Beirut, Beirut

15 September, 2020

Edi­to­r­i­al No. 1 — Sep­tem­ber 2020

I will always remem­ber the days fol­low­ing the Beirut explo­sion as trau­mat­ic and uncer­tain, in the same way that we expe­ri­enced the after­math of the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001. Ear­li­er that sum­mer in Los Ange­les, a cir­cle of friends and I had just launched a new cul­tur­al cen­ter for the Mid­dle East and North Africa, and we were ani­mat­ed by hope and antic­i­pa­tion with what such a cen­ter for the arts would mean in a city like LA. Yet the days fol­low­ing 9/11 felt grim and fore­bod­ing, as if our world was col­laps­ing on us in the same way the Twin Tow­ers col­lapsed onto themselves.

Posters and outtakes from events at the Levantine Cultural Center/The Markaz.

Posters and out­takes from events at the Lev­an­tine Cul­tur­al Center/The Markaz.

At the end of May 2020, after 19 years, The Markaz closed for good. As with that dis­tant sum­mer of 2001, a new cir­cle of writ­ers and artists (this time in sev­er­al world loca­tions) began work­ing on launch­ing a new arts ini­tia­tive, to be called The Markaz Review. We decid­ed not to let the pan­dem­ic ruin every­thing; opti­misti­cal­ly the dis­cus­sion was around how we could rein­vent the wheel, trans­form­ing what had been a brick-and-mor­tar space for the arts and the MENA into a glob­al-local com­mu­ni­ty, albeit vir­tu­al. As in 2001, our efforts got under­way in June, and we began plan­ning for our first issue to come out in Sep­tem­ber, with Beirut as its theme. At first we want­ed to ded­i­cate our­selves to the artists and the activists of Beirut and indeed, of Lebanon, who were fight­ing the old polit­i­cal elite and the cor­rup­tion, which had led the coun­try to the brink of eco­nom­ic collapse.

But then came the explo­sion at the Port of Beirut on the 4th of August, and Beirut as a theme issue became even more urgent. How­ev­er, not every­one saw the point of TMR. One per­son, a for­mer Beiru­ti liv­ing in Man­hat­tan, wrote to say, “Your cam­paign and tim­ing is of extreme­ly bad taste and insen­si­tive giv­en what my coun­try real­ly needs at this time.” Clear­ly Beirut need­ed human­i­tar­i­an aid and finan­cial sup­port to get through the cri­sis. But the city is also home to count­less painters, musi­cians, writ­ers and oth­er artists who were them­selves vic­tims of the blast that killed near­ly 200 peo­ple and ren­dered thou­sands home­less. I remind­ed our friend­ly crit­ic in Man­hat­tan that the orig­i­nal Lev­an­tine Cul­tur­al Cen­ter had meant some­thing to Ange­lenos. When we closed down (hav­ing renamed our­selves The Markaz in 2015), one of our long-time mem­bers, an Iran­ian Amer­i­can who worked in tele­vi­sion, wrote us. “Lev­an­tine Cul­tur­al Center/The Markaz helped me and count­less oth­ers sur­vive ‘the War on Ter­ror’ years. Thank you for the home you nur­tured for us all.”

The Markaz Review or TMR exists to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ty and be a vir­tu­al home away from home. We sup­port artists and those of us who rely on cre­ative peo­ple for insight, hope and inspi­ra­tion. As Malu Halasa and Zaher Oma­reen note in their anthol­o­gy Syr­ia SpeaksArt and Cul­ture from the Front­line, “cre­ativ­i­ty is not only a way of sur­viv­ing the vio­lence but of chal­leng­ing it.” Whether talk­ing about the vio­lence of racism, sex­ism, auto­crat­ic lead­er­ship or lit­er­al oppres­sion, TMR is here to let us speak in our own voic­es, and to raise the bar for all of humanity.

Our pro­pos­al is to pro­duce a month­ly theme issue and present addi­tion­al columns, reviews and arti­cles in TMR Dai­ly. We pay our con­trib­u­tors, albeit mod­est­ly for now, and rely on our read­ers for finan­cial sup­port, even as we apply to foun­da­tions large and small, and to the indi­vid­ual donors with­out whom this endeav­or would have nev­er got­ten off the ground in the first place.

Thank you for read­ing and rais­ing your voices.

—Jor­dan Elgrably


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