I Call My Brothers
By Jonas Hassen Khemiri, 2010
Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, 2011
I call my brothers and say: Something really sick happened yesterday. Did you hear? A man, a car, two explosions, in the middle of the city.
I call my brothers and say: No, no one died. Or. One person died. He died. The one who wasn’t our brother. But of course. Some people will try to link him to us. His name, his origins, the color of his hair. Similar enough (or not similar at all).
I call my brothers and say: Watch out. Lie low for a few days. Lock the door. Pull the curtains. If you have to go out: leave your keffiyeh at home. Don’t carry any sort of suspicious bag. Turn up the volume in your headphones so you aren’t upset by people’s comments. Close your eyes to avoid people’s glances. Whisper in the subway, laugh softly at the movies. Blend in, make yourselves invisible, transform yourselves into gas form. Don’t attract anyone’s, and I mean anyone’s, attention.
I call my brothers and say: Forget what I said. Fuck silence. Fuck invisibility. Go out on the town wearing only Christmas lights. Put on neon coveralls, orange grass skirts. Play the whistle. Bellow holes into megaphones. Occupy whole blocks, take over malls. Make yourselves maximally visible until they understand that there is an opposition. Tattoo PC FO’ LIFE in black Gothic letters on your stomach. Defend the rights of all idiots to be idiots until you lose your voice. Until you die. Until we make them understand that we’re not who they think we are.
I call my brothers and say: For that matter. Who is ”them”? There is no ”them.” There are, however, extremists on all sides who want to convince us that there is a ”them”. A dangerously threateningly united ”them”. Don’t trust anyone who talks about ”them”. Everyone who talks about ”them” is an idiot. (Pause.) Especially them, those people that say there’s a war. There is no war, do you hear me? There is no war.
I call my brothers and say: Okay. There is a war. There are several wars. But not a war the way they say there is. The war is about our brains. The war is about our fear. And when fear settles itself inside us, airplanes turn to missiles and bags turn to bombs. Cell phones become remote triggers, baby food becomes plastic explosives. All liquids are potentially explosive. All black-bearded men are potential carriers of bombs. All blond men are potential Laser Men. And when fear settles itself in us we start to fear the future and long for yesterday. We start to wish that we could turn back the clock, it was so much better before, when men were men and women were women and no one was gay. When we had fax machines instead of the internet and the pillory instead of a legal system. With nostalgic expressions we remember spettekaka and folk dancing, small villages and corporal punishment. It was so much simpler then. When borders were clear and the enemy had a face (and only one face). But not everyone is afraid. We refuse to let ourselves be frightened, we walk with proud faces into a future of dissolving borders, with the firm knowledge that no clocks can ever be turned back. We are not afraid. We are not afraid.
I call my brothers and whisper: Okay. I admit it. I’m afraid. I’m terrified. I’m afraid because men who shoot parents through apartment windows in Malmö are described as isolated lunatics and not as part of a larger extreme-right network. I’m afraid because no one remembers racists who set fires in the apartments of families in Högdalen who are committed to anti-racist causes. I’m afraid of Nazis in Salem and Islamists on Drottninggatan and fascists in our parliament. But most of all I’m afraid because history always seems to repeat itself, because we never seem to learn, because all signs indicate that our cowardice and fear of what we call different is so deeply-rooted that we’ll never be able to overcome it.
I call my brothers and say: Something really sick happened yesterday. I got on the subway and caught sight of an extremely suspicious individual. He had black hair and an unusually large backpack and his face was covered by a keffiyeh.
I call my brothers and say: It took a split second before I realized that it was my reflection.