“¡Elsa! ¿Cómo estás?” exclaimed Dr. Luther Castillo with a huge smile and a very warm hug. In a rare relaxing moment during a recent whirlwind visit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dr. Castillo was reunited with a family friend from his Garífuna community on the northern coast of Honduras.
Dr. Castillo, founder of the first Garífuna hospital and head of the largest international team of physicians working in Haiti, was in town to share his experiences and speak on the topic of health care as a universal right. He traveled with Dr. Juan Almendares, rector of the National University of Honduras, long-time human rights activist, and highly-respected leader of the resistance movement against the June, 2009 military coup.
Karan Johar falteringly attempts to fashion a cinematic alliance of sorts between African-Americans and South Asians — very unusual in the Bollywood context and more so for Karan Johar, himself — but fails to seize the radical politics embedded. One wishes that the spirit of this song was continuously re-thought, re-energized, re-contextualized, re-translated. A revolution that stops moving, stops “revolving,” is nothing but an aborted one.
In an interesting twist, Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan displaces or translates (one original meaning of “translate” is to bear or carry across from one place to another) the convoluted and complex, determining context from India, with a specific genealogy, on to the US. The post-9/11 circumstances provide some unfortunate resonances, yet much of the untranslated/untranslatable context results in the particular aporias of the filmic text. Even beyond Mandira’s furious and irrational directive to Rizwan Khan, he has to go around saying his name is Khan and “he is not a terrorist” because in that originary terrain of imposed defensiveness there is not much space for a “Muslim name” (besides certain limited spheres), leave alone for “My Name is Khan, and I am an American.” This latter, more “affirmative” alternative to the “apologetic” cinematic version, is proposed by Suad Abdul-Khabeer in her excellent critique of the film.
In the second half of the film, My Name is Khan (2010), Karan Johar shows that Rizwan Khan’s wife, Mandira (played by Kajol) is on a personal journey to obtain justice for her son and accountability from the perpetrators of a hate crime. It is thus ironic that Mandira’s own negligence towards Rizwan Khan (played by SRK) and the lack of accountability for making him set off on an ostensibly unfeasible mission, albeit in a fit of grief and anger, is not problematized at all in the film. A mission that might very well have remained unfulfilled but for Rizwan Khan’s Herculean efforts, his unusual talents and disabilities, and a string of exceptional circumstances. Rizwan Khan, given his Asperger’s syndrome, “fear of new places,” and his Muslimness (actively practiced), would have been equally, if not more, susceptible to the kind of hate crime that victimized Mandira’s son. After the initial outburst at the place of death, Mandira had had enough time to re-think the consequences of her angry directive to Khan, yet she never apologizes to Khan. Here too, the immediate context of Bollywood, the multiple Hindu-Muslim marriages amongst the stars of Bombay, and the general lack of acceptance of such marriages in mainstream India are crucial to keep in mind.
The obligatory declaration of cinematic patriotism for Indian Muslims necessitates a continuous performance of “loyal citizenship” invariably through offering the sacrifice of a “disloyal” one. This leaves little space for critical engagement with the nation and the state.
The obligatory declaration of cinematic patriotism for Indian Muslims (discussed in Parts I and II earlier) necessitates a continuous performance of “loyal citizenship” invariably through offering the sacrifice of a “disloyal” one. This leaves little space for critical engagement with the nation, the state, and the unending wars. An example of this ritual performance is the sequence in My Name is Khan where Rizwan Khan, played by Shahrukh Khan (SRK), reports the “doctor” in the Los Angeles Masjid to the FBI. How do we know the “bad” doctor is an al-Qaeda member or a terrorist? Dr. Faisal Rahman does indeed talk about his “blood boiling” at the oppression of the Muslim Ummah in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir et al and even exhorts the handful of audience in a completely open space inside the Masjid to “join him and do something.” The details of that “something” are never revealed.
Shahrukh Khan (SRK) has a long history of playing the fraught field (of the Indian context) with flawless diplomacy, perhaps even overplaying the field. In early 2002, precisely during the days of the state-sponsored anti-Muslim pogroms in Indian Gujarat, the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, from BJP (a Hindu Nationalist party), released an MTV-esque album,Samvedna [Sensitivity]. Widely broadcast on Doordarshan, the State-owned television channel, as well as on Indian-American programs (at least in the San Francisco Bay Area), the video features Vajpayee reciting his Hindi poetry while Jagjit Singh, the ghazal singer, sings in tune. The album is prefaced by the rhapsodizing words of Javed Akhtar — another famous Muslim from Bollywood, narrated by Amitabh Bachhan.
Democracy is supposed to mean ‘government by the people’. In the ancient Greek city states all the free men (but not women or slaves) would cram the theatre for lively, informed debate on a relevant issue, and then would decide it by a show of hands. Not so today. Putting a mark on a piece of paper every five years and imagining that you run things seems like a sad parody of such activity, a demotic populism masking power rather than a popular democracy negotiating it.
In our society the most important decisions are often made by unelected movers of capital and unelected civil servants and generals. Elected officials are very often at least as loyal to the lobbies easing their way as to the voters they supposedly represent.
With speculation growing over who President Obama will nominate to replace the retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, three top contenders have emerged: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, US Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland and US Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood. In an interview with Democracy Now! legal analyst and contributor for Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald discusses the nominees, focusing in particular on why the nomination of Elena Kagan threatens to shift an already conservative judiciary further to the right.
Particularly alarming about Kagan’s track record is that when Bush-Cheney were abusing inherent executive power, Kagan was a robust defendant of the admnistration’s claim that the entire world was a battlefield and that executive had the right to indefinitely detain….well…anyone!