Sunday, October 29, 2006

More on "pro-terrorist" me...

I just sent this letter off to the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette, in response to Ken Thrasher's letter attacking me as a "pro-terrorist" and Nazi symp. Several students and colleagues at the University of Arkansas have also written letters in my defense and, inshallah, at least some of them will be printed. What I learned from this experience is that, in such cases, it is very very difficult to litigate, very difficult (and very expensive) to win cases where one charges slander or defamation of character. Joel Beinin of Stanford, who has been smeared much worse than I have, sued David Horowitz for copyright violation rather than for slander. Several friends suggested that I try to mobilize faculty to urge the UA administration to take up my defense. I consider that a good idea, but for various reasons (some of them sound), that will not happen in this instance. But at least the Democrat-Gazette received quite a few letters of protest. Unfortunately, such attacks on professors who have progressive politics and who are critical of Israel have become almost daily occurrences.

Here's my response to Thrasher:
Ken Thrasher, in his October 20 response to my letter of October 4, charges me with being "pro-terrorist" and suggests that I am a "Nazi." Thrasher seems neither to have read my letter carefully nor to have attended the Middle East forum to which it refers. On both occasions I argued that Israel's indiscriminate attacks on Lebanese civilians last July and August were not in that country's best interests. I also attempted to show that diplomacy is a preferable policy for Israel (and its chief backer, the US) to adopt in the Middle East rather than one of aggression and war. At the forum I presented an analysis of media accounts of the Israel-Hizbollah conflict, and among other things, I criticized the US media for creating the impression that Israeli forces mainly aimed at military targets, while Hizbollah chiefly attacked civilians. The fact is the reverse: Israeli deaths were mostly military (119, plus 44 civilians) and Lebanese deaths were overwhelmingly civilian (nearly 1200). Because of the diproportionate scale of these casualties, Israel's actions in Lebanon have only served to inflame the crisis and incite greater unrest and anger in the region.

I leave it to the Democrat-Gazette's readers to decide whether calling for diplomacy and raising concerns about excessive civilian casualties makes me "pro-terrorist" and a Nazi sympathizer, and whether aggressive defenders of Israel like Mr. Thrasher really promote that country's best interests in either the long or the short run.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More on Islamic sci-fi/futurism

It turns out I was wrong in my post below when I wondered whether Fun^Da^Mental's song "786 All Is War" might "launch an Islamo-futurism trend?" I learned today of Yusuf Nuruddin's article, Yusuf Nuruddin on "Ancient Black Astronauts and Extraterrestrial Jihads: Islamic Science Fiction as Urban Mythology," published in the latest issue of Socialism and Democracy. It's part of a special issue on "Socialism and Social Critique in Science Fiction," and also includes articles by Steven Shaviro and Carl Freedman, among others. I look forward to checking it out.

Yusuf Nuruddin, by the way, is the author of a very fine, and groundbreaking study of the Nation of Gods and Earths: "The Five Percenters: A Teenage Nation of Gods and Earths," in Muslim communities in North America, Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Jane Idleman Smith, eds., Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

(Photo: Keith David as Abu 'Imam al-Walid in the Vin Diesel sci-fi movie Pitch Black [2000]).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sympathetic portrait of the suicide bomber: Battlestar Galactica

Listen to today's Weekend Edition on NPR and hear Elvis Mitchell and Andrea Seabrook discuss the new edition of Battlestar Galactica, now on the SciFi channel. What is remarkable is that suicide bombing is presented in a nuanced, not unsympathetic light, as are veiled critiques of US practices (torture, imprisonment without charge) in Iraq. I've not yet seen the show but I'm going to watch as soon as I have the chance.

I also find it curious that there has been no media outrage about this, at least none that I'm aware of. And yet, when Fun^Da^Mental put out a song ("Cookbook DIY") that compares individual suicide bombers to scientists making weapons of mass destruction for governments, Fun^Da^Mental's frontman, Aki Nawaz, is massively criticized in the media and public figures call for him to be charged for "glorifying terrorism" under Britain's new anti-terrorism laws. As Aki says, artists like Harold Pinter call Tony Blair a war criminal and say he should be tried in a criminal court, and other artists and journalists push the envelope, and no one calls for them to be prosecuted. But just let a Muslim artist get "edgy" and a hysterical, moral panic ensued. According to Aki, it's because of racism against Muslims.

Friday, October 20, 2006

More responses to forum: Swedenburg "pro-terrorist" and perhaps pro-Nazi?

Today's Arkansas-Democrat Gazette contains the following letter to the editor:
Nothing is Israel’s fault

After reading letter writer Ted Swedenburg’s liberal tripe recently, I thought I was going to lose my lunch.

So it’s all the evil Israeli’s fault, huh? Well, I don’t remember any news reports of Israeli terrorists blowing up a busload of Arab women and children. I don’t remember reading about an Israeli suicide bomber blowing himself up in a crowded Gaza Strip cafe. I didn’t see Israelis dancing and cheering in the streets when they got the news about 9/11. I must have missed the reports of Israeli terrorists blowing up an Arab airliner full of innocent people. Haven’t seen any Israeli nut case on TV shouting for all the world to hear that Iran and Syria need to be wiped off the map. Didn’t see anything about Israel lobbing Iranian missiles on Hezbollah.

Swedenburg is not pro-Israel by any means, but pro-terrorist. When he finishes speaking at his forums, does he raise his arm and shout, “Heil Hitler”? He’s proof of the well-known medical fact that there is no cure for stupid.

Little Rock

This is in response to a letter of mine published in the Democrat-Gazette, responding to a letter by Darla Newman. (Newman got the same letter published in the Northwest Arkansas Times; my response was also published. Read the letters here. I sent a shortened version to the Democrat-Gazette.)

This is of course a typical McCarthyite smear. My concern is that the paper prints such nonsense without a shred of evidence. I spoke to the responsible person at the paper, who said that Mr. Thrasher was just expressing his "opinion." I said, so it would have also been okay, just his "opinion," if he had called me a rapist or a child molester? She said, that's a stretch. I said, so it's worse to be a rapist or child molester than a Nazi? She changed the subject...

I'll respond briefly here to just one point made by Mr. Thrasher: "Haven’t seen any Israeli nut case on TV shouting for all the world to hear that Iran and Syria need to be wiped off the map." No, but Israeli policy makers are working over-time for regime change in Iran, with their neo-con sidekicks in the White House. And then there is Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Israel Beytenu (Israel Our Home) party, who favors a "peace" plan with the Palestinians that involves not only the "transfer" (read: ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank that are to (according to the plan) remain in Israel hands, but also the "transfer" of Arab-Palestinians who are Israeli citizens into the Palestinian territories. This proponent of ethnic cleansing may now be invited to join the Israeli government by PM Olmert.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bush vs. Magna Carta

Articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta state, regarding "habeas corpus":

"38 In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

"39 No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land."

Our President has just, today, signed these rights away, by signing the Terror Interrogation Law. But we shouldn't just blame Bush & the Republicans for this; 12 "Democratic" Senators (including my own Arkansas "Democratic" Senator Marc Pryor) voted for the legislation.

A day that will live in infamy.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Demo against Rove

Demo against Rove
Originally uploaded by tsweden.

Bush's brain, Karl Rove, visited Fayetteville today, Oct. 10, for a fundraiser. The Omni Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology organized a welcoming party. About 20-25 showed up, and there was good media coverage.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Haifa: Hizbullah Supporter

And I quote from The Angry Arab:
You know that sectarian polarization in Lebanon has reached a high point when Arab super star, Haifa Wahbi (a Shi`ite from the village Mahrunah in South Lebanon) declares her support for Hizbullah. She said on New TV that her heart beats for Hasan Nasrallah when she sees him. My mother tells me that her family in South Lebanon are all Hizbullah supporters. The sectarian system of Lebanon forces every Lebanese to identify with her/his sect. The system gives no secular alternatives, and secular parties have done a lousy job of making their case in recent years.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fun^Da^Mental's "786 All Is War": "Sufi surfing on boards of steel"

Fun^Da^Mental's All Is War has been out since July 31, and it now appears that, despite all the controversy, the group's leader, Aki Nawaz, will probably not prosecuted under Britain's glorification of terrorism laws, passed earlier this year. I've been listening to it a lot, and playing songs that are appropriate on my "Interzone Radio" world music show. One of the songs I play is "786 All Is War." The controversy about All Is War mostly centers on the songs "DIY Cookbook" and "Che Bin" parts 1 and 2. "DIY Cookbook" gets into the heads of bomb-makers: the lowrent suicide bomber who makes his own bomb at a cheap cost, the maker of a dirty bomb who holds a PhD, and a "legitimate" bomb-maker, government employee, at work on a neutron bomb. Part one of Che Bin features a speech by Che, explaining the difference between sabotage ("revolutionary") and terrorism ("ineffective and indiscriminate"), although terrorism is sometimes useful when it involves the killing of an oppressive leader. Part two of Che Bin features a speech by Bin Laden in which he justifies the killing of Western civilians in a kind of exchange for the Muslim children killed by the West.

Less attention has been paid to the track, "786 All Is War." I consider it just as disturbing as "DIY Cookbook," and perhaps even more so. (I'm much more creeped out, however, by "Che Bin Pt. 2," the Bin Laden speech.)

Here's what Fun^Da^Mental say about the song on their website:
The United States is a country built on theft and mass murder yet it propagates the idea it is a civilized nation. Since 9/11 it has displayed all the evidence necessary to find it guilty of genocide and mass murder. Thus we will see its demise in the future, even if this seems like a dream, eventually its own citizens will turn their backs and beg to be liberated by those which it is currently attempting to destroy...Muslims. Islam will come back to haunt it. No Hollywood movie mogul would dare to imagine such a scenario...but here is the theme to the future. The emancipation of the United States will come from within but with the help of those forces that it attempted to destroy. Even the Statue of Liberty will prostrate to its liberation, until that fictional idea becomes reality let's watch Hollywood continue to push through its fantasy of a free nation, democratic and just, as its foundation is overflowing with the blood of others.

That is, this is meant to be a futuristic song about how the US is liberated by Muslim invader/liberators, in alliance with its own citizens. A look at the lyrics, however, suggests that the focus is mostly on the invader-liberators. Check it out:
Attack at dawn with sonic horns
Quranic forms and phonic guns
Sufi surfing on boards of steel
Laser scimitars coded zikr
Love and hate approach the state
The Statue of Liberty falls prostrate
On the way to slay the riba
The money lenders the bank elite


Takbirs from cyborg mujahids
AI imams electro du'a
Robotic maidens of paradise
Mechanoid martyrdom sacrifice
Chrome steeds galloping out to war
Future fedayeen shariah law
Truth cannons firing tomes
Beaming khutbas to their homes


Send forth the Sunnah troopers
Anti gravity plasma scooters
Crescent starship shabab clones
Powered by the power of the blackstone
Form ranks Ibrahim tanks
IC ballistic archers flank
Built from the holy Meccan soil
Engines running on blackseed oil


East west bring the law deliver
Jihadi jetskis Hudson River
Mechanical Moorish tour of duty
Deen machines replicant Sufis
Activate the Saracens
Annihilate the Pharaoh's sons
Embraced by the citizens
Appointed by the denizens

786 - congregate - 786 - dominate - 786 - propagate - 786 - emancipate

All is war this is what you fought for

Dream team Salahuddin

The citizens they build they build a mosque on Ground Zero

The musical track for the song is hard slamming, consisting of a very basic electronic riff, repeated over and over, backed by an insistent, driving beat from the dhol. A sample of a chorus singing one or two notes in harmony (and no lyric) is also used frequently, especially at the end of verses, and lends the track a kind of celestial feeling. The lyrics are rapped, by someone with a BrAsian accent.

"786" is the numerical total of the Qur'an's opening words, "Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim" (In the name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful) in the abjad numeral system. Abjadi numerals were used by the Arabs prior to the development of Hindu-Arabic numbers, in which the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet were assigned numerical values. In South Asia, 786 is an important Islamic symbol (Fun^Da^Mental's Aki Nawaz is the son of Pakistanis who settled in England.)

"All Is War" and "All is war this is what you fought for": I read these lines as references to the war on terror declared by President Bush, a war without end, and to the song's prediction that what is being fought for will ultimately end in the Muslim liberation of the US. This end is symbolized powerfully, and transgressively, in the image of the Statue of Liberty falling prostrate, to Allah, and the citizens building a mosque on the site of Ground Zero. In-your-face images, designed to provoke and enrage, and entirely within the punk tradition. (Aki was the drummer for Southern Death Cult, which later turned into The Cult, and he has consistently stated that punk philosophy was for him, foundational.) Ponder the images: the Statue of Liberty, on a prayer rug, in the act of Islamic prayers; a towering minaret at the site of Ground Zero, the sacred location of the martyrs of 9/11. Whether one is an American who thinks of the US as quintessentially secular or as quintessentially Judaeo-Christian, these are images of symbolic defilement. But they are not, ultimately, images of destruction or death or mayhem.

The song mobilizes all kinds of images of "Islamic warriors" and Islamic invasion dressed up in futuristic, sci-fi garb. The overall effect reminds me of the futuristic writings of William Burroughs, particularly his Nova trilogy, minus of course the homoerotic currents. It's important to recall that in his writings Burroughs repeatedly mobilizes the image of Hassan al-Sabbah, the 12th century leader of the "Assassins" (the original fedayeen), an Isma'ili Nizari shaykh. In some respects Hassan al-Sabbah could be considered as the original Islamic "terrorist," in the view of the West. "786 All Is War" is a kind of revenge fantasy, of the sort often found in hip-hop. It's useful to recall that Fun^Da^Mental's first album, Seize the Time (1995), was very much in the "conscious hip-hop" vein, and that the group was frequently compared at the time to Public Enemy. What distinguishes "786 All Is War" from other revenge fantasies, however, is that it's written from the perspective of the Islamic warrior, mostly describing the character of the warriors and their actions, and the anger is not aimed at the listener, but at the oppressor, the "riba" (meaning usury but implying the usurer), the bank elite, the moneylenders (also a Biblical image), and the Pharaoh's sons. Unlike much hip-hop, and also unlike the novels of Black writers like Chester Himes, the listener is not made to feel implicated in the crimes of the oppressors.

The song is full of fabulous, crazy images and of clever internal rhyme schemes and alliteration. Among the images I particularly like:

"Sufi surfing on boards of steel." This calls to mind the Silver Surfer of Marvel Comics fame; presumably, like the Silver Surfer, the Sufi surfers are flying around on airborn boards. It also confounds the liberal-hippy Orientalist depictions of Sufism as only about peace and love, for these are Sufi warriors.

"Jihadi jetskis Hudson River." The picture of jihadis on jetskis makes me chuckle (and reminds of the "fun" in Fun^Da^Mental). These are NOT the Wahhabist jihadis of Al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad in Egypt. They are engaged in "holy war," jihad for liberation.

"Deen machines replicant Sufis." I like the internal rhyme of "deen machine"; deen means religion, in Arabic and Urdu. "Replicant Sufis": the term replicant (biorobotic being) was invented by Ridley Scott for his film Blade Runner (and replacing the term, android, used by novelist Philip K. Dick, whose book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was the inspiration for the film). Are replicant Sufis, Sufis who look as fully human as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan? When Aki Nawaz thinks of Sufism, one of the things he has in mind is qawwali, the very vibrant devotional music of the Pakistani Sufis. Fun^Da^Mental have performed and recorded in the past with qawwali maestro Nawazish Ali Khan and with the Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali group (led by two of Nusrat's nephews).

Here's a glossary of some of the other terms used:

"coded zikr": zikr (Urdu) or dhikr (Arabic) is the remembrance of God. Chief among the ways in which God is remembered is through the use of dhikr beads (sometimes known as "worry beads"), which are fingered as the 99 names of God are recited. Sufi orders revolve around rituals of dhikr, or remembrance. "Coded zikr" could refer to the beads and/or to the Sufi rituals.

"takbir": the Arabic name for the phrase, "Allahu akbar," or God is the greatest.

"mujahid": in Arabic, literally a "struggler," but usually implying someone engaged in jihad. Also can be used in the sense of militant or insurgent.

"AI imams": an imam is a leader, often in the sense of the leader of prayer. AI: artificial intelligence.

"du'a": prayer, calling out to God.

"fedayeen": in Arabic, "those willing to sacrifice their lives." In the Arab world, the term often refers to the Palestinian guerillas during the years when the PLO was focused on armed struggle.

"khutba": a sermon, typically delivered in the mosque before Friday prayers.

"Sunnah": in Arabic, the "way of the Prophet." The deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, agreed upon by the Prophet's companions, and considered to have established Orthodox religious practice by Sunni Muslims.

"shabab": in Urdu, "youthfulness," in Arabic, youths. "Shabab clones" seems to refer to the Arabic meaning, youths.

"blackstone": a reference to the Ka'aba, a structure built of black granite, located inside the Masjid (mosque) al-Haram in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam. When Muslims pray, they pray in the direction of the Ka'aba.

"Ibrahim": Arabic for Abraham, the same Abraham of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Islam, Ibrahim is one of the most important prophets.

"blackseed oil": blackseed is sometimes referred to as black cumin in English. The prophet Muhammad is said to have recommended the black seed as a "cure for all diseases except death." A popular "folk" remedy in South Asia and the Middle East.

"Pharaoh's sons": The Pharaoh is used as a symbol of the apostate tyrant by jihadi Islamists; the source of this notion is Sayyid Qutb. But the symbol is also widely used in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for instance, in the expressive culture of US slaves.

"Salahuddin": known in English as Saladin, renowned for vanquishing the Crusaders in the 12th century.

Will "786 All Is War" launch an Islamo-futurism trend?

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