‘Little’ Protests, Big Erasures

In a recent interview with Guantanamo reporter Carol Rosenberg, Col. Thomas, a Joint Detention Group Commander at Guantanamo Bay, has stated that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not, in fact, engaged in protests. His claims emerge in response to a joint press release issued by the Center for Constitutional Rights and CUNY Law School  on Jan 27th. In that report, lawyers in conversation with their clients at GTMO confirmed that detainees had, in light of the protests taking place across the Middle East, been staging sit-ins protesting their ongoing indefinite detention at GTMO. 

But according to Col. Thomas, detainees are neither holding sit-ins, nor particularly moved by the events unfolding across the Middle East. Instead, Col. Thomas — in an attempt to “set the record straight”– tells us that detainees are actually far more engrossed in following soccer tournaments. I suppose it’s no coincidence that in presenting this as the ‘real’ state of affairs, Guantanamo Bay gets fashioned as an entertainment-complex, the kind of place where violations of the law could not possibly be occurring.

Col. Thomas’ statements are not only remarkably pithy, but also remarkably incoherent:  “Of course they’re aware of what’s going on in Egypt, but, no, they are not participating in the unrest that is going on in those countries.” “Signs that go up from time to time in the cell blocks are focused on “discontent” — not the faraway protests.” “We deal with detainee complaints every day. It’s not related to anything that’s going on in any way in Egypt or Tunisia.”

What are we to make of these statements? Nowhere in the reports by lawyers, or in the press release issued by CUNY Law and the Center for Constitutional Rights, is the claim being made that detainees were protesting against Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak or Tunisia’s Ben Ali, and yet each and every one of Thomas’ statements appears to be in response to this non-existent claim. A sneaky maneuver, no doubt, that enables Thomas to evade the accusation of lying, even if the ‘truth’ being told pertains to matters that no-one is contesting.

What CCR and CUNY’s joint press release does suggest, and what Col. Thomas does not address, is the fact that detainees have been following the events unfolding in Middle East, and that their own sit-ins were ‘inspired’ by events abroad.  While it is true that the statements of detainees, and the signs they are reported to have made, express discontent, this discontent should be interpreted not — as Col. Thomas would have us believe– as an unremarkable everyday occurrence, but as a direct response to the U.S. administration’s actions in freezing the transfer of detainees cleared for release, and their ongoing indefinite imprisonment.

To frame the recent protests at GTMO in any other light, is an act of negation or, more strongly, erasure.

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On why Liberal Defenders of the ‘Mosque’ Get it Wrong

This article below is also published in Religion Dispatches. A version of it can also be found on AlterNet – Aisha Ghani

Let me begin by stating what this article will not be doing: it will not be addressing the racist – but also vapid and unimaginative – bigotry coming from far right circles in the ‘mosque’ debate. Rather than attempting to deconstruct that ultimately banal rhetoric, I will focus on an issue that remains largely unaddressed: the troublesome terms and conditions upon which “Park51” has emerged a ‘defensible’ endeavor within — not conservative — but ‘liberal’ discourse.

In the past weeks, we have seen how liberal defenders have responded to the ‘fear and trembling’ that the mere idea of a mosque induces, through a series of disavowals. Instead of challenging the racist assumptions that buttress such rhetoric, many liberals have decided to offer ‘clarifications’. Time and again, the public is being reminded of the fact that Park51 is not  a mosque but an Islamic community center that promotes ‘inter-faith’ dialogue.

Daisy Khan and Imam Rauf, the leading figures behind the Park51 initiative, have not only repeated this mantra, but have in fact produced it. When liberal defenders have wittingly or unwittingly referred to Park51 as a mosque, the response from folks at the Cordoba Initiative has been gratitude in the form of this corrective: thank you for your support, but Park51 is not a mosque.

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Zardari gets ‘Shoed’ by Protester in the UK

On Monday, August 9th, Asif Ali Zardari received a rude awakening from one of the hundreds of protesters who were gathered outside a political rally in Birmingham, organized by the UK branch of Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party. Amongst the protesters was Sardar Mohammed Shamim Khan, a 57 year old man who managed to sneak into the invite-only event.  Khan was sitting 20 meters away from the president when he threw his shoes as he shouted “Only Allah has the right to give and take away life.”

Khan’s sentiments echoed the resentment of many who have been angered by the government’s less-than-adequate efforts in delivering aid and assistance to the millions still suffering as a result of last week’s floods.

Here’s a GEO News interview with Sardar Mohammed Shamim Khan. The interview is in Urdu, but I have translated the relevant portions below.

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Gaza’s Medical Misfortunes

Local health officials in Gaza say that millions of dollars in medication donated by the international community ultimately ends up  as trash because 70 % of it is unusable. Doctors claim that approximately 20% of the donated medication has either expired or is near expiration, and that a large portion of the drugs simply do not address the healthcare needs of Gazans. A case in point was a recent two million dollar donation of H1N1 medication, which arrived in Gaza after the threat of the virus had passed. Amongst the list of 150 drugs that ARE urgently needed in Gaza are antibiotics and cancer treatment medication, both of which continue to be lacking in the donations being sent.

Bloomberg defends Mosque Construction at Ground Zero

Perhaps the most unlikely support for the planned Muslim Community Center at ground zero (aka Cordoba Mosque) comes from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Speaking publicly this morning at Governors Island off the tip of Lower Manhattan, Bloomberg presented several arguments in favor of the community center – arguments that were also intended to delegitimize at least some of the ‘Islamophobic’ assumptions that are so deeply embedded in the rhetoric of those opposing the plan; i.e.- coming from people like Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and the Anti-Defamation League (an organization which, at least in theory, claims to exist in order to combat anti-semitism.)

Although Bloomberg’s speech tends, more often than not, to invoke a rather romanticized conception of  ‘American ideals,’ he also manages to cite other critical moments in U.S. history – moments when hysterical bigotry has similarly served to occlude the religious freedoms of communities that are now considered to be America’s erstwhile ‘Others.’ Accordingly, Bloomberg does a pretty good job of blending historical fantasy and fact in his attempt to sway American public opinion in favor of the community center. Here’s the transcript of his speech:

“We’ve come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that more than 250 years later would greet millions of immigrants in this harbor. And we come here to state as strongly as ever, this is the freest city in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.

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Death Toll Continues to Rise in Pakistan

The death toll from Pakistan’s worst flood in living memory has exceeded 1,100. It is estimated that over 27,000 people are still trapped, and approximately 1.5 million people have been affected by the flow of waters that continue to wash away villages and trigger devastating landslides in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and parts of Punjab.

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Lynne Stewart Speaks

At the United National Peace Conference that took place this weekend in Albany, Ralph Poynter, the husband of imprisoned activist lawyer Lynne Stewart and coordinator of her defense committee, was invited to read his own statement and a letter from his wife about her incarceration, the prison industrial complex, the state of the antiwar movement, and the importance of resisting state oppression.

For more on Lynne Stewart’s case, read Jasmin Ramsey’s “People’s Lawyer Sentenced to 10 years in Prison.”

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Palestine in Pieces: Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation

When you have seen the vast extent and permanence of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem; when you have endured the checkpoints that squeeze and confine Palestinians and stop any hope of Palestinian economic development in its tracks; when you have watched homes, the very center of people’s lives, being demolished for no other reason than that their owners are not Jews; when even inside Israel you have seen the homes and villages of Palestinians and Palestinian Bedouins who are citizens of Israel  being destroyed because they stand in the way of Jewish development and expansion — when you have seen all these things, it is crystal clear that Zionism’s design is absolute Jewish control over the entirety of Palestine swept clean of Palestinians.

Kathleen and Bill Christison’s Palestine in Pieces: Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation is a labor of love. Compellingly written and meticulously structured, this book combines historical fact with narrative accounts and photographic images of the everyday realities faced by Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in order to provide the reader with an experience-near understanding of what it means to live in a state of dispossession.

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Voices of Everyday Muslim Americans in the Aftermath of the Flotilla Attack

News of Israel’s brutal attack on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza seems to have moved even this generally apathetic world. As the reactions of global leaders, activists, lawyers, journalists, academics and other public figures saturate the media, hope builds that growing political pressure will have the effect of ending, at long last, Israel’s inhumane blockade of Gaza.

The events of last week also present us with an opportunity to pause and to reflect upon why this attack -in particular- has captured our imaginations more powerfully than previous instances of Israeli aggression.

In search of answers, I decided  to talk to everyday Muslim Americans about the events of last week, asking each of them how they felt about the recent flotilla attack and what, if any hope, the event held for a better future. I interviewed this diverse group of New Yorkers over a period of two days, and my accounts include the voices of a shop clerk, a business owner, wait-staff, an immigration lawyer, a photographer, a retired journalist, bankers, engineers, and a number of students.

What I learned in listening to their narratives is that the flotilla attack – which has largely been produced by the media as a critical moment of rupture – is for many Muslim Americans, an event that indicates not rupture, but continuity: the continuity of Israeli brutality and injustice, and the continuity of Palestinian despair.

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