Blog Archive

Blog Archive – March, 2012

Violence is As American As Cherry Pie

March 14, 2012

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Cherry Pie is a much loved American dessert. Cherry Pie for most Americans conjures up warm feelings of a bountiful family dinner topped off with a slice of pie oozing red cherry syrup crowned with a scoop of ice cream.

Thus the poignancy of the maxim--“Violence is As American As Cherry Pie”.

Some of us will remember and will understand this adage. This was H Rap Brown’s  (Jamil Abdallah Al-Amin) cogent summation of American culture 45 years ago.

I remember it often--too often, reading the daily news.

Today ‘Violence is as American as Cherry Pie’ describes the massacre of 16 Afghans by an American serving his great superpower nation abroad. Yesterday it was a knife attack at a employment center, the day before that a shooting at a college, before that a bombing of shepherd boys in a far away mountainside, and before that US drone attacks on another foreign mountainside, then shootings in a neighborhood home in Ohio, a school, a college, a military base, a courtroom. It goes on and on, and on, daily in the US and wherever US military personnel and their killing machines are at work, “protecting” America and Americans across the world.

The toll escapes us, as we move swiftly from headline to headline.  

H. Rap Brown was Black Panther leader and chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. An articulate outspoken critic of American culture, he eventually became Jamil Al-Amin, settling in Atlanta Georgia. There he devoted himself to Islam and community service “reforming people’s lives and improving the community through this Divine program.”  (In 2000, al-Amin was sent to prison for a murder for which many believe he was falsely accused. H Rap Brown’s saying came back to claim him as it continues to take so many of our Black American leaders.

(Many maintain Al-Amin is a political prisoner whose real crime was “guiding others to Islam”—In May 2004, after Iraq’s Abu Graib prison revelations, in a published message to the public Al-Amin writes “mistreatment in Iraqi prisons is only the tip of the iceberg and that Muslims in prisons inside the US ‘have been similarly trampled’. He emphasized that such misbehavior must be put within its context: It is an attempt to break Muslims, to strip them of their humanity and to trash their identity, dignity and self-respect.

Media headlines this week pass over the violence in neighborhoods across the US to tell us of a deranged soldier- a lone gunman—as if this soldier himself is a victim of the war he served so gallantly. The murder of Afghans that he reportedly single-handedly carried is becoming a story of the mental problems experienced by our trained professional killers and a debate about when and how the US should leave Afghanistan.

Would that this event is understood as a ‘condition’ of American culture: “As American as Cherry Pie”. The problem is not in an army unit gone mad or in a military occupation. It lies deep within US culture—the games children play, the language they use, the design of their cars, the books they read and the songs they sing.

Across the world, people understand this. Those biting into their cherry pie or watching the Baghdad sky “light up like a Christmas tree” cannot, alas.


[ Violence is As American As Cherry Pie ]

Anthony Shadid 1968-2012

March 01, 2012

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

In a new documentary film you are unlikely to see, Anthony Shadid, our departed brother, spoke with a compassion and honesty that tell us something about the man, as a journalist and as an Arab. Of course Shadid’s writings offer ample testimony of his outstanding character. But in this 75 second clip, transcribed here from the film, you witness another example of the person Shadid was.

In one passage in the documentary, Shadid is trying to help us better understand the Arab peoples:

“The Arab world”, Shadid begins, “has been most resistant to colonialism of any region in the world….” Then… “I was in Cairo after 9/11 and… let me put this the right way… whatever injustice 9/11 might have been…ummm ….I want to be really careful with this” (he hesitates for a full 14 seconds) then continues cautiously, “I think there was a notion, maybe, in Cairo-- I’m not saying it’s right or wrong—but I think there was a notion in Cairo that the injustice that is such a part of the landscape in the Middle East, Americans had finally glimpsed the same injustice I think Arabs feel they have felt for a generation or more at this point.”

Shahid knew he was broaching a taboo subject—any hint of anyone’s endorsement of the 9/11 strike on the USA. Yet he had the courage to say what he did, with those pauses in his statement surely revealing a man of tenderness and integrity.


Valentino’s Ghosts, the documentary film where Anthony is speaking, examines how Arabs are portrayed in the West from the early 20th century to the present. A sympathetic, intelligent survey of high filmic and scholarly quality, Valentino’s Ghosts was commissioned for distribution through a major US television network. But you won’t be able to see Valentino’s Ghosts. The network cancelled it, not for what Shadid opines but because it offers certain truths about Palestine and Israel’s history. Due to be screened nationwide this winter, the film was abruptly withdrawn because of its unfavorable portrayal of Israel, I am told.


I personally was in touch with Anthony over a decade ago, just before he was to make his first visit to Syria. I had approached him with an invitation to our board of directors for The Radius of Arab American Writers when I was its director. Anthony wanted to support our work but was about to depart on an extended overseas assignment. Indeed, soon afterwards he began his reporting on the US’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. His writing was of course exceptional and earned him two Pulitzer awards (2004 and 2010).

In all his work Shadid unarguably demonstrates his mettle in working in the complex machinations of the Arab World and his sympathies there, telling stories all of us we needed to know, at the same time keeping free of Zionist pressures that besiege and destroy so many fine academics and writers.

Although Shadid didn’t belong to any Arab journalists’ associations I know of, he doubtless inspired many of us to seek careers in journalism. He would be proud of those who follow him into the profession. Now, after his loss to us, many more young Arabs may become determined to carry on his legacy as frontline journalists and writers.

 Shadid’s has left us an autobiography, House of Stone. Due for release soon, it is certain to be another milestone. It’s a story of his return to his ancestral village in Lebanon, not to visit but to rebuild and to live, demonstrating his belief in the Arab homeland. Another example of his exceptionality.

How ironic that this journalist perished from a childhood disease, asthma. Although he spent his life covering the human side of wars our people live inside and where they  too die from common illnesses. Then there is always the danger of being felled by bullets when choosing to work in our eternal conflict zone.

Yet, we face a mean political foe as well. One wonders: had Shahid remained in this region and continued to excel, would he fall prey to the ideological forces that took out many of our finest reporters, among the most recent Helen Thomas and Olivia Nasr?

My Allah guide his soul. Shahid will live on among us in many ways.


[ Anthony Shadid 1968-2012 ]

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