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Nepal--Turn Around and Realize Your Neighbor is China

March 30, 2020

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Involuntarily, week by week Nepal’s population, joined by the global community, will find itself compelled to abandon hitherto starry-eyed views of ‘America’ as redeemer, source of truths, and all things good. (It’s already happening.)

            Working in your country for over four decades, I’ve never met people more enthralled with the U.S. as you are. Everyone I know strives to send children here. You order your iphone direct from U.S.A.; you quote the NY Times and CNN; villagers too consult Facebook for ‘reliable’ news; Kathmandu residents patronize your local reproduction of Starbucks and Pizza Hut. (The only exception to these addictions is Hindi dramas; they’re accessed from India.)

            On its side, America too is charmed by Nepal. We admire your beguiling, robed monks, your extravagant and vibrant Hindu rituals, and docile residents welcoming us on treks through your Himalaya.

            Appreciating the value of your exceptional loyalty (perhaps based on historical Gurkha-British alliances (www.gwt.org.uk/news/gurkha-regiments) the U.S. extends an open door to Nepalis: with your abiding charm, your industrious  graduates and Buddhist gurus, and your 6,000 earthquake victims, (admitted on TPS-visas in 2015, ignoring largely fraudulent claims, then granted extensions last year).   

 

            Politically, Nepalis are inexplicably complacent at home. For most of your history you were subjected to the rule of absolute monarchs. Although never occupied by foreign invaders. Following your successful 10-year Maoist guerilla campaign, you eventually rid yourselves of that oppressive sacred kingship. That was followed by your declaration as a republic, multi-party involvement, a democratic constitution and a 2015 election that endowed the winning Marxist/Leninist Party with power. Few lives had been lost in that process and expectations were high moving ahead. Despite the ended monarchy, an expanded free press, a vibrant tourism industry and the injection of foreign aid, your nation’s economy was never reformed, your class disparities never addressed. The elite remained entrenched; favoritism, corruption, graft, and nepotism deepened.             Corruption is worse today than ever. Although officially secular, consumptive spending on temples and rituals has increased, and high caste privilege remains. Your economy is crippled: as new plutocrats sap the wealth, your administration grows fat on bribes while allowing ordinary families to depend on overseas remittances; (5-7 million jobless, a fifth of your 28 million, are migrant workers in Malaysia and Arab Gulf states). https://www.globalresearch.ca/long-nepal-blame-others-woes/5665412?print=1 

            The U.S.’s open door combined with the generosity of foreign social service organizations lodged in Nepal, maintains this status quo. 

            It was to be expected that you and your government would await the arrival of foreign medics and health supplies along with instructions from here about how to treat your COVID-19 victims. Instead, growing awareness of that plague arrived with waves of those sons and brothers sent home from their curtailed employment overseas. (This influx may reverse the drop in agri-production after farms were abandoned or mortgaged, resulting in cash-dependency, more reliance on imported food and other needs, more demand for iNGO assistance.)

            Meanwhile, by March 15th Nepal reported only a single case of infection—a figure no Nepali accepted.

            Your government (neither as impoverished nor indebted as outsiders suppose) is unabashedly corrupt and inattentive; so you’re unsurprised at its negligence in identifying infections and moving to protect you from the spreading scourge.

            According to those of you I speak to on a weekly basis, the Nepali leadership was as slack as America in quarantining your population. You bide the time, accustomed to mismanagement and lies waiting for America’s magic pill to arrive. (By March 28th, only 4 positive cases had been announced, again causing public skepticism.) Now on lockdown—imposed on the heels of U.S. orders for its citizens -- you can’t even take your demands to the streets, a strategy used so effectively against your monarchy.

            While the American leadership has finally awakened to the severity of the pandemic, now rushing to contain the damage; it can draw on abundant resources, however belatedly. Nepal is slowly rousing itself, but it lacks those resources.

            In our phone conversations, it seems you feel forsaken, not by your government but by the U.S. and elsewhere. You must be shaken by witnessing the depravity of your hero.

            As you see, every government is occupied with its own overwhelmed health systems.

            If anyone comes to your rescue I expect it will be China, your northern neighbor and a steadfast benefactor. Beijing’s earthquake aid in 2015 was immediate, efficient and unmatched. (China has had major infrastructure projects underway there—partly to balance your traditional reliance on India.) Just yesterday, responding to today’s crisis, Chinese help is on its way to Kathmandu. Your government’s incompetence will be ameliorated, for the present.

            In the long run, your romanticized image of the omnipotent richest-country-in-the-world, will dissolve. You’re not the alone. The world had already glimpsed the unmasked face of the global bully in the person currently occupying the White House. Now your view is further refined by the U.S.’ presumption of immunity, our sloppy response to the epidemic, our ill-equipped medical system, the impotence of our military might.

            It’s time for Nepal to consider a new policy, not one that transfers overdependence to China, but one of resourcefulness and self-sufficiency, perhaps on the model of Cuba or Vietnam. A logical step for a Marxist-led government, don’t you think?

[ Nepal--Turn Around and Realize Your Neighbor is China ]

Rethinking Commander-in-Chief in American Leadership

March 20, 2020

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

https://www.globalresearch.ca/rethinking-commander-in-chief-american-leadership/5707092 

              Ask Americans who’s commander-in-chief, most will respond: our president. Citizens only think about this just before a presidential election every four years when their final, ‘supreme criteria’ of U.S. leadership is raised: “Does she or he have it:-- namely the wisdom (or courage, or resolve) to control the nuclear (war) button?”

               It’s a vague term whose specifics are not publicly explored; but I think we can agree it’s singularly associated with military conflict.

               I haven’t heard the term commander-in-chief applied to other heads of state, but some variety of it doubtless exists, where a military officer heads a government as Egypt and formerly Pakistan today. Notwithstanding Americans’ first president was a general-- one among 12 who became president https://www.theglobalist.com/generals-and-the-u-s-presidency/ (of 26 American presidents who’d served in the military).

               (Joe Biden, although never a military officer, is clearly projecting this ‘commander-in-chief image’ in debates, invoking his presence in ‘the situation room’, etc. He understands war, he assures the public.)

               Leadership was an underlying issue during recent primary debates. They’re essentially over now, eclipsed by the growing pandemic where the focus of leadership has rightly turned to management and moral vision.

               Surely our current unprecedented crisis reveals it is time to reconsider the concept. My point here is not Trump’s capacity, but the general underlying American criteria for the nation’s person-in-charge.

               Crisis strategists admit this pandemic is a ‘war’, even invoking 911 when Americans perceived they were under siege. (Although-- with the exception of immigrants who’ve fled conflicts, by-and-large generated by American bombardments and sanctions on their homelands—most really don’t grasp the realities of siege: economic, diplomatic, medical, cultural or military.)

               Now a major health, social and economic crisis—a catastrophe, not to be too alarmist—has arrived in the name of COVID-19.

               Whether or not we had doubts about the moral character and management ability of Trump, today we can testify to the gravity of his silliness, racism, ignorance, ugliness, meanness and misplaced priorities. It is far, far more serious that we could possibly have imagined. It forces us to scan the horizon for leadership.  

               A resident of New York State I’m most closely following the response to this crisis by our governor. (I fervently hope other governors are acting similarly to Andrew Cuomo.) https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/20/watch-live-ny-gov-cuomo-holds-press-conference-on-the-coronavirus.html. Because, the more I hear from Cuomo day-after-day, the more I feel (along with neighbors, family and friends overseas as well as in the U.S.), we have a profound example of the kind of leadership needed at this moment.

               In his presentations Governor Cuomo exhibits no commander-in-chief attitude, but rather that of a capable manager, also someone with –dare I say?—emotion and compassion, approaching that of a ‘father figure’. Perhaps his presence reminds us of President Roosevelt’s legendary fireside chats https://www.britannica.com/event/fireside-chats.

               Post-pandemic changes are inevitable. Friends talk about their offices and companies, their universities and hospitals rethinking long-term goals to offer different and better service; one talks about perceiving her neighborhood differently, seeking a new family dynamic, rethinking how we educate our children.

               Likewise we need to seriously rethink the concept of commander-in-chief. America’s criterion for presidency is redundant. It is neither a humane concept, nor a relevant one in times of nationwide social crisis. Also absent from this concept is emotion, compassion and morality.

               Although not hitherto a particular admirer of Andrew Cuomo, I now perceive him not only as a brilliant manager but also a person with the apparent morality required at this moment. Maybe other governors whose work I am not following are acting likewise. (And please don’t cynically rejoin that Cuomo is working with his eye on the White House in 2024. We’ll talk about that later.)

[ Rethinking Commander-in-Chief in American Leadership ]

Kaia Rolle, Handcuffed and Arrested at 6; at Her American School

March 04, 2020

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Handcuffed and Arrested at 6—How Many More, and for How Long is This America?   

While fretting over refugee children in freezing tents along Turkey’s border, or Nargis Fazili’s family fleeing Afghanistan across Asia to Europe (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/sep/24/midnight-traveler-refugee-documentary-afghanistan, or lone migrant children caged in U.S. detention centers, we may barely register what happens to American children like Kaia Rolle; she’s a 6-year-old student at a not unusual neighborhood school in Florida.

            I suppose we should feel grateful for the body cameras which most American police are now required to wear to document their on-the-job encounters. Some police videos are made available to the public; some are lost. One recently released https://abcnews.go.com/wnt/video/officer-fired-video-shows-arresting-year-69213056 records an incident last September https://nypost.com/2019/09/22/florida-6-year-old-arrested-handcuffed-for-elementary-school-tantrum/ :—the handcuffing of Kaia Rolle by policemen at her school. The manacled child was led to a squad car and, unaccompanied by any school official or relative, and taken to a detention center to be finger-printed and photographed. The video was likely edited to hide the child’s face, probably in compliance with a ‘civil-rights’ law that protects minors—thank you. But it illustrates enough for us to witness an all-too-common injustice.

            It’s not the pleas of the weeping child that I find most disturbing; it’s the school staff’s passive witness to the child’s torture. None of the three women in the camera’s scope makes any attempt to protest, or to question the decision by we-don’t-known-whom, to subject the child to this unconscionable treatment.

            To further emphasize the egregious behavior by the police, we hear one man –likely the school resource officer --chatting with the staff members without any hint of regret or hesitation about how he regularly arrests children. Arrests are a source of pride for him, it seems. “Six thousand arrests over 28 years”, he boasts, “the youngest, 7-years-old.” When informed that the latest victim is six, he quips: “She’s six; now that’s a record.” Dennis Turner is a policeman who, like many in his position, are hired after retirement as “school resource officers”.

            These resource officers constitute a new class of law enforcement personnel employed by schools across America— they’re in my New York neighborhood schools too-- our solution to school shootings, a nationwide policy to protect our children from gun wielding maniacs. While they wait for anything that threatens the school from outside, these officers are engaged in student discipline inside. Parents and school administrators, out of fear of armed assailants, are empowering these unsupervised, armed retirees and veterans of foreign conflict --men accustomed to manhandling mostly adult male suspects-- to discipline troublesome children.

            (In addition to their school salary, a wage often higher than teachers’, many of them enjoy a generous pension from their police or military service. What a boon for the profession of law enforcement!)

            Attorney John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute’s warning https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/the_illusion_of_freedom_the_police_state_is_alive_and_well about our expanding police presence is so alarming that we are either too disturbed to register the details or we think he’s exaggerating. He is not.

            Viewing this single video of an on-duty school guardian entrusted to protect children, one has to question how much more goes on that we are not privy to? And this in inside U.S.A. with its celebrated freedoms! (I cannot bear to imagine the experience of countless Iraqi and Afghan families subject to abuse by American military personnel.)

            We are told Kaia was released and isn’t facing any charges. This doesn’t mollify me; nor am I gratified by the firing of that officer.)

            The video of the child’s arrest is revealing about how the child is handled too. A school staff member calmly tells Kaia to “Go with them, baby girl.” As Kaia is handcuffed, we hear one officer gently say: “Come over here honey”; then “It’s not going to hurt”.

            Later news clips of Kaia with her grandmother report that she is doing fine. That’s today. What about in the coming years?

            This experience may embolden little Kaia to become an attorney or a civic leader, perhaps a policewoman to protect others from the cruelty she would never forget. Can we fault her, though, if she chooses violence as a way to defend herself when gentle people nearby fail her or if they’re better informed about child victims of foreign aggression?

[ Kaia Rolle, Handcuffed and Arrested at 6; at Her American School ]

Being a Democrat—Ugh

February 09, 2020

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

It’s a rough time to be a Democrat.

                Notwithstanding the impotent Senate Minority. Not those ill-fated bills championed as victories by House Democrats only to be spurned by the upper chamber; not smug, elitist party fundraisers; not funding strategists and millionaire celebrity donors; not even bumbling Iowa Democratic party officials.

                I mean this forlorn orphaned democrat—me. A registered party member who every two years pens as few op-eds, who sends a check to a favorite candidate, who puts in volunteer hours to GOTV (Get Out The Vote), and wholeheartedly campaigns for any Democratic candidate whom she believes is honest and competent.

                I don’t need to add to today’s punditry and partisan analyses spinning through media, much of it self-serving. And I eschewed the wondrous humor of SLN or Stephen Colbert following last week’s dizzying post-impeachment-trial-post-State-of-the-Union-post-Iowa-caucus.

                Put aside the shortsightedness of our overrated “founding fathers” and the ugliness of America’s current president. Put aside the deepening cultural war.

                I have a simple personal question: What am I, voter and local activist, to do now? By June, county committees and ad hoc citizen groups will begin training to prepare for the canvassing and fundraising that’s precedes every November election. A lot is at stake; even at county and state levels, enthusiasm and commitment are essential.

                For the first time in decades I’m not sure I want to continue. How can I go to college events to urge our young voters to engage in American democracy by embracing this party? How can I solicit funds for a candidate? How can I try to persuade the “undecided”-- that burgeoning population of marginalized and disenchanted voters-- to commit to a Democratic candidate? These unaffiliated citizens, we are told, are critical to  an election’s outcome. One friend, who when I shared my dismay over last week’s events, replied simply: “In this era, democracy requires repose.” 

                Oh dear. If repose is the answer, democracy’s not working.  

                Forget about the disgusting, shamelessly victorious Trump and his gloating Republican party for a moment. Don't mollify us by theorizing who’ll be on history’s side. (Let history take care of that.) What are we going to do about a corrupt mealy-mouthed Democratic party? Why did Mrs. Pelosi extend her hand to Trump before his address to the nation? Would you have? And tearing up the speech after she’d applauded Trump’s statements several times? Better to walk out. Decorum be damned-- Trump’s words themselves demonstrate that.

                What about our other congressional leader, the Senate Democratic minority guy? Where was Charles Schumer’s wisdom, daring and political acumen during that flawed and pompous process of impeachment? I hear not a whisper about his ineptness. Surely his failings contribute to Mitch McConnell’s brilliance and victory.  

                While the gross incompetence of our so-called progressive (left, moderate or center) party is in the spotlight, on the sidelines we have  newly exposed corruption within the DNC:-- its attempts to delegitimize (as it did in 2016) the formidable old Socialist from Vermont; its shifting rules for who may and may not participate in the once-proud American process of public political debates; its shady business interests and ineptitude exposed in the recent Iowa caucus-election.

                America’s Democratic Party is not the place for anyone who calls herself progressive today. It was easier to blame it on Russian hackers, wasn’t it?

[ Being a Democrat—Ugh ]

Intimacies from An Awful War-- "FOR SAMA" film by Waad al-Keatab

July 25, 2019

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

            If you think you’ve seen enough of conflict, especially the war in Syria, you haven’t. From love of nation and loathing of military rule, from inchoate hope of redemption and improbable determination, indebted to lost friends and seeded in the birth of your child, comes an intimate demonstration of how war happens to you and how it tests humanity.

            In the case of Syria, even as news of chaos and battles recede, it takes an exceptional story to return us outsiders to that battlefront. One headstrong woman’s remarkable work has actually managed this. So out of Syria, rising from the smashed pearl of the nation—beloved, stately, diligent Aleppo-- comes the film “For Sama”.

            “For Sama” is arguably a belated story, although even now when filmmaker and family are settled abroad, it feels very, very present. It’s a young mother’s diary to her baby girl whose innocent, sometimes sleepy, sometimes searching, wondering eyes reappear intermittently, even confidently. From a scratchy sonogram in her mother’s womb Sama emerges a swaddled newborn, then a  toddler crawling over bedclothes to grope the lens of her mother’s camera, now stealing through a frontline bound tightly against her father’s chest to reenter their besieged home, then entertained by staff medics as they huddle together in a basement bomb shelter, later seated on a hospital attendant’s lap while nearby her father’s colleagues wrap the not-yet-cold body of a boy for delivery into the arms of a mother calling to his soul as she determinedly carries him off.

            News headlines stopped reporting Syria’s death toll; only an occasional photo revisits the country’s collapsed neighborhoods. Experts’ pretense at disentangling the web of warring factions-- Christian-this and Shi’ia-that, Hizbollah or Iranian, Kurd or Arab or Turkmen militants—are silent. Pronouncements of areas liberated or occupied, emptied or reclaimed seem as immaterial as US-sponsored or Russia-convened talks with opposition leaders.   

            The Free Syrian Army, an early American-backed operation now appears subsumed into ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’, an assemblage of America-supplied (probably U.S.-directed too) rebel groups removed to a protectet territory—not unlike what was created in Iraq in 1991-- dominated by Kurdish Syrians. (Elements of Israel and Iran are doubtless lurking in the shadow of U.S. and Russian lines.)  

            Millions of citizens who fled haven’t returned. They may never. Destroyed cities, fields, marketplaces and factories lie vacant. While government-secured areas allow some stability, a return to normal life is impossible to imagine. Opportunities for corruption are greater than ever. How comforting is renewed agricultural production if prices are beyond a household’s reach? Families whose young people fled, died, are imprisoned, incapacitated or remain missing move in a kind of stupor, unable to rebuild dwellings or restart their studies or their businesses.

            As for the infamous, vilified jihadist-ISIS fighters:— have they been corralled and massacred, transferred to Turkey to regroup, ferried to camps for processing as refugees to Canada or rearmed to bolster rebel ranks in the secured Kurdish territory?

            Five years earlier, after Waad Al-Kateab’s studies at Aleppo University were interrupted by he eruption of protests on campuses there as across the nation, she and countless others joined the so-called Arab Spring. Some areas of opposition were swiftly and ruthlessly subdued. Neighborhoods that resist are viewed as rebel strongholds and thus face the full force of government shelling and siege. Al-Kateab metamorphoses into a citizen journalist, allying herself with others who refuse to leave and, camera in hand, joins a medical team of young doctors rushing to bombed sites to clear debris and attend the wounded.

            Emboldened by the deaths of their comrades and by massacres they witness, this medical crew resolves to remain in a makeshift hospital even as the neighborhood is subjected to a vise-like siege-- perhaps targeted because of the arrival of jihadist fighters there. Wisely, Waad (and a British Channel 4 News team who helped compose this film) doesn’t address internal political distinctions. For her, government forces and Russian jets are the enemy: “Whatever jihadis do, it’s nothing compared to the brutality of the regime”, she declares

            Al-Kateab keeps her camera rolling as she fearlessly and resolutely moves into the carnage, never so unhinged that she neglects tender moments of passion and pathos among medical staff, neighbors and wounded arriving at the clinic. They are a community exhibiting all that life offers: a fresh snowfall in the garden; a crushed tree tenderly replanted; her sandbagged bedroom; a rush (camera-in-hand) to the shelter; a room of lifeless bodies near medics attending those still breathing; a man’s gift to his wife of a rare fresh fruit; dust-stained faces of two lads caressing and kissing the head of their newly dead brother wrapped in his shroud in the clinic corridor; a young woman filming how she’ll announce her new found pregnancy to her husband.    

            I resist a temptation to narrate more intimacies from “For Sama”. Simply, this is a rare document, one I can only summarize not as heroic but as the intimacy of war. These words may seem incompatible; they’re not really, not as felt and recorded by Ms. Al-Kateab, co-edited by fellow filmmaker Edward Watts, and narrated to baby Sama by filmmaker mother.

            While war creates hatred and despair and loss, perhaps because at the same time life becomes more precious and ethereal, war compels this kind of chronicle. Myself, while I’ve witnessed war firsthand and recorded it for others, nothing I’ve written, seen on screen or read approaches the intimacy and impact of Al-Kateab’s diary to her daughter.

            It would be pointless to decipher the role of supplementary editors and foreign producers or to speculate on when the narration was written, and from where all the elements were drawn. One feels proud of this woman for her compassionate eye, her determination, her steady-hand and her tender questions.

             “What would you like to say to your friends who left?” she inquires of a shy nine year-old neighbor.

            “May Allah forgive you for leaving me here alone” is his unequivocal reply.

              

                                                                                                                            

[ Intimacies from An Awful War-- "FOR SAMA" film by Waad al-Keatab ]


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