Blog Archive

Blog Archive – 2006

At The Expense of Democracy

December 18, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Hamas leaders have announced they will not participate the in the Palestinian elections called by PA president Mahmoud Abbas. Can you blame them? They did it the right way a year ago after many hard, hard years of building up their party in local communities, addressing on-the-ground needs of Palestinians as well as articulating a reasonable political platform for a new state. Hamas is not a threatening 'Islamist' party but a party built on supporting popular resistance to a horrendous, disabling occupation strategy.     Over the years, Hamas appealed not only to Muslim citizens enduring the disabling effect of Zionist occupation and a corrupted Fatah Palestinian administration. Christian and Muslim Palestinians alike understood the principles of the Hamas Party and turned to it as their confidence in Fatah was eroded.      Moreover, the rise of the Hamas Party was a gradual, maturing process of more than 15 suffering years. Although the American public may have been surprised at their victory in the national election last year, Palestinians were not. Nor was Israel, whose agents and military know everything than is going on the in 'prison' that is Palestine. For a decade, Hamas had been winning in key university and local elections. On their side, Hamas was not new to government either. The West may hear of Hamas only in the context of conflict (a status Israel prefers). In reality, the movement is a sophisticated local level organization and a mature political party.     Unlike some guerrilla organizations who concentrate on military resistance, Hamas early on formed itself into an administrative structure. One of the reasons for its recent political success was its ability to address the daily needs of citizens and to organize communities in crisis as well as formulate an appealing ideology.  In any case, the world knows that their victory in the last election was earned fair and square.     The shameful, cowardly, bullying response of the occupier and of Washington is also well known. They declared Hamas 'outlaw'. Government funds and aid was frozen so that they could not administer. Israel stepped up assassinations of its leaders. Then Israel actually kidnapped at least 14 of their parliamentary members. Kidnapped an elected body!!      As the Chilean dictator is buried this week, we are reminded of the words of the American Secretary of State who hailed the military overthrow of the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, in 1973. Representing US policy in Chile, he said: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people…". How many more democracies will we destroy for the sake of our stingy definition of democracy? [ At The Expense of Democracy ]

Eerie Silence in North Iraq

November 20, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The term "Turkmen" means little to most western people, even those here who think they are up on Iraq ethnography. This is because Turkmens have not figured in media reports for reasons that will become clear. But watch for it. Iraqi Turkmen will soon demand world attention. Iraq, for outside observers is increasingly a land of ethnic and death statistics, usually in the context of the current conflict.

More and more, Iraq is debated in terms of the Sunni-Shia-Kurd formula, as if Kurd were not themselves populated by sunni and shia devotees. Forgotten are the once romanticized Marsh Arabs of the south. (For the most part, they have moved into the cities.) Christians are also set aside, as are Iraqi Jews. Iraq's Christians represent probably the earliest Christian community anywhere, and along with Iraqi Jews, demonstrate the long history of multi-faith co-existence in this part of the world. Iraqis had rightly been proud of that.

Today, upheavals resulting from the US invasion in 2003, from Zionist penetration of Iraq, and from the breakdown of civil order, create new and fiercely protected divisions. Christians are departing, continuing the exodus begun in the early 1990s. Jews are little heard from; if anything their numbers are increasing as Israelis, some of them of Iraqi origin, return to purchase homes and land and engage in business, if not settle here immediately.

While a terrifying power struggle and polarization goes on between Sunni and Shia in the country's center--around Baghdad, home to more than 25% of the nation's people--Iraqi Kurds, with Israel's help, are consolidating their expansion and hold in the north. They have largely escaped the upheaval across Iraq, protected in three autonomous northern governates which are somehow sheltered from the deadly forces unleashed across the rest of Iraq after 2003.

While the north 'appears' stable (as far as Kurdish-speaking Iraqis are concerned), there are troubling signs of an ethnic cleansing underway. Here we return to the Turkmen Iraqis. They number close to 3 million:--12% of Iraq's people. While press attention focuses on Sunni-Shia battles, Iraq's Turkmens face a campaign of discrimination that could become very ugly and costly. Tel-Afar, a Turkmen-speaking majority Iraqi city was subject to bombardments and a crushing siege by US forces. According to Iraq Turkmen Front spokesman Orhan Ketene, "This was instigated by Kurds who called in American firepower on the claim that the city harbored foreign terrorists". Two yars ago US air and land assaults on the scale of Falluja were carried out in Tel-Afar. A city of more than 300,000, it remains under military siege, crippled and little heard from. This, say Turkmen survivors and Ketene, is part of new Kurdish campaign to extend their sway and dominance westward, beyond their traditional governates of NE Iraq.

As troubling as the terrorizing of Tel-Afar is, we also see signs of a Zionist-type settlement by Kurds in the coveted city of Kirkuk. Kirkuk is targeted as a new center for Iraqi Kurdistan. Until recently, the city was multi-ethnic, although it is identified as the center of Turkmen Iraqi society and economy. For the past 3 years, Kurds have been moving into the city at an increased pace, frightening the Turkmen residents. As with Israeli 'settlement' in the West Bank, this is a strategy of "changing the facts on the ground". Assassinations against Kirkuk's Turkmen families have begun. Fear and tension are rising. Because the city is center of the important Kirkuk oil fields, it is a major economic prize and Kurds do not hide their ambitions for the city.  Kurds, backed by Zionist and American elements, are well armed and powerfully placed in the Iraqi government. Turkmens say the ongoing settlement of tens of thousands of new residents, all of Kurdish origin, is in anticipation of a referendum on the city's fate in 2007. With a majority Kurdish population, the city could become an official Kurdish territory. It is a frightening prospect for Iraq's Turkmens.

How Turkey, long an antagonist to Kurdish sovereignty will react, no one knows. It could be brought into the equation if Iraqi Turkmens are further threatened and find no alternative force to protect them. They say they have been unable to interest the Occupation Authority in their fate and their rights.

With the Americans hardly able to protect themselves and with the city of Baghdad out of control, US support for Turkmens appears unlikely, especially when Washington would be unwilling to confront the Israeli partners of Iraqi Kurds. American troops will one day depart. Now or after some years, it would not undo the wickedness their arrival planted.

[ Eerie Silence in North Iraq ]

Lynne Stewart's Victory

October 17, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

They were energetic and vocal on this early Monday morning (October 16, 2006) in downtown Manhattan. Yet it was palpably not a cheerful group that made its way across the city square to the US Federal courthouse.

Six TV crews crowding around the white haired woman were not from mainstream press but from community rights organizations. Individuals behind her held banners calling: "Free Lynne Stewart", Justice for Lynne", "We Love You Lynne", and "Win Lynne Win".

Civil Rights attorney Lynne Stewart made a short speech thanking supporters--those 2-300 who eschewed work that morning to give witness to her ordeal. She assured the crowd of her struggle, then slowly made her way to court. Along the route, she reached out to grasp hands of well-wishers, recognizing many in the crowd. Then she moved a few more meters, arm in arm with her husband Ralph, a retired schoolteacher and union organizer. Three of their fourteen grandchildren pressed close to her side.

The crowd passed police barriers and guards that now encircle every American courthouse. Office workers, unaware of this historic moment, rushed past, uninterested. At the courthouse gate, we found extra security guards posted--'in case of trouble'. The crowd clearly was reluctant to let Lynne and her husband proceed forward, even though they knew she must. They knew, as Lynne herself did, that she might be taken from the courtroom in shackles, never to see these streets again, forbidden to see even her grandchildren. US government prosecutors requested a 30-year sentence! At 67, this meant the rest of her life in prison.

"I brought my medications and my books to the courtroom with me today", Lynne announced to her well-wishers. She tried to smile. If the judge this morning followed the government's directive, she knew that she might be escorted straight to a prison cell.

 Two years ago, this well-known civil rights attorney with a long and distinguished record for aiding the poor and voiceless, was found guilty by a US federal court of aiding 'terrorists'. In this case, it was her own client Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman whom she had visited in prison where he is serving life.

Lynne Stewart has been a vocal defender of civil rights all her life. During the many months between the time of her conviction and her sentencing she refused to do what most fearful citizens awaiting sentencing would, i.e. lay low and try to appease the government. No. Lynne Stewart traveled to every corner of the USA speaking to community groups and college students about the erosion of American civil liberties in recent years and the injustice being directed to her.

Stewart was willing to become a martyr. She would cross the country, speaking wherever she could, warning fellow Americans how the current (Bush) administration had eliminated civil liberties and eroded constitutional protections.

Behind Stewart's conviction is the issue of the government's invasion of attorney-client privilege. This had been a sacred right in American law: namely that any exchange between an attorney and his client is private and protected. After the imposition of the first US anti-terrorist laws in the mid-1990s, the government began to wiretap attorneys' conversations with their clients. Thus the 'evidence' on Lynne's exchange with Abdul Rahman.

When Stewart herself was charged as 'abating terrorism', it was a very serious matter. Lynne took up the challenge of her defense arguing that the evidence was obtained illegally. "This is a constitutional issue," she said to me several years back in one of our many radio interviews. "This is not just about me. I am challenging the government's invasion of an attorney's rights and the erosion of our Constitution that protects this." Not only did Lynne appear on my program and other alternative media. The legal professional across the country saw her challenge as a test case for the Constitution. Thus, her struggle began to receive wide attention. She spoke out forcefully. Legal experts closely followed the case.

How was it that, in a case of terrorism, the most serious of all legal issues in the USA today, Stewart was traveling across the country addressing public gatherings. "I have two sons, both successful, and they were able to meet my half million dollars bail. So I am not in a cell. And I am going to use my freedom of movement to speak out about these injustices.

"The government has said I cannot practice law, the core love in my life--I am disbarred during the time the case is being heard. So I intend to use my 'time out' speaking wherever I can about my case. All Americans must be informed how our government is depriving us of our rights."

I've worked with Ms. Stewart since the mid 1990s when we profiled on my radio program the US government's use of 'secret evidence'. Most of those cases involved Muslims and Arabs. Stewart and a handful of attorneys successfully defended those accused men when government prosecutors had withheld evidence on the claim that it was too sensitive to share with the court. They forced the government's hand, revealing that in fact the 'secret evidence' was baseless.  It was a victory.

Then came September 11, 2001. New anti-terrorist laws were enacted and a new government aggressively prosecuted people on the slightest suspicion. Some of those men acquitted in the phony secret evidence charges were back in jail. Thousands of Muslims were apprehended; hundreds of thousands were questioned by FBI and other security officials; many were deported secretly without trial, and most of the few who were able to mount a defense were convicted. It was and remains a very tense and troubling atmosphere for Muslims in the USA.

In Lynne's prosecution, the government reached beyond Muslim victims. It targeted any attorney who dared to defend a terror suspect. It threatened that they too could face possible imprisonment. This was another reason for Stewart to fight back... and win.

The case had a chilling effect in the legal profession. Attorneys who had once defended Muslim suspects had already stepped back from taking their cases. Some even distanced themselves from Lynne when she dared to challenge the government.

As the 'war on terrorism' expanded, the political atmosphere across the USA grew less tolerant. The government has managed to thwart attempts to apply the rule of habeas corpus for the Quantanimo captives and others accused of association with al-Qaeda or terror. This mood was not a promising one for Lynne Stewart.

She had been extraordinarily brave in speaking out. She summoned extraordinary energy to fight back. With the result that thousands began to rally in her favor. Over 1,200 letters were written to the judge attesting Lynne's fine character and her life of service. Defense funds were raised. Stewart herself wrote a lengthy letter to the judge explaining her actions and asking for mercy.

Something worked.

At 2 pm yesterday afternoon, Lynne Stewart emerged from the court to be met by hundreds of cheers and a now expanded national media.

The judge had been extraordinarily responsive. He handed down a 28-month sentence: two years and 4 months. It was a victory. "Heck, I can do that standing on my head," was Lynne's tearful although smiling response.

Moreover, Lynne does not have to serve this sentence until her appeal on the original charge is settled. That will take another year, perhaps longer. So Lynne is gearing up for another court battle. Forty-eight hours later she attended an ifthar dinner in Brooklyn and gave a rousing speech to the crowd.

Stewart's is one of the few victories in the long struggle to restore democratic rights in the USA. Citizens must seize it and follow this woman's courage.

Details of the case are available on www.LynneStewart.org.

[ Lynne Stewart's Victory ]

Ramadan is here

October 03, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Ramadan Is Everything I Ever Had 

by Rachida Mohammedi

Ramadan is our literature: words received from AllahRamadan is our sociology: we pickup the phone to call "come to ifthar with us".Ramadan is our psychology: each wants to prove to himself how patient he is, he doesn't eat or make love the whole daytime.Ramadan is therapy: our yearning stomach can still enjoy the quiet of its emptiness.Ramadan is art: all around, nasheed sinks into our souls, singing tunes of Allah.Ramadan is catering: a space to offer creative flavors from across our world.Ramadan is meditation: on dawn at al-Fadjr, on setting sun at Al-Maghreb.Ramadan is childhood memories: togetherness and sharing favorite delights.Ramadan is a full basket: spiritual and physical fruits together in a heap.Ramadan is a book to read, a mouth to feed, a soul to welcome faith's seed.Ramadan arrives.Marhaba Ramadan!        24/09/2006

"Ramadan is here"

The city sounds, pipes twang, motors roar by, clock ticks,sick baby's cry. Many layeredsymphony orchestratedelsewhere, played outhere. But in the

irony of opposites, elsewhere is here, it is

here that is elsewhere. So it is by the tight scrutiny of the indefinable Wayhere that it is orchestrated. There where it isplayed out, and it is even bothorchestrated and played out here as well.All far dimensions fit into onepassing sphere.Here.

"Apprehension", Abdal Hayy Moore, from Ramadan Sonnets 1996, listen on RadioTahrir.org/poems www.danielmoorepoetry.com  

Here, where every Muslim reads Qur'an.Ramadan is not a Middle Eastern holiday. It is everywhere today--a month of reflection, readings, and community prayers for all Muslims. In Connecticut and Qatar, in Algiers and Jakarta and Hyderabad, it brings familiarity, anticipation and relief. Ramadan is here. We have a new meaning to our day; we try to mentally prepare ourselves and the children, we welcome the liberation from routine; we strengthen our family bonds. The month brings high prices in the market and nervousness on the roads as we rush home before sunset. Fasting raises tension; it is proved. In Amman, it's more than in Cairo, they say. In Saudi Arabia, I hear, no one is nervous. Not because of piety, but because they simply reverse the routine, sleeping through daylight to rise and pray and work after ifthar, all night. We go to school all month, and offices and businesses open, but only until 2 pm. That's it for the day. So if you need to read books, buy and sell, travel, and make decisions, do it before noon.

The month before, families celebrated triple the normal number of weddings. Every night, not simply weekends, crowds gathered to dance and sing for the married couple. Train schedules change; so do television programs. These last years, Ramadan brings us evening TV specials by satellite--comedies and dramas, singers, players, and poets. Egyptian channels vie with Syrian for the most compelling production of the year. Ramadan TV series are 30 days long, from the first to the end of the Holy Month. We remember stories years after that best Ramadan film.  Radio producers scour the country for sweet nasheed, and find the art of celebration of Holy Hadith and life of Prophet Mohammed. Nasheed vie with robust songs from our favorite vocalists all day on radio and television. Presidents and kings sit with their people reciting Quran. Small children endeavor to fast for a day, or two, maybe a whole week.  Above all, we remember our holy book, recall our favorite sura, speak it and hear it explained, ponder it, and savor its words.   B. Nimri Aziz, Ramadan, Algiers

[ Ramadan is here ]

Time Out for Lebanon

August 02, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Sixteen years ago today, Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait. Just four days later, August 6, 1990,  U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 was passed. It held far reaching implications and must have been designed months or years before. The U.N. plan doomed the Arab aggressor who had been armed to fight the American enemy, Iran, for eight years. Resolution 687 set in motion the notorious blockade of Iraq and the 1991 Gulf War, allowed Israel's disregard for the Oslo Accord and other treaties that might lead to Palestinian statehood, and prepared the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Is Israel's American-backed destruction by of Lebanon supposed to ease my worries about Iraq and to forget Palestine's sovereign rights? I read that fifty Arab souls were blown to bits in Baghdad. But today the toll in Lebanon is 57. One attack was carried out by my people in internecine war--Arabs killing Arabs. Distasteful. The other was by my enemy.

I mustn't mention that this same enemy was deeply involved at every stage in Iraq's demise; this same enemy gleefully supported the 2003 Iraq invasion; the same enemy entered Iraq behind U.S. troops, or perhaps at their side; this same enemy planned bombings in Iraq that helped fuel inter-religious attacks and inflame sectarian animosities. I must not remember that this same enemy supported the rise of Hamas in the 1980s as a counter to the PLO and Fatah's opposition to occupation. I mustn't let any feelings of pride in the Hizbullah's actions in the past and today, show.

I must only mourn for my dead brothers and sisters. Better still if I shout against our Arab leaders for their cowardice and their complicity with the United States. So Kuwaiti women have been given the right to vote, thanks to the lobbying of our American feminist and human rights advocates. There has been some progress; Arab people are catching up.

Numbers published about the attacks on Lebanon that most alarm me are not of deaths--I know how efficient a killing machine Israel is.

What I note is the list of Lebanon's American and European residents: 40,000 Canadians, 25,000 Americans; 20,000 British. More than 100,000 foreigners had homes and were raising their families in the country. Each must have invested over $75,000. to do this. Some surely helped rebuild the great, little nation, hiring teachers, patronizing local businesses, buying books and cars and ice-cream. Hardly 100 miles from Beirut, following the Oslo Peace deal in 1993, expatriate Palestinians, even those who did not wholly approve of the peace treaty details, said 'never mind, let's start to rebuild'. Within a few years, many thousands of families had resettled in the West Bank and Gaza; they opened shops and schools, clinics and construction companies. Early investors made a good return in businesses serving new middle class consumers; more profits were realized through land sales… for a while. Most benefit however went to Israeli suppliers since Palestinian communities were landlocked, local industry was thwarted, forcing Arabs to obtain their construction materials and almost all food through Israeli suppliers.

Lebanon is not the same as Palestine. After the end of its civil war in 1990--alas, another sectarian war--reconstruction began and proceeded smoothly and rapidly. Eventually major financiers, many of them Arab investors, joined the economic boom and expansion continued. Lebanon once again offered Arabs more liberties, greater cultural diversity, superior food, seminars, books, a first class Arabic education, entertainment and a rich cosmopolitan life that is quintessentially Arab. Rural life has always been integrated into Lebanese society. Many are amazed how Lebanon's much admired qualities were rejuvenated, even though economic disparities that were behind the civil war had not been addressed.

Iraqi refugees have moved to Lebanon and added to its flavor and energy; Kuwaitis and Canadians, and Argentineans and Brazilians built summer homes there. The export industry flourished. Arabs from around the world go to Lebanon to publish their books, study theater, meet grandmothers, and have cosmetic surgery.

Cosmopolitanism is as dear to Lebanon as the Hizbullah party is. After driving the Israeli occupiers out of the south in 2000, the Hizbullah  movement remained at work; as a legitimate party it widened its in social, political and economic programs. After the Syrians were threatened by the Americans and left Lebanon, Hizbullah remained true to its agenda.  It had always been genuinely Lebanese. Now it is truly Arab.

[ Time Out for Lebanon ]

At last: Muslim women having our say.

July 11, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Is it possible? Has the western media really begun to listen to Muslim women? A series of recent articles under the banner ‘Half The World’  in the Guardian (UK) features stories about Muslim women and interviews, including one with Noble laureate Shirin Ebadi, with people from Afghanistan to Somalia.

From these reports, we hear about the high percentage of Saudi women engaged in business, of women taking the leadership in Somalia’s call for peace. (In 1988, on my first visit to Kuwait, I myself learned how active Kuwait women were in the nation’s commerce, with many top Kuwait companies run by women. But publication of my report, and doubtless others like it, was sidelined by the 1990 war and the focus of Kuwaiti women’s right to vote.) The Nation magazine is now featuring reviews of books by mainly Muslim women and the reviewer is the insightful Moroccan (American Muslim) writer, Lalia Lalami (morrishgirl.com).

Writings by Muslim women about our achievements escaped western feminists and scholars for many years. The number of Muslim women heads of state also escaped notice. Women singled out in the past were the complainers, the victims who appealed for assistance in fighting injustices in their society. And of course, there was the veil, burqua, and chador to claw at. For so long, and it probably hasn’t ended, what examples western writers highlighted showed abuse and inequality rather than the pride, achievement and intelligence. That abuse, as presented through western writers, must stem from Islam. Our women became a powerful stick with which to attack Islam, reaching its apex with horrifying accounts of the treatment of Afghan women at the hands of the Taliban. Never mind their suffering during the wars leading up to the Taliban’s ascendancy. No cries rose on behalf of Muslim women in the horrifying years of Russian occupation.Shirin Ebadi’s is receiving more attention today with the publication of her new book, Iran Awakening. There, she reiterates what the Egyptian activist, Nawal el-Saadawi has been arguing for many years, namely that women’s adversary is patriarchy, not Islamic teachings and values. And that is a universal opponent. Will the message finally get through?

For many years, Muslims could not write positively of their lives and cultures without becoming defensive of Islam. Our work went unpublished, or it was marginalized. Non-Muslims, especially feminists and anti-Arab advocates could get advance further by rushing to the defense of abused Muslim sisters. That would keep them in the leadership of the worldwide struggle for equality. Meanwhile anti-Arab advocates could add Islam to the reasons for their difficulties with Arabs and accept repeated Middle East political crises as acceptable.

For decades, Muslim lawyers and writers have been working hard to challenge patriarchal interpretations of Islam and the Hadiths, accounts of the life of the Prophet Mohammed from which many Muslim values derive.

Their scholarship was unmatched even though it did not reach into the lectures of Friday prayers across the world. The excellent work of sociologist Fatima Mernissi is followed by that of many other scholars, Asma Afsaruddin, Amina Wudud, Azizah Al-Hibri, Rafia Hassan. All are working in the USA. And the list is growing.

Scholarship by and about Muslim women is augmented and complemented with collections of creative and critical work. Shattering Stereotypes edited by Fawzia Afzal Khan is a fine collection; another is Islam Out Loud, edited by Abdul Ghafur. Azizah, a magazine for “contemporary Muslim women,” edited by Tayyibah Taylor is another example of a lively forum, run by Muslim woman, where one can read critical and reflective essays about everything that concerns them from gay relationships to where women pray in the mosque.

It doesn’t matter that these books are not best sellers listed by a major newspaper. They represent an enormous body of thinking, and the thoughts of millions of women, Muslim women. It is long past time for us to tell our own worlds.

Am I giving the western press undue praise for a few recent features by our members? Yes, I think we need years to see if any really change is underway. Meanwhile take note of our women who are writing. Support them. Write any parallel experience you have. Show yourselves.

[ At last: Muslim women having our say. ]

Watching Torture--and the UN Report

May 24, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

So the United Nations has somehow found the spine to censure the USA on its treatment of foreign prisoners. Yet, we note that the UN report (Monday,May 22) refers only to Guantanamo Bay captives and the practice of transferring detainees for punishment outside US territory. Should we be pleased by the UN statement?

Should the captives themselves be hopeful? And if the US government is culpable, what can an American say to the men and women who, for more than 4 years, have being subjected to things we really cannot imagine, even with the photos?

I doubt that the tortures we saw practiced in Afghanistan and Iraq were invented for Muslims and Arabs.

African Americans say that Abu Ghraib exercises are neither new, nor unique to Iraq; American Black men are subject to similar humiliations and torture in US prisons. Remember how police treated the MoveOn prisoners in 1980 in Philadelphia when Black men were striped and marched naked in the streets?

Did you not see photos of naked Iraqi young men, captured and striped by US soldiers, immediately following the arrival of foreign troops in Baghdad? The youths had been forced to walk uncovered through the streets. Somehow, no journalist or human rights officers noted the racial underpinnings of that action.

We heard about how Jews were forced to desecrate their holy book during their persecution in Europe. We have photos of massacred Japanese and Vietnamese men and women, many of them mutilated and exposed. (It seems we maintain a taboo on photos of mutilated Whites —western men and women--except to demonstrate the savagery of enemies.)

On the www.afterdowningstreet.org site one can scroll through a collection of ‘disturbing’ pictures. It seems the bodies and body-parts posted there belong to Iraqi women and men...and children. In some pictures of the Arab ‘victim’ we see groups of American servicemen standing casually beside the dead.

Analysts point out that today’s high-tech, compact cameras and internet make it possible for these pictures of death, abuse, torture and gross immoral acts to reach the masses. As a result (we maintain), we now learn the truth. These awful facts can no longer be hidden from the public, we argue. We demand investigations ; we will make our government accountable, we say.

Our righteous, angry, progressive movement with hundreds of hard-working investigative journalists, prides itself on the discovery of US crimes against humanity. No matter that it takes years to uncover. The revelations seem to cleanse our culture and conscience. American is not so bad, after all-- because we expose the truth.

Hearing the UN’s call for the closure of Guantanamo prison, I and my families doubt if justice will be restored.

Long, long before the release of those shocking photos, most ordinary Iraqis and Afghans knew that terrible things were being done in the prisons. Even after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke across the world, mistreatment did not stop in the dozens of US prisons and other dungeons across Iraq.

Whatever journalistic essays reveal and the United Nations censures, the American vase of democracy seems broken. Perhaps the damage is irreparable. Too much humiliation has been heaped on hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. Its affect is cumulative, and unstoppable.

As we observe, resistance to US power and arrogance is accelerating globally. And across the world, Iraq’s insurgency might seem like a reasonable response—a justification not only for prison abuses but for the daily invasion of thousands of homes, farms, schools and streets, and for 12 years of a merciless and unprecedented UN-overseen blockade.

[ Watching Torture--and the UN Report ]

The Charm of Blackness

April 11, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

By Rachida Mohammedi

A child of the Sahara, an Arab woman, a poet, educated in an Islamic atmosphere, my values are carried to me in simple songs.

Among the most cherished of these is “Kul lil maleeha-ti fi al-khimari al-aswadi: Tell my charming lover--she with the black scarf…”

Through our folklore, anywhere across the wide Arab World, no one can deny how much we enjoy Arab popular songs and poems without a thought about which country these words came from. For us, the song and the poem are beyond any nation.

Kul lil maleeha-ti fi al-khimari al-aswadi, wherever it originated, reminds me that throughout our Arab culture, Black, when it covers the head and shoulders or filigrees our hands, is reserved for the idea of glamour.

Think about henna, that earthy dark paste we use to decorate our palms. Arabs are unable to speak about beauty and adoration, to recount love stories, or to recite a fervent poem without imagining henna on our lover’s hands and feet, without invoking the image of dark henna. Henna, that green plant whose Black essence gives Arab romance its inimitability and value. The darker the henna on the palms of one’s beloved, the more beautiful she is! This is in the realm of aesthetics and love.

What about Blackness in Arab public life? From the 6th to the 14th centuries, during the height of the Abbasid Empire, from Istanbul in Turkey to Lisbon in Portugal, when the world was speaking Arabic, the Abbasids ascribed Blackness to the legal system—the most advanced system of justice the world had known. The Abbasids, the civilization embodying the height of knowledge, innovation and aestheticism across the world, chose Black as the official color of their courts. Yes, the Black cloak worn by its judges, a symbol of the dignity and pride of the Abbasid justice system, is the precursor of the same Black garment (abayah) proudly shouldered by judges and lawyers up to today.

Does the world notice that the Arab woman and man’s common Black abayah is the origin of today’s legal robe? It is also the robe recognized as the symbol of justice worldwide. It is the same robe proudly worn by graduating students. Is there anyone who doesn’t dream of donning this gown when she or he receives their university degree? In our Abbasid culture, more than a thousand years ago, the aalam, scholar, was awarded this Black abayah as a signed of their academic achievement.

From the court of justice to the halls of the academy to the heart of Islam, Black symbolizes esteem. Consider how our holy Kabbah in Mecca is adorned solely in Black cloth. This color that enshrines the holiest site of Islam, expresses the sublime meaning of our Kabbah. This in turn expresses the high regard in which Black is held by Islam.

          From these historical facts to lines uttered by our poets, Black is beautiful. From Arab poetry, rich in the metaphor of Blackness, in its sweet treatment of beauty, to justice across the empire, Black has always been a symbol of pride, beauty, love and the sublime. Who else but we give Black such profound meanings? Compare these facts to others’ claims that everything white is perfect and right.

[ The Charm of Blackness ]

From One End Of Wall Street To The Other

March 15, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

At the southern tip of Manhattan, the opposite end from Spanish Harlem, is Wall Street. A quintessential symbol of supreme power, the street is barely 200 meters long.

WBAI Radio’s offices and studios, where I work, are on Wall Street. So I’m frequently in the neighborhood. Three short blocks away from my building is the financial hub of the country—the New York Stock Exchange. Another 100 meters beyond is the big hole in the air, that awful record of the collapsed World Trade towers.

The neighborhood has become more frequently visited since 9/11/2001. Every day, tourists come by here. They arrive by tour bus, by foot, and by subway. They move around guards and barriers with respect, photographing NYSE, the super-size flags, the guards and gothic columns.

No private cars are permitted.

Nearby the Stock Exchange are offices of hundreds of financial companies where thousands of young people toil, night and day. They are ambitious and hard-working MBA graduates from across the USA—future stockbrokers and company managers. I can’t enter their offices. But I see where they exercise. Numerous sports clubs, some at street level, are located in the immediate vicinity of their Wall Street offices. I glimpse those young wannabe executives huffing and puffing on treadmills and cycling machines. Early mornings. At lunch-time. After work. All young, all fit, all well groomed, they must stay trim to advance in the financial world.

Raj, an aspiring stockbroker originally from India, tells me he’s at the office until after midnight. It’s his job to witness the opening postings of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

This neighborhood is equally busy at midnight and during the day, but not with restaurant and theatre visitors. Lines of black limos park nearby Wall Street waiting for the young executives to come off their shift. Lines of fast food couriers stand in the cold with boxes of pizza and fried chicken-- nourishment for those staying through the night. Whatever the hour, this place is alive.

Since radio is a 24-hour operation too, we journalists also find ourselves leaving our office late, but without a limousine standing by. Our low budget ‘peace and justice’ radio station moved into the neighborhood before 2001, when Manhattan was losing tenants.

After 9/11, things changed. Despite predictions that the city was unsafe and that many residents would flee, that didn’t happen. The city center seems to have more glamour and appeal than ever before.

[ From One End Of Wall Street To The Other ]

Can Radio Really Change Lives?

February 25, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Every now and then, someone I don’t even know contacts me to tell me I changed their life. Imagine! I’ve never met them. But they know me through my radio broadcasts.

For more than 10 years I’ve been host of “Tahrir,” a weekly program from New York-- a talk show with in-depth interviews.

A ‘thankyou’ arrived yesterday from Yvonne Wakim of Syrian (father) and Cherokee (mother, Native American) heritage. Yvonne became a regular “Tahrir” listener a long time ago. Soon afterwards, she began writing. Yvonne has now completed two children’s books. “Because of you, I decided to become a writer,” she says. “I never forgot. Even ten years later I needed to tell you I succeeded.”

Naturally, I’m delighted.

One never knows who’s out there in ‘Radioland’. Radio listeners often become attached to a particular broadcaster. I understand. I myself prefer radio because it offers intimacy; television does not.

Most people listen to radio alone, often in their car. Listeners bond with that unseen voice. The announcer’s outlook affects listeners’ views:-- about being Arab, about their career, about their health, about friendships, even about their purpose in life.

I work hard to appeal to my own community. And, thankfully, young Arabs and other Muslims who before 1995 were not attracted to journalism, seeing me at work, decide to study broadcasting.

Occasionally a listener who is Arab writes me. When they do, they reveal deep experiences. I receive calls from women abused by husbands, seeking support from other Muslim women. I receive calls from men detained for visa violations. I get emails from poets like Zaid Shlah in California who heard my interviews --by internet-- with scholar Dr. Salma K. Jayyusi, from filmmakers in search of Arab actors.

One of those ‘you-changed-my-life’ emails was from Francisco. “Those beautiful poems about the Mother of Ishmael… moved me to tears”, wrote Francisco, after hearing my June 21st program with poets Rachida Mohammedi and Mohja Kahf about Mother Hagar. Their Hagar poems evoked memories for Francisco of his grandmother, Maria Mufdy. Francisco’s next email was longer. “…. I’m a regular listener, from Dominican Republic, originally of Beit Jala, Palestine… I tune into Tahrir to get in touch with my arabness… I finally embarked on a research project to learn about my family in Beit Jala.”

Soon, I hope, Francisco and I will produce a radio program based on his grandmother’s life.

[ Can Radio Really Change Lives? ]

Books, Like Radio, Still Count

February 17, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“That’s it; radio is finished!” cried educators and journalists in the 1950s, when television moved into our homes. Radio was headed for the dustbin, they said.

They were wrong. Radio is expanding today, with internet broadcasting, satellite radio, podcasting, and micro-radio. Radio programs like the Diane Ryme Show www.wamu.org archive their broadcasts so we can download and listen to anything, anytime.

Thus, I’m skeptical when people say the internet will render books obsolete. Doubtless internet reading is appealing. Since our young prefer to read news online, newspapers are expanding online editions. At the same time we learn that internet browsers devote only 45 minutes a week reading news whereas we paper-readers spend 45 minutes each day with printed news! Let’s see how online news competes when it ceases to be free.

In any case, book publishing seems to be unassailable. Look how many people are writing a book, if not a blog! The subjects we can find between the covers of books is overwhelming. And poets never stop writing.

Visiting London recently, I noticed that bookstores were more numerous across the city. Bookstore children’s departments were larger too. I am told more English language books are published than ever before—100,000 new titles a year in USA; 140,000 in Britain!

Surely, book popularity is tied to the proliferation of great stories for children. Harry Potter books are part of a wider phenomena. Children’s books— terribly overpriced-- is an expanding business in the US and UK.

Books offer the promise of celebrity to unknowns and more celebrity to the famous. Look! Clinton’s autobiography is a bestseller! Even Paul Bremer, the disgraced US viceroy to Iraq, wrote a book.

Books lead to TV appearances and book tours. Oprah Winfrey, the beloved American talk-show host, mostly interviews authors on her program. Oprah’s Book Club helped revitalize reading among Americans. So have coffee bars. Many bookstores have lounges where people can meet, sip coffee and buy books. Busboys and Poets (www.teachingforchange.org) in Washington is a literary adventure. Launched by my friend Anas Shallal, ‘Busboys’ is a theater, a bookstore and a café.

As a radio producer, I am deluged with new books to review. Publishers send their latest releases. Authors eager for an interview contact me to announce their availability. Among a lot of rubbish, I always find gems.

Oh dear; I forgot. This is a, ummm, blog, isn't it?

[ Books, Like Radio, Still Count ]

New York Neighborhood

February 10, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Two small friends, book-bags hanging on their backs, amble down a street on their way home from school. An image familiar to us all. In the USA however, it’s a relic of the past.

The west side of Broadway in Upper Manhattan bordering Columbia University has become ‘upscale’ i.e. high-priced. Residents here are mainly white, middleclass families. Few if any children are seen in the street.

East of Broadway Avenue, barely five-minutes away, life is different. The majority of families here are Hispanic. These streets are their ‘al-barrio’—Spanish neighborhood. Hot summer nights find old and young talking on front doorsteps. Residents shop at local ‘bodega’ for plantains, avocados and beans. Everyone speaks Spanish.

Sociologists call these New Yorkers ‘working poor’ compared to West Broadway where annual household incomes approach $100,000.

Al-Barrio families may be poorer. But their neighborhood is clean and respectable, and crime is not above average. Nevertheless, it appears their children are always in danger.

Moving through the neighborhood at 8:00 am, I am reminded of the perils of city life as I watch these children heading to school. One al-barrio school is on 109th off Broadway, another on 108th street. Yet nobody walks to school alone. Even with an older sister nearby, young children must be accompanied by adults. Each is led by hand from home to the school gate. Every day. It’s normal.

Again at 3 o’clock, when school recesses, parents arrive to collect their children. This, even where a school is hardly 200 meters from home. The same applies in Philadelphia and San Francisco, in Arab, Irish, Pakistani neighborhoods, to immigrants and longtime citizens. Why?

First, children here are prey to sex and drug traffickers and other criminals haunting our streets. Second, American society now subscribes to the code called “parental responsibility”. Anyone allowing his child to walk to school alone could be accused of parental neglect!

Families in crime-free ‘suburbia’ and towns across the country suffer the same fate. Drive through any American town in mid-afternoon, you will see columns of buses waiting outside schools to deliver their children safely home.

Perhaps this explains why parents here tolerate their children spending so much time watching television or playing computer games. It may be the reason Americans don’t care about Palestinian children shot on their way to school. News about hardships of Iraqi children don’t concern people here. American parents have their own problems.

[ New York Neighborhood ]


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Ahmed Shawki. Egypt.

Tahrir Diwan

a poem.. a song..
poem "Grandfather's Farm" children's playsong; Arabic

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Flash
poems
poem Qur'an Surat Al-Qaria
from 'Approaching The Qur'an' CD, reciter: Seema B. Gazi

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Book review
Karen Armstrong's
Fields of Blood: Religion and The History of Violence
reviewed by BN Aziz.

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