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Looking for our leaders in the New Year

December 24, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

In case you did not notice, the real, principled, smart leaders of our US Arab and Muslim community are, one by one, disappearing. Many of them are in jail. And that’s enough to chill the zeal of any would-be leader who dares to vigorously challenge the status-quo, arouse our ‘ethnic’ American masses. No social critics needed, especially those of us bearing Muslims names, wherever they are born.

 

The latest American social advocate to find himself sentenced to prison is Abdelhaleem Ashqar. He’s a former professor of business at Washington’s Howard University. In November Ashqar was sentenced by a Chicago judge to 11 years in prison. Why? He, like Sami Al-Arian, Ashqar simply refused to testify before a federal grand jury in inquiries involving the Palestinian struggle for justice against Israel.

 

Never before has our community been so in need of articulate courageous leaders who may express sentiments of many of us. We have an abundance of directors of national organizations in Washington. They say they are concerns with human rights, to educating the public. Their real role increasing seems to be offering assurances that most of ‘us’ are ‘moderate’, that we are willing to sit with Zionists, break fast at interfaith dialogs, and affirm how proud Americans we are. They name our (economically) successful entrepreneurs and media stars. They help identify bright young Arabs for the US foreign and intelligence services. If they have critical words for US policies they keep them for private in-White-House sessions, as per Arab tribal traditions.

 

What did Abdelhaleem Ashqar do, or refuse to do? The Associated Press headlines on the day of Ashqar’s sentencing reads: November 21, 2007: A former professor accused of providing money to Hamas terrorists was sentenced Wednesday to more than 11 years in prison and fined $5,000 for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. "Ashqar” the article continues, “was convicted earlier this year of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the Palestinian militant movement Hamas on June 25, 2003. But he was acquitted of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy aimed at bankrolling the terrorist group Hamas.

 

"Before being sentenced, Professor Ashqar delivered a nearly two-hour passionate statement describing the suffering of Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation and saying he would rather go to prison than divulge the secrets of Palestinian militants.

 

"The only option was to become a traitor or collaborator and that is something that I can’t do and will never do as long as I live," he told the court. After sentencing him to 135 months in prison, (Judge) Amy St. Eve ordered marshals to take Ashqar into custody immediately, saying that it wasn’t clear that he would not flee to avoid serving time. "A co-defendant of Ashqar, Muhammad Salah, was sentenced to 22 months in the same case after being convicted of lying under oath in a legal document. He also was acquitted of racketeering.”

 

Meanwhile in our papers and TV headlines one reads daily reports about deteriorating conditions and mass sufferings of Palestinians at the hands of Israel; bombings of neighborhoods and a virtual economic siege of the whole of Gaza. Among them are a few humanitarian appeals. None of these figures is contested. It’s all true. UN and other NGO leaders issue dire, urgent warnings, appealing for change, or mercy. They are supplemented with statistics quantifying the catastrophe. All this proceeds through a hugely publicized “peace conference” called Annapolis, then through another summit where billions of dollars are pledged to the Palestinian Authority. Smiles and handshakes galore while our Gaza sisters and brothers remain under assault and a siege of unparalleled cruelty and evil intent.

 

As for the pledged billions, while some of that may apply to NGO salaries to administer relief, the majority is in fact destined to Israel which has so crippled the Palestinian society, now a consumer economy, that Israeli itself is now the source of almost all Palestinian food, building supplies and other essentials.

 

So we collect money; we write reports; we pass on the sad news, month after month. But we do not do what Abdelhaleem Ashqar dared. As New Trend Magazine editor Kaukab Siddique notes, “He was opposed to Israel. This and this alone was his "crime". He has never broken American law. He never abused the hospitality America offered him. Accusations of sending funds to Hamas were disproved. When nothing could be proven against him, the puppet "justice system" wanted him to talk about the Palestinian community and to help incriminate and trap other Palestinian opponents of Israel. In the jargon of the American injustice system, this refusal to become a collaborator is called "criminal contempt" of the court and [don't laugh!] "obstruction of justice"! This is how the Zionists hide tyranny behind a facade of legal terminology. “It should be noted that Hamas is NOT an anti-American movement. It has been labeled "terrorist" purely to please the terrorist entity known as Israel. Hence any attempt to punish a Muslim for supporting Hamas is actually an Israeli move.

 

“Israel is striking at Muslims through the American injustice system. Ashqar's great sacrifice should be a rallying cry for the Muslims of America.

 

For two hours the condemned professor spoke to the court highlighting the suffering and sacrifices of the Palestinian people. Only one line of his speech was reported in the corporate media.”

 

OK. Ashqar was willing to go to prison. Under some circumstances, he could become an example, a model, a challenge to the US justice system that is clearly bent on serving Israel smother all dissent to its immoral policies. This American Muslim could, in ‘normal’ times be a badly needed voice and model around which our people could mobilize our common ideals and openly fight for the rights of Palestinians, and ourselves in the process. Are we up to it?

 

Or will we join the queue the of so-called educators to endorse the likes of a fraudulent Khalil Gibran school in New York calling itself an institution to serve our heritage and our people.

 

[ Looking for our leaders in the New Year ]

Eid Al-Adha

December 19, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Eid Al-Adha from one’s neighborhood

In the Maghreb and across the globe, the spirit of Islam waves through us.

From New York—“I got your message and my best friend's message from Turkey this morning. Without these messages I wouldn't know if it was Eid today. You reminded me my childhood eids. Thanks. I can imagine the warm feelings everywhere.” AB

 

“This is so inspiring, I'm glad you're there to witness and be a part of it. And, yes I love the Algerians, especially their recitations. It's truly amazing that when we look for the Muslims we can find them anywhere we are in the world. May Allah bless you with success on this journey and inspire you with new vision.” AA

 

Dec. 19. 2007 Eid morning here in an Algerian neighborhood; awaking to fajr prayers and knowing that virtually everyone around me and across the nation is in prayer. The Algerian communal morning recitations, led by the president on TV at Jamiyeha Djedid near Bab Eloeud in the capital, has its 'Algerian' character, a spiritual music I’ve enjoyed nowhere else (except a trace of it among Tibetan Buddhists).

 

You can grasp it on our Tahrir web page in ‘prayers’—Algeria Qur’an recitation. (It is national rather than particular to Ghardia.) The rhythm and simplicity carry, I believe, the sufi tradition that, despite what others may believe, is very strong in Algeria, as in Morocco, etc. Enjoy it.

 

Algerians are one of the most 'religious' peoples I have encountered. The hadiths are widely known and invoked, and discussed in regular conversations. One feels a deep, deep love for the Prophet Mohammed. Love with knowledge.

 

The children are excited about the sheep in their apartments awaiting the sacrifice. I feel the joys of the children and the determination of the families, across all the neighborhoods, despite everything and economic difficulties that "C'est la fete".

 

I turn on the TV after my prayers and watch the broadcast from Mecca, touched by the exaltations of the pilgrims realizing their lifetime dream. The on-camera commentators are surprisingly profane in contrast to the landscape of ‘realizing’ pilgrims in the beyond. It reflects how private and divine the hajj experience is. (Many other Arab stations are broadcasting pop songs or talk shows and Al-Jazeera, true to form, has some ‘talking political heads’.)

 

Algeria TV, after the prayer traditionally visits hospitals and old age centers to talk to children, veterans and others without families nearby. It is always touching and I think really shows the depth of feeling for this holy day, the only program I like on Algerian TV. Festivals are especially meaningful to the old and the young.

 

best to you and your families for a joyous Eid

[ Eid Al-Adha ]

Harry Potter. Stephen King. Mars and Venus. But no Edward Said.

December 01, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Harry Potter. Stephen King. Mars and Venus. But no Edward Said.

Forsaken, neglected, or forbidden? How could Edward Said be unavailable in an Arab land which prides itself on its anti-colonial struggle and its intellectual prowess?

Arriving to teach sociology and comparative studies in Algeria, I was so confident of the influence of our esteemed Arab savant that I thought it unnecessary to bring with me my copies of Orientalism and his other important books from the US. It would be best to use a local French edition in any case, I decided.

My first shock came on my initial meeting with post-graduates students signed up to take my course anthropological methodology. In any campus, Arab or otherwise, we would find much to discuss about Said’s theories on cultural dialogue. Here in Algeria, there would surely be much for me too to gain from a dialogue on Said's ideas about culture and imperialism as well as the Occidental presentation of Islam.

Reviewing the students’ academic experience, one Algerians admit are, in general, heavily weighted in social theory in contrast to methodology and field research, I noted Said was not included in their accounts. When I introduced the name of our celebrated Arab theorist, the response of these graduate students was a feeble curiosity.

The name was surprisingly unfamiliar to the group. “A Palestinian? He's a leader of the Palestinian struggle for their homeland," one replied uncertainly. "Yes." Yet no one could name any of Said's 8 or more book titles.

“Orientalisme” I proffered; "1978. One of the most important theories of cultural understanding in the last 50 years?" No recognition. I named two more of the savant’s books—Covering Islam; Culture and Imperialism. They would be essential in our course.

Still no recognition. Surprised, I was not however dismayed.

Ignorance of the writer gave my presence here in Algeria and on the campus a clear and new direction. I would redesign the course so that a good part of it would be devoted to the practical application of Said's ‘orientalist debate’. But we needed the books, as many of his titles as possible.

I set out to locate what I decided would be the 2 essential volumes: Orientalism and Covering Islam. We could use them in Arabic or French. So I felt we had multiple options.

A month has passed since my search began. Neither at the Annual Exposition des Livres in Algiers, nor in all the city’s major bookstores I visited, can I find a copy of Said’s theories-- in any language.

In most cases where I inquire, directors of the Algiers’ largely French language ‘libraires’ recognize the name Edward Said. “Yes. Palestinian; American. We know his work”. Some say their store carried his book years ago. “Not today. No you won’t find his books now. Try La Maison de la Press. At Audin." "Try Les Beaux Arts Magazine.” The director of the latter, seeing my puzzlement, added, “Oui; C’est une scandale." I searched on. “What about ordering it from France? I asked one manager. "Non, ce n’est pas possible!" “How do you get your books, here, a store with hundreds or more of ‘editions francais?’" "Non, ne peut pas. The books we sell here, we obtain from a list sent to us by French distributors; we go through the list and order what we need. If it is not on those lists, so we cannot obtain a title you may want.” Scanning the shelves I see handsome coffee table books on Orientalist art and the history of orientalism in N. Africa. Beautifully illustrated French editions.

One can still find in old bookstores, discolored post cards displaying the now scandalous images so popular a century ago of 'the exotic East'--black slaves, odalisques and harems, camel caravans and sward-wielding horsemen.

But no Edward Said.

As it happened, the annual book fair was underway that week at the Salle des Exposition near the Hilton Hotel. The fair is a major event in the city every fall. Many hundreds of dealers from around the world (France and Arab states) converge here to display new titles. I found a prominent display of the recent Harry Potter volume, the latest French and Arabic writers as well as classics. Many children’s books. Books on CD were for sale. But no Edward Said.

What about university libraries or private holdings of colleagues in the academy? “Yes. We know Said. His volumes must be in someone’s library but I cannot tell you where. No, I doubt if you will find them in a university library.”

Why is there no interest in this man’s theories. Forget that he is a pre-eminent Arab thinker of the last half century. Forget that Algerians are ideologically and politically in total support of the Palestinian struggle. Put aside their determined anti-colonial history and their many writings on imperialism and colonialism. (So aware were Algerians of their former ruler’s use of anthropology to fragment and control their populations that they banned its study here for forty years.)

Is it state control of what Algerians read? Is it French censorship of Edward Said as a thinker who might eclipse their own lauded theorists? Or simple anti-Palestinian bias by a strongly pro-Israel France? Is it an attempt to exclude the Arab intellectual contribution to contemporary literary and historical studies? The search continues.

[ Harry Potter. Stephen King. Mars and Venus. But no Edward Said. ]

Presidents today fall far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents

September 30, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Presidents today are falling far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents. Many of you must be aware how the president of Columbia University in NY, one of our nation's most prestigious and wel endowed universities, behaved with his opening remarks to the Iranian president. If you missed the spectacle, you can witness it on Youtube.

I wonder if Bollinger realized how much he sounded like a puppet parroting a slogans forced on him by his political 'owners'.

For over 15 minutes, in an introduction to the demure, still silent guest, Columbia's president, prefaced by remarks on the merits of free speech in America, launched into a tirade of unparalleled rudeness and foul taste. It is hard to believe this happened in the USA, let alone at a center of higher learning. We condemn white extremists for talk like this. Yet, Bollinger's remarks were actually applauded by some in the audience.

There is general agreement, that in response to the odious remarks by the Columbia chief, the Iranian head of state handled the situation with grace and intelligence. He may even have gained support from within Iran, from Iran's  university faculty as well as the general public, and from people arorund the world who are already familiar with America's excesses in nationalism and displays of self righteousness.  

What adds to my surprise about this regretable display by the Columbia U. president is the American response. Forget about the mainstream media here, for we well know about their loyalties and their agendas. What shocks one is the complete silence and therefore endorsement of Bollinger's behavior by our American academic community.

Richard Bullet, a senior professor and director of the ME Institute at Columbia has first of all chosen to remain silent. A resignation in protest would be in order, I think. Or he could appear in a public protest. At least he and supporters might publish a letter threatening the president with a boycott.

Alas, we hear not a word, neither from Bullet, nor from the coterie of Arab American faculty who are Columbia's prized in-house Arab World experts. For years now, one by one, those men have been subjected to threats, attacks; now with this crisis, they seem to be duly cowed. They had been fighting for years to hold on to their shaky seats. Perhaps, having succeeded to fight off the campaign to oust them, how could they again jeopardize that hard won security?

OK; let's say I understand why Columbia's faculty are in too tenuous a position. To openly object, they risk their jobs. But what about professors of our other universities?

Our universities, whether private, state, city, or otherwise, claim to be islands of progress, imbued with superior morality, enjoying limitless free speech. Have you heard a word from heads of universities, faculty, and students associations about Bollinger's behavior? Are there any campus actions underway anywhere in the country in defense of traditional university ethical and ideological standards?

If so, let me know, for I have missed them.

In the 70s, I was a research associate at that same department, the School of International Affairs at Columbia, where Bollinger made his remarks. I saw then how that institute is linked to the US State Department Not only ideologically by its choice of staff and teaching matter, but in terms of its faculty, it works within government policy. I tolerated that at the time. I also accepted as a fact of Columbia University life, the overwhelming Zionist influence in faculty appointments, on-campus programs, public lecture series, and recruitment of students.

But this recent display crosses a boundary. Given that a program was planned and a dignitary was invited, why and how the odious tirade by Bollinger was permissible, I cannot comprehend.

Fortunately, I chose not to work in an American university. Being an independent scholar is difficult on many fronts. One works with neither medical insurance nor a pension. Yet, today I feel proud that I can speak freely about this disgusting event and I feel I am beyond the intimidation threats that a university career imposes on its members. I am fortunately not beholden to people like Bollinger and his gang.

With the publication of my new book, I had recently been considering a speaking engagement at Columbia. Now I voluntarily abjure that idea. Who will join me?

[ Presidents today fall far short of our expectations…this includes university presidents ]

A little school that wanted to be an academy, and couldn't

September 02, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

In mythical stories, likable, humble little creatures have big dreams. Through diligence and kindness, they win friends and respect. They face obstacles with determination; drawing on common sense and the support of friends, they successfully pass through trials, emerging, in the end, as heroes. They achieve great things despite their modest goals.

This is not to be the history of a new school for Arabic language and heritage planned for an immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.

The school had not even opened its doors to students when it found itself besieged by hostile neighbors. The attacks were initiated by a Zionist assault in the NY media. The national spotlight followed the Zionists and picked up the story. The school's position was weakened still more. The Arab American principal resigned; the school's board of advisors went into hiding. Parents of would-be students questioned whether their children should attend the school. And to ensure total disarray and controversy, a Jewish woman was named by the NYC board of education as the new principal.

The school in question is called the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Such a lofty title may have helped its planners win generous funding from a branch of the reputable Gates Foundation. But it did nothing to garner the support of city officials.

Here we are, at the beginning of the school year, 2007, with a grand name, ample funding, but no real school. Without having initiated even a single class for neighborhood kids, the place seems doomed.

Why? And what should be done?

It seems that the school, however honorable its source of funding, and however qualified its appointed director, lacked a community base. Its board, rather than composed of Arab cultural and language authorities, was an 'interfaith' collection of local notables: three rabies, three Christian ministers and three Muslim imams, plus one or two other 'advisors'. What such a collection of characters has to do with a secular school focusing on language and heritage, escapes me. One would have expected a largely Arab board of cultural experts and educators. Moreover, their silence of that board, after the resignation of its principal, is more than odd. It's suspect. Were these 8 men and 2 women chosen to please the government and neutralize and community position? Their silence after their principal's resignation was even more deafening when her replacement was announced. Was it this board that sanctioned the city's appointment of a Jewish woman as the new school director

The particular incident that put the focus on the school's principal and drew the wrath of the Zionist press is irrelevant.

Americans of Arab heritage today, as in the past, should be accustomed to public criticism from that quarter; indeed we must be prepared for it. Debbie AlMontassar, the erstwhile Khalil Gibran principal is not the first community leader to be set in the cross hairs of the vicious Zionist press and longtime campaigners like Emerson. At the national level and locally, our Muslim and Arab leaders have found themselves under assault for all kinds of fabricated associations. Newly appointed members of human rights boards have been forced to resign; professors who dare to include books giving he other side of Palestinian history have been threatened and dismissed Heads of Muslim charities have been driven out. Attorneys have been silenced. Teachers have been removed. Writers have been slandered. Advisors on school curricula have been discarded. The major assault is against Arab experts--all Americans. But the campaign also extends to non-Muslims who dare speak out in favor of Arab and Muslim rights.

Given the potential of the designated school, even though others exist on a more limited basis, the director and her community should have expected some problems from the vigorous, ever creative Zionist lobby. Clearly the principal, despite her experience, was not sufficiently toughened and prepared for an assault. Moreover, there needed to be strong community (I mean Arab American) support. And a seasoned community-based board who knew the history of our struggle needed to be in place. This local base was surely more critical than Gates Foundation funding or the haughty title of "international academy' title.

After a hundred and fifty years' experience in this country, the Arab people are still not ready for leadership. Not only has the scandal damaged a local community and downed a young leader; it has dishonored the name of our foremost Arab American thinker and writer

[ A little school that wanted to be an academy, and couldn't ]


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