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Resistance

November 29, 2010

This quote is by Natalie Abou Shakra, I would like to dedicate it to dear friend Jau’an:

I extremely despise it when someone categorizes me as a journalist, or as a “humanitarian activist”… I am neither. My activism is political and social… radical. Please do not call me humanitarian. We live in the midst of the era of human rights production and matters of the sort. We witness humanitarian international law being broken daily… do you think we want to be labeled as “humanitarian”? No! My role, our role, is greater than that… much greater than that… we are a revolution, we support an armed struggle and an armed resistance for liberation… Fanonians par excellence… Hasta la Victoria Siempre! Free Palestine! Down with totalitarian Arab regimes, down with colonialism, imperialism, occupation and oppression! No negotiations are allowed after massacres, genocides and schemes of ethnic cleansing… the vocabulary and diction used in such times are extremely important…

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Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions

November 28, 2010

(August 11th 2010)

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: Reflections, Suggestions

I have been having conversations with many people lately about boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) and its role in the larger movement of Palestinian civil resistance. So, I decided to set my thoughts out here for discussion/debate.

1) The boycott is of anyone who benefits by being a part of the state. This includes people in the form of citizenship, since every Israeli citizen receives direct and indirect benefits from the state. Any Israeli citizen, therefore, or joint project with an Israeli citizen is subject to the academic, cultural and economic sectors of the boycott.

2) In order to succeed, the Palestinian struggle for human rights, sovereignty, and reparation/ repatriation must link itself to justice movements globally. In this framework, the Israeli state can be seen as an imperial outpost, a kind of frontier settlement  in the American/western European drive for resource acquisition and the accompanying psychological warfare of ideology. The Palestinian movement is not separated from the landless workers movement in Brazil (MST), the Tibetan struggle, Kashmir, or the Native American struggle in North America. Disenfranchisement and occupation are remarkably similar everywhere and the resistances to them are also similar.

3) It is good to know that a British court ruled recently in favor of four BDS activists who were demonstrating inside an Ahava store in downtown London. The legality of BDS is firmly established in international law, notably UN resolutions 1701. In fact, enshrining BDS in the governments of every state internationally would seem to be a logical outcome of their signatures of the UN Charter for Human Rights and other bodies of international human right law. BDS, then, is not simply a movement of personal responsibility/ consumer choice, but a legal and political took for the advancement of human rights.

4) Palestinians will not give up their right of return, nor should they have to. This is a basic right given to them by the international law and recognized by every state in the world.

poster by Jama Al-Yad Art Collective

(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.

I stumbled across Kesha’s Tik Tok video because of the clip which showed Israeli soldiers dancing to it in the occupied city of Hebron. That Hebron is the site of an ongoing Israeli settler-colonial project nullifies any funny aspect of this performance, at least for me. More about the Orientalism of the Israeli troop’s dancing can be found on Juan Cole’s blog here. I thought that two of the latest pop videos could help to elaborate on the colonial anxiety facing America at this moment. I say colonial rather than post-colonial because it seems to me that the post-colonial moment was born and survived in a narrative of modernization, development and independence that no longer exists.

It should be plain to everyone now that national sovereignty means nothing when capital flows across borders and the profit/loss of resources by a few corporations dictates military action and state policy more than the needs or interests of any group of constituents. Also, I do not say that we are post post-colonial because unfortunately, we have not made any progress. The humanitarian rhetoric of the 80’s and 90’s has now been shown to be a sham, advancing only the cultural “soft power,” of the US and Europe. Any gains that NGOs or humanitarian aid projects have made have been nullified by the increasing capitalization and militarization of the world. Instead, we are going historically backwards, back to a state of colonial military jostling over resource control.

Kesha’s video has a lot to say about contemporary American society. The pop star wakes up alone in a suburban bathtub. She wanders through a world populated by bemused suburbanites and faceless hipsters, their faces obscured by huge sunglasses and/or eye makeup. They don’t need facial expressions because the clothes (the red plastic cups and the Converse)  are all there is. There is nothing else to perform. Kesha, on her golden bicycle, rides past a sign saying “Money,” which she then goes on to sing, she doesn’t have. Her hipster friends live with their parents in this global economic crisis. The video ends with voices babbling indistinctly in Spanish. “We came here for a better life, but we are realizing we made a mistake.” -Tunisian migrants in Italy. Predictable flows of labour are being reversed. With them, the post-colonial anxieties they engendered in Europe and America.

(The belated feminisms of both these videos deserves a separate article, but I will mention how modern pop-stars in America, like their Sex and the City counterparts, both view and treat men as an accessory, like a ring or a pair of shoes. Men are lifeless, suits or stylishly clothed. Boys are the new… girls?)

The most interesting thing in both videos is the amount of American flag paraphernalia. It would be hard to imagine, in 1995, either Britney or Christina explicitly waving American flags. They didn’t have to. The empire was secure, it’s foundations solid and invisible. Now, 15 years later, that is not the case. (As weird as it is to be nostalgic about Jay Z and Britney, as if they were the Beatles or Elvis… At 22, I feel old.) America’s drive to civilize and develop the world through benevolent military intervention and humanitarian aid has failed, largely through it’s own hypocrisy and greed.

So, singing their way through this zeitgeist created by their parents, both Kesha and Miley are emblems of a nostalgia, for the Phoenix Sunbird, for cowboy boots, emblems of an America that once existed but no longer does. By priveleging a “real” America; Nashville over L.A. in Miley’s video, we see the ordinary American’s desire to return to something stable, a comfortable self-confidence that came from living at the center of the world. Before a backdrop of a huge American flag, Miley’s “Made in the USA” video could easily be a stage perfomance to boost the flagging morale of our troops in Afghanistan, who perhaps (unluckily for the innocent civilians around them) haven’t gotten the memo that the empire has fallen. They continue to maim and kill Iraqis and Afghans with the same bravado, acting out a mission that lives on only within them. Ordinary Americans continue to deal with the fallout from the recession and the oil spill, both huge and intractable problems that will mark the future of our country for decades. Obama has not “changed” anything and looks increasingly powerless in a world stage that is largely a prop for the same corporate interests. “It’s a party in the USA…” Oh, how we wish…

Update: Afghan soldiers dancing to Lady Gaga… (thanks Ange!)

Carlos Slim at AUB

March 17, 2010

photo by Marwan Tahtah

Today we held a protest at the Olayan School of Business at AUB. We were protesting Carlos Slim Helou, a Lebanese/Mexican businessman. He was recently named the world’s richest man. Currently, over 1/2 of Mexico’s population lives in poverty, with as many as 1/3 living in extreme poverty. Since the signing of the North American Free Trade Movement (NAFTA) in 1994, these free-trade laws have decimated the local economy and left tens of thousands of Mexicans with no choice but to risk their lives crossing the border into the United States in hopes of a better future. Carlos Slim is also responsible for the renovation/destruction of Mexico City’s downtown area, a project with eerie similarities to the Solidere project in Beirut.

We want Carlos Slim and the AUB community to know that we are watching and bearing witness to the deep structural inequality, politically- motivated violence and electoral fraud committed by neo-liberal capitalists such as Carlos Slim. We object to AUB’s hosting of this man and the intended “lessons” he will teach our business students. We stand in solidarity with the people of Chiapas and the Zapatista army of liberation. Subcomandante Marcos is a poet and a philosopher extraordinaire, I salute his wisdom and his work. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the EZLN is their complete integration of women into the resistance movement at all levels and in all capacities from military commanders to emergency surgeons. This is something that previous revolutions like the FLN in Algeria failed to accomplish. Here are is a photo of our protest. More from ABC News here.

Here is a link to one of our other protests, the AUB Career Fair.

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.

More Jewish Babies

February 23, 2010

I was reading this Amira Hass article when this huge advertisement saying “Have more Jewish babies” was blinking at me. This is the charity. It’s funny to see how pro-life politics in Israel are being framed in the context of the demographic “time-bomb,” as it is called in Israel, meaning that by common estimates, the number of Arab residents of Israel will outnumber the Jewish ones. Unfortunately, along with advocating higher birth rates for Jews, some are also calling for a reduction of the Palestinian population, aka genocide. Martin Kramer should be fired immediately from his post at Harvard. Recalling a class I took once on American electoral politics, I think it’s never a good thing when politicians start talking about babies. Really, babies need to be fed, cleaned up after and loved. That’s about it. Anytime babies start becoming the focus of politics, we should be alarmed. At best, it might be a shameless play for popularity; kissing babies, putting child-safety locks on car doors, etc. At worst, it locates the complicated issues facing contemporary citizens on the most vulnerable and un-responsible members of our society. Martin Kramer does this when he calls UN subsidies “neo-natal.” It sounds like he just threw in the only baby-related word he could think of, because  children in Gaza are surely not receiving neo-natal care.

See: Berlant, Lauren. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Duke University Press: Durham & London, 1997.