To form a union is to join together across differences in the name of a common purpose, a demand, or a proposed future. In the context of what has become known as the ‘Middle East’, the notion of a progressive union that would cross sovereign borders and truly unite behind a common purpose is decidedly utopian. The constraints of racial capitalism, securitized borders, and the colonial notion of the ‘Middle East’ itself make it so. The proposition of such a union, therefore, assumes the truly fantastical possibility of a way out.
It is precisely to this fantasy that the MEU festival will orient itself. We aim to ask: what would it mean to imagine a union in the ‘Middle East’, a term that we will call into question even as we name it, that would be radical, that would upset the current order of things, that would oppose the legacies of colonialism and ongoing forms of oppression through which the region is marked? While we will take as a point of analysis and discussion forms of political, cultural, and linguistic union throughout history: we do not seek to model ourselves on any already existing institution. Rather, we aim to understand what we can learn from past movements and entities and how we might imagine a union that would neither enact nor reproduce violence but offer inclusion and the hope of true liberation.
The MEU Festival will be a four-day literary event focusing on the possibilities of a textual and artistic vision for this imagined entity – The Middle East Union – launched from here, contemporary Berlin. Berlin is the perfect location to discuss the possibility of a Middle Eastern Union, especially because the city inhabits a contradiction. It is now a central crossroads for diasporic and exiled people from throughout the region. It is also, however, a centre of contemporary European hegemony – a former colonial power and a once fascist state that is now at the heart of the European Union. It is a European city that enables a Middle Eastern meeting point, and yet it is also part of a union that acts as a fortress with deadly borders. It is an artistic hub and queer haven, yet right-wing politics and continuing racism reminds us that it has never been able to fully exorcise its ghosts. With Berlin as our starting point, we aim to imagine together a union that could go beyond such contradictions, a union that would make the fantasy of a Middle East beyond violent legacies, which is our inheritance, real.
We wish to bring together poets, writers, journalists, and academics to create a new space for literature, culture exchange, discussion, and political action. We want our audience to step into a unique moment in time and space – engaging with the imaginary possibilities of sitting in Berlin today and thinking about a new literary space, a new unmapped cultural territory, a potential for a brand-new political option. Can Europeans participate and engage with new frameworks for the political entity that we envision for the region? Can a diasporic setting of expats or exiled writers sitting together in contemporary Berlin promote action in their countries of origin? What could a Middle Eastern Union look like, and how might it go beyond fantasy and into reality? Join us to find out!