The King is Out, His Name is Khan: Long Live the King (Part I)

My Name is Khan, although narratively based mostly in the USA, has to be theorized within and around the framework of Bollywood; the Urdu-Hindi film history, and its transnational circuits of production, distribution, and consumption; Shahrukh Khan’s star narrative, and the determining context of the Indian political scene along with that in the US and its “war on/of terror.”

by Huma Dar


The Defacing of Khan: It's Not Easy Being Muslim in Mumbai or in Newark

My Name is Khan, although narratively based mostly in the USA, has to be understood and theorized within and around the framework of Bollywood; the Urdu-Hindi film history and its transnational circuits of production, distribution, and consumption; Shahrukh Khan’s star narrative, and the determining context of the Indian political scene along with that in the US and its “War on/of Terror.”  Even prior to the Indian Partition in 1947, most Muslim artists had what Sa’adat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) mockingly called “shuddified” or Hinduized names – Dilip Kumar for Yusuf Khan, Madhubala for Mumtaz Begum Jahan Dehlavi (1933-1969), Meena Kumari for Mahjabeen Bano (1932-1972), or the more ambivalent (non-halal) Johnny Walker for Badruddin Jamaluddin Qazi (1923-2003) and Nargis for Fatima Rashid (1929-1981).  At the contemporary moment, the biggest stars of the Urdu-Hindi film industry in India are Khans: Shahrukh, Salman, Aamir, Saif Ali et al.  It might therefore be tempting to conclude that the Bombay film industry is indeed a level playing field.  The Khans are all Muslims, at least nominally.  Cinematically, they enact, with a few notable exceptions, Hindu characters.  Culturally, the vigorous fanzines of Bollywood idolize them as comfortably suave denizens of metropolitan Bombay[Mumbai] with understated or unexpressed Muslimness — their Hindu wives, girlfriends, or mothers facilitating this imagined assimilation or passing.  Of course, for regular, non-filmi (“film-related” in Urdu-Hindi) Muslim men, this assimilation through marriage to Hindu women is generally frowned upon and can have potentially fatal consequences.

My ruminations on My Name is Khan, like a typical Urdu-Hindi film, lengthy and replete with intermissions, are an entryway into not just the film as cinematic text, but also its complex and rich transnational contexts that must be read in tandem.  In a series of six thematic posts, with this as the first, I will expand on:

(i) The (B)Onus of Muslimness in Bollywood

(ii) Shahrukh Khan and the Pound of Flesh: the Cost of Stardom

(iii) Placating the gods of Citizenship: the Ritual Sacrifice

(iv) A Suitable Boy, “Decent” People, and Names that Pass

(v) The Price of Translating a Narrative and its Context

(vi) Outing the Muslimness, Finally: Some Viewing (and Hearing) Pleasures

Continue reading “The King is Out, His Name is Khan: Long Live the King (Part I)”

Memory, Inequality and Power: Palestine and the Universality of Human Rights
Edward Said

A month before the invasion of Iraq and less than a year before he tragically passed away, a frail Edward Said delivered this honorary lecture at UC Berkeley. It is Said’s most foreceful and passionate denouncement of Israel’s systematic destruction of Palestinian nationhood I have come across so far, a testament to a tireless voice of reason and humanism that is sorely missed in the academe and far beyond.

Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair

Khan Younis. Public taps for drinking water,
Khan Younis. Public taps for drinking water, May 2009.

Today the International Red Cross released a report detailing the catastrophic results of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. As the siege which has crippled Gazans for the past two years continues, the Red Cross found seriously ill patients facing difficulty obtaining the treatment they needed; children suffering from deep psychological problems and people whose homes and belongings were destroyed during the conflict unable to recover.

The report in full reads:

During the 22 days of the Israeli military operation, nowhere in Gaza was safe for civilians. Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties, including small children, women and elderly people. Medical personnel showed incredible courage and determination, working around the clock to save lives in extremely difficult circumstances. Meanwhile, daily rocket attacks launched from Gaza put thousands of residents at risk in southern Israel. Medical workers in Israel provided care for the traumatized population and treated and evacuated casualties.

Many people in Gaza lost a child, a parent, another relative or a friend. Israel’s military operation left thousands of homes partly or totally destroyed. Whole neighbourhoods were turned into rubble. Schools, kindergartens, hospitals and fire and ambulance stations were damaged by shelling and have to broker deals with financiers for support.

This small coastal strip is cut off from the outside world. Even before the latest hostilities, drastic restrictions on the movement of people and goods imposed by the Israeli authorities, particularly since October 2007, had led to worsening poverty, rising unemployment and deteriorating public services such as health care, water and sanitation. Insufficient cooperation between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas administration in Gaza had also hit the provision of essential services. As a result, the people of Gaza were already experiencing a major crisis affecting all aspects of daily life when hostilities intensified in late December. Continue reading “Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair”

Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid

For those who refuse to accept the brutal reality on the ground, the Human Sciences Research Council of South has produced a new detailed legal report which confirms “that Israel is practicing both colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).” The study was commissioned to “test the hypothesis posed by Professor John Dugard in the report he presented to the UN Human Rights Council in January 2007, in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the OPT:

Israel is clearly in military occupation of the OPT. At the same time, elements of the occupation constitute forms of colonialism and of apartheid, which are contrary to international law. What are the legal consequences of a regime of prolonged occupation with features of colonialism and apartheid for the occupied people, the Occupying Power and third States?

On the specific question of colonialism the report unambiguously states that:

“Five issues, which are unlawful in themselves, taken together make it evident that Israel’s rule in the OPT has assumed such a colonial character: namely, violations of the territorial integrity of occupied territory; depriving the population of occupied territory of the capacity for selfgovernance; integrating the economy of occupied territory into that of the occupant; breaching the principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources in relation to the occupied territory; and denying the population of occupied territory the right freely to express, develop and practice its culture” (pp. 15-16). Furthermore, “Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is manifestly an act based on colonial intent” (ibid.).

Concerning the charge of apartheid, the report states:

By examining Israel’s practices in the light of Article 2 of the Apartheid Convention, this study concludes that Israel has introduced a system of apartheid in the OPT (p. 17)

Continue reading “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid”

Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in West Bank

Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank. (Mamoun Wazwaz/MaanImages)

The weekly UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports really ought to be obligatory reading for anyone wishing to grasp the comprehensive brutality of the Israeli occupation. According to its latest report, the dispossession of Palestinian land and resources, house demolitions, arbitrary IDF raids and detentions, and settler violence are sharply on the rise. “During April four Palestinians, including two boys, were killed by [the Israeli army] and another 145 were injured by Israeli soldiers and settlers. The number of Palestinians injured rose by 40 percent compared with the 2008 monthly average,” the report says. A further 391 children (including 6 girls) have been incarcerated by the occupation forces, a 20 percent increase between December 2008 and February 2009.

Commenting on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the report states that “April saw the lowest number of truckloads entering per month into Gaza (2,656) since the beginning of 2009. This number represents an 18% decrease compared to the monthly average during the first quarter of the year (3,228) and only one-quarter the amount of truckloads that entered Gaza in May 2007 (10,921), one month before the Hamas take-over and the beginning of the blockade.”

Here’s Mel Frykberg‘s (IPS) summary of the findings:

RAMALLAH, May 28 (IPS) – “I heard voices, I turned around to look, and saw a group of Israeli settlers assaulting my brother Hammad,” says Abdallah Wahadin, 82, a Palestinian farmer from Beit Ummar near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

“Three of them surrounded me, while a fourth threw a rock at the back of my head. Lots of blood ran down onto my clothes. Other settlers then joined them,” Wahadin told the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

Continue reading “Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in West Bank”

The war against Gaza continues; the siege is still in place

Journalists and politicians tend to refer mistakenly to the ongoing siege of Gaza as a “blockade”. The word “blockade” is a rather neutral and tepid term that doesn’t indicate that such policies can be part of warfare. On the other hand, the word “siege” clearly indicates that it is part of warfare or ethnic cleansing. The courageous Israeli journalist Amira Hass recently returned from a long stay in Gaza, and she makes it abundantly clear that the Israeli policies regarding what is allowed to enter Gaza amount to a siege. Toilet paper, shampoo, building materials, window panes… these are basic necessities of life and living, yet they are barred from entering Gaza. Most houses in Gaza today don’t have window panes; they were destroyed during the Gazan Massacre in January 2009 and they haven’t been fixed. The nature of banned products also renders the usual description of the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt as used for “smuggling” as simply absurd. The tunnels are merely “siege busting” means to enable the population to survive. Furthermore, Sam Bahour, the Palestinian businessman and writer living in Ramallah comments on Amira Hass’ article:

As a prelude to this article, I should note that dear friends in Gaza are telling me that Israeli warships along the coast of Gaza are closer than ever and can be clearly seen by the naked eye, which is not usually the case. They shell warning shots all day, really creating a renewed sense of fear that round two (or is that 1,002) of the onslaught against Gaza is about to begin any day.
No headlines does not mean no war crimes.

Continue reading “The war against Gaza continues; the siege is still in place”

‘Go back and die in Gaza’

Since Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip in 2007, only severely sick Palestinians have been allowed to seek medical attention elsewhere provided they receive authorisation and security clearances from the Israeli authorities.However, getting the special permit that allows patients to leave Gaza for medical treatment is a bureaucratic hassle and, many Gazans say, comes with strings attached. According to the Israeli organisation Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Palestinian patients are increasingly being asked to make an impossible choice: Either to become collaborators with the Israeli intelligence apparatus – or to remain in Gaza without medical treatment.

Al Jazeera spoke with Hadas Ziv, the director of PHR.

Al Jazeera: Your organisation has collected dozens of testimonies of patients who were pressured to collaborate with the Israeli General Security Services. How did you find out about this? A Palestinian will not easily admit he or she has been asked to become an informant.

Ziv: True; it is not a subject people talk about easily and it happened gradually. Our organisation tries to support Gazan patients who were prevented by the Israeli authorities from treatment in Israel, or from crossing Israel on their way to hospitals in the West Bank.

Instead of clear rejection or admittance, the Israelis started saying: “permit pending interrogation”. The permit became conditional – not so much on individual health conditions, but on the outcome of the interrogation at the Erez Crossing.

Continue reading “‘Go back and die in Gaza’”

Holocaust in Palestine

H/t to Mohammed Omer for posting this on Facebook.

The following YouTube from France is a powerful depiction contrasting life in Palestine and for Jews during the European Holocaust. When will ordinary Americans and American politicians understand these similarities? Who knows. But we will do whatever it takes to change American views toward Palestine and the Mideast… one step at a time.  

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