Reporting Syria

Egyptians in solidarity with Syria

The Syrian regime’s blanket ban on journalist access has some carefully selected exceptions. Robert Fisk, for instance, who seems to be compensating for the naive anti-Syrian and pro-March 14th line in his reporting of Lebanon over the last years by treating the statements of Syrian regime figures – professional liar Boutheina Shaaban is one – with great naivety. At least he didn’t apply the ‘glorious’ epithet to her which he used to describe Walid Jumblatt’s wife. Fisk’s book on Lebanon “Pity the Nation” is a classic, his account of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila remain fresh in the mind (the blood-footed flies clambering over his notebook), and for many years he was one of the very few English-language journalists with some real knowledge of the Middle East. Sadly, his knowledge doesn’t extend to a working familiarity with Arabic. In several recent articles he has informed us that that the slogan of the Ba‘ath Party – umma arabiya wahda zat risala khalida – means ‘the mother of the Arab nation.’ In fact it means ‘one Arab nation with an eternal message’. Fisk is confusing ‘um’ – mother – with ‘umma’ – nation. It’s a rather disastrous mistake. Someone ought to tell him about it.

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Casual racism on BBC’s Top Gear

Fresh from his scrimmage with the Murdoch press, Steve Coogan, creator of the comedy classic ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, takes on the casual racism of the BBC’s Top Gear. (via The Guardian)

The trio of jackasses that hosts BBC's Top Gear

As a huge fan of Top Gear, I normally regard the presenters’ brand of irreverence as a part of the rough and tumble that goes with having a sense of humour. I’ve been on the show three times and had a go at their celebrity-lap challenge, and I would love to receive a fourth invite. But I think that’s unlikely once they have read this. If, however, it makes the Lads question their behaviour for a second – ambitious, I know – it will be worth it.

I normally remain below the parapet when these frenetic arguments about comedy and taste break out. But this time, I’ve had enough of the regular defence you tend to hear – the tired line that it’s “just a laugh”, a bit of “harmless fun”.

Some of the Lads’ comments again, in case you missed them. “Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus, with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat” (Richard Hammond). Mexican food is “sick with cheese on it” (James May).

Jeremy Clarkson added to the mirth by suggesting that the Mexican ambassador (a certain Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza) would be so busy sleeping he wouldn’t register any outrage. (He wasn’t and he did.)

OK, guys, I’ve got some great ideas for your next show. Jeremy, why not have James describe some kosher food as looking like “sick with cheese on it”? No? Thought not. Even better, why not describe some Islamic fundamentalists as lazy and feckless?

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Overcoming Contradictions

by Kathy Kelly and Hakim

Adelaide, Australia –At Tabor House Technical College, 21 young people sit in a semicircle looking curiously at Hakim and me. We’ve been invited to speak with them about the practice of justice.  Hakim, who has lived among Afghans for the past nine years, begins by describing how an Afghan youth, Zekerullah, would greet them.  “Salam,” he says to all. With his hand over his heart, Hakim makes eye contact with each student, and then nods in silent greeting. I smile, having watched Zekerullah do just this, whenever he entered a room. The students are interested.

“You can’t listen only to leaders,” Hakim tells them. “We must put our ears close to the hearts of ordinary people and listen to them.”  Hakim is often poetic, but he’s also a trained physician, prone toward assembling data and seeking careful diagnosis.

Rising early this morning, he prepared for today’s presentation by collecting statistics about government responses, in various parts of the world, to massive manifestations of public opinion.  As expected, the short survey showed that leaders aren’t listening well to ordinary people, that ‘national interests’ routinely overrule the people’s interests:

72% of Australians want their troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

But Prime Minister Julia Gillard insists that Australian troops will remain “till the end of the decade, at least.”

63% of Americans oppose the Afghan war.

But the US is about to sign a US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement that will allow joint military bases in Afghanistan beyond 2024.

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Fadwa Sulaiman

Samar Yazbeck, Ibrahim Qashoush, Khaled Khalifa, Rasha Omran, Ali Farzat, Mai Skaf, Samih Shqair – there’s an impressive list of Syrian writers, musicians, songwriters, and artists who have bravely and unambiguously supported the people’s aspirations for dignity. And now the actress Fadwa Sulaiman. Here she is in besieged Homs leading chants of ‘no Salafis, no Brotherhood, the Syrians want freedom’ and ‘One, One, the Syrian People are One.’ Here she is on Jazeera (Arabic) interviewed via skype. And, below, here she is announcing her hunger strike until the prisoners are released and the siege of the besieged cities is lifted. Translation of her words follows after the page break.

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‘Revolutionary Pacifism’: Noam Chomsky’s 2011 Sydney Peace Prize Address

Noam Chomsky riffs off A. J. Muste’s concept of ‘revolutionary pacifism’ to deliver the 2011 Sydney Peace Prize Lecture at Sydney Town Hall on Wednesday 2nd November. The transcript follows the audio.

Revolutionary Pacifism: Choices and Prospects

As we all know, the United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The words can only elicit deep regret when we consider how we have acted to fulfill that aspiration, though there have been a few significant successes, notably in Europe.

For centuries, Europe had been the most violent place on earth, with murderous and destructive internal conflicts and the forging of a culture of war that enabled Europe to conquer most of the world, shocking the victims, who were hardly pacifists, but were “appalled by the all-destructive fury of European warfare,” in the words of British military historian Geoffrey Parker. And enabled Europe to impose on its conquests what Adam Smith called “the savage injustice of the Europeans,” England in the lead, as he did not fail to emphasize. The global conquest took a particularly horrifying form in what is sometimes called “the Anglosphere,” England and its offshoots, settler-colonial societies in which the indigenous societies were devastated and their people dispersed or exterminated. But since 1945 Europe has become internally the most peaceful and in many ways most humane region of the earth – which is the source of some its current travail, an important topic that I will have to put aside.

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