Abandoned railway in Mar Mikhael, Beirut. Picture by AMI, from our book Beirut Re-Collected (Tamyras).
The decline of the Ottoman Empire and the colonial encounter it facilitated between the Middle East and Europe dramatically and permanently altered the nature of regional mobility. With the establishment of nation-states, the drawing of borders where none had previously existed, and the development of modern transport infrastructures, the ways in which the Middle East’s residents could move, the places to which they could go, and even the means they used to get there, underwent profound transformations.
Additionally, the present moment is marked by regional crises from Iraq to Syria that have enabled the undermining of national borders and the rise, alongside them, of unofficial alternatives demarcating territories and people along new lines. But, despite the unprecedented control that states, governments and, now, militias, have over the movement of their citizens and the flow of goods and people in and out of their territories, individuals and groups continue to find ways to bypass limitations on movement and to invent alternative means of flowing between spaces.
This series takes as its starting point an acknowledgment of the impact that movement and mobility has had and can have on the shaping of identities – cultural and political, national and ethnic – and the effect that the enabling and/or disabling of certain patterns of travel and motion has had and can have on the shaping of personal destinies, historical narratives and collective memories.
Mashallah News is seeking contributions that engage either the history of the Middle East’s “disappeared” routes or the present of its unofficial, alternative ones, and wants to hear the stories of those, for example, whose lives were irrevocably transformed when a national border severed the economic and personal links between what were once known as northern and southern Galilee, or the perspectives of those who helped dig the recently destroyed tunnels beneath Gaza.
The series is looking to understand how the creation, transformation and destruction of various “routes”, historically and contemporarily, has affected the lives of people in the Middle East, soliciting stories about forgotten railways, oceanic migration, extinct trams, smuggling paths, neo-nomads, pre-Sykes-Picot cross-border romances, businesses, rivalries and cultural exchanges, Arab nationalism before the rise of the Arab nations, and the like.
This series is a collaboration with Knooz Room, an interactive story-telling project that employs multimedia, interactive software and offline installations, and is focused on oral histories from the Middle East. The series will include a major multimedia/interactive component by mapping out the collected testimonies – part of Mashallah News’ aim to “remap” the Middle East one story at a time.
Written contributions have to be between 500 and 1000 words in length. Contributors are asked to submit photos of the transport hubs dealt with in their pieces as well as testimonial videos (recorded on simple devices), in the case of narratives based on collected oral histories. The stories and multimedia will be integrated into an interactive map that will turn the series into a comprehensive, long-form story.
Mashallah News envisions “Routes” more as a collective research project than merely a curated series. Therefore submissions don’t have to meet strict editorial guidelines or to fill thematic blanks that were thought up in advance. This is more a call for collaborators interested in exploring this rich, nuanced topic alongside with the editorial team of the magazine.
Those interested in contributing to this series can submit a 100-word pitch along with a biography and samples of previously published work to email@example.com. Original deadline was September 5th, but the team is open to latecomers along with the construction of this new “Route”. Contributors will be financially compensated, but due to the varied nature of the submissions, Mashallah News cannot specify an exact payment amount before receiving them.