Blog Archive – January, 2017
- January 27, 2017
The news has been so overwhelming these weeks. So I hadn’t fully grasped the implications of one incident, namely, what Katie Rich, comedy writer for NBC’s popular Saturday Night Live, tweeted about President Trump’s 10-year-old son. Even though she withdrew her invocation that “Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter”, it’s still with us. It’s done. And it’s bad. Has her taunt been widely condemned by our liberal press? Or are they taking off their gloves and recruiting her for the forthcoming battle?
Satirists enjoy considerable license. But there’s always a line. Rich apologized, and NBC suspended her. Are we to be satisfied with this? Not this woman or her employer; no, I’m asking if such remarks are to become the norm.
What do we do? What shall I do? How shall liberals who want to resist the Trump agenda respond? What should thousands of SNL followers do if they too feel repulsed by Rich’s words? Do we retort with: “Hey, Trump himself set today’s standard for insults; that makes him and his family fair targets”? If so, where will this lead? Nowhere useful, to be sure.
I’m not a loyal fan of SNL, the long running satirical program which I understand is the mother of American TV parody and satire. (Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s Report arrived in US homes much later.) Yet after Alex Baldwin’s parodies of Donald Trump on SNL, I’ve gone out of my way to watch clips of the show. Baldwin is terrific, and although the butt of his caricature himself takes to twitter in reply, Baldwin stays within an established border-- although barely, I admit. You may argue that anyone entering the celebrity spotlight has to grow thick skin. But are celebrity children not protected?
Mr. Trump Sr. is a big boy; as a public official now, he’s fair game. The problem is the standard that these clever comics set for the rest of us.
This brings me back to what I might do. Shall I condone the growing public ridicule against anything and anyone in the other camp? Frankly, I find Katie Rich’s remark repugnant and unconscionable. I expect my condemnation of Rich may garner accusations that I’m a Trump supporter. Still, I must speak out. If I refuse to indulge this nasty dialogue, what’s left? Signing the change.org petition to NBC (only 41,000 names to date) to fire Rich’s seems inadequate.
What are the choices for me? (Perhaps for you too.) I (we) could boycott SNL. In my public platform, I could advocate against these tit-for-tat attacks that have become accepted in our profession—gossip, scandal, candid photos, personal politics. These are a major part of journalism; and they attract real talent.
We’ve got find a bigger, nobler response.
Because today so much that I value is threatened. (Not to mention having personally devoted decades of my life and my career defending my Arab and Muslim people and culture, enhancing the dialogue between us and others, joining a rising community of energetic Muslim comics, educators, writers, poets, performers and filmmakers in the uphill struggle.)
Today we face a bruising time. Institutions we worked so doggedly to build and sustain, and with such hope, are threatened. The education of our own people to assert our rights, to strengthen our efforts in solidarity with others: all that’s in jeopardy. The battle will get uglier than it is now. It could become violent and the gap between opposing views could widen.
I belong to the tribe who calls itself ‘progressive’. Maybe liberal too. Although I digress from American liberals on many issues. I’ve always known Democrats are in step with the Republican Party on many issues, but Democratic Party behavior in this past election alienated me, maybe forever. I’ve had to distance myself from associates whose short memory, whose opinions and attitudes I have found only ‘selectively’ progressive, whose real life experience is increasingly narrow, and whose news sources are even more limited, despite their educational degrees.
Katie Rich’s tweet about Barron Trump may seem like a passing issue; it’s over, she apologized. Liberal friends will defend her by invoking the intolerance and disrespect Barron’s father habitually exhibits. “This is the son of the monster who now threatens all our values, our human rights,” they plead.
I observed Saturday’s (women’s) march at close hand, embedded among that gleeful, self-satisfied crowd moving through Manhattan. It was a largely White people’s march; that surprised me. Apart from a scattering of South Asian faces and a few groups of Latina women, I glimpsed only an occasional African American there. And, although I searched those faces for fellow Muslims, I couldn’t identify any. I saw only one kaffiyeh, the iconic Palestinian scarf so prominent at protests during the 90s. Three marchers of Turkish origin who I know personally were as inconspicuously Muslim as I am. OK; I accept that many in our community feel especially vulnerable these days; but if we’re not comfortable among this crowd of protesters declaring their alliance with American Muslims, then where? Perhaps these friendly marchers are out-of-touch with the Muslims they now celebrate.
Not to forget Aziz Ansari; he was stunning on SNL last week. But I’m still resolved to boycott the show. It’s a start, until I can figure out my long-term agenda. END
Barbara Nimri Aziz, a New York-based anthropologist and writer, hosted RadioTahrir on Pacifica-WBAI in New York City for 24 years. Her 2007 book Swimming Up the Tigris: Real Life Encounters with Iraq is based on her 13 years covering Iraq. Aziz’ writings and radio productions can be accessed at www.RadioTahrir.org.[ Will We Become as Hateful, Insensitive and Boorish as The Opposition? ]
- January 20, 2017
On February 15, 2003, when millions reportedly filled the streets of U.S. cities to oppose the invasion of Iraq, I was in Mosul. Yes, the Mosul Iraqi forces are poised to retake, the Iraqi city adjacent to Nineveh, the ancient site trashed by ISIL.
For 12 years, from 1990 to 2002, it was evident that the U.S. and its chief allies, England and Israel, were bent on wholly destroying Iraq. Millions died (lives lost before 2003 are not figured into ‘Iraq body count’); millions more were stricken by one disease or another, fell into poverty, or fled. That war was carried out under the auspices of our global peace agency, the United Nations, in a multi-pronged U.S.-designed and policed blockade. So successful was that embargo, so intimidated or distracted was the public, that only a handful of individuals, mainly Europeans, dared to enter Iraq to document that onslaught, the resulting ‘humanitarian’ disaster, and the collapse of a remarkable modern society and an ancient civilization.
By 1998, after eight brutal years of punishment and deprivation, unexpectedly and wondrously, Iraq began to reverse its downward trajectory. And, when the enemy (U.S.A./U.K./Israel) saw its embargo was collapsing, they raised the WMD scare and activated their military option. Seeing their government preparing for a massive assault, the American public awoke in panic, afraid not for Iraqis but for their own sons and brothers.
Hoards unmoved by 12 years of Iraqi suffering and deaths suddenly erupted with anti-war fervor: “No blood for oil”, “Not in our name”, “We are the greater truth”. The largest rally in history would be remembered as “an incredible moment”—800 cities. Today liberals of all stripes boast of their anti-war devotions, their respect for Iraqi civilization, their opposition to violence. They all loved peace; they loved Iraqi people. (Later they would claim, “while we couldn’t prevent war, we proved it’s clear illegality”.)
It was sobering to be inside Iraq that February 15th in 2003. Together with my friends in Mosul I watched news of the purported millions rallying across the world on Iraq’s behalf. But no one inside Iraq was impressed. The protests had nothing to do with Iraqis. Where had these peace devotees been for the last decade? Those rallies were, we felt, disingenuous--just a panic attack by a naïve people who wanted to assure themselves that they are kind, moral, knowing.
Within Iraq we felt a confused sadness, and surrender. No one knew from where the enemy would descend. Their decimated forces could not defend Iraq’s borders. There was nowhere to run, to hide. To whom could they plead for intervention? People called their families-- to gather loved ones near. Everyone prayed silently. Millions sat in a daze, waiting. Hearing about that impulsive interest in peace around the globe did not stir us, not at all. It was late, and childish.
How does that history bear on today’s rallies across USA? Like the righteous anti-war upsurge of 2003, this weekend’s march is a demonstration of liberal America’s panic—a belated attempt to redress a wrong, a mistake, a realization of having been coddled and misled, or misinformed. Those retreating to the street to shout “Not my president” are secretly admitting they goofed. It’s not Trump’s or Clinton’s missteps motivating them. It’s their own errors: their misunderstanding of how democracy works.
Week after week these ‘good guys’ used their (first amendment) freedom of speech repeating daily gossip generated over Facebook and the media, a deluge of funny, encouraging, or bizarre utterances by Sanders, Clinton, Carson or Cruz, and especially by Trump, while ignoring the senate races, state legislative elections, their own district politicians and neighbors with different ideas. Like-minded friends huddled in social networks agreeing that they knew best, that their single news source offered the truth.
There were so many clever quotes to relay, so many alarming things said, so much money spent, such good satire. Overwhelmed, liberals panicked and sought shelter with the familiar. Even those who foreswore network news couldn’t resist indulging crazy quotes and caricatures. When Nov. 8th arrived, perhaps many didn’t bother voting, as if only presidential candidates were on the ballot. Some knew Clinton would win from their holy book, the New York Times. After all, Clinton was endorsed by a Nobel laureate, Michael Moore, and Noam Chomsky. And millions of feminists were determined that America must finally catch up to the rest of the world with its own woman leader.
We know what happened. And we see today, similar to Feb. 15, 2003 preceding the invasion of Iraq, these good guys find that they have been misled, misinformed, misguided, overconfident, and a minority—just plain out of touch. Some actually wept. When conceding defeat, Clinton addressed her distraught supporters as if they were children.
About the failed 2003 anti-war rally, one unapologetic organizer noted: “While we did not prevent the Iraq war, the protests proved its clear illegality....” This weekend’s marches are expressing essentially the same message. As John Whitehead writes in his Rutherford Institute 01/19/2017 newsletter: “If those marches and protests are merely outpourings of discontent … with no solid plan of action or follow-through, then what’s the point?”
Some Republican TV presenters’ advice to despondent liberals is: “You lost; get over it; suck it up”.
The only value of the marches and protests is to energize, rebuild networks, and identify new leaders. Meanwhile a rush of guidebooks, some humorous, for living in the new America have been rushed though the press. Among them is Gene Stone’s Trump Survival Guide. In a radio interview, Stone offers some solid counsel, invoking successful organizing strategies of the opposition. I would also advise liberals to dump their New York Times subscription (although I’m dismayed to learn NYT readership rose after Nov 8th);
The major issue for liberals is: can you learn to cross the isle? America is smitten with a polarized two party system. And liberals thus far seem disinterested in either cleaning up the Democratic Party or building a new movement independent of it.
Let’s not take too long to figure out the way forward. END[ Why I Am Not Joining This Weekend's March in Washington (or Anywhere Else) ]
- January 10, 2017
I was returning with other volunteers in our fire department’s SUV after our community training course. This was last autumn, not long after the Republican Party convention. Not unreasonably, our conversation during the long drive home turned to Donald Trump. Frank, usually rather taciturn, turned to a younger member of our crew with uncharacteristic passion: “They’ll take all our guns away. Wait and see,” he declared. Frank was not applauding Trump as much as he was cursing a generic government which he sees threatening his right to own guns. Frank proceeded determinedly to declare how the US government is encroaching on our lives-- not his life, ours-- with its excessive regulations: “Look around us here, look at this beautiful country! They want to control it. Just leave the land alone”, he pleaded.
Frank hunts deer and turkeys in season and is a proud owner of several guns. But I wouldn’t describe Frank as right-wing or violent. He volunteers his time to the local fire department, he opposes fracking (oil and gas drilling technology that has aroused much debate and warnings from environmentalists), and his simple dream is to buy land in the next county to build a small farm. Despite his support for Trump’s candidacy, I felt Frank was neither attacking Democrats nor hailing Republicans. (He is dissatisfied, or fearful-- doubtless partly due to his bleak job outlook.) I suspect that he championed the Republican front-runner as someone who offers him better odds that his prospects will improve.
I first met Frank at our community fire hall. He was stretched out under one of the fire engines attaching a trailer hitch to the chassis. He happily spent several hours there, wrench in hand, shirt soiled, grunting and chuckling. As a volunteer first-responder, Frank is provided with accident insurance, but only if injured on a call. Neither he nor his wife—she works as a waitress for minimum wage at a local café-- nor their son has family health protection.
As a part-time house painter with a local contractor, Frank’s income is low. He left New Jersey for upstate New York two years ago because, at forty-five, he had back problems and had to quit his previous job stacking cement blocks. Notwithstanding his affection for guns—I think it’s the mechanics of guns that he enjoys, similar to his fondness for his old truck and his motorbike-- Frank holds values which people identifying as ‘liberal’ would consider progressive. He’s an organic food enthusiast, for example. And what he can’t grow in the back garden (of his rented house), he willingly pays premium prices for at organic markets. The family’s eggs come from hens he feeds with organic fodder. Not unreasonably, he prides himself on his discerning tastes: he prepares sushi and sashimi, his favorite food. And he drinks only ‘craft beer’, a new industry popular with young liberals. With his wife, Frank visits nearby towns to compare local brews-- a favorite evening pastime for them.
Although Frank highlights gun ownership in his politics, I doubt if guns are what really draws him to Trump. In fact many people I know in our town who are keen hunters are actually Democrats. (N.Y.’s Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, like Bernie Sanders, endorses the sport and thereby supports gun ownership.) It’s complicated, as they say.
Americans residing outside metropolises are not as simplistic and monocultural—nor are they ‘racist’-- as news articles purport. Gun owners like Frank who live in rural areas (Trump Country?) really do not fit the one-dimensional mould others with different hobbies cast them in. I see no evidence that Frank and fellow beer aficionados are more ignorant, bigoted, intolerant, or racist than anyone else.
This corresponds to what the prolific sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild concludes from her experience in Louisiana. Her fine new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, is based on her comprehensive five-year study of Lake Charles, an “arch-conservative Louisiana bayou” community. A timely project employing anthropology research methods, Hochschild’s work was published just as America’s deep cultural fault lines were exposed during the recent presidential campaign. Hochschild’s story of “anger and mourning in the American right” portrays a community unlike what outsiders have ever seen and known: their members are kind, religious, and not at all intolerant. (This picture is reinforced by another recent release, the memoir Hillbilly Elegy). Indeed, they reject accusations of racism from our ‘liberal press’. And they can argue convincingly for their conservative positions. Their stories, recorded by Hochschild in extensive and vivid biographies, expose ambiguities and differences among people impacted by industrial pollution and low employment prospects. The wider public and journalists in particular would do well to make note of the detailed picture this highly skilled scholar provides.
Still I would caution that we not accept Hochschild’s portrait as exclusive to this ‘far-right’ (Trump Country) corner of America. Conditions she describes, I would argue, are not confined to a depressed, industry-exploited region. There’s a danger that we assume Lake Charles, Louisiana, represents an alien and unworthy hinterland of the American south. (Examining election statistics for New York, we’d be shocked to learn that in this proudly ‘liberal state’, only 19.7 % of registered voters cast ballots during recent presidential primaries, a record that is second worst in the country to-- guess where? Louisiana.)
What most disturbs me is not the character of these communities, or Frank’s mixed values. More troubling is how putative ‘liberals’ view fellow Americans who are Republican Party supporters as personally and culturally deficient. (Did you notice the distinction pre-election pollsters made of non-college educated and college graduates?)
In October, at Democratic Party candidates’ field offices in my district, I overheard shockingly derisive comments from volunteer canvassers about Republican opponents (comments overlooked by the presiding field officer). If uttered by ‘conservatives’, there’d be accusations (from ‘liberals’) of bigotry and racism.
Had I not known about Frank’s fondness for Japanese sushi, seen his pride that his 14-year-old son forgoes cafeteria meals at school for the organic sandwiches prepared by his father, and had I not witnessed Frank’s commitment to our fire department and his care for his garden, I might have assigned him to ‘Trump Country’ and kept my distance.
Maybe because I’m an anthropologist and journalist, I’m curious to know Frank; I can easily approach him to learn about his life and his ideals. Most Americans who consider themselves ‘liberal’ would remain aloof from Frank, if not out of some irrational fear, then due to a perceived class or occupational divide. This is worrisome. And I’m not the first observer now questioning the real nature (perhaps the myth) of ‘liberal’ America. It’s evident that this sector of our citizenry is less well informed than it believes it is, more driven by emotion and prejudice than it realizes. And it harbors dangerous biases. Perhaps it is itself guilty of racism. The November 8th election results exposed ‘liberals’’ imprudence of being better educated and more qualified for leadership as misguided. As one Marxist Nepali critic I recently spoke to observed of Clinton’s much heralded pre-election rally in Pennsylvania with music celebrities: “They went to the concert to see the stars, not her.”[ Profile of a Progressive Gun Enthusiast ]
- January 03, 2017
It had been five years since I last ventured into the Occupied Territories, the shrinking Palestinian homelands. I had stood speechless at the misnomered separation wall, essentially a cement corral and a menacing blight on the landscape of the Holy Land. I had seen the oasis of Jericho become barely more than an imposing hotel where peace conferees and aid agents hide in style from the peace they are unarguably not advancing. I had witnessed how a simple crossroad, Qalandia, outside Jerusalem had become a fenced-in channel through which Palestinians waiting to be inspected by young Israeli guards are humiliated and delayed, only to sometimes be turned back. I had noted increasing numbers of women covering themselves in colorless, suffocating garb. (What their message was and to whom it was addressed, I couldn’t understand.) I had found it embarrassing to revisit families living under occupation who’d earlier spent hours with me remembering martyrs and imprisoned sons, detailing routine violence by an encroaching Jewish population, the armed colonists, and explaining the unpredictability of Israeli military procedures. I had stood with neighbors gazing helplessly as a family’s dwelling was demolished by a three-story high Israeli bulldozer. I‘d sat in a van with anxious Palestinians waiting to enter their homeland at the Jordan-Israeli border, watching in pained silence while happy travelers from a busload of American students casually tossed a football back and forth while their passports were processed.
Following the 1993 Oslo Accord—we can’t call it a peace treaty -- one might have glimpsed the tricolor Palestinian banner posted somewhere on the dry hills between the Allenby Bridge and Abu Dis at the entry to Jerusalem. By 2010, there was no sign of that flag, except perhaps one painted on that foreboding cement wall-- on the Palestinian side.
Even with bleak news continually seeping from inside the occupation, even with the risks of reporting on Israel’s suffocation and murders of Palestinians, I had promised a dear friend that I’d revisit her this winter. Laila remains there year after year. A psychologist, her skills are in increasing demand by the traumatized population.
Travelers not Palestinian can reach Ramallah and return to Amman in Jordan in one day. Within two days I’d be able to witness the latest changes, encroachments and destructions, and also pass an evening with Laila, this extraordinarily cheerful and resolute soul.
I never reached Ramallah, not physically. Resting after my arrival from Abu Dhabi at a friend’s home in Amman, I picked up a newly published volume her book club had recently discussed, Return: A Palestinian Memoir, by Ghada Karmi. I knew the author’s earlier work but I‘d not expected this, her second memoir, to be so gripping.
There are numerous memoirs by Palestinians, most notably Out of Place by Edward Said, another by his own sister, one by poet Suheir Hammad, by Randa Jarrar and many others, now extending into three generations. (Most are in English, the majority by women.)
One wonders how many more impassioned, compelling chronicles we need to inform us of the ongoing drama and injustices in their homeland. Yet, opening the pages of this ‘return’ I found myself following Karmi’s chronicle as if it were a crime story. (At one level it is a crime story.) Unlike many narrators of Israeli crimes, this book begins as an account of ‘soft’ crimes, those by Palestinian officials and the United Nations in complicity with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in their charade of possessing power and winning justice.
I myself had witnessed the gradual transformation of returned Palestinian leaders into a corrupt and impotent club of (mainly) men hanging out in Ramallah pretending to lead, but actually serving as front for independence, their putative authority extending no further than the boundary of this city of NGOs, foreign schools and upscale restaurants. I also witnessed diaspora Palestinians returning to Gaza City after 1993, investing in their forthcoming state, “a Mediterranean Hong Kong”, only to depart within a decade, embittered and often more deeply religious, returning to homes in Austin, Texas and Brooklyn, New York.
Here was a well informed doctor and an experienced leader in the Palestinian diaspora coming to Ramallah not as a visiting correspondent, but with a prestigious insider’s ID. Karmi left a medical career in London to take a job as a UN appointee in the PA’s Ministry of Media and Communications. She was eager to join her compatriots, reasoning, “I would be at the heart of things, and would learn the inner workings of the institution that organized life in the Occupied Territories, although they were under Israeli control” …. happy she “would not join the host of marginal researchers, foreign experts and hangers-on who cluttered the numerous non-governmental organizations in the West Bank.” That was 11 years ago, in 2005, when both Gaza and the West Bank were under the new PA. Surely as a Palestinian born in Jerusalem to a well regarded family, a longtime activist for justice and statehood, Karmi had reason to be optimistic.
“What the hell was I thinking of?” is the opening line of the first chapter of Return uttered as her plane was touching down. This trip would be the culmination of many visits to Karmi’s mythical homeland. Her misgivings and evidence of a doomed mission on her first day at work aside, Karmi persisted, perhaps deciding early on that this could at least be the basis of another book, although this memoir appeared in 2015, a full decade after the assignment she describes--surely an indication of the time the author needed to come to terms with what she experienced and to recount them with such candor. (Anyone committed to the Palestinian cause would have difficulty abandoning it, even when facing censure and personal loss.)
With commendable skill, Karmi forges ahead detailing the routine of Palestinian Authority life, recalling word-for-word dialogues among sophisticated dining businessmen, diplomats, drivers and office colleagues that reveal the competition, the conflicts, the jealousies, the pretenses and disillusionment, the jockeying for favors, and just keeping one’s job. And keeping aid flowing.
The malice of Israeli policy is well known, so too the incompetence and duplicity of Palestinian officials. Karmi is not the first to admit the PA is dysfunctional and an utter failure in the quest for statehood. But she exposes the problems with such candor and literary skill that the reader is committed to follow her to the end.
I found myself feeling emotionally involved, without rancor or impatience, in the personalities Karmi introduces me to. Perhaps this is the result of the author’s respect for these people and her genuine curiosity in the issues they discuss, whether with an office worker, or with a co-founder of the Hamas movement who himself comes across to us as more sincere than Mahmoud Abbas or other PA officials. (Even while questioning this Gaza leader’s strategies, Karmi offers a stunningly convincing rationale for the resistance to which he and his compatriots are committed.)
Our author employs the same technique when chronicling her exchanges with her father in Amman. A learned man in religion, history and culture, Hassan Karmi held Britain and the USA largely responsible for the success of the Zionist plan; he argues with his daughter in defense of the heightened role of religion in Arab lives. In her recounted dialogues, the author expresses genuine doubts about the Hamas leader’s or her father’s positions on the subject at hand, while allowing their argument to prevail, at least for the purpose of edifying us, her readers. This literary strategy Karmi applies throughout her memoir, and with striking affect.
Karmi also invokes those visits with her ailing father to record her personal history and to expose problems she finds with Arab family values, exploring the expectations and challenges of women like herself. In this respect, this memoir is not only the story of a professional woman, but also the chronicle of a daughter, a wife and a mother.
As I proceed though this Palestinian memoir, I happen to be reviewing two very different productions related to Palestinian life-- one a film, the other a theoretical analysis. The documentary film, Speed Sisters, opening February 2017, is by the Arab-Canadian director Amber Fares. Speed Sisters features five young and feisty Palestinian women who while living under occupation, become car racing enthusiasts--the first all-women race car driving team in the Middle East--independent, bold, and free. The women’s indulgence in cars is understandable, given the bleakness of Israeli occupation, but hard to imagine alongside what’s in Karmi’s story. The other production is the ninth book by Steven Salaita whose brilliance and insight were evident even before he was denied a university appointment by a Zionist-influenced discriminatory university dean. Salaita’s Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine is an exploration of shared experiences of Palestinians and Native Americans where the author lays out conceptual ground between American Indian and Indigenous studies and Palestinian studies through concepts of settler colonialism, ‘indigeneity’, and state violence. It’s a groundbreaking study into what should have been obvious decades ago
These three stories may seem at odds with one another. Yet we can see them as continually evolving meanings of what it means to be Palestinian.[ Inexhaustible Memories of Palestine: A Book Review ]
Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate, and hate leads to violence. This is the equation.
- a poem.. a song..
- "Every Fourth Drop"
written and read by Andrea Assaf Flash
Abdal Hayy Moore reads from 'Ramadan Sonnets'
- Book review
- Monica Ali's
reviewed by .
- Tahrir Team
- Read about Sarah Malaika in the team page.
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