the fire these times

22. Building Mutual Aid in Lebanon

This is a conversation with Ayman Makarem. He’s a Lebanon-based writer and filmmaker who recently wrote essays on mutual aid in Lebanon for The Public Source.

One of the themes of The Fire These Times is to promote mutual aid for the 21st century so I was really looking forward to speaking with Ayman about this. In addition to reading his essay, this has been a topic that we’ve been discussing since Lebanon’s October 2019 uprising.

We both found that there were structures that were lacking within revolutionary settings in Lebanon that could allow for a much longer-lasting movement, and the same could be said for most of the rest of the world. Mutual Aid is simply voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit. Most of us already practice it with family, friends and/or our communities without really feeling the need to label it anyway.

The problem starts with the fact that Mutual Aid is seen as something that arises out of a state of exception. For example, as we go through an ongoing pandemic more people everywhere around the world have been reported to be willing to adopt ‘exceptional’ societal measures such as a guaranteed temporary monthly income, temporarily canceling rent or forgiving debt, depending on the country and situation.

But what those of us arguing for Mutual Aid argue for is that we shouldn’t need a state of exception to think of ways to build a fairer society, and we obviously believe that Mutual Aid is one way of doing that.

You can follow the podcast on Twitter @FireTheseTimes.

If you like what I do, please consider supporting this project with only 1$ a month on Patreon or on BuyMeACoffee.com. You can also do so directly on PayPal if you prefer.

Patreon is for monthly, PayPal is for one-offs and BuyMeACoffee has both options.

Music by Tarabeat. Photo is a modified version of a UN photo posted on Unsplash.


Relevant links:


Transcription

A big thanks to Yusra Bitar and Thomas Cugini for this.

0:00:00.0 JA: So this is a conversation with Ayman Makarem. He’s a Lebanon-based writer and filmmaker who recently wrote essays on mutual aid in Lebanon for the Public Source. One of the themes of this podcast is to promote mutual aid for the 21st century, so I was really looking forward to speaking with Ayman about this. In addition to reading his essay, this has been a topic that the two of us have been discussing since Lebanon’s October 2019-uprising.

0:01:41.0 JA: We both found there were structures that were lacking within revolutionary settings in Lebanon that could allow for a much longer lasting movement, and the same could be said for most of the rest of the world. Mutual aid is simply voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit. Most of us already practice it with family, friends and/or communities without really feeling the need to label it. The problem starts with the fact that mutual aid is seen as something that arises out of a state of exception. For example, as we go through an ongoing pandemic, more people everywhere around the world have been reported to be willing to adopt “exceptional societal measures to ease the burden”, but what those of us arguing for mutual aid argue for is that we shouldn’t need a state of exception to think of ways to build a fairer society, and we obviously believe that mutual aid is one way of doing that. As usual, you can follow the podcast on twitter @fire these times, and if you like what I do, please consider supporting this project with only one dollar a month on Patreon or Buymeacoffee.com, and you can also do so directly on Paypal if you prefer. Patreon is monthly, Paypal is for one time, buymeacoffee.com has both options. Thank you for your time.

0:03:02.7 AM: My name is Ayman Marakem. I am a Lebanese writer and filmmaker, researcher and…Well, I’ve been thinking about radical politics for a while now, but especially since October 17, and I have really been struggling and doing quite a bit of research to try and find practical solutions to the problem we see in front of us, that both address the political and material.

0:03:32.3 JA: So this will be what I hope to be the first of many episodes on mutual aid in the context of Lebanon. And the idea really is to kind of give some kind of a general overview of what mutual aid is and what it can look like. What are some of its differences, let’s say with a charity, for example, or philanthropy for that matter, which we’ll get into in a bit, but the reason why personally, I’m that interested in a mutual aid is that I feel that it’s one of those things that is intuitive to most people. So if you don’t call it by name and you just say stuff like, We should live in a society that’s fair and where people are helping each other out and all of that, most people tend to kind of be on board already, there is no real name for an ism, so to speak. So can we start by you telling us a bit about what has interested you in mutual aid?

0:04:31.3 AM: Right, yeah, no, you did hit on quite a few things and then sort of this… Well, first, it’s born out of necessity, but especially now in Lebanon, we see that there is dire need for just direct aid for assistance, like I said before we talk about any of these grand ideals that we have, and the society we want to live in, there are people that are just materially starving or unable to pay rent, and what I really appreciate, and what I really love about mutual aid and what gets me so excited about it is that it does it in such a way that doesn’t forego the political or the revolution. I agree, I think it’s very important to frame this in relation or in opposition to charity, partly because most people know what charity is and are familiar with the dynamic of charity, but also because in comparison, they both reveal the ideological groups or ideological prepositions involved. So yeah, in those terms, yeah, mutual aid is a system of organizing around aid, it seeks to build communities and cooperative communities that meet each other people’s central needs. Sharity is also an organizational structure built around aid… But obviously, it’s a very top-down organizational structure, and it’s very transactional that essentially you would…

0:06:10.0 AM: I’d like to use the example of food distribution that a charity, as we all know, you wouldn’t go around and hand out food indiscriminately while targeting the poor or targeting the hungry. So if charity is handing out food, mutual aid is more akin to creating a communal kitchen, something like the foods not bombs programs that is sort of a global network, is a kind of structure where you get… People would acquire food from local producers, I imagine a khodarji here, a grocer has produced that he’s going to throw away, it’s not yet rotten, but it’s no good to sell, and so you collect that food, put into this kitchen and process it, cook it and distribute it… And what this includes is not just the more sustainable, more grassroots structure, but it also kind of breaks down the barriers that charity has of “I am the giver and you are the givee or I am the helper you are the helpee”… ’cause you can imagine that these communal kitchens, as in a lot of cases, is run by people who also use it, and so it has sort of created a naturally non-hierarchical structure, it doesn’t always have…

0:07:38.0 AM: Sometimes does have hierarchies, but the fact that it’s a sort of paradigm shift, there’s a change of thinking, it’s not… I have a lot of money and you don’t. So I’m just gonna give you a bit… It also… What I said earlier that it’s sort of, it exposes the ideological roots that sort of betrays the ecological presuppositions is charity…You kinda get the sense that there’s not really much analysis as to why these four people are for or 100 people are hungry, they just are… It’s almost a fact of nature, “a fact of life”. Yeah, yeah. And so these are victims of circumstance, it’s a tragedy, harram mazloumeen, but that kind of only goes so far. And so what you find is that charity kind of supplements capitalism because it doesn’t aim at its root structures, so it supplements and in some cases perpetuates capitalism because it doesn’t really address the root causes. And so it basically functions as a band-aid. Arundhati Roy wrote a beautiful passage about this… What’s it called? The “neo-liberalization of resistance” or something of the sort. And then she creates a term the “NGOization”  of resistance. It’s a fantastic article, but essentially mutual aid stands in opposition of that by aiming at the grassroots level, by organizing on hierarchy, it sort of aims to empower communities and change their root circumstances.

0:09:17.8 AM: So you imagine that community kitchen, it approaches the problem at its core, it’s not… These people aren’t then reliant, it’s not a transaction, but then you go away feeling good about yourself, it’s a long lasting community that ultimately aims for sustainability, autonomy and cooperation.

0:09:43.1 JA: There are two things that got me into mutual aid in a sense, one was the sort of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the United States, and the other one was the… Especially in the early days of the Syrian revolution, 2011, 2012, 2013 to a certain extent, and that sort of continued and continues till today, but to a less, at a lower level so to speak. One thing that the Hurricane Katrina story for me debunked in a sense, is this idea that when disaster hits the kind of the common plot and it’s a common movie top, something bad happens in the world and essentially what happens is that it’s dog eat dog, everyone’s gonna try and kill one another, everyone’s gonna start losing everything, and everything is just one person, maybe one family against one family, and that’s it. People stop thinking about their neighbors, for example, but what we actually see in many cases, like in the case of hurricane Katrina is that people actually come together because as you said, mutual aid is actually born out of necessity, and we saw these soup kitchens, of course, but we also saw this, I think they called them disaster relief, that were functioning on a mutual aid basis, so you had the big charities that came in as well, and there are many 

0:11:06.2 JA: Many people that work in these charities and volunteer for them are good people, they obviously don’t mean badly, but they would do things, and kind of only goes so far. And so the people involved in mutual aid usually kind of like anarchists and other people of hovering around, if you want that kind of politics and people who don’t define themselves as anything as well, they kind of come with this additional critique if you want, but it’s not a critique as in like they stand at the toe of charities and yell at that the charities… It’s more of a critique through action, so they just kind of show that there is a way also doing things that… It’s almost like through their actions, they show the limits of charities, so if you have enough resources to create a soup kitchen, why that barrier between those who are giving and those who are receiving, you can also create something that’s more communal soup kitchen and this is what I mean when comes into play. In the case of Syria, it was more of local councils, I’ll let you talk about this a bit more, but when I discovered the local councils and even the coordination committees in the early days of the 2011 uprising and revolution, it was also this necessity like the state withdrew from certain parts of Syria…

0:12:20.4 JA: It was either forced out or tactically withdrew to focus on other parts as they tried to do in the early days, and that obviously created necessity, it’s either we organize ourselves and we find a way to create an alternative to the state, or we starve… It was really that simple and that basic… And obviously people opted for the former, as one can imagine, and they did so through various forms of what ended up being called the local counsel, so various ways of organizing. It was democratic to a certain extent, some local councils were more democratic than others, others less so, some had like a religious undertone or overtone, others, not so much. And so on and so forth. So with that in mind, can you talk a bit about some of these contemporary examples of mutual aid that have, let’s say that have inspired you personally?

0:13:15.5 AM: Yeah, no, I’m honestly kind of a shame that I didn’t know about these local counsel and about the grassroots movements in Syria until quite late, only a few years ago when basically most of them were destroyed or co-opted… And to think about when I became interested in mutual aid, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific time, but I’ve always generally been very interested in the daily life of the superstructures we live under that not just… Because obviously, it’s very important to pay attention to capitalist exploitation at the superstructure level of Jeff Bezos and Exxonmobil and all these things, but also just how we interact with one another. And me going to the grocer, how I live my life. And so that was articulated to me brilliantly by Omar Aziz and there was a sentence in one of his manifestos or one of his essays that just exemplified this perfectly, he says something these councils would be where the revolution meets the everyday life or something of the sort… 

And Omar Aziz for those who don’t know was a Syrian anarchist thinker. 

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Then a lot of these movements obviously are grassroots and are born from the communities, but in terms of…he is one of the brainchild, or the local councils is a kind of brainchild of his.

0:14:52.0 AM: Yeah, and the local counsels for me and all these, the sort of organizing those involved in the Syrian cities and towns that… We saw the opportunity in 2011, 2015, it still sort of exists. To me, when those really became clear in my head, it was after I started asking myself, How are these cities surviving under siege? That siege is such a totalizing event, there’s nothing coming in going out there, you have these underground passages and everything, but we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people and for three, four… Sometimes five years under siege. Now, what amazes me when I sort of discovered about these local councils is it proved the strength of some of these forms of organizing that under the most dire, utter dire circumstances that human beings can be under, that communities can be under, that structures like these can actually work. And so, yeah, I’ve arrived at… sort of mutual aid and anarchism in general, via…In 2008 I was a liberal, I love Barack Obama and everything. Around… Yeah, in 2011, 2014, ashamed to admit, but I was a bit of a kind of a… I wouldn’t say tankie, but kind of a bit of an obnoxious leftist, and it was sort of…

0:16:34.6 AM: I don’t know when it really started to happen, but I start to move away from these things and trying to find this sort of third way and not a neo liberal third way. I still have these leftist tendencies, but I don’t agree with some manifestations of the state, and so mutual aid served as that kind of… It is so basic, and I’ll go through some examples, but for me, mutual aid always… It is what you do with friends, it is where you do a family.

Exactly.

It’s also what communities do… A story that I often tell whenever I go through mutual aid is my uncle, who whenever I’m in my village in the mountains, and he’s there, every single time at least one person shows up, sees his car, goes up to him and asks him, Hey, I’ve got this thing. My elbow or my wife has this problem, and he gives them advice, he doesn’t prescribe them anything ’cause that’s I guess kind of illegal, but like he sort of tells them this and that, and if it gets any worse, whatever, because… Well, I don’t know, he’s got a sense of community that… Let’s say if it’s the butcher, the butcher were to fall ill and die, if we take a fully free market approach, that’s terrible, it’s terrible for the community, it’s terrible for everybody, but…

0:17:57.6 AM: So there’s kind of this natural mutual aid that we do have a natural understanding that what’s good through the community is good for the individual, it’s good for all of us. And I see a lot of the super structures that exist today as kind of covering and pumping down on those and destroying those natural bonds that have taken hundreds thousands of years to sort of form, just naturally. Mutual aid does have that sort of historical depth… I know you wanted me to talk about contemporary examples when I immediately jumped to the historic… 

That’s fine.

Yeah, but in thinking about how fundamental mutual aid is one of the early thinkers of mutual aid is a man named Peter Kropotkin, who is a Russian anarchist in the late 19th century, and how he… Even though there were actual mutual aid societies preceding him formalizing it in these words, which I’ll go through in a minute, he came to the idea of mutual aid as a factor of evolution. He was a zoologist as well as an anarchist as well as a prince, but essentially what he observed was that despite the mainstream notion that evolution is a process of domination of competition, 

Survival of the reserve of the fittest.

Survival of the reserve of the fittest. In fact, there was also quite a lot of corporation that he saw, and you can see it every day, not just in society with it, same, but also amongst animals that there’s a lot of symbiotic relationships with animals, pack animals hunt together, not because then the strongest of them will take the animal alone, it’s because it’s good for the majority of the collective.

0:19:50.4 AM: So we can see that mutual aid is kind of a fundamental thing, it’s almost kind of boring, people find a kind of redundant for me to, like you said at the beginning, help each other, cooperation, it sounds like natural phenomena that doesn’t need to be formalized.

0:20:06.1 JA: They were hard to think about mutual aid, there are two different dimensions to it, just to complicate the story  a bit more to… I think it attracts attention if you want, because if we just say, Well, we need to help each other, like most people kind of just agree with that statement, it’s a very basic statement, which is a good thing, and I actually show that it is something very basic, it’s kind of like an instinct as well, because we are extremely-social creatures, and indeed one of the things that we’re having right now with the pandemic is that the basic social instinct that we have has to be ruptured due to the social distancing and… So the two dimensions that I’m mentioning is, one is, I’m trying to argue, and I’m not the only one doing so, but I agree with this method, if you want that the economy actually has four sides to it, it’s not just the binary of… On one hand, you have the private market and then you have the public, and the public equals the state, and usually the story is, if you’re a leftist, then you want more of the public state, and if you’re a right-winger, you want more of the market or private stuff in general, and the four-sided approach, if you want, that I’m proposing is better, and as I said, it’s not mine, is that yes, you have these two designs, a fact of life in most society is that that is the current society as we live, and these two do exist, but you also have the household/family, I’m gonna say household to be more progressive about it, because it doesn’t have to be just family in the definition of the sense, obviously, and then you have the commons.

0:21:40.4 JA: The household is very important because it’s actually, obviously it’s gendered and most in most societies in the world to this day, domestic work, if you want is not counted as labor, is not counted as part of the market of the public, for that matter. It’s not taxed obviously, it’s not like someone who works at home, like let’s say a mom who works at home is paid an hourly wage or anything like that, and then the fourth dimension is the commons… Now, the commons basically means everything that can be commonly owned or commonly shared, let’s say to not use the word owned, a mutual aid sort of addresses the latter to it, addresses the household and it addresses the commons, the common is, as I said, like public parks, A forest that is not managed, so to speak, or everything in between and beyond, depending on the context, but the household is very important because we already practice mutual aid in most households where let’s say a relationship between the parents and the children, it’s the healthy relationship, we’re not talking about the toxic ones and abusive ones, obviously that’s a different story, but this is what mutual aid actually means when I think of what I can do towards my sister and like the way we interact towards one another, it’s not that transactional things in the sense that she owes me $17 from 10 years ago, and therefore I am not going to help her if…

0:23:05.2 JA: It’s much more fluid and this kind of fluidity is actually what mutual aid is about, it’s about not having to maintain a debt when it is a friend… You always have these exceptions in real life, like if it’s a friend, you don’t necessarily keep tab on how much that friend owes you again, depending on the circumstances, but that is the general…That is the general idea, and the second dimension, it is something that is called the donut Economics, and it’s a funny word because it’s actually shaped like a donut, I forgot the name of the theorist and writer behind it. But if people just Google donut economics and find it. And the idea is that there should be a lower limit and an upper limit to our economies, and the lower limit is social safety nets, or all of the everything related to social safety and as like homelessness, poverty, hunger, water Safety, Wi-Fi, internet actually is included these days as well, anything that people need to stay afloat, like this is what people need in life, to not be drowning in debt or to not find themselves on the street and etcetera, etcetera.

0:24:18.4 JA: Whereas the upward limit is the planetary limits, so climate change obviously, like the ozone layer, soil degradation, ocean acidification, all of these things that we also need obviously to live in a healthy environment or a healthy planet. And for me, the fact that we need to be in between a lower limit and upper limit, and the idea of donut Economics is that saying, Let us at least actually that there should be this lower limit, an upper limit, and then we can have kind of a discussion on how to organize society is better. For me, that is the spirit of mutual aid, because what it says is you have to have social safety nets for people so that you no longer have these extremes so you’re already eradicate these extremes, by extremes I’m talking about as extreme poverty and so on, and then you have to have the upper limits for basic survival so that future generations can participate in our work in the same way that we supposedly want to, and mutual aid comes in between those two. Now, in donut economics she doesn’t frame it in the way of mutual aid, and in many ways, it’s actually…

0:25:26.4 JA: One might argue it is kind of like more social democratic, or maybe socialist democratic take on things and it will always have its limits, but the general idea is really the fact that we need to think about our world beyond just growth, beyond just unfettered growth, “more is better”. We organize everything around our lives on GDP and then we only think about the national debt, all of these things. The idea will all this is that we need to do up and all of that logic to have a better logic, and more sustainable logic and a more mutual aid oriented logic and friendlier logic, to use a more basic term.

Now, in the context of Lebanon, with the popular uprising that we’ve been seeing since October, and now obviously there are ups and downs to it and everything, one of the things that for me it highlighted is how little prepared we are to kind of deal with emergencies, and we are not well prepared for it, in my opinion, of course, and we can agree or disagree on this to maybe I’ll ask which just expand on… Basically, just have your take on this, is that up until now, we haven’t really thought outside of just small circuits of our societies as being able to be built, to actually function on principles like mutual aid…

0:26:45.9 JA: So we only think about mutual aid in a sense, one, as we said in the beginning, it comes out of the state of necessity, so essentially, Okay, well, now we’re in a state of emergency, state of exception, this is not a normal way of doing things. So now we can allow ourselves to be more decent to one another. It’s a bit surreal, when we put into in these term, but this is what we’re seeing in the case of a pandemic, and which is what we’re seeing now, we’re seeing all of the polls that I’ve been reading in the UK and Spain, and I think Mexico, I read in the Philippines – sorry Thailand – it was in an or in other places, people have kind of shifted and become more progressive about things saying things like people should be supported, they shouldn’t lose their job, they should have some basic security, basic safety nets, they shouldn’t be criminalized if they cannot pay for healthcare, healthcare should be free, people are more likely to accept these things that… Because now, we’re in a state of exception, and I guess my frustration with all of this is that, why do we only think about how to be more decent towards one another when we get to a point where we have no other choice other than to be important towards one another…

0:27:52.0 JA: Does that make sense?

0:27:53.2 AM: No, no, it is very interesting, but… And it is quite upsetting because it sort of feels that these shifts could have/should have happened earlier, and that now that it’s become a necessity, it’s almost harder to do them, and I see this in a lot of different cases, the sort of the… The big awakening after Trump was elected, that like, Oh, now we must form this new movement to what I got, but it almost felt not too late, but surely there was enough room under the Democrats that you could form these things and not have to deal with all the inanities that are coming out of the White House since Trump was elected. It is a paradox, and I find it is very frustrating, but I do like the analysis, I do agree with you that the sort of initial verse of the October revolution kind of exposed our unprepared-ness, especially us that are more politically engaged and more politically resented, I think I’ve heard this discussed and I find it very interesting…A lot of people talk about the WhatsApp tax being the sort of initial trigger, and just in terms of the timing, it explicitly was, but the fires in Chouf, the wild fires that happened, I think only a day or two earlier either…

Yeah, two days before. 

0:29:24.8 AM: Yeah, yeah, expose that exact same unpreparedness and the fact that what are we living? what kind of state is this where just… You literally have thousands and thousands of trees and acres of just burning to the ground, and I find it very poetic that the government, that the state had nothing to deal with it, and I think there are reports that they were using riot water cannons to turn off the fires… That’s genius, ’cause that just exposes that the state has really reduced its functions to just protecting private property and that everything…Yes. But interesting there as well. I think there were, as a Palestinian camp nearby where their firefighters came out and helped and everything, there was a crowd funding, I forgot what the website is called it an Arabic crafting website, within a day or two raised about 50 hundred thousand dollars… And I really saw that energy really build on October 17. That seemed like, This is fucked. And we need to work together to deal with it. 

The timing was phenomenal because it was this build up of energy and anger,  the same things at the same time, the catastrophic failure of the government on one on one side, and the fact that people actually stepped up at the end of the day, for those for listeners who don’t know, the reason why these fires were actually put out was a combination of luck because it started raining after two days, and the fact that some foreign governments, I think Greek, Cyprus and Jordan donated like a few planes, and

0:31:12.6 JA: The fact that volunteers actually stepped up to help firefighters, so the Palestinian firefighters were one of them, and then you just have people living in the area to just come out and try to extinguish the fires. That is mutual aid. That’s the thing, it doesn’t… I don’t need to call it anything else, there is what people did, the fact that there’s a forest burning down and we need to stop the forest from burning down, so that’s it, it doesn’t… When something as basic as that happens, and then we go back to the question of necessity, you don’t think about what is the most cost-effective way of… Of extinguishing the forest fire, what is the best way, the most market-friendly way of turning off the fires, these are not the calculations that we make…

0:32:01.7 AM: I know, exactly. And when this happened and until October 20, I tried writing a poem, I’m a terrible poet, I don’t do it, but I’ll just stick to articles and screen writing, but because there was such a poetic symbolism to fires, the waters that turned out the fire and the idea that the masses of people coming out to the streets represent that same rain that’ll put out the fires in the grand Serail, whatever it was a terrible poem table, but the poetry still exists and I’ve actually heard Naomi Klein used similar imagery, the idea that there is this fire that’s burning… She talks about two different fires, the fire that’s burning, which is climate change, but also this competing Fire, which is Global grassroots protest movements, but I agree, the idea is, it’s not… Yes, there’s this fire. I mean, climate change, I find it phenomenal that no one’s… People don’t… I get panic tax and I think about it, but it’s just, Holy fuck, the world is on fire, and when Brazil, the Amazon and Australia is just like…We had to do something. There’s that urgency that necessity, that because it’s the most basic fundamental thing, and I think this is where Kropotkin really comes in where it is at the moment, a matter of survival of the species that we’re not trying to think of.

0:33:36.6 AM: Well, how do we go about this and what’s… And that’s why I am very skeptical of any capitalist kind of solutions to the thing, because the problem is competition, the problem is thinking about things in terms of growth, because we cannot think about how can we put out the fires that are literally destroying the world. We’re thinking, Well, how can we make it profitable, and it goes back to what you were saying, a 100% agree, mutual aid does service a new type of economics that disagrees with growth, because obviously the basic phrase that we can’t have infinite growth with finite means and find out resources. It’s just paradoxical. And so mutual aid really does serve it… I think what I love about it, it really does redefine economics, it does, ’cause economics or what is it? Is this… We’re so wrapped up in GDP, up in all these things, but it’s how we relate to one another and our resources, and how do we actually provide another end and go about social and economic relations, how do we deal with one other mutually… It brings it back to the four… Brings it back to the core and sort of, do we want to treat each other by competition, skepticism, what have you done for me lately? Or is it more about, I care about you ’cause you’re my neighbor, and because if we think about friends…

0:35:09.4 AM: Obviously, it’s much more natural, I love my friends, I want the best for them. So if someone… If they come up to me and ask me for help, I don’t ask them, what can you do for me? Because there’s a sort of reciprocity… I do really like the example that David Graeber brings up, and David Graeber is an American anthropologist/anarchist. He brings up a really interesting anecdote of an anthropologist going to Madagascar, and I think it was… And living among the sort of… I forget exactly what the context was, but the core of the story is that people start giving her gifts, she just is inundated with gifts left and right, and she has no idea what to do about this and she’s happy, but she doesn’t know what is going until someone comes up to unbranded, tells her, well, listen, I’ll let you off the hook and tell you what’s going on. No one will tell you, but in giving you gifts, these people are expecting you to give gifts back or give something back, but it’s essential that you give something, give them something of less or a greater value, because if you give them something of equal value, you’re basically telling them you want nothing to do with them, but if you have lesser or greater value, you’re perpetuating the cycle of debt of social indebtedness and that it implies that you want to continue this relationship.

0:36:41.8 AM: And I love the story because I do this, I realize I do this with my friends, someone invites me to dinner and I want to invite them to dinner, and back and forth, and sort of that, I’ll let you pay this time, but next time it’s on me. And so that’s, I feel more… aside from capitalism, aside from how we’re used to living our lives nowadays under all these oppressive systems, that’s sort of more at the core of it, it reminds me of the village, reminds me of that mutual reciprocity that I love my neighbor therefore I want the best for them and so, yeah, I think mutual aid does really service that new thinking of economics and new ways of relating to one another outside of competition, 

And the key thing about the whole next time is on me is that the next time is not defined.

0:37:30.1 JA: And the difference… what differentiates it between basically paying for your friends or letting your fans pay for you and you’re taking out a loan from a bank, at the end of the day, you have to pay back the loan and usually with interest.

0:37:46.6 AM: He uses the example to kind of… Because I find this very fascinating, there is this kind of myth of bartering that as he says, ’cause it doesn’t make any sense, but I pay your dinner and it’s $25 and then I have to buy you literally at $25, so it’s really more vague and more… ’cause the feelings of love and reciprocity are really all vague…

0:38:13.7 JA: Yeah, yeah, I know for a fact that I have sent that if I was… If we were to apply a capitalistic logic, I would owe thousands of dollars… or they would owe me thousands of dollars, and we have no idea how much we owe each other, and… So the idea is that… The idea really is that, I guess, let’s say the sentiment that you and I are Trying to get across here is that everyone already practices, mutual aid on a day-to-day basis with their friends and family, sometimes with their neighbors, if they’re close or their neighbors, and we actually see this. So I will say something that might sound weird at first, but work with me here. When we think of some… Because so I work in Cultural Studies, so it’s a lot about… I look at media, I look at TVs series, at movies and books and that kind of thing, the cultural productions, let’s say, when we feel this homey feeling about villages in TV series, like there’s this Netflix series called Sex Education which is popular and everything. The thing about that village is that it is both in a lovely environment, so it’s a beautiful place, forests everywhere, and people who are biking everywhere, and it’s also a multi-cultural environment, it’s almost like this impossible place in most places, in most countries, because usually it’s urban areas where you have a higher diversity in that sense.

0:39:52.9 JA: So it’s kind of like the best of both worlds in a sense. But for me, the reason why for me personally, I get this cozy feeling in a sense, the reason why we’re so attracted to TV series, no matter how problematic they are, why you just have friends hanging out and doing something and everything, is that you get to know them. So that is, I think it’s called a para-social relationships. You end up kind of… How do you say this? You end up sort of relating to this fictional character, and so you have a relationship with the fictional character, but more important, you sort of live through them, and this can obviously reinforced loneliness if the sort of the ideal situation that you’re seeing on screen isn’t reflected in real life, but more often than not, what your sort of craving is just that human interaction, what you’re craving is that you can go down… You live in a second for part, when you go down, you walk a bit, you can go to the cafe, the local grocer or the local whatever, the local… Whatever, people sort of know each other, if not by name, at least they would say hi every now and then, and you sort of had this familiarity and Mutual Aid for me is sort of pictures that sentiment, the coziness and the community feeling and everything.

0:41:08.4 JA: But put it in practice on a wider scale, so the idea isn’t  just that we should just have a small where people are nice to one another, but then when they get out of their community, it’s dog eat dog and we can just live under again, this capitalistic mindset, just the basic logic of why you would be nice to your siblings and why you would be nice to your parents and community, again, friends and neighbors, and so on, that is the economic model that we’re talking about, and so then the details are negotiable… They’re debatable. I don’t have the perfect “economic model”, I’m not telling you, this is how our resources should be organized and this is what should… There would be certain details that are kind of debatable and up for discussion depending on the society and the context and the country we’re living in and the time that we’re living in, but the general idea should be that instead of the general idea being… We need to balance the debt, we need to make sure that our credit is good, we need to make sure that we keep on having increasing GDP, no matter the income inequality, no matter the suffering on the ground, no matter all of that.

0:42:18.2 JA: Instead of all of that, you flip the basic assumption that we have changed and then we can sort of talk, so that is what appeals to me when it comes to mutual aid. But I wanted to ask you, have you found examples in the case of Lebanon specifically to bring it back to Lebanon where mutual aid is already practiced, but it’s not called that, or where you can feel where mutual aid would actually be welcomed, it’s something that people feel that… I’m sorry, it’s in a situation where people would feel that if mutual aid is practice, it will actually benefit them, but it’s just not practice because it’s not thought of this way.

0:42:57.4 AM: Yeah, yeah, of course. I found numerous examples, of course, none of them really use the term mutual aid, I find that the word “tadamon” or solidarity is used much more today and basically does describe the same thing. I found very few examples pre-thawra, pre- revolution, and because essentially, I think most of those holes before the revolution were either filled by charities and NGOS or with the sectarian client system that we have, which obviously has numerous problems, and a lot of the mutual aid networks  network when developing really stands in opposition to them because the client systems are quite reactionary and anti-revolution, whereas these are the supportive of the overthrow of… Well, essentially, the sectarian system. The first one that I noticed that I found really beautiful, because I agree at the moment that we’re out on the streets together, and I was seeing all these people that I’ve seen scattered up at the city over the last few years, all come together and also meeting new people, it’s a beautiful feeling of community. So the first aid network that I sort of noticed were the food distribution networks in Azarieh in Marty’s Square. You had Matbakh el-Balad.

The kitchen of the country.

0:44:34.9 AM: The kitchen of the county, so the kitchen in the country, exactly. And it was just basically a place where you could volunteer, you could give food products, you could give resources, but they would just cook food on mass, and it was actually really, really tasty, actually, the guy does run a very good restaurant, Jai, but essentially, yeah, there is… So fundamentally to the principles of mutual aid, because of exactly where it fits, and where it is situated far enough, it didn’t aim to kind create a community, but the community was already forming in the squares and the streets. And so, if we describe mutual aid as a process by which revolution meets aid and necessity and kinda helping one another survive so that we can further push back against these across the systems, literally having a stand in a revolutionary square and distributing food keeps people in the squares ’cause you can’t really have a revolution of people go hungry and need to go and work and get food, so at once it’s immediately political by its position… By geographical position. And so there, I saw an example of mutual aid, they didn’t take anything, they took donations if you wanted…

0:45:58.7 AM: but it was open for anybody. And there are a lot of people in the squares… Actually, me and my friends did something similar a few times, we just brought some food and handed it out, and you could tell that there’s some people who are reliant on this food, and there are certain people who aren’t, and one thing I found very beautiful is a lot of people were just so willing to give money, just thank you for doing this, and please take this money, and we’re telling them… No, no. We just wanna hand out. Anyway, I said from that we see, we’ve seen numerous crowdfunding on Facebook, this and again, also not aiming towards community building, but this is separate from charity in so far as it centers people’s needs, that this family needs this and this and that, and… As opposed to we’re just handing out random accounts of food and resources and the like… So there are a few other things than there are things that are happening mostly in the North, which really excite me because these are very new, as far as I’m aware in Lebanon, there is an organization called “7arakit 7aba’”, it translate to the basel movement.

0:47:15.1 AM: I don’t know, I ask the guy why it’s basel is not that fundamental of a produce in Lebanon. I was thinking maybe doing it ’cause it’s “Ba’dounis”, parsely. ’cause it’s more consumed, but it doesn’t… I don’t know, it doesn’t have the same ring. So anyway, 7araket 7aba’ is a cooperative agricultural kind of movement, and that explicitly talk about returning to the land that it originally just started with this guy, Murad Ayyash, who posted on Facebook had this idea and posted on Facebook, I have this idea, I want to start farming and I wanna start creating this cooperative agriculture system, so if anyone has any land, anyone has any resources, hit me up and they gained quite a bit of traction, ’cause first of all, there is that same thing we’re talking about earlier, where people really realizing that, well, the state isn’t gonna help us, the sectarian clientelistic system is incredibly corrupt and basically where having to overthrow it, and so there is that impetus for it, there’s that motivation, but then match that there is also a lot of unused land in Lebanon. So basically, yeah, it’s been a few months and I check up on them and they’re doing well and farming and sort of…

0:48:41.5 AM: It has educational purposes as well in Se7it el-Nour in Tripoli, they held numerous meetings where they start talk about cooperative agriculture and sustainability, and they’re explicitly organic and talk about the same things we’re talking about sustainability and relating to one another, because there’s also something that’s very interesting about things like this as opposed to charity, which is the… I don’t use the word dignity, but there’s something about handling food out as opposed to allowing people to work and to sort of feed themselves and to sort of be part of a community, there is sort of a more sense of belonging and it’s kind of empowering… Right.

0:49:30.6 JA: Especially if you get to know the people who are participating in this. And then if you are participating in a soup kitchen in the morning and then you know you’ve run into personthe afternoon, the relationship between you two who has already changed, you’re no longer just… He’s not just the person that you bought a coffee for, you know that the day… And that’s the extent of the relationship. There’s actually something beyond it at this point…

0:49:55.1 AM: No, yeah, there’s something quite jarring about how we’re actually kind of a very collectivist society, but at the same time, very stratified that… Yeah, the person I get my coffee from… I mean, me personally, I do. But most people, they don’t really have a relationship with them. But

0:50:12.3 JA: Yeah, it’s the paradox of – for me, collectivism, so individuals… And they end up being binaries that don’t explain much, but there is definitely a sense, at least… Let’s put it that way, it’s part of this perceived identity that we have… We always tell ourselves, especially inwe are a welcoming culture, a welcoming society, “ndeef el-neiss”. We like to welcome people. Yeah, hospital culture. Exactly, but yeah, that is one thing, but then even hospitable for me can be a bit limiting because you can say, Well, I’m bringing you inside, but that’s it. I still want the limit between us, it would still be a step forward, I suppose, and I guess that brings me to…

0:51:07.1 AM: And there are a few other examples that I’d like to bring up before we move on, if you don’t mind. 

Yes, absolutely. 

Yeah, so there are other things happening in the North. I find a vestibule, the North is usually a bit neglected politically, I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why, but somewhere in Koura, a guy called Alaa’ Farhat working in cooperative agriculture, but he especially, I find very interesting ’cause he’s developed a developmental council – Development Council, and he created a mini-Ministry to deal with all the circles around agriculture, but the education around this, the acquiring of goods and he’s creating a small seed bank especially in the country with such fertile land, I find these cooperative agriculture movements quite interesting. There are a few examples of rooftop farming of urban agriculture, which is something that I’m very excited about, because we have so much sun, we have so much, so… So many resources. I’ve heard of one of Palestinian camp I believe in Bourj Al-Barajneh. You linked me to one actually today in Furn El-Chebbek, and along with that, this is something I really wanna mention only because it’s a slightly different way of thinking, seeing mutual aid and relates to what we’re talking about relating to another…

0:52:33.7 AM: There’s a Facebook group called Izraa’

0:52:36.3 JA: Which means farm.

0:52:43.3 AM: The verb, but anyway, and basically is a community of around 20,000 people explicitly opened up by a few engineers, I believe, who want to disseminate what they describe is best practices in farming organic farming. But essentially what it functions as is a community of people who are all interested in agriculture, urban agriculture, and large farms, and it serves such an educational purpose, first of all, in terms of cooperation and just helping out talking to each other. And I mean, I have a small little urban gardening, I’m growing on my balcony, and God knows I’ve sent dozens of photos like I have these tomato plants that the flower has dropped and I was heartbroken, so I send them a photo and some guys… There’s one person – ten minutes later – sends me, Oh, these are fine. You can actually pin these off the next ones to grow hard, better or you’re watering tomatoes, this nitrate… ’cause there’s quite a lot to know actually, and so that sort of mutual sharing of information and education matched with the need for agriculture, and eventually we’re gonna see this much more in Lebanon ande need for food security, this is actually what my new favorite thing Izraa’ I follow what I see the posts every day, ’cause it’s so supportive as well, so…

0:54:11.6 AM: Yeah. And he… everything which was mentioned, I will link them, in the description and on the blog post as well, we… That’s what I had to say on mutual aid is just one of those topics that I know we can just go on for hours and hours and just tell people, Hey, you should read up on it, and this is important and everything, but ultimately what we’re saying, I guess with all of this is that this is already happening around you, these things are already happening, we’re not inventing anything new, it’s been happening for a long… Has been happening for centuries for that matter, we’re just arguing for it, we want more of this and not less of this, we need to turn what we think of, how we interact with one another within a state of exception, like again, in the case of a pandemic, people feeling that there are more generous, like their priorities or let’s say better priorities. It’s no longer just about survival of the fittest and all of that into something that is more general. That you don’t actually need to have a pandemic for people to start thinking that we need to be better towards one another and have a better society, so that is my final note if you want…

0:55:23.3 JA: Is there anything that you want to sort of conclude on or have general reflections on?

No, yeah, this is one of those topics that I go on for hours about and I get so worked up that I really stop… I’ve got a lot that I couldn’t continue, but I guess that may be for another conversation.

I’m sure that we can have lots of words, as I said, this is going to be the first of many. buying. Thank you a lot for your time. 

No, thank you. I had a lot of fun with this. 

One reply to “22. Building Mutual Aid in Lebanon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
close-alt close collapse comment ellipsis expand gallery heart lock menu next pinned previous reply search share star