is being slowly erased by a Muslim world. Unfortunately, Westerners believe that being Arab necessarily means being Muslim. What a mistake they make! Overloaded by the news media, our minds do not stop accumulating such falsities. Today, the television screen bombards our children with beams of light, and we have become guinea-pigs for experiments of light signals on viewers.

No, the Arab world is not closed to photography. Contrary to what many believe in the West, Islam does not forbid imagery. However, because photography is so intimate and personal, it lends itself to diverse interpretations which are also directly derived from its universality. Without freedom, no author can express feelings towards a subject, yet he should realize that his freedom should never infringe on that of others.

Everybody can take pictures, but to express oneself through light is more difficult. The arrival of numeric cameras confirms the fact that anybody can capture moments on a temporal support. Pictures have become a language. Photography has been widely practiced as a profession in Arab countries as elsewhere in the world, but there the photographer's rights are not acknowledged. It is undeniable that it is a region plagued by more important problems: war, lack of food for displaced persons, the construction of new infrastructure and so on... For me, it is absolutely necessary to memorize such moments and learn to read them. This will give us a better understanding of our situation and help guide us towards a constructive future.

The photographer is like the astronaut. One searches the sky for stars, the other searches his surroundings for reflections of memorable times to inscribe them in his visual memory and keep them registered on paper. The most difficult moment come when the photographer is faced with comparing what he really saw with the fixed image. In very rare cases, a printed black and white image printed can stir up a feeling stronger than the actual vision that was photographed. Much imagination and know-how would be required to relive the moment that vision was captured.

In all honesty, I am worried about the Arab world as it stands today. It makes me wonder more deeply about what it means to be Arab or European, Persian or Turkish... All of this is particularly insignificant in a region of the world where very early in the history of humankind, many nations succeeded one another and now live next to each other. How is it possible to define the Arab identity in our society when it is increasingly so narrowly identified with Islam?

I have made a great effort to accept realities without making any judgments. This has allowed me to adopt a better approach to understanding the problem that continues to feed the flame of hatred in the hearts of humans. If only we look at things simply, Islam is nothing other than the third monotheist religion born in this region.

The women of Jewish villages veil themselves as Muslim women do. A man dressed as a Bedouin is not necessarily Muslim; he can also be Christian. It is said that ten thousand years ago, we cultivated black wheat in the Kings' Valley, in what is today Jordan. For centuries, the Yemenis made the world believe that they fabricated their own incense and spices while they were really importing them from India and Asia. The Cananites, later called Phoenicians by the Greeks, had established trading posts throughout the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. The rules and laws used for commercial ends fostered cultural exchanges between the various peoples. Some of those influences continue to exist in our modern society. I would rather not delve into historical details, but I must say that during those travels devoted to taking picture, I came across many situations which were surely stolen from time.

I worry that in a few years, time will recover its place and we lose all our direct relations with the past. Ever thirsty for gold, we continue to use our bulldozers to excavate throughout the world sites that are otherwise rich in history.



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