native land, land of exile: looking for our territories  |  nedjmam et al

In Arabic

""Home" is re-defined, re-created, and re-negotiated, minute by minute. Their portraits attest to the courage, power and celebration that emerges from embracing the unending, dynamic, deliberate quest for belonging, rootedness and renewal. They seek a vision of community where systemic forms of oppression and discrimination have been overthrown by systems of inclusiveness. ", Lim, Madeleine, "Home Home" in Warriors/Guerriéres , Paris, Nomades' Langues Edition, 2001, p.74.

This quotation by the Asian-American film maker Madeleine Lim which heads our text is part of the presentation of her beautiful documentary, Sambal Belacan in San Francisco. This film has been ( and still remains ) a strong medium of visibility of singular and complex stories of lesbians forced to exile to live fully their lesbianism. It questions the painful identity issue for these lesbians who are cut off from their native land, their family, their language, their culture ... , their search to re-build themselves, to find a "home". This film found broad resonance on us, whose story has a present and/or a past relation to slavery, colonization, forced migrations (economic, political, linked with our sexuality), imperialism, and who had no images of ourselves ( or so few ! ) in the lesbian film production. Even if this documentary presents the story of three Asian lesbians, it really constituted for us a base and a support for a reflection on our identities, our journeys. We are African, from African descends, North African, Arab. Some of us are still living in these countries, the others ( most of us ) forced to exile, to migrate to some European countries ( France, Germany, England ... ). However, living in these countries is not a CHOICE, is not OUR choice !
We live in these countries because our parents/ancestors were deported, because our parents/ancestors were colonized, because our lands, our countries were stolen by European and Western nations, so that many of our parents, families were condemned to leave their lands, their countries in order to have a chance to survive. Some of us are then descendants of migrants, exiles, and displaced people.
We live in these countries because in some of our native countries we were threatened ( even threatened with death sometimes ) as lesbians - some of us who had to/managed to escape from their countries are now without documents and are illegal in the European/Western countries. We couldn't and we wouldn't be able to live our lesbianism satisfactorily in our native countries.
We are resolutely turned towards our people, towards these native countries. Exiles, migrants, displaced, refugees, we are differently challenged by this issue of searching for "home" to take Madeleine Lim's expression. Each one among us has a singular herstory in her experience of the exile, the migrations, the displacements, the refuge. Because the situation of the Arab lesbians, gays, bi/transsexuals is particularly critical , we have found it important to give voice through this special issue of Bint El Nas to those among us who define themselves as Arab, or from Arab language and culture. This issue is a collection of singular contributions.

Looking for our Territory

As lesbian, bisexual, transgender identified Arabs in our native land or in a land of exile, we are too often confronted with the invisibilisation of parts of ourselves.

When we are in our native land, we are supposed to feel at home, but as lesbian, bisexual, transgender identified people, we almost live like exiles, aliens; and even, in some countries, we live a suspended life since we are under a death sentence.
When we are in foreign territories, we are supposed to live better as lesbian, bisexual, transgender identified people. But as Arabs, we are torn apart because we are cut off from our land of origin, forced to speak another language, to accept another culture, to make their History become ours. These so called more welcoming countries for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified people offer all sorts of stress since the process of invisibilisation of parts of ourselves is again at work. This process is synonymous with abstraction of racism, classicism, lesbophobia which we suffer from, and abstraction of the pressure some lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identified people can be subjected to in order to abandon their Islamic religion.
How could we forget or deny the past histories of our communities since the effects are totally present ?
Hi/Herstories of deported, displaced, dispossessed people.
Past and still very present hi/herstories of colonization.
All these hi/herstories in which territories are at stake.
These hi/herstories with which we have to re-compose our own herstory.
And yet the Arab communities can accuse us of betrayal, and the lesbian, bisexual, transgender identified community who "welcomes" us tends to invisibilise us as Arab lesbian, bisexual, transgender identified people, or even, much too often, to exotise or erotise us.
What does it mean for each of us to define ourselves as Arab lesbian, bisexual, transgender identified people in our Native Land as well as in a Land of Exile?
To what extent, when we are in exile, do we feel like having to answer to the stereotypes western LGBT people have in mind so we can pretend to have a place in this community ?
What strategies should we have in order to build our own territory, wherever we are, so we could express our identity and our culture as lesbian, bisexual, transgender identified people and as Arabs ?
On these issues we called for submissions.

Land/ Territories in Question
To end the presentation of this very special issue, since it will be for the first time bilingual in French and in English, we can't forget the context of its realization. This call was written before the World Conference Against Racism ( Durban, South Africa August, 27 - September 9, 2001 ). However this Conference, before, during and after - other " events " carried shade to such doubtful and scandalous post-conference negotiations - was very controversial. Two issues were highly underlined by the media and the politics : the question of the recognition of the slave trades as crime against humanity and that one of reparations, and the question of the recognition of Zionism as a form of racism. These two issues have to do with the problems of lands, territories - the recognition of the huge deportation of African people through the slave trades, the recognition of a right to have a Land, a State for the Palestinian people. At the end, this Conference was "saved" by a wobbly agreement, leaving without a satisfactory answer this second surging issue. In this post-Durban context, the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred. These events and what they started internationally still reinforce our questioning on the search for our territories. Already stigmatised in the past, the demonization of the Arabs and the Muslims - without distinction - continues at an accelerated speed, and above all, openly : the Western States organised themselves and set up common policies under cover to take part in the world fight against terrorism. The State of Israel encloses in all impunity and until smothering the Palestinian people and its authorities. In this international political context, it appears absolutely fundamental for us to make the voices of Arab lesbians or lesbians from Arabic languages and culture heard. These realities do not constitute simple headings of newspapers, anecdotes from the Far East but they constitute a chapter of our daily lives, our stories.

Land of exile, Native Land, Motherland and Mother

" At home?
Did these words still have a meaning ? After so much years of exile, is a land still native? And is one still native? One arrives in the country and one knows neither its word any more nor its music. One seeks without never finding it the piébwa of her/his placenta. Close-cropped cut by the property developers ", Condé, Maryse, The Last of the African kings. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, c1997.

Native, to be born, these terms, which through their common etymological root ( in French ) carry beneath them the figure of the Mother.
Mother-absent dispenser of Love... which distils in us the nostalgia of our Land.
Mother-dryness of Love... we have to cut from to learn our Self ...
Mother-Land, deeply linked...
Journeys of migrations, of exiles like croSsings over-Sea, over-Ocean, over-Self... to find our Stump, our Sap, our eSsence beyond the birth.

I would like to acknowledge with grateful thanks :
Mary to give this space space for expressing ourselves,
Nadya, Laura, The Mujadarra Grrls
for their amazing Work to give Voice to the Arab Lesbians,
, habitíti, sweetheart, who connected me to all these amazing Womyn,
All the Sistren
who contributed to this issue directly through their Words, their Images, the others who helped for the translation, especially NORA,
Julia, Kheira and Dal, the Algerian Connection,
Special thanks to Nathalie for her assistance with regards to the design of the issue,
And above all Aishah Shahidah Simmons, my Sistah/Friend/Comrade, fierce lesbian feminist Warrior, independent filmmaker, who INSPIRED me so much in our Struggles, in my Journey!

This issue gave birth to a new and empowering collective, the N’DéeSses, which is working on giving Voice to the Arab Lesbians in native lands as well as in exile lands through the website called SEHAKIA.

ENJOY this issue !

1. In the Creole language, a piébwa is a tree/trunk of a tree

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