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(August 3rd 2010)

Today, two Lebanese soldiers and Al-Akhbar correspondent Assaf Abu-Rahhal were killed by Israeli shelling of the town of 3adayse in southern Lebanon.

Growing up, my brother played with army soldiers, those plastic sacks full of little green men. There was strategy, there was Risk. I organized little colored squares on a board labelled “Prussia,” “Indochina” and “America.” I suppose that is the most frustrating thing about this whole mess, variously labeled “the Middle East conflict.” The US strategy seems to be no strategy at all. The point is not to win but to keep the world in a perpetual state of war, the better to serve as cover for the exploitation of labour and resources and to profit from cycles of violence by selling weapons to all sides.

I don’t want to live in a pen fenced off from the majority of the world’s people. To eat tiramisu while the Syrian workers building the latest luxury apartment building live in a tin shack on the side of the road.

Our government, no longer the balanced and proportional representative unit safeguarding the interests of all classes and races of people which we were taught in high-school civics classes, has become the greatest evil on earth. It is the Empire, the Roman Senate in its last days, the Orwellian Party. No matter how much we tried to stop the slide… We ignored the warnings (Naomi Klein), so here we are.

In related news, I have transferred from the Middle Eastern Studies department at AUB (CAMES), also known as the CIA Department to the Anthropology Department. Not that anthropology is without it’s own colonial history, but hopefully it will allow me to continue my inquiries into voice, speech and representation in cross-cultural spaces.

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Flying While Arab

February 26, 2010

I once met an Egyptian guy on a plane from Philadelphia to Minneapolis. He turned to me and said, “they let you carry that on?” I was puzzled as I had no carry-on baggage. “The water bottle,” he explained. “They would never let me carry anything like that. We call it FWA,” he said, “flying while Arab.”

Apparently, just as the Israeli government is cracking down on human-rights activists, NGO workers and travellers to Israel suspected of being friendly to Palestinians, the US government decided to join the abuse by arresting college student Nick George. Nick had some Arabic-language flash-cards in his backpack. Apparently, this makes him a threat to security.

Grief and Anguish

November 6, 2009

What is the difference between grief and anguish? Lately I have come to know both. On 17/08/09 my dear friend Tadd Gero passed away. With him, a voice, a light startling in it’s clarity of purpose and strength of heart.

I can’t help thinking- worrying- that despite the current outpouring of art and work about Palestine, the increasingly effective boycott and sanctions campaign and the deluge of highly visible op-ed articles about the intransigence and bellicose nature of the paranoid Israeli state, real facts on the ground make the establishment of any kind of Palestinian state (one or two) impossible. Brilliant Israeli journalist Amira Hass said recently:

Thousands of my articles and zillions of my words have evaporated. They could not compete with the official language that has been happily adopted by the mass media, and is used in order to distort reality–official language that encourages people not to know.

Indeed, a remarkable failure for a journalist.

To Israel Mahmoud Darwish says in his poem Under Siege:

[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.

Read Jean Genet’s description of Sabra and Shatila here.

In Hebron:

Once inside the Jewish Israeli settlement there was a complete absence of any signs of life or activity. All of the shops were barricaded and the trees and shrubs were reclaiming the buildings. To demarcate this desolate territory as exclusively Jewish all of the shop fronts have been sprayed with the Star of David along with plenty anti-Arab graffiti. One can’t help but feel that there is either a complete misunderstanding or disregard for history. Didn’t the Nazis mark all Jewish properties in the same manner?

In Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, she remarks on Eichmann as a self-deluding functionary; ” his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and presence of others, and hence against reality as such.” (Arendt 44)

Also, back home:

Those arguments will find a receptive audience in congress, which relies on rich campaign contributions from the banking, insurance and financial industries.

And that’s the real root of the economic excesses and inequities in the global financial system – the undue influence of corporate money in politics and public policy. Obama, in his campaign speeches, promised to end the influence of special interests in Washington. So far, he has done nothing about that.

Sorry for the sad post, but that’s really, all I’ve been thinking lately, while working, while functioning.

Update

August 29, 2009

Sorry I’ve been away for awhile. I went to a Cultural Studies Conference in Calabria, Italy organized by AILAE where I heard lectures by Ian Chambers, Franca Tamisari, Mireille Astore and Ghassan Hage among others. It was very exciting to meet other cultural scholars from around the world (though mainly Italy and Australia) and to become immersed in a number of theoretical projects that will inform my work for the next two years. 

I am here at the American University in Beirut. According to my friend last night, it is the number 2 university in the Middle East. (Number 1 is AUC in Cairo.) I am doing a degree in Middle Eastern Studies. I hope to study the contemporary renegotiations of the traditional line between art and politics as regulated and funded spheres and the similarly traditional crossings of this boundary. Beirut 2009 has a special role to play in this worldwide movement as an incubator, as a place with a singular energy that I am only beginning to understand. 

Beginning to think about art and politics: comments welcome.

For your perusal until then,

This past year has also seen: the devastating Gaza massacre of eight months ago, resulting in over 1000 civilian deaths; the election of a Prime Minister accused of war crimes; the aggressive extension of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands; the accelerated destruction of Palestinian homes and orchards; the viral growth of the totalitarian security wall, and the further enshrining of the check-point system. Such state policies have led diverse figures such as John Berger, Jimmy Carter, and Bishop Desmond Tutu to characterize this ‘brand’ as apartheid. Your TIFF program book may describe Tel Aviv as a “vibrant young city… of beaches, cafes and cultural ferment… that celebrates its diversity,” but it’s also been called “a kind of alter-Gaza, the smiling face of Israeli apartheid” (Naomi Klein) and “the only city in the west without Arab residents” (Tel Aviv filmmaker Udi Aloni).

 

How do Palestinians in Lebanon counteract the trauma of war and displacement? Mirene Ghossein discovered one of the ways when she visited Al-Jana, the Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts (al-jana.org) in West Beirut last year. “Their flower paintings are tiny miracles,” says Ghossein, “because there are no flowers at the refugee camps I visited.

Philip Rizk in Gaza

April 6, 2009

Another thing is how there isn’t so much of an interest from media organisations around the world to keep reporting on Gaza.

To them, there’s nothing new about the situation when in fact, the story there is constantly unfolding, breaking news is Gaza’s middle name. But because this breaking news always holds the same kind of information, no one cares to report on it.

But they’re really everyday people just trying to make the best of their lives, putting their kids through school, finding a job, doing well in their final exams.

One thing I’ve noticed in the media is that the theme of violence is always associated with stories coming out of Gaza.

Why not focus on stories of non-violent resistance? While some Palestinians return Israeli violence with further violence, the vast majority does not, and the Arabic word for such everyday acts of non-violent protest is sumoud, which means steadfastness, perseverance.

http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2009/04/20094313332943145.html

Only A Matter of Time…

March 11, 2009

Ministry, Israeli consulate in New York embark on mission to fight search results showing images of war-torn Gaza when asked to find ‘Israel’; plan to flood web with positive images of Jewish state courtesy of topnotch photographers

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3683202,00.html

This goes nicely with the piece I found today about airbrushing of women’s bodies in magazines. 

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/03/09/opinion/1194838469575/sex-lies-and-photoshop.html

On Tibet and Palestine

March 10, 2009

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Before I learned about Palestine, I used to campaign for Free Tibet. What happened? I suppose I just got sidetracked by many other atrocities that were happening in the world. Because Tibet has nothing to offer the geopolitical interests of any major nation, it has been pushed out of the international consciousness and left in silence. It has been taken for granted that there will never be a free Tibet, that China will never give up its claim to the region. 

But today, after reading the Dalai Lama’s speech in which he describes Tibet as “hell on Earth,” I began thinking that occupation happens in very similar ways. Truck in a couple thousand troops, set up checkpoints and start building settlements on the ‘free’ land. Then, lay claim to the region’s natural resources, build roads (Palestine) or railroads (Tibet) to cart these valuable materials away. Then, deny that the occupied culture and/or people ever existed. Finally, make yourself indispensable to the international community (America and Western Europe) and its interests ($) so that no one will be able to interfere although they can criticize your human rights abuses to their heart’s pitiful content.

 

Chinese forces have set up checkpoints to seal off the region while foreign tourists as well as journalists were told to leave several weeks ago.

The government has also apparently stopped internet and text-messaging services – which helped spread word of last year’s protests – in parts of the region.

Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama still has hope that the truth will prevail in the case of Tibet. He advocates for a Tibetan autonomous region which would still fall under the political rule of greater China. The Tibetans are seeking only the freedom to keep their culture and heritage alive, something that the Chinese refuse to allow.

Lamenting that Tibetan culture and identity were “nearing extinction”, he said “even today Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear … regarded like criminals, deserving to be put to death”.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2009/03/20093104183107889.html

The Dalai Lama is frequently referred to as a “wolf in monk’s clothing”, by the Beijing authorities, and it is clear they regard him as devious and untrustworthy.

For his part the Dalai Lama seems to have reached a level of frustration with that process that has made him suggest he is on the verge of retiring.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2009/03/2009310313204736.html