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Another Palestinian, an American Citizen, Deported. No Homeland.

August 20, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Rasmea Odeh is either on an airplane out of her country. Or she’s in a federal holding cell in Detroit or New York awaiting deportation from the USA.

Odeh’s departure marks the end of a bizarre life, one that can evoke admiration. As a young Palestinian, Odeh fought against Israeli oppression. Now after a valiant legal battle in this country, her new homeland, she is departing (by force).

Some Americans may recall with satisfaction their support for Russian dissidents in the 1950s and 1960s when the Soviet Union exiled its critics. If they were not sent to Siberia, opponents of the USSR were denied residence in their homeland, involuntarily banished. However much the US and UK welcomed them and even lionized them, banishment is a hard punishment to bear. Today’s Russia no longer metes out such penalties; which is not to say Russia is completely tolerant of dissent.

In the US, one hardly hears of Americans being banished from these hallowed shores. However rare, it does occur. Often Palestinian Americans are the target of this injustice, with Israeli authorities (somehow, usually) involved in legal cases brought against those Palestinians in U.S. courts.

Perhaps the most widely publicized case is that of Professor Sami Al-Arian. Starting in 1993, after a long, noble struggle against false accusations, years in jail, support from an international campaign determinedly led by his own family, continued harassment from the US government, Al-Arian finally succumbed and left the country in 2015. Before him, his associate Mazen Al-Najjar also spent years attempting to secure justice before he too was deported. [I myself interviewed both men on several occasions between 1993 and 2003 on Radio Tahrir (www.RadioTahrir.org), WBAI, 99.5 fm. While Al-Arian’s case is well documented, Al-Najjar’s history is almost completely scrubbed from the public record.] Both men were brave advocates for US justice and for Palestinian rights.

Rasmea Odeh’s treatment is a troubling reminder that this happens to US citizens who have never committed a crime in this country and never threatened anyone in the US.

Odeh is the latest Palestinian banished from this country. Now 69, she moved to the US (where her father resided) and settled in the Chicago area in the 1990’s. She was pressed to leave her home in the Occupied Territories like countless Palestinians over the past half century, dispossessed people who lost homes, family and hope. They left under duress in search of peace and dignity.

In 1994 Odeh applied for an immigration visa, later for US citizenship. Unlike many immigrants, she dared to become a community leader. Any immigrant, whatever their background, who arrives here quickly learns to keep their head down and their mouth shut—civil rights-be-damned. Just join the American dream for a job and a house.

The long arm of Israeli injustice followed Odeh however, and perhaps because of her visibility, her history with Israeli authorities was disclosed. (Many years earlier, Odeh was convicted for involvement in an attack on Israelis. She was released in a prisoner exchange after serving ten years.) Her American crime? She’d failed to report that conviction in her immigration application, a serious oversight. So when her history came to light in 2013, US authorities brought a charge of “immigration fraud” against Odeh. In her defense a major campaign was launched, and in 2015 the conviction was set aside. Forces determined to destroy her stepped up the attack however and she faced yet another trial, set for May 2017. Although there was considerable public support for her, in March Rasmea’s defense team advised a plea deal. She would serve no jail time, but her citizenship was revoked and she’d be deported. Thus the court’s announcement last week of her removal.

While this conclusion was hardly noted in the regular US press, the Jewish press, in USA and in Israel, hailed the decision, using the news to highlight her 1969 terrorism conviction and to draw attention to a ubiquitous threat of Palestinian terrorism.

Such tactics are part of the ever present Israeli campaign coursing through US culture, a threat that smothers dissent, intimidates and drives academics out of the universities, and in response to the success of the BDS movement, is pressing ahead with S. 720-- a bill in the US Congress, to prohibit Americans who will not countenance Israeli injustice-- from participating in any boycott of Israeli products and institutions.

All the more reason to support vocal critics, including journalists, and American community leaders like Linda Sarsour 

There will always be funds for shelter-less and malnourished children in refugee camps. Today, in the face of stepped up Israeli surveillance and political pressures, immense courage in needed to pursue justice for Palestine and free speech on behalf of their rights. Many Americans (including journalists), nameless and known figures--Arabs and non-Arabs— have moved into obscurity after years of threats and intimidation. Somehow new champions emerge to continue a just cause.

 

 

[ Another Palestinian, an American Citizen, Deported. No Homeland. ]

Women's Art and Other Work in Nepal's Hill Country PART III

August 11, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

(PART III of 3.) Aama disappears into the darkened house to light the fire. Flames ignite from hot coals stirred out of the ash and she eases a pot of kodo onto the rock grill. Neither an announcement nor a spoken invitation is needed. We rise from our workplaces and move inside, seating ourselves around the hearth. Danamaya takes a ladle, stirs the brew, and pours a spoon of the steaming liquor in each brass bowl set on the ground in front of us.

Mylie follows laying small leaf plates on the ground near our drink, then returns and fills each plate with a black, spicy sauce. I recognize this, a sharp lemony pickle-- a typical popular Limbu achar that accompanies every Nepali’s meal whether we’re eating rice or vegetables or drinking liquor. Some of the workers prefer kodo; others chose raxsi, also warmed to taste.

‘I’m surprised”, I remark. “My friend Monamaya isn’t with us. She promised to help with my naugiri.”

“Monamaya will arrive soon”, murmurs Danamaya, adding “when the raxsi is warmed.”

Just then Monamaya struts into the room and seats herself beside me, gleefully accepting an immodest portion of raxsi from Aama and turning to me says, “Ah, Didi; so you’ll have your very own Limbu jewels; eh eh.” She leans closer, lifts my cigarette from my hand and holds its glowing tip to light her own.

“What a day! A sheep got loose so sisters and I spent the whole morning searching for it,” complains this unapologetic latecomer. Everyone takes a sip of their drink without comment.

In my presence people withhold their opinion of Monamaya. They know she and I have become good friends since my arrival here and they seem to respect our closeness. Monamaya is the only unmarried woman her age that I know in Kobek. She’s the most audaciously raucous and bold, even by Limbu standards. I recognize that she’s a social oddity. She doesn't like to work in the fields, behavior which in this rural community is interpreted as irresponsible. Like me, she doesn’t feel the need for a companion when traveling through the hills. If she needs to go to town, she fearlessly sets out alone on the three-day walk. I was never able to discover the reason for my friend’s unpopularity, and I was left to enjoy her companionship as I pleased.

After everyone has consumed at least three bowls of kodo, we return to the veranda where we’ll stay until our task is complete, now joined by Monamaya. The alcohol seems not to have reduced anyone’s capacity for the delicate work. “Kodo and raxsi are nourishment for us,” explains my friend. “Without it we can’t work at all; drinking this we don’t need any other food.”

Our workforce is next augmented by two newcomers, elderly women from Salaka lineage, thus clanswomen of my host. Buddhamaya is a tall, dry-witted lady with aristocratic features supported by a heavily wrinkled face. We adjust our seating to make space for Buddhamaya on the mat; Danamaya hands her a nylon thread to which she replies, “Who is this for?”

“White Didi here,” explains my host.

“Why do you want this?” the old woman demands of me. “This is for poor farmers. You should have solid gold pieces-- here, here, here,” she shouts, stroking me to indicate just where gold might encase my head and arms  like some Limbu-Aztec warrior princess. (Ugh, the thought is itself an encumbrance.)

Monamaya comes to my defense. “No, no. white Didi is going to wear this to the Chatrapati feast next week; then she’ll take it with her to America. Everyone there will admire it. And Didi will tell Americans all about our poor land.”

I remain silent. I have already passed hours fruitlessly arguing with my hosts about my devotion to their lifestyles. I’ve had no success explaining how this necklace is an example of their art, or their beauty.   They insist that my interest is only curiosity, and this naugiri will be presented outside as a curio, and will stimulate discussion of Nepal’s economy, an economy they expect to be viewed as poverty.

It’s probably true that I’m interested in the naugiri for what it might (or might not) represent about the economy here. I’ve never understood how an average hill farmer affords jewelry like the naugiri and the gold earrings, items which seem extravagant to me, yet which, while essential, are not a sign of wealth. A naugiri is the price of a valued plowing bullock. While every woman wears a naugiri, fewer than ten percent of households possess a pair of oxen.

Certainly one can’t equate the cost of this necklace to the price of an ox. A naugiri is not in the same class as animals or land. Land is highly valued and people work hard to save to buy land and prepare new paddy fields. A naugiri is hard to put a cash price on. It’s an obligatory expense for a family, like a wedding or funerary feast—an integral part of family social and economic obligations.

A Limbu naugiri embodies a whole set of sentiments which I cannot possibly untangle, identify and comprehend. It’s not a dowry. It does not in itself mark one’s marital status. My naugiri it does not reflect a personal indulgence in ornamentation. I myself wear no bangles, bracelets or earrings. (My neighbors had already noted this, with some dismay.) Nevertheless these Limbu companions really want me to take this piece of jewelry with me when I depart. Curio or art, it is a gift to me wrapped in their memories. It symbolizes our bond and the cooperative spirit of our months together.

As for myself? Why am I determined to have a naugiri? Well, from when I first set eyes on one, it symbolized the vigor or Limbu womanhood. I like its combination of a coarse, chunky, undazzling weightiness, and its dull gold luster. It may not be refined, but it’s nevertheless beautiful, somehow more precious because every woman owns one. It’s not for special occasions but an everyday thing she carries on her chest-- as she suckles her baby, stirs pots of kodo and rice, cleans the hearth and sweeps the yard, and plants potato or millet.  It’s a well made object requiring intense labor and constructed to last a lifetime.

 

Where is my naugiri today? Well, it seemed so precious that I made it a wedding gift to the young woman who married my son. Sadly, they divorced after only two years and I’ve lost track of both her and the necklace. I wonder what Danamaya or even Monamaya would think of its fate.  END.

Originally published in Heresies, A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, Jan/Feb, 1978. Edited for republication 2017.   

[ Women's Art and Other Work in Nepal's Hill Country PART III ]

Women's Art and Other Work in Nepal's Hill Country Part II

August 04, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

continued from Part I

Chait Purnima morning. The essentials for our day’s work are assembled before our guest workers arrive on our doormats. A five gallon pot of kodo (millet beer) is fermenting inside the house; we also have six bottles of raxsi, the clear gin-like drink distilled from fermented kodo. Kodo is generally not for sale but produced (in every home) for family consumption. (A better quality is made and reserved for special occasions.) Danamaya had only a week to prepare this stock so it is coarser (and less potent). It will have to do. The bottled raxsi is not as refined a quality –sweet and aged for months in cool, sealed pots--as we would have liked. Danamaya sells me three bottles of passable quality, and we add to these another three bottles purchased from a neighbor glad to have extra cash before market day. (She can sell the rest of her stock then by the glass.)

Liquor production and sale is a pivotal item in this culture. First it’s an essential medium by which to pay workers, in this case compensation to the assembly of women who will fashion my necklace. Second, Limbu alcohol facilitates warm memories of times spent together, occasions like this Purnima. Third, sale of liquor in the market is an important source of cash, the foundation of women’s independent economic experience. Exclusive brewers of this highly popular product, these women and most other hill people refine their brewing skills and compete for the cash rewards.

From a young age Limbu women own jewelry. Their attachment to jewelry derives though their family membership and their own contribution to the household economy. Her nose-ring is a girl’s first acquisition; she may be hardly ten when she has her first band of gold. Year by year, as she grows, twirls of gold leaf purchased from her own earnings are added to it. From childhood a girl is allowed to keep what she earns from the goats she’s given to care for. Thus, by the age of 18, a young Limbu woman may be able to purchase her own gold earrings.

The naugiri is a different matter. It is acquired with womanhood and marriage. A gift from her family at the time of her betrothal.

Five women from our household begin the day’s work on my naugiri. Danamaya takes charge at the outset by anchoring a nylon rope to her body. (She has clearly done this many times.) Rubbing the loosened rope ends in her palms, she separates it into individual strands. Forty-five threads spread on her lap, secured at one end by a single knot between her toes. Each of us takes a single strand and arranges ourselves in a crescent becoming a human loom around Danamaya who coordinates the entire enterprise. She takes up each beaded string after we’ve filled it with tiny green glass drops; in exchange she offers us an empty one to continue our threading.

Watching Danamaya manage us I remember how efficiently she organizes our entire household. I noted this because I know Danamaya doesn’t legally reside here. True, this is her natal home, her maitighar. But like any married woman, Danamaya gave up many of her rights here when she married and moved to her husband’s family house taking her dowry with her. Here, Danamaya is a visitor with Deepa, her baby girl. In Limbu culture, it’s not uncommon for women to bring their children on a visit to the maitighar and stay for several months. Meanwhile their husbands are away as well. (They travel to India and Malaysia for work. Danamaya’s husband, for example, is serving in a Gurkha regiment in India.) I could never ascertain what she thought about this separation, or what her mother-in-law might feel about her absence. But Danamaya’s own family in Kobek is delighted to have her around and they let her run the house. (How her sisters-in-law feel about this, I never knew.)

            We begin stringing the beads after our morning meal. Soon, Laxmi, Danamaya’s neighbor and friend arrives and she grasps a nylon thread like the rest of us, joining this circular-loom. She holds it taut and silently feeds the tiny green glass beads, one after another. Kobek is also Laxmi’s maitighar. Unlike Danamaya however, she doesn't intend to return to her marriage house. She remained there only until her baby was born, she explains. The infant is here with her and she has no intention of their returning to her husband. She doesn't like him, she offers matter-of-factly.

A woman once married cannot normally rejoin her maitighar, so Laxmi is fortunate to be welcome here. As long as her maiti is willing to have her, a Limbu woman can divorce her husband. She may also remarry. With no apparent anxiety about her future Laxmi joins in our Chait Purnima project, beads sliding from her fingers onto a thread.

Danamaya coordinates our work, maintaining the tension in each thread: “Enough, give it to me. Good, now take this one.”

After only an hour, Danamaya’s left hand holds only a few unadorned strings. In her right hand she grips a bunch of completed clusters of dense beads, each three inches long.  We rush to complete the remaining threads. This completed, it’s time to add a gold knob. First the cluster of threads is squeezed together and fed through the opening in the red cloth ring, what I call a washer. We sit back as Danamaya proceeds to assemble the elements: red felt ring, gold, red again. We watch the soft golden jewel shimmering down the rope and secured by another ring of red. Since the gold is pure, it’s very soft and needs careful handling. Danamaya grips the threaded strings against the red-haloed golden nugget and signals us to reassemble. We are handed a new thread to bead and resume work, feeding the beads down the string until each of us has completed another three inches.

The seven of us have established a rhythm together and precede independent of Danamaya’s instructions. Another hour and I begin to discern an emerging pattern in the necklace. Sparkling, tiny green glass, then a soft red flare against the dull luster of gold, another red flare, then sparkling glass, red again flanking the next knob of gold. Time for a rest. Watch for part III

Edited for republication 2017 Originally published in Heresies, A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, Jan/Feb, 1978. Part 3 forthcoming

 

[ Women's Art and Other Work in Nepal's Hill Country Part II ]

Women's Art and Other Work in Nepal's Hill Country PART I

August 01, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

As I cull my writings, I find some articles undeletable. Even as a historical portrait, some seem to be relevant today. In Nepal, land cultivation is declining as young people seek employment abroad to earn cash. Nepal, even for its poorer citizens, including farmers, has become a consumer economy. Meanwhile women continue to produce alcohol for sale and bead jewelry for daughters’ marriage. This edited 1978 story will be posted in 3 parts.

==========================

PART 1: Chait Purnima, the full moon day (1977), reminds me a month has passed since my arrival here in Kobek village, a Himalayan hamlet in east Nepal. Light spring winds move over the trees and across clear swept courtyards, bringing with it the faint but reassuring voices of neighbors.

At the arrival of the full moon, fields empty of workers. People are freed from agricultural labor for the holiday, and today Danamaya’s neighbors will converge on our veranda. All women here are artisans. They weave the Limbu tartan cloth shawls and skirts worn by everyone, and they knot their own straw mats and baskets. Women are the brewers of beer and distilled spirits as well. Polishing rice and pressing oil are women’s skills too.

This full moon day, our neighborhood artisans will gather at my host’s doorway. They’ve been invited to help make a special ornament—for me.

 

During the better part of a year now, I’ve been moving around this eastern hill region, previously unknown to me, trying to understand rural economy. On a short stay a year earlier I met some Limbu people I’d only read about in anthropological literature. Limbu are an integral part of Nepal society yet very different from the Tibetan and Sherpa I was familiar with from previous research in Solu-Khumbu. Solu is three mountain ranges away, but hardly two hundred kilometers northwest (a ten day walk until the 1990s).

Exploitation of Limbu land rights by high-caste Brahmin villagers had been documented by my colleague Lionel Caplan. Limbu came to national attention as one of a handful of Nepal’s many ethnic groups to publicly criticize the government’s policy regarding minorities; that was during the monarchy when no dissent was tolerated. From medics and development officers impressed by Limbu culture, I also learned these women enjoy unusual economic independence. I decided to visit the area and learn more about them and this part of such a culturally and geographically diverse land.

Limbu would become one part of my limited comparative study of ethnic groups living near the primary north-south trade artery of east Nepal. I’d already surveyed a Sherpa community further north, and I stayed in a village inhabited by Newar and Tamang farmers. Limbu not only appear to be a physically quite different race; their rice cultivation and therefore their economy as well as their social values differ markedly. Living with Limbu, I often feel I might be in Burma or Thailand; whereas with Sherpa, one imbibes its underlying Tibetan flavor. I’ve already engaged with several Nepali cultures: the robust Sherpa herders and farmers, the richest of the highland peoples; progressive Newar traders and shopkeepers, many of whose daughters are in school; Rai hill people, a large ethnic group found in villages all across Nepal, also good farmers; Magar villagers who seem impoverished by the standard of other groups who dislodge them from their modest holdings; members of the Brahman and Chetri higher castes, know for their frugality and industriousness, exert restrictions on women who often become ascetics and join riverside hermitages.

 

I announce my plan to take up residence in Kobek village and join a prosperous family of farmers, selecting a corner of an empty hayloft for myself behind the main house. It affords me the privacy I need while giving me easy access to the main house, where, as the weeks pass I spend almost all my time.

This residence is one of a cluster of two-story farmhouses on a steep hillside. Lemon bushes and groves of bamboo veil neighboring houses from one another. But familiar sounds, human and animal, bridge the boundaries between us.

The dark interiors of these dwellings are used for cooking, sleep and storage. Except to cook, no one works indoors. Routine domestic work proceeds on the veranda and in the cleanly swept courtyards in front. It’s here that villagers gather throughout pleasant, dry winter months and where work and social life are hardly distinguishable. With the arrival of spring, activity shifts from verandas to muddy fields on slopes above and below our village dwellings. Early wheat wants cutting and the earth in the patchwork of terraces must be broken so that tender millet and rice sprouts will take hold.

At Chait Purnima we have prepared for the arrival of seven women who’ll make a Limbu naugiri, a necklace of the nine (nau) golden jewels (giri) set among the mass of stringed beads. All Nepalis wear elaborate homemade jewelry, each culture with its own distinguishing design. Limbu women’s chunky naugiri necklace, worn day and night, in the fields, nursing their infants, to market, and at weddings, seems to express the general reputation of these women. They are known for their industry, their assertiveness, and pride. To me, the naugiri symbolizes that vigor and I want to take one with me when I leave them.

My interest in having my own naugiri delights my host Danamaya and other women. But where am I to obtain one? I wouldn’t want an old one bought from a bank, my friends assure me; those worn jewels have value only as security against land purchase loans. The women insist that I must have a new naugiri. But new necklaces cannot be purchased; they are not produced for a market. A Limbu woman’s naugiri is fabricated especially for her by others in her family at the time of her marriage. It’s decided that my surrogate family here in Kobek will make mine. (Never mind about a wedding.)

                I commit myself to this scheme with the purchase of the key material—pure gold, costing about 500 Nepali rupees ($50.) on the Limbu market (at the time). This thola of gold (about half an ounce) I buy from a Kobek man recently returned from military service in Malaysia. Next, we visit the local goldsmith. His shabby hut is located on the edge of the village because he’s a member of a low ranked (out)caste. We find him seated on the second story veranda occupied with his trade. A regular stream of clients keeps him occupied, but he’s not too busy to accept my order; it will be ready in a few days. I visit him daily to observe him tap that worthless looking metal lump I’d entrusted to him into paper-thin lustrous yellow sheets. The precious metal emerges into its inert beauty in his outcasted hands. Finally he molds and engraves each of the nine leaves of gold into individual hollow spheres-- my very own knuckly, assertive stones that will be the heart of my necklace.

Between each chunk, we women will set thousands of green glass beads. (I buy these at the weekly market, selected from the trays of dazzling bangles and beads imported from India and sold by rows of vendors seated on the roadside, each huddled around her wares.) I’m also directed to buy red felt cloth from which we will cut piece to be pressed like washers on either side of each golden ball. Finally, for the string we need to thread and arrange those beads, we unwind a length of yellow nylon rope cut from my backpack.  END of PART 1

Originally published in Heresies, A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, Jan/Feb, 1978. Edited for republication here

[ Women's Art and Other Work in Nepal's Hill Country PART I ]

Covering Islam: Post Jack Shaheen

July 20, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The event of 9/11 is unparalleled in history, in drama, in audacity, in the terrorific images, in deaths, in its live transmission, in its ongoing controversies. It remains a traumatizing American experience with continually unfolding consequences. One result is the rise and persistence of hostility by Americans not only towards the perpetrators, Arab agents purportedly motivated by a religious ideologue, but also entire Arab nations and Arab and Muslim peoples worldwide.

This everlasting bitterness exaggerates the tragedy in the minds of Americans. At the same time, it interrupts and distorts Muslims’ self-identity and the daily injustices we experience.

Any conversation, private or public, with other Muslims about our current woes and anxieties-- our prayers and dreams, our relations with fellow students, neighbors and co-workers-- somehow finds its way back to that dreadful iconic date in 2001. It is a shadow haunting us wherever we go—to the ballot box, in our classroom, at a job interview, down our neighborhood street, on a holiday.

That event has become such a part of us, even if we think we buried it, that we unwittingly own it. We write books and magazine essays condemning terror and demonstrating our American-ness; we pen memoirs documenting our victimization; we reply to surveys testifying to our children’s bullying by classmates and teachers alike; we join interfaith sessions; we seek out grants to teach others about the calm nature of our religion and the beauty of our cultures. Even as we do so, that awful event remains the peg around which our existence rotates—favorably or otherwise.

The death of media critic Jack Shaheen earlier this month is an opportunity to offer our post-9/11 generation (there it is again) of activists and commentators an essential historical perspective on the demonizing process in which we are enmeshed.

Shaheen’s work needs to be better known by American Muslims. It warns us: “Go beyond 9/11; that vicious blight consuming our history and humanity has been with us for a long time. It’s not only driven by our nightly news broadcasts; it is embedded in our children’s school books and our most entertaining action films starring our favorite actors”.

As powerful as the medieval Christian crusade, Hollywood’s film industry is behind a century of productions targeting Arab and Muslim peoples—in animated children’s films, exotic tales of romance, and in American war legends.

Shaheen was a professor of communications who focused his attention as a media critic on film portrayals of Arabs; his exhaustive work provides irrefutable documentation of the creation of the “bad arab” in cinema and lore. He expanded his arguments, first published in TV Arab (1984), in his later book, Reel Bad Arabs (2001 and 2012), offering hundreds of examples of the mindless belly dancer, the veiled seductress, the sword-wielding assassin, the hook-nosed desert nomad, the oil-rich despot. You know them well.

Since the early days of the silent cinema those images remain popular in today’s biggest Hollywood blockbusters. The terrifying Arab was ultimately given a tangible personality in the form of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization). As noted by Rima Najjar writing about the political manipulation of this concept “The pattern of dehumanizing Palestinian Arabs and/or deliberately obscuring their humanity are factors that have facilitated Israel’s project of designating Palestinian resistance movements as terror organizations.”

Although the PLO was distinctly secular and socialist, by the 1980s their image became layered with a religious identity conveniently found in the Gaza-based movement Hamas. As Hamas gained recognition as the image of Palestinian resistance, the threat to Israel was now ‘Islamic terror’.

In 1984 came the highly successful autobiography Not without My Daughter which in 1991 was made into a popular film of the same name starring Sally Fields. Its promotional blurb sums up the storyline thus: “An American woman, trapped in Islamic Iran by her brutish husband, must find a way to escape with her daughter…” Septembers of Shiraz, a 2015 film I plucked at random from my local library only yesterday, assures continuation of filmic exploitation of a ‘revolutionary Iran’ and Islam, and the racist values they perpetuate. We are reminded of our media’s role in this process with a recent admission by the New York Times.

The course by which Islam became such a fearsome concept, effectively manipulated for political purposes primarily through American media is best documented by the outstanding culture critic Edward Said in his 1981 Covering Islam. Even today, with our abundance of so-called experts on Islam, from gadflies to published professors, Covering Islam remains unsurpassed as an analysis of the role of our media in designing a frightening ogre for American consumption, a creation that daily deepens mistrust among peoples and shapes foreign policy. Nothing I have read in these decades of overwhelming attention on Islam supersedes Said’s brilliant, straightforward analysis. Along with Mahmood Mamdani’s Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, it ought to be read and used by every journalism student, every political scientist, every anthropologist, and every Muslim.

Shaheen’s exposé on the role of film in fostering and supporting racism applies to education (sic) about our Native Americans, Black Americans, Asian peoples, even Irish and Italian. Our Black citizens are hard at work using their resources and political savvy to overturn centuries of misrepresentation. Muslims can do it too. We must. Muslim comedians have broken the ground; the next step is to make our own films.

Analysis has its limits; film is a powerful artistic tool that can sweep aside all arguments and misunderstandings. 

 

[ Covering Islam: Post Jack Shaheen ]


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