Blog Archive

Blog Archive – 2011

Nepal's Trials in Democracy

December 06, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Since writing the first part of these reflections, we’ve learned that the submission of the constitution has been delayed for yet another six months. Who’s responsible for this? and who, outside Nepal cares if this democracy fails or succeeds?

Many rush to assist (sic)Arab democratic movements and even hasten Arab revolts underway . Meanwhile Nepal’s emerging democracy is taking place in a geopolitical atmosphere where neither India (long an influential player in Nepal), nor the UK or USA offer genuine support. (Washington maintains a quiet but active presence in Nepal but has never publicly welcomed this new and real democracy although it offers abundant opportunities for educated Nepalese to settle in the US.)

The marginality of Washington in Nepal’s new found freedom’s may not be a bad thing. Perhaps the real test of a revolution’s success and the emergence of leaders with integrity may lie in the absence of a foreign hand to whom allegiance is owed or who dominate through puppet leaders. Even so, one cannot deny Delhi’s special interest in Nepal’s politics and excessive concern with India in Nepal’s public debates.

One exemplary institution that Nepal’s democracy has spawned is a free and aggressive press. Since the reforms, vocal newspapers and magazines have flourished… in English as well as Nepali. Dozens of papers, many representing the various parties, assure a lively political debate. Nepalese are well informed and many journalists are dedicated to a rigorous examination of issues. And although some pettiness and scandal mongering prevail, one meets hardworking, talented young men and women in the profession who ensure that the press plays a central role in the democracy. Although party differences exaggerated by the press sometimes leave one feeling that the country is in a state of anarchy. 

 Because of Indian economic dominance, the inability of the successive governments to implement promised reforms, to stem corruption and attract investment, the economy of Nepal is in real trouble. (Although no worse than under the dictatorship.) Everyone knows that these problems cannot be addressed until a stable leadership takes hold and the new constitution is established.

Then there is the problem of Nepal’s excessive foreign non-governmental activity (we cannot call it ‘assistance’). It is unlikely to be reformed anytime soon. But for the first time in my long involvement with Nepal, I heard outspoken criticism of the NGO presence there. One commentator actually described Nepal as “an NGO farm”; i.e. it breeds NGOs (for their own benefit).

Few Nepalese today will say that NGOs and expert advisors have significantly assisted Nepal; some even say “they do more harm” (than good). Everyone knows what high salaries and benefits NGO expatriates enjoy compared to what a local NGO employee takes home; they also know what little filters down and out to supposed project beneficiaries across the nation.

While the new government admits the that NGO activities are of limited benefit, they have no policy to reform or reduce them. Certainly the thousands of NGOs based in Kathmandu account for the steep rise in land prices, much of the conspicuous wealth one sees in the city. Their salaries and overhead expenses support many restaurants, brand name shops and elite services and products.

That aside, a more severe economic problem has emerged in recent years. One cannot speak about Nepal’s economy today without reference to a new and troubling reality—namely the migration of millions of young laborers, most of them unskilled, to the Arab Gulf countries. This has occurred in the past six years after the collapse of the carpet industry, blighted by a campaign against the exploitation of child workers. It is also due to failed development strategies for the rural people. (Exploitation of trafficked workers overseas is hardly better than child labor.)

Although remittances from abroad (an estimated 3 million workers, 13% of the entire population) help support millions of Nepalese at home, it creates serious social and economic problems overseas and at home. Rural areas are depopulated and agricultural production is in decline. Moreover thousands of men and women return with terrifying stories of mistreatment at the hands of Nepalese labor brokers and their Arab employers. Although widely publicized (in excellent investigative work by journalist Devendra Bhattarai and film-maker Kesang Tseten), and openly discussed by human rights agents, intellectuals and consultants, no one seems to have a plan to correct this problem. And Nepalese embassies in the Arab Gulf countries seem unwilling or unable to address the needs of their citizens abroad. While the inflow of cash from this labor seems to be crucial to Nepal, long term benefits to the economy remain to be seen. With an already weak industrial base, Nepal becomes more and more a consumer economy which in turn increases dependence on Indian imports, and he need for cash.

So problems are plentiful. There are abundant reasons for citizens to be exasperated if not fearful for their future. But major reforms won in the past 6 years have to be acknowledged--institutions essential for a healthy democracy are firmly in place. Without foreign help and with a minimum of human sacrifice, Nepal has come a very long way—surely a model for those still struggling against entrenched dictators. And a warning lesson for those tempted to interfere.

[ Nepal's Trials in Democracy ]

Nothing New in Nepal? Part 1 of 2

November 26, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Its mountains look as glorious as in the picture books; trekkers sport the same recognizable brands, the same professional boots; tourism in Nepal is flourishing although the noise and dust of Kathmandu are unabated; worshippers crowd the shrines and monasteries, their offerings reflecting undiminished devotion; and NGOs remain profitable… for their employees, if not for alleged beneficiaries.

Thus, on the surface it appears that nothing has changed in Nepal in the past decade. So, has the status quo been restored?

Not at all. Despite the apparent political stagnation, unresolved economic issues, excessive dependence on NGOs and tourism, the ousted king’s public appearances, and public frustration with a succession of prime-ministers, Nepal will never be the same.

International attention focuses on a so-called “Arab Spring”, still in the throes of rebellion, aggravated by outside powers, generating violence and instability over a large part of the world. Meanwhile Nepal may offer an example of how a democracy can take root and grow, albeit at a wearisome pace with much remaining to be tackled. Only this week a long awaited major agreement has been reached that will admit into Nepal’s regular army the thousands of members of the victorious rebel military.

Few will be aware that Nepal was ruled by dictators for almost 350 years. It started with a succession of inherited prime ministers (the Rana Era) and continued through a line of kings (the Shah Dynasty). Foreign powers happily co-operated with these men; and, when popular uprisings demanding democracy erupted in 1990, nary a word was heard from abroad. Neither foreign leaders nor the United Nations who come forward with such righteousness to demand the ouster of other entrenched autocrats, called for the removal of Nepal’s rulers. (Indeed Washington provided military support for the king’s forces  in putting down recent rebellions.) Despite its awful human rights record, the country continued to attract holidaymakers in record numbers and garner unlimited foreign assistance. 

Finally in 1996, a successful resistance mobilized not through exiled opposition leaders but by an indigenous armed rebel (Maoist) movement known as the People’s Liberation Army. (See Dispatches from Nepal by Li Onesto, Pluto Books.) Within 6 years, this people’s army was in control of 75 % of the country, mainly impoverished rural areas. Dubbed by Washington as a “terrorist organization” (a status that even today the US has not amended), the movement nevertheless thrived. In 2006, the rebel movement had so weakened the monarchy which had repeatedly blundered and discredited itself, and successfully tackled  the ‘royal’ army that it was able to negotiate a cease fire and then a comprehensive peace accord. Referenda and elections followed which removed the monarchy, declaring Nepal a secular republic with an open press. Multi-parties sprang up and human rights laws were instituted. The first election brought the rebel leader Pachandra in as prime minister with his Maoist Part winning a majority in parliament. But both he and his party were unable to retain the confidence of the government for long.

The past 3 years have seen a succession of leaders from various, mainly leftist, parties. Today’s prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, a highly regarded, experienced Maoist leader, offers new hope for stability.

Some pessimists describe the situation as close to anarchy, but the democracy itself seems firmly established. Indeed the proliferation of parties and vigorous public criticism of leaders can be read as a sign of a healthy democratic process.

By international standards, the toll from the war-- 15,000, two thirds of whom were rebel fighters and civilians killed by the military-- is low. More important the speed with which free speech and party reforms came into effect. It certainly helped that the unpopular king, Gyanendra who had succeeded King Birendra after the suspicious palace massacre of 2001, was gone. (Although he is neither dead nor exiled.) Not even the idea of a constitutional monarchy survived. 

Five years after the institution of democracy, although tourists are delighted that their treks can continue unhampered, and NGO activity has stepped up, many in Nepal may be wondering where they are headed. The promised constitution has yet to be finalized, poverty is increasing, real economic development is negligable, corruption is unabated, parties are squabbling and factionalizing, and dominance by the southern “madeshi” who live along the low-lying plain bordering India becomes more troubling.  (Watch for Part 2 of “Nothing New in Nepal?” next week)

[ Nothing New in Nepal? Part 1 of 2 ]

Latest Defeat; Arab Nationalism in the Crosshairs

November 02, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

It’s confirmed, in case you missed it. Arabs really are savages.

 

I wonder if other Arabs feel as I do: that the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is a triple blow.

As western powers and their Gulf Arab allies gloat over their victory in Libya, we simple Arab peoples endure a threefold defeat: a) we are deprived of one leader who accomplished much-- for his people and for Africans and Arabs in general; b) any balanced view of  this Arab country’s modern history will be impossible now; and c) we lost whatever shreds of our dignity we still held when we glimpsed some of the barbarian character of the rebels who ended the battle.

 

Along with western media and historians of war and terror, the vainglorious heads of state doubtless have their day. We scroll through graphic footage to dispel any rumor that this African Arab leader is alive. There’s ample proof that he was dispatched most dishonorably. His regime is truly gone, the nation wrecked and plundered, cleansed of anything that might suggest Libya had achieved something in modern times.

 

As for me personally, I am in mourning. I admit it. I suspect that millions of others are experiencing a similar sadness, even grief, these days. Because we are not only witness to a dirty end and swift retelling of Gaddafi’s rule and his development of Libya, however imperfect, as a modern society. The record is there—the literacy rate, an enviable per capital income, coveted health and education benefits, even though all this is kicked deeper under the sand, sucked into the detritus of war.

Meanwhile a new western-created and disseminated legend emerges—one sodden with correctness, heroism, humanitarianism—all internationally sanctioned. It sparkles.

Not only will documentaries and news reports pass over us as we quietly grieve in the shadows. We ourselves must veil our loss. Otherwise we would suffer a double defeat: we’ll be challenged to defend a man who ‘killed his own’, who uttered outlandish, laughable words, a capricious fellow whose idiosyncrasies are dizzying and whose policies seemed crude.

Anyone who might write truths and come to Gaddafi’s defense is simply not credible now. We might even be charged as having been in his pay, beneficiaries of his regime at one stage or another. (Forget about America’s payouts, its unmatched atrocities and plunder; Washington’s policies are directed against ‘others’, not America’s own people!)

I am not only in mourning for a defamed man and the death of his achievements in terms of Libyans’ living standard and its support for nationalist struggles. I weep for the ignoble rebels who became dirty and at the same time heroic agents of the western agenda, deployed hand in glove with NATO to ‘protect Libyan civilians’.

In their military adventure, perhaps throughout their battles across Libya ending in Sirte, those gung-ho anti-Gaddafi rebels emerged-- for me-- not as liberators but as savages: the grubby, highly conspicuous frontline of hidden NATO warriors and their clean, smart gunships. We have not been allowed to see what crimes these fellows committed as they marched behind the NATO strikes, and ‘cleansed’ house after house, settlement after settlement, city after city. Although we could view their noble wounded rushed into the care of field hospitals, interviewed while recovering, the martyred remembered by proud families.

 

In the final battle, with the made-for-TV capture of the leader, suddenly neither NATO nor any politician is at hand. Instead, victorious rebels were given license to operate as they pleased. Packs of wild dogs set upon a wounded animal, they indulge an ugly fantasy. The result is less a humiliated Gaddafi than a gang of savage Arabs. Vultures, animals, ripping into their prey.

This is the image that we are left with. A ruthless bunch of  beasts, untamed, primitive, conveniently with camera in hand to document their pleasure. It’s almost pornographic. (From the little we know, American troops have behaved similarly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, not being Arabs, they are not savages, just a few boys gone wild. And who remembers those images?) 

 

Do those rebels who assailed the last Libyan loyalists defending Sirte not realize how they are manipulated and used to defame our entire race? Their actions become a stain on all of us.

While a ‘detached’ human rights official calls for investigations, the observing, cool-headed world is handed this souvenir, a savage image of Arabs and Arab culture.

All of us carry the smudge. This is why I mourn today. All the pride and dignity won by revolutionary Tunisians and Egyptians these past months has been overturned by these unleashed Libyan brothers.

Another generation is handed the task of rebuilding; they are next to be sucked into the redeeming cycle of music concerts, seminars, fundraisers, testimonial city tours, children arriving for surgery at the hands of gracious western medics and, and, and.

[ Latest Defeat; Arab Nationalism in the Crosshairs ]

“Tahrir is Here!” shout American protesters on Wall Street

October 07, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Whoever thought the Arab people today would inspire an American democratic movement? Who ever thought Steve Jobs, Apple’s celebrated founder, reputed world changer and one of the most brilliant minds of the century, was Arab?  Who conceived a Yemini woman would be our 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, that Syrian people would shout in their streets for freedom? 

Meanwhile back on Wall Street: young Americans have begun a sit-in, copying Egyptian youth who set up their workstations and tents and sleeping bags and heath centers in Tahrir Square. Within 3 weeks, the Occupy Wall Street movement, joined by unions and well known intellectuals, has sprung up in several cities. (Angelina, what are you waiting for?)

There is doubtless much that the West could learn from Arab peoples today. But they fail to see it and cannot acknowledge even the possibility. We in the Arab lands have abundant heroes and heroines, from those Iraqi doctors who stayed on, in impossible conditions to tend the sick through decades of sanctions, abandoned by their own western teachers, to our astute journalists and Palestinian poets from Suheir Hammad to Mahmoud Darwish, women and men who speak for the oppressed worldwide, to teachers and mothers who keep the promise of education in the forefront of the lives of young Arab girls and boys, to the men and women who search out cluster bombs dropped by Israeli bombers across their farms. There are the psychiatrists who treat our traumatized millions through war after war after war, and the courageous women and men of Syria. Their fortitude and creativity and generosity is unmatched. And if recognized for their courage, all these Arab minds would indeed arouse people everywhere.

But it was Cairo’s Tahrir encampments and outrage that is the model for young Americans on Wall Street-- the 99%. They are indeed the “99%ers” whose combined assets equal the 1% of America’s richest. One slogan at the Wall Street sit-in shouts “Tahrir is Here!” Here, in the financial capital of the world, the center of lustful, unmitigated greed and power. These demonstrators, like those in Tahrir Square, Cairo, are young and jobless; they too have college degrees (a sign-carrying protestor cries: ‘I lost a job, found an occupation’). They do not use the word ‘dictator’ to address their enemy, but the CEOs are indeed dictators; their tyranny applies across the globe. Neither do the “99%ers” utter the word corruption—not yet-- although what they oppose is the theft of their lives and hopes by corporations whose immunity is sanctioned by Washington, and who enjoy privilege and wealth of obscene proportion, while poverty and despair grow. The US government refuses to acknowledge the link between the unbridled license of banks and thedespair of millions of its citizens;  Washington also refuses to consider the cost of its wars as a source of the country’s economic woes; neither officials nor the rich will admit their profits are based on US imperialist polices. These young people make the connections. And finally their anger has found expression.

It is not as if the problem is a mystery. Analysts have been exposing the issue for years: take a statement by former US Treasury official and economist Paul Craig Roberts, as recently as September 30, 2011: “…..(US) wars and military attacks have cost American taxpayers in out-of-pocket and already-incurred future costs at least $4,000 billion dollars--one third of the accumulated public debt--resulting in a US deficit crisis that threatens the social safety net, the value of the US dollar and its reserve currency role, while enriching beyond all previous history the military/security complex and its apologists.”

What is this but corruption?

I often walk along Wall Street and note the undiminished delight of tourists having their photograph taken in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Do they realize that if they attempted to enter the sacred gate of NYSE, they would surely be pounced on and arrested?

All day and through the night, I see rows of black limousines, engines purring, waiting in the streets adjacent to Wall St. for their masters to emerge, then rushing them to their stately, gated homes. We never see the faces of the rich. No general traffic is permitted anywhere along Wall Street today; security throughout the area is very tight, day and night, seen and unseen. Surveillance cameras abound, as do police. Every year, more barriers are installed to protect these offices from would-be attackers. This is indeed the seat of empire.

For over a decade I have questioned the political naivety and despondency of Americans through the many wars, during the 2008 economic collapse, reading exposes of the reckless but filthy rich investors and bankers. Citizens accepted the powerlessness of  their government to reign in these ruthless corporations or to punish offenders. Watching people worldwide rally against food prices, corrupt officials, and impotent or lackey governments, I asked “Why are Americans not in the streets?”

Well, maybe they needed the example from Cairo. If the Egyptians could unseat their dictator, maybe their daring could be replicated in the USA. For the first time in more than 20 years, I am hopeful.

[ “Tahrir is Here!” shout American protesters on Wall Street ]

Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, 1929-2011 (see our Sept 27 podcast)

September 19, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

To know Mohammed Hikmat Ghani was to know Iraq… well, Baghdad—vibrant, dynamic, proud, all-embracing. With a long, productive career, his work valued by museums and collectors internationally, Ghani the sculptor needs no introduction.

I first met Ghani in 1990 on my initial visit to Baghdad. It was a propitious encounter since through him, I made many good friends who helped me understand and like Iraq. Our encounter moved from a professional relationship-- I first interviewed him about his work for a US magazine-- to an enduring friendship with the entire family.

I remained close to Ghani and his wife, archeologist Gaya Rahal, up to the time we last met, a year ago at their home in exile in Jordan. His son Yasser, with his wife Rana, and their children, had just left for overseas. Ghani was so sad he could not talk about it. He was never a person lost for words, so we knew this separation was very hard for him.

Whatever the misfortunes of his homeland, the absent friends, and his personal disappointments, Ghani never relaxed his enormous energy as a sculptor, and his artistic imagination never flagged. That week in Amman, he had had a hugely successful exhibition of recent work. “All sold”, he said, with some astonishment. “I have new orders from many people who were too late to buy a piece in the show. I have to start working again, immediately.”

Collectors of Ghani’s recent work are Iraqis in the Diaspora, especially those living in Jordan. He was proud of this, proud that his people, despite recent hardships and material losses, continued to value art and the work of Iraqi artists in particular. Indeed, since 1991, the year when UN-US sanctions were imposed on Iraq, the Jordanian capital had emerged into something of a regional art center—this largely due to the influx of Iraqi artists driven there by lack of materials, by the closure of museums, and due to the decline of Iraq’s middle class who had supported the arts in their homeland.

The only time I witnessed a hiatus in Ghani’s production was during the US bombing of Iraq in early 1991. He was angry and shocked and would never forgive the Americans for that assault. During those 42 days, before he could repair his bombed studio, under siege, confined to his home, Ghani occupied himself assembling a photographic collection of his work—sketches, photographs and notes from his entire career. He set about preparing this for publication. (Indeed, within months it was printed, now certain to become a collector’s item.) In this he recruited the help of his skillful and devoted daughter Hajjar.)

Ghani often recalled his years in Rome, and kept in touch with fellow artists there. He knew Italian so well that when conversing in English, which he did with relative fluency, he spoke with an Italian accent.  Whenever lost for an English word, he quickly substituted with an Italian. This Iraqi’s conversation in English was often colorfully peppered with Italian.

During his exile in Amman, Ghani resumed his work, and to a degree the family’s social life continued. Any meeting after 7 pm with Ghani and Gaya was bound to be an Iraqi party; down the street or across town, Iraqi friends were gathering, and if I was in town, I accompanied them. Invariably I was gratified by hilarity and uplifting company. It was the same in Baghdad where I spent time with the Ghani family on every one of my dozens of visits there during the 13 years of sanctions from 1990-2003.

At their modest Baghdad home the atmosphere was always relaxed; I often joined Ghani and Gaya in the evening to find myself among Iraq’s most accomplished musicians, artists and scholars, among them oud master and composer Munir Bashir, literary critic Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, artist Laila Al-Attar, archeologist Walid Al-Jadir; with others, they made Baghdad the dynamic and vital city it was. Of course all that changed as the merciless sanctions took their toll, driving people out of the country, striking down many with illness or despair.

During the day, whether in Iraq or in exile, Ghani was not to be seen. He had a strict regime—at work in his studio by 9 am, an hour for lunch, then back to work until seven in the evening-- even at the age of 82. He was not to be disturbed when at work. Not even Gaya ventured into the studio. Only Yasser, in the years that he was an apprentice to his father, might be in the studio with him. I was once in his workplace, only because I was to interview him about his career, arguing that it was essential for me to be with him among the mock-ups and his finished pieces while we talked.

Ghani and his family survived the sanctions, but not without difficulties.

 “Never”, said Ghani; “these sanctions will never reach inside my house”. So he kept the mood upbeat, and an open door for guests including his children’s school friends. Although those sanctions did invade even this home—nothing could withstand that brutal, cold-blooded assault. The death or departure of friends and neighbors took its toll; still Ghani stayed on. It was not until the American led invasion, bringing threats to his family and the ransacking of the museums, that he went into exile. Before long though, in Amman, he was at work again.

“The mayor of Baghdad has asked me to return”, he told me in 2010. There will be work there for me. But as long as my country is occupied, I shall not go.”

The determined mayor persisted it seems, and finally last October, Ghani revisited his country. It was a bitter-sweet encounter. However, the sculptor did agree to design a series of pieces for the city. Back in Amman, in his final months, as he was failing, Ghani worked with his son Yasser to direct the details of the casting and the installation of his last works—four new sculptures to be erected in Baghdad. When they are installed, they will partner with the already well known Ghani landmarks in Baghdad to decorate this city he called his “most beautiful lady”.

Today his body rests there, a final wish of Ghani, awaiting these new installations.

[ Mohammed Ghani Hikmat, 1929-2011 (see our Sept 27 podcast) ]

"Yesterday"

September 12, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I turned off my radio all day yesterday, Sept. 11, 2011. I didn't need to hear the memories and tributes and analyses underway. Neither did I want to participate in those memorials. Then I reconsidered. So I share this with you-- what I wrote and felt a decade ago today. bna 

 

Yesterday was Sept. 11, 2001. A Tuesday.

               I leave home 200 km beyond New York City for the three-hour drive into Manhattan. I make my way out of the quiet hills where I live, to drive into the metropolis to host my two weekly radio programs.

This Tuesday, I would not reach work.              

 

At 9:30 am, just an hour north of the city, I turn on my car radio. A panicked broadcaster’s voice is reporting the catastrophic event underway in the city.

I pull off the road to listen more carefully. It takes but a moment for me, to register the magnitude of this news. I find myself weeping uncontrollably over my steering wheel.

Cars slide pass me. Do those drivers know? Have they too heard? Do they also disbelieve the calamity we have entered? Are they rushing to sit with a friend, to turn on a TV to have real evidence?

Newscasters repeat: “All bridges and tunnels into Manhattan are closed”. 

I decide to continue southwards in the direction of New York City. Sapphire’s apartment is along this New Jersey route; so is Kay and Salah’s. I will stop at Paulette’s house: hers is the first along my route.

Before restarting the car, I open my cell phone and call my office--the radio station. Silence. All lines are cut. The building from which we broadcast is barely 500 meters from the World Trade Center. Somehow I do not expect it is in danger. I need to join my colleagues at work doing what journalists must at such a time. I switch my car radio to 99.5 fm. Ahhh. We are sending out signals. I hear the voices of colleagues: Jose, Sally, Burnard and Deepa. They sound calm, trying to make sense of the terror in the streets below them.

I wish I were there. Not for the news scoop; there is no scoop on this. Our experienced announcers will use their voice to help our stunned public through this. I want to be with my colleagues to capture the immediacy of this calamity. That's one job of a journalist, especially broadcasters, in a moment of crisis.

               At 20 kilometers from Manhattan I reach the top of the hill, “Mountain View”. From here, one can make out the far-off skyline of Manhattan. I always find it a breathtaking spectacle; seeing the peaks of identifiable city buildings is reassuring somehow. On this unhappy clear morning, reaching this crest on the road, I slow the car, and I gasp. Something is missing. No sign of the two highest towers, those at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. All I can distinguish in that vicinity is an enormous cloud of smoke seeping skyward. I begin to weep again.

It is clear I cannot proceed across the George Washington Bridge so I abandon any idea of reaching the radio station. I exit highway 4 and within a few moments, pull into Paulette’s drive. On her television I witness the catastrophe. All channels--news, food, drama, marketing, sports, history-- replay clips of the planes crashing into those buildings, then the softly, dropping towers, crumbling, sinking to the pavement.

I pull out my phone again. Still no connection with the station. I try the home of a colleague living in lower Manhattan. Nothing.

I manage to reach my family in a far away city; next I call the guests scheduled for tonight's broadcasts. The shows will be cancelled. Of course.

               I return to the TV. Paulette and her son and I hardly speak. As I watch the spectacular images (a spectacle indeed) of the impacting planes and the collapsing buildings, I feel sick, weak, stunned. Inside that inferno and among the fuming rubble, thousands of women and men are being incinerated, pulverized. The replays go on. And on. Each cycle takes but a few moments. But this rumble begins to deepen, to build a story and a fear and boundless anger. I know it will last a generation. I glare at the TV screen, wanting this to be just a film I can shut off.

               Every week, when I arrive into the city, I park my car uptown, then take the subway train to our downtown office, passing through the World Trade Center. Along with millions of commuters I exit the subway train that terminates under that maze of towers. I pass through the busy mezzanine and out to the street to walk to the east end of Wall Street. This subway station is now a mass tomb.

Those two towers are--were--so colossal; I have always been aware of their immensity. They dwarf everything around, even the 19-story building where I work.

That was yesterday.

Today, the day after, our radio station is not broadcasting. Neither are other communications centers in the neighborhood. Was our transmitter damaged, the electricity cut? Were we forced to evacuate?

               My thoughts shift from the dead and dying to the future, not a distant future, but to the coming weeks and months. Already newscasters are speculating that the perpetrators are Arab. This catastrophe is bound to affect Arab and Muslim Americans. It is going to bear down on every one of us, wherever we are in the USA. Not because of more terror attacks here. But because the authorities will launch a hunt. Expansion of intelligence activity across the country is inevitable. But I could not imagine the universal ramifications that would ensue.

After earlier, less horrific incidents, The US Congress had hastily passed an anti-terrorism law; the negative effect of on our civil rights is already apparent. Most Americans were unaware of this because the immediate target of those laws was one community—US Muslims and Arabs.   

New regulations were put in place, here and abroad. Congress had already granted greatly expanded power to our intelligence agencies and the civil liberties of our people had already suffered.

Thirty hours have passed since that morning.    

Tuesday night I drove home, mournfully, slowly, silently.

Any neighbors I meet volunteer child-like threats: “we’ll get them”; “wipe them all out”. They are afraid.

All of us are afraid for our future, the future of this disneyland of democracy and all the stuff we strive to possess, stuff that we take so for granted, for ourselves. I think; suddenly we all feel vulnerable in this invincible land. I know Americans will answer with revenge, not reflection. This frightens me most.

[ "Yesterday" ]

Venerable Trukshik Rinpoche (1924-2011), Nepal

September 05, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Trulshig Rinpoche (1924-2011), Nepal

Trulshik was the name given to the son of YumWangmo. He was recognized in his infancy as the incarnation of the Trukshik Yogin, his biological father, who had had a close association with the then abbot of a monastery in SW Tibet.

At the age of just 19, the young Trulshik was appointed assistant director of that monastery, Dza-Rong. He eventually inherited the leadership of the center, located above Dingri, in the northern shadow of Everest.

Trulshik Rinpoche, as he was known, eventually became one of the most revered and influential Tibetan religious figures in Nepal and beyond. Today, September 5, 2011, he is no more in the realm of we sentients.

I recall Trulshik so vividly today. Hearing his voice clearly in my memory, I feel a surge of grief along with warmth of the memory of times together. You see, I knew Trulshik well in the 1970s when I was a young anthropologist in Northeast Nepal and he a fast maturing, skilled monastic leader. He immediately rose to the challenge of piloting a disoriented refugee community of Tibetans, most of them from Dingri in Tibet. Together they had fled into nearby Nepal beginning in 1960 after the Chinese occupation of their land.

Tibetan Frontier Families, my first book, has just been released in a new edition. (Vajra Books, Kathmandu, 2011). Here, I update the history of Dingri Tibetans and Trulshik's rise to prominence. I also recall Trulshik’s youth in Tibet, his early years in Nepal, and our close association. He was a genuine and important friend of this single woman scholar with few friends in that distant, once-isolated valley. (That was the pre-road and pre-mobile phone era in Nepal’s interior.) Starting in 1970, Rinpoche and I discussed news headlines, the past, and his plans for his growing monastery. (I was not in a position to converse with him on Nyingma Buddhist philosophy, and he did not appear to mind that.)

I was based not far from his retreat –just 5 hours by footpath through the mountains of Solu-- and, when I visited the monastery we had lunch in his chamber, where he often tuned into his shortwave radio, where together we followed international news. He kept an atlas nearby whenever  we talked.

After knowing each other a year, seeing my curiosity in and my attraction to the 13th century yogin PhaDampa Sangyas, founder of the Zhijed Tibetan philosophical tradition, Trulshik shared with me a 5-volume manuscript he had secreted out of Tibet on the backs of his party of refugees. Moreover, he suggested I might photograph the more than 1,200 pages and he then made all facilities in the monastery available to me during the weeks of the project.

Those manuscript photographs I took to India; the film was printed, and eventually the entire 5 tomes were published for the first time. Recently I learned that Tibetans and other international scholars are engaged in work based on this text.) I need to mention the publication was arranged by another eminent figure of that era, Gene E Smith. A brilliant Tibetologist and a devotee, Smith was the US Library of Congress acquisitions officer in India those years. Many scholars like me owe much to Smith's support. He too recently escaped the wheel of sentient beings.

Last year, before his death, Gene and I reviewed my new introduction to Tibetan Frontier Families and we recalled the early years of Lama Trukshik’s career and his widening influence. Anthropologist Jane Goodall apparently became a devotee of Trulshik, along with other European Buddhist students. All followed the trail through the hills to his expanding monastery in northeast Nepal where my friendship with him had blossomed and where I spent many weeks at work on the manuscript and with the community of talented men and women who were part of the Rinpoche's center. (Consulting the web, I see that you can  learn about his foreign followers and Trulshik's international work there.)

In my new preface to Tibetan Frontier Families, you can find more about Trulshik’s life, and in the body of the original text , more details of his youth. I leave it to readers to consult my book, available on Amazon.com.

I believe there is not much beyond this in English about the remarkable early career of Trulshik. Although there may be a biography in Tibetan language written some 30 or more years ago. Suffice to summarize here what a brilliant manager he was; he drew around him dedicated, talented people; he was extraordinarily compassionate in the simplest way, and above all, he was hardworking, ready to serve anyone who came to him for spiritual or other help.

 For the first 20 years of his residence outside Tibet, Trukshik focused his attention on building up his original monastic center Thupten Choeling in Nepal. Despite his youth and limited access to anyone of his rank who he could consult, he flourished intellectually and spiritually. He emerged as a wise man by the time he was 45. I am told that after 1990 he had become influential within the ranks of the Tibetan scholarly hierarchy; and I understand he travelled the world. Although unlike many others of his background, his base remained the immediate community of monks and nuns in his mountain retreat.

I can hear his voice still so clearly-- laughing over some curiosity, his head always tilted to one side to emphasize his attention, chuckling about contradictions in earthly matters, praying, rosary in hand, in reflection on the problem of a supplicant, and his discerning comments as he inspects a calligrapher’s work, a liturgical ritual process, or this anthropologist’s writing. I still have some of his letters, written in a beautiful, careful hand, with a spot of whiteout here and there.

There will be abundant prayers for Trulshik’s soul in the coming weeks as his spirit travels beyond the worldly realm into that of the angles and countless Buddhist spirits in paradise. As in the case of Gene E. Smith who left his sentient body barely a year ago, I feel they hardly need our prayers to assure them a safe and swift passage.

Footnote--I am often surprised when I meet someone whom I have known for the past two decades and they have no awareness whatsoever of my work in Tibet. Perhaps, had I not been on record as opposing Zionist policies against my own homeland, and known for my unshakable pride in my Arab peoples, this early history would not have been obscured. So I welcome this opportunity through the passing of my dear friend Trukshik, to show that these lives are not unconnected.

This is by way of sharing with those who have known this author only from her work in the Arab lands, of an earlier era in Nepal, India and Tibet, the foundation for my dedicated ongoing research and work in the Middle East.

Bibliography, By BN Aziz

2011 Tibetan Frontier Families, new edition. Published by Vajra Books, Kathmandu, Nepal.

1979 The Traditions of PhaDampa Sangyas, A Tibetan text in 5 volumes, edited from a manuscript in Nepal, with an English introduction by BN Aziz. Published by Druk Press, Thimbu, Bhutan.

 

[ Venerable Trukshik Rinpoche (1924-2011), Nepal ]

“Eid Eve and Morning”

August 30, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Eid begins. I send wishes for a happy and blessed Eid to all friends and associates, worldwide. You know what my main wish is.

Meanwhile some thoughts from the day’s events.

How long has the US been involved in wars in the Middle East?

According to a professor’s comment aired over the authoritative, self-styled liberal,  Northeastern Public Radio, it’s almost a decade. A decade? 

So claims a distinguished American professor/former military officer in “Academic Minute”, a new radio feature distributed across the US over the enlightened media, on a network followed by the most educated’ Americans. In today’s 60 second edition, the professor summarizes American military history in the Middle East—all 9 years of it!  And what about the remaining 95% of Americans who don’t follow these so-called experts? Well that same widely distributed radio network swiftly moved from “Academic Minute” to devote 10 minutes to Sunday’s final scores of university football matches.

So tell me: what is the real reason young Arab men and women dream of studying in the USA?

And the storm “Irene”. Well, with our Wall St. premises under mandatory evacuation order, my WBAI Radio station shut down Sat. night. So, from my retreat on the Beaverkill River in New York, we kept a closer watch on “Irene”. With my neighbors I followed the rise of the water meter by meter, as it became increasingly swift and fierce. From 5 am after fajr prayer, until 4:30 pm, it swelled. Trees, like enormous whales suddenly invading from the ocean, swished by in the muddy current. Chunks of trees looked like elephants with legs upturned, bouncing along in the raging water. Thankfully the worst of the flood was during daylight hours. Some villagers left; those of us remaining on the banks of the Beaverkill kept in touch, ready to evacuate to a neighbor on high ground. (We’ve had worse floods in here before this.)

The main fear from these storms is falling trees. Indeed, local roads are impassable, even this morning. My electricity was off for only half the day, but I hear millions are without power today. Business is hampered, they say-- for a few hours, 48 hours at the most. Isthis a crisis? Consider elsewhere. Can anyone here possibly, possibly imagine what life in Iraq is without power day after day, year after year after year, through summers and winters? And those blackouts are man-made in Washington and London.

Storm “Irene” has been a great opportunity for US politicians and emergency services to show off. At their control centers Saturday night and through Sunday, politicians asserted their leadership, their lofty humanitarian values. Not to be caught sleeping as happened in Hurricane Katrina. Today’s preparations may guarantee re-election of many officials. It’s proof that the US emergency system can handle something more serious, from other kinds of threats.

Will this experience of a rare regional storm force Washington to turn its attention to weather and the causes and results of climate change? Will it help Americans imagine what their war machines do to targeted tens of millions of across the globe?

Appeals: Don’t close this essay before you call for the Release of Suhair Atassi. Find out about her and act.

What am I reading? Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans. What prose! A master of English, classic style. And Malcolm X, by Manning Marable, in preparation for a radio discussion. Also for radio review, The Arabs, A History—560 pp -- by an exalted Oxford University professor; I cannot recommend it, despite its rave reviews.

[ “Eid Eve and Morning” ]

"Shock Doctrine" Applied on the Arab Awakenings?

June 15, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The true test of revolution will come when Arab youth will not only say to outsiders, “hands off our revolution”. They need to resist the bribes and seductions that are sure to follow.

As if it isn’t bad enough that natural disasters become opportunities for western capitalist adventures to ‘clean the field’.

In her excellent 2007 study “Shock Doctrine”, Naomi Klein describes how western powers prepare the ground for corporate control. According to Kline’s analysis, the Friedman economic model lies at the heart of US foreign policy. The US, she claims, takes the opportunity of disasters, or creates upheaval in order to establish their economic plan on a ‘clear playing field’. This doctrine has been applied after natural disasters such as the Sri Lankan tsunami, the Haitian earthquake, and the toppling of governments that threatened capitalist dominance such as in Chile and in Iraq. 

Bad enough. But I wonder: could the USA view current Arab uprisings as a frame on which to apply its underhanded and vicious policy under the name ‘aid’? Today it’s labeled “civil society and democracy” or something equally noble. Could the heroic Arab Awakening offer Western powers opportunities to take over the revolution?

Improbable--at first glance. These are indigenous revolutions, led by people who themselves are cleansing corrupt systems. Citizens began the revolt; they already accomplished the unthinkable, and without outside help. (Even if  there is still a long road to climb, such as in Egypt and Tunisia.)

What first alerted me about a western co-opting of the ‘Arab Awakening’ was not American and British finger-waving at their old friends, the dictators. Not even backroom meetings between their military leaders. Nor the role that western social networkers claimed as theirs.

It was the US president’s offer last month of two billion dollars for the revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia. At the G8 meeting a few days later, the two billion became nearly $20 billion for the brave people across the Arab lands engaged in ridding themselves of dictators.

$20 billion! For what? It is not designated as military support. And who asked for it? $20 billion to help countries establish ‘new democratic institutions’! As if it is something to be bought over the counter. And what sign is there that it’s money  that’s needed, after what we witnessed, namely unarmed demonstrators who brandished nothing but courage, determination and their own voices. (see Poetry Square, Feb 5, 2011, RadioTahrir.org). Those cannot be bought, or sold. What have billions of aid to Afghanistan and Palestinians done for their democratic hopes? The main outcome seems to be corruption, stagnation, and a dominant Western hand in internal affairs.

According to writer Soumaya Ghannoushi, those billions promised for Arab youth are already at work. In her May 26/11 Guardian article “Obama, Hands off Our Spring”, she informs us of some of the conferences and workshops underway to channel the revolutionary Arab spirit into US hands. In Washington and elsewhere, she writes, US “programmes aimed at youth leaders include the Leaders for Democracy Arabic project, and the US state department's Middle East partnership initiative….”….  “young activists … are hosted by the Project on Middle East Democracy ..one of many conferences and seminars. Meetings are underway “between high-ranking US officials and the Muslim Brotherhood” in Egypt and with Tunisia Muslim representatives in the US.

Ghannoushi warns, “Washington hopes that these rising forces can be stripped of their ideological opposition to US hegemony and turned into pragmatists, fully integrated into the existing US-led international order.” Plans "to stabilise and modernise" the Tunisian and Egyptian economies…drafted by the World Bank, IMF and European Development Bank at Washington's behest... A $2bn facility to support private investment...”

It looks like genuine aid on the surface. Ghannoushi recalls Obama’s own words: “…now a historic opportunity…, to pursue the world as it should be.”

 

Ghannoushi’s alert is reinforced by Ahdaf Soueif (again in the Guardian Weekly 27 May/11 ) who warns: “To Arabs, the US is a force of occupation draped in a thin cloak of democracy and human rights.”

In “Our revolt is not for the US”, Soueif points the finger at Washington’s double standards, and how previous supports for freedom resulted in crony capitalism, blackmailing politicians, and widespread corruption. To Obama’s promises that US interests are essential to people’s hopes, she retorts:  ‘it’s obfuscation, and an insult to every citizen… who followed our revolution”.

Aid seems so well intentioned. But Naomi Klein spells out how it really works and her analysis is worth revisiting. “Shock Doctrine” documents just how western powers rush to fill the vacuum created by natural disasters in order to establish an investment environment. Klein illustrates how capitalist forces can similarly ‘precipitate’ a disaster, overthrowing countries with unfriendly economic systems in order to militarily impose their system. It’s hard to accept this ugly truth; but Klein’s research is convincing.

More troubling is the possibility that this same process is now aimed against our celebrated and prideful Arab Awakening. Is the US working on that clean slate to implant its own plan?

Our brave citizens who began this historic process are resisting the powerful economic and military forces that chain them. They are tearing down barriers set against them for decades. More hard work lies ahead to realize the revolution they began. Now, they must resist the more subtle, crafted intellectual might of the partners of their former oppressors. Can they do it? 

[ "Shock Doctrine" Applied on the Arab Awakenings? ]

New Leaders of the Middle East, Part 2

May 24, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Barack Obama’s recent speech… Uh, which speech? The one to AIPAC where he essentially capitulated to Israel? Or the one two days earlier at the US State Department?

On May 19th Mr. Obama revealed what was billed as major policy initiative, a new vision of the Middle East and North Africa. There, the American president confirmed that the country is determined not to be left out of the so-called Arab Awakening.  His declaration on what will be the American role across the region has been eclipsed by the issue of Israel. Put Israel aside (sic) for the moment.

 Let’s consider what Obama spelled out for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) on May 19th. The US president may have appeared to establish a new link – no vision, be sure--between US policy and today’s political realities there. We will support you in your reform movements (and threaten [some] leaders who do not give way); we’ll  provide funds for civil projects. We will…, he said. 

Look again. Obama’s US policy is simply a dry blanket thrown over a fire. It’s a cloaked policy to channel and administer events which outside powers initially had no control over. And it is well underway.

US diplomats and economic advisors have been lining up with various sides in the revolutions following spontaneous uprisings last December. But long before, key institutions that will execute this policy were already in place. The GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council), Gulf-based Arab media networks, established 15 years ago, and a host of American university centers which are implementing US policy at an aggressive pace. The first two have been especially active in recent months.

The positioning of the GCC reveals its growing role as a diplomatic/military arm of US policies. This body of steadfast US allies conducts summits to affirm the US position vis-à-vis various junior (and by definition, unruly) Arab states. Witness the arrival of Saudi forces in Bahrain and GCC support for NATO strikes in Libya.

GCC is a notable club of royal non-democracies. Two new members—Morocco and Jordan, fellow monarchies and solid US allies, have been invited to join the group, at the same time offering yet another example of Washington’s double standard on democracy. Changes in those regimes are highly doubtful. Also unnecessary, in Washington’s eyes. 

It is this club of monarchies which is groomed to help the US manage the Middle East and North Africa.

One of GCC’s strongest assets is its media. The professionalism, popularity and ubiquity of the Arab TV networks is well established. Arab media, from sports and business to 24-hour news, is supplemented by an abundance of American features and action films. Together they now project the success of US policy in the Middle East, patiently nurtured by the State Deptartment over the past two decades. Their influence is most notable in the power of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV. Both its 24 hour Arabic and English news channels are widely respected; the former holds sway among Arab public and its intellectuals, the latter among American liberals.

With a few billion additional US aid dollars promised by Mr. Obama, we can expect to see more women’s conferences, jazz concerts,  media workshops, children’s art, poetry and literary events in designated countries. This gift presents a symbolic gesture by the US in ‘democracy building’. But the main investment will continue from the Gulf States through their powerful Arab networks. Although civil liberties are limited in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, their media networks (MBC from Riyadh and Al-Jazeera from Doha) define public opinion across the area, including positive views of the US.

Today Al-Jazeera is outshining the BBC and CNN in offering the Libyan rebels enthusiastic support, championing NATO strikes with astonishing candor:-- through Al-Jazeera we learn how noble are the Benghazi rebels; along with NATO, those pro-democracy agents are unquestionably heroic; and Gadaffi is a fool whose doom is assured. Note that Qatar (founder and sponsor of the Al-Jazeera networks) is most active among GCC members militarily assisting NATO attacks on Libya.

Consistent with its bias in support of US policy, Al-Jazeera and to a lesser degree (Saudi controlled) Al-Arabiya channel have been aggressively reporting on Syrian dissent and Yemeni opposition to their leaders. Al-Jazeera Arabic is taking a leading role in giving voice to western-based spokesmen for what it defines as pro-democracy movements there. Commentators on both sides of the Syria dispute are so polarized that Al-Jazeera’s coverage is hardly helpful. At the same time, their attention to Jordan and Bahrain has been muted. Why have democracy movements in these monarchies been marginalized?

Over the past decade, with the rise of Al-Jazeera, the establishment of American universities and other investments in the UAE, Qatar and nearby friendly states, and the creation of Abu Dhabi as a center of luxury art, culture, and high sport, this region has taken on a new and attractive image for western consumers. Abu Dhabi is now a glamour capital-- the ‘in’ place to play and shop. It’s also a significant employer of western consultants, professors, and entertainers. Who says culture and knowledge is not a political tool?

[ New Leaders of the Middle East, Part 2 ]

Oh, What a Lovely War!

May 12, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Was this the title of a British film? or a popular song of the 40s?

Either way, I know the phrase originated in the imperial West, the humanitarian West, the West that monitors human rights and establishes international criminal courts to try all but its own citizens.

Our latest image of a ‘lovely war’ is not the sleek and silent bombers flying over north Africa. Not the political accord rammed through the UN by a club of self-interested nations.

No. It’s the sight of night revelers in American streets after their noble president announced the extra-judicial killing of the Al-Qaeda leader. Public cheers which met this attack proves what I have always argued and few will accept: namely, Americans adore war.

First, the death of Osama Bin Laden does not mark the end of war. It only allows Washington to claim success with a totally failed strategy it launched 10 years ago to capture the man they blamed for the 9/11 attacks. More significantly, what has this one death cost the world? Unknown trillions of dollars in government expenditure, the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Yeminis, and Muslims in the US’s undeclared war against Al-Qaeda. Not to forget the 6,000 plus American soldiers and the tens of thousands of maimed veterans.

Add to the calculation of ‘success’, the total devastation of two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, with the future of millions of their citizens swept away in the chaos. Then there is the cost in American principles: Washington’s policies in its terror war betrayed a once respected standard of justice; it exposed how routinely torture is practiced by American authorities; it made racism against Muslims part of everyday American life; it gave us the infamous Patriot Act and other legalized means of curbing US civil rights. The USA beefed up its CIA and other intelligence agencies to fight non-existent threats represented by Bin Laden.

Significantly, as Washington is quick to assure us, this celebrated murder does not end the terror war; rather it raises new threats. Thus the need for continued vigilance and heighted security measures.  Instead of being reprimanded for their failures, US intelligence services are hailed for their success. And, according to May 12’s Washington Post, applications to join the American intelligence services have skyrocketed following the murder of Bin Laden, an act which some denounce as a war crime.

What success? Ten years and incalculable losses in the effort, these agents are champions of justice? Yes, believe it. And the war-loving American public is pressed to demonstrate its pride it its intelligence work and combat efforts. “We got him. We won.”.

The phrase is burned  into Americans from childhood, whether watching Tom and Jerry cartoons, cheering Bruce Willis-style heroes, or playing computer games. “We got him.” No other activity consumes the American public from childhood to death like war: whether our toys, combat sports, Batman fantasy figures, mafia and espionage thrillers, Nintendo games, novels, or intellectual productions like the celebrated ‘Civil War’ TV series. War is part of entertainment for Americans, fundamental to conditioning the concept of heroism. War defines who is a ‘good guy’. War offers everyone the thrill and glory of battle.

Don’t tell me you marched against the war in 2003. Or that you did not vote for George W Bush. It doesn’t matter that (at the most).02 % of the US public doesn’t support war. All Americans, including lofty-minded university ‘liberals’, are beneficiaries of the US war machine and war culture. All share similar heroes, all celebrate war literature, and all benefit from an economy dependent for growth on constant war.

Spontaneous cheers erupted when the US president—‘leader of the free world’-- announced Bin Laden’s murder. Think about it and you surely must agree how this exposes the true nature of Americans.

Note how the raw emotional pleasure of war has its corollary in intellectual debates. Witness the days of media commentary on that ‘military operation’. However eloquent the speeches, it is part of war’s enduring entertainment value.  Admit this and you open the door to change. Not Obama’s “Change” but real change, change we can believe in.

 

[ Oh, What a Lovely War! ]

New Leaders of The Middle East? Part 1

May 01, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Who could have imagined the Saudis offering more than oil and being a lucrative market for US arms? Part 1

Today we see Emirati princes in the company of sexy American celebrities, Qatari planes over Libya, Saudi tanks rolling through Bahrain, Al-Jazeera selectively cheering protestors. A cynic would view it as a pre-planned realignment of the region, the successful expansion of expedient, proven friendships. 

A dominating role of the Gulf States in negotiating the various uprisings seems to have emerged by chance in the wake of the ‘Arab Awakening”. Tunisia and Egypt ousted their dictators and set in motion spontaneous demands for liberty across the region. There was plenty more to do—with dictatorships in all directions in need of change, rights to be recognized, and boundless dignity to be restored.

The ‘uprisings’ continue. But by the time Hosni Mubarak had been forced out, a new scenario eclipsed the movement symbolized in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Public awakenings in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Libya are not following the same script.

Did the two early revolutions (Tunisia and Egypt), while emboldening other Arabs, also alert the remaining dictators and their Western friends to sharpen their strategies.

Did Washington and Britain decide: “This can’t go on; things are too unpredictable; these people will create instability (for us)”; we have to get involved. Let’s move on Libya; it offers new horizons across all of North Africa.  A perfect chance to rout that bothersome criminal, Ghadaffi.  END OF PART 1

[ New Leaders of The Middle East? Part 1 ]

Progress-- the Palestinian struggle is sidelined for the wider Arab revolutions

April 16, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Some may not want to hear this. But it may be that Arab revolutions now underway are in part due to the failure of the Palestinian rebellion.

For decades Palestinian sovereignty has been the focus of all Arab nations. Citizens of 21 Arab states and the diaspora followed and supported their Palestinian brothers and sisters with admiration and fervor. If Palestinians could overthrow the Zionist oppressor, peace would spread across the region.

Arab leaders, one after another embraced the cause, and often paid severely for this policy. (Aiding Palestinians won these men severe criticisms and sanctions from the U.S.) “More Palestinian than the Palestinians” is a phrase I have heard throughout the region, often uttered with disapproval and dismay by Algerians, Syrians, Egyptians, for example.

Treaties with Israel by Jordan and Egypt were followed by growing exchanges between the Zionist state and some Gulf countries; ties between Israel and Morocco and Tunisia deepened. Those states were abandoning the Palestinian cause. And, as these overtures were ‘rewarded’ by the USA, these developments  further divided Arab peoples from their leadership.  (Egypt’s treaty with Israel has been a ‘cold’ peace.)

 Washington criticism and censure of states that continue to champion the Palestinian cause is a well oiled machine. Syria pays heavily for its support of the Palestinian movement. This is turn offers its government a cover for extensive surveillance and a beefy security apparatus. The US and Israel have both made it clear that Damascus’ backing of resistance against Zionism and Israeli aggression constitutes support for terrorism, for example. This makes Damascus an explicit target of western powers; at the same time it serves to weaken any chance for internal democratic reforms. (This is not to say the threat of Zionist expansion at all levels is not real. It is.)

By the end of 2010, the Palestinian struggle had reached a new low. The positions of the Gaza leadership and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank now seems irresolvable. Palestinians on both sides have made many mistakes. Daily, more land is lost, more homes crushed. Palestinian leadership is weak, unable to negotiate, unable to unite. The so called “peace process” is inarguably a farce; the sooner this ruse is exposed, the better.

One result: Palestinians no longer provide a beacon of hope. Nor are they an example of honesty, courage and wisdom.

Lebanese knew this much earlier. But it took Tunisians, Syrians, Egyptians, Yemenis and Jordanians until late November of last year to face this reality. Maybe it was the impotency of Barak Obama with his unrealistic, flawed and failed attempt to revive a ‘peace process’ last September.

At a conscious or unconscious level, Arabs across the region realized it was time to focus on themselves and their own liberation. No longer would they accept Palestinian dominion over their own national goals. The Palestinian emperor had no clothes! We finally took to the streets to win something for ourselves.

[ Progress-- the Palestinian struggle is sidelined for the wider Arab revolutions ]

Libya war means "Africom, here I come!"

March 31, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

America’s pet AFRICOM needs a home—if not by coercion, then by war. 

It’s not really about oil. It’s about a nice little piece of real estate strategically located in Africa. Just a few hundred square miles would be fine, hardly noticeable among the vast stretches of uninhabited (sic) Sahara, for example. 

For the past decade American military strategists have been house-hunting. They desperately need a continental base for their Africa regional military command, known as AFRICOM.  

Although working for years on this project, with an African American general appointed to head the project, Washington’s AFRICOM is still homeless. The US has been unable to convince (or coerce) even friends like Nigeria or Ghana to welcome a US military installation. Steadfast rejections. Although any host would find the arrangement very profitable, and it would doubtless offer it security (as per Jordan with its easy access to US forces in Iraq).  

Several attempts have been made to entice first a West African state, then some North African leader. Now a chance presents itself: Libyans' pursuit of democracy. What an opportunity Libya now provides for Washington’s military’s needs!   

Occasionally a political analyst raises the issue of Africom, and then only tangentially, in their review of west aggression against Libya. Mainly they see the West using humanitarian issues, peoples’ thirst for democracy and the newfound madness of a leader to justify military attacks and a probable invasion.  

Michel Collon of Investig’Action, in his excellent overviews of the Middle East, points to the long–established plan (led by France) for control of the Mediterranean. Only Libya remained a major obstacle in France’s realization of complete command of the area, he suggests. (Although Syria at some point may also been seen as rejectionist.) I refer you to Collon for details of France’s regional plans and Libya’s role therein; but let’s return to US interests in Africa. 

For more than a decade military wars and disease raged across Africa with little American concern. During this time however, North Africa was symbolically, economically and diplomatically sliced away from the Middle East. It became ‘South Med’ or  ‘The Maghreb’ in EU parlance. 

Before the current revolutions across Arab States, the USA became aware of how vital Africa was as an alternative source of oil and gas. Not insignificant was China’s expansion in the area too. In 2008 an Algerian observer noted the shift: Africa was no longer just an AIDs story. It was a new place for western investments!  

Yes, China was ahead of the game, with investments, development projects, partnerships and an estimated million workers in Africa. (Note how these men suddenly appear in the story of the flight of migrant workers from Libya.)  The USA and Europe awakened to the fact that China had to be matched if not thwarted on the rich continent. That was one issue. Another was protection for its investments. 

Since 2008 US has been polishing its image of Africa, and it has launched itself anew into the area. But it could find no host for the critical AFRICOM component of its neo-colonial policy. Even as the USA heightened the profile of AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb) neither Algeria nor Mali would buy into it; not Morocco or Mauritania.  

On the surface the USA has no immediate interest-besides humanitarian aid and democracy, they say-- in North Africa, especially in Libya. Yes, Libya is rich in energy resources, but as in the case of Iraq, it has never refused to sell to the west. On its side, through one European intermediary or another, the west never totally dismissed the unpredictable and irascible Libyan leader, or his sons. Libyan investments are spread throughout the industries of European partners and the USA.  

Suddenly all those assets are frozen, and the march towards Tripoli is on. The US is a major partner in this war, despite what the president claims, and when victory is at hand, AFRICOM will be the first investment in Libyan real estate. 

[ Libya war means "Africom, here I come!" ]

Time to hear from Arab Americans

March 23, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Time for Arabs in America to follow the lead of their families in the Arab World. 

Across the entire globe people are watching the revolutions in the Arab world with some admiration (and apprehension). Leaders who share the excesses and abuses of those under attack doubtless feel threatened now. 

For most of the world these ongoing events are arguably inspiring. We witness the restoration of dignity in Arab voices and on the faces of Arabs from Morocco to Iraq.  

Arab Americans, particularly as it became clear that the former Egyptian president was doomed, dare to come into the streets to voice their support for Egyptian people. Of course their help was not needed in Tahrir Square. Nor is it required by the Yemenis, or Bahrainis as millions risk all to achieve that dignity that is now, finally, within their grasp. In the US, I am waiting for the spark to ignite our Arab Americans. 

Americans of Arab heritage have enjoyed freedoms and successes of various degrees in the USA. But have they enjoyed real self-esteem? I think not.  

In a few cases where wealth is accompanied by distinction, individuals may experience precious dignity. Yet, the large majority of us are silent. As immigrants we remained silent about the oppression of the people in our homelands, silent over US complicity in the suppression of freedoms of sisters and brothers across the Arab world, and silent on justice issues at home in the US. 

We have a small handful of Arab commentators coming forward to condemn Israeli aggression and racism or offer haughty political analyses of ‘conditions’  in the Arab world. On the whole though, until dictators are about to fall, we remain passive and timid. Privately we may express our frustration and outrage. A few may author complex academic tomes for graduate students to pore over. That is the extent of our involvement in any liberation struggle.  

In the US, we concentrate on our personal liberation, mainly directed at getting a U.S. visa and a fine house.  Some of my Arab American colleagues bemoan this meekness. Yet few of us dare to act. It is a formidable task to be sure, especially after 1990 when the US targeted Iraq, and Arabs became the focus of heightened US surveillance.   

Still, why settle in the US on the claim that this is where freedom is to be found?  

For a long time I have been struck by how few Arab Americans one finds in institutions of justice and community activism. Among the ranks of U.S. teachers, lawyers, artists and filmmakers whose message is focused on liberty, we see precious few Arab Americans.  

The USA is a country where books and films can have immense social and political impact and where civil rights attorney are in the frontline of the struggle for justice worldwide. How many Arab American writers, filmmakers and lawyers can you name among them?  

Knowing the conditions our families live under, knowing the modern techniques of protest, the achievements of earlier American freedom fighters, tasting and benefiting from freedoms (won by others) in their new chosen homeland, they ought to be leading the way. Shame.  

[ Time to hear from Arab Americans ]

Libya-- A new 'demon' to demonize

March 04, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

If you lived through the telecasts of arguments and battles in 1991 in Iraq, in Afghanistan in 2001, and then in 2003, the attacks and invasion of Iraq, you can recognize the process. Enthusiastically and ably assisted by the media and our intellectuals, the ‘just’ leaders of our democratic Western nations prepare for war.

The process of justifying their aggression is subtle at first. Then, when the opportunity arrives, it swings into action oh so gallantly.  

First we have an internal political crisis—in this case the call by Libyans inspired by the successes in Tunisia and Egypt to challenge their leadership. Some brave opponents are struck down and this in turn leads to more demonstrations. The threatened leader is defiant; he and his sons retaliate, at first with words. The protests continue but the leader vows to die fighting. With threats of serious fighting, hundreds of thousands of Libya’s immigrant laborers rush to the exits. A humanitarian crisis is at hand, we are told. Agencies rush to the borders to help.

The besieged leader sends his troops against demonstrators—this earn him the label: a man who ‘kills his own people’.

The UN goes into action; the Arab League calls a summit and suspends its recalcitrant member. More UN meetings. Sanctions are discussed, and some countries impose sanctions unilaterally. One partner, Italy, suspends its trade and non-aggression agreement with the rogue state. The US leadership boldly calls for regime change. Fears of the madman’s deadly arsenal circulate. (Forget about who sold his guns to him.) Individual nations freeze bank assets of their new enemy. More UN meetings; accusations of genocide spread. Human Rights organizations move into full gear. The international criminal court meets and announces it will launch an investigation of ‘war crimes’. US and allied battleships move towards the besieged country. The Arab leader appears on TV; his hours of talk offer editors around the world abundant clips--quotes to indicate he is a fool, totally unstable (and thereby cannot be trusted to behave rationally, or to engaged in dialogue). Demonization of the leader steps up. It looks like he is out of control—he must go. Any foreigner with prior experience in Libya is called on to give first hand evidence to the media about the eccentricities of the leader. Libyans in exile offer testimonials on the oppression they lived under. Documentaries are swiftly compiled to educate the world: look! we not only have a madman but also a criminal on our hands. Foreign military officers assure media that war ships are standing by, that they are ‘prepared for any option’. At the very least those warships may be available for ‘humanitarian assistance’. 

Who dares to defend the demon, a ‘new Hitler’? No one steps forward to talk about the funds he provided for their project, for their revolution, for their educational scheme. 

I found only one honest review of the ‘good’ West’s relationship with Colonel Gaddafi. Appearing online is “Petroleum and Empire in North Africa: Muamar  Gaddafi Accused of Genocide? NATO Invasion Underway”. Author Keith Harmon Snow has done his homework. Snow is a smart, well informed guy who knows a bit of recent history. Read it: (http://www.keithharmonsnow.com/)  

Oil is not the only motive. Petrol interests are a major factor behind the West’s new position on Mr. Gaddafi. There are also geo-military issues. Remember that the USA has for years coveted the center of Africa for its AFRICOM base. No country has been willing to ‘host’ Africom, but here, alas is an opportunity. A few hundred square miles in South central Libya would do perfectly, thank you. With Libya ‘secured’, that base can be in place by the end of the year. What a windfall! 

What I find most chilling is the process by which almost the entire globe, informed and disinterested people alike, now seems to be behind a US-led campaign to oust the man Washington helped bring to power 42 years ago and embraced in recent years.  

The same mechanisms working today against Gaddafi are the same ones that proved so rewarding in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

And the public buys it, hook line and sinker. The same intelligent public that belatedly told Bush and Blair “you lied to us” is now firmly on board for another invasion and another round of criminal acts by the leaders of ‘the free world’. 

Take a look through media and UN archives of the 1991, 2001, and 2003 US-UK led wars and judge for yourselves. 

[ Libya-- A new 'demon' to demonize ]

Whose revolution is this anyway?

February 23, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Watch for another attempt to ‘orientalize’ the experience of the Arab peoples today.  

Why do western powers always want to take credit for beautiful, unpredicted epic moments they’ve had no credible role in?  

Even while world leaders congratulate Egyptians and Tunisians on their newly won victories, their minions prepare stories of heroic Americans’ and American institutions’ contributions to those transformations.

With the Egyptian revolution nearing its nadir, we are regularly updated by a televised statement from US President Obama who “is dealing with the unfolding events”—i.e. is defining this history. We learn that a student in Texas saved the revolution by posting tweets from  messages phoned to him when the Egyptian authorities closed down their IT and mobile networks. We share the brutalization of CNN reporters being roughed up. This really offers a firsthand experience of Egyptian police brutality. The heroic young Egyptian Google executive credited with starting Egypt’s FaceBook revolution wants to meet the FB founder, we are told. We are assured that American military leaders are in regular touch with their Egyptian counterparts whose confidence they have enjoyed for years.  

Americans—the administration and the people--- have  a troubling habit of placing themselves center stage in any positive social or economic change around the globe. Americans will believe the rewriting of this history in their direction. Regrettably. So, they’ll fail to ‘get it’. So they’ll remain arrogant.

This is one time that the Arab peoples at least know how their own extraordinary achievement—(thus far) toppling two US- friendly tyrants, both American bred—was a special moment they themselves planned, executed and risked. That makes it more special. And perhaps more likely to succeed in the long term.  

February 1, ten days before the resignation of Mubarak, Daily Star editor and international commentator Rami Khouri, www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/931803) wrote: “To appreciate what is taking place in the Arab world today you have to grasp the historical significance of the events…. we are witnessing the unraveling of the post-colonial order that the British and French created in the Arab world in the 1920s and '30s and then sustained - with American and Soviet assistance - for most of the last half century.

Khouri warns “The events unfolding before our eyes are the third most important historical development in the Arab region in the past century, and to miss that point is to perpetuate a tradition of Western Orientalist romanticism and racism… I agree with his assessment that “This is a revolt against specific Arab leaders and governing elites who implemented policies that have seen the majority of Arabs dehumanized, pauperized, victimized and marginalized by their own power structure; but it is also a revolt against the tradition of major Western powers that created the modern Arab states and then fortified and maintained them as security states after the 1970s.”

The awakening that Khouri correctly highlights is the driving force behind the anti-dictator movement from one country to another. It is unstoppable. Any Arab, at one level or another, wherever he or she lives, who has experienced the victimization and marginalization that Khouri refers to is bursting with exhilaration and pride today. We know this is a watershed. There is no going back.   

Can western leaders --and their journalists and commentators: all those Middle East experts--who long ago ceased to expect anything outstanding and determined from Arab peoples really appreciate the change?

They should. Because a parallel message to “get out Mubarak” is “get out USA”. At the very least it cries “Move Over. You can no longer take our acquiescence and stupidity for granted.” 

 

[ Whose revolution is this anyway? ]

What about an apology Mr. Obama?

February 15, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Why don’t the American administration and its politicians apologize to the Egyptian people?  

Egyptians themselves have at immense risk, finally thrown off their oppressor. I think an apology is in order. The Mubarak regime could not have carried out the corruption the suppression of dissent, the humiliation of its people without US support. The US not only offered ideological support. It provided materials support in the form of military training and equipment; it probably helped craft the techniques used by the Egyptians responsible for the repression for its people.  America must be considered partners in all the crimes of the Egyptian leaders, just as Swiss and other international banks welcomed the deposits of fraudsters into their companies.  

If the Egyptians do not raise the issue of US culpability in their difficulties, their poverty,their loss of dignity, corruption, and joblessness, one can understand. They have other priorities now. All indications are they do not seek revenge. One has to admire them for their grace.  

Egyptians want to move forward.  

Individuals, not the interim rulers, have made it clear. “We achieved what we did last week, alone, without outside support, either ideological or diplomatic help. We ourselves can and will pave the way forward.”   

No one says it will be easy. The revolutionaries know full well that the US leadership is working closely with their new military administration so that American interests (which include Israel) remain a priority. Based on what the Egyptians showed themselves capable of, I expect, although not without difficulties, they will prevail, with or without an apology, with or without that dangerous military alliance. 

[ What about an apology Mr. Obama? ]

Dignity. Dignity. Dignity

February 11, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Let us savor the moment that the Egyptian people have won for themselves and given the whole world.

Mubrouk, elf Mabrouk to the revolutionaries of Egypt, to the martyrs who gave their lives in this struggle. 

Dignity. Dignity. Dignity. We hear the word repeated by Egyptian celebrants. What so many risked was not their daily food, not stagnant jobs, not fear of mobs. It was the moment to regain dignity.  

Few people in the west, whatever degree of dignity they enjoy, often forget the real meaning of this precious human quality. Perhaps seeing the determination, the daring, and the voices of the protestors during these past 18 days, viewers around the world may reflect on this word and its significance to their own lives.  

I follow coverage of the celebrations in Cairo moving from one international TV program to another.  Only on the western networks-- CNN and BBC and France 24— commentators one after another, press the jubilant Cairiens to speculate on their precarious future. The interviewers raise the specter of the US enemy Iran; they suggest the danger of a military takeover; they ask about Muslim extremists overtaking Egypt; the want answers for the threat the victory posed to the peace treaty Israel.  

A pity they cannot savor the moment. What a pity they cannot grasp the meaning of newly won dignity.  

We are proud of Tunisia’s and Egypt’s achievement.  We congratulate all their people. 

[ Dignity. Dignity. Dignity ]

The Poetry of the Square

February 05, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Cairo, February 4, Friday’s “Day of Departure”. We awaken to what we expect will be a tense, although possibly inspiring day. Millions are expected in the streets of Egypt’s cities. Millions will converge at Tahrir Maidan.

After Wednesday and Thursday’s confrontations and violence, no one knows what will transpire today inside Egypt. Will the thugs return? Will the military protect peaceful protesters? Will media be completely shut down?

Watching Al-Jazzera (Arabic) live from Tahrir Sq, the maidan is already crowded at 8 am; protesters have set up an audio system now, and we have people announcing their dreams. Not slogans; poems.

A young man uses a hand amplifier to announce his composition; he pauses for those around him to echo his words. This ‘protest poet’ has bandaged head; he pauses after every line to consult the small piece of paper in his hand. Some verses sound slightly poetic to me; how poetic, doesn’t matter. It is the poetry of this Egyptian moment that counts. 

American-Egyptian poet Sharif El Musa was in Al-Jazeera’s English studio yesterday, invited to comment on his country’s experience. It was Thursday, so the images of Wednesday night dominated the interview. Musa recalled the previous day when millions had assembled in the streets: “It was poetry” Musa observed: images we all witnessed, the raised Egyptian faces, their arms aloft, the stark messages from their throats and on posters. Many around the world will know the wall which has been scaled during these days—a proud, defiant time, glorious self-aware moment.  

It was poetry. I completely understood. Watching Egyptian brothers and sisters, I had felt something was missing in their journalistic remarks. However sympathetic the reporters were, they were unable to recognize the poetry of a revolution. They may have felt it. Surely some could.

Yet, only El Mousa said it. He characterized what is so deep, yet so simple. (The non-Arab, English language Al-Jazeera host did not grasp El Mousa’s point and so did not take up this profound observation. A chance missed.)  

This morning, Friday: people gather in streets and squares. Al-Jazeera Arabic hosts may be taking a morning off to prepare for this day. At 8 am, we watch footage images of Wednesday clashes repeated on the screen while anchors take calls from people around the world; most callers I can identify came from Egypt itself, also many from Saudi Arabia.  

I wonder about the western coverage; are they more drawn to the violence? can they possibly feel the poetry of this? The western media and Al-Jazeera appear to be clearly on the side of anti-government demonstrators. They finally interview some Egyptians in the street who are with their besieged government. Those statements do not come off with the same conviction and poetry of the pro-democracy voices. Those risking their lives speak a more gripping and moving experience-- a love, a determination, a vast, vast risk. 

Then for the first time, since January 25 when I began watching the events from Egypt, Al-Jazeera broadcasts music behind the images of today’s revolution; the music is mid 20th C, Egyptian orchestral that we associate with Um Kuthoum; some instrumental, also vocal. The singers and lyrics will be well known to Arab listeners, words surely patriotic, composed for another era, but a parallel moment.  

Accompanying the music are the touching, inspiring, images from the week: water cannons, wounded, resting fighters in the square, banners, hand scratched placards, the flag, the flag, the flag, transformed by their bearers into face paint, into hats, sweaters, armbands. A single person stands against a wall, alone, with his banner’s corners tied around his neck, the flag billowing in front of his chest, his two hands clutching the loose ends pulling it to and fro, the billowing of the cloth moving in and out as if it is his very breath. Bandaged warriors rest, and do not cry out in pain or frustration; quiet, doctors and friends tend wounds, gently not in panic. The tenderness is palpable. Men clean the square of stones and debris from last night using sides of cardboard, pushing, pushing away the debris. In preparation for another day. A man chops into the pavement to manufacture stone missiles for his compatriots.  

I do not feel sad. Nor pity. How can I when I witness such dignity. Surely the president sees these images; he must be weeping, more than I am.  

[ The Poetry of the Square ]

What 'Tahrir' Really Means.

February 01, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I wonder if Americans can grasp the feeling, focused in Egypt but reverberating around the word, of imminent victory and a new dawn.  

Many Americans can remember their own emotions when they elected Barak Obama as their president not long ago. Remember the tears of pride, the reality that your time has come, that ordinary people can really have power.  This is what Egyptians are experiencing today.

Whatever the outcome, and whatever the difficulties the new era may hold, there is immense pride at what has already been achieved in Egypt. This is shared by all Arab peoples. A new dignity unknown by most of our populations has arrived. Look at the children in the streets of Egypt!  Their parents want them to relish this moment, a moment they dreamed for so so long.  

Think back again to American citizens, especially African Americans, at the arrival of Barak Obama in the White House. What a sense of dignity that fostered! There is nothing like it. It cannot be underestimated. And it arrives, in the case of Egypt and in African American history, after an era of repression and lost dignity. 

Yes, there are many unknowns for Egypt’s people as it moves out of its dictatorship. But they are willing to take the risk. That in itself is telling of their past indignities and silence. 

American and British media warn of the emergence of a ‘threatening’ Muslim power taking the helm in Egypt and engulfing the world. They invoke the specter of Iran in 1979, as if that revolution had no benefits. Such fears are clearly stoked by Zionist interests, since to be sure, Israeli’s security and interest are most at risk. Why would it not be so? Yet, is not Egyptian interest important too, an interest which has been subsumed to Israel’s for decades? Egyptians are taking back their nation. 

Not to forget American interests. Both Tunisia’s revolution and now Egypt’s are at one level, indisputably anti-American statements. Powerful and costly statements. Their citizens know that the indignities they suffered, the poverty caused by neo-liberalism, their thwarted democratic goals, and the submission to Zionist interests, is founded on American policy in the region.  

It is rare to see Israelis on the run; this sight will gratify many around the world. But Washington cannot run. Let us see how the American administration is able to change, to learn a lesson from Egypt’s people. We also wait to see the future role to be played by the numerous educated and successful Egyptians working in the US. 

[ What 'Tahrir' Really Means. ]

Palestinian Woes

January 29, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The "Palestine Papers": can the Palestinian leadership overcome this latest scandal? For a group of men who have achieved almost nothing towards the goal of a peace settlement with Israel, while more Palestinian land is stolen, more of their citizens murdered, jailed, driven to poverty, there should not be too much distress over the recent revelations.  

Palestinians interviewed about the disclosure of files said to represent their years of (unsuccessful) negotiations with Israelis and Americans claim they are not surprised by the details. They maintain they have known of their leaders’ incompetence as well as their hypocrisy. And they see the results in their daily lives. They have experienced only losses as negotiations proceeded from one site to another, under one sponsor or another. The emperor has no clothes.

Attempts by Palestinian Authority members to defend themselves in the media regarding the validity of the “papers” leaked by Al-Jazeera TV have been vigorous. They are fighting back, not against their American and Israeli co-conspirators however. They are attacking the prestigious Al-Jazeera network who they claim falsified or manipulated the facts. For me the revelations in these papers are damaging for all the parties involved—The US, Israel and Palestine. Yet, somehow only the Palestinian leaders are being put on the spot, exposed as disingenuous traitors. It is a sorry situation. And it leaves supporters across the world in a dilemma.  

And where does it leave the Palestinian people? To whom do they turn to lead them out of the morass? They did not vote these men to represent them. Rather when elections for a new president proved futile and inconclusive two years ago, Washington and the Europeans sanctioned the continuation in office of Mahmoud Abbas and his group, claiming they were the only Palestinians able to negotiate. (There was fear that a true election would bring Hamas to the West Bank leadership.) They reward these old men; they sanction them as representatives of the Palestinian people. And the futile negotiations and receptions go on.  

Unable to exercise a true election in the West Bank, perhaps it’s residents now have to follow the example of their Tunisian and Egyptians brothers and sisters. It’s ironic since the street resistance of Palestinians against Israeli occupation has always been a beacon for them.  

[ Palestinian Woes ]

Palestine: Moving Ahead Without The USA

January 22, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Chile and Paraguay recently announced their recognition of Palestinian statehood. This marks an increasing trend of individual states to respond to a new Palestinian initiative and bypass US policy.  

The Palestinians have long acted as if any chance of achieving sovereignty depended on close involvement and leadership from Washington—regardless of a standard Israeli rejectionist position. The passive approach by Palestinians proved futile. Today a new strategy may yield better chance of real progress on Palestinians’ goal of independence.

Gaining recognition from the international community country by country has further implications. It reveals the isolation of the US and the impotency of the (US dominated) UN; their sponsorship may not be as essential as many once believed.   

Naturally recognition of Palestinian statehood by individual states does not please Israel. But what does?   

Is the Palestinian leadership representing the West Bank finally on a realistic path? Let’s forget for the moment that Mahmoud Abbas is but an interim president; he rules without a mandate from the recent Palestinian election. Despite this he is the internationally recognized leader and is trying to use this to try a new approach. Neither the US nor Israel endorse his actions yet, his negotiations with states across the world demonstrate an initiative and confidence many had not expected of Abbas.  

Surely the growing endorsements from across the world of the Palestinian initiative are also a way of world governments to reject the American position. That in itself is valuable. It demonstrates a growing confidence of world leaders to send a message to Washington: ‘you are not the global leader; we refuse to acquiesce to your demands.  Eight South American countries and now Russian president Medvedev, on a visit to the West Bank  has affirmed his country’s 1988 position, namely recognition of a Palestinian state. Many forget that after the Madrid Talks , well before the Oslo Peace Accord,  statehood received widespread endorsement from nations across the world.  

Today, no less than 109 nations have endorsed the principle. Who are the world’s rouge states? 

[ Palestine: Moving Ahead Without The USA ]

Who Will Follow Tunisia?

January 15, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Few cannot be exhilarated and admiring of the revolution in Tunisia? First it’s a rare success in popular struggles against a powerful military machine. Second the protests seem entirely non-violent. Third, we regularly hear warnings about the ‘Arab street’ exploding; time and time again, despite predictions, it never happens, leaving citizens with their impotency affirmed. The power of the establishment seems unshakable. 

Tunisia today proves the exception. The reasons are not difficult to see and comprehend. Yet, the real outcome remains unclear. Twenty-three years of absolute rule mean a power structure and attendant elite is in place; the flight of the president does not displace that. Not yet. So a major task remains for the public—to cleanse the system to remove a structure of co-conspirators, or at least put in place reliable representatives who can and will remove or weaken entrenched interests. Can that be done?  

Then there is the military, doubtless powerful and well-rewarded for keeping the power structure stable all these years. At the same time, it may have been Tunisia’s military leadership that informed President Ben Ali that they could no longer support him. Doubtless they remain in place. So another major issues is: how will a balance be established between any new leadership and this force? 

As for neighboring countries, one does not have to share a border with Tunisia to know what is possible.

Across the world, we see examples of successful people’s movements. Many of those, if not instigated by western powers, especially the US, France and Britain, have been strongly supported by outside interests. France and the US remained silent about the uprising against Ben Ali up to time of his departure.  During years of public discontent, the Tunisian power structure earned the goodwill of these powers. Indeed, Tunisia has established itself as a favored tourist haven—a stable, picturesque Mediterranean seaside to relax in.  

Together with the recommendations of tourists, Tunisia enjoyed foreign support for its security arrangements, for its rigorous cleaning of any militant dissent, Islamic or otherwise. Islamic terrorism provides a convenient label around which to secure western support to rout any political opposition.

Meanwhile the army and security services are assured of purchases of up-to-date weaponry from its supporters. At the same time the economy is dependent on tourism and a few exports like date and olives. Tunisia’s economy had become completely dependent on foreign arrangements, and with the spread of privatization, a new elite became satisfied beneficiaries, creating greater disparity between rich and poor. 

Most European commentators overlook the cozy relationship these leaders have with Western powers. So rather than asking what will happen to neighboring countries, we need to examine the nature of relations between Washington and Paris with their leaders. Ask: what are we supporting when we schedule a holiday to wander through quaint bazaars and be served cocktails on the beach; those easy holidays usually nicely obscuring any awareness of the way the country was governed.  Calibri">

Africom: the US military has for years been looking for a home for AFRICOM, an Africa-based US military presence. The rationale: growing threats of terrorist bases in the vast largely unpopulated areas across north and west Africa. Regular suggestions of terrorists operating in these areas pressure regional governments to permit American protection. Thus far, no country has accepted; in fact, most of them rigorously resist the invitation. This is a major issue for the US and must be kept in mind in any assessment of geopolitical dynamics of the region. 

[ Who Will Follow Tunisia? ]

Shooting for Democracy: Abroad? No, at Home.

January 09, 2011

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

During the past 2 weeks, international media have focused on tensions in two African countries: Ivory Coast and Sudan. In both, democracy was being tested in elections with western powers, particularly USA  and England, unambiguously supporting the challengers.

Western media’s intensity of support for an independent South Sudan is especially evident. At the same time, in both cases, we are warned to expect civil strife. Then last night democracy was being tested at home. 

Apart from the sense of tragedy and sadness, it’s all rather embarrassing, don’t you think? The democracy Americans are so proud of, the democracy it seeks to export worldwide suddenly finds its elected officials targets of gunmen. At no time of course is there any suggestion of ‘terrorism’ here, or that the nation is under threat from internal forces.  

Arizona’s mass murder follows news only a few days ago of a gunman murdering a school principal and wounding a second school official in another quiet American community. Surely these too common incidents reflect deep flaws in our democracy. It goes beyond gun control or troubled individuals.

Our dynamic and capable news organizations might better serve the American public, in deep the world, if they indulged less in anticipated turmoil abroad and focused on home grown challenged to democracy. 

[ Shooting for Democracy: Abroad? No, at Home. ]


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I want to mention –women who are not in the cruel world but suffer behind bars –cages, if you will.  Some of us are political –here because the Government has criminalized our actions or framed us –I call out to you to Remember and  Cherish  Marie Mason, a “green warrior”, Afra Siddique ” a heroine in her own Pakistan for her brave resistance”, and also Me–Still fighting, Still Struggling

Civil Rights Attorney Lynne Stewart,from prison

Tahrir Diwan

a poem.. a song..
poem "Al-Quds" by Ameer el-Shu'ara, Palestinian poet, in Arabic

See poems and songs list

Flash
poems
poem Qur'an Surat Al-Qadr
from 'Approaching The Qur'an' CD, male reciter

See audio list

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

See review list

Tahrir Team

Robert E. Meyer
Read about Robert E. Meyer in the team page.

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