Monday, August 28, 2006

Forum: "Baghdad to Beirut: Birth Pangs of a New Middle East?"

Some political activity in the hinterlands: Together with my colleagues Joel Gordon (History) and Najib Ghadbian (Political Science), I've helped organize a forum on current Middle East affairs. The three of us (who also do a regular, smaller-scale forum called Diwan Baghdad) will all speak, along with two University of Arkansas students, Nadine Sinno and Sarah Gibson, who were in Beirut during the recent Israeli onslaught. I plan to talk about US media (mis)coverage of the Israeli assault on Lebanon. This Wednesday at 4 PM.

As for the "birth pangs" in question: When Condoleeza uttered her immortal words, she was, according to Northwest Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons (August 2), talking in code to Christian fundamentalists, i.e. she was addressing W's political base. She was alluding to a verse in Matthew (24: 7-8) where Jesus informs the Apostles how to recognize the "end times": "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom...All these are the beginning of birth pangs."

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Aki & Dave of Fun^Da^Mental Speak, as does Natacha Atlas

I'm somewhat tardy in posting this, due to distractions on the personal front. John Hutnyk ("Trinketization") has a very interesting post on a London event to discuss the controversy over Fun'Da'Mental's new album, All Is War, and to premier the video of "Cookbook DIY," the most controversial track on the album. Among those who spoke were Aki Nawaz and Dave Watts of Fun'Da'Mental and Natacha Atlas, who records (in England) on Aki's label, Nation Records. Read the whole thing, but here are some bits:
Aki starts speaking about how democracy is a weapon that kills, that there is a silencing that is as much blame, that the leader in Downing St needs to be put on a donkey and paraded through the city, and that he can’t understand why there is nobody doing anything. He is really angry. The youth in Britain are angry, There are people being killed in thousands and everyone seems to be going on and on as if there was nothing they could do. They tried to protest against the gulf war, but were ignored and since then, nothing. Why, he says, aren’t people out there burning down town halls and the like? (This last comment almost an aside, but it will become more and more the hot topic of the night).

...she talks of her Syrian partner, the troubles musicians have getting visas in Europe, her anger and frustration at the war, and she apologises for being emotional. In fact it’s the most passionate thing I’ve heard her say ever, and not at all prima donne-esque. Great.

in response to questions the point was made forcefully by Aki that the issue was British foreign policy. A simple persuasive argument he offers runs: we put up with years and years of racism and it did not mean any young people felt the need to strap on bomb belts and jackets and blow the trains; we endured years and years unemployment and it did not mean anyone went out to bomb buildings [well, Baader Meinhof excluded, but …]; but now the nightly news footage of innocents killed one after the other in their hundreds and no-one wants to discuss it, no-one listens, no debate, no significant movement to defend Muslims; no defence of mosques from attack; no way the STW coalition was going to deliver on its promise that ‘if Blair goes to war we will stop the whole country’, despite 2 million marching in February 2002…the problem is foreign policy. Change that and its over.

Dave Watts from FDM stands up. The discussion has dragged on and his frustration as clear as many. He starts by saying he understands why people want to be suicide bombers, he understands the frustration that would make someone want to go out and do it. You can imagine how this rubs up against the Gandhians. Dave says there has to be some understanding of where those who have tried to discuss have now ended up – ready to do violence and blow up buildings [code words]. But then he says he is a man of peace, a lover of peace, but he is angry and we have to fight for peace. The video clip we are about to see is called ‘Cookbook DIY’ and Dave explains its in three parts, that the person who in frustration because the is no other avenue for discussion, expression, action, has made a home bomb for 50 quid, is a small version of the guy who makes a dirty bomb, with materials bought on the black market, but neither are as obscene as the scientist who kisses his wife in the morning – Dave mimes a smooch, playing to the audience – who then goes off to work in a pentagon lab or some such to make a neutron bomb that kills all the people but leaves the buildings intact. Have a look at the video people … at which point, the screening [of Cookbook DIY]

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Sun Ra - Brother From Another Planet: BBC Video

Acclaimed Documentary on this Visionary Musician

A wonderful BBC documentary, 58 minutes long, on the amazing, indescribable jazz artist Sun Ra. Without Sun Ra--would Parliament-Funkadelic ever have existed? Would psychedelic lightshows have been invented? Would there be Afro-Futurism? Check it out!

And: watch this live Sun Ra performance on "Saturday Night Live," 1978. A weirder and more visionary musical act probably has never appeared, before or since, on the show.

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The Gossip "Listen Up!" Video

Great song from The Gossip's 3rd album, Standing in the Way of Control. With their new drummer, Hannah Billie, The Gossip have a very different sound, a rhythm that makes their sound even more soul and funk-based than in the past. The instruments are still minimimalist, but who knew that guitarist/bassist Nathanie/Brace could bring the funk so well? Vocalist Beth Ditto has always sounded like a punked-out Aretha or Bessie Smith, but now the southern grits and collard greens are even more in evidence. (Beth and Nathaniel are originally from Searcy, Arkansas.) In the vid, Nathaniel plays the bass in his bedroom, looking like a bored teen. Drummer Hannah pounds the cowbell. Beth looks rather grandmotherly, most of the time, sitting and knitting. And then, acting on her pro-fat stance, she pushes pizza. Meanwhile, teen punkettes get up and dance to the music. Riot grrrl lives! -- despite the untimely retirement of Sleater-Kinney.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sound Comments...

Turn on Fox News, turn off the sound, and listen to:

DJ Ahmedenijad aka Cesar Chavez (Tehran, Lebanon)
2/5 BZ (Turkey)
Gözel Records (Turkey)
Ramallah Underground (Palestine)
free mp3s of Iraqi music

Thanks to wayne&wax for these listening suggestions.

and don't forget Fun'Da'Mental here and here (click on 'Goodies' and scroll down to the bottom for mp3s)

Addendum: at the suggestion of wayneandwax--check out soot records, and in particular these artists who do stuff with a Middle Eastern flavor: Nettle, dj/rupture, Filastine and Mutamassik. Poke around; sometimes in the news section you can find mp3s.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

More on "From Beirut to ... Those Who Love Us"--and a new video letter

Check out this article by Jim Quilty for The Daily Star, on the video letter "From Beirut to ... Those Who Love Us," and a new one called "Dead Time," from the Beirut Development and Cinema film collective. (Quilty probably wouldn't want anyone to know, but for awhile he was a Hawg--doing graduate work in History at the University of Arkansas in the late nineties. I think he made a good career choice, switching to journalism. Although now, in Beirut?)

Says Christine Tohme of Ashkal Alwan: "The 1982 invasion had news coverage but very little art came out of it. One thing we can do is make sure that isn't the case this time as well. Resistance isn't something new to us: It's been embedded in all our work since long before this war began."

Check out the two video letters here. (Earlier posting here.)

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Don't Forget Gaza

News of the ongoing Israeli onslaught of Lebanon is overshadowing, vanishing in fact, all news of Gaza, where the onslaught is equally awful. Here's a reminder.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Civil Resistance in Lebanon

Civil resistance in Lebanon, along the lines of Palestine's International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and with ISM's participation. The first action, and coming actions, are described here. Be sure to hunt around on the site. You can also download posters like the one featured here, as well as banners (like the one in the right-hand column) to put on your website. From the press release:
On August 12 at 7 am, we will gather in Martyrs’ Square to form a civilian convoy to the south of Lebanon. Hundreds of Lebanese and international civilians will carry relief as an expression of solidarity for the inhabitants of the heavily destroyed south who have been bravely withstanding the assault of the Israeli military.

After August 12th, the campaign will continue with a series of civil actions for which your presence and participation is needed. Working together in solidarity we will overcome the complacency, inaction, and complicity of the international community and we will deny Israel its goal of removing Lebanese from their land and destroying the fabric of our country.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How the BBC, and Kathleen Parker, report on Lebanon

Here's a sentence from a BBC report yesterday which I believe sums up the difference between news media reporting on Lebanon in Europe vs. media coverage in the US.
More than 900 Lebanese, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict, the Lebanese government says. More than 90 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have also been killed.

The US public almost never hears or reads reports like that. Instead, we get comment like Kathleen Parker's (opinion columnist for The Orlando Sentinel), which appeared in my local paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, last Friday (and was syndicated in many papers throughout the US). Here are some relevant extracts, with my commentary.
By bringing the war to suburbia [HUH?! Kathleen: your, er, class location is showing!] in violation of the Geneva Conventions and launching rockets from villages such as Qana, Hezbollah virtually ensures that civilians will die.

Here Parker trumpets the official Israeli line, that Hezbollah is to blame for the death of Lebanese civilians.
Pending an investigation, many facts are unknown, including whether the building in which the children died came down as a result of Israeli fire. The Associated Press and others now report that the Israeli strike on Qana came between midnight and 1 a.m., but the building didn't collapse until 7 or 8 a.m., possibly as a result of munitions inside the building.

Maybe the Israelis didn't really kill those people anyway!
Whatever the case, Israeli Defense Forces had dropped leaflets into Qana a week beforehand, warning residents to evacuate. Although international humanitarian law forbids the deliberate targeting of civilian areas, exceptions are tolerated under certain circumstances.

Those dumb children, they should have left. They were warned!
As Human Rights Watch explains on its Web site (humanrights, a civilian area can be targeted if it "makes an 'effective' contribution to the enemy's military activities and its destruction, capture or neutralization offers a 'definite military advantage' to the attacking side in the circumstances ruling at the time."

Parker's hypocritical use of HRW language to support Israel really defies belief, doesn't it? Especially since Human Rights Watch has released a report criticizing Israel's indiscriminate attacks on Lebanese civilians.
The humanitarian guidelines also call for "proportionality" in "dual use" areas and for precautions to protect civilians.

Parsing the language of "dual use" when bombs are killing sleeping children seems absurd when measured against such senseless loss. But it is also necessary if we are to maintain perspective against a cowardly enemy that hides among women and children, then relies on emotion to gain traction on the battlefield of public opinion.

Why some residents of Qana didn't leave given fair warning is a point of speculation, but Hezbollah reportedly has blocked residents from evacuating other areas. Proportionality is a trickier question, but let's be clear on the issue of moral equivalence. There is none. Hezbollah aims to kill civilians; Israel aims not to. But by firing rockets from civilian areas, Hezbollah forces Israel to return fire, thus inciting the condemnation of civilized nations and fueling the reliable outrage of the Arab street.

I've never seen reports of Hezbollah blocking the exit of civilians--who, especially when we're talking about Shi'ites in the south, are almost unanimous in their support of Hezbollah. And of course "some" residents of Qana, and probably most of them, did leave. Others stayed because they were afraid: of being attacked by Israeli warplanes while fleeing. Others stayed because taxi fares have become exorbitant, too high for the poorest to afford. And some, legitimately, resisted Israel's warnings to leave. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of what is going on in South Lebanon knows this, but in the US, all you need is ideology to qualify as an opinion columnist.

"Hezbollah aims to kill civilians; Israel aims not to." Does Parker not know basic math, the kind the BBC finds so easy to manage? And..."by firing rockets from civilian areas, Hezbollah forces Israel to return fire," that is, Hezbollah forces Israel to blow up an entire country, destroy its infrastructure, create a million refugees, destroy Lebanon's coast, etc. Israel has no choice but to respond this way. Israel is entirely blameless, Hezbollah entirely culpable.

Such commentary is no anomaly, but instead represents entirely conventional US media commentary on Israel's invasion Lebanon. I'm having a hard time trying to puzzle out why I shouldn't say that such commentators have the moral integrity of Goebbels.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Patti Smith: the last rocker with a social conscience left?

From Jon Pareles' NY Times report on Lollapalooza, in Chicago this past weekend:
It had one stage devoted to music for children, where none other than the punk-rock poet Patti Smith performed on Sunday afternoon. There, in one of the festival’s most blunt political moments, she sang a newly written song about children killed by bombs in Lebanon, with bitterly graphic imagery: “limp little bodies caked in mud.”

Is anyone else in the US pop culture field saying anything that is even a little bit critical about Lebanon?

This sentence from Pareles' report seems to capture the current state of pop music: "The new Lollapalooza happens only in Chicago; it’s also clean-cut, having made peace with corporate sponsorship and Chicago’s civic pride."

And, from another Pareles report:
Lollapalooza, meanwhile, is branded every which way: on stages, on the field, in its advertising. Its main sponsor is AT&T, and I have to wonder if Lollapalooza's new rectangular logo, with a few letters on each line, has been remade in the image of a telephone keypad. (Meanwhile, AT&T is webcasting parts of the festival at Does all the corporate presence make any difference to music that's rarely nonprofit by intention? "Enjoy Capitalism," said one audience member's T-shirt - and Capitalism, of course, looked like a Coca-Cola logo.

As for Patti, here's her recent statement about the Qana massacre, from her website:

The Israeli practice of collective punishment is a war crime under the Geneva Convention. Why are they allowed to do this? Because they have our permission?

We send over four billion dollars in aid and weapons to Israel every year. We are paying for this devastation. The slaughter of children. The country in ruins.We are paying for this. George Bush willfully rejected a truce and now we have the Qana massacre on our head. Thirty seven of the dead were children.

Qana is considered by some as the location of the first miracle of Christ. Turning water into wine. There is no wine flowing in Qana today. Only blood. Only blood.

Consider these lyrics, from "Babelogue" (Easter, 1978): "In heart I am a Moslem; in heart I am an American; in heart I am Moslem, in heart I'm an American artist, and I have no guilt." And check out her lyrics to "Where Duty Calls" (Dream of Life, 1988).

P.S.: John Schaefer (see comments) called my attention to the fact that Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips also had something to say about Lebanon at Lollapalooza. According to the Chicago Tribute, "Coyne prompted the massive crowd to sing along in an effort to 'stop traffic' in the area and to 'stop Israel from bombing Lebanon.'" The Flaming Lips: Who woulda thought? And the Flaming Lips are a band from the heartland: Oklahoma City. (Thanks, John.)

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Fun^Da^Mental's "All Is War" Available 7 August

Fun^Da^Mental's controversial new album All Is War (the benefits of g-had) will be available for downloading on August 7 from the group's website.

Says Aki Nawaz, the group's leader:
"We are not soliciting for your money but your genuine support. Even if you download 1 track and preferably the “I Reject” track you are contributing to putting the middle finger up at the system.

The results for the music industry, media, and the establishment if the track appears in the download charts, would be horrific but absolutely brilliant in terms of dissent.

We promise to donate part of the money to “VERY WORTHWHILE CAUSES” and the rest will be used to carry on pushing politics out of the conventional box of deceit and lies."

The physical album will be released on 28th August via Vital Distribution, on the new label Five Uncivilized Tribes, created because two silent directors of Aki Nawaz's label, Nation Records, threatended to resign over All is War's release.

The track “Cookbook D.I.Y,” which has received the most media attention due to the fact that it treats, among other things, a suicide bomber making his bomb, has been made into a video (available to the media by emailing Fun^Da^Mental). Other videos are in preparation.

Aki Nawaz issued the following statement:
"We have now found a secret location outside of Europe where the album is been manufactured. My intention was to expose the hypocrisy and contradictions of democracy and free speech, which is evident and real, that has been achieved.

I would say we are living in times of “Democratic Nazism” and there is an epidemic of institutionally fuelled racism against the communities. In time and predictably in a colonial mentality, an indigenous “lord or sir” will conclude this after siphoning the tax payers money in its thousands and only then will the “establishment” acknowledge the reality and its error.

However until then as previously we will speak out whatever the consequences at the hands of the State.

Democracy has been hijacked by a few to execute their own demonic aspirations least of all Tony Blair, a Crime Minister of the 1st degree. Foreign Policy is the root cause of the reaction and reality we live in.

I do not fear Prison; far better people have done their time for bigger and worthier struggles.”

The label adds:
"we request that people should first support the people in Lebanon with their money rather than buy the album, their need is greater and far more important however we will happily donate money from the sales to where it matters."

As for the album's provocative album cover: it's totally punk rock. (Aki's first music gig was as drummer for Southern Death Cult.)

Earlier Fun^Da^Mental posts here, here, here, and here.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Video Letter from Beirut: "From Beirut to...Those Who Love Us"

Beirut's artistic community refuses to die! Please watch this video letter from Beirut, produced by Beirut based film collective Beirut DC, entitled "From Beirut to...those who love us.“

According to the letter I just received from them, "The collective is part of grassroots coalition SAMIDOUN which set up the first relief centre for refugees in Beirut, the last count hold around 10,000 internally displaced persons who have fled from Southern Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut. Its various committees, like the medical team, the meal distribution team or the social intervention team carry out various projects in support of the refugees.

The video-letter raises awareness for the situation in Lebanon and shows alternative images to the ones we see in the media on a daily basis. Beirut DC aims the film to be shown in cinemas and cultural spaces all over the world, encourages a wide distribution of the work and welcomes TV stations to acquire the broadcast rights. All revenue from TV-sales will be entirely used to finance the work of SAMIDOUN....

Donations are welcomed at
Samidoun c/o Green Line Association
- Bank Name: Bank of Koweit and Arab World
- Swift Code: BKAWLBBE
- Account Number: 6189003

Please don't hesitate to contact us for further information, for interviews or photos.

With kind regards

Jad Abi Khalil (Beirut DC), phone: +961-3-853625, mail: or"


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Interzone Radio: All Lebanon

As is usual for me on a Tuesday evening, I did my radio show, "Interzone Radio," on the local college radio station, KXUA. Yesterday was August 1, the birthday of Jerry Garcia but also, and much more important for me, the birthday of my late mother. If she were still alive, she would be, like me (and my father and the rest of my family), going crazy about what is happening to Lebanon. She lived there from 1964-1972 and simply loved it (again, like we all do).

Last night I decided to play all Lebanese music for two hours. (Playlist is here.) My decision had nothing to do with my mother, it had everything to do with Lebanon, but doing it certainly made me think of mom. (I've also wanted to eat Lebanese food lately--meaning, since I'm in Fayetteville, that I have to make it myself. I also wish I could get my hands on some 'araq.)

Putting the show together, and then listening to the music, reminded me of what a rich and diverse musical culture Lebanon has. And I only scratched the surface. I focused mostly on the more recent material. Fairuz, of course, mostly songs produced by her son Ziad Rahbani. I still find "El Bosta" from her album Wahdun (released in 1979), with its disco overtones and cinematic production, to be quite amazing. I played "Ya mariamu" from Wala Kif, her song in tribute to the Virgin Mary. It's produced by Ziad, has a very Brazilian feel to it, but what is really remarkable is the way she plays with the lyrics, draws out short syllables, making them long, and her timing and enunciation, which is very jazzy. (Reminds me of the best of Sinatra.) Her song, "Li Beirut," the last number of the night, from Maarifti Feek, nearly brought me to tears. It's a beautiful, beautiful tribute to Beirut; the lyrics are by Joseph Harb:
To Beirut-peace to Beirut with all my heart,
And kisses to the sea and clouds,
To the rock of a city that looks like an old sailor's face.
From the soul of her people she makes wine,
From their sweat, she makes bread and jasmine.
So how did it come to taste of smoke and fire?

And of course I played some Ziad Rahbani, a major singer and performer in his own right. And some Marcel Khalifé, who became known throughout the Arab world in the mid-seventies for his nationalist songs, in particular for his songs set to the poems of celebrated Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish. I played "Ummi" (Mother) from this period. Khalifé's music from the seventies and eighties is very much identified with the cause of the Palestinians and with the struggle of South Lebanon against the Israeli occupation. In those days, Khalifé could fill football stadiums with fans when he gave concerts. Khalifé is a very talented and innovative 'ud player, his singing voice is marvelous, and he's an ambitious composer. I find much of his work over the last twenty years to be somewhat schmaltzy and over-reaching in its classicist ambitions. But he continues to produce creative and boundary-pushing music. The cuts on Concerto Al Andalus (2001) where he works with a small ensemble, including his two sons, is really wonderful, with the dynamics of a jazz ensemble, or the classical Arabic takht.

It's interesting to note that all three of Lebanon's most renowned performers, Fairuz, Ziad Rahbani, and Marcel Khalifé, are Christian, and all are associated variously with progressive, secularist politics. (Joseph Massad discusses Fairuz and Khalifé's engagement with the question of Palestine in the book I co-edited with Rebecca Stein, Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture.)

I played some cuts from Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram, and The 4 Cats, female artists who are part of that larger cultural phenomenon that Marc Lynch calls the Lebanese pop tarts. Sassy, fun, sexy, and a huge sensation throughout the Middle East, particularly as a result of their edgy music videos (video clips) that are broadcast by satellite all over the world, and that can now also be found on Youtube.

And some Lebanese hip-hop (from Clotaire K and Rayess Bek) and some Lebanese rock (by Monsieur Untel)--the latter cut from a compilation of Lebanese rock and alternative put out by the Lebanese music magazine, CD-thèque. Another group on that compilation is Soapkills, who I simply adore. They've been described as a Lebanese trip-hop band, which doesn't quite capture their sound but will have to do. (Listen for yourself at their website here.) Alas, Soapkill recently broke up--singer Yasmine Hamdan (pictured) has gone solo and Zeid Hamdan is now working with a group called Saboon. I didn't play much "traditional" or "folkloric" Lebanese music, but I did play a cut from the late buzuq master Mohammed Matar.

Finally, in this very small sample of the great diversity of Lebanese music, I spun a cut from Chromatic, "Al Kawafel," which I got from another CD-thèque compilation called Jazz Is Alive And Well And Living In Beirut. Jazz, rock, Arab pop, classicist-based innovation: alive in Beirut! That was the hope, and that was what was in fact happening in Lebanon as it managed to rebuild itself, post-civil war, post-Israeli occupation, from the mid-nineties until mid-July 2006. That Lebanese musicians manage to produce such vital and creative work, despite the disasters and traumas of the last three decades, is almost miraculous. My show, without being overtly political, at least was an attempt to testify to that spirit.

Will these musicians, and others like them, be able to continue, given the events of the last three weeks?

(Here's a report on the Beirut's cultural life as a war casualty from Ramsay Short, editor of Time Out Lebanon.)