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Umm Kamel’s Affair
How Infidelity Liberated the Night Sky in Jabal ‘Amil
Mohamad Nahleh
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Weakened by the expansion of several imperial and colonial projects, the inhabitants of Jabal ‘Amil survived as second-class citizens, severed from the urban expression of Lebanese nationalism, and having to formulate their identity amid countless transgressions on their scholarship and literary production. It is thus in the spectacles of the universe and the mysteries of the cosmos that they inscribed fragments of their oral legacy, turning the night sky into an archive that no empire could burn or colonize. And yet it is light pollution, leaking from the same cities they were once forced to nourish, that quickly established itself as the main transgressor, clearing the faintest stories in their celestial library. Although distant manifestations of Islamic cosmology could no longer animate their rural nights, new alterations in the sky after dark, no matter how violent, have proven worthy carri-ers of their modern myths and legends. And it is onto the loudest object in their polluted sky, the Israeli reconnaissance drone IAI Searcher MK, that they grafted the tale of their legendary matriarch Umm Kamel. I argue that Umm Kamel’s physical and symbolic ascent into the sky was orchestrated by a modern generation of ‘Amilis whose infidelity to the celestial stories authored by their ancestors fortified their ability to transform the combined pressures of pollution and colonization. United by their efforts to forge new imaginaries around a starless night, they invite reflection on the possibility (and responsibility) of confronting the sky we have together inherited rather than lamenting the one we have lost. In tracing Umm Kamel’s transformation from figure to constellation, I contend that their cosmic interventions set the stage for new alliances between design and darkness, and ultimately, for a more expanded imagination of night design, particularly within the context of the climate crisis.

Read the full article at Taylor & Francis.