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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 ]

Soldiers Tell the Truth--Is It Enough?

August 05, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

American soldiers' testimonials: Part 2

Chris Hedges is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who went on to a career as a foreign correspondent for a number of newspapers. So one should not be surprised that he is the thinker and writer who is asking questions about how soldiers view their killings and their related war work. In a recent article " The Death Mask Of War: American Marines and soldiers have become socialized to atrocity" (Information Clearing House, July 29, 07), Hedges concludes "The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing."

 

He proceeds to ask essential questions one rarely hears: what is the culture supporting these murders? He recognizes the answer does not lie in a profitable defense industry, or the appeal of advanced weapons technology, or the immaturity of soldiers, boys barely out of highschool.

Hedges, like many of us, has heard those gruesome, soft-spoken, often cool-headed testimonials by US Iraq was veterans recalling their murderous careers. "The Iraq war", he notes, "has unleashed a new wave of embittered veterans not seen since the Vietnam War. It has made it possible for us to begin, again, to see war's death mask."

Those testimonials seem to have the affect of absolving the young Americans from person responsibility. --He was just doing his job. He was young and ill-prepared. It's the officers and politicians who are responsible.-- That's the spin of the anti-war movement. It's almost like a Truth-and-Reconciliation exercise. Except this one is just for local consumption; it reconciles nothing with Iraqis.

Hedges' report looks more deeply than others into what lays behind the barbarity of US troops. "War", he notes, "is also the pornography of violence. It has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it "the lust of the eye" and warns believers against it." Let us admit to the appeal in examining, over and over, the naked bodies of abused Iraqi men held at the US's Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Surely there is some irresistible voyeurism to be indulged in as, in the comfort of our living rooms, we view body parts and mutilated corpses of the enemy.

It is not just the troops on the ground doing the killing. It is the culture which educated and trained these men; it is the community who, voluntarily or otherwise, support the invasion and occupation.

"War allows us to engage in lusts and passions we keep hidden in the deepest, most private interiors of our fantasy life," notes Hedges. "It allows us to destroy not only things, but human beings. In that moment of wholesale destruction, we wield the power to the divine, the power to revoke another person's charter to live on this earth. The frenzy of this destruction -- and when unit discipline breaks down, or

there was no unit discipline to begin with, frenzy is the right word -- sees armed bands crazed by the poisonous elixir our power to bring about the obliteration of others delivers. All things, including human beings, become objects -- objects to either gratify or destroy or both. Almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that.

"It takes little in wartime to turn ordinary men into killers. Most give themselves willingly to the seduction of unlimited power to destroy, and all feel the peer pressure to conform. Few, once in battle, find the strength to resist. Physical courage is common on a battlefield. Moral courage is not."

Are sergeants and other officers who receive recruits into the battlefield know they are taping into these conditions--the unlimited power to destroy; the ease of seeing someone darker skinned and unable to communicate with him, as subhuman?

So the Iraqi street, which is the battlefield, is like a graduate school that turns boys into men. There, they can indulge in unlimited exercises to prove their manliness, to justify their being in an alien land, to make America's  (and their own) presence there seem totally right, and justified.

Hedges, by the end of his review of soldiers' confessions, suggests that these testimonials have the redemptive power to save us from ourselves. They remove the mask.

Here, I disagree with Hedges. These are exercises of cleansing that will allow us to do them again, and that allow us to become the only arbiter and moral judge of war. We ourselves are not the appropriate persons to assess our wrongs.

For me, the danger of these truth sessions is to conclude that since we have told the truth, there need be no further searching-- neither jural, moral, spiritual or psychological. It is as if no one else need judge an American. A very dangerous outcome.

[ Soldiers Tell the Truth--Is It Enough? ]

American soldier testimonials…and then what?

July 14, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

American soldier testimonials…and then what?

It's becoming fashionable for young Iraq war veterans to confess how they brutalized people under occupation-- in this case, Iraqis. (Doubtless similar violations by Israeli occupiers of Palestinians occur; but Israel is not so foolish --or democratic--to allow testimonials by ex-military to reach the press.)

Confessions by these American brutes, it is suggested, are acts of atonement. These men are cleansing themselves of the awful things they did to Iraqi women and men. By giving these public testimonials detailing their killings and other atrocities, they are somehow absolved. Yes, they are. Think about it.

These interviews amount to a kind of confession where these 'basically good American boys' seeks redemption. Some authors of these reports along with the perpetrators themselves-- now veterans-- suggest moreover that these admissions are an expression of anti-war sentiment. They expose resistance inside the military. Thus these confessors are accorded a status something close heroism. "How brave they are to divulge these wrongs"; "they do this for a greater good--to stop further war atrocities." This is how the progressive press interprets the men's disclosures, in my opinion. We are made to listen sympathetically to their gruesome tales; we take in the grim details. Somehow we do not associate these horrible details of torture and murder with the young American voices, calmly, dispassionately telling these stories.

I guess the point of these exposes is to reaffirm the basic decency of these Americans: "Yes, war is bad". But "I love America; military service is an honorable profession". "I never expected to behave like that";  "they made us do it". "It was the system";  "I did not engage in these things but I saw others doing them".

In other words, America is still good, as shown by these conscientious youngsters; so is service in the American military a noble action. And American patriotism remains sacred, beyond question.

We are led to the conclusion that what is BAD is losing control, doing things against 'our American values' and national pride, against a 'hostile' although sometimes innocent population. Implicit in some of these confessions is the culpability of superior officers, and ultimately, American politicians. According to these accounts, officials must bear responsibility for the occupation and military actions.

The anti-war movement in the US seems thrilled to have these testimonials; they provide yet further proof that the Republicans and their leaders, especially the disagreeable and 'stupid' Bush, are the true scoundrels. Oust them. and all will be well. American values themselves are solid and we do not need to search our souls. 

To be continued… in our next blog: "What have these atrocities to do with American culture and history?"

 

 

 

           

[ American soldier testimonials…and then what? ]

Iraq and the US. more than a four-year war

March 19, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Iraq and the US. More than a four-year war

I often wonder, when I hear the morning's headlines, why US news give the numbers of those Iraqi women and men dead in bombings in Iraq before they mention that four, six or one American soldier died that day. I often wonder why our national papers and American TV networks splash picture after picture of crying men staggering among the ruins of their homes and streets. Why do they broadcast Iraqis carrying their corpses and not Americans?

Is it because Americans care more about the Iraqi dead?

Do these images really impact readers and viewers here? Do they arouse in the US public, an abhorrence for war, and the loss of Iraq to the world? Do they inform our citizens what Iraqis really experience?

Some soldiers are writing blogs and books about what army life is like. These may provide anecdotes for Americans at home funding the war, and the families of those boys defending their country. I doubt if they inform. They make no more of an impact than memoirs by retired US generals and viceroys in Iraq.

          The anti-war movement here is growing, they say. If this is true, the rising ire of Americans still lags behind the demands of people worldwide. In Asia and Europe and South America, the antagonism is furious. Given the increase of security across the US, publicly protesting Washington policies is increasingly hazardous. We are kept farther from the earshot of politicians. So the anti-war protests underway, especially in the USA, is somewhat encouraging.

Yet, the prisons in Iraq, in Israel, and in Guantanamo along with the secret dungeons brim with women and men accused of threatening democracy--Israeli or American. (Let us not forget that Iraq and Iraqi nationalism is viewed as a threat to Israel.)

To mark the beginning of the fifth year of the military occupation and destruction of Iraq, I don't know where to rest my attention. Shall I pray for the souls of those friends long dead--Mustafa, Umaya, Khalaf, Nuha--somehow gratified that they did not live to witness this. Or for those who persist--teaching, repairing torn bodies, caring for aged parents, planting a few acres of wheat, transmitting news--because they will not abandon Iraq. Some believe that their very endurance inside the country can help forestall a total calamity.

This fourth anniversary means little to many of us who understood that the American and Zionist assaults began a generation ago. Iraq was "contained" in a US supported war with Iran for 8 years. Then came the 1991 Gulf War followed by the 12-year embargo war. The plan may not have gone as smoothly as was hoped. But, like the Zionist agenda on Palestine, this aggression on Iraq is a complex and long-term plan. We would do well to keep this in mind when searching for solutions.

 

 

 

[ Iraq and the US. more than a four-year war ]

Women's Fashions in Human Rights--Here are Three Women in Iraq

March 01, 2007

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

March 8, 2003, I was in Mosul, North Iraq. With friends, we awoke each morning to wait for the American attack on our country. It was a sad, hard time. We were nervous. We were helpless. We did not know from which directions the assault would come. There was nowhere to run, no one to turn to.

A bare three weeks before, many Europeans and citizens of other democratic countries had been somehow moved by fear or compassion or some celebrity call, --we did not understand its sudden appearance--to go into the streets of their cities and call back their governments from war. It may have seemed noble at the time; it was an expression of their democratic exercises, expression restrained for too long. But it made no difference to us inside Iraq, waiting for the bombing to begin. We knew it was far too late, and the numbers, although many million, were too pitiful.

I would not return to Mosul. But a few weeks later, a friend there managed to get a message to me: "Was Saddam so precious that all Iraq was the price?" she wrote.

For many of her people who somehow survive the months of chaos and slaughter, Iraq hardly has an identity anymore. And the idea of democracy is a bitter joke.

          We now enter International Women's Day, 2007, and coincidentally, an appeal is being circulated about our sisters in Iraq. My copy comes from that same correspondent asking about "the price of Iraq". This time, she passes on details of the imminent execution by Iraqi authorities (sic) of three convicted 'terrorists', all women. Their names are Wassam Talib, Zainab Fadhil and Liqa Omar Mohammad. They have not had anything approaching a fair trial; they were not allowed to have legal representation at trial. Talib (31), Fadhil (25), and Mohammed (26) are three of more than 2000 Iraqi women classified as "security detainees" in Iraq at present. All are held under the supervision of both the US occupation and the Iraqi puppet regime, in prisons, camps and detention centers across the country.

How an Iraqi is permitted to raise her voice in protest and on which side, is completely arbitrary under the current administration. Resistance to US occupation is a crime punishable by death; advocating support for resistance is also a serious crime.

In the case of these 3 women, they are convicted of complicity in the murder of Iraqi police and participation in what the court considered "terrorism". Wassan Talib is charged with killing 5 police officers, participating with gunmen in an attack on a police post. Zainab Fadhil is charged with attacking a joint army patrol of Iraqis and Americans with her husband and her cousin in Baghdad. Liqa Omar Muhammad is charged with participating with her husband and brother in the killing of a Green Zone official and sentenced to hang. She gave birth in prison and is still nursing her year old child. Talib has a three-year-old daughter. 

All three women, along with a fourth, Samar Sa’ad ‘Abdullah charged in family homicide, deny they had been involved in any of the crimes. No appeals of their sentences have been permitted so the women, like most detainees, have no legal representation in the court.

The first execution is to take place Saturday, March 3.

          Recall the almost fanatic calls five years ago from western women on behalf of oppressed Afghan sisters. We were bombarded by TV talkers, articles, lectures and petitions during the last months of the Taliban rule. Recall the replayed video clip of a shrouded Afghan woman being put to death in a stadium. American women's energy in the defense of the victims of Taliban attacks seemed limitless. They may have helped shape US policy on Afghanistan. Because of that publicity, the US government won easy endorsement for is military agenda against Afghanistan.

And today? Afghan women live in fear not only from their former ideologues but from their 'democracy' occupiers.

In Iraq, Washington has created a government with a new justice minister and new courts to help dispense democracy to the public. As Iraqi commentators point out: "This is the signal of the opening of an era of legal executions in Iraq", following the standard set with the hanging of the former Iraqi president. "It is a horrible proof that the illegal executions of Saddam Hussein and other Baath leaders were not isolated or exceptional incidents, but that they laid the ground for unquestioned ongoing executions by the Iraqi ruling clique working hand in hand with the US occupiers.

Almost unnoticed an appeal for the Iraqi women is being circulated. Officials at  The BRussels Tribunal are trying to reach the Iraqi Minister of Justice but wide public action is essential.

[ Women's Fashions in Human Rights--Here are Three Women in Iraq ]


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Men have singled out women of outstanding merit and put them on a pedestal to avoid recognizing the capabilities of all women--

Huda Shaarawi (1879-1947), Egyptian political activist and feminist

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