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Real Talk:
On New Beginnings: Berlin's Arab Exile Body


Perhaps it takes an outside perspective, one familiar with the language born of the 2011 Arab uprisings and with the experience of so-called 'failed' revolutions to indicate new ways out of an impasse. Egyptian sociologist Amro Ali offers such a perspective: he recently penned an essay characterizing Berlin as an exile capital with enormous potential to be a meaningful political laboratory. The networks of exile have the potential to release immense intellectual and artistic energy into the city, yet the urge for fundamental political change that could emanate from it tends to fizzle out. The fragmentation and lack of political efficacy, which prohibit any capacity for action, raises the question: how could these Arab diasporic spaces overcome their paralyzing political despair and inactivity? Arab Berlin, after all, echoes what New York was for Jewish exiles fleeing Europe in the 1930s and 1940s or Latin American exiles making a home in Paris in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the first part of the evening, Amro Ali will present his ideas on the challenges facing the burgeoning of this political body, and propose a new type of beginning. A beginning for a political discourse in a new, revolutionary, but non-violent "language of consciousness" that respects the dignity of fellow human beings and seeks to enlarge their common space. A beginning through "poiesis" and “praxis” beyond the diaspora, to reach a place where an Arab exile body can enter a shared conversation with other communities.

For the audience, we will specifically invite people from very different political contexts familiar with practices of fundamental change.

In the second part, three young Syrian filmmakers and students from Bard College Berlin, Wafa Mustafa and Rafat Alkotaini, will respond by showing short films that shed light on the experiences of exile in Berlin – namely, political experiences with an existential dimension in which every human being that prizes thought can access. These artistic contributions might serve as examples of the despair that foments political stalemate and inactivity. They also might be seen as a counter-argument to Amro Ali’s ideas of agency, or even furnish what Amro Ali is asking for, a new beginning that is urgent yet cautious and aware of its vulnerability.

Real Talk is a new series at Grüner Salon that renders visible the political discourse of the young, resistance-oriented, democratic and activist Middle-Eastern diaspora in Berlin and provides space for its debates. This series aims to make evident the transnational realities and struggles between ‘here’ and ‘there’; ‘then’ and ‘now’, differences which Nationalism seeks to deny and erase, and which reveal themselves in the Diasporas. The talks serve as a platform to explore the diaspora’s own thoughts and reactions to these realities. The series in the Grüner Salon aims to create a space where Syrian, Afghan, Yemen, Iraqi and other experts in various discursive and artistic discipline can discuss and perform their work.

The series is a cooperation between Bard College Berlin, the Volksbühne Berlin and the German Council on Foreign Relations. It offers a mix of lectures, short-films, panel discussions and performances discussing themes such as the struggle for survival of the civil society in the Middle East; the re-claiming of political agency; disappeared and missing prisoners; the fate of women in the revolution; the political dimension of the (post-)traumatic; the experience of statelessness; and other topics related to the diaspora.

Past Activities

Real Talk: Accommodating the Devil. The Syrian Civil Society’s Struggle for Survival

19:00 Welcome: Marion Detjen
Introduction: Kristin Helberg

19:15 Panel Discussion with Christin Lüttich (Moderation), Karam Alhamad, Kristin Helberg, Zeidoun Alzoubi and Ameenah Sawwan
followed by responses and discussion with the audience

The revolution in Syria did not only try to get rid of Assad's regime. It also created a diverse landscape of civil society structures that allowed the population to sustain itself: schools, health centers, infrastructure projects, journalistic initiatives, and more. These grassroot structures survived the war and the sieges. But now they are facing annihilation: ever since the USA and other Western powers signaled their withdrawing from Syria, the grassroot organizations and NGOs have been threatened to remain without any means, and the volunteers find themselves squeezed between the terror of the regime and the terror of the Islamist groups.

How should we, how should free societies in the West act in this situation? A lively civil society here cannot be impervious to a dying civil society there. What is the current situation in the different regions of Syria? Can we even imagine an arrangement with Assad? Can Russia be moved to force Assad to secure at least a minimum of protection for the people in those areas? The evening will be framed by photos and posters from the revolution.

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