Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Welcome To The Islamic Republic Of Switzerland – Do You Want Your Burqa In Black Or Blue?

In Musings On Confusions, The Daily Discussion on November 30, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Update: 30th November 2009

The vote to ban the minaret was passed. Switzerland, long pretending to be a liberal, democratic nation that respected the rights to the free practice of all faiths, has revealed its ugly underbelly. Amnesty International has already declared the country in violation of the right to the free practice of religion. Their statement was unequivocal:

“Contrary to the claims of the initiators of the referendum, a general prohibition of the construction of minarets would violate the right of Muslims in Switzerland to manifest their religion,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“A ban on the construction of minarets while, for example, allowing those of church spires would constitute discrimination on the basis of religion.”

And even if it wasn’t, it entire campaign reflects a loving immersion in the joys of bigotry, and ahistorical idiocy.

The campaign to ban the minaret fed off irrational and hideous fears of the bogeyman of Islam, and a deep-seated and seriously bigoted depiction of the faith, its history, its community and its ideals. Suffice it to remind the idiots in Switzerland, that their own Christian steeple traces its own history to the Islamic minaret. Our friends at Chapati Mystery kindly posted a piece written by the historian Richard J. H. Gottheil. called “The Origin and History of the Minaret” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Mar., 1910): 152-4. where he points out that:

It seems to me, therefore, that a possible explanation of the sudden appearance of the campanile in Italy during the eighth and ninth centuries, would be that they are due to Mohammedan influence. Whether this influence came from Egypt, or from Syria and Mesopotamia, or even from the Maghreb, is a point upon which I should not like to insist. But this much does seem to follow from a study of history of the monuments, that the old idea of the Ziggurat or tower in some way connected with worship at a shrine has filtered down to us through the Mohammedan minaret and finds its expression to-day in our church steeple.

To say nothing to these illiterates that Islam and the Muslims have been an integral part and influence on Europe, and have had a presence there, since nearly 700 years. Europe’s ability to extricate itself from the horrors of the dark ages, and to pull itself onto the path of the enlightenment, could only have happened because of the deep-seated Islamic presence and influence on her culture, knowledge, society, intelligentsia, and politics. To say nothing about the introduction of decent hygiene!

Juan Cole penned an angry piece, title Bigotry Wins in Switzerland, in response to the Swiss-cheese-like thinking that led to this dark moment in European history. He reminds us that:

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

For those of you looking for a more thorough examination of Europe’s real history, and the impact of Islamic heritage on her modernity and present, I would recommend Maria Rosa Menocal’s book  Ornament Of The World, and/or David Levering Lewis’ God’s Crucible: Islam & The Making Of Europe 570-1250 or even Jack Goody’s remarkable insights in works like Islam In Europe.

Switzerland is merely the beginning of this sordid episode. Europe’s hideous shift to the right will continue to make matters difficult for the region’s Muslim populations. Hence it becomes even more imperative that we know how to speak back – with history on our side and with the truths that can cut past the bigoted simplicities, delusions and paranoia being used to defend imagined and ahistorical ideas about Europe, her heritage and her culture. The false claims to a purely Judeo-Christian heritage are as meaningless as the claims to a purely Greco-Roman intellectual inheritance. I have written about this delusion in a previous post titled What A Tangled Web We Weave.

May the battle go to the most intelligent, cogent and coherent.

The poster above has become the source of embarrassment and debate within Switzerland. Printed by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) it is part of their campaign to put a stop to the construction of mosques in the country, and raise their voices against the presence of ‘the other’. The poster depicts minarets in the shape of missiles, and of course, the ubiquitous burqa-clad woman who apparently represents Islam. As explained in a recent piece in Spiegel magazine called Why The Swiss Are Afraid Of Minarets the poster and campaign was the idea of …

…a German man who is behind the successful anti-minaret campaign. The 46-year-old from Hamburg moved to Switzerland after completing his university studies. He worked as a journalist for the conservative Schweizerzeit newspaper and later for the anti-Islam newspaper Bürger und Christ, or “Citizens and Christ,” in which he wrote tirades against a liberal society. “I’ve been able to be active with the SVP on referendum and election campaigns for years,”

Many cities in Switzerland have banned the poster.

But once again, I disagree with this decision. I think that all cities should allow this poster to be shown and distributed. It is the only way that we can reveal the hatred and racism that informs this campaign and confront it head on. But unless we bring these paranoia and delusions into the open, unless we create an environment where these hate-mongers and racists can be directly confronted and challenged, we will not eliminate this scourge from amongst us.

Banning it will only force it to where we cannot confront it, and remove it, and will empower the instigators of this campaign to continue to spread their hateful message but in more insidious and covert ways.

It is clearly obvious that the Swiss are intelligent enough to see the dangers of this campaign, and the racism that informs it. As the Spiegel piece points out:

The minaret initiative is so radical for a Western country that even some die-hard members of the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) are uncomfortable about it. The former party president and current defense minister Ueli Maurer said he was “not totally happy” about it. It probably breaches the consitutional right to religious freedom and could do further damage to Switzerland’s international reputation which has already suffered in recent months from the UBS debacle in the US and accusations that Switzerland is a haven for tax evaders. The case could even provoke the same kind of violent reaction in Muslim countries as the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers did four years ago.

There is in fact no point in a ‘violent’ reaction. This is a stupid campaign, by stupid men, and based on stupid assumptions and prejudices. They can be easily, and rather casually, challenged, undermined and eliminated.

There will always be extremists – the ones who are scared, and confused in the face of a changing world and a modernity that seems to be leaving them behind. Rewarding them with public censure only encourages their behavior because it offers them the victory of ‘victimhood’ and ‘martyrdom’. We should not do so.

Print the posters!

I suggest we all print them and hang them up in our homes if for no other reason than to remind us that our silence or our attempts to silence them will in fact be the reason for the ideas that inform this poster to become reality.

Print the posters.

SVP, please send me a copy!

You may also want to read Pankaj Mishra’s piece A Paranoid, Abhorrent Obsession and I quote the paragraph that obviously is an influence and an inspiration for my stand here:

It is a depressing spectacle – talented writers nibbling on cliches picked to the bone by tabloid hacks. But, as Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, the “men of culture”, with their developed faculty of reasoning, tend to “give the hysterias of war and the imbecilities of national politics more plausible excuses than the average man is capable of inventing”. The “public conversation” about Islam…should not be avoided. Its terms have already been set low, and the bigger danger is that it will be dominated by an isolated and vain chattering class that, rattled by a changing world, seeks to reassure us by digging an unbridgeable trench around our minds and hearts.

An Entity Conceived In Hatred, Survives On Hatred Or How Abul Kalam Azad’s Fears Became Pakistan

In Musings On Confusions, The Daily Discussion on November 29, 2009 at 11:06 am

Maulana Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin Ahmed (11 November 1888 – 22 February 1958) was a Muslim scholar and a senior political leader of the Indian independence movement. He was a vociferous advocate for the unity of India, opposing the partition of India on communal lines. Following India’s independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government.

A learned Islamic scholar, Maulana Azad opposed Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his march to create a separate homeland for India’s Muslims. I came across a fascinating interview that he gave in 1946 to a Lahore magazine that reveals his clarity of thought and prescience of mind.

Confronted with the partition of India, something that he vehemently opposed, he warned with great prescience and foresight that:

We must remember that an entity conceived in hatred will last only as long as that hatred lasts. This hatred will overwhelm the relations between India and Pakistan. In this situation it will not be possible for India and Pakistan to become friends and live amicably unless some catastrophic event takes place. The politics of partition itself will act as a barrier between the two countries. It will not be possible for Pakistan to accommodate all the Muslims of India, a task beyond her territorial capability. On the other hand, it will not be possible for the Hindus to stay especially in West Pakistan. They will be thrown out or leave on their own.

The prominent Muslims who are supporters of Muslim League will leave for Pakistan. The wealthy Muslims will take over the industry and business and monopolise the economy of Pakistan. But more than 30 million Muslims will be left behind in India. What promise Pakistan holds for them? The situation that will arise after the expulsion of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan will be still more dangerous for them. Pakistan itself will be afflicted by many serious problems. The greatest danger will come from international powers who will seek to control the new country, and with the passage of time this control will become tight. India will have no problem with this outside interference as it will sense danger and hostility from Pakistan.

Could he have been proven more correct? These are the insights of a brilliant mind, one that refused to be cowed by the populist rhetoric of the age and instead choose to courageously speak to the dangers that lay in the future. He was constantly castigated by the more fundamentalist and extremist interpreters of Islamic philosophy and thought. He however remained aware of the actual history of Islam in India:

Muslim history is an important part of Indian history. Do you think the Muslim kings were serving the cause of Islam? They had a nominal relationship with Islam; they were not Islamic preachers. Muslims of India owe their gratitude to Sufis, and many of these divines were treated by the kings very cruelly. Most of the kings created a large band of Ulema who were an obstacle in the path of the propagation of Islamic ethos and values. Islam, in its pristine form, had a tremendous appeal and in the first century won the hearts and minds of a large number of people living in and around Hejaz. But the Islam that came to India was different, the carriers were non-Arabs and the real spirit was missing. Still, the imprint of the Muslim period is writ large on the culture, music, art, architecture and languages of India. What do the cultural centres of India, like Delhi and Lucknow, represent? The underlying Muslim spirit is all too obvious.

I highly recommend reading the entire interview, if for no other reason than to remember that there were dissenting voices to the journey to partition, and that the creation of a Muslim homeland was a project that required political and social planning. It was not a natural outcome of the reality of India and his society – the Hindus and Muslims do not belong to two separate world views or irreconcilable social spheres. In fact, India’s reality was quite the contrary.

Our future – that of Pakistan and India, is dependent on an honest and clear-sighted reading of the political, economic, social and even personal factors that led to the partition. Dreamy and misleading fantasies about irreconcilable religious worldviews will only continue to divide us and confuse it. It will make reconciliation and collaboration impossible.

Maulana Azad’s words remind us that it could all have been a different possibility. And that the different possibility always remains within our grasp. This is not some naive call for ‘reunification’ mind you. It is a reminder simply that our antagonisms, suspicions and fears are manufactured and maintained by powerful social, political and historical forces. They were made by man, and can be unmade by man. And they will require courage and honesty to dismantle. For dismantle they must be if we are to find normalcy – peace, trust, collaboration and calm across that infamous, blood stained border that divides India from Pakistan.

Pankaj Mishra & The Heritage Of Indian Pluralism

In Photography, The Daily Discussion, Writers on November 28, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Pankaj Mishra, one of my favorite writers and intellectuals, has written a fascinating essay for The National newspaper title Beyond Boundaries that speaks about India’s long and resilient syncretic traditions.

I have featured his piece, thanks to his kind permission, on my The Idea of India project website. For those who may not know, this is a long-term project I am working on documenting India’s heritage of pluralism and syncretism.

Mishra’s essay could just as well have been the project description!

Mishra’s essay, as most of his essays, is precise in its historical details and vivid in its descriptions. He reminds us that despite nearly 70 years of assaults by fundamentalists Hindus and Muslims, India’s vernacular and popular traditions survive and thrive. As he points out:

Early in its millennia-long presence in the subcontinent, Islam lost its Arabian austerity, mingling with local religious traditions to become something that Wahhabis would abhor. Incredibly, much of the subcontinent’s “composite culture” has survived both the divide-and-rule strategies of British colonialism and the rivalry between the nation-states of India and Pakistan, which has produced three major wars since 1947. This enduring pluralism is rooted in the traditional diversity of religious practice across the subcontinent – marking a contrast to the more recent state-guaranteed multiculturalism of Europe and America. Here the pluralism preceded the establishment of the modern state, and it is often at odds with the state’s insistence on singular identities for its citizens.

A determined refusal to bow to the dogmatic and ideological dictates of the fundamentalist simpletons is a very basic motivation for my own work in India. And learning more about our popular traditions and their foundation of love, tolerance, acceptance and compromise is an important weapon in our struggle against the extremists.

This heritage, beautiful and strong, is also an important lesson for the citizens of Europe and America. We do not turn to South Asia to learn and understand, but we would do well to do so now. As a hideous and inhumane Islamophobia and Muslim-bashing consumes an insecure and paranoid Europe/America, they would do well to examine how India has managed to produce a complex and magnificent society whose very nature respect and celebrates diversity, complexity, difference and syncretism. As Pankaj Mishra himself points out:

It may be useful to contrast India’s lived experience of pluralism with contemporary Europe, especially as the latter tries to renovate its faded ideals of secular citizenship while longing for its old cultural uniformity. The secular liberalism of the nation-state has demanded conformity and obedience from Europe’s citizens. Upholding an abstract idea of the individual citizen divested of his religious and ethnic identity, this liberalism has not had an easy relationship with Europe’s ethnic and religious minorities, to put it mildly; the current obsession with Muslims, for instance, betrays a deep unease with expressions of cultural distinctiveness (previously exemplified in Western Europe by Jews). The rise of right-wing parties across Europe shows that masses as well as elites are embracing majoritarian nationalism, recoiling from what, by Indian standards, seems a very limited experience of immigration, social diversity and political extremism.

Indeed, it is useful. And it is needed.

Not In Our Name: Hamburg Artists Speak Out Against A Segregated City

In Musings On Confusions, The Daily Discussion on November 26, 2009 at 3:51 pm

A group of artists, intellectuals and concerned citizens have issued a ‘Not In Our Name’ statement to the city development authorities demanding that the ‘planned’ city and its extensive ‘gentrification’ be immediately stopped and that it not be used to create socially and class segregated ‘ghettos’ that privilege the few over the culture, social space and life of the city and it many diverse communities.

The original statement in Germany can be read here Not In Our Name, Marke Hamburg and an English translation is available here Not In Our Name.

Some key paragraphs that highlight the ideas of the manifesto:

  • In Hamburg’s case, the competition now means that city politics are increasingly subordinated to an “Image City”. The idea is to send out a very specific image of the city into the world: the image of the “pulsating capital”, which offers a “stimulating atmosphere and the best opportunities for creatives of all stripes”. A local marketing company feeds this image to the media as “the brand Hamburg“. It is flooding the republic with brochures that turn Hamburg into a consistent, socially passified fantasyland with Elbe Philharmonic and table dancing, Blankenese and Schanzenviertel, agency life and art scenes, local Harley Days, gay parades in St. Georg, alternative art spectacles in the “HafenCity“, Reeperbahn festivals, fan miles and Cruise Days. Hardly a week goes by without some tourist mega-event carrying out its “brand-strengthening function.”
  • Stop this shit. We won’t be taken for fools. Dear location politicians: we refuse to talk about this city in marketing categories. We don’t want to “position” local neighborhoods as “colorful, brash, eclectic” parts of town, nor will we think of Hamburg in terms of “water, cosmopolitanism, internationality,” or any other “success modules of the brand Hamburg” that you chose to concoct..We hereby state, that in the western city center it is almost impossible to rent a room in a shared flat for less than 450 Euro per month, or a flat for under 10 Euro per square meter. That the amount of social housing will be slashed by half within ten years. That the poor, elderly and immigrant inhabitants are being driven to the edge of town by Hartz IV (welfare money) and city housing-distribution policies. We think that your “growing city” is actually a segregated city of the 19th century: promenades for the wealthy, tenements for the rabble.
  • We, the music DJs, art, film and theater people, the groovy-little-shop owners and anyone who represents a different quality of life, are supposed to function as a counterpoint to the “city of subterranean parking” (Süddeutsche Zeitung). We are meant to take care of the atmosphere, the aura and leisure quality, without which an urban location has little chance in the global competition. We are welcome. In a way. On the one hand. On the other, the blanket development of urban space means that we – the decoys – are moving out in droves, because it is getting increasingly impossible to afford space here.
  • We say: A city is not a brand. A city is not a corporation. A city is a community. We ask the social question which, in cities today, is also about a battle for territory. This is about taking over and defending places that make life worth living in this city, which don’t belong to the target group of the “growing city”. We claim our right to the city – together with all the residents of Hamburg who refuse to be a location factor.

Suddenly, I like Hamburg.

The gentrification of the life of cities is taking place all across Europe. Stockholm is suffering this disease, rapidly creating little ‘middle class’ ghetto estates that lack any sense of human existence and reflect the complete degradation of human life to that of work and rest before returning to work. Cold glass and concrete buildings that look increasingly like fashionable prison cells are being sold on the market, with streets devoid of commerce, society or even a real natural settings to take pleasure in. And the public square, where people can gather, mingle, savor a cup of coffee, has been completely erased! Stockholm has no public squares! But it has a lot of the same second-rate shopping boutiques and very similar, cookie-cutter yuppie drones walking around wearing the same faux-designer clothing!

The conformity of modernity is suffocating and it is being manufactured by some lowly educated machine tool bureaucrat with no imagination of sense of the human, diligently working his way to the pensioned life s/he has been dreaming of since graduating from some technical college.

This is especially personal because I lived through the years when the life, society, diversity, uniqueness, quirkyness and sheer magnificent madness of New York was pillaged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The rape of Times Square that transforemed this squalid but human, complex, diverse, challenging and provocative space into a anesthetized, lobotomized, corporatized, disneyfied infantile playpen was perhaps the symbolic act of those years.

So thank you Hamburg!

It is time to stop this shit!

Saying ‘Fuck Off’ In Muslim And Why I Say It So Often!

In Musings On Confusions, The Daily Discussion on November 26, 2009 at 2:50 pm

I was days away from penning a piece about how we should neither ask or give ‘collectivist’ explanations for acts of violence carried out by people 1) using Islam as a justification, 2) with Arabic/Islamic/Muslim names, and 3) veiling their illegal, violent and inhumane activities behind a language and rhetoric of Islam.

But Ali Eteraz beat me to it, and did it more articulately and with greater clarity. By the way, I have quoted from Eteraz’s works in the past. He has also recently published what looks like a fascinating memoir. The book is called Children of Dust and chronicles his journey from a village in Pakistan to the USA where he remained the rest of his life.

In a piece called Muslims Should Raise The Other Finger , written in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings and the massive outcry against ‘Muslims’ and ‘Islam’ that emerged overtly or surreptitiously (and obviously not for the first or the last time), Ali gets right down to it and says:

There is no need for one Muslim to condemn the crimes of another. Collective responsibility cannot, and should not, be accepted. Where one accepts collective responsibility one opens the door to collective punishment. Are Muslims individuals? Or are they one singular marionette that pirouettes each time its string is pulled?

Saving a particular, and well inspired, bile for a certain individual who recently wrote a very stupid piece in the Huffington Post

One of the most egregious acts of kowtowing to the “massa” occurred recently in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings. At Huffington Post, Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Salam al-Maryati wrote an article directed to Muslim-Americans, extolling them to “amplify our Muslim American identity.” No thanks. The only thing I’ll amplify is the length of my middle finger.

Time again there is an outcry against ‘Muslims’ that insists and demands that they [the Muslims] condemn acts of individuals or individual groups, as if this community – hundreds of millions of people, dozens of different cultures and ethnicities, hundreds of different histories and heritages, and dozens of political national groups were all somehow tied to each other and aware and responsible for the acts of all within it.

No other group is expected or asked to perform such demeaning and degrading ‘collective’ apologia. A Jewish settler slaughters a Prime Minister, but he is quickly seen as an ‘individual’, ‘an extremist’ and unrepresentative of his people. A Christian fanatic blows up a Government building in Oklahoma, but churches are not raided, nor charities closed. Christian soldiers in America’s armies are out there killing and murdering civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, and yet few are exploring the pages of the New Testament to find its ‘genetic’ coding for violence. Or insisting that every Evangelical take responsibility for their actions and ‘do something about it’. A post office shooter kills off colleagues he finds boring, but we never investigate his religious feelings or delusions as a source of an explanation.

But god-forbid you have a 1) Arabic name, 2) come from a country with a predominantly Muslim heritage, or 3) traveled to or worked in or slept with a prostitute from a country with a predominantly Muslim heritage, and all bets are off and we are in the realm of the ‘mass condemnation’ and ‘mass apologia’. The ‘Muslim’ community is called to task by political leaders, and all sorts of self-appointed ‘leaders of the community’ emerge from their rats holes to speak for ‘us’.

Who are these people?

Islam has no clergy. And no illiterate, provincial or self-selected Mullah or Maulvi speaks for me or anyone in the community. It is not their role, it is not their responsibility, and it is not something anyone in any community has asked them to do. But from the morons at the Vatican to the morons at the White House, we repeatedly seen this pathetic theater of some lame-duck ‘Muslim’ leader – never heard of before or since standing alongside a bunch of self-righteous and pleased ‘Western’ leaders and playing the ‘moderate’ card. As if standing there with George Bush and mouthing stupidities about ‘the peaceful nature of Islam’ is what is needed and not what will only further encourage collectivist generalizations and racist simplicities.

So with Ali Iteraz I say – fuck you – not just to those who attempt to collect everyone of any random/vague or specific Muslim heritage into a mass, but also to those so-called ‘Islamic’ leaders who have the audacity to speak on my behalf. To turn and see acts of individuals and groups as acts of an entire, diverse and complex community is simply racist i.e. the belief that all members of a group posses characteristics and abilities (in this case, a propensity and preference for religious violence!) specific to that group!

So the next time someone asks you ‘Why is Islam so violent?’ or ‘What is your community doing about this?’ or ‘What is wrong with Islam?’, just indeed look them in the eye, smile, and say ‘Fuck you, you racist!’ There are extremists, morons, deranged individuals carrying out criminal acts all over the world. They come from all backgrounds, classes, ethnicities, religions and nations. To understand a crime we have to investigate it as a crime.

Crimes have personal, political, economic and social reasons and we are better off exploring these, than the pages of religious texts or the ‘psychology’ of ‘a belief’ to see if something in their DNA makes them uniquely susceptible to murdering, or creating illegal settlements, or faking weapons of mass destruction accusations, or building gas chambers to take out another ‘entire’ people.

Footnote: In 2005 I met a very well known American photographer in Jerusalem. I was on my way to Gaza and she was just returning from there. Upon learning that I was of a Muslim heritage, her immediate reaction was to ask me where in the Koran she could find an explanation for suicide bombings.

It took a few minutes for me to overcome my amusement and a growing disdain for this individual. I did however find a few moments of control to respond.

I turned to her and said only this – that I found it laughable that despite spending 3 weeks with the Palestinians of Gaza, and witnessing first hand their desperate conditions, their daily humiliations, their powerlessness to fend off the systemic violence inflicted on them and their children, their hunger, joblessness, and general hopelessness – conditions that have continued for decades and maintained because of an Israeli occupation, that she was searching the pages of a religious text to understand why the Palestinians engaged in retaliatory violence!

I believe that she kept looking in the pages of the Koran. She may still be looking after all these years!

Her pathetic cowardice and determined recism – one that erased the lived history and daily experiences of human beings, experience that she had seen with her own eyes, and chose instead to wallow in ‘religious’ fantasies and collective simplicities was just too appalling to behold. Suffice it to say, she has gone on to win many awards for her work. In a mainstream world where the mediocre is the magnificent, I would expect nothing less.

Getting The Pakistanis To Sing Our Songs But Sending Them Villains And Not Violins

In Journalism, Our Wars on November 26, 2009 at 11:52 am

A few weeks ago another typically obtuse and brain dead New York Times journalist lamented the said state of affairs of the country of Pakistan where apparently her pop singers were not entertaining him sufficiently with songs against the Taliban. Adam B. Ellick was confused and upset about this and pointed out, in a piece called Pakistan Rock Rails Against The West, Not The Taliban that there is..

…a surge of bubble-gum stars who have become increasingly politicized. Some are churning out ambiguous, cheery lyrics urging their young fans to act against the nation’s woes. Others simply vilify the United States.

But while Mr. Ellick is writing pointless and frankly infantile pieces about the country and her pop stars, we can be grateful that other American journalists are stepping out to in fact conduct actual journalism.

So here comes a shocking, if not altogether surprising, report by Jeremy Scahill for The Nation that reveals the extensive involvement of Blackwater Security in military and security operations inside the country. All of this with the full collaboration and support of the Pakistani Government and military of course.

Posted on The Nation website, the extensive and detailed investigation was published in a piece called Blackwater’s Secret War In Pakistan and it is explicit in the shenanigans taking place there, and the lives that are being lost there:

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

Scahill makes clear the extent to which this private security and mercenary firm has made inroads into Pakistani’s government and security establishments, and the deep collaborations between the Pakistanis and Blackwater in carrying out a second series o drone attacks, independent of the predator campaigns being run by the US military. They are also involved in planning targeted assassinations, “snatch and grabs” and other sensitive actions inside and outside the country of Pakistan. Oh, and they may be posing as USAID workers!

There is an interview with Jeremy Scahill on Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow station – America’s last bastion of independent, non-corporate, take-it-to-the-throat-of-power journalism. You can listen to Scahill here:

As the New York Times and Mr. Ellick sit inside their comfortable Islamabad villas and listen to the radio, getting upset that the stupid Pakistanis don’t seem to understand that the only way to actually ‘understand’ or ‘see’ their own country is through the myopic and policy eyes of the United States, The Nation has revealed facts and goings ons that only confirm the fears and paranoia’s of the nation’s people.

It will only further convince them that it is not the Taliban that is a serious or even a real threat to Pakistan, but in fact the rapacious (hundreds are being killed each month in this drone campaign) and covert operations that will undermine and tear apart the fabric of the country just so we Americans, for just a little bit longer, do not have to confront the colossal failure of our policies and strategies in Afghanistan.

Sing away boy!!

Photographers I Like: Jason Eskenazi talks about His Work Wonderland

In Photography on November 23, 2009 at 8:14 am

Jason Eskenazi is a photographer I greatly respect. Independent in mind, brilliant in eye and passionate in photography. I tried to meet him once – back in 2006 at Visa Pour L’image in Perpignan, France. But he was too busy to give me any time. I wish I had had a chance to sit over a coffee and pick his brain about the way he thinks about and structures projects. Oh well, just another disappointment to write about in my now-too-boring-for-words angst-ridden ruminations in my Moleskines!

Here is an interview with Jason, thanks to the Lutton/Brauer duo at dvafoto, who talks about his work in Russia – a portion of which was produced with the help of a Fulbright grant (Jason also received a Guggenheim!), and which was released as the book Wonderland: A Fairytale of The Soviet Monolith

more about “Jason Eskenazi talks about Wonderland…“, posted with vodpod


Remembering Faiz – As If We Could Ever Forget Him!

In Poetry on November 22, 2009 at 6:38 pm

On the anniversary of the death of the man who in many ways changed my life…once I understood how to read, hear and comprehend his works. I wrote about his impact on my life in an earlier post titled Unraveling Bitter Threads & I refer to his works in a piece I wrote about the genocide in Bangladesh called The Dust From Blood Filled Eyes: On Bangladesh And The Acknowledgement Of Crimes.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz died on 20th November 1984.

The BBC Urdu service produced a small documentary about Faiz. It is in Urdu – I wish there was a version I could share with everyone. Its quite simple, but I suppose when you have lost something you love, anything will do.

Here is a performance by the incredible Iqbal Bano of one of Faiz’s poems

Here is Iqbal Bano singing that most amazing of Faiz’s work Dasht-e-Tanhai (Wasteland of solitude)

Who Was That Busker You Gave 50c To? The Same I Paid $100 To See The Night Before!

In Musings On Confusions on November 17, 2009 at 4:58 pm

HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L’ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.

That is how this wonderfully funny, and yet poignantly dismaying, story in The Washington Post begins describing how Joshua Bell, one of the world’s leading violinists, stood on a Washington subway platform and performed six Bach pieces on a violin worth $3.5 million. As the article explains:

Called the Gibson ex Huberman, it was handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari during the Italian master’s “golden period,” toward the end of his career, when he had access to the finest spruce, maple and willow, and when his technique had been refined to perfection…Twice, it was stolen from its illustrious prior owner, the Polish virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman. The first time, in 1919, it disappeared from Huberman’s hotel room in Vienna but was quickly returned. The second time, nearly 20 years later, it was pinched from his dressing room in Carnegie Hall. He never got it back. It was not until 1985 that the thief — a minor New York violinist — made a deathbed confession to his wife, and produced the instrument. Bell bought it a few years ago. He had to sell his own Strad and borrow much of the rest. The price tag was reported to be about $3.5 million.

And how much did Bell make that day from busking on the Washington subway?


You can hear his subway performance here. Its spectacular. But I can’t help but feel that I too would have just walked by, and not even dropped a coin in the bag!

Oh, how I lament my musical illiteracy!

Here is Joshua Bell playing Ave Maria:

The People Who Gave Us The One State Solution Or Can You Spell A-P-A-R-T-H-E-I-D?

In Israel/Palestine on November 16, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Thanks to Max Blumenthal: