Blog Archive

Blog Archive – March, 2013

Comrade Hugo Chavez

March 24, 2013

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

World attention has moved away from Venezuela. So excuse me if I am slow to follow, my thoughts remaining just a little longer with Hugo Chavez and what his life represents to me. I must be one of millions on the sidelines of history who wants to be on record as an admirer of this man. Charisma aside, he was brave, he was smart, he was audacious. The world was gifted a remarkable leader in Hugo Chavez.

The Bolivarian revolutionary’s policies didn’t directly affect me. I follow international developments but I never studied Chavez’ career or tracked Venezuela’s fortunes. It’s apparent nevertheless that Chavez  was indeed an outstanding figure in the modern world. A true revolutionary, he seemed to fully live the path he advocated, knowing he’d be reviled by the USA. It’s not an easy position to take… and to sustain.  

Chavez not only set out to reform his own country, as unfinished as that mission is. He helped to politically re-orient Latin America. Moreover, his alliances worldwide challenged our unipolar world with USA at its summit. It may not be apparent to myopic Americans. But the US-dominated globe of 1990 is gone. This, we must acknowledge, is in part a result of the coalition building by this visionary Venezuelan. Yes, visionary. Look at the solid alliances among Latin American nations today; look at their growth rates; notice the prevalence of peace across the region.

There was once something called the Monroe Doctrine. Authored by US Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and enacted in 1823, the policy corralled Latin America into the US’s backyard and snugly held it under Washington’s ‘protection’, declaring that no other foreign power venture into this bountiful neighborhood of 23 states. Implicit in the Monroe Doctrine was obeisance of regional leaders to Washington. It held sway for over two centuries, during which the US waged war against anything that challenged it. Today, the Monroe policy lies in the dust heap, a fate significantly omitted in US commentaries on Latin America.

That doctrine’s demise is in part thanks to a new balance of power established by the skill and will of Hugo Chavez.

Let’s face it. America really doesn’t care about the welfare of Venezuelan or other Latin American citizens. US concern is with easy access to resources and a country’s political alliances vis-à-vis Washington. That’s where Mr. Chavez was a problem. He changed regional political dynamics using convincing ideology, effective rhetoric, diplomacy, energy resource management, new media networks and economic reform.

Why would USA be afraid of Hugo Chavez except over his international successes? Why dismiss him as a flamoyant, communist-embracing upstart if he did not in fact effect fundamental changes, if he did not show other possibilities exist to address world problems, if he did not demonstrate how alliances can blossom without US design and approval?  

What a pity. USA, a country that so prides itself on its democratic attributes, is intolerant of any unarguably democratic achievements of others, like Venezuela. All without US tutelage.

Ahhh. Imagine what a leader like Chavez in the Arab world could do.

[ Comrade Hugo Chavez ]

Is She Muslim?

March 15, 2013

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Many years ago, I accompanied Arab feminist and writer Nawal Al-Saadawi to an interview with National Public Radio at their New York studio. Saadawi was already recognized as a dissident and a provocative thinker. The host began by asking: “Are you a good Muslim?” Unshaken, perhaps accustomed to to simplistic, seemingly innocent challenges, Saadawi calmly retorted “That is between God and me”.

That rebuke was and remains the appropriate and also the wisest answer. Nowadays few seem to grasp the significance that interrogation, as Saadawi did, and then reply as sharply as she could. Today it is not: are you ‘good’? It is whether we’re shiia or sunni, salafi or alawi, caldean or copti, kurdi or turki. Oh yes, how can we forget sufi?

Questions refer not to theological or ritual considerations, but to a conflict highlighted in our media. They reflect the interrogator's savvy; because using such terms endows the journalist or the curious colleague with authority, with insider-information.

Women’s month calls me not to rethink my relation to Allah, but rather where we –Arab women--have arrived. Who speaks for us? Who are our pioneers? Who do we champion, study and celebrate?

Thirty years ago, the Arab woman was recognizable, vocal and visible. She's embodied in individuals like Nawal El-Saadawi, Hala Maksoud and Intissar al-Wazir. Today she has all but faded (or has she been sidelined?) behind the more current- that is to say, more controversial and provocative --‘Muslim’ woman. A generation ago no one asked, ‘What kind of Muslim are you?”. That issue was between ourselves and Allah, as Saadawi said.

Today, we should be Muslim-- ideally head-covered--to be recognized, invited, discussed. Our headwear becomes central to our dialogue. Our Muslimity helps secure funding, invitations to seminars and performances, inclusion in collections and exhibitions. Especially for those of us residing in Western countries, to whom religion had been private and between ourselves and the divine, we now find ourselves submitting to the currency of Islam.

In my March 1st blog, I identified a number of women as Arab leaders. I didn’t know who among them was shia or sunni, caldean or turkman. To those who admired them and followed them, and celebrated them, it did not matter then. Why does it today?

Remember “Can she type?”--the parodied phrase invoked among early  American feminists. We chuckled over this pithy summary of women’s identity of the old days. We finally recognized the poignancy and the disarming power of that  question.

[ Is She Muslim? ]

Arab Women: this month, this year, this century. Who am I missing?

March 01, 2013

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

March: women’s history arrives with a rush of media specials, awards, new books, lectures, performances.

Every year I welcome these occasions. It’s so essential that we revisit and celebrate our accomplishments—individual achievements, transformations by whole communities, legal gains, fresh insights, newly uncovered ‘herstories’-- and further our goals.

I happily share today’s celebrations of my global sisters. This energy propels me towards my Arab peoples, my Arab sister. Today ‘Arab woman’ is subsumed into the wider exotic identity, that of Muslim woman. OK, we are part of that world. (As an anthropologist I accept the ever changing boundaries of social identity; sometimes they narrow, sometimes they broaden. I’m OK with this.)

So, Arab or Muslim, where are we in today’s ‘herstories’? In the celebrations; in the national archives; in the films and awards? In the victories?

Here are eleven sisters-- Etel Adnan, Azizah AlHibri, Intisar AlWazir, Nawal ElSadaawi, Tawakkul Karman, Hala Maksoud, Mai Masri, Fatima Mernissi,  Asma Mahfouz, Alice Nashashibi, Helen Thomas. Some are revolutionaries; others use their pens to change and inspire. Film is the medium of another’s message; the next organizes the city’s cultural center; her sister teaches law.

I haven’t included the promising generation of young professionals—comedians, actors, journalists, novelists, lawyers, activists, teachers. I know they’re there. Somewhere. I have to believe they will emerge from unseen corners, from unpublished manuscripts and quiet meetings; that they will flourish and take the risks every leader must. (Even if it means martyrdom.) And when she does, she makes proud not only her Arab sisters, but all women. She benefits all of us.

The many I’ve overlooked: I need to know them. Tell me their names; write me a few lines of herstory, and we’ll share them in our next blog. On the radio too.

[ Arab Women: this month, this year, this century. Who am I missing? ]


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