Student Activism and Change in the Real World

by SU Ahmad and Z Rahim

With just days before the UK Viva Palestina convoy is due to arrive in Gaza, we look back at the remarkable recent history of activism at King’s College London (KCL).

On 18 November 2008, the Israeli President Shimon Peres was awarded an honorary doctorate by KCL, a move which sparked outrage amongst students of the college, and saw the beginning of a student movement for its revocation.

“Why the big fuss about the Israeli President?” many asked. Shimon Peres has to his name the sale of arms to the apartheid regime in South Africa and the bombing (twice) of the UN headquarters in Qana. He has directed various Israeli invasions of Lebanon, saw through the 1985 bombing of Tunis, and continues to support Israel’s murderous policies towards the Palestinians, sharing much of the blame for why Gaza has been described as  “the largest open air prison” on the planet by major Human rights agencies, UN and Vatican officials. He is also the father of Israel’s nuclear bomb. These are but a few of the highlights of Mr. Peres’s career. Both students and several members of staff felt that by honouring someone who is essentially a war criminal, KCL had dishonoured its own good name. A college-wide petition with close to a thousand signatures calling for the revocation of the doctorate was handed to the College’s Principal Professor, Rick Trainor.

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Photo Essay of a Settler

A friend of mine started a cyber-satirical Facebook profile for ex Israeli Air Force commander and Israeli army Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz (you’re all very welcome to join). Fortunately for the anthropology dabblers among us, some people don’t recognize satire when they see it, and among Lt. General Halutz’s friends, I stumbled upon “supporters of the settlers of the Simon the Righteous [aka Sheikh Jarrah] neighborhood”. Who are these supporters of criminals and ethnic cleansers? From their Facebook group (limited by my translation):

Lately, a number of houses have been saved in the “ Simon the Righteous” neighborhood in Jerusalem, which is very upsetting to the Anarchists and anti-semites around the world that are harassing the Jewish residents and the worshippers at the Simon the Righteous tomb, thinking that this will prevent Jews from visiting the area and living around it. Here at the group we’ll update about the going ons at the site and about the struggle to return the stolen Jewish houses.

In honor of the new Christian year the Muslims are brown-nosing the Christians. A big christmas tree has been stationed in front of the settlers houses which proves to us that where there is sanctity the devil grows. We’d like to remind the Christians what happened when Bethlehem was given to Palestinian terrorists: Their daughters were raped, their houses robbed, and most of them left the country.

This delightful group is very active, but rather than waste my time on translating more racist, colonialist blather, I’d like to share with you the choice photos and their labels, from the group, which give lingual and graphic insight into their warped perspective. I call it “Photo Essay of a Settler”.

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Chomsky on Empire and Ideology

Hostility and Hospitality in Contemporary World Politics

This is Chomsky at his best, highlighting the exceptionalism that characterizes US political discourse, and the ideological memes that have accompanied US imperialism with few modulations over the years. The follow-up speaker Stephen Pfohl is also very good. (thanks Doug)

Obama kills over 700 Pakistanis in 44 drone strikes in 2009

Victims of Obama's drone attacks

The Pakistani daily Dawn — a pro-US paper not known for its antiwar stance — reports that US drones killed over 700 civilians in 44 bombings since Obama took office in January 2009. Of the 44 attacks, only five succeeded in hitting their target. In other words, Obama has surpassed his predecessor’s murderous record in Pakistan. (Of course these attacks are carried out with the complicity of Pakistan’s ruling elites — as Jane Mayer reported, and as Pervez Musharraf confessed — and are cheered on by native informers such as Ahmed Rashid).

PESHAWAR: Of the 44 predator strikes carried out by US drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan over the past 12 months, only five were able to hit their actual targets, killing five key Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but at the cost of over 700 innocent civilians.

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The Cairo Declaration to End Israeli Apartheid

As expected, the Egyptian client regime allowed only a token number of Gaza Freedom Marchers to enter the besieged prison territory. Roughly 1400 activists from 43 countries were forced to remain in Cairo, where they managed to demonstrate outside various embassies and in the central Tahrir Square. Egyptian police turned out in huge numbers to harass the protestors and, most crucially, to stop Egyptians from coming into contact with them. (Ali Abunimah has been blogging on events in Cairo). The Freedom Marchers chanted ‘ash-sha’ab al-misri ma’ana – The Egyptian People Support Us’, a slogan which is undoubtedly true. The Egyptian regime, meanwhile, with the help of American military engineers, is building a metal wall across the frontier with Gaza which will reach deep underground and cut off the tunnels which are Gaza’s only lifeline. The corrupt Azhar Mosque authorities have declared this crime to be compatible with Islamic law.

The Gaza Freedom Marchers approved today an important declaration aimed at accelerating the global campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli Apartheid.  The Cairo Declaration deserves the widest possible circulation.

Cairo Declaration
January 1, 2010

We, international delegates meeting in Cairo during the Gaza Freedom March 2009 in collective response to an initiative from the South African delegation, state:

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Iqbal, Is the Sky Yours or Mine?

Allama Iqbal
Muhammad Iqbal, 1877-1938, was a poet of Urdu and Farsi, philosopher, sufi, and revolutionary, who combined in his works the traditions of Al-Ghazzali, Rumi, Ibn-e-Khaldun, Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Walilullah. While he understood the power of the West, had read the Western philosophers, and was familiar with the advances in physics, unlike Syed Ahmad Khan, he remained firmly rooted in Islamic tradition, and refused to re-examine the Islamicate through Orientalist texts. He was criticial of the West’s excessive emphasis on reason, its materialism, and the depredations of capitalism. Many decades before Frantz Fanon and Aime Cezaire, he was the deep thinker and stirring poet of self-discovery, urging peoples of color to regain their dignity, to dig deep into their own traditions in order to overcome, and transcend, the materialism, racism, excessive rationalism, and the West’s abuse of power and its own principles.

This ghazal is a translation from Wings of Gabriel, the best collection of Iqbal’s Urdu poetry. From time to time, I will be presenting translations from this collection.

اگر کج رو ہیں انجم آسمان تیرا ہے یا میرا

translation by M. Shahid Alam

If the stars are topsy-turvy: is the sky yours or mine?
Should this fret me? Is the world yours or mine?

If Heaven lacks the tug, the heat of love’s adventure,
Dear Lord, this cosmic enigma is yours: not mine.

On that first dawn of creation, how dared he to defy
Your decree. Was he your emissary: or was he mine?

Muhammad is yours, Gabriel and the Qur’an too.
But these melodic words: are they yours or mine?

It’s this star, scintillating, that lights your creation.
Whose loss is it – the fall of Man? Is it yours or mine?

— M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston. He is author of Poverty from the Wealth of Nations (Macmillan: 2000), Challenging the New Orientalism (IPI: 2007), and Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave: 2009). You may reach him at

Demolishing Bagram to Destroy Evidence?

In a notification filed on December 30th in a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department has announced that in addition to shifting prisoners from Bagram to a newly built facility nearby, the Pentagon also intends to demolish the original facility at Bagram.  According to the notification, the Department of Defense will shift prisoners to the new facility by January 19th.  Shortly thereafter, plans to demolish the Bagram facility will be put into effect.

According to an article in the Huffington Post on December 31st, Ramzi Kassem – a lawyer serving as counsel for several Guantanamo and Bagram detainees – has stated that the plan to demolish Bagram “amounts to destroying evidence in the cases of detainees who say they were tortured there.”

Kassem, also a law professor at City University of New York, maintains that Bagram ought to be preserved as evidence and as a crime scene. In Kassem’s view, the administration’s decision to demolish the facility  can be read as an  “underhanded attempt” on the part of a government concerned with “covering its own tracks.”

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