Category Archives: activism

katha pollitt’s misguided take on freedom of speech

Although I am a committed subscriber to The Nation, I was immensely disappointed by Katha Pollitt’s narrow and unoriginal piece, “Freedom of Speech Round 5,425“, The Nation, 2/18/09.

By quoting fatwas against Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she does nothing new. Those are the same old examples used ad nauseum by Western protagonists of freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is an excellent idea. However, it is part and parcel of a larger charter of human rights, within which it makes sense and without which it becomes ridiculous to selectively mourn its compromise. Would freedom of speech apply to people let’s say who are held indefinitely in jail and tortured without due process or a fair trial? Would their inability to defend themselves and be heard by an impartial jury or an impartial judge also be deemed an attack on their freedom of speech? High profile cases such as those of Aafia Siddiqui and hundreds held at Guantanamo come to mind.

How much hate speech should be protected by freedom of speech? Western media is saturated with lopsided, distorted, even fabricated coverage of Islam and Muslims when the same people are most vulnerable to persecution and witch hunts. The profiling, deportation and detention of Arabs and Muslims which is now widespread within the United States attests to this reality. Pollitt probably understands the concept of hate media. For example, Radio Rwanda was used in the 1990s to promote the killing of Tutsi. That’s an extreme example but it’s safe to say that hate media can indirectly promote hate crimes. Pollitt’s concern for the rights of Dutch MP Geert Wilders who, according to her, should be given carte blanche to preach hate at the highest levels of European government, by using his own propagandist, anti-Islam film called “Fitna” (source of trouble) seems grossly misplaced.

It’s comical that in the same article where she so defends absolute freedom of speech, Pollitt chastises the Pope for welcoming back a “Holocaust-denying schismatic bishop” into the church. Shouldn’t that be covered by freedom of speech?

Pollitt tries to stray away from blaming it all on Islam by giving lame examples of mostly Christian acts of extremism from the 17th century. But she can’t help reiterate the thesis of her essay, “It’s true that Islamic fundamentalists are the most active and violent attackers of free speech and the most tyrannical enforcers of religious conformity through the organs of the state”. Let’s forget about the 17th century and let’s not focus so narrowly on religious sanctions on freedom of speech. What if freedom of speech were not just defined as the right to mock and defame but as people’s essential right to voice their opinion and make it matter?

Let’s talk about political freedom of speech. Should the people of Pakistan be allowed to speak their minds and elect their own leaders or should the United States get its way and install one military dictator after another? Military dictatorships don’t come with a lot of free speech, I can tell you that. Should the people of Iraq and Afghanistan be able to decide what governments they want or is that the prerogative of the American government, elected by the American people?

Let’s talk about journalistic freedom of speech. The targeted killing and harassment of journalists in Iraq is well-known and well-documented by the United Nations and FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Is that conducive to freedom of speech and freedom of information?

Pollitt’s crusade in the name of free speech is as ridiculous as that of American artist John Currin who inspired by the mullahs’ attack on free speech on account of the Danish cartoons became convinced that he could check this current of fascism by producing pornographic paintings. The ultimate gift to the gods of free speech!

If we open our eyes to what is going on in the world and choose to focus on the big picture, not just meaningless cliches readily available for public consumption, then the mainstream Western definition of freedom of speech begins to look selective, small-minded, and self-serving. It’s like Thomas Friedman’s condescending and offensive metric of what success would look like in Iraq: “…when Salman Rushdie can give a lecture in Baghdad… you are not going to get a reformation in Islam or Arab politics without this”.

What arrogant, imperialistic, racist hogwash is that?

muslim american prosperity is tinged with alienation, survey finds

an interesting article in the los angeles times, march 3, 2009:

Muslim American prosperity is tinged with alienation, survey finds
They have a higher employment rate than the national norm but carry a sense of cultural alienation, a yearlong Gallup Poll reports. The young say they are particularly dissatisfied.

By Sarah Gantz
March 3, 2009

Reporting from Washington — A study of Muslim Americans released Monday presents a portrait of an often misunderstood community — one that is integrated socio-economically but culturally alienated; that succeeds in the workforce but struggles to find contentment.

The numbers suggest economic and career success among Muslim Americans — they have a higher employment rate than the national average and are among the nation’s most educated religious groups. Yet only 41% described themselves as “thriving.”

And though the report by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies states that Muslim Americans are more likely than the general public to hold a professional job, they expressed less satisfaction with their standard of living and community.

The disparity is a sign of the alienation some Muslim Americans may feel, experts say. Ahmed Younis, a senior analyst for the center, said some Muslim Americans feel a sense of “otherness” created by outside perceptions of their religion and a lack of involvement in their larger community.

Three-quarters of Muslim Americans polled said they were satisfied with their community, as opposed to nearly 90% among respondents from other religions. They also were less optimistic about the future of their communities. Muslim Americans ranked highest among American religious groups who believed their communities were getting worse.

The data reflect the responses of 941 Americans who identified themselves as Muslim in a survey of more than 300,000 Americans over the course of 2008. The nonpartisan research center is affiliated with the Gallup polling organization.

“There’s no doubt that there is a certain sense of isolation and alienation — there’s no doubt,” said U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress.

One reason for this may be because Muslim communities revolve around the mosque, Ellison said in an interview after the report’s release. The key to a better-integrated Muslim American community, he said, is to make the mosque more welcoming for non-Muslims.

Muslim Americans ages 18 to 29 in particular reported discontent with their jobs and communities.

On average, those youths were unhappier, angrier and less optimistic than their peers in other religions, according to the report.

Only 78% of young Muslims reported having smiled or laughed the day before, while nearly 90% of Protestants, Catholics and Jews of the same age said they had.

A great deal of the emotional turbulence among young Muslims is due to the stereotypes and suspicion of Islam since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, experts say.

“I can only imagine a 10- or 12-year-old getting the type of questions I get” about Islam, said Suhail Khan, a board member of the American Conservative Union and former public outreach aide in George W. Bush’s administration. “I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and it wasn’t an issue. It just wasn’t.”

Khan described Muslim Americans’ integration into American society as a long, slow process tainted with discrimination and stereotypes, but one that other minorities have overcome.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will not only see an end to the discrimination and the fear-mongering,” Khan said, “we’ll soon look back and wonder why some of this even went this far.”

The entire report is available at


humanitarian crisis in gaza

a team of american doctors went to gaza to provide much needed medical help. you can read about their first hand experiences, see pictures and watch coverage in american news by visiting

the military offensive might be over but we cannot forget the horrific humanitarian crisis left behind. the average age is 16 in gaza, so we are talking about a lot of wounded and traumatised children. the doctors describe how in the absence of basic medical supplies, they had to stitch kids up without anesthesia.

it is important to donate to international relief organizations operating in the region.

army suicide rate could top nation’s this year

“Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families,” Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said. “This stress on the force is validated by recent studies of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.”

as obama escalates the war in south asia, we will be spending more on defense and less on fixing domestic problems. as the economy deflates further and unemployment rises, military enlistment is going to jump up. an untenable vicious circle. something will have to give.

here is the full article from cnn.

what obama should do in pakistan

from “what obama should do in pakistan” by malou innocent, huffington post, jan 23, 2009:

…U.S. missile strikes prove tactically problematic for three reasons.

First, missile strikes undermine the authority of sitting Pakistani leaders. The August 19th resignation of former army general Pervez Musharraf demonstrated how the burden of assuming a pro-American stance can prove a political liability for “war on terror” allies. Aligning with pro-U.S. policies is one reason why Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s new president, is reviled by many of his countrymen, while opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who has been openly critical of U.S. actions across the border in Afghanistan, has seen his popularity soar.

A second reason to be skeptical of relying almost exclusively on missile strikes is that they encourage Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) militants to lash out against their closer enemy, Pakistan, causing disastrous ripple effects that further damage the already weakened country. Suicide bombers are striking Pakistan’s large urban centers with increasing frequency and are signals of the spreading insurgency engulfing the Islamic Republic.

The final, and most important, reason to be circumspect about escalating military force in the tribal areas is that it will almost certainly fail. The clans, subclans, and extended families that weave the complex fabric of Pashtun tribal society have endured hundreds of years of foreign invasions. Time and again, Persian, Greek, Turk, Mughal, British and Soviet invaders have discovered these peoples to be virtually unconquerable. Pashtun social values include loyalty (wafa), honor (nang), and badal, the Pashto word for taking revenge. Vendettas, personal and collective, have been known to last for generations. While U.S. missile strikes can certainly extinguish high-value targets, they also trigger collective armed action throughout the tribal agencies.

The dilemma for President Obama is that as long as militants continue to infiltrate the hundreds of unguarded checkpoints along the Afghan-Pakistan border, the security environment in Afghanistan will continue to decline. While Obama is correct to argue that we have no choice but to attack militants inside FATA as long as we remain in Afghanistan…

(here on i stopped agreeing with ms innocent – she doesn’t realize that she just stated the problem – “as long as we remain in afghanistan” – exactly, we need to get out!)

u.s. drone attacks kill 17 in waziristan: first obama-era strikes

the latest u.s. attacks inside pakistan are deeply disturbing.

they are a continuation of the same lazy, ineffective and arrogant warfare ushered in by the bushies. however targeted these air strikes might be, based on whatever “actionable intelligence” might be available to americans living on the other side of the globe, they overwhelmingly result in the killing of poor villagers. and i am sick of hearing about “collateral damage” so let’s not even go there – it’s just convenient linguistic whitewash.

i read this analogy somewhere and it really struck home. if we had actionable intelligence that a serial killer was hiding in an apartment in manhattan, would it be ok to bomb that entire block? is that how we go after criminals? no, of course not, this would be unthinkable. civilian life is too precious. collateral damage would be too high. how can collateral damage be then justified in waziristan? we are not at war with pakistan.

on to more practical considerations. will killing a few militants (if that can ever be achieved and properly confirmed) mean an end to terrorism? for every militant who’s killed, for every villager in a wedding party who’s bombed to shreds, there will be ten more people who will become radicalized and will want to strike back.

there is direct correlation between u.s. bombings in pakistan’s northern areas and suicide attacks all over pakistan. suicide bombings are completely new to pakistan and they too have been v “targeted”. hafiz gul bahadur, a militant leader in north waziristan, warned that his men would launch suicide attacks on foreigners and government targets across the country unless the raids stop. and so it has been – police stations, army depots, the islamabad marriott where many government dignitaries and foreigners can be found, the list goes on. the pakistan army and government are thought to be complicit in america’s war on the people of pakistan and they have therefore sustained historic numbers of casualties.

on the one hand obama wants to stabilize and engage that region but on the other hand his military strategy will only create more hatred, violence and chaos in south asia. pakistan is already feeling the strain. there are power outages in islamabad and major cities like lahore and karachi, every other hour. food is so expensive that it’s becoming increasingly hard for people not to starve. as the pakistani people are pitted against their own government and army, many see civil war around the corner.

things are so bad right now that the only intelligent thing for us to do is to GET OUT. nothing even remotely good has ever come out of u.s. presence and aggression in that region.

from the ashes of gaza

from the ashes of Gaza, by Tariq Ali,, December 30, 2009

In the face of Israel’s latest onslaught, the only option for Palestinian nationalism is to embrace a one-state solution

The assault on Gaza, planned over six months and executed with perfect timing, was designed largely, as Neve Gordon has rightly observed, to help the incumbent parties triumph in the forthcoming Israeli elections. The dead Palestinians are little more than election fodder in a cynical contest between the right and the far right in Israel. Washington and its EU allies, perfectly aware that Gaza was about to be assaulted, as in the case of Lebanon in 2006, sit back and watch.

Washington, as is its wont, blames the pro-Hamas Palestinians, with Obama and Bush singing from the same AIPAC hymn sheet. The EU politicians, having observed the build-up, the siege, the collective punishment inflicted on Gaza, the targeting of civilians etc (for all the gory detail, see Harvard scholar Sara Roy’s chilling essay in the London Review of Books) were convinced that it was the rocket attacks that had “provoked” Israel but called on both sides to end the violence, with nil effect. The moth-eaten Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt and Nato’s favourite Islamists in Ankara failed to register even a symbolic protest by recalling their ambassadors from Israel. China and Russia did not convene a meeting of the UN security council to discuss the crisis.

As result of official apathy, one outcome of this latest attack will be to inflame Muslim communities throughout the world and swell the ranks of those very organisations that the west claims it is combating in the “war against terror”.

The bloodshed in Gaza raises broader strategic questions for both sides, issues related to recent history. One fact that needs to be recognised is that there is no Palestinian Authority. There never was one. The Oslo Accords were an unmitigated disaster for the Palestinians, creating a set of disconnected and shrivelled Palestinian ghettoes under the permanent watch of a brutal enforcer. The PLO, once the repository of Palestinian hope, became little more than a supplicant for EU money.

Western enthusiasm for democracy stops when those opposed to its policies are elected to office. The west and Israel tried everything to secure a Fatah victory: Palestinian voters rebuffed the concerted threats and bribes of the “international community” in a campaign that saw Hamas members and other oppositionists routinely detained or assaulted by the IDF, their posters confiscated or destroyed, US and EU funds channelled into the Fatah campaign, and US congressmen announcing that Hamas should not be allowed to run.

Even the timing of the election was set by the determination to rig the outcome. Scheduled for the summer of 2005, it was delayed till January 2006 to give Abbas time to distribute assets in Gaza – in the words of an Egyptian intelligence officer, “the public will then support the Authority against Hamas.”

Popular desire for a clean broom after ten years of corruption, bullying and bluster under Fatah proved stronger than all of this. Hamas’s electoral triumph was treated as an ominous sign of rising fundamentalism, and a fearsome blow to the prospects of peace with Israel, by rulers and journalists across the Atlantic world. Immediate financial and diplomatic pressures were applied to force Hamas to adopt the same policies as those of the party it had defeated at the polls. Uncompromised by the Palestinian Authority’s combination of greed and dependency, the self-enrichment of its servile spokesmen and policemen, and their acquiescence in a “peace process” that has brought only further expropriation and misery to the population under them, Hamas offered the alternative of a simple example. Without any of the resources of its rival, it set up clinics, schools, hospitals, vocational training and welfare programmes for the poor. Its leaders and cadres lived frugally, within reach of ordinary people.

It is this response to everyday needs that has won Hamas the broad base of its support, not daily recitation of verses from the Koran. How far its conduct in the second Intifada has given it an additional degree of credibility is less clear. Its armed attacks on Israel, like those of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade or Islamic Jihad, have been retaliations against an occupation far more deadly than any actions it has ever undertaken. Measured on the scale of IDF killings, Palestinian strikes have been few and far between. The asymmetry was starkly exposed during Hamas’s unilateral ceasefire, begun in June 2003, and maintained throughout the summer, despite the Israeli campaign of raids and mass arrests that followed, in which some 300 Hamas cadres were seized from the West Bank.

On August 19 2003, a self-proclaimed “Hamas” cell from Hebron, disowned and denounced by the official leadership, blew up a bus in west Jerusalem, upon which Israel promptly assassinated the Hamas ceasefire’s negotiator, Ismail Abu Shanab. Hamas, in turn, responded. In return, the Palestinian Authority and Arab states cut funding to its charities and, in September 2003, the EU declared the whole Hamas movement to be a terrorist organization – a longstanding demand of Tel Aviv.

What has actually distinguished Hamas in a hopelessly unequal combat is not dispatch of suicide bombers, to which a range of competing groups resorted, but its superior discipline – demonstrated by its ability to enforce a self-declared ceasefire against Israel over the past year. All civilian deaths are to be condemned, but since Israel is their principal practitioner, Euro-American cant serves only to expose those who utter it. Overwhelmingly, the boot of murder is on the other foot, ruthlessly stamped into Palestine by a modern army equipped with jets, tanks and missiles in the longest-armed oppression of modern history.

“Nobody can reject or condemn the revolt of a people that has been suffering under military occupation for 45 years against occupation force,” said General Shlomo Gazit, former chief of Israeli military intelligence, in 1993. The real grievance of the EU and US against Hamas is that it refused to accept the capitulation of the Oslo Accords, and has rejected every subsequent effort, from Taba to Geneva, to pass off their calamities on the Palestinians. The west’s priority ever since was to break this resistance. Cutting off funding to the Palestinian Authority is an obvious weapon with which to bludgeon Hamas into submission. Boosting the presidential powers of Abbas – as publicly picked for his post by Washington, as was Karzai in Kabul – at the expense of the legislative council is another.

No serious efforts were made to negotiate with the elected Palestinian leadership. I doubt if Hamas could have been rapidly suborned to western and Israeli interests, but it would not have been unprecedented. Hamas’ programmatic heritage remains mortgaged to the most fatal weakness of Palestinian nationalism: the belief that the political choices before it are either rejection of the existence of Israel altogether or acceptance of the dismembered remnants of a fifth of the country. From the fantasy maximalism of the first to the pathetic minimalism of the second, the path is all too short, as the history of Fatah has shown.

The test for Hamas is not whether it can be house-trained to the satisfaction of western opinion, but whether it can break with this crippling tradition. Soon after the Hamas election victory in Gaza, I was asked in public by a Palestinian what I would do in their place. “Dissolve the Palestinian Authority” was my response and end the make-believe. To do so would situate the Palestinian national cause on its proper basis, with the demand that the country and its resources be divided equitably, in proportion to two populations that are equal in size – not 80% to one and 20% to the other, a dispossession of such iniquity that no self-respecting people will ever submit to it in the long run. The only acceptable alternative is a single state for Jews and Palestinians alike, in which the exactions of Zionism are repaired. There is no other way.

And Israeli citizens might ponder the following words from Shakespeare (in The Merchant of Venice), which I have slightly altered:

“I am a Palestinian. Hath not a Palestinian eyes? Hath not a Palestinian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Jew is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that … the villainy you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

gaza: hospitals struggling to cope as fighting intensifies

from the canadian red cross website:

Amid fierce fighting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is moving swiftly to assist Gaza’s hospitals, which were overburdened even before the sudden influx of casualties. The priority is to get more medical supplies to the hospitals immediately. The first ICRC truckloads of supplies entered the Gaza Strip this week.

According to the ICRC office in the Gaza Strip, the humanitarian situation remains alarming. The streets of Gaza are mostly empty with the exception of long queues forming in front of bakeries. Meanwhile, prices for basic commodities are reportedly rising quickly.

The situation in hospitals is described as chaotic. Palestinian sources indicate that over 350 people had been killed and more than 1,200 injured. Medical teams have been dealing with a constant influx of wounded since December 27th and are stretched to the limit. “We are completely overwhelmed by the number of people coming in with very serious injuries. I have never seen anything like this,” said the head of the surgical ward of Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City. In addition, further medical supplies are urgently needed.

Some neighbourhoods are reported to be running short of water, either because the water network was damaged in the attacks or because of power shortages.

ICRC staff have been mostly unable to move inside the Gaza Strip due to the continuing attacks. However, the organization is in regular contact with both conflict parties and with hospitals and other public services. The ICRC currently has eight international staff and about 65 local employees working in the Gaza Strip.

In Israel, a third person was reported killed and several more injured by rockets fired from inside the Gaza Strip.

The ICRC’s main priority is to assist hospitals in Gaza. The organization has so far provided kits sufficient to cover the needs of 200 wounded persons as well as intravenous fluids. The ICRC also succeeded in bringing five additional ambulances into Gaza for use by the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The ICRC has brought six trucks into Gaza carrying drugs and disposable materials provided by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, spare parts for ambulances and for medical equipment such as blood-pressure machines, heart-rate monitors and patient ventilators, plastic sheeting, food parcels and hygiene parcels.

The ICRC is preparing for the possible deployment of additional staff, including a surgical team.

An ICRC-chartered aircraft carrying enough items to cover the needs of 500 war-wounded people has arrived in Tel Aviv from Geneva. As soon as possible, these items will be forwarded to Gaza.

The ICRC continues to cooperate closely with the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The ICRC reminds the parties to the hostilities that international humanitarian law requires that a clear distinction be drawn between military objectives and the civilian population and civilian objects. In particular, the ICRC underlines the obligation of the parties to take all feasible precautions to spare the civilian population the effects of hostilities. Medical facilities and personnel must also be protected.

Canadians wishing to help support ICRC Gaza response efforts are encouraged to contribute by donating online, calling 1-800-418-1111 or contacting their local Red Cross office. Cheques should be made payable to the Canadian Red Cross, earmarked “ICRC Gaza Response” and mailed to the Canadian Red Cross National Office, 170 Metcalfe Street, Suite 300, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 2P2.

Donate Now!
In-kind donations of food, clothing and other items, while well intentioned, are not the best way to help those in need. There are tremendous processing and transportation costs involved in shipping these items to beneficiaries. Local purchases of food and clothing are more culturally appropriate and effective. Red Cross supplies can be purchased in the immediate area, thereby reducing transportation costs. Cash transfers to the affected region provide the optimum flexibility to our Red Cross colleagues so they can meet the most urgent needs.

9 is not 11: (and november isn’t september)

amy goodman interviews arundhati roy on democracy now.

many of the things arundhati says make a lot of sense to me. the idea of expanded terrorism (especially in south asia) is not in spite of but because of the “war on terror”. violence and chaos have spilled into pakistan and india, from an increasingly volatile afghanistan. india’s alignment with america and its aggressive super-power policies with only create a world of hopelessness and therefore more terrorism. terrorism results from the elimination of all prospects for non-violent change, it is a sign that recourse to justice is a sad illusion.

i also agree with her assessment of the situation in pakistan. the 180 degree turn in american policy in the region has taken a toll on pakistan. pakistan is the crucible in which dangerous experiments have been conducted with american and saudi money -indocrinating and recruiting jihadists from all over the world in the 1980s, then hunting down and exterminating those same jihadists in the 2000s. pakistan’s army and its intelligence agency, the isi, have acquired so much power in pakistan that elected governments hold little sway over them. the country is on the verge of civil collapse. do we want to stabilize pakistan by strengthening its elected government and pushing for human development or do we want to go it alone in “capturing and killing” the terrorists? bombing pakistan will only destabilize a country of 170 million people (the world’s 6th largest population). we have already destabilized iraq. afghanistan has ceased to exist as a viable state. do we want to expand this area of lawless, militant anarchy? and do we even care about the human cost?

you can read arundhati roy’s complete essay, “9 is not 11: (and november isn’t september)” here.

arundhati roy

60 years of universal human rights

today’s my birthday but also the 60th birthday of the universal declaration of human rights. i would like to celebrate by joining amnesty international in their campaign to protect the human.

i would also like to join amnesty international in urging u.s. president-elect barack obama to make human rights central to his new administration by taking certain concrete steps in his first 100 days in office that would demonstrate a genuine commitment to bringing the united states in line with its international obligations.


in the first 100 days, amnesty international is calling on the new administration to:

1) announce a plan and date to close guantanamo;

2) issue an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;

3) ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the u.s. government in its “war on terror” is set up.

howard zinn on “american empire”

as i screen my film “the muslims i know” on more and more campuses, and engage with students on how to solve the problems of the world, my mantra has become more and more clear-cut. we must aspire to try something new in the face of fear and hostility, use human development to connect with people rather than bomb those we suspect of being different, fall back on our common humanity when in doubt and not give in to indiscriminate violence. that same message is echoed beautifully by the end of this video – “a people’s history of american empire by howard zinn”: