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Land & Borders: Passport Paradigms

مش أصلاً نحنا للأرض، ومن الأرض إحنا
Don’t we belong to the land, and from the land we came?
مش أصلاً نحنا للأرض، ومش الأرض إلنا
Don’t we belong to the land,
and not the land to us?

When I first walked into union, I didn’t really know how the passport making workshop worked. And so, I found myself at the laundry-line of passports, reading the name of each of the states, trying to decide which one I would choose (because that’s how I thought this activity works). I realized halfway into this that I stood there looking for a Tunisian passport. The 2014 gender-egalitarian and secular reforms to the Tunisian constitution and the Arab culture of Tunisia made it my number one choice. I was then saddened to find out that that was not how this activity works: we don’t get to choose the citizenship (or lack thereof) with which we’re born. It really is “decided on the lucky draw of paper,” as Wulia stated.

My great grandmother, her parents, cousins, and siblings alike presumably would have all possessed the same travel document attached above. As Palestinians, they had to flee to Syria as refugees during the 1948 exodus. My grandmother was in my great grandma’s womb during this process of fleeing. Her name roughly translates to “migrate.”

Collage I made out of images of artifacts obtained at the passport making seminar.

On another note, I can’t believe that out of the multitude of stories that could have been assigned to me, I received one that hits very close to home. Although most of my friends have Bedouin ancestry, they come from very privileged and once-powerful tribes. As the concept of nationhood began to emerge in Jordan, the attempt to diffuse power out of these tribes and into the state was underpinned by granting citizenry and political power to these tribes. Most Bedouins, like Mona, do not have access to this ‘luxury.’

Not only does Mona Kareem, the person in the article given to me, belong to a Bedouin tribe, but she also happens to reside in Kuwait – a country known for minimal tolerance/care policy for non-Kuwaitis. Knowing a bit about the complications foreign citizens face in Kuwait, I can’t believe how it must be like for Mona’s tribe living there as a stateless family. In the discussion we had with Ms. Tintin Wulia at the end of the workshop, Ms. Wulia spoke about the movement where aboriginal people had created their own passports as a form of protest. I wonder if such a mechanism would benefit a specific subsect Bedouins given that the rights of indigenous populations in the vast majority of the Middle East and North Africa remain uncodified.

Also in regards to the discussion we had Ms. Wulia, she prompted us all to contemplate how one becomes a citizen of a country. Since Mona Kareem’s family in Kuwait: In Kuwait, for example, regardless of whether or not one was born there or lived there for their entire life, citizenship can only be obtained through the paternal bloodline. Kuwait, like Nepal, also happens to not allow dual citizenship. The question that Ms. Wulia left us with is the following:

For me, this is a tricky question. In my senior year of high school, my theatre classmates and I devised a short piece on the topic of contemporary third-world identity. We all had Palestinian heritage but simultaneously considered ourselves Jordanian and at the same time as global citizens. But on a different note, it is also difficult for me to be female while carrying citizenship of a country enthusiastic to uphold critical reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. If I were an American, I would similarly be aggravated by the fact that the USA has not ratified over 40 different pivotal Human Rights conventions which include the Convention on the Rights of the Child. All in all, I don’t think one could be an informed citizen of any country without being disturbed by its history and politics. This got me thinking whether being a citizen of a country means being entitled to certain rights at the cost of simultaneously being distressed by the atrocities a state commits… Yet, just as how the truth reveals that this intellectual distress is nowhere near the anguish experienced by the stateless, reality reveals that not all citizens have rights either…

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