Blog Archive

Blog Archive – 2007

Looking for our leaders in the New Year

December 24, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

In case you did not notice, the real, principled, smart leaders of our US Arab and Muslim community are, one by one, disappearing. Many of them are in jail. And that’s enough to chill the zeal of any would-be leader who dares to vigorously challenge the status-quo, arouse our ‘ethnic’ American masses. No social critics needed, especially those of us bearing Muslims names, wherever they are born.

 

The latest American social advocate to find himself sentenced to prison is Abdelhaleem Ashqar. He’s a former professor of business at Washington’s Howard University. In November Ashqar was sentenced by a Chicago judge to 11 years in prison. Why? He, like Sami Al-Arian, Ashqar simply refused to testify before a federal grand jury in inquiries involving the Palestinian struggle for justice against Israel.

 

Never before has our community been so in need of articulate courageous leaders who may express sentiments of many of us. We have an abundance of directors of national organizations in Washington. They say they are concerns with human rights, to educating the public. Their real role increasing seems to be offering assurances that most of ‘us’ are ‘moderate’, that we are willing to sit with Zionists, break fast at interfaith dialogs, and affirm how proud Americans we are. They name our (economically) successful entrepreneurs and media stars. They help identify bright young Arabs for the US foreign and intelligence services. If they have critical words for US policies they keep them for private in-White-House sessions, as per Arab tribal traditions.

 

What did Abdelhaleem Ashqar do, or refuse to do? The Associated Press headlines on the day of Ashqar’s sentencing reads: November 21, 2007: A former professor accused of providing money to Hamas terrorists was sentenced Wednesday to more than 11 years in prison and fined $5,000 for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. "Ashqar” the article continues, “was convicted earlier this year of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the Palestinian militant movement Hamas on June 25, 2003. But he was acquitted of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy aimed at bankrolling the terrorist group Hamas.

 

"Before being sentenced, Professor Ashqar delivered a nearly two-hour passionate statement describing the suffering of Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation and saying he would rather go to prison than divulge the secrets of Palestinian militants.

 

"The only option was to become a traitor or collaborator and that is something that I can’t do and will never do as long as I live," he told the court. After sentencing him to 135 months in prison, (Judge) Amy St. Eve ordered marshals to take Ashqar into custody immediately, saying that it wasn’t clear that he would not flee to avoid serving time. "A co-defendant of Ashqar, Muhammad Salah, was sentenced to 22 months in the same case after being convicted of lying under oath in a legal document. He also was acquitted of racketeering.”

 

Meanwhile in our papers and TV headlines one reads daily reports about deteriorating conditions and mass sufferings of Palestinians at the hands of Israel; bombings of neighborhoods and a virtual economic siege of the whole of Gaza. Among them are a few humanitarian appeals. None of these figures is contested. It’s all true. UN and other NGO leaders issue dire, urgent warnings, appealing for change, or mercy. They are supplemented with statistics quantifying the catastrophe. All this proceeds through a hugely publicized “peace conference” called Annapolis, then through another summit where billions of dollars are pledged to the Palestinian Authority. Smiles and handshakes galore while our Gaza sisters and brothers remain under assault and a siege of unparalleled cruelty and evil intent.

 

As for the pledged billions, while some of that may apply to NGO salaries to administer relief, the majority is in fact destined to Israel which has so crippled the Palestinian society, now a consumer economy, that Israeli itself is now the source of almost all Palestinian food, building supplies and other essentials.

 

So we collect money; we write reports; we pass on the sad news, month after month. But we do not do what Abdelhaleem Ashqar dared. As New Trend Magazine editor Kaukab Siddique notes, “He was opposed to Israel. This and this alone was his "crime". He has never broken American law. He never abused the hospitality America offered him. Accusations of sending funds to Hamas were disproved. When nothing could be proven against him, the puppet "justice system" wanted him to talk about the Palestinian community and to help incriminate and trap other Palestinian opponents of Israel. In the jargon of the American injustice system, this refusal to become a collaborator is called "criminal contempt" of the court and [don't laugh!] "obstruction of justice"! This is how the Zionists hide tyranny behind a facade of legal terminology. “It should be noted that Hamas is NOT an anti-American movement. It has been labeled "terrorist" purely to please the terrorist entity known as Israel. Hence any attempt to punish a Muslim for supporting Hamas is actually an Israeli move.

 

“Israel is striking at Muslims through the American injustice system. Ashqar's great sacrifice should be a rallying cry for the Muslims of America.

 

For two hours the condemned professor spoke to the court highlighting the suffering and sacrifices of the Palestinian people. Only one line of his speech was reported in the corporate media.”

 

OK. Ashqar was willing to go to prison. Under some circumstances, he could become an example, a model, a challenge to the US justice system that is clearly bent on serving Israel smother all dissent to its immoral policies. This American Muslim could, in ‘normal’ times be a badly needed voice and model around which our people could mobilize our common ideals and openly fight for the rights of Palestinians, and ourselves in the process. Are we up to it?

 

Or will we join the queue the of so-called educators to endorse the likes of a fraudulent Khalil Gibran school in New York calling itself an institution to serve our heritage and our people.

 

[ Looking for our leaders in the New Year ]

Eid Al-Adha

December 19, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Eid Al-Adha from one’s neighborhood

In the Maghreb and across the globe, the spirit of Islam waves through us.

From New York—“I got your message and my best friend's message from Turkey this morning. Without these messages I wouldn't know if it was Eid today. You reminded me my childhood eids. Thanks. I can imagine the warm feelings everywhere.” AB

 

“This is so inspiring, I'm glad you're there to witness and be a part of it. And, yes I love the Algerians, especially their recitations. It's truly amazing that when we look for the Muslims we can find them anywhere we are in the world. May Allah bless you with success on this journey and inspire you with new vision.” AA

 

Dec. 19. 2007 Eid morning here in an Algerian neighborhood; awaking to fajr prayers and knowing that virtually everyone around me and across the nation is in prayer. The Algerian communal morning recitations, led by the president on TV at Jamiyeha Djedid near Bab Eloeud in the capital, has its 'Algerian' character, a spiritual music I’ve enjoyed nowhere else (except a trace of it among Tibetan Buddhists).

 

You can grasp it on our Tahrir web page in ‘prayers’—Algeria Qur’an recitation. (It is national rather than particular to Ghardia.) The rhythm and simplicity carry, I believe, the sufi tradition that, despite what others may believe, is very strong in Algeria, as in Morocco, etc. Enjoy it.

 

Algerians are one of the most 'religious' peoples I have encountered. The hadiths are widely known and invoked, and discussed in regular conversations. One feels a deep, deep love for the Prophet Mohammed. Love with knowledge.

 

The children are excited about the sheep in their apartments awaiting the sacrifice. I feel the joys of the children and the determination of the families, across all the neighborhoods, despite everything and economic difficulties that "C'est la fete".

 

I turn on the TV after my prayers and watch the broadcast from Mecca, touched by the exaltations of the pilgrims realizing their lifetime dream. The on-camera commentators are surprisingly profane in contrast to the landscape of ‘realizing’ pilgrims in the beyond. It reflects how private and divine the hajj experience is. (Many other Arab stations are broadcasting pop songs or talk shows and Al-Jazeera, true to form, has some ‘talking political heads’.)

 

Algeria TV, after the prayer traditionally visits hospitals and old age centers to talk to children, veterans and others without families nearby. It is always touching and I think really shows the depth of feeling for this holy day, the only program I like on Algerian TV. Festivals are especially meaningful to the old and the young.

 

best to you and your families for a joyous Eid

[ Eid Al-Adha ]

Harry Potter. Stephen King. Mars and Venus. But no Edward Said.

December 01, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Harry Potter. Stephen King. Mars and Venus. But no Edward Said.

Forsaken, neglected, or forbidden? How could Edward Said be unavailable in an Arab land which prides itself on its anti-colonial struggle and its intellectual prowess?

Arriving to teach sociology and comparative studies in Algeria, I was so confident of the influence of our esteemed Arab savant that I thought it unnecessary to bring with me my copies of Orientalism and his other important books from the US. It would be best to use a local French edition in any case, I decided.

My first shock came on my initial meeting with post-graduates students signed up to take my course anthropological methodology. In any campus, Arab or otherwise, we would find much to discuss about Said’s theories on cultural dialogue. Here in Algeria, there would surely be much for me too to gain from a dialogue on Said's ideas about culture and imperialism as well as the Occidental presentation of Islam.

Reviewing the students’ academic experience, one Algerians admit are, in general, heavily weighted in social theory in contrast to methodology and field research, I noted Said was not included in their accounts. When I introduced the name of our celebrated Arab theorist, the response of these graduate students was a feeble curiosity.

The name was surprisingly unfamiliar to the group. “A Palestinian? He's a leader of the Palestinian struggle for their homeland," one replied uncertainly. "Yes." Yet no one could name any of Said's 8 or more book titles.

“Orientalisme” I proffered; "1978. One of the most important theories of cultural understanding in the last 50 years?" No recognition. I named two more of the savant’s books—Covering Islam; Culture and Imperialism. They would be essential in our course.

Still no recognition. Surprised, I was not however dismayed.

Ignorance of the writer gave my presence here in Algeria and on the campus a clear and new direction. I would redesign the course so that a good part of it would be devoted to the practical application of Said's ‘orientalist debate’. But we needed the books, as many of his titles as possible.

I set out to locate what I decided would be the 2 essential volumes: Orientalism and Covering Islam. We could use them in Arabic or French. So I felt we had multiple options.

A month has passed since my search began. Neither at the Annual Exposition des Livres in Algiers, nor in all the city’s major bookstores I visited, can I find a copy of Said’s theories-- in any language.

In most cases where I inquire, directors of the Algiers’ largely French language ‘libraires’ recognize the name Edward Said. “Yes. Palestinian; American. We know his work”. Some say their store carried his book years ago. “Not today. No you won’t find his books now. Try La Maison de la Press. At Audin." "Try Les Beaux Arts Magazine.” The director of the latter, seeing my puzzlement, added, “Oui; C’est une scandale." I searched on. “What about ordering it from France? I asked one manager. "Non, ce n’est pas possible!" “How do you get your books, here, a store with hundreds or more of ‘editions francais?’" "Non, ne peut pas. The books we sell here, we obtain from a list sent to us by French distributors; we go through the list and order what we need. If it is not on those lists, so we cannot obtain a title you may want.” Scanning the shelves I see handsome coffee table books on Orientalist art and the history of orientalism in N. Africa. Beautifully illustrated French editions.

One can still find in old bookstores, discolored post cards displaying the now scandalous images so popular a century ago of 'the exotic East'--black slaves, odalisques and harems, camel caravans and sward-wielding horsemen.

But no Edward Said.

As it happened, the annual book fair was underway that week at the Salle des Exposition near the Hilton Hotel. The fair is a major event in the city every fall. Many hundreds of dealers from around the world (France and Arab states) converge here to display new titles. I found a prominent display of the recent Harry Potter volume, the latest French and Arabic writers as well as classics. Many children’s books. Books on CD were for sale. But no Edward Said.

What about university libraries or private holdings of colleagues in the academy? “Yes. We know Said. His volumes must be in someone’s library but I cannot tell you where. No, I doubt if you will find them in a university library.”

Why is there no interest in this man’s theories. Forget that he is a pre-eminent Arab thinker of the last half century. Forget that Algerians are ideologically and politically in total support of the Palestinian struggle. Put aside their determined anti-colonial history and their many writings on imperialism and colonialism. (So aware were Algerians of their former ruler’s use of anthropology to fragment and control their populations that they banned its study here for forty years.)

Is it state control of what Algerians read? Is it French censorship of Edward Said as a thinker who might eclipse their own lauded theorists? Or simple anti-Palestinian bias by a strongly pro-Israel France? Is it an attempt to exclude the Arab intellectual contribution to contemporary literary and historical studies? The search continues.

[ Harry Potter. Stephen King. Mars and Venus. But no Edward Said. ]

Presidents today fall far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents

September 30, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Presidents today are falling far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents. Many of you must be aware how the president of Columbia University in NY, one of our nation's most prestigious and wel endowed universities, behaved with his opening remarks to the Iranian president. If you missed the spectacle, you can witness it on Youtube.

I wonder if Bollinger realized how much he sounded like a puppet parroting a slogans forced on him by his political 'owners'.

For over 15 minutes, in an introduction to the demure, still silent guest, Columbia's president, prefaced by remarks on the merits of free speech in America, launched into a tirade of unparalleled rudeness and foul taste. It is hard to believe this happened in the USA, let alone at a center of higher learning. We condemn white extremists for talk like this. Yet, Bollinger's remarks were actually applauded by some in the audience.

There is general agreement, that in response to the odious remarks by the Columbia chief, the Iranian head of state handled the situation with grace and intelligence. He may even have gained support from within Iran, from Iran's  university faculty as well as the general public, and from people arorund the world who are already familiar with America's excesses in nationalism and displays of self righteousness.  

What adds to my surprise about this regretable display by the Columbia U. president is the American response. Forget about the mainstream media here, for we well know about their loyalties and their agendas. What shocks one is the complete silence and therefore endorsement of Bollinger's behavior by our American academic community.

Richard Bullet, a senior professor and director of the ME Institute at Columbia has first of all chosen to remain silent. A resignation in protest would be in order, I think. Or he could appear in a public protest. At least he and supporters might publish a letter threatening the president with a boycott.

Alas, we hear not a word, neither from Bullet, nor from the coterie of Arab American faculty who are Columbia's prized in-house Arab World experts. For years now, one by one, those men have been subjected to threats, attacks; now with this crisis, they seem to be duly cowed. They had been fighting for years to hold on to their shaky seats. Perhaps, having succeeded to fight off the campaign to oust them, how could they again jeopardize that hard won security?

OK; let's say I understand why Columbia's faculty are in too tenuous a position. To openly object, they risk their jobs. But what about professors of our other universities?

Our universities, whether private, state, city, or otherwise, claim to be islands of progress, imbued with superior morality, enjoying limitless free speech. Have you heard a word from heads of universities, faculty, and students associations about Bollinger's behavior? Are there any campus actions underway anywhere in the country in defense of traditional university ethical and ideological standards?

If so, let me know, for I have missed them.

In the 70s, I was a research associate at that same department, the School of International Affairs at Columbia, where Bollinger made his remarks. I saw then how that institute is linked to the US State Department Not only ideologically by its choice of staff and teaching matter, but in terms of its faculty, it works within government policy. I tolerated that at the time. I also accepted as a fact of Columbia University life, the overwhelming Zionist influence in faculty appointments, on-campus programs, public lecture series, and recruitment of students.

But this recent display crosses a boundary. Given that a program was planned and a dignitary was invited, why and how the odious tirade by Bollinger was permissible, I cannot comprehend.

Fortunately, I chose not to work in an American university. Being an independent scholar is difficult on many fronts. One works with neither medical insurance nor a pension. Yet, today I feel proud that I can speak freely about this disgusting event and I feel I am beyond the intimidation threats that a university career imposes on its members. I am fortunately not beholden to people like Bollinger and his gang.

With the publication of my new book, I had recently been considering a speaking engagement at Columbia. Now I voluntarily abjure that idea. Who will join me?

[ Presidents today fall far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents ]

A little school that wanted to be an academy, and couldn't

September 02, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

In mythical stories, likable, humble little creatures have big dreams. Through diligence and kindness, they win friends and respect. They face obstacles with determination; drawing on common sense and the support of friends, they successfully pass through trials, emerging, in the end, as heroes. They achieve great things despite their modest goals.

This is not to be the history of a new school for Arabic language and heritage planned for an immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.

The school had not even opened its doors to students when it found itself besieged by hostile neighbors. The attacks were initiated by a Zionist assault in the NY media. The national spotlight followed the Zionists and picked up the story. The school's position was weakened still more. The Arab American principal resigned; the school's board of advisors went into hiding. Parents of would-be students questioned whether their children should attend the school. And to ensure total disarray and controversy, a Jewish woman was named by the NYC board of education as the new principal.

The school in question is called the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Such a lofty title may have helped its planners win generous funding from a branch of the reputable Gates Foundation. But it did nothing to garner the support of city officials.

Here we are, at the beginning of the school year, 2007, with a grand name, ample funding, but no real school. Without having initiated even a single class for neighborhood kids, the place seems doomed.

Why? And what should be done?

It seems that the school, however honorable its source of funding, and however qualified its appointed director, lacked a community base. Its board, rather than composed of Arab cultural and language authorities, was an 'interfaith' collection of local notables: three rabies, three Christian ministers and three Muslim imams, plus one or two other 'advisors'. What such a collection of characters has to do with a secular school focusing on language and heritage, escapes me. One would have expected a largely Arab board of cultural experts and educators. Moreover, their silence of that board, after the resignation of its principal, is more than odd. It's suspect. Were these 8 men and 2 women chosen to please the government and neutralize and community position? Their silence after their principal's resignation was even more deafening when her replacement was announced. Was it this board that sanctioned the city's appointment of a Jewish woman as the new school director

The particular incident that put the focus on the school's principal and drew the wrath of the Zionist press is irrelevant.

Americans of Arab heritage today, as in the past, should be accustomed to public criticism from that quarter; indeed we must be prepared for it. Debbie AlMontassar, the erstwhile Khalil Gibran principal is not the first community leader to be set in the cross hairs of the vicious Zionist press and longtime campaigners like Emerson. At the national level and locally, our Muslim and Arab leaders have found themselves under assault for all kinds of fabricated associations. Newly appointed members of human rights boards have been forced to resign; professors who dare to include books giving he other side of Palestinian history have been threatened and dismissed Heads of Muslim charities have been driven out. Attorneys have been silenced. Teachers have been removed. Writers have been slandered. Advisors on school curricula have been discarded. The major assault is against Arab experts--all Americans. But the campaign also extends to non-Muslims who dare speak out in favor of Arab and Muslim rights.

Given the potential of the designated school, even though others exist on a more limited basis, the director and her community should have expected some problems from the vigorous, ever creative Zionist lobby. Clearly the principal, despite her experience, was not sufficiently toughened and prepared for an assault. Moreover, there needed to be strong community (I mean Arab American) support. And a seasoned community-based board who knew the history of our struggle needed to be in place. This local base was surely more critical than Gates Foundation funding or the haughty title of "international academy' title.

After a hundred and fifty years' experience in this country, the Arab people are still not ready for leadership. Not only has the scandal damaged a local community and downed a young leader; it has dishonored the name of our foremost Arab American thinker and writer

[ A little school that wanted to be an academy, and couldn't ]

Soldiers Tell the Truth--Is It Enough?

August 05, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

American soldiers' testimonials: Part 2

Chris Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who went on to a career as a foreign correspondent for a number of newspapers. So one should not be surprised that he is the thinker and writer who is asking questions about how soldiers view their killings and their related war work. In a recent article " The Death Mask Of War: American Marines and soldiers have become socialized to atrocity" (Information Clearing House, July 29, 07), Hedges concludes "The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing."

 

He proceeds to ask essential questions one rarely hears: what is the culture supporting these murders? He recognizes the answer does not lie in a profitable defense industry, or the appeal of advanced weapons technology, or the immaturity of soldiers, boys barely out of highschool.

Hedges, like many of us, has heard those gruesome, soft-spoken, often cool-headed testimonials by US Iraq was veterans recalling their murderous careers. "The Iraq war", he notes, "has unleashed a new wave of embittered veterans not seen since the Vietnam War. It has made it possible for us to begin, again, to see war's death mask."

Those testimonials seem to have the affect of absolving the young Americans from person responsibility. --He was just doing his job. He was young and ill-prepared. It's the officers and politicians who are responsible.-- That's the spin of the anti-war movement. It's almost like a Truth-and-Reconciliation exercise. Except this one is just for local consumption; it reconciles nothing with Iraqis.

Hedges' report looks more deeply than others into what lays behind the barbarity of US troops. "War", he notes, "is also the pornography of violence. It has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it "the lust of the eye" and warns believers against it." Let us admit to the appeal in examining, over and over, the naked bodies of abused Iraqi men held at the US's Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Surely there is some irresistible voyeurism to be indulged in as, in the comfort of our living rooms, we view body parts and mutilated corpses of the enemy.

It is not just the troops on the ground doing the killing. It is the culture which educated and trained these men; it is the community who, voluntarily or otherwise, support the invasion and occupation.

"War allows us to engage in lusts and passions we keep hidden in the deepest, most private interiors of our fantasy life," notes Hedges. "It allows us to destroy not only things, but human beings. In that moment of wholesale destruction, we wield the power to the divine, the power to revoke another person's charter to live on this earth. The frenzy of this destruction -- and when unit discipline breaks down, or

there was no unit discipline to begin with, frenzy is the right word -- sees armed bands crazed by the poisonous elixir our power to bring about the obliteration of others delivers. All things, including human beings, become objects -- objects to either gratify or destroy or both. Almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that.

"It takes little in wartime to turn ordinary men into killers. Most give themselves willingly to the seduction of unlimited power to destroy, and all feel the peer pressure to conform. Few, once in battle, find the strength to resist. Physical courage is common on a battlefield. Moral courage is not."

Are sergeants and other officers who receive recruits into the battlefield know they are taping into these conditions--the unlimited power to destroy; the ease of seeing someone darker skinned and unable to communicate with him, as subhuman?

So the Iraqi street, which is the battlefield, is like a graduate school that turns boys into men. There, they can indulge in unlimited exercises to prove their manliness, to justify their being in an alien land, to make America's  (and their own) presence there seem totally right, and justified.

Hedges, by the end of his review of soldiers' confessions, suggests that these testimonials have the redemptive power to save us from ourselves. They remove the mask.

Here, I disagree with Hedges. These are exercises of cleansing that will allow us to do them again, and that allow us to become the only arbiter and moral judge of war. We ourselves are not the appropriate persons to assess our wrongs.

For me, the danger of these truth sessions is to conclude that since we have told the truth, there need be no further searching-- neither jural, moral, spiritual or psychological. It is as if no one else need judge an American. A very dangerous outcome.

[ Soldiers Tell the Truth--Is It Enough? ]

American soldier testimonials…and then what?

July 14, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

American soldier testimonials…and then what?

It's becoming fashionable for young Iraq war veterans to confess how they brutalized people under occupation-- in this case, Iraqis. (Doubtless similar violations by Israeli occupiers of Palestinians occur; but Israel is not so foolish --or democratic--to allow testimonials by ex-military to reach the press.)

Confessions by these American brutes, it is suggested, are acts of atonement. These men are cleansing themselves of the awful things they did to Iraqi women and men. By giving these public testimonials detailing their killings and other atrocities, they are somehow absolved. Yes, they are. Think about it.

These interviews amount to a kind of confession where these 'basically good American boys' seeks redemption. Some authors of these reports along with the perpetrators themselves-- now veterans-- suggest moreover that these admissions are an expression of anti-war sentiment. They expose resistance inside the military. Thus these confessors are accorded a status something close heroism. "How brave they are to divulge these wrongs"; "they do this for a greater good--to stop further war atrocities." This is how the progressive press interprets the men's disclosures, in my opinion. We are made to listen sympathetically to their gruesome tales; we take in the grim details. Somehow we do not associate these horrible details of torture and murder with the young American voices, calmly, dispassionately telling these stories.

I guess the point of these exposes is to reaffirm the basic decency of these Americans: "Yes, war is bad". But "I love America; military service is an honorable profession". "I never expected to behave like that";  "they made us do it". "It was the system";  "I did not engage in these things but I saw others doing them".

In other words, America is still good, as shown by these conscientious youngsters; so is service in the American military a noble action. And American patriotism remains sacred, beyond question.

We are led to the conclusion that what is BAD is losing control, doing things against 'our American values' and national pride, against a 'hostile' although sometimes innocent population. Implicit in some of these confessions is the culpability of superior officers, and ultimately, American politicians. According to these accounts, officials must bear responsibility for the occupation and military actions.

The anti-war movement in the US seems thrilled to have these testimonials; they provide yet further proof that the Republicans and their leaders, especially the disagreeable and 'stupid' Bush, are the true scoundrels. Oust them. and all will be well. American values themselves are solid and we do not need to search our souls. 

To be continued… in our next blog: "What have these atrocities to do with American culture and history?"

 

 

 

           

[ American soldier testimonials…and then what? ]

Iraq and the US. more than a four-year war

March 19, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Iraq and the US. More than a four-year war

I often wonder, when I hear the morning's headlines, why US news give the numbers of those Iraqi women and men dead in bombings in Iraq before they mention that four, six or one American soldier died that day. I often wonder why our national papers and American TV networks splash picture after picture of crying men staggering among the ruins of their homes and streets. Why do they broadcast Iraqis carrying their corpses and not Americans?

Is it because Americans care more about the Iraqi dead?

Do these images really impact readers and viewers here? Do they arouse in the US public, an abhorrence for war, and the loss of Iraq to the world? Do they inform our citizens what Iraqis really experience?

Some soldiers are writing blogs and books about what army life is like. These may provide anecdotes for Americans at home funding the war, and the families of those boys defending their country. I doubt if they inform. They make no more of an impact than memoirs by retired US generals and viceroys in Iraq.

          The anti-war movement here is growing, they say. If this is true, the rising ire of Americans still lags behind the demands of people worldwide. In Asia and Europe and South America, the antagonism is furious. Given the increase of security across the US, publicly protesting Washington policies is increasingly hazardous. We are kept farther from the earshot of politicians. So the anti-war protests underway, especially in the USA, is somewhat encouraging.

Yet, the prisons in Iraq, in Israel, and in Guantanamo along with the secret dungeons brim with women and men accused of threatening democracy--Israeli or American. (Let us not forget that Iraq and Iraqi nationalism is viewed as a threat to Israel.)

To mark the beginning of the fifth year of the military occupation and destruction of Iraq, I don't know where to rest my attention. Shall I pray for the souls of those friends long dead--Mustafa, Umaya, Khalaf, Nuha--somehow gratified that they did not live to witness this. Or for those who persist--teaching, repairing torn bodies, caring for aged parents, planting a few acres of wheat, transmitting news--because they will not abandon Iraq. Some believe that their very endurance inside the country can help forestall a total calamity.

This fourth anniversary means little to many of us who understood that the American and Zionist assaults began a generation ago. Iraq was "contained" in a US supported war with Iran for 8 years. Then came the 1991 Gulf War followed by the 12-year embargo war. The plan may not have gone as smoothly as was hoped. But, like the Zionist agenda on Palestine, this aggression on Iraq is a complex and long-term plan. We would do well to keep this in mind when searching for solutions.

 

 

 

[ Iraq and the US. more than a four-year war ]

Women's Fashions in Human Rights--Here are Three Women in Iraq

March 01, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

March 8, 2003, I was in Mosul, North Iraq. With friends, we awoke each morning to wait for the American attack on our country. It was a sad, hard time. We were nervous. We were helpless. We did not know from which directions the assault would come. There was nowhere to run, no one to turn to.

A bare three weeks before, many Europeans and citizens of other democratic countries had been somehow moved by fear or compassion or some celebrity call, --we did not understand its sudden appearance--to go into the streets of their cities and call back their governments from war. It may have seemed noble at the time; it was an expression of their democratic exercises, expression restrained for too long. But it made no difference to us inside Iraq, waiting for the bombing to begin. We knew it was far too late, and the numbers, although many million, were too pitiful.

I would not return to Mosul. But a few weeks later, a friend there managed to get a message to me: "Was Saddam so precious that all Iraq was the price?" she wrote.

For many of her people who somehow survive the months of chaos and slaughter, Iraq hardly has an identity anymore. And the idea of democracy is a bitter joke.

          We now enter International Women's Day, 2007, and coincidentally, an appeal is being circulated about our sisters in Iraq. My copy comes from that same correspondent asking about "the price of Iraq". This time, she passes on details of the imminent execution by Iraqi authorities (sic) of three convicted 'terrorists', all women. Their names are Wassam Talib, Zainab Fadhil and Liqa Omar Mohammad. They have not had anything approaching a fair trial; they were not allowed to have legal representation at trial. Talib (31), Fadhil (25), and Mohammed (26) are three of more than 2000 Iraqi women classified as "security detainees" in Iraq at present. All are held under the supervision of both the US occupation and the Iraqi puppet regime, in prisons, camps and detention centers across the country.

How an Iraqi is permitted to raise her voice in protest and on which side, is completely arbitrary under the current administration. Resistance to US occupation is a crime punishable by death; advocating support for resistance is also a serious crime.

In the case of these 3 women, they are convicted of complicity in the murder of Iraqi police and participation in what the court considered "terrorism". Wassan Talib is charged with killing 5 police officers, participating with gunmen in an attack on a police post. Zainab Fadhil is charged with attacking a joint army patrol of Iraqis and Americans with her husband and her cousin in Baghdad. Liqa Omar Muhammad is charged with participating with her husband and brother in the killing of a Green Zone official and sentenced to hang. She gave birth in prison and is still nursing her year old child. Talib has a three-year-old daughter. 

All three women, along with a fourth, Samar Sa’ad ‘Abdullah charged in family homicide, deny they had been involved in any of the crimes. No appeals of their sentences have been permitted so the women, like most detainees, have no legal representation in the court.

The first execution is to take place Saturday, March 3.

          Recall the almost fanatic calls five years ago from western women on behalf of oppressed Afghan sisters. We were bombarded by TV talkers, articles, lectures and petitions during the last months of the Taliban rule. Recall the replayed video clip of a shrouded Afghan woman being put to death in a stadium. American women's energy in the defense of the victims of Taliban attacks seemed limitless. They may have helped shape US policy on Afghanistan. Because of that publicity, the US government won easy endorsement for is military agenda against Afghanistan.

And today? Afghan women live in fear not only from their former ideologues but from their 'democracy' occupiers.

In Iraq, Washington has created a government with a new justice minister and new courts to help dispense democracy to the public. As Iraqi commentators point out: "This is the signal of the opening of an era of legal executions in Iraq", following the standard set with the hanging of the former Iraqi president. "It is a horrible proof that the illegal executions of Saddam Hussein and other Baath leaders were not isolated or exceptional incidents, but that they laid the ground for unquestioned ongoing executions by the Iraqi ruling clique working hand in hand with the US occupiers.

Almost unnoticed an appeal for the Iraqi women is being circulated. Officials at  The BRussels Tribunal are trying to reach the Iraqi Minister of Justice but wide public action is essential.

[ Women's Fashions in Human Rights--Here are Three Women in Iraq ]

Little Mosque on the Prairie, a Canadian TV Comedy

February 10, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I wonder how the planners of the Little Mosque, a new TV comedy series, decided to locate Mercy, the mythical inter-faith community where this story takes place, out on the Canadian prairies? Did they know that Regina, Saskatchewan is said to be home to the oldest mosque in North America, built 150 years ago. (This record applies to modern times; we often forget about the much earlier African Muslim immigration of up to 700 years earlier.)

In any case, now as then, few of us associate the Canadian prairies with Arabs and other immigrants, especially Muslims. But of course, the inhabitants of Canada's prairies have heard about 9/11. And, like Americans, they are nervous about newcomers.

It is this anxiety combined with the personalities of a community of Muslims in this small prairie town that furnish the lines and laughs for this new comedy series. Anything and anyone is game for a laugh. Why not Muslims? Especially when interfaith dialogue and scholarship seem to be failing.

This comedy series appears to be an outgrowth of standup comedy routines, mainly by a new generation of young Arab and Muslim entertainers on the comedy scene in recent years, and the talent of Muslim-Canadian writers like its creator, Zarqa Nawaz.

Even so, I was a bit apprehensive when I first learned about Little Mosque. Viewing clips of the weekly program on YouTube, I immediately liked it. It is tasteful, well acted, and funny. Some of the lines seem to come straight out of the Arab American Comedy Festival.

 Little Mosque on the Prairie  has the requisite characters: Fatima, a Black Canadian who waitresses at the local deli; the blustering but harmless Baber, a new immigrant critical of anything and anyone White, Sara, a convert to Islam who works for the town's lady mayor and is married to Yasir, the community leader. They have a hip, pretty daughter, Rayyan. (Of the women, some cover their heads and some don't.) Into their midst comes the handsome bachelor Amaar; he's been hired as the Imam of the new mosque. Then we have a benevolent Christian, Rev. McGee, always ready to step in as mediator between the sometimes-bumbling Muslims and the suspicious white folks and incompetent police. It helps, I think, that many of the actors seem to be of Asian origin if not Muslims themselves. (Director Nawaz, born in the UK, moved to the Canadian prairies after her marriage.) They play characters who are cute and flirtatious, naive, conciliatory, aggressive, isolationist, provocative, and angry.

I guess Little Mosque falls into the genre of sitcom, 'situation' or 'family' comedy. It plays on misconceptions--not only those about Muslims-- and fears that we all recognize. The closest we have in fictional writing to 'Little Mosque' is the new novel Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf where we find some of the same absurdities created by being Muslim in America. The humor in Kahf's novel has not yet hit home with American readers, although I could easily see it as a screenplay.

Political satire, although little recognized beyond its borders, has become a hallmark of modern Canadian culture. Perhaps the development of Little Mosque is an extension of Canada's deep-rooted quality satire. Yet, Little Mosque unquestionably is a breakthrough in political terms. It speaks to the universal, not only in its humor but also through its characters and the events they encounter. From the clips I reviewed, the foibles and fears that Little Mosque on the Prairie builds on are as American as they are Canadian, British and European.

The series, although widely reviewed in the US media, did not emerge from that culture where, we are told, American networks and administrators are desperately trying to win the Muslim public. I doubt if an American network will pick it up. Somehow Americans seem too attached to violence to work with something like this.

What about the rest of the clash-of-civilization world? I am particularly curious to see how viewers in Arab and Muslim countries will react. Having lived in many of those lands, I cannot imagine Islam associated with comedy entertainment. TV in the Gulf States, Syria, Algeria, Egypt address Islam in their abundant educational and spiritual programs. If they should care about difficulties Muslims face in the West, they can watch  deadly serious US (propaganda) documentaries--some State Dept-funded --laden with measured opinions and professorial conclusions--almost all by non-Muslims--along with predictable testimonies by US Muslim citizens, all predicated on the myth that our life began on 9/11.

We wait to see how, after a score of weekly episodes, if Little Mosque can reach beyond the clichéd sources of tension and conflict offered in the early episodes. What will be left to learn about these folks in Mercy, Saskatchewan, after we have run through the stereotypical airport scene, the gay swimming instructor, hijab shopping, and abundant 'explosives' metaphors? Surely there is a limit to the terrorism-related metaphors the series' producers are currently building on. Then the show's charm and talent will be put to the test. I hope they succeed.

You can view dozens on clips from the series on YouTube. Or you can go to CBC TV Little Mosque.

[ Little Mosque on the Prairie, a Canadian TV Comedy ]

That Democracy Problem… Again

January 15, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

With our thoughts turning to Martin Luther King's legacy today, I can't help wonder where King would stand on the need for popular protest in 2007.

As far as US foreign policy goes, surely this is a time for massive protests to demand change. Can we really leave it to our politicians to make a radical change in line with new public knowledge and sentiment about Iraq and other adventures?

The recent election wasn't enough, it seems. If this democracy works at all, we have to find other ways to implement it. The majority view on Iraq seems to be that American occupation of Iraq must end.

Many say that the election in November of more Democratic Party candidates to Congress and the Senate was the people's way to telling their leaders what they wanted, namely 'The occupation had to end and the troops had to come home'. With a majority in both the Senate and the House, in charge of key committees, our Democratic reps now have their chance. "Cut off war funds. Find a political solution. Let Iraqis rule themselves." In theory the Democrats could insist on a new policy.

To support a new direction we were handed a well-articulated formula--The Iraq Study Group Report. Compiled by a bi-partisan committee of experts and politicians, it spelled out necessary steps to address the deep problems the US finds itself in over Iraq. If you read the report, you may have felt as surprised as I was at its intelligent approach. The recommendations seemed reasonable and doable. Bring Iraq's neighbors into the dialogue, it advocated; get the Israelis and Palestinians sitting down to hammer out a real solution, it stressed; find bipartisan Iraqi leaders to bridge differences among themselves, it demanded; set a clear date for US troop withdrawal, it advised. The report appeared to have the stamp of a wiser Bush (the elder) as well as very experienced leaders, including members of the US military.

For two weeks, our press debated some of the report's main points. Then discussion came to a halt. With that, my own hopes for an intelligent new foreign policy and some respite for all the Middle East peoples evaporated. The much-lauded report was, in the end, a mere 'show' of democracy. The 'experts' debating its merits were not the same men who held the cards. They could only offer us an appearance of democracy.

Last week, the reality was exposed. The press had leaked most of the details well before the White House, announced America's new Iraq policy. There would be more troops. Israel would not engage with the Palestinians. And the US would not seek assistance though dialogue with Syria and Iran. There would be mo timetable. Democrats responded with anger and mild threats.

The entire nation dutifully tuned in on Jan 10th to hear the US head of state read his pplan for Iraq. It was as if that high level list of recommendations had been a myth. It seemed the election of dozens of anti-war legislators never happened. What was the basis for Bush's policy proposal? Who really had crafted it? And does the president expect he can implement it without Congress's approval?

This seemingly foolish, doomed plan did not garner the same degree of debate in the media that the Study Group's proposals did. Has the opposition in Congress melted away? Are the Democrats in a huddle quietly devising their strategy to thwart the plan? Or is Congress--and therefore our democracy--actually impotent on an issue of this magnitude?

What alternative recourse does a democracy have, especially if the newly elected opponents of continued engagement in Iraq will not be able to stop this plan? Martin Luther King Jr. was able to join his civil rights agenda and mobilize his forces with those of the opposition to the Vietnam war. There are many parallels between the quagmire in Iraq and the failure in Vietnam.

Can the protests be repeated today, without King?

[ That Democracy Problem… Again ]


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Huda Shaarawi (1879-1947), Egyptian political activist and feminist

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