The Missing Malcolm X

Garrett Felber: What significance does this revised understanding of Malcolm X and his autobiography have for social movements now?

By reanimating the autobiography’s original aim to tell the story of a people, not just a single person, the newly uncovered materials let the air out of the persistent myth that we should look—and, by implication, wait—for this generation’s King or Malcolm. This was always a convenient fiction, relying on the marginalization of women and grassroots activists. “The movement made Martin,” as Ella Baker pointed out, “rather than Martin making the movement.”

The new materials emphasize how quickly autobiography shades into hagiography when we erase the collective political context.

Indeed, today’s activists are mostly decentralized, group-centered, and hyper-local. They eschew—in many cases, outright discourage—cults of personality and dependence on a singular spokesperson. They have insisted that they are not leaderless, they are leader-full. More here.

Borders Can Be Borderlands

My piece in Mason Street’s Winter Issue 2021 published today.

‘It used to be that borders were formed naturally, by oceans and mountains, carved out by the physical contours of the earth’s surface. There was something poetic about these landforms, extending from foothills and valleys, to plains and plateaus, all the way to seafloors. They were shaped by wind and water erosion, pushed up by the collision of tectonic plates, forged by volcanic eruptions, sandblasted and weathered over millions of years. They were substantive, grounded in history.

The borders that came out of the crumbling of empires, in the 20th century, were different. Cartographic inventions meant to divvy up world resources and power, divorced from indigenous logic or priorities. A few sheets of stolen paper.’

More here.

the memes are for us

just to clarify, the bernie memes are for us, hardcore bernie supporters. we’re not posting to defang bernie or minimize his message, but because he’s the real deal. me personally, i am also enjoying the memes because, as jennifer jajeh pointed out, inaugurations are corny. also, settler anthems, flags, expensive peacoats, and other misc pageantry don’t do anything for me. so i am with bernie: apart from the crowd, doing his own thing, aware of the sabotage, but continuing the work. neoliberals, centrists and warren fans who went after bernie, hands off pls:)

To be published in a literary magazine!

Last year in Sept, in the midst of working on my film and several other projects, I wrote a longer piece and submitted it to Mason Street for their Winter 2021 Issue “Frontiers and Borderlands.” My piece is a collage of personal and collective history, poetry, and art. It combines many voices and points of view, but it starts with my mother’s story and how she experienced the violence of the 1947 partition. I got an email from the editors today. They have accepted the piece!!! It should be published online in Feb. I am incredibly thrilled! Writing is something I’ve loved since I was a child. Although I continue to write for films, articles and presentations, it was important to try and write for a literary publication. I was nervous. It’s an art form I have not invested in for too long. This validation means the world to me.

A new book takes on the problematic academic discipline of “Jihadism”

The study of jihadism generally takes for granted that organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, the Islamic State, al-Shabab, the Afghan Taliban, and various Iraqi Shia militias should be grouped under one category. This grand category also happens to include solitary individuals engaged in acts of violence not directed by any organization. Huge disparities of geography, language, sect, and politics are more or less ignored in favor of a narrative understandable through the single term of “jihadism.”

“Consider for a moment three different things: the Irish Republican Army, the Republican Party in the United States, and Plato’s Republic,” Li told me, by way of analogy. “All of these employ the term ‘republic,’ and all of them somehow have a connection with violence. If you lumped them together and claimed they represent an ideology called ‘republicanism,’ that obviously wouldn’t make any sense. Yet that’s what the category of ‘jihadism’ essentially does.”

[…] “The discourse on jihadism has a misguided focus on individuals, particularly the idea that a meaningful understanding of political violence can be found by getting inside their heads,” Li said. “If you took a random sample of the motivations of U.S. military service members, you would probably find that some believed in their mission, some just needed a job, and some were sadists who wanted to kill people. But you couldn’t go directly from analyzing the mindsets of individual soldiers to understanding the political goals or causes of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

[…] In a way, the U.N. peacekeepers came to Bosnia for reasons not so different from the foreign volunteers who called their cause a “jihad.” Acting on behalf of a supposed “international community,” the peacekeepers bore arms under the banner of values that they proclaimed as universal and applicable to all of humanity. Many also happened to be Muslims. Some of the veteran peacekeepers that Li met in Islamabad, years after the Bosnian war, demonstrate that they saw no conflict with upholding two universal ideas at the same time: the defense of liberal values and their duty to aid oppressed coreligionists.

[…] Despite this, the perception of foreign fighters as radically evil by default — something like modern equivalents of pirates or highwaymen — tends to exaggerate differences between them and other combatants.

“People who invoke jihad are not necessarily any less brutal, callous, or hypocritical than other violent actors, and there is no shortage of things they can be condemned for. But there’s a world of difference between criticism and dismissal,” Li said. “Criticism requires spelling out some criteria and accepting that those criteria should apply to others too, including oneself. Dismissal is a refusal to think, it’s condemnation that doesn’t submit itself to standards or scrutiny.” More here.

To happier times

2020 was an unbearably rough year for too many. We all had our challenges, but some suffered much more than others. Our hearts are overextended. May 2021 be kinder to us.

To beauty, to the vastness of the universe and the magic of nature. To happier times:)

‘Something That Happens Right Now’

I haven’t told this before. By our house on the plains before I was born my father planted a maple. At night after bedtime when others were asleep I would go out and stand beside it and know all the way north and all the way south. Air from the fields wandered in. Stars waited with me. All of us ached with a silence, needing the next thing, but quiet. We leaned into midnight and then leaned back. On the rise to the west the radio tower blinked—so many messages pouring by. A great surge came rushing from everywhere and wrapped all the land and sky. Where were we going? How soon would our house break loose and become a little speck lost in the vast night? My father and mother would die. The maple tree would stand right there. With my hand on that smooth bark we would watch it all. Then my feet would come loose from Earth and rise by the power of longing. I wouldn’t let the others know about this, but I would be everywhere, as I am right now, a thin tone like the wind, a sip of blue light—no source, no end, no horizon.

—William Stafford