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At The Expense of Democracy

December 18, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Hamas leaders have announced they will not participate the in the Palestinian elections called by PA president Mahmoud Abbas. Can you blame them? They did it the right way a year ago after many hard, hard years of building up their party in local communities, addressing on-the-ground needs of Palestinians as well as articulating a reasonable political platform for a new state. Hamas is not a threatening 'Islamist' party but a party built on supporting popular resistance to a horrendous, disabling occupation strategy.     Over the years, Hamas appealed not only to Muslim citizens enduring the disabling effect of Zionist occupation and a corrupted Fatah Palestinian administration. Christian and Muslim Palestinians alike understood the principles of the Hamas Party and turned to it as their confidence in Fatah was eroded.      Moreover, the rise of the Hamas Party was a gradual, maturing process of more than 15 suffering years. Although the American public may have been surprised at their victory in the national election last year, Palestinians were not. Nor was Israel, whose agents and military know everything than is going on the in 'prison' that is Palestine. For a decade, Hamas had been winning in key university and local elections. On their side, Hamas was not new to government either. The West may hear of Hamas only in the context of conflict (a status Israel prefers). In reality, the movement is a sophisticated local level organization and a mature political party.     Unlike some guerrilla organizations who concentrate on military resistance, Hamas early on formed itself into an administrative structure. One of the reasons for its recent political success was its ability to address the daily needs of citizens and to organize communities in crisis as well as formulate an appealing ideology.  In any case, the world knows that their victory in the last election was earned fair and square.     The shameful, cowardly, bullying response of the occupier and of Washington is also well known. They declared Hamas 'outlaw'. Government funds and aid was frozen so that they could not administer. Israel stepped up assassinations of its leaders. Then Israel actually kidnapped at least 14 of their parliamentary members. Kidnapped an elected body!!      As the Chilean dictator is buried this week, we are reminded of the words of the American Secretary of State who hailed the military overthrow of the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, in 1973. Representing US policy in Chile, he said: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people…". How many more democracies will we destroy for the sake of our stingy definition of democracy? [ At The Expense of Democracy ]

Eerie Silence in North Iraq

November 20, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The term "Turkmen" means little to most western people, even those here who think they are up on Iraq ethnography. This is because Turkmens have not figured in media reports for reasons that will become clear. But watch for it. Iraqi Turkmen will soon demand world attention. Iraq, for outside observers is increasingly a land of ethnic and death statistics, usually in the context of the current conflict.

More and more, Iraq is debated in terms of the Sunni-Shia-Kurd formula, as if Kurd were not themselves populated by sunni and shia devotees. Forgotten are the once romanticized Marsh Arabs of the south. (For the most part, they have moved into the cities.) Christians are also set aside, as are Iraqi Jews. Iraq's Christians represent probably the earliest Christian community anywhere, and along with Iraqi Jews, demonstrate the long history of multi-faith co-existence in this part of the world. Iraqis had rightly been proud of that.

Today, upheavals resulting from the US invasion in 2003, from Zionist penetration of Iraq, and from the breakdown of civil order, create new and fiercely protected divisions. Christians are departing, continuing the exodus begun in the early 1990s. Jews are little heard from; if anything their numbers are increasing as Israelis, some of them of Iraqi origin, return to purchase homes and land and engage in business, if not settle here immediately.

While a terrifying power struggle and polarization goes on between Sunni and Shia in the country's center--around Baghdad, home to more than 25% of the nation's people--Iraqi Kurds, with Israel's help, are consolidating their expansion and hold in the north. They have largely escaped the upheaval across Iraq, protected in three autonomous northern governates which are somehow sheltered from the deadly forces unleashed across the rest of Iraq after 2003.

While the north 'appears' stable (as far as Kurdish-speaking Iraqis are concerned), there are troubling signs of an ethnic cleansing underway. Here we return to the Turkmen Iraqis. They number close to 3 million:--12% of Iraq's people. While press attention focuses on Sunni-Shia battles, Iraq's Turkmens face a campaign of discrimination that could become very ugly and costly. Tel-Afar, a Turkmen-speaking majority Iraqi city was subject to bombardments and a crushing siege by US forces. According to Iraq Turkmen Front spokesman Orhan Ketene, "This was instigated by Kurds who called in American firepower on the claim that the city harbored foreign terrorists". Two yars ago US air and land assaults on the scale of Falluja were carried out in Tel-Afar. A city of more than 300,000, it remains under military siege, crippled and little heard from. This, say Turkmen survivors and Ketene, is part of new Kurdish campaign to extend their sway and dominance westward, beyond their traditional governates of NE Iraq.

As troubling as the terrorizing of Tel-Afar is, we also see signs of a Zionist-type settlement by Kurds in the coveted city of Kirkuk. Kirkuk is targeted as a new center for Iraqi Kurdistan. Until recently, the city was multi-ethnic, although it is identified as the center of Turkmen Iraqi society and economy. For the past 3 years, Kurds have been moving into the city at an increased pace, frightening the Turkmen residents. As with Israeli 'settlement' in the West Bank, this is a strategy of "changing the facts on the ground". Assassinations against Kirkuk's Turkmen families have begun. Fear and tension are rising. Because the city is center of the important Kirkuk oil fields, it is a major economic prize and Kurds do not hide their ambitions for the city.  Kurds, backed by Zionist and American elements, are well armed and powerfully placed in the Iraqi government. Turkmens say the ongoing settlement of tens of thousands of new residents, all of Kurdish origin, is in anticipation of a referendum on the city's fate in 2007. With a majority Kurdish population, the city could become an official Kurdish territory. It is a frightening prospect for Iraq's Turkmens.

How Turkey, long an antagonist to Kurdish sovereignty will react, no one knows. It could be brought into the equation if Iraqi Turkmens are further threatened and find no alternative force to protect them. They say they have been unable to interest the Occupation Authority in their fate and their rights.

With the Americans hardly able to protect themselves and with the city of Baghdad out of control, US support for Turkmens appears unlikely, especially when Washington would be unwilling to confront the Israeli partners of Iraqi Kurds. American troops will one day depart. Now or after some years, it would not undo the wickedness their arrival planted.

[ Eerie Silence in North Iraq ]

Lynne Stewart's Victory

October 17, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

They were energetic and vocal on this early Monday morning (October 16, 2006) in downtown Manhattan. Yet it was palpably not a cheerful group that made its way across the city square to the US Federal courthouse.

Six TV crews crowding around the white haired woman were not from mainstream press but from community rights organizations. Individuals behind her held banners calling: "Free Lynne Stewart", Justice for Lynne", "We Love You Lynne", and "Win Lynne Win".

Civil Rights attorney Lynne Stewart made a short speech thanking supporters--those 2-300 who eschewed work that morning to give witness to her ordeal. She assured the crowd of her struggle, then slowly made her way to court. Along the route, she reached out to grasp hands of well-wishers, recognizing many in the crowd. Then she moved a few more meters, arm in arm with her husband Ralph, a retired schoolteacher and union organizer. Three of their fourteen grandchildren pressed close to her side.

The crowd passed police barriers and guards that now encircle every American courthouse. Office workers, unaware of this historic moment, rushed past, uninterested. At the courthouse gate, we found extra security guards posted--'in case of trouble'. The crowd clearly was reluctant to let Lynne and her husband proceed forward, even though they knew she must. They knew, as Lynne herself did, that she might be taken from the courtroom in shackles, never to see these streets again, forbidden to see even her grandchildren. US government prosecutors requested a 30-year sentence! At 67, this meant the rest of her life in prison.

"I brought my medications and my books to the courtroom with me today", Lynne announced to her well-wishers. She tried to smile. If the judge this morning followed the government's directive, she knew that she might be escorted straight to a prison cell.

 Two years ago, this well-known civil rights attorney with a long and distinguished record for aiding the poor and voiceless, was found guilty by a US federal court of aiding 'terrorists'. In this case, it was her own client Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman whom she had visited in prison where he is serving life.

Lynne Stewart has been a vocal defender of civil rights all her life. During the many months between the time of her conviction and her sentencing she refused to do what most fearful citizens awaiting sentencing would, i.e. lay low and try to appease the government. No. Lynne Stewart traveled to every corner of the USA speaking to community groups and college students about the erosion of American civil liberties in recent years and the injustice being directed to her.

Stewart was willing to become a martyr. She would cross the country, speaking wherever she could, warning fellow Americans how the current (Bush) administration had eliminated civil liberties and eroded constitutional protections.

Behind Stewart's conviction is the issue of the government's invasion of attorney-client privilege. This had been a sacred right in American law: namely that any exchange between an attorney and his client is private and protected. After the imposition of the first US anti-terrorist laws in the mid-1990s, the government began to wiretap attorneys' conversations with their clients. Thus the 'evidence' on Lynne's exchange with Abdul Rahman.

When Stewart herself was charged as 'abating terrorism', it was a very serious matter. Lynne took up the challenge of her defense arguing that the evidence was obtained illegally. "This is a constitutional issue," she said to me several years back in one of our many radio interviews. "This is not just about me. I am challenging the government's invasion of an attorney's rights and the erosion of our Constitution that protects this." Not only did Lynne appear on my program and other alternative media. The legal professional across the country saw her challenge as a test case for the Constitution. Thus, her struggle began to receive wide attention. She spoke out forcefully. Legal experts closely followed the case.

How was it that, in a case of terrorism, the most serious of all legal issues in the USA today, Stewart was traveling across the country addressing public gatherings. "I have two sons, both successful, and they were able to meet my half million dollars bail. So I am not in a cell. And I am going to use my freedom of movement to speak out about these injustices.

"The government has said I cannot practice law, the core love in my life--I am disbarred during the time the case is being heard. So I intend to use my 'time out' speaking wherever I can about my case. All Americans must be informed how our government is depriving us of our rights."

I've worked with Ms. Stewart since the mid 1990s when we profiled on my radio program the US government's use of 'secret evidence'. Most of those cases involved Muslims and Arabs. Stewart and a handful of attorneys successfully defended those accused men when government prosecutors had withheld evidence on the claim that it was too sensitive to share with the court. They forced the government's hand, revealing that in fact the 'secret evidence' was baseless.  It was a victory.

Then came September 11, 2001. New anti-terrorist laws were enacted and a new government aggressively prosecuted people on the slightest suspicion. Some of those men acquitted in the phony secret evidence charges were back in jail. Thousands of Muslims were apprehended; hundreds of thousands were questioned by FBI and other security officials; many were deported secretly without trial, and most of the few who were able to mount a defense were convicted. It was and remains a very tense and troubling atmosphere for Muslims in the USA.

In Lynne's prosecution, the government reached beyond Muslim victims. It targeted any attorney who dared to defend a terror suspect. It threatened that they too could face possible imprisonment. This was another reason for Stewart to fight back... and win.

The case had a chilling effect in the legal profession. Attorneys who had once defended Muslim suspects had already stepped back from taking their cases. Some even distanced themselves from Lynne when she dared to challenge the government.

As the 'war on terrorism' expanded, the political atmosphere across the USA grew less tolerant. The government has managed to thwart attempts to apply the rule of habeas corpus for the Quantanimo captives and others accused of association with al-Qaeda or terror. This mood was not a promising one for Lynne Stewart.

She had been extraordinarily brave in speaking out. She summoned extraordinary energy to fight back. With the result that thousands began to rally in her favor. Over 1,200 letters were written to the judge attesting Lynne's fine character and her life of service. Defense funds were raised. Stewart herself wrote a lengthy letter to the judge explaining her actions and asking for mercy.

Something worked.

At 2 pm yesterday afternoon, Lynne Stewart emerged from the court to be met by hundreds of cheers and a now expanded national media.

The judge had been extraordinarily responsive. He handed down a 28-month sentence: two years and 4 months. It was a victory. "Heck, I can do that standing on my head," was Lynne's tearful although smiling response.

Moreover, Lynne does not have to serve this sentence until her appeal on the original charge is settled. That will take another year, perhaps longer. So Lynne is gearing up for another court battle. Forty-eight hours later she attended an ifthar dinner in Brooklyn and gave a rousing speech to the crowd.

Stewart's is one of the few victories in the long struggle to restore democratic rights in the USA. Citizens must seize it and follow this woman's courage.

Details of the case are available on www.LynneStewart.org.

[ Lynne Stewart's Victory ]

Ramadan is here

October 03, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Ramadan Is Everything I Ever Had 

by Rachida Mohammedi

Ramadan is our literature: words received from AllahRamadan is our sociology: we pickup the phone to call "come to ifthar with us".Ramadan is our psychology: each wants to prove to himself how patient he is, he doesn't eat or make love the whole daytime.Ramadan is therapy: our yearning stomach can still enjoy the quiet of its emptiness.Ramadan is art: all around, nasheed sinks into our souls, singing tunes of Allah.Ramadan is catering: a space to offer creative flavors from across our world.Ramadan is meditation: on dawn at al-Fadjr, on setting sun at Al-Maghreb.Ramadan is childhood memories: togetherness and sharing favorite delights.Ramadan is a full basket: spiritual and physical fruits together in a heap.Ramadan is a book to read, a mouth to feed, a soul to welcome faith's seed.Ramadan arrives.Marhaba Ramadan!        24/09/2006

"Ramadan is here"

The city sounds, pipes twang, motors roar by, clock ticks,sick baby's cry. Many layeredsymphony orchestratedelsewhere, played outhere. But in the

irony of opposites, elsewhere is here, it is

here that is elsewhere. So it is by the tight scrutiny of the indefinable Wayhere that it is orchestrated. There where it isplayed out, and it is even bothorchestrated and played out here as well.All far dimensions fit into onepassing sphere.Here.

"Apprehension", Abdal Hayy Moore, from Ramadan Sonnets 1996, listen on RadioTahrir.org/poems www.danielmoorepoetry.com  

Here, where every Muslim reads Qur'an.Ramadan is not a Middle Eastern holiday. It is everywhere today--a month of reflection, readings, and community prayers for all Muslims. In Connecticut and Qatar, in Algiers and Jakarta and Hyderabad, it brings familiarity, anticipation and relief. Ramadan is here. We have a new meaning to our day; we try to mentally prepare ourselves and the children, we welcome the liberation from routine; we strengthen our family bonds. The month brings high prices in the market and nervousness on the roads as we rush home before sunset. Fasting raises tension; it is proved. In Amman, it's more than in Cairo, they say. In Saudi Arabia, I hear, no one is nervous. Not because of piety, but because they simply reverse the routine, sleeping through daylight to rise and pray and work after ifthar, all night. We go to school all month, and offices and businesses open, but only until 2 pm. That's it for the day. So if you need to read books, buy and sell, travel, and make decisions, do it before noon.

The month before, families celebrated triple the normal number of weddings. Every night, not simply weekends, crowds gathered to dance and sing for the married couple. Train schedules change; so do television programs. These last years, Ramadan brings us evening TV specials by satellite--comedies and dramas, singers, players, and poets. Egyptian channels vie with Syrian for the most compelling production of the year. Ramadan TV series are 30 days long, from the first to the end of the Holy Month. We remember stories years after that best Ramadan film.  Radio producers scour the country for sweet nasheed, and find the art of celebration of Holy Hadith and life of Prophet Mohammed. Nasheed vie with robust songs from our favorite vocalists all day on radio and television. Presidents and kings sit with their people reciting Quran. Small children endeavor to fast for a day, or two, maybe a whole week.  Above all, we remember our holy book, recall our favorite sura, speak it and hear it explained, ponder it, and savor its words.   B. Nimri Aziz, Ramadan, Algiers

[ Ramadan is here ]

Time Out for Lebanon

August 02, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Sixteen years ago today, Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait. Just four days later, August 6, 1990,  U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 was passed. It held far reaching implications and must have been designed months or years before. The U.N. plan doomed the Arab aggressor who had been armed to fight the American enemy, Iran, for eight years. Resolution 687 set in motion the notorious blockade of Iraq and the 1991 Gulf War, allowed Israel's disregard for the Oslo Accord and other treaties that might lead to Palestinian statehood, and prepared the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Is Israel's American-backed destruction by of Lebanon supposed to ease my worries about Iraq and to forget Palestine's sovereign rights? I read that fifty Arab souls were blown to bits in Baghdad. But today the toll in Lebanon is 57. One attack was carried out by my people in internecine war--Arabs killing Arabs. Distasteful. The other was by my enemy.

I mustn't mention that this same enemy was deeply involved at every stage in Iraq's demise; this same enemy gleefully supported the 2003 Iraq invasion; the same enemy entered Iraq behind U.S. troops, or perhaps at their side; this same enemy planned bombings in Iraq that helped fuel inter-religious attacks and inflame sectarian animosities. I must not remember that this same enemy supported the rise of Hamas in the 1980s as a counter to the PLO and Fatah's opposition to occupation. I mustn't let any feelings of pride in the Hizbullah's actions in the past and today, show.

I must only mourn for my dead brothers and sisters. Better still if I shout against our Arab leaders for their cowardice and their complicity with the United States. So Kuwaiti women have been given the right to vote, thanks to the lobbying of our American feminist and human rights advocates. There has been some progress; Arab people are catching up.

Numbers published about the attacks on Lebanon that most alarm me are not of deaths--I know how efficient a killing machine Israel is.

What I note is the list of Lebanon's American and European residents: 40,000 Canadians, 25,000 Americans; 20,000 British. More than 100,000 foreigners had homes and were raising their families in the country. Each must have invested over $75,000. to do this. Some surely helped rebuild the great, little nation, hiring teachers, patronizing local businesses, buying books and cars and ice-cream. Hardly 100 miles from Beirut, following the Oslo Peace deal in 1993, expatriate Palestinians, even those who did not wholly approve of the peace treaty details, said 'never mind, let's start to rebuild'. Within a few years, many thousands of families had resettled in the West Bank and Gaza; they opened shops and schools, clinics and construction companies. Early investors made a good return in businesses serving new middle class consumers; more profits were realized through land sales… for a while. Most benefit however went to Israeli suppliers since Palestinian communities were landlocked, local industry was thwarted, forcing Arabs to obtain their construction materials and almost all food through Israeli suppliers.

Lebanon is not the same as Palestine. After the end of its civil war in 1990--alas, another sectarian war--reconstruction began and proceeded smoothly and rapidly. Eventually major financiers, many of them Arab investors, joined the economic boom and expansion continued. Lebanon once again offered Arabs more liberties, greater cultural diversity, superior food, seminars, books, a first class Arabic education, entertainment and a rich cosmopolitan life that is quintessentially Arab. Rural life has always been integrated into Lebanese society. Many are amazed how Lebanon's much admired qualities were rejuvenated, even though economic disparities that were behind the civil war had not been addressed.

Iraqi refugees have moved to Lebanon and added to its flavor and energy; Kuwaitis and Canadians, and Argentineans and Brazilians built summer homes there. The export industry flourished. Arabs from around the world go to Lebanon to publish their books, study theater, meet grandmothers, and have cosmetic surgery.

Cosmopolitanism is as dear to Lebanon as the Hizbullah party is. After driving the Israeli occupiers out of the south in 2000, the Hizbullah  movement remained at work; as a legitimate party it widened its in social, political and economic programs. After the Syrians were threatened by the Americans and left Lebanon, Hizbullah remained true to its agenda.  It had always been genuinely Lebanese. Now it is truly Arab.

[ Time Out for Lebanon ]


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I want to mention –women who are not in the cruel world but suffer behind bars –cages, if you will.  Some of us are political –here because the Government has criminalized our actions or framed us –I call out to you to Remember and  Cherish  Marie Mason, a “green warrior”, Afra Siddique ” a heroine in her own Pakistan for her brave resistance”, and also Me–Still fighting, Still Struggling

Civil Rights Attorney Lynne Stewart,from prison

Tahrir Diwan

a poem.. a song..
poem "Tears"
Rachida Mohammedi reads from "Tears"; Arabic

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Flash
poems
poem Allahu Ya Allah
Praises to the Prophet, by women of As-Siddiq Institute and Mosque

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Book review
LailaLalami's
The Moor's Account
reviewed by BN Aziz.

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Aisha AlAdawiya and Hassen Abdellah
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