FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

On Ramadan, Socialism and the Neighbor’s Beat up Car

When I was a child, I obsessed with socialism. It was not only because my father was a self-proclaimed socialist who read every book that a good socialist should read, but also because we lived in a refugee camp in Gaza under the harshest of conditions. Tanks roamed the dusty streets and every aspect of our lives was governed by a most intricate Israeli ‘civil administration’ system – a less distressing phrase for describing military occupation.

Socialism was then an escape to a utopian world where people were treated fairly; where children were not shot and killed on a daily basis; where cheap laborers were no longer despairing men fighting for meager daily wages at some Israeli factory or farm; and where equality was not an abstract notion. But since Gaza had little in terms of ‘means of production’, our socialism was tailored to accommodate every lacking aspect of our lives. Freedom, justice and ending the occupation was our ‘revolutionary socialism’ around which we teenagers in the camp secretly organized and declared strikes on the walls of the camp in red graffiti, and quoted (or misquoted) Marx as we pleased, often times out of context.

And when it was time for prayer, we all went to the mosque. We simply didn’t see a contradiction, nor did we subscribe to (or cared to understand) the inherent conflict between socialist movements and institutionalized religion in the West. True, we declared solidarity with factory workers in Chicago and followed the news of union victories in Britain, but our socialism was mostly south-oriented. It was the revolutionary struggles of Guatemala, South Africa and Algeria that inspired our various socialist movements in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. Socialism was a call for freedom first, before it was a call for equitable salaries and improved work conditions.

There was little by way of western-styled ‘atheism’ in our refugee camp. Most of us prayed five times a day, communists and all.

I went to the mosque for prayer as often as I could. I memorized chapters of the Quran at a young age. Starting in the second grade, I joined my peers for classes in Islamic stories taught by a kindly, semi-blind young man named Sheik Azzam. In the stories, those with faith always triumphed in the end. The key to their victories, well, aside from the inevitable divine justice, was their unity and persistence. The characters were often, if not always, poor. The poor always triumphed in Islam, or the way Islam was taught in my refugee camp.

I was a socialist and a Muslim. It was my father, who was sometimes called a ‘communist’ as a slur by some of the camp’s ultra conservatives, who urged me not to miss my prayers, and rewarded me for reading the Quran. He was the same person who shared his treasures of translated Russian and other literature with me, all promising of a revolution, of a better world where a person was not judged based on his or her color, race, sect, religion or nationality. If there was ever an inherit tension in all of this, I didn’t see it. I still don’t.

Naturally, a real socialist must have a nemesis. In many parts of the world, the archenemy is the multinational corporations and, in the US in particular, the use of military-driven foreign policy as a tool to maintain global hegemony; it is globalization used as a platform to enforce a new kind of imperialism that is no longer an exclusive western attribute. For me in the refugee camp, my nemesis was our neighbor Ghassan. He owned a car, a beat up old fiat that was actively decomposing back into its original elements. The color was a rainbow of old paint and rusting metal and its seats were almost entirely bare from any evidence that leather chairs were once attached to the unpleasant iron beneath.

Nonetheless, Ghassan represented a ‘class’ of society that was different than mine. He was a teacher at a United Nations-funded school, who was ‘getting paid in dollars’, and his likes received what was called a ‘pension,’ a seemingly novel concept that Gaza cheap laborers in Israel didn’t enjoy, needless to say comprehended.

Ghassan also prayed at the same mosque as I did. On the main Friday prayer, he wore a white Jalabiya (robe) of white silk, manufactured abroad. He wore authentic Egyptian cologne, and along with his UNRWA colleagues, walked to the mosque with the unabashed grandeur of a feudalist.

In the month of Ramadan, as poor refugee parents struggled to make at least the first few days of the fasting month somewhat special and festive for their children, Ghassan and his clique prepared feasts, shopped for the best vegetables, and adorned their iftar tables with meat, not once a week, but every single day of the entire month. And here is the part that I resented the most: to show gratefulness for how ‘lucky’ and ‘blessed’ they were, the rich refugees would distribute raw meat in carefully sealed bags to the less fortunate since Ramadan is the month of charity. And of course, the most qualified to give charity was a UN teacher paid in dollars and expecting a so-called pension.

Today I chuckle at the naïve notions of that Gaza child. In actuality, Ghassan was slightly less poor than the rest of us. His home was an improved version of the UN’s ‘temporary shelters’ it provided refugees following the Palestinian exile in 1948. He was paid around 400 dollars a month, and his car eventually broke down and was sold to a neighboring mechanic for scrap metal.

Much of this was placed in context later in life when I worked in a rich Arab Gulf country. I spent two Ramadans there. Each year our company provided a ‘Ramadan tent’, not a metaphorical term, but an actual massive tent under which the finest of delicacies, cooked by the best of chefs, was served by cheap laborers who although included fasting Muslims, were not allowed to break their fast until the rest of us did. The fasting men and women thanked God for giving them the strength to fast before they diligently consumed massive amounts of good food until they could hardly move.

Ramadan always takes me back to the refugee camp in Gaza, no matter where I am in the world. And when a TV sheik preaches about what Ramadan is or is not about, I often reflect on what Ramadan has meant to me and my peers in the refugee camp. It was not about feeling the brunt of the poor, for we all were, Ghassan included, poverty-stricken. It was about sharing the hardships of life, a communal struggle against one’s own weaknesses and a month-long introspection to uncover the collective strength of a beleaguered community. Ramadan was an exacting platform through which poverty and deprivation were devalued so that when Ramadan was over, we felt grateful for the little we had, before we resumed our struggle for the rights and freedoms we truly deserved.

Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

More articles by:

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
Tracey Aikman
President Trump, I’m One of the Workers You Lied To
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail