The downpour came suddenly.
It was the second time I got rained on that day.
But it was what you said before the drink we shared that still haunts me now.

Are we insane? Why do we choose to keep fighting, always on the margins? With every passing day we seem to be losing a little bit more in our battles.
I admitted I had had similar thoughts in past months, but later when you asked me directly, I denied it.

Must we have these moments of despair to survive?
Exile, even when self-imposed, entails a bitter root. The experience of enjoying certain social and political liberties is planted deep within the anguish of having departed. So far from the front lines we had been reacreating from a distance. Now, they feel to have moved to the edge of my heart.

But my exile is also accompanied by a pleasure, I feel comfort in our shared desperation, making me feel part of a family I never had.

***

Someone told me that the train moves slower today than it did in the years after its construction. I wonder how A. moved on despite the letdown experienced in Soviet Russia. Is there a come-down greater than the one that follows the euphoria of revolution’s potential? We might spend the rest of our lives recovering from this.

These tracks I crawl along today, the Kaiser had intended for the expansion of the German Empire. Latecomers to the game of the robbery of nations.
The railway, an affront to the world domination of Britain and France.

The ensuing blood bath of the Great War, the fertile soil, from which emerged the Leviathan that still reigns in the former Ottoman territories today.

Despite their intended purpose, in 1919 A. Berkman rode these tracks in the dim hope of joining the fighters battling just the power they were meant to impose, the ones dreaming that another world was possible.

***

Somewhere between Berlin and Vienna, I recall the summer camp you told me you had attended in your youth. Organized by the PLO’s money man, it sought to host the nation’s best students, to train them in the ways of etiquette—the rules of the game. Nearly forty years later, those lessons have helped shape a ruling class, masters in the etiquette of subservience and collaboration: the continuous selling of the soul of a nation for the privileges of participating in the puppetry.

Damn etiquette! What is it, but the imaginary behind the hegemon’s gaze at the world. One way of seeing made normative. Determined codes by which we taste, smell, see, and perform. Etiquette reaches deep into the soul. Our elites became the perfect performers. The learned code of conduct, an attempt to fulfill the desire to become the occupier.

In 1910, the governor of Istanbul ordered the stray dogs of the city exiled to the Island of Sivriada—Island of the Wicked. The way the story is often told, for weeks the city’s population did nothing while hearing the starving dogs’ haunting howls. The animals’ eradication, only one sign of the brutality of modernization.
Today, the police took a man off my train with expired papers.

If we are to question the game, not its rules, we must return to the point of its dawn, when it was just beginning to make inroads into the heart of our communities.
Our protests are constantly targeting the same mechanism, only the rules of oppression.

***

In 1919, A. Berkman was desperately hunting for an alternate way for communities to exist, not governed by rulers no matter their credentials. A. sought those who opposed their subscription for the sake of another’s war, the ones who opposed the imposition of taxes in exchange for oppression, questioned the barbed-wire barriers, bypassed the outposts set to determine their permitted path of movement.

Ours are the weapons of the week—that is where our hope lies.
On these tracks I am following A. to “bilad al-sham”—Greater Syria—to go visiting, to follow in these footsteps.

***

I am running late. At the station in Belgrade I can’t find any information about train departures. I buy a sandwich at the restaurant and the kind shopkeeper tells me in rarely good English that my train is the painted one on platform 2. He means the one covered in graffiti. Only minutes till departure, I find there is no cafeteria on board and rush back to buy a coffee to go. It is going to be a twelve-hour ride.

My train keeps alternately passing and being passed by a freight train to the right.
To the left, the landscape is beautiful, though scarred with marks of war.

In 1878, following the Russo-Turkish War, Serbia won its independence and Bulgaria became an autonomous principality within the Ottoman Empire.

This track between Belgrade and Sofia was the first to be built in the Balkans, a condition imposed by the colonizers in exchange for sovereignty.

Ten minutes after departing from Belgrade the train comes to a halt. Not more than fifteen passengers are onboard. The government has been trying to privatize the railway —like much else of the state—and so, for years, no public funds have been spent here in order to justify the proposition.

The boisterous conductor is wearing socks and plastic slippers and walks around with Balkan folk songs blaring from his mobile phone. I ask him why the train stopped and he holds up his hand, his thumb and index finger almost touching, “a small problem,” I guess in response. He hectically walks back and forth through the open air carriage where I’m sitting and then sits down next to the only other passenger and lights a cigarette. At least now there’s music.

If in 1878 a new trend of national liberation was just beginning to blow through the Ottoman Empire, today the winds of change bring privatization, the embodiment of the failure of that project—in its inception. It took five years, after the rail concessions had changed hands multiple times, till the great powers signed an agreement on the building of a track between Belgrade and Sofia—opposed to Ottoman desires. The tracks, vital infrastructure for the victorious empires’ market interests.

The small problem alluded to by the smoking conductor is deeply rooted in a colonialism that smoothly blended into neo-colonialism. The authors of history’s claim of an end of colonialism following national liberation, belies the fluidity of that transition. The common denominator: resources—human and non-human—at the disposal of the rulers. Thus the condition for independence was its opposite, the infrastructure of oppression. Once again the railway is about to become the vessel of the coming age.

We start moving again and swiftly pass a station, there I see piles of rail ties, the cement blocks that are laid perpendicular to the track. I can’t tell if they are old ones being removed or new ones. We are submerged in the astounding beauty of the wild, interrupted by heavy drilling work on a mountain ridge to widen the path. It dawns on me, the privatization is already in process.

***

July 23, 1892, a court sentenced A. Berkman to prison for the attempted assassination of Henry Frick, chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company. A. had followed the rising actions of the workers at the steel conglomerate, and one day walked into the executives’ office with a revolver and shot him twice, injuring the man, before being apprehended. Only days earlier, it was Frick, who had ordered Pinkerton agents to attack the strike that lead to the killing of nine workers.

That day Theodore Diller, a Pittsburgh neurologist penned an article for the journal “The Alienist and Neurologist.” The journal’s title refers to a term originating from the French, for one who treats the “aliene,” the mentally ill, suffering from mental alienation. Diller’s article is poorly argued and based primarily on newspaper reports and second-hand accounts of the events of A.’s violent act, arrest, defense, and imprisonment. Its line of argumentation reflects a dominant general sentiment. For the physician, most of the defendant’s address was simply “unintelligible and incoherent” and A.’s belief in anarchism a sign of a “perverted and weakened mind.”

The closing remarks of Berkman’s defense were as follows:

“My reason for my act was to free the earth of oppressors of the workingmen. I wanted to punish him, not murder him. I did not assault Mr. Frick, but the person who oppressed labor. I recognized no man by a name, but the cause of the trouble, and I wanted to remove the cause.”

With Epicurus, let us have the courage, to recognize the cause and take aim.

Indeed, they will call us insane.