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January 24, 2015
by mara.ahmed
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The sectarian myth of Iraq | Sami Ramadani

Sami Ramadani: Commentators on Iraq often refer to ethnic wars waged against its Kurdish people. They fail to mention that none of these wars were popular but were ruthlessly pursued by repressive regimes, particularly Saddam’s. One of the greatest testaments to the tolerance that exists between the various communities in Iraq is that Baghdad still has up to a million Kurds, who have never experienced communal violence by Arabs. Similarly, about 20% of Basra’s population is Sunni. Samarra, a mostly Sunni city, is home to two of the most sacred Shia shrines. Its Sunni clergy have been the custodians of the shrines for centuries. Every tribe in Iraq has Sunnis and Shia in its ranks. Every town and city has a mix of communities. My experience of Iraq, and that of all friends and relatives, is that of an amazing mix of coexisting communities, despite successive divide-and-rule regimes. The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq’s modern history followed the 2003 US-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The US had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organisations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organisations and Saddam’s army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. […] Whether Iraq can survive this most serious threat to its existence remains to be seen. But those who claim it could only have peace if it is divided into three states do not appreciate the makeup of Iraqi society – the three regions would quickly fall under the rule of violent sectarians and chauvinists. Given how ethnically and religiously mixed Iraq’s regions are, particularly in Baghdad and central Iraq, a three-way national breakup would be a recipe for permanent wars in which only the oil companies, the arms suppliers, and the warlords will be the winners. More here.

January 24, 2015
by mara.ahmed
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Hollywood’s political ignorance: What Cosby, “Selma” & Hebdo reveal about white liberal consciousness

BRITTNEY COOPER: I had tuned in to the Globes among other reasons, because Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma,” a historical drama about the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, was up for four awards including best song, best picture, best director and best actor in a drama. John Legend and rapper Common took home the award for their song “Glory.” Common, ever the spoken word artist, declared in his remarks, “I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand, but was instead given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers slain in the line of duty. … Selma has awakened my humanity. Selma is now.” Common clearly took a lesson from the book of Kanye West when he refused to say the words that felt as if they were hanging from the tip of his tongue: “Black lives matter.” I was struck by the audacity of inclusion in Common’s remarks and reminded that this is precisely the kind of racial discourse that we don’t need. But it is the kind of racial discourse in which liberal black folks are forced to publicly engage in order that they might not seem antagonistic to white people. Even when we want to say, Black lives matter, we talk about the lives of other people of color, and about white lives, too. We include everybody, because accusations of exclusion often make white folks less willing to listen to our critiques. Of course, all lives matter. But only some lives—black lives—are consistently treated as if they don’t.

Moreover, white people are not held to the same standard of radical inclusivity. As I watched multiple white celebrities don the stage and stand in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack and other innocent bystanders, I marveled at the privilege that they had of being specific. Even though some people of color were casualties of the attacks in Paris, by and large this was an attack on white French satirists whose bread and butter was the routine disrespect of the Muslim community. Attacks on largely white victims received a huge and committed show of solidarity, while the Black Lives Matter Movement that has consumed our news cycle for the last four months was apparently not even worthy of mention.

That this happened on the same night that “Selma,” a film that has come under much fire for its refusal to tell a white savior narrative favoring LBJ, received no awards, perhaps matters, too. It would be impolitic to say that Selma received no awards because of white liberal racism. I don’t particularly believe that. But I do wonder if America is really ready for a world in which black people are entrusted to narrate their own freedom stories and freedom dreams. Can white Americans deal with not being at the center of the black freedom narrative? Why is it the expectation that our history would favor our most ardent villains? Can white people really stand knowing that in the broader black narrative of the civil rights movement, we are not especially enamored of white heroes?

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo are absolutely devastating. But the Je Suis Charlie movement among white American liberals is nothing short of disingenuous. It represents an attempt to displace black people from the center of a political moment that has been about state-sanctioned terror against black people. The fervor of white celebrities to speak of their white counterparts abroad while managing not to say even one word about the movements for racial justice happening here at home strikes me as being part and parcel of liberal white dishonesty on questions of race. In an award ceremony that took great care to express solidarity with victims of terror, that no reference was made to Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice is telling. That ?#?BlackLivesMatter? did not punctuate either Common or John Legend’s comments or the comments of any white presenter or awardee, when they so clearly should have, suggests that we are a country profoundly antagonistic to the reality of our own capacity for brutality and violence toward people of color. More here.

January 24, 2015
by mara.ahmed
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‘Same-sex love had always been openly written about in India’

Ruth Vanita: Pre-colonial Lucknow’s court culture was exceptional in the prominence women obtained, and the Nawabs’ patronage of the arts and crafts. The British were draining the state of Awadh’s exchequer, so the Nawabs preferred to spend money on patronising all arts and crafts, from music, dance, poetry to puppetry, juggling and theatre. Hundreds of women were employed at court in different capacities, and were very well paid. Women of the royal family exercised immense influence over the Nawabs. Courtesans, who were highly educated women, often poets, were treated as intellectual equals by many male poets. They were the only women in the highest tax brackets and owned considerable property. Same-sex love had always been openly written about in India. Male-male attraction is one of the themes of pre-colonial Urdu poetry in general, but the unique feature in pre-colonial Lakhnavi poetry is the depiction of female-female relationships as well. The most important thing about this poetry is that it depicts cross-sex romances and same-sex romances in the same tone, showing that all relationships face ups and downs, and all lovers, experience similar emotions. Unlike heavily Persian-ised Urdu poetry, this is written in simple, colloquial language, easily understandable even today, and was popular in its time. More here.

January 24, 2015
by mara.ahmed
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France begins jailing people for ironic comments

It may sound like an ironic joke, but it isn’t. Less than a week after the massive rallies in defense of “free expression,” following the murders of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, French authorities have jailed a youth for irony. The arrest is part of a harsh crackdown on free speech in the country that has prompted criticism from national and international human rights organizations. A 16-year-old high school student was taken into police custody on Thursday and indicted for “defending terrorism,” national broadcaster France 3 reports. His alleged crime? He posted on Facebook a cartoon “representing a person holding the magazine Charlie Hebdo, being hit by bullets, and accompanied by an ‘ironic’ comment,” France 3 states. ?More here.

January 24, 2015
by mara.ahmed
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Time for another Israeli war on Lebanon?

Belén Fernández: What is clear, however, is that Israel’s perennial squawking about the paramount importance of its own self-defence and security is a delusional fantasy. After all, there’s no room for security in deliberately reckless provocations like yesterday’s airstrike. And while the argument can be made that Hezbollah’s machinations in Syria constitute a reckless provocation in themselves, this ignores the fact that the group sees the preservation of the Syrian regime as crucial in resisting Israeli geopolitical designs. Finally, let’s not forget that Hezbollah’s very existence is a result of provocation by Israel, which during its devastating 1982 invasion of Lebanon – in an ostensible effort to eradicate that other reaction to Israeli oppression, the Palestine Liberation Organisation – managed to sow the seeds for the rise of Hezbollah, thereby vastly expanding threats to Israel’s “security”. At the end of the day, the reality is simple: the Zionist enterprise is predicated on a proliferation of insecurity in the name of security, a context that excuses eternal militarisation and attendant corporate profits along with territorial usurpation and other punitive measures against folks at home and abroad. Yesterday’s activities will presumably only fortify the arrangement. As they say, there’s nothing like an airstrike while the iron is hot. More here.

January 23, 2015
by mara.ahmed
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American Sniper?

Ross Caputi: The most insightful part of this film is what is not in it. However, I believe that these omissions reflect more than just what the director decided to be irrelevant to the plot. These omissions reveal an unconscious psychological process that shields our ideas about who we are as individuals and as a nation. This process, known as “moral disengagement”, is extremely common in militaristic societies. But what is fascinating about American Sniper is how these omissions survive in the face of overwhelming evidence of the crimes that Chris Kyle participated in. The fact that a man who participated in the 2nd siege of Fallujah — an operation that killed between 4,000 to 6,000 civilians, displaced 200,000, and may have created an epidemic of birth defects and cancers — can come home, be embraced as a hero, be celebrated for the number of people he has killed, write a bestselling book based on that experience, and have it made into a Hollywood film is something that we need to reflect on as a society. It is not my intention to accuse Chris Kyle of committing war crimes as an individual, or to attack his character in any way. Some critics have pointed out the many racist and anti-Islamic comments that Chris made in his autobiography (these comments are significantly toned down in the film). Others have noted his jingoistic beliefs. However, I too participated in the 2nd siege of Fallujah as a US Marine. And like Chris, I said some racist and despicable things while I was in Iraq. I am in no position to judge this man, nor do I think it is important to do so. I am far more interested in our reaction as a society to Chris Kyle, than I am in the nuances of his personality.

[…] It was not the actions of individuals that made the 2nd siege of Fallujah the atrocity that was. It was the way the mission was structured and orchestrated. The US did not treat military action as a last resort. The peace negotiations with the leadership in Fallujah were canceled by the US. And almost no effort was taken to make a distinction between civilian men and combatants. In fact, in many instances civilians and combatants were deliberately conflated. All military aged males were forced to stay within the city limits of Fallujah (women and children were warned to flee the city) regardless of whether there was any evidence that they had picked up arms against the Americans. Also, water and electricity was cut to the entire city, and humanitarian aid was turned away. Thus, an estimated 50,000 civilians were trapped in their city during this month long siege without water or electricity and very limited supplies of food. They also had to survive a ground siege that was conducted with indiscriminate tactics and weapons, like the use of reconnaissance-by-fire, white phosphorous, and the bombing of residential neighborhoods. The main hospital was also treated as a military target. The end result was a human tragedy, an event that should be remembered alongside other US atrocities like the massacres at Wounded Knee or My Lai. But none of these documented facts come through in American Sniper. More here.

January 23, 2015
by mara.ahmed
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New Texts Out Now: Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Alsultany, and Nadine Naber, Arab and Arab American Feminisms

The book offers an analysis on the interconnection between gender hierarchy and Muslim and Arab bashing, especially the relative ease with which anti-Arab racist statements and actions are made without fear of retribution or sanctions over hate speech. Contributors discuss colonial feminism, which draws on Orientalist discourses to dehumanize Arab women and to justify US and Israeli state violence and war against Arabs and Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular. For example, some contributors hold US hegemonic liberal feminisms accountable for reifying colonial feminist discourses and practices. As our volume illustrates, there is an urgent need to put a stop to what liberal and colonial feminists view as the “inherent cultural” or “religious” practices in our communities. Several contributors criticized superficial analyses that view the category Arab feminism as an oxymoron—as if Arabness or Muslimness were incompatible with feminism, or as if Arabs were “inherently” or genetically incapable of understanding, advocating, or fighting for an end to gender and sexual oppression.

Some contributors challenge dominant paradigms in Arab American studies that exclude the experiences of Arab Jews. Others call into question masculinist frameworks that suggest that the larger society only suffers from racism while Arab and Muslim American communities suffer from sexism, as if our communities were living in a vacuum or as if the larger society were immune to gender and sexual oppressions. We argue instead that racism and sexism, as well as other forms of structural inequalities, exist in both the larger society and in our communities; that they are dialectically connected; and that they reinforce and strengthen each other. Therefore, we propose in the book that our responses to and struggles against racism, sexism, and homophobia must be crafted in a nuanced manner that does not prioritize one liberation struggle over another nor engage in a marathon of victimhood.

Many of our contributors enlist a historically specific analysis of anti-Arab racism, highlighting the targeting and smearing of Arab and Arab American feminists who publicly support justice for Palestine. Others focus on the racial ambiguity of Arab Americans beyond their official classification as white and our own identification (and treatment) as communities of color. Another group of contributors historicize the centrality of homophobia to anti-Arab racism, exemplified by the torture in Abu Ghraib. (The most recent ads on the buses of the MTA in New York and MUNI in San Francisco represent a renewed effort to smear Arabs and Muslims by invoking homophobia.) The volume makes clear that the co-editors and contributors alike share a commitment to struggle against homophobia and the marginalization of queer and transgender people within dominant Arab and Arab American spaces and discourses.

Although this volume is titled Arab and Arab American Feminisms, many of us who have contributed to the book do not comfortably identify with the term “feminism”; we rather use it as shorthand for a commitment to gender justice, including an end to gender inequality, homophobia, and transphobia. We further note that not all struggles for gender justice are the same: some tend to be hierarchical; some privilege struggles against sexism over struggles for feminist, queer, and transgender justice; others position gender justice in tension with and opposition to other forms of justice. This book coalesces around a specific political vision. We imagine a radical feminist politics that insists on the simultaneity of racial justice, gender justice, economic justice, and self-determination for colonized women, men, queer, and transgender people “over here” and “over there.” In fact, we place “over here” and “over there” in quotes to signal this transnational feminist vision—a vision that acknowledges the gendered ways in which the US is already “over there” and events taking place in our homelands very much permeate our lives in the US In fact, it makes more sense to say “over here” and “over here.” This transnational feminist vision inspires us to imagine and think about social justice in ways that take seriously the impact of US Empire on the lives of people living within the US and the countries that the US is invading—and to work towards alternatives to exclusionary hetero-masculinist, xenophobic, and class-blind politics. More here.