On entering the Dane County Jail, the first holding cell that Brian Terrell and I were placed in had only one other person. We previously saw this man outside the cell during our initial booking. He was a man with dark black skin and a full beard. I thought I heard one of the officers say he was from Gambia. When we entered the cell, the man was in mid-ritual in what appeared to be a Muslim’s midday prayer. A young white guard, who had the accent of a Midwesterner, looked disdainfully at the man and then somewhat positively at Brian and me. The guard said, “Just ignore that,” as if the man was insulting or threatening us by his peaceful act of prayer. To which I replied, “It’s fine with me.”
This experience was contrasted by the next encounter I had with another officer who made digital copies of my fingerprints and pictures. As this middle-aged man placed my hand on the machine, I made a remark that I was surprised that he did not already have my information handy. (This was the third time I was fingerprinted and pictured for this same charge.) He said, “Oh yeah? You arrested a lot? What are you in for?” I told him that I was arrested with a group who engaged in civil disobedience at Ft. McCoy. Getting the sense that this man may have previously been in the armed services, I explained that we were not against the men and women in the military personally, but that our goals were to enter the base to talk to the rank and file soldiers about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to make certain the soldiers were aware of their right to refuse illegal and immoral orders.
We often project our current political concerns backwards in time in order to justify ourselves. I say ‘we’ because everyone does it. Nazi Germany invented a mythical blonde Aryan people who had always been kept down by lesser breeds. The Hindu nationalists in India imagine that Hinduism has always been a centralised doctrine rather than a conglomerate of texts and local traditions, and describe Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and animist influences on Indian history as foreign intrusions. Black nationalists in the Americas depict ancient Africa as a continent not of hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers but as a wonderland of kings and queens, gold and silk, science and monumental architecture. To our current cost, Zionists and the neo-cons have been able to reactivate old Orientalist myths in the West, myths in which the entirety of Arab and Islamic history has involved the slaughter and oppression of Christians, Jews, Hindus, women, gays, intellectuals .. and so on.
Such retrospective mythmaking frequently goes to the most absurd extremes in young nations conscious of their weakness or of a need for redefinition (America may be one of these). Probably for that reason it is particularly evident in the Middle East.
Many Muslims go beyond adherence to those concepts and taboos that are necessary for religious belief and idolise or demonise historical figures who have nothing to do with the divine revelation. For many Sunnis, the first caliphs were ‘rightly guided’ saints who could do no wrong. During their reign there was no crime, poverty or injustice in the realm of Islam. For many Shia, the same men (apart from Ali) were decadent criminals. These secular figures were not deities or prophets but human beings working in specific contexts, with all the good and bad and moral ambiguity that implies, but Muslims frequently hold religious positions on their worth. The same applies even to later worldly figures like Haroon ar-Rasheed (saint or criminal) and Salahuddeen al-Ayubbi (likewise; as well as Kurdish traitor and hero of Arabism).
Last month, PULSE published Yoav Shamir’s film, Defamation. I’ve finally gotten around to watching it, and just couldn’t help writing as I watched. Aside from the comical Nancy Drew music, I found it at times very hard to watch. Looking in the mirror is never easy.
The Easy Part – The Adults
There’s something pathetic about a grown man living in unsubstantiated fear. Probably the most pathetic statement in the movie is made by the security guy at Crown Heights:
When a black guy sees two people walking down the street, a black person and a jewish person, his choice to attack someone will not be a black person. With a black person, you never know, does he carry a knife, does he carry a gun?..
Working in intolerably humid conditions clearing the salt marshes of southern Mesopotamia, fed on a poor diet of dates and semolina, frequently racially abused, the ‘Zanj’ – east African slaves in 9th Century Iraq – rose in their hundreds of thousands in a revolt which lasted for 15 years. They conquered large parts of Iraq, Iran and Bahrain, held the city of Basra for a decade, established their own capital, and even minted their own currency.
As labour intensive activities such as mining and plantation agriculture had expanded in the Muslim empires, so the slave trade had developed, especially the commerce in African slaves. Simultaneously, cultural justifications for the enslavement of Africans multiplied, with many classical writers depicting blacks as slow-witted and bestial. One writer who did not rehearse the stereotype was Jahiz of Basra, himself perhaps of African origin, who wrote:
“Everybody agrees that there is no people on earth in whom generosity is as universally well developed as the Zanj. These people have a natural talent for dancing to the rhythm of the tambourine, without needing to learn it. There are no better singers anywhere in the world, no people more polished and eloquent, and no people less given to insulting language. No other nation can surpass them in bodily strength and physical toughness. They are courageous, energetic, and generous, which are the virtues of nobility, and also good-tempered and with little propensity to evil. They are always cheerful, smiling, and devoid of malice, which is a sign of noble character.”
When the journalist David Barsamian asked Indian writer and political activist Arundhati Roy about her travels in the United States, she admitted that she was amazed how insular a nation America really was. “When you live outside it, and you come here, it’s almost shocking how insular it is. And how puzzled people are — and how curious, now I realize, about what other people think, because its just been blocked out.”
As the IPS noted this weekend, much can be learned about America’s news diet from the Tyndall Report’s review of 2009 which ranks the airtime given to various issues on the nation’s top three nightly half-hour news broadcasts.
So what were Americans watching? Health care reform and the H1N1 virus dominated the airwaves. Afghanistan received more coverage than Iraq for the first time since the invasion of Iraq (735 minutes to 169 minutes). The international focus was certainly on the Middle East as Israel and Palestine were given 132 minutes (102 of those during the siege of Gaza). Iran’s election and nuclear program was also a central international story with 194 minutes and Ethiopian piracy garnered a considerable amount of press with 112 minutes. Continue reading “America’s nightly news: Watching us watching you”
Dan Archer, comics journalist and instructor at Stanford University, has the following to say about the final installment of his 3-part graphic history of the Honduran coup, which can be viewed below:
In the final part… I focus on piecing together the evidence of the repression that went mostly undocumented in the wake of the Nov 29th Honduran elections. Despite the media’s portrayal of a democratic transition to Porfirio Lobo’s inauguration as president a week ago, the de facto government’s use of violence and threats against resistance members should stand as an ominous augury, especially given its clear links to Lobo and his cabinet. Most troubling of all is the United States’ involvement under the banner of promoting ‘democracy,’ a term that is being increasingly used as a pretext for supporting a regime whose sympathies correspond to the American agenda (be it CAFTA or alarmist left-wing conspiracies), regardless of popular feeling or their worrying record of human rights abuses.”
Although it had the appearance of a spirited exchange, the “debate” was a tired old diversion that keeps us from facing more important questions, not just about the Israel/Palestine conflict but about U.S. journalists’ coverage of the world. As is typical in mainstream journalists’ discussions of journalistic neutrality and objectivity, the focus on an individual obscures more important questions about the institutions for which individuals work and the powerful forces that shape those institutions’ picture of the world.
The question posed by the Times officials is framed in the narrowest terms: Could Bronner maintain his neutrality and objectivity given those family circumstances, or was that indirect connection to one side of the war “still too close for comfort,” in public editor Clark Hoyt’s words. In his Sunday column, Hoyt described Bronner as a “superb reporter” but concluded that the paper should reassign him to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Executive editor Bill Keller argued that such a policy would disqualify many reporters from assignments that draw on their specialized knowledge and diminish the quality of the reporting in the paper, and concluded there is no reason to reassign Bronner.
According to the Zionist story, Palestine before the state of Israel was ‘a land without a people awaiting a people without a land.’ Writers from Mark Twain to Leon Uris, as well as Hollywood studios and certain church pulpits, retell the tale. But Palestinians, in the West at least, lack a popular counter-narrative. Palestinians are reported on, met only on the news.
Perhaps this is changing. As the land disappears from under their feet Palestinians have been investing in culture, and an explosion of Palestinian talent is becoming visible in the West, in films, hip-hop, poetry and novels. And now Susan Abulhawa’s “Mornings in Jenin” is the first English language novel to fully express the human dimension of the Palestinian tragedy.
The story begins with the Abulheja family at home in the village of Ein Hod near Haifa, marrying, squabbling, trading, and harvesting the olives. It’s a touching and sometimes funny portrait of rural life with hints of the city (notably the Jerusalem-based Perlsteins, refugees from German anti-Semitism) and the Beduin tribes.
Then comes the Nakba, or Catastrophe, of 1948. Driven from their shelled village, the family suffers loss, separation, and humiliation, ending up in a camp in Jenin where “the refugees rose from their agitation to the realisation that they were slowly being erased from the world.” By now we care very much about the key characters, and through them we experience “that year without end”, the interminably drawn out Nakba which stretches through some of the bloodier signposts of Palestinian history – the Naksa or Disaster of 1967, the Lebanese refugee camp massacres, until the 2002 Jenin massacre.
Ok, so relax. It’s not true. I mean, if that had really happened, we would know about it, right? It would be all over the 24hr news, analysts would be wondering what it meant for the region, and whoever was responsible for snatching the civilian would be condemned as carrying out a gross provocation. In the event that the Israeli citizen was quickly released, we would all breathe a sigh of relief.
So let’s be glad that nothing like this has happened.
In no other major civilization do self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the ‘Other’ run as deep, nor have these tendencies infected as many aspects of their thinking, laws, and policy, as they have in Western Europe and its overseas extensions. These tendencies reached their apogee during the nineteenth century, retreated briefly after World War II, but have been staging a come back since the end of the Cold War.
For several decades now, critics have studied these Western tendencies under the rubric of Eurocentrism, a complex of ideas, attitudes, and policies, which treat Europe — when it is convenient — as a geographical, racial and cultural unity, but places Western Europe and its overseas extensions at the center of world history since 1000 CE.
Unlike the garden variety of ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism emerged as an ideological project — shaped by Europe’s intellectual elites — in the service of Europe’s rising expansionist states, starting in the sixteenth century. It makes sweeping claims of European superiority in all spheres of civilization. In this worldview, only Europeans have created history over the past three thousand years, beginning with the ancient Greeks. In various accounts, this centrality is ascribed to race, culture, religion and geography.