an answer to akbar ahmed’s articles about the “mosque on ground zero” controversy

i read akbar ahmed’s article a while back and found some of the things he said offensive. i kept it all inside. now he’s written another article in the washington post and i feel like i must vent.

How the Florida pastor and the New York imam can live their faiths
By Akbar Ahmed, Special to CNN, September 9, 2010

“In both venues, I was struck by how the two men appeared to be disconnected from the storms they have created, unaware of the sociological laws of cause and effect.”

in both his articles mr ahmed seems to be a big proponent of cause and effect. [from his second article: “But as a man who has been an administrator in the Muslim world I am also aware of the sociological laws of cause and effect.”]

what i find interesting then is that he refuses to (or is incapable of) talking about cause and effect when it comes to the mother of all events – 9/11 itself. 9/11 was not carried out in the name of islam. it was a political act, with political ramifications. altho what followed was framed as a clash of civilizations, it was hardly “religious” to attack the financial heart of american empire. just a few days after 9/11, susan sontag wrote a short and courageous piece in the new yorker in which she said:

The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgement that this was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or “the free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed super-power, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? […] Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy–which entails disagreement, which promotes candor–has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us to understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. (The New Yorker, September 24, 2001)

so let’s stop talking about religion – let’s call that bluff. let’s start talking about politics.

“He [Rauf] has just arrived back from a partly taxpayer-funded outreach tour of the affluent Arab capitals.”

i found this to be a bit personal. rauf was sent on a cultural exchange mission by the u.s. state dept and that means what? that rauf can’t take a stand? mr ahmed has advised general petraeus, ambassador holbrooke, and michael chertoff on islam and foreign policy. i’m sure he was compensated with taxpayers’ money. is he being more patriotic than rauf by toeing the majority’s line?

“Two men of God [pastor jones and rauf], both believing that they are motivated by their faith, are adding fuel to the fire flaring around the religion of Islam in the United States today. They have approached their task from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Jones’ Quran burning means to expose what he calls the “evil” religion of Islam. Rauf wishes to create an Islamic center that would attract interfaith activities and promote understanding. The pastor’s purpose is to provoke; the imam’s to build bridges.”

ok. this i find most offensive. drawing any kind of comparison between jones and rauf is ridiculous. of course mr ahmed explains how they’re coming from two opposite ends of the spectrum (one is burning a holy book and the other one is trying to build bridges) but in effect he is v much drawing a parallel:

“Yet both have transgressed on civility in American society, a concept very important to the Founding Fathers.”

his analogy goes something like this:

even tho a murderer tries to take someone’s life, whereas a surgeon tries to save lives (and yes they r both coming from two opposite ends of the spectrum), yet somehow they r in the same boat. maybe they have both transgressed on god’s will (to either grant life or take it). say what? exactly.

“And Rauf has refused to bend to the sensitivities of those who believe that ground zero in New York is hallowed ground.”

oh, yeah. this part is even more offensive. this whole idea about ground zero being hallowed ground is irrelevant. why? because: 1) the islamic center is not being built on top of ground zero – no bodies r being disinterred. 2) there r strip clubs 2 blocks from ground zero and if they’re not disrespectful to those who were killed, then why should an islamic version of the ymca be?

hallowed means sanctified, consecrated. so what we’re saying is that anything islamic within a 2 block radius of that hallowed ground is like a slap in the face? because islam is such an infamy in that location? well, who’s to say islam or muslims won’t be an equal infamy elsewhere: don’t buy a house here – it’s too close to the church; don’t park ur car here – it’s too close to a cemetery where u.s troops r buried; don’t visit the pentagon – it brings back too many memories.

let’s remember that 1.57 billion muslims didn’t do 9/11. some disaffected militants did. they didn’t do it in the name of islam either. it was about american foreign policy – which sucks to this day and is frankly much more harmful to humankind and the earth than 9/11 could ever be. so the connection b/w 9/11 and an islamic center is illogical and racist to start with.

also, i’m sorry but it’s time to look at things in perspective – yes, 9/11 was horrible (my husband was working in nyc that day so i ought to know) but it was not the crime of the century. look at what we’ve done in iraq: one million people killed. can we wrap our minds around that? 5 million displaced. a country destroyed to such an extent that it will take 100s of yrs to build it back to what it was before the american invasion. what about fallujah, where people have been genetically mutated for generations on account of depleted uranium? women have been asked not to have babies. there r pictures and medical reports from intl agencies on the web. and all of this was unprovoked! based on lies and false slides presented to the u.n. how about grieving for the muslims of iraq? does it qualify as hallowed ground? or afghanistan, where we funded a decade long war with the soviets before we decided to occupy ourselves? every time 50 muslims get killed by mistake at a wedding party on the other side of the planet, does it even register? can we feel what it must be like for a mother to pick up the charred remains of her children and bury them? this happens daily in afghanistan, not just on one day.

there is plenty of grief to go around in the world. we r paying for much grief, much death, much torture being perpetrated on muslims right now. how many more lives, how much more blood, how much more hate will it take to quench our thirst for revenge? as americans we so need to finally get over ourselves.

“I urge them [Jones and Rauf] to travel together to minister to the suffering people of Pakistan.”

alright, i agree with this. this is mr ahmed’s way of putting things in perspective. wish he had also talked about our war zones and the lives we’re destroying there – something we have the ability to stop right away.

On Faith Panelists Blog: National security does not “hinge” on mosque
By Akbar Ahmed, September 10, 2010

“When 75% of Americans are already against the mosque, this tragedy to me is counterproductive.”

mr ahmed keeps bringing up this 70-75%. first of all this controversy was created and fueled and funded by pamela geller and other marginal racists and haters. it is a non-issue as there is already a mosque closer to ground zero. so to cede to the national lowest common denominator is immensely sad – not just for rauf but for all americans who expect better from their country.

secondly, in matters of law and civil rights we do not take cues from the majority. majorities r known to lynch and segregate and harrass and vandalize. that’s why we have laws. in democracies, the rights of minorities r not determined by polling – they’re supposed to be protected by the state.

“For the imam to say that the national security of the US “hinges” on the building of the mosque makes little sense to me. He must plan for the immediate future regarding the mosque in the context of the United States and not link it to some theoretical or remote ideas of foreign policy and international relations. The problem is squarely situated in the United States and needs to be resolved here. Whether he shifted or changes his structure or comes up with any other solution, little will change in terms of the implications for American national security. However, to many Americans, the imam’s insistence on linking the construction of the mosque with “national security” appeared almost like a veiled threat.”

aie, aie, aie. the imam is just repeating what general petraeus and every other u.s. govt official has already said. and wasn’t general petraeus advised by mr ahmed?

akbar ahmed

review: la double vie de veronique by krzysztof kieslowski

“la double vie de veronique” is an exquisite film by polish director and screenwriter krzysztof kieslowski. it’s a delicate blend of metaphysical poetry, visual rhyming, translucent shots filled with the magic of fireflies, nostalgic music that seems to lead the film rather than underline it, and the sublime irene jacob.

she plays two identical-looking women (one in poland, one in france) whose parallel lives hardly ever intersect, yet they seem to share an eerie connection. perhaps it’s a meditation on the inchoate nature of the human soul and its yearning for completion, for perfect symmetry. could it be that life is like a kirigami snowflake, carefully folded and cut out to produce a delightful mirror image? what kind of unique patterns does human life produce?

and what role does chance or destiny play in these continuously shifting patterns? as usual, i am reminded of milan kundera. in his article “compassion for the ephemeral” (the guardian, march 17, 2007), craig raine explains:

Anna Karenina, Kundera argues, has a troubled relationship with Vronsky, but the efficient cause of her suicide is aesthetic. Surrounded by ugliness of every sort, she is reminded of the first time she met Vronsky – when a railway worker fell to his death under the train wheels. She can “give her love story a finished, beautiful shape” by ending her life in the same way. She succumbs to symmetry.

this incitement to symmetry, this unconscious human desire to shape life with the measured rhythm of a poem, is expressed in the film through recurring images and symbols. slawomir idziak’s cinematography is captivating. the concept of “reflection” is translated visually trough the use of mirrors, haunting patterns of light and shadow, compositions collaged together from multiple layers of gossamer images, and the distorting effects of a lens or magnifying glass.

time sequences involve flash forwards – another hint that chance’s random twists and turns might be predetermined? repeating motifs occur throughout the film – bits of string twisted around a finger, the earthy comfort of wood, recurring colors, art and music. zbigniew preisner’s musical score is attributed to van den budenmayer, a fictitious eighteenth-century composer who’s supposed to have lived in holland some two hundred years ago and who is credited with all the music in kie?lowski’s films. here his score is divine – pure and tender, mysterious, nostalgic.

there is a hauntingly beautiful scene in “double vie” where a puppeteer’s masterful hands gently sculpt a story, much like a director, much like god.

although there is a love story in the film, it’s certainly not its focus. it’s a component of veronique’s life but it gives her clues about herself, rather than define her. it’s not hollywood’s all-consuming passion that leaves no room for an alternative ending. it’s more of an exploration in the much bigger theme of perpetual yearning – the need for something that’s familiar yet out of reach, something that’s real but also ethereal.

all these lovely coincidences and overlaps, parallel worlds and symmetrical destinies, mysterious longings and nostalgia reminded me of wislawa szymborska’s poetry. here is “love at first sight.”

Love at First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways —
perhaps they’ve passed each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember —
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember
They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
beforehand.
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)

la double vie de veronique by krzysztof kie?lowski

The Great (Double) Game by Thomas Friedman

“The [9/11] terrorist attack was basically planned, executed and funded by radical Pakistanis and Saudis.” – wtf! thomas friedman is tired of being a “sucker” but i think it’s the misguided readers of the nyt who should be tired of his sheer dumbness.

here is his article. the following is my response.

The u.s is being suckered.
the u.s. is an imperial aggressor conducting unwarranted wars and killing civilians, directly or indirectly, on a massive scale in countries that pose no threat to its citizenry.

We are paying Pakistan’s Army and intelligence service to be two-faced. Otherwise, they would be just one-faced and 100 percent against us. The same could probably be said of Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai.
the pakistani army has been america’s stooge since 1947 and hamid karzai is a puppet govt installed by the u.s.

China supports Pakistan, seeks out mining contracts in Afghanistan and lets America make Afghanistan safe for Chinese companies.
afghanistan is NOT safe, it was much safer under the taliban. karzai’s govt has hardly any influence outside of kabul. 70% of the country is still under taliban control.

china is not a military occupation force. they’re geographically located right next to afghanistan and pakistan and have had and will continue to have both business and security relationships with their neighbors. america is irrelevant.

Oil consumption, which indirectly helps to fund the very Taliban schools and warriors our soldiers are fighting against.
oil consumption is only part of the problem. the saudis don’t need to invest in taliban training. there’s plenty of hatred to go around w/o any taliban schools. its coming from american bombings, raids, detentions, torture – from our brutal occupation.

That terrorist attack was basically planned, executed and funded by radical Pakistanis and Saudis.
where the fuck did he come up with pakistan? i could stand up and say that the 9/11 attack was planned, executed and funded by the cia and mossad and be on equally firm ground.

The short answer is because Pakistan has nukes that we fear and Saudi Arabia has oil that we crave.
the govts in both pakistan and saudi arabia r owned by the u.s. – we don’t fear shit.

We hoped that building a decent democratizing government in Iraq would influence reform in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
friedman was one of the biggest cheerleaders for the iraq invasion and the neo-con idea of ending a state in order to rebuild it in our own image. one of his fake sense pronouncements: “two countries with mcdonald’s restaurants won’t go to war.” for that alone, friedman should be ex-communicated from serious journalism.

After expelling Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, we stayed on to stabilize the place, largely out of fears that instability in Afghanistan could spill into Pakistan and lead to Islamist radicals taking over Islamabad and its nukes.
al qaeda was never kicked out of afghanistan. al qaeda (or the 100 or so people believed to loosely represent it) is completely portable – they can move around. unlike american forces, they actually live in afghanistan. they have plenty of time to play hide and seek. the spilling over of the militancy/instability into pakistan it on account of american presence, not in spite of it.

The Pakistani Army is obsessed with what it says is the threat from India — and keeping that threat alive is what keeps the Pakistani Army in control of the country.
american sponsorship is what really keeps the army in control in pakistan – like all american-funded latin american military dictatorships.

The absence of either stable democracy in Pakistan or a decent public education system only swells the ranks of the Taliban and other Islamic resistance forces there.
the absense of a stable democracy in pakistan also has something to do with america’s support/preference for military dictators.

If Pakistan built its identity around its own talented people and saw its strategic depth as the quality of its schools, farms and industry, instead of Afghanistan, it might be able to produce a stable democracy — and we wouldn’t care about Pakistan’s nukes any more than India’s.
again, see above. as far as the nukes, the u.s. doesn’t fear them. they’ve known about them forever. they just use that card when needed. read seymour hersh’s article about how americans have an arrangement to deploy a special services unit to pakistan should an internal dispute in the country put the nukes at risk. basically, there is no risk. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/11/16/091116fa_fact_hersh

The al-Sauds get to rule and the Wahhabis get to impose on their society the most puritanical Islam — and export it to mosques and schools across the Muslim world, including to Pakistan, with money earned by selling oil to the West.
the sauds r best friends with the bushes. it’s like egypt. it’s not about oil, it’s about control over countries to the detriment of their people’s will.

So we pay Pakistan to help us in Afghanistan, even though we know some of that money is killing our own soldiers, because we fear that just leaving could lead to Pakistan’s Islamists controlling its bomb.
bullshit on account of all of the above.

We don’t have the money, manpower or time required to fully transform the most troubled states of this region.
what reprehensible, racist, neo con hubris – to want to “westernize” other countries out of compassion by destroying and then rebuilding them our way. yuck.

I am tired of being the sucker in this game.
and we r tired of ur stupidity and ur malignant political agenda.

“inception” was disappointing…

great idea, lots of action, nolan and dicaprio, yet the film didn’t quite work for me.

one major weakness: the idea to be planted in someone’s brain (the “crime”) was rather pathetic. also, leo’s story with his wife was a distraction – too schmaltzy, his wife’s character way too annoying. they should have framed the film as a crime flick – a bunch of intelligent, quirky, witty, super creative people working together as a team to commit a crime – using the unconventional method of entering into people’s subconscious, kinda like sneakers or ocean’s eleven – no sentimentality, more focus on the crime itself, the dynamics of a team of geniuses, humor, cool, and a unique way to to commit the crime.

ellen page bored me to death. someone with more of an edge, with a stronger presence, with more maturity would have been terrific. and the psychology was too pat. for a film which undertakes the exciting visual exploration of the human mind and psyche, inception was actually quite boring. that’s criminal, no?

johan galtung interview on DN! – my take

“I Love the US Republic, and I Hate the US Empire”: Johan Galtung on the War in Afghanistan and How to Get Out – second part of Amy Goodman’s interview with Johan Galtung. Known as a founder of the field of peace and conflict studies, he’s spent the past half-century pursuing nonviolent conflict resolution in international relations. His latest book is The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What?: Successors, Regionalization or Globalization? US Fascism or US Blossoming?

watch interview here.

my comments:

i found the galtung interview interesting but i had major problems with how he started off.

the occupation of afghanistan cannot last because colonization has never lasted anywhere. of course afghanistan is even harder to occupy than most countries on account of how afghan society has always been loosely structured, with no strong central govt. we find the same social set up in pakistan’s northern regions and that’s why the pakistani govt had never interfered in their business – they had always been quite autonomous – before and after british colonial rule, pre and post partition. but galtung chooses to focus on islam as the reason why afghanistan cannot be colonized. he talks about muslims all over the world fighting for afghan independence, falling in the common trap of treating islam as a monolith and buying into the class of civilizations. he goes further and uses islamic theology to back up his claims – the followers of “allah” will never capitulate to “infidels”. that is so franklin graham! first of all, christians and jews r not infidels but people of the book in islam. secondly, since when have the followers of jesus or moses liked to capitulate to muslim infidels? the simple fact is that no one likes to have their country occupied. period.

i agree with him on 9/11. i don’t think that al qaeda had much to do with it. in fact, they issued a statement right after 9/11 saying as much (http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/16/inv.binladen.denial/). most people don’t remember that. 9/11 was probably carried out by a small group of disaffected, mostly saudi men. again, i don’t think it was just about an oil treaty or about what the prophet said when he expired. i think the presence of american troops on saudi soil is a huge problem as is american foreign policy.

it’s true that conflict resolution is outside the purview of u.s. foreign policy, that the u.s. might become increasingly irrelevant and that turkey could become an imp world player. i have always talked about the need for more cooperation b/w the islamic world and latin america because they have v similar colonial histories and r still the victims of nefarious post colonial interference. the rapprochement between turkey, iran and brazil seems to be in line with that idea. i also agree with what he says about india – their alacrity to align themselves with america and israel and with the lethal combination of the “war on terror” doctrine mixed together with aggressive capitalism does not bode well. they will end up on the wrong side of the split between the present world order and its eventual replacement.

afghanistan will certainly be another vietnam – it’s self evident. people talk about differences but in fact the similarities r quite stunning. the result will be the same – as soon as we leave the country, the puppet govt we have propped up will collapse and the taliban will take over – they already control most of the country anyway.

also, totally agree about al jazeera being multi-angle. it’s real journalism vs what we have – corporate media where news looks like an advertisement stuck in an endless loop.

galtung is absolutely right that the word terrorism, as applied to national resistance movements, is preposterous.

but then sure enough he returns to his comfort zone of infidels and ummahs. i’m glad he mentions some concrete issues tho. when the west became insistent on crediting al qaeda for 9/11, bin laden did use that opportunity to become a spokesperson for the monolithic islam conjured up by the west. he came out with a statement of issues the muslim world had with the u.s. including palestine, somalia, chechnya, kashmir, lebanon, the devastating sanctions on iraq, jerusalem as the capital of israel, the theft and exploitation of resources found in muslim countries, etc. galtung is right that no effort was ever made to talk about any of these concerns.

his recommendations which include trading for equal economic benefit, pulling out of military bases, creating a dept of peace, putting an end to political arm twisting,
and forgetting about a separate mandate from god in favor of dialogue r all spot on.

johan galtung

Ahmadi Killings in Lahore

In view of two major attacks on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore on March 28, 2010, in which 90 people were killed and more than one hundred injured, a Pakistani American perspective…

In 2003 when Benazir Bhutto was invited to speak at St John Fisher’s College here in Rochester about racial, religious and ethnic tolerance, my husband made it a point to attend the event. He sat patiently through all her vapid rhetoric in order to ask her one single question. In 1974 her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, had bowed to political pressure and declared Ahmadis1 to be non-Muslims, triggering a wave of persecution and discrimination which is still alive and well today. Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and then again from 1993 to 1996. My husband’s question was simple: what had she or her administration done during those two shots at governing Pakistan to eliminate this religious intolerance? Bhutto fumbled for words and launched into a generic speech on the importance of co-existence but she had no answer. Her administration had done nothing to address this injustice.

In a country where the army has penetrated every facet of society to the detriment of civic institutions, where that same military has mounted devastating attacks on its own civilians creating millions of refugees, where the Police Act of 1861 which was drafted by the British to facilitate their rule over the Indian subcontinent still defines the relationship (with minor amendments) between the police and the citizenry, where a small group of venal elite continue to colonize 170 million people, most of whom can hardly scrape a living, what protection can we expect for religious minorities?

When I called an Ahmadi friend of mine to inquire about her family following the horrible attacks in Lahore, she was pragmatic about the state of affairs in Pakistan. “Don’t they kill Shias in mosques all the time?” she said. True. Such mass killings are not limited to religious minorities either – their motivation can be ethnic or political as well. But the fact is that when a religious minority is targeted, it exposes a disturbing truth about the level of intolerance in a society and its inability to use legal safeguards and adequate law enforcement to protect all its citizens.

In a country like Pakistan, which is already torn by sectarian strife, there is no room for blasphemy laws2 which are open to abuse or a constitutional clause that requires Pakistan’s head of state to be a Muslim. Such laws succeed only in exacerbating existing tensions and designating religious minorities as second-class citizens. Pakistan’s government needs to take a stand. Half-hearted condolences will not do, neither will hypocritical platitudes. The perpetrators of the violence must be brought to justice. Discriminatory laws must be repealed. The police force must be trained to protect Pakistani citizens irrespective of socio-economic status, ethnicity or religion. Religious freedom and tolerance must be treated as a national priority.

With Islamophobia being as rampant as it is in the Western world today, who could be in a better position than Muslims to understand the vulnerability of religious minorities? Let’s remember that human rights are universal and not the prerogative of any one select group. We can only be safe when all of us, each and everyone of us is safe.

[1] The Ahmadiyya movement was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889. His followers, the Ahmadis, believe him to be the promised messiah whose return is prophesized by all Abrahamic religions. Mainstream Muslims consider Muhammad to be the last prophet. This creates a divergence of views on the finality of prophethood, one of the central tenets of mainstream Islam. There are 3-4 million Ahmadis in Pakistan but their worldwide population might be as high as 200 million.

[2] Blasphemy laws were introduced by General Zia ul Haq in the 1980s. Under these laws, defaming the Prophet Muhammad or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object can be punished with a fine, imprisonment, even a death sentence.

ahmadi family

steven dietz’s “yankee tavern” – a post 9/11 mystery

attended a reading of “yankee tavern” at geva theatre yesterday.

the play, written by steven dietz, has been described as a “post 9/11 mystery”. it’s a multi-layered story with 4 characters. adam and janet r planning to get married but there seem to be some uncomfortable secrets, some unsaid things between them. adam has inherited his dad’s run-down tavern along with his dad’s best friend ray, who is a tireless conspiracy theorist. as he talks about the real moon vs the invisible moon and how kleenex made the most of a spore lab-designed to trigger allergies, we find it easy to ignore or mock him. but then the conversation turns to 9/11 and ray becomes quite lucid – he asks some hard-hitting questions which r not so easy to dismiss. a mysterious man named palmer appears on the scene. he seems to have an insider’s knowledge about some disturbing facts related to 9/11. the plot begins to thicken and the play transitions seamlessly from comedy to drama to mystery. well written, tightly wound, and thought provoking, with the events of 9/11 at its core, yankee tavern finds it easy to draw its audience in.

the reading was followed by a discussion with three local “instigators” – a u.s. army general who did a tour of duty in iraq and who had been working at the pentagon before 9/11, a reporter for the democrat and chronicle and an activist/free lance journalist who writes for city news. i have to say that the retired general’s comments were the most cogent and interesting to me. he confirmed in some detail how they had already been working on iraq before 9/11 ever happened, in fact as soon as the bush administration came into office. there was a great push from the neo-cons to make iraq happen and 9/11 was just a convenient cover that fell into their laps.

of course this is not something new. what’s shocking is that it has not yet seeped into mainstream consciousness. that was my question actually: what is the definition of conspiracy? is it anything that contradicts the govt’s official story? didn’t we learn from watergate that govts lie, even ours? and if so, why discredit skepticism about the govt’s position as “conspiracy”? the reporter on the panel made some lame comment about how a conspiracy can be defined as something not confirmed in mainstream media. btw this guy also believes that the ny times and wall street journal r the ultimate bastions of truth. i was glad when the free lance journalist didn’t let him get away with that and pointed out the damage done by the ny times in the run-up to the iraq war. the general answered my question thoughtfully by appreciating the importance of skepticism in a democracy. he also said that based on his own experience of working for the govt he wouldn’t be surprised if some of the “conspiracies” mentioned in the play were in fact true.

there was a lot of talk about oil being at the forefront of our motivation to go to iraq. i couldn’t help interjecting from the audience that oil might have been an attraction but there is more to it than just that. someone asked about the accuracy of the information presented in the play and i was a bit annoyed by one of the organizers who said that every fact mentioned by dietz could be found on the internet thus eliciting a wave of laughter from the audience. i don’t like it when people diss the internet. oh sure, there is much which is worthless and offensive on the web but anyone with half a brain can figure out rather quickly what to look for. the internet gives us democracy now, mosaic world news, al jazeera, counterpunch, the guardian, truthout, dahr jamail, jeremy scahill, pulse media, flashpoints and much much more. it’s rich, multi-dimensional, accessible (hopefully to more and more of the world population), instantaneous and almost free. what’s there not to like? it’s the democratization of information which is obviously a threat to the old establishment and so here goes the dissing again.

all in all it was an interesting evening. i shook the general’s hand before i left. he and i seemed to be on the same page.

kudos to geva theatre for putting this event together. yankee tavern was the last play in geva’s “the hornets’ nest” series this year.

9/11 questions

Waste Land

saw a beautiful film last sunday – a documentary called “waste land.” it illustrates the sacred intersection of art and social change through a brilliant journey undertaken by artist vik muniz. muniz goes back to his native land to work with garbage from brazil’s largest landfill. he gets to know the pickers and involves them in making artwork. he realizes, like the rest of us, that garbage is only ugly when u’re looking at it from afar. as u become immersed in it, as u become familiar with the people who pick thru it and live in favelas surrounded by trash, u begin to see how beautiful they r, how heartbreaking their stories, how radiant their spirits. oh, and muniz’s art is magnificent.

more films from rochester’s 360/365 film festival

saw three movies last saturday.

“monogamy” has one of the weakest, most vacuous, most annoyingly trivial scripts i have ever encountered – it takes a lot to turn a film about voyeurism into a crushing bore!

“io sono l’amore” (i am love) is a tribute to the douglas sirk larger than life, beautifully shot melodrama. repressed desires, familial responsibility and honor, forbidden love, impossible grief – all converge on an italian family dynasty, tilda swinton being at the center of the storm. the operatic score by john adams adds much passion and intensity to the film.

“winter’s bone” which got several awards at sundance, is set in a dismal trailer park in missouri. it’s raw, violent, unflinchingly realistic but jennifer lawrence’s performance (as a gritty 17 year old taking on her dangerous neighborhood to protect her family) shines brilliantly throughout the film.

WOMEN WITHOUT MEN – a film by Shirin Neshat

saw shirin neshat’s “women without men” on friday. stunning film full of mystery and magic set against the very concrete backdrop of the 1953 cia-backed coup against mossadeq. neshat’s artistry is apparent in every frame of the film – the images are beautiful, impeccably composed, rich with emotive meaning. based on the book by shahrnush parsipur.

review: VIDEOCRACY by Erik Gandini, Sweden 2009

a fascinating and sometimes chilling visual essay, videocracy examines italy in the age of media baron and current prime minister silvio berlusconi.

erik gandini is an italian filmmaker who went to film school in sweden. u see some of that influence in his work – a certain sparesity in narration which is more than compensated for by the cinematographic content of the film. gandini loves the documentary form on account of that flexibility – u can communicate what reality feels like without having to articulate what it is.

at the beginning of the film he explains how u have to be inside of italy’s berlusconi-induced video culture in order to understand it, it’s not enough to look at it from the sidelines. and inside we go as the film plunges into a collage of footage from tv shows. one of the producers explains how the images and sounds that emanate from berlusconi’s tv programming represent the man himself, his persona. he likes naked voluptuous women, fun parties, loud colors, and money and that’s what u see on-screen.

reality tv is immensely popular in italy and so is the idea that there is no point in just “being” unless u r “seen.” we meet a young man who has been training to become a cross between jean-claude van damme and ricky martin for 12 yrs so he can be on a tv show. he complains about how girls get all the gigs: “the girls will do anything to be on tv. they have an advantage. it’s not fair. why should i be a mechanic for the rest of my life?”

he is right. girls do have an advantage. many of them dream of becoming velines, tv show dancers who accompany the host on stage. they never speak but perform a rather ridiculous dance which is meant to engage the audience in between breaks. whether they r velines or housewives on reality tv, women r constantly objectified, degraded. i couldn’t help ask myself whether it’s worse for women to be hidden away by the taliban or to be stripped naked in front of cameras by talk show hosts. of course there is the question of free will – but is there?

we are introduced to a cherubic friend of the prime minister’s: lele mora is the most powerful talent agent in italy. he can turn regular people into super stars. everyone wants him. he’s a master puppeteer. gandini’s camera lingers on his face – an odd mix of beatific smiles and sleazeball ambiguity.

one of his proteges is a man named fabrizio corona. he employs paparazzi to hound celebrities and sells their compromising photographs back to them. he gets 80 days in prison for extortion but comes out tanned, buffed up, rebranded and fully merchandised. he becomes a celebrity and starts making some serious dough – his job is to show up at parties where people can get pictures taken with him. when he starts to lose his touch, he decides to go to murder scenes and ask the families of murder victims to sport his t-shirts in exchange for money. that doesn’t work out too well. he straps a video camera onto his body and secretly films his own divorce proceedings. he’s a survivor.

it’s a nightmarish world – surreal in its vulgarity, horrifying in its vacuousness, disturbing in its ability to produce mass appeal. the film ends with some text: 80% of italians get their information from tv. it’s the legendary panem et circenses and we would do well to recognize where we’re headed.

girls auditioning for the much desired job of veline.