Blog Archive

Blog Archive – 2010

The Man Behind Wikileaks

December 25, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

He did not impress me initially, although from the first exposé, the video “Collateral Murder”, I was impressed by the organization’s work.Now with the tensions, threats, and internet war that have developed in the wake of the release of the U.S. diplomatic cables, the exceptional character of this young man is more and more evident.

First, I am completely convinced that these leaks were some government scheme to find a reason to control the internet. For those of us who use alternative news sources and our own intelligence to understand the malice and chicanery that Washington indulges in, much of the information in the cables is not new to us. But the Wikileaks program, especially the most recent release of hundreds of thousands of cables is an astonishing accomplishment that will become a historical watershed.  

Activists and enterprising, courageous journalists have been trying in their own way to inform and motivate the public and confront the excesses of American empire.  But none have succeeded like Wikileaks promises.  

Street protests and inquiries are just not enough. And today we have many angry and bright young people whose can combine their ‘hacking’ abilities with their sense of justice to bring new rules to the game of people and power. Whistle blowing has come of age. And thanks to Wikileaks, they have the outlet they need to disseminate the awful information we now find ourselves poring over. 

With the release of Assange from a British prison, he has become much sought after. On the one hand certain government s  want him. And on the other, the media have found him a person of real significance. Before his recent imprisonment, on more than one occasion, he abruptly ended interviews when the agenda changed and his host went beyond what was probably agreed beforehand. Walking out of an interview with a major network is a rarity in modern-day media.  That it itself tells us something about Assange. 

Also contrary to others who might be advised to stay away from media while under house arrest, Assange is making himself available to the media--some media. In the past few days he has given interviews with Al-Jazeera Arabic as well as the BBC and Al-Jazeera English. I had a chance to watch David Frost’s lengthy talk with Assange on his December 20th Al-Jazeera English program “Frost over the World”. It was a tour de force. Not by the veteran media personality Frost, but by the guest-- Julian Assange. This is a very bright and courageous man who knows exactly what he is doing and what his organization is capable of.  

On David Frost’s side, he like many celebrity journalists, has become rather conventional. He has lost his investigative bite. So that most of his conversations today are polite chats, lacking both challenges and revelations. This interview was  different and the camera focused on host Frost often enough to allow us to witness the awe which his guest’s replies inspired in him. This was a real interview, not a polite chat or a spar. It was apparent that Frost was captivated by the careful, articulate statements of Assange. That itself speaks much. 

By now most of you will have listened to Assange yourself. There are no evasions, no platitudes, no arrogance. He is brilliant in representing his organization, his aim and his legal problems. Normally lawyers might advise a client who is under police investigation not to speak to media.  But I would guess Assange’s legal team understand his special ability to address issues head on and to avoid entrapments or baiting.  

Having also heard Assange answer questions from Al-Jazeera Arabic TV host in another lengthy interview last week, I have even great admiration for his courage and lucidity. Many questions from Al-Jazeera were directed to forthcoming information from US-Israel diplomatic cables. This is perhaps the most sensitive of all US relations, and Assange prepared us that there would be some ‘controversies’ aroused by them. Simply to announce that cables directly related to Israel are forthcoming is in itself an act of immense courage. Stay tuned.  

[ The Man Behind Wikileaks ]

A view of Al-Jazeera TV from the Middle East.

December 10, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Although I am not in Doha, Qatar itself I watch the Al-Jazeera networks daily along with a host of other Arabic language channels. I refer not to Al-Jazeera English, which many Americans (mis)understand as the famous Arabic language TV network that came to prominence after the first Gulf War in 1991.  Al-Jazeera (Arabic) attracted worldwide attention and admiration for alternative views it offered with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Today it remains a top news source where one can also find excellent critical views of US foreign policy and solid reports of developments around the world that never reach the US public.

The original Arabic Al-Jazeera is still an unrivalled world news source for Arabic speakers. It is a network (65 bureaus globally) with highly professional correspondents, excellent news sources, and a roster of Arab-speaking experts on a wide range of subjects. It features hard hitting debates led by provocative hosts—men and women; it maintains an unflinching support for Palestinian independence, and offers sound criticisms of Israel and US policies in particular.  

But Al-Jazeera (English) is a different and weaker creature. The Al-Jazeera that some Americans (especially those identifying themselves as progressives) look to as an hard-hitting alternative source on the Middle East is not the original Al-Jazeera.  

Much has changed in the last 6-7 years. Al-Jazeera Network now has five 24/7 Arab language channels: Besides (the original Arabic) Al-Jazeera News, it now includes Al-Jazeera Sports, Al-Jazeera Documentary, Al-Jazeera Mubasher (Live), and Al-Jazeera Children. Al-Jazeera Documentary frequently broadcasts translations of English language historical, political and science specials, often programs originating in the US. Al-Jazeera Children also takes a lot of material from western sources. 

Then there is Al-Jazeera English (English.aljazeera.net). It started up April 16, 2007. While this channel is generally supportive of Palestinian independence and seeks out alternatives to what one finds on CNN or BBC, it does not carry the hard-hitting programs and in-depth political analyses one finds on its parent Arabic news channel. Nor it as aggressively and uncompromisingly critical of US and Israeli policy as the Arabic channel.  

Al-Jazeera English is more akin to Free Speech Radio News (FSRN.org), the daily radio news radio program known to many Pacifica listeners. Unlike BBC and CNN, but like FSRN, Al-Jazeera English correspondents are primarily from within the country they are reporting on. Which means a story from Guinea Bissau will be reported by a Bissauan journalist, a story from Indonesia by an Indonesian journalist, and so on. These correspondents are excellent. The network also seeks out commentators who will, for example, dare to mention Israeli activities within Iraq, or to criticize UN policies, corruption and ineffectiveness. Welcome as they may be, criticisms of taboo subjects are limited, even on Al-Jazeera English.  

Then we have English Al-Jazeera’s in-depth interviews like that hosted by Riz Khan, and the debate program ‘Empire’ led by Marwan Bishara. Points of view broadcast in these discussions come close to what you might find on ‘Democracy Now’. (Al-Jazeera English is not a Middle East-focused channel.) 

This week Pacifica announced that its four US-Pacifica Radio stations will carry a one hour news feed from Al-Jazeera daily. This will, I expect be English Al-Jazeera; and since the original is a 24 hour service, the one hour of Al-Jazeera for Pacifica will, by necessity, be heavily edited. 

Will this edited English Al-Jazeera be a real addition to Pacifica? I suppose it is worth a try. But do not expect the hard hitting, real alternative news Arabic Al-Jazeera News provides Arabic speakers in the rest of the world. Alas. 

[ A view of Al-Jazeera TV from the Middle East. ]

The latest White House deal with Israel

November 30, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Some refer to it as a bribe. But somehow that doesn’t adequately define the deal what Washington has just offered Israel: more weapons and even more political support in exchange for a further 90-day freeze on (some) Israeli settlement constructions in the West Bank. This we know from the large print. 

Forget about the cost—it’s just 2 weeks’ payout for ongoing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and it’s a fraction of the cost of security measures that dismantle Americans’ civil rights, and expand surveillance practice across the US. Forget about what happens when the 90-day ‘freeze’ ends. Forget about conditions Israel demands with this gift (exclusion of Jerusalem is but one). And overlook the undeterred construction of tens of thousands of Jewish settlements and their infrastructure that for one reason or another are overlooked or exempt or viewed by the US as ‘not illegal’. You can even leave aside Washington’s promise of continued use of its UN veto on behalf of its ‘special friend’.  

What troubles me is the stance of the US administration—I mean the US president. Because this is a White House decision. The president did not receive a bill from the new Republican-dominated Congress to authorize this. Nor did he have a referendum from the American people for the deal. He and his secretary of state-- former presidential aspirant herself and darling of progressive American women-- laid this offer at the feet of the Zionist leadership. Then, in a response typical of Israel towards its lapdog, Netanyahu agreed to ‘consider’ the offer. 

I don’t know if the deal – we cannot use the term ‘gift’, since it seems to be a complex plan with onerous conditions and implications for US-Israeli relations—has yet been signed. I am unaware, moreover, of any fine print that may reveal that this deal is even more insulting than headlines show.   

However, just on the face it, this appears to be a foolish move by the US. Whatever power the Zionist lobby may wield on our election process, on the US Congress, and on the White House itself, this proposal cannot assure any ‘peace’ –no commentators suggest how it could possibly precipitate a resolution to the Israelis-Palestinian conflict – or somehow further enhance US and Israel relations. (Were they ever in doubt?) This administration had already indicated, and repeated, that there will be no change in the US’s largesse and support of Israel.  

So what will be the result of this ‘deal’? I shudder to speculate. It will have nothing to do with a sovereign or secure Palestine. No. I suspect there is something far more sinister in store for the American public and people across the globe who crave to see peace and justice in the Middle East.   

Meanwhile this troubling news of and the vote by the Israeli parliament to consolidate Israeli annexation of Golan and a part of Lebanon is eclipsed by coverage of the latest Wikileaks expose. Convenient. The American public and anyone hoping for peace in the Middle East will have to dig deep to find out the real costs of this blunder.   

[ The latest White House deal with Israel ]

An Arabic TV station worth your time, if you were not barred from watching.

November 18, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Traveling in the Arab world I have easy access to an abundance of satellite channels-many but not all Arab. At least one of the Arab channel well worth watching is banned in ‘the free world’. That is, the channel is banned by the free world. Not censored. It’s legally forbidden, in that anyone caught receiving it in the USA for example can be charged with committing a very serious crime. So fierce is the taboo that I doubt if any hacker dares to bypass the US law to access it. The network is not only forbidden to the international public; several international satellite carriers are barred from carrying it.

Thankfully people living in most Arab countries can watch it daily. There is much to enjoy and learn here: regular discussions on health, religion, history and politics. The channel is not run by media amateurs; the quality of their productions is good and the subjects are varied. Along with children’s programs and game shows, we find history and family dramas.

As across the globe, men dominate programs where expert guests are called upon to offer opinions on health and international affairs. Yet women are highly visible here. They are frequent commentators on religious subjects; and they are program hosts, news presenters and guests.

The daily evening news is running as I write; today I hear little international news  except items that directly affecting this country. This is a nationalist but not a government station. So news highlights presidential and cabinet activities along with national events. No advertisements. But anti-smoking and other social consciousness promos are played in breaks. They are often in cartoon format.

Most mornings, I can find a 10 min cooking segment. Today the chef, in a fully equipped kitchen, demonstrates a German breakfast prepared with deep-fried eggs!

Regularly but not overly so we see lectures by the revered leader of the movement that sponsors this channel.

During the Eid Al-Adha I expected their religious programming would eclipse all the regular programs. But no. In contrast to several other channels which give  hours and hours of daily coverage of the Hajj events in Mecca, the Eid prayers and historical references to the meaning of the Hajj, this station has more community focused coverage. A 10 min special with reporter ‘in  the field’ talks to children at playground where families are gathered today: what’s the difference between Eid Al-Kebir (Adha) and Eid Al-Saeir (Al-Fitr). Following is short report at a graveyard where Muslims go the first day of Eid to remember their ancestors; families lay flowers, some pray, other sit quietly together at the gravestones. The reporter, a woman is end the segment with one family here recalling a young woman struck down and executed by a live wire fallen from a tower line near her home. In the interlude we view a promo for the weekly poetry performance on this channel. It’s a popular program in which 4-5 men recite in regional tradition a form of popular poetry which I think is called ‘zudgel’.

There is more of course—some excellent documentaries of the national resistance movement against former occupiers, and inspiring speeches by the resistance leader.  

Why should a satellite station with this range of content be banned in the US? And do you know which I am speaking about?

[ An Arabic TV station worth your time, if you were not barred from watching. ]

What's in store for the American leader?

November 05, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

He and his party already comprised their earlier principles and goals. Now Barak Obama declares he is ready to comprise with the new US (right-wing) congressional leadership. If he really continues on this course, the US president is comprising his leadership ability.  

How things will work out for the US in the coming years, I do not know. I am not afraid of disaster. Nor do I fear such an overhaul of policies that the country will collapse.  

I so want Barak Obama to succeed—to succeed as a national leader, to succeed in giving us real structural social programs that I believe he initially stood for— equity, better education for all, government protection from predatorily private interests, nationally funded health care for all, less wars, less occupation, lower military expenses, as well as really visionary new programs to overcome Americans overwhelming ignorance, fear and belligerence. 

Yes, we had some reforms during Obama’s first year. To me they were not substantive enough- he came out with principles and went away with sad compromises fashioned to mollify some opponents, to pretend to his supporters that there were real changes. This applied as much to international positions as to domestic policies.

Internationally, yes, the image is (was) better: the words Obama sends out to the world are eloquent, and he displays intelligence. The shame of being American is less.

But these appearances really don’t matter. Because there is no basic change in US foreign policy. If anything, US support for Israel is stronger while the commitment to Palestinian statehood is weaker; threats and sanctions against Iran are heightened; the hunt for those who oppose US policies is as fierce and merciless; the growth of intelligence agencies to thwart perceived enemies is bigger while the support for dictators who follow the US line is as firm as ever. 

Speaking for myself, my life has changed little as a result of government under Obama (except maybe my cynicism has increased). And I also know the lives and prospects of 25-year olds and 40-year olds around me still on the cusp of their careers have not improved. As for Muslims in the US, things have actually worsened for us, as they have for our Hispanic peoples. So what do we have?  

Why does President Obama make such a point of his readiness to reach out to opponents? Is this all he has to say after their victory in the recent election? He was reaching out during his first two years. And with what results? He was unable to enact the programs he promised and we needed. And his compromising weakened him.  

On the one hand Obama has lost his once strong electoral base. On the other, he was never able to mollify his enemies. They seemed to have grown stronger while he and his arty lost their bearings. Today, it’s hard to see what Barak Obama stands for. 

Too bad. Because he does seem like such a decent guy. His weakness in light of his beliefs and intelligence surely reflect the regrettable status of the USA in general. 

[ What's in store for the American leader? ]

How Many Juan Williams Are Out There?

October 27, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I’m not suggesting he’s a bad guy. Although his remark about “feeling uncomfortable in a plane with people wearing Muslim garb” is disappointing as well as loathsome. National Public Radio’s senior correspondent’s ‘slip’ follows that of several prominent journalists—Helen Thomas of the White House Press Corps, and Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez of CNN.

Yes. I know Thomas and Octavia got the boot because they dared to express solidarity or sympathy with America’s adversaries--Palestinians in the case of Thomas and a Hizbullah luminary in Nasr’s statement. In Sanchez case, he made remarks suggesting what everyone knows about the power of Jewish individuals and media in the US.  

Williams’ remarks, by comparison, exposed his bias against Muslims. Hitherto, comments against Islam and Muslims went unchallenged. What has changed? Does Williams’ expulsion mean the Muslim lobby is making some gains? Does it signify a growing commitment by media bosses to ensure political correctness, even when it comes to Muslims?

Or are we all so closely and scrutinized that any show of personal preferences or fears are swiftly challenged and condemned? Perhaps media personalities are so influential today that they dare not say anything that exposes this very condition. They must appear neutral. (Of course none of this applies to Jewish individuals in the US, in or out of media; viz NYT’s Tomas Freedman, PBS’s Charlie Rose, or NPR’s own Terri Gross and Daniel Shorr. Although the famous Dr. Laura who remained an unchallenged radio host for years, was recently forced out due to anti-Black references, finally despite her record of racist offences.)

Perhaps there a campaign underway to root out certain media voices in preparation for a media compliant new war? US media has already shown its reliability at times of war, especially in the early days. Patriotism rules the airwaves; public opinion is needed to pull off an assault that is either illegal or unnecessary. Later, when some begin to question a war, some media resume a critical role. By then the forces are already well entrenched with unremitting support from Congress guaranteed.

There is another explanation for the string of purges: a campaign by people like O’Reilly of Fox News to entrap influential individuals from the less right wing news organizations, and thereby weaken their institutions. (Williams has been signed up with the Fox TV network!)

Noteworthy is how little we heard about those fired individuals fighting back—from Thomas to Williams. They slip away quietly and without a fight. Why?

I listened to Williams’ NPR reports, first his news stories then his comments as a senior commentator, for many years. He is good, but like most NPR reporters, not extraordinary and not cutting edge. Williams was careful never to go too far on taboo subjects such as Palestinians rights or Muslims rights. Or Venezuela’s rights, or Cuba’s or Iran’s sovereign rights for that matter. This, although he eventually became known as NPR’s ‘rights’ expert.

The question is not, in my view, has political correctness got out of hand? It is rather how and why was Williams caught and so swiftly dispatched? Bill O’Reilly is well known for his provocations and his skill in disarming guests. Williams is not the first victim of O’Reilly’s wily ways.  O’Reilly’s positions are so well known, moreover, that you have to be very practiced if you dare enter a debate with him.

In the case of Thomas and Nasr, they may well have been entrapped. But as I wrote about Helen Thomas (in this blog) at the time of her banishment from Hearst and from White House press conferences, an old Washington hand like Thomas had to be ready for anything. If she wanted to say something strong and eloquent against Israeli policies, she should have used better discretion. Thomas, so admired for her assault on US presidents, could have chosen her time, prepared her justification, and had her supporters and Hearst Syndicate ready for the inevitable attack.

Nasr too is a politically savvy lady. The term ‘Twitter’ may sound innocent and ephemeral. But Twitters are very public. Really; how important was it for her to express public sympathy for the passing of a Muslim cleric? If it really was essential to her, she too could have chosen a more effective and timely venue.

Is there a housecleaning going on here? Or is our media business such that only official positions, even loathsome ones-- or those passed by Israel-- are acceptable?

In the meantime, while this purge is underway, how ironic that the forces of the right, represented by the likes of Beck, O’Reilly and other Republican or T-Party leaders, are able to say offensive things with impunity? Their proposals, accusations and exhortations border on incitement to violence and seem directed to deepening the racism that already weakens US society.

It seems that as the right wing interests and advocates get bolder, those representing moderation and deliberation become more timid. This will mean that good leadership, whether by President Obama, or journalists and professors is slipping away from our future.

[ How Many Juan Williams Are Out There? ]

A Mosque Or A Shared Holiday?

August 17, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

National media headline ongoing, and growing, controversy over the proposed Cordoba Islamic Center in downtown New York City. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has given his wholehearted support to the leaders of the proposed religious center. He vows that it will be built. In his endorsement of the mosque, Bloomberg affirms the religious rights of all Americans and recognition of Muslims as an integral part of city life. Thank you Mr. Mayor.  

But are there not other perhaps less confrontational means of establishing these principles? I can suggest one: that’s the inclusion of Muslim Eid holy days in the city’s school curriculum. By removing your objection to the Eid holiday plan you may even achieve real integration and deeper respect for Islam. 

In general the acceptance in the US of its Islamic peoples is an uphill struggle. We recognize this. Strategies and priorities need to be carefully thought out.  

Opposition to any mosque project in lower Manhattan could have been anticipated. Resistance is so strong it demonstrates still widespread and shameful anti-Islamic sentiments across the country. The issue promises to remain a source of antagonism; opposition tactics will doubtless stir up even more anti-Islamic feelings. These must be laid bare for the world to examine. At the same time they must be forcefully and rationally confronted. Dispute—in the courts and in the streets—is the history of American justice, and injustice.  

Anti-Islam opponents vow to continue their challenge even after the New York City Council cleared one hurdle to the mosque’s construction, deciding the building under question was not a city landmark and was thereby available for commercial or other private use. Demonstrations are ongoing; OpEds commentaries are plentiful. (Although our Muslims themselves seem to be letting others speak on their behalf.)  

With Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement of the mosque in question, the Muslim community has a good friend on its side.  

But Mr. Mayor: you could have chosen something more reasonable than this nationally debated and heavily polarized subject which could explode. You could allow the City Council vote on another issue-- adoption Muslim holidays in the New York City schools-- to move ahead. Several cities already recognize Muslim holy days.  

Last year, the same New York City Council voted overwhelmingly (50-1) to adopt the Muslim holiday proposal. It needed only your nod to make it law. You refused, Mr. Bloomberg. And that issue languishes. Meanwhile the question of a new city mosque introduces tension and controversy. Do we not already have abundant crises associated in the minds of the public with Islam? 

Do we not have sufficient mosques—almost 200—in the city today?  

A new downtown mosque will, we are told, be an educational center. Good. But surely the inclusion of Muslim schools holidays for New York City’s more than one million children can serve a wider educational role. All children as well as their parents would learn what these holidays mean and share the Muslims values represented therein. The Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha in our school calendar would incorporate Muslim values in the lives of many more than a single mosque will.

Mayor Bloomberg and our Muslim leadership need to get their priorities in order.

[ A Mosque Or A Shared Holiday? ]

Syria In and Out of The News

August 07, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Several media outlets took great pride in announcing the initiative by Syria in banning the full face covering at its universities. Another Muslim head covering story. As if the subject somehow warms the West to Syria, and offers the opening of a dialogue. Oh good. Now our otherwise hostile, yet ‘liberal’ Americans, can feel they one thing in common with a tentative Arab friend. 

At the same time, we hear nothing about the country’s president’s important diplomatic and political initiatives. In recent TV interviews with both the BBC and PBS in the past weeks, Bashar al-Assad has shown himself a capable statesman, and a leader who has opened a dialogue with others, if not the most worthy political ‘friends’ i.e. those sanctioned by Tel Aviv and Washington.  

Besides displaying his diplomatic lucidity and amicable character, Bashar al Assad’s message in those interviews was particularly telling on the political level. He tried repeatedly to the almost hostile British and American hosts to explain a number of important perspectives: a) how Syria and regional states view the world differently than Washington and London, b) that they give higher priority to developing good relations with their own neighbors, c) that they have priority economic interests with their neighbors, and d) they intend to protect those despite attempts by outside powers to divide them. We have to believe that at some level, western leaders got these messages. A pity they could not reach the wider public. But maybe, they did. 

I learned not long after about an even more important event regarding the Syrian leader, namely a successful international efforts further abroad. He was apparently warmly welcomed in a number of South American states who received him. For anyone familiar with the long history of migration form Syria to South America and the ties between the émigrés and their homeland, this would be no surprise. And it is certainly something to build on. This world is fortunately larger than the USA.   

[ Syria In and Out of The News ]

Tahrir is about politics, anyway you look at it

July 04, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“It’s just culture”, say those who elevate politics to an undeserved status within journalistic discourse. It’s a dismissal, like saying she's “just a housewife”. In both housewives and culture, the demotion derives from complete ignorance of what a wife really is and what culture really is.

It’s insulting, and meant to be so. Worse, the housewife and the presenter of culture often accept the dismissal. Not me.

EVERYTHING is political. Where you live, how you write, your social network, your tastes, what you listen to, where you holiday. Everything.

Because Tahrir does not devote our weekly hour to analyses of war strategies, definitions of shia and sunni, the latest declarations from Tel Aviv or Washington, or Charlie Rose’s chat with the head of a political party does not mean what we discuss is not political.  

Politics is voice; it is empowerment; it is defining the debate; it is ourselves deciding what we value; it is rejecting those boxes others try to confine us to.

[ Tahrir is about politics, anyway you look at it ]

A Call for More Gaza-bound Flotillas

June 22, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The end of May confrontation on the high seas when Israelis attacked the Free Gaza Flotilla may have been a turning point in our efforts to support Palestinians. We must be proud of the martyrs who gave their life to expose the truth.

The 9 martyrs, the scores wounded and the hundreds of supporters on the Free Gaza ships show what determination and courage is needed and in the face of Israeli crimes and what can be achieved. It is also reminder of the sacrifices Palestinians must daily make in their struggle for justice.

In a June 1 article in Information Clearing House, journalist Yvonne Ridley makes a poignant comparison between the Israeli assault on the Mave Marmara flotilla and the infamous Achille Lauro attack in October 1985. There, a single passenger was killed by the hijackers. As she notes: “The incident created headlines around the world and polarized people over the Palestinian cause. It also prompted the law makers to create new legislation making it an international crime for anyone to take a ship by force.

“And this is the reason for the brief history lesson - under article 3 of the Rome Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation of 1988, it is an international crime for any person to seize or exercise control over a ship by force, and also a crime to injure or kill any person in the process.The treaty necessarily adopts a strict approach. One cannot attack a ship and then claim self-defense if the people on board resist the unlawful use of violence.

“…. Whatever your view, a number paid the ultimate price for their international right to resist. “Israel now stands virtually alone having exposed itself as a pariah state.”            Today, across the entire world informed free-thinking people are signing up for a presence on the many ships setting out to again break the blockade.

Some of us know what Palestinians endure daily; we read accounts of the murderous blockade and Israel’s criminal policy. We can recognize Israeli and US propaganda that mask their brutal policies. But it took this civil action by brave souls in the international community to completely expose the reality of Gaza life to the world. Words are not enough. Support the campaigns by joining a flotilla.

[ A Call for More Gaza-bound Flotillas ]

Helen! What did you say?

June 10, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I want to shake her, gently. “How could you have so misspoken, my dear sister?”

I am not willing to simply reprimand Helen Thomas and leave it at that. Unarguably, it was a mistake. Of course the media is making this into a major story, with calls for her departure.

Many will agree that what she said is timid compared to the utterances of other public figures against homosexuals, Muslims, and Arabs. Those more despicable and racist remarks not only pass without censure. They incite further racism. They are unchallenged.

Helen Thomas is no stranger to the racist environment we live in today. Being Arab she and we are regularly targeted; we are even baited in the quest to uncover any word that could somehow be interpreted as a criticism of the ‘holiest of holy’ creation, Israel. Thomas must have passed many huddles on this course.

Helen is a public figure. Today, any celebrity’s every word is recorded somewhere, by somebody. One has to be particularly judicious on any controversy. Look how Justice Sonia Sotomayor skirted her interrogators. Brilliant.

Today even the most humble of us has to avoid being snared by new technology; recording devices are easily secreted. Not only is government security noting our every move and word. The public can too. Anyone identified as Arab and Muslim should expect to be subjected to close vigilance and scrutiny. We have enemies—known and unknown. Forces are at work trying to entrap us, to topple us.

I may owe more gratitude to Helen Thomas than most journalists inspired by her groundbreaking career. She is one of the few high profile Arab American leaders. And she represents a large community of Arab intellectuals and media workers working in the Arab lands. Her workplace—Washington-- is one of the most fearsome political and professional arenas. She survived for more than 57 years. That ought to have exposed her to any agent or agency waiting to entrap her. And she is a journalist known for her audacity.

She said she made a mistake. She affirmed her commitment to peace between Palestinians and Israelis. She apologized. But in anything involving Zionist settlement, no apology is acceptable. You’re gone. She must know this.

Helen could have salvaged her self-respect by a more extensive explanation of her remarks.

If I see her, I will want to know the full context of the interview in which she said they should “get the hell out… and go back to …”. I wonder: what was behind this outburst? She is known for her general criticisms of US policy on Iraq and Afghanistan; as far as I know Helen Thomas does not stand out as a champion of Palestine. Was it the Gaza massacres in 2008-9 that turned her? Was it the recent murders and kidnappings of FreeGaza Flotilla members? Did she overhear some ugly remark about Arabs, Muslims, or Palestinians at the event where she was caught with these comments?

I wonder: will we ever hear from the remarkable Helen Thomas again?  

[ Helen! What did you say? ]

'Sex and the City' Arrives in Abu Dhabi

May 28, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Are we, Arabs and the lands we so love, a mere theater stage for today’s Orientalists as well? There is hardly a doubt this was our 19th century role. I am beginning to realize little has changed. For confirmation I need only take a glimpse at the explicitly ‘orientalist’-staged production 'Sex and the City 2'. What a brilliant idea boast publicists: —4 sexy girls of Manhattan fame take a fling on the desert, arriving in exotic Abu Dhabi for a weeklong spree. Imagine what this can inspire among millions of suburban wives who follow the stars!

Besides camels and sand there’s fashion and luxurious hotel settings.  Surely Arab hospitality has reached a new zenith. A new stage of orientalism. That’s us. From Morocco to Abu Dhabi, we’re the hottest thing in entertainment.

Of course we've practiced this. Coming out of the 19th century we had Isabelle Eberhardt in North Africa, Gertrude Bell in Iraq; we propped for Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. We furnished nasty characters for a plethora of espionage war novels during the cold-war years.

Then with political independence and dictatorships we offered our 'oil rich sheiks'. They set new heights in extravagances and vulgarities. Their behaviour may seem obscene but obscenity has its appeal. After all, their profligacy helped pour Arab dollars into the accounts of all those US and European suppliers

I was in Abu Dhabi a year ago where I learned that 100,000 westerners, mainly Europeans, live there and in nearby Dubai. Plenty of work. Wonderful salaries. They can look to the princes for ideas of how to spend.

Today cultural depravation in these desert cultures is no longer a problem; these new urbane populations have discovered international theater, art, film and poetry extravaganzas. All this just a few hundred miles from the ‘war theater’. Thus Abu Dhabi and vicinity offer convenient R& R facilities for those weary warriors from Iraq.

Much of the $US trillion dumped into that war seeps into neighboring states who not only host officers and soldiers. They are the commissary. All conveniences.

Then, as if real battles and bombs are insufficient, we have the rush of Iraq war films. Too dangerous inside Iraq? Jordan and Morocco are handy orientalist theaters for film-companies. You need bombs, terror images, ugly, dumbstruck Arabs, camels? No problem. We are the most hospitable people on the globe.

Morocco is  the actual setting for Sex and the City 2. It seems somebody in the real Abu Dhabi didn’t come through for American stars.

 

[ 'Sex and the City' Arrives in Abu Dhabi ]

A Melayu Philippine Muslim Play in NY

May 17, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Today’s comment is a review of “Pandibulan –Bathing by moonlight”, a moving and very special dance, music and folk tales presentation of the Melayu people of Southern Philippines.

Directed by an old friend from WBAI Radio, Potri Ranka Manis, this completely overwhelmed me when I saw it. The performance also showed me how much Potri Ranka Manis has been doing in the 5-6 years that we hadn’t seen each other, and all while she remained fully employed in a nursing career.

I almost missed Pandibulan, only catching the last performance Sunday May 2 at the end of its run at La Mama Theater in New York City. Pandibulan was a profound presentation of events, culture, history and politics that far surpasses what most New York theatergoers experience.

The 90 minute play fully absorbed me although it had virtually no spoken dialogue and neither HipHop music nor wild staging. The story was essentially told through a Yakan pantomime in music and dance. It was, in many respects, an opera. It tells the story of the far reaching trials of a people who inhabit Basilan Island, one of the most fertile areas of Mindanao in South Philippines. A people now fighting for its existence, their story traces their ancestry in their homeland to New York where her people have migrated in search of work, fighting here as well, this time to survive as a nurse.

This kind of history is rarely attempted on stage these days when political messages from the authentic source of a conflict are essentially taboo, and these simply would not attract funding. Moreover, how often do we see such a complex political story told in music and dance alone?

Potri Ranka Manis has given us a superb presentation. She created this for a talented young team, costumed in the most simple folk clothes that remind us of the peasant quality of life. Perhaps Ranka Manis saves all the luxury for the music; it runs through every second of the performance, changing the moods and guiding the choreography. No one would leave the theater after Pandibulan, without feeling uneasy about the story of the Maley people of The Philippines.

[ A Melayu Philippine Muslim Play in NY ]

HipHop Muslim youths speak words our leaders are afraid to utter

April 26, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The Muslim Student’s Association at a New York City university is sponsoring a rousing event today. Imams listen up!

Here on Tahrir, we’ve heard the response from our public.

These young poets possess more courage and they often speak for and about Islam better than the ‘experts’. No wonder that the young are drawn to these Muslim men and women who have embraced and advanced the dissent of this Black-originating genre. They pick up the beat, and move it into their culture with their own owerful messages. The phenomenon is worldwide.

Our young producers at RadioTahrir introduced us to MosDef, DAM, Outlandish, Boona Mohammed, Shadia Mansour, Kamal Imani, Gaith Adhami. Before these artists came to our studios at WBAI, we heard their precursor’s in the poems of  Dasham Brookins, Lisa Mohammed, Suheir Hammad and Mohja Kahf. They teach the fundamentals of Islam in their poetry. They also speak with a confidence and realism that the Muslim community, and the world, badly needs. They are not afraid of their own anger. Unapologetic, they also boldly challenge the establishment, Muslim and American, that has held captive their religion and their young dreams.

A few days ago, the poet and singer known as the godfather of Rap, Gil Scott Heron announced the cancellation of a Tel Aviv concert. (He) won’t play in Israel “until everyone is welcome there”, asserted the revolutionary artist. That action is indicative of the genre.

HipHop and spoken word accompanied by a rap beat, emerged and flourished among US Black youth. It has now swept the world. The style has proved remarkably versatile. Youths in China, Iran, Algeria and elsewhere readily adapt it to their own language with great creativity, retaining the smack that its originators imbedded their angry, bold poems.

The world’s youth have taken up Rap not as if overwhelmed by waves of western influence. Not at all. Rap applies to their experience, challenging authority, saying it like it is, pushing the message in the face of their adversaries.

I’m particularly struck by the poetry of Muslim men and women who employ  Hiphop beat to carry their messages. They need not shout their anger. They do not want sentimentality. No nostalgia here. They guide their anger and truth into a creative, courageous thing. Their contemporaries are listening carefully.

Much of their message is anger. It’s so welcome today when the Muslim voice has all but shriveled into an acquiescent blather of assurances of our harmlessness and innocence, ready to comply to almost any demand.

Listen to what our poets are saying and you may feel Muslims are finally finding our voice.   

[ HipHop Muslim youths speak words our leaders are afraid to utter ]

Just one video leak from an American battlefront in Iraq.

April 06, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

You really have to listen closely to what the US shooters say as their helicopter zeroes in on their Iraqi prey. More outrageous behavior lies beyond the video of these Americans murdering 12 Iraqis. The camera offers a bird’s eye view of the action—a gang of trigger-happy thugs hovering above a quiet Baghdad neighborhood. Machine guns blast.

The video is fascinating in itself, allowing us to view the targets through the crosshairs, real-time, of a genuine machine guns at work. The American helicopter circles and zooms in over its prey, circles, hovers zooms again.

Forget this (if you can). Listen instead to the US soldiers’ exchanges among one another: their obscene language, their laughter, the game they engage. Engage. Here, in our US war theater the word means ‘kill’. Kill anything wounded, anything in sight. Kill anything attempting humanitarian aid.

The entire episode we witness in this leaked 2007 tape is not really ‘war’. It is the record of a ‘hunt’. Hunt: as in ‘sport’.

More disturbing is the appearance of the prey walking across a street, totally unaware of being identified as targets of the impending massacre.

Repeated references to the Iraqis being armed at the early stages of the stalk seem contrived—an excuse for complete license. Later, all reference to weapons is set aside, replaced by questions of assurance that all signs of life have been eliminated.

Absolutely bloodthirsty, this team of Americans serving their country.

The predators are clearly enjoying themselves. It is as if they have been in sports training, now let loose, eager to practice their hunting skills. Their expressions of gratification, bordering on delight, is sickening.

Forget ‘rules of engagement’. Forget if this is being investigated by US military authorities. Forget which individuals are responsible. This is the way Americans view Iraqis. This is the result of their training. This is the ‘game’ of modern society and the education of our young, in countless internet and computer games about which we rarely raise questions.

Doubtless this one revelation is not isolated. Its only distinction is that it comes from one troubled, anonymous soldier who decided to share this particular record with the public.

[ Just one video leak from an American battlefront in Iraq. ]

Longstanding war diseases--recylced by media

March 13, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

There is little good news from Iraq. Especially so for anyone who has observed and recorded the decay of the nation’s civil society for 20 years.

This week, an enthusiastic and appropriately disturbed BBC reporter visiting Fallujah, Iraq told us about the alarming increase in abnormal births recorded among its people, at least those who remain after the American assault there in 2004. News?

In my 1996 research into deteriorating conditions across Iraq, (later published in my widely circulated essay “Gravesites”) I reported that both Iraqi farmers’ and doctors’ noted rising numbers of birth abnormalities and miscarriages. They assumed toxic pollution of various kinds resulting from the 1991 war and the sanctions were causal factors. Not surprisingly. Since the 1991 attacks used depleted uranium and since normally clean water, air and fields were polluted by numerous sanctions related breakdowns.

By that time, Iraqi health authorities had begun assembling data of these health conditions and diseases. They were comparing records of birth abnormalities and other new diseases from all parts of the country, and likely links to the 1991 bombardments and the sanctions.

Significantly, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US forces, it seems that those records were “lost”. Selected Iraqi ministries, were destroyed along with these documents. Little could be done for the victims. But the record of the diseases and related factors could have been useful. The record was expunged.

With the result that this recent BBC report suggests that today’s health crisis is new. As if Iraqis’ war experience were new. Of course, the ‘new’ findings call for research studies, according to a western medical researcher interviewed in the report. He calls for yet another study to determine the causes of these ‘disturbing’ abnormalities.

What’s new? The media tag today is Fallujah, a name that resonates with the world public. They may recall Fallujah was the site of a major US assault –Operation Vigilant Resolve—in 2004. Perhaps a center of ‘Sunni resistance’?

The BBC report gives the clear impression that Iraq’s health difficulties began only recently. The earlier bombardments are no longer part of the war record, no longer evidence of a long history of suffering and US war crimes.

 

See : Inside Fallujah by Ahmed Mansour (2009) and Swimming Up the Tigris, Chapter 12, by BN Aziz (2007)

[ Longstanding war diseases--recylced by media ]

Damascus, Syria. Part 2

February 18, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

News of a diplomatic breakthrough in Syria-US relations in mid-February seems to be a surprise, to the press at least. It comes nine months after the Obama administration extended US sanctions against this quiet corner of the Arab world. Only a few weeks earlier Washington had announced that Syria was among the places of origin for travelers to the US who must undergo enhanced security procedures.

Of the new détente, photos appeared and opinions of ill-informed experts flooded airwaves and blogs. Then this news headline disappeared.

It is difficult to know what this diplomatic move means, apart from a new US ambassador arriving in Damascus after a hiatus of five years. We do not know the substance of the talks between a ‘high ranked State Department official and his Syrian counterpart. What real changes, in terms of economic and political policies, will result between the two nations, we can only speculate.

That said, one thing is clear from observing life in Syria first hand: Syria isn’t waiting for the Americans to expand Syria’s universities, its tourism industry, its private commercial sector. More than seven million tourists visit Syria every year. Thousands of students arrive from around the world to study here. And, more and more international companies, among them brand name apparel and restaurant chains, are opening outlets in the capital, Damascus.

On its side, Syrian industry is expanding, supplying goods to a wide range of local and international markets. All this keeps unemployment low, and the middle and upper class growing. Educated Syrians are more likely to stay at home with lucrative jobs now available in the commercial sector.

, which seems to have missed the global slowdown. Perhaps its omission from WTO, IMF and World Bank ‘patronage’ are to st1:place>Syria’s advantage under present conditions.

Syria, although included as a ‘third world’ nation by the westerner press, is not a debt-ridden developing country; it has ample local resources to feed and clothe its people, and a vibrant mercantile (commercial) community to attract investment and highly trained experts. (This, even though Syria bears the economic burden of more than a million Iraqi refugees inside the country.)

This is my second visit to Syria in recent months. I use it to take a closer look at the economy and explore corners of the capital that I had missed on previous visits. Some of my students were on winter break so I had ample company to the many cafes in the old city, the neighborhood of ‘Bab Touma’. Bab Touma was once known as “the Christian quarter’ of the city. An abundance of churches and seminaries may be found here; but it seems that as many mosques sit side by side with them.

This part of town once housed large families in elegant three story homes. Today, with increasing tourist demands, many of these elegant homes have been converted to enchanting cafes: Mona Lisa, Takaya, Alkaimaria, Beit Sitti and Beit Jiddu are five I visited. Besides offering western meals, they have the usual fare of local dishes. Fifteen years ago one found many small hostels in Bab Touma catering to back-packers. Today Bab Touma attracts more the middle class visitors. And the young. They pour into the quarter Thursday nights, couples arm in arm, cliques of girls, or boys. Some head for the chess cafes; others to hear bands, or solo musicians. It’s a free zone where you can munch hot waffles dipped in chocolate, puff arguile pipes and sip zattar tea in relaxing cafes. Whatever politicians any be planning, the Syrian public is confident their lives have already broken bounds.

[ Damascus, Syria. Part 2 ]

Haiti and Gaza

January 17, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I can’t help thinking of Gaza and its people as I hear and see the suffering of Haitians. More so as we witness the overwhelming response of the world rushing to Haiti’s aid.

I wonder: how many others remember Gaza as the Haitian tragedy unfolds, as reporters explore each family agony, as ships and planes of relief are mobilized, as money flows to countless relief organizations. Even as a few historians recall how Haiti has been plundered, its democratic attempts derailed, its people left in poverty, Haiti earns such unanimous sympathy. From around the world vows of support are launched. Heart warming? For some.

Exactly one long,painful year ago, we saw the massive onslaught against the people of Gaza. That was man-made: Israeli made. It was an earthquake that spread over the entire area and it lasted for 22 horrifying days. It persists.

Some photos escaped from the site of carnage forcing a few who cared to view the corpses, the weeping families, the homeless, and the aimless. In Gaza too, United Nations buildings were bombed, schools and places of worship, hospitals and police centers crushed, surrounded by corpses. Like an earthquake it was indiscriminate.

What contrasts so much with today’s Haitian experience is complete absence of international aid for Gaza. Not only was there no assistance for the dying, wounded and homeless during the assault. Throughout the 13 months since then and today, assistance to Gaza's people was barred.

In recent weeks we have witnessed this injustice, with the arrival at Gaza’s borders by a symbolic handful of supporters from “Viva Palestina” and Gaza Freedom March. One saw  how obstacles were place in the way of even their symbolic assistance. That is: the few of us who scoured through ‘alternative media’ saw. Otherwise there was no media attention.

Significantly, Muslim organization are also kept out of Gaza. (We note that several have announced aid to Haiti, a result of having surplus funds undelivered to Gaza!)

The ongoing siege against Gaza is clearly part of Israel’s larger genocidal policy against Palestinians.

Never was the politicization of humanitarian aid more obvious than it is in these events.

Of course we feel sympathy for the losses of our Haitian brothers and sisters. Doubtless, so do the many authors who have been pointing out how the US military is using the tragedy to essentially secure control of Haiti, following their history of interventions in Haiti over the past century. This history is important to bear in mind at this time. One article I recommend is “The Militarization of Emergency Aid to Haiti: Is it a Humanitarian Operation or an Invasion?” by Michel Chossudovsky whose link is:  http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=17000

[ Haiti and Gaza ]

Tahrir's Production Team wishes you Happy NewYear

January 01, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

This fall, Tahrir ran its annual three-month program for interns. We offer this course in radio journalism for young people from our community. What a delight it has been this year.

Lea came from France for a diploma in journalism at a city university but joined us for three months to learn what WBAI offers as an alternative media. Before returning to Paris last week she completed a powerful audio review of the book “Palestinian Walks”; it aired on Dec 15. Her previous journalistic work in France had limited her to short news pieces. Very short: 2 minutes! Here at WBAI we have the liberty of extended features and news stories that explore an issue in depth. Her piece for us was almost 9 minutes, and she learned how much one can do in this longer format. Lea intends to return to NY in the spring. Meanwhile in Paris, she plans to produce an interview for us with the preeminent expert in the field of Iraqi music, Scheherazade Hassan. This will compliment a recording of Iraqi music to offer as a gift to listeners on our next fund-drive.

Sally is using this year after her graduation and before she takes up graduate studies to work with us. She is interested in the marketing side of journalism, and is astonished by the way this free-speech listener sponsored WBAI works. Contrary to her and my own expectations, Sally’s been drawn towards audio production. With coaching on how to read for radio, Sally seemed transformed. And she took easily to audio editing on Adobe Audition, our basic tool in radio journalism today. Her interview with her sister, NJ college basketball star, showed us her interviewing skills. As any good journalist, Sally was impressed by her first interviewing assignment. “I learned much about my own sister I had not known before”. That aired on our Dec 29 broadcast.

Sarah Malaika is now a seasoned producer, having been with Tahrir three years. She has opened new doors to the wider artistic community through her wok as a museum curator and her interest in music. Listen to her enchanted interview (Nov 10) with Hafez Nazeri, the young Iranian musician who, with his father, gave an inspired concert in New York last month. I liked her interview with visual artist John Jauji after the Queen’s exhibition “Tarjama”.  Sarah takes charge of the program when she hosts and I can attend to other assignments. She has her own style, and doubtless her own listeners. That’s nice about having qualified team members, usually former interns, who continue with us. Each host brings their own style and therefore their own listeners.

Another intern is Ramatu. As a deeply involved activist in the NY community of African immigrants, Ramatu brings a wider network of community resources to Tahrir. She also writes for a community paper. Ramatu speaks Hawza language and prepared a Hawza promotional ID for WBAI. When Hawza speakers in our listening area hear this 30 second spot for the radio station, they are delighted. They are proud to hear their language, however briefly, on New York City airwaves. And so are we. Ramatu is now preparing a review of the edited volume of writing from Africa, “Gods and Soldiers”. It’s now a question of converting a written critique for radio, and that’s the new skill. Writing for radio is very different from writing for print media. But these interns catch on quickly.

Our fourth intern, Nehal, wasn’t with us for more than a month because of approaching exams. (She’s at the New Jersey Institute of Technology). Nehal took to sound production the first day however, and decided within an hour of placing her hands on the mixing board, that she preferred the engineering side of radio work. She also has a good voice.

A special quality of WBAI production is that we learn to do everything. First we identify the individual or issue for a story, then do the research to prepare sources, then undertake the interview with a quality recorder, then transfer that to the editing program, then edit, then prepare and read and edit-in the introduction and sign off, and finally select and mix in the music.

Last weekend at the film showing of “Islam on Capitol Hill” which Hassen Abdellah organized, I again met Adeeb. Adeeb joined us when he and Reem came on board two years ago. He was attracted to radio because of the scope it offers for music, and music is Adeeb’s primary interest. When we reached the point of our training in ‘reading for radio’ Adeeb found he had another talent. We all realized he is an excellent speaker. When I met him last week he told me about a new endeavor. He’s collaborated with a colleague to form the company AllSmiles.tv. He’s the artist development director. Congratulations Adeeb!

We miss Fatima and we know she misses us. She is a dynamic host in any gathering. But her new job in government doesn’t allow her to work in public media. We send out another congratulations, to Fatima and Ibrahim!

Reem has been with us for more than a year now. She is a second-year journalism student at a nearby university but there she has no opportunity to work in radio. It’s primarily print assignments; besides, the politics at the university is completely different. They actually assume that what they teach means journalists are totally objective. Of course at WBAI we know this is nonsense. Reem will spend the winter semester in Prague on an overseas course arranged by her university. She will specialize in radio journalism while there, so we’ll benefit from that when she returns.

Tamara originally an intern, rejoined us as a producer following a three year hiatus while she completed her degree in English literature and spend a year abroad as a Fulbright scholar. We went to the Nuyorican Café together with Saadia to see the play “Domestic Crusade” after which she interviewed the director. Tamara wants to produce book reviews when she has time; she helps us a lot by translating audio of interviews I completed not long ago in Syria

A lot of talent in our house, channeled into high quality journalism to serve our communities. Besides learning so much, we enjoy the work, and being together. Special thanks to ICLI for the intern training grant to Tahrir.

[ Tahrir's Production Team wishes you Happy NewYear ]


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The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

Alice Walker, novelist/activist

Tahrir Diwan

a poem.. a song..
poem "I Wash My Body in Beirut"
Summer, 2006 from Lebanon, by performance artist Andrea Assaf

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