The Scribble Bitch Book Club currently has three members: Rebecca Jane, Sheela Swift, and Riva Djinn. (See the post below entitled "The Scribble Bitch Book Club" to know exactly what titles they are reading).
These three women met at a small club in Chicago called the Rhythm Room, a nightclub that hosts Friday night drum circles.
All three of these women happen to play different varieties of hand drums. Rebecca plays an inverted steel drum; Sheela plays an Irish bodhran; Riva plays the Middle Eastern dumbek.
These women met two weeks ago at the Rhythm Room's weekly drum circle. Drumming together quickly made them into a classic example of fast friends. They all discovered that they share interests in reading, writing, and talking at high speed.
All three women worry over the crisis in the Middle East, and they have anxious personalities, so they decided to form a book club to start reading, talking, thinking, and writing about this problem amongst themselves.
After exchanging phone numbers, they agreed to be available to each other anytime, day or night. The three of them created a kind of Middle East Crisis Hotline, thus agreeing in this way to be within reach of each other, all the time.
Last night, Rebecca picked up the phone.
First, she called Riva, who was busy indulging in a foam bath. Riva splashed and laughed. Rebecca, being as reverent as she is toward a woman in her bath, couldn’t imagine disturbing her dear friend. Rebecca needed to quietly rant; her reading had inspired an urgent and pressed mood in her, so she explained to Riva that she'd just call her later; she'd bring her concerns to Sheela first. Riva agreed, and they hung up.
Rebecca called Sheela, who had bathed in rose petals and goat's milk an hour ago. Sheela was ready to listen closely:
"I have just read this scene in the novel Beirut Blues by Hanan al-Shaykh. The scene made me think about something. May I read you a paragraph?" Rebecca asked.
Sheela took her friend off "speaker phone" and whispered, "Sure. You have my ear, Sweetheart."
Rebecca read this paragraph from page 21:
“Kazim was listening to what Ricardo said, but he rephrased it in more ideological terms; he said that religious faith was now the solution but that this was a gut reaction after the failure of the other political parties. ‘We confronted Israel with weapons, nationalism, guerilla operations. What was the result? If we’d fought them with our religion, we would have overcome them. Look at them. Because they operate on the basis of a single religion, they’re the strong ones. Religion must become the authority."
"May I share with you what this paragraph made me think of?" Rebecca asked.
"That's what our hotline is for. Speak, girl. Don't be timid!" Sheela gently urged.
"In this novel, this passage strongly suggests that Hezbollah, which regards itself as a political party of God, was created in reaction, a 'gut' reaction is the way this novel's characters state it, to the idea that perhaps the Israeli army draws its strength from its religious affiliation. This makes me see that these two sides, these fighters, are like two sides of the same coin. They are mirrors of one another. True. I am afraid of the way the US government and Britain will point to Hezbollah as the ONLY and MAJOR problem in the Middle East. It's not right. It's not that simple. The problem is a human one and needs a human solution. No more violence, please! I am desperately afraid of the kind of bullying the Bush administration probably has in mind."
"Also, reading this made me think of something I'd recently read in Tin House, an interview with Roddy Doyle. Many of us 'Westerners' and people who feel more cynical about religion may feel like dismissing warrior mentalities that appear to be flawed and simplistic and steeped in religion. It's more complicated than that."
"Anyway, in this interview with Roddy Doyle, who is a writer I admire and respct, he wanted to dismiss all religion—he included yoga and vegetarianism under his 'religion' umbrella—as silly. Religion may be silly, but like other silly urges such as war and revenge, we need to admit that many people embrace religion; it's a human force..."
"I wish writers who become cultural icons and spokespeople would not be so careless, dismissive, and cynical when dealing with other people's choices, affiliations, and actions, especially when the consequences are war and death. Dismissing actions as 'terrorist,' 'fundamentalist,' 'radical,' or 'silly' does not seek to understand the very human forces that compel people to act the way they do. Our mind needs to kick out its habits of judgment if we want to deal effectively with one another. We need to think in terms more compassionate. Enemies are mirrors of one another. The characters in al-Shaykh's novel seem pushed by desperation, i.e. Israelis have religion; they're strong; we need religion... Oh, how shall we ease this suffering, this urge to fight, this despair??? You see, Doyle wishes to define himself as Dublin-Irish. You see why this is still problematic? At the rate we're going, Dublin could be taken away from him any day now. He could be exiled involuntarily from Ireland. What then? What is left when you let go of designations such as American, New Yorker, Syrian, Israeli, Indian, etc.? Is there a place for all of us to grieve together, to finally acknowledge the extent of our exile?"
"In a poem called 'As He Walks Away,' Mahmoud Darwish's speaker recites the lines of Yeats' Irish Airman:
Those that I fight I do not hate.
Those that I guard I do not love."
"Oh, I'm sorry my thoughts are so scattered over this. I'm just feeling a little desperate too."
Rebecca's voice, exhausted, fell silent.
Sheela nodded and winked, and by some odd magic (or perhaps through an excellent Verizon connection) Rebecca could actually hear Sheela nod and wink over the phone.
"I am listening." Sheela assured her. "I have heard all you have said. I have received your words, warmly, absorbed them into my consciousness. Now, I will be silent and think."
Before they hung up the phone, Sheela thought of all this:
'I was reading too, and now I am thinking of all you have said and of a very powerful passage in Elias Khoury’s novel Gate of the Sun. A French writer is interviewing the Palestinian fighter, Yunes, asking him if he’d ever killed anyone and how he feels about it. Yunes is telling Monsieur Georges that in war, killing is like breathing, you do it without thinking about it, in war you are a fighter and you shoot and shoot, fighters live and die shooting. In a warrior consciousness, it's as though one can never really know the extent of damage he can do. I suppose we always sort of live like that, not knowing how we hurt each other, but maybe it's not always as obvious as a military battle. Killing each other; hurting each other; experience teaches that fighters get swept up into the vertigo of it. I can show you vertigo.'
'Anyway, this passage, Khoury's whole book, makes me realize that war is a way of being for displaced people who have been falling too far into despair. History has been repeating the obliteration and annihilation of people, masses of people killed violently and erased. Even their erasure is being forgotten.'
'It's not just Israelis and Arabs; we all must stop killing each other! Where do we begin?'
'Do we agree to go down together? The earth enshrouded, a white sheet over her eyes?'
'I'm on my stomach, my lips press to the ground. I'd do whatever it takes to stop this nonsense, nothing more and nothing less than complete submission. Surrender. Israel! Western Europe! US! You've won. So rape me. Palestine! Arab nations! Islam! Ugly martyrs, all! You've won. So veil me!'
'Lock me away in your gas tanks, your refugee camps, and your bombed out harems! I care less. Stop this nonsense, at once! Listen to your Grandmother's stone-cold heartbeat, sounds like this: Live! Age! Live! Age!'
'Grandmother's heart tightens in your fist. Let go. Slow down.'
'This is a desperate situation! Makes me want to sit back and do nothing but drink lots of brandy and listen to my favorite Billie Holiday tunes! Where's my silk robe? Oh yeah, and I also need to oil my legs and rub my clit. Ah! Fuck you, cruel world! Go ahead! Destroy cities! I'm busy giving myself an orgasm. God, Sheela, man, I love you!'
'What else can I do? No one can hear it anyway.'
Though they were both silent, only breathing, Rebecca heard all of Sheela's thoghts; she even heard Sheela's self-induced orgasm and her tiny cry for help. Rebecca hoped that she was not the only one who had observed Sheela's silent, wicked beauty. Rebecca hoped their phone line was being tapped.
Finally, Sheela whispered, barely audible, "Call again, tomorrow. I must hear your sweet voice repeat another bedtime story!"