Saturday, July 21, 2007

"Performance" and Hassan i-Sabbah

I recently watched Performance (1970) again. I first saw it when I lived in Beirut, shortly after it was released. Given the fact that there are lots of shots of bare breasts, which were of course cut by the Lebanese censor, it's amazing that the film was so coherent the first time I saw it. What I had remembered about it was (1) that the gender-bending, both of the reclusive rock star Turner (Mick Jagger) and gangster-on-the-run Chas (James Fox) was quite mind-blowing, (2) the soundtrack was fabulous, especially Ry Cooder's slide guitar, and (3) Jagger's song, "Message from Turner," was terrific as well. These impressions all held up on second viewing, although it appears that not all the slide guitar playing is by Ry Cooder, because Lowell George (of Little Feat fame) plays guitar on the soundtrack as well.

What I didn't remember, and probably did not appreciate at the time, was what one might call the Burroughsian Orientalist themes and atmosphere. First Turner's house, where Chas takes refuge, bears a strong resemblance to a harem--the decor, the fact that Turner lives with two women (Pherber, played by Anita Pallenberg, and Lucy, played by Michèle Breton), the robes worn by Pherber and Lucy, and the decadence. Except that Jagger, with his long hair, androgynous looks and dress, and lipstick, often as much like one of the women of the harem than its master. And if purdah is imposed, it's self-imposed upon the reclusive Turner as it is upon Pherber and Lucy.

And then there is the scene where Jagger is reading from a book about the "Legend of the Assassins" (I'm not sure what the source is) and he quotes the famous lines of Hassan i-Sabbah (which by now have begun to seem a little trite from overuse): "Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted." Hassan i-Sabbah (1034-1124), the celebrated/infamous leader of the Nizari Ismailis, was an important figure in the novels of William Burroughs. (The best analysis of Burroughs' use of Hassan i-Sabbah is to be found in Timothy Murphy's Wising Up the Marks.) Burroughs' pal and collaborator Brion Gysin was very much into Hassan i-Sabbah as well, and perhaps he's responsible for the "Assassin" leader's appearance in the film? After all, Gysin did lead Brian Jones to Jajouka in 1968, where he recorded the tracks that would eventually would appear (with effects added by Jones) as Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka in 1971.

If I'm not mistaken, the last shot in the movie is of Hassan i-Sabbah's fortress at Alamut, in northern Iran. The soundtrack also includes some Persian touches, as the Iranian santur player Nasser Rastegar-Nejad appears in the mix.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kufiyaspotting #17: Colin Farrell, Kirsten Dunst, Flavia de Oliveira

I finally tracked down a photo of a kufiya-clad Colin Farrell--tipped off by a story in the Palestine Chronicle.

Kirsten Dunst shows up in a kufiya too, on the pages of Teen Vogue, which calls her scarf choice the new "it" accessory: "breezy, global chic."

A friend has seen a photo of a kufiya-wrapped Janet Jackson in a gossip mag, but I can't find it. And now that it's summer...kufiyaspottings may be somewhat more rare. We'll see whether the trend continues as fall sets in and people begin to need scarves once again. Perhaps the trend will be helped by the fact that the kufiya (as restyled by Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga) was declared by W's Meggan Crum to be one of Fall 2007's Top Ten Accessories. Check it out: "an eclectic printed scarf trimmed with vintage-style coins," part of Ghesquière's "street-smart, global mix," modeled by Brazilian supermodel Flavia de Oliveira.

Meanwhile, check out this cheeky chronology of the "keffiyah craze" from KABOBfest.

If anyone understands Swedish, I was interviewed yesterday for a show on the "kufiya craze" that will be broadcast soon on Swedish National Radio. Will post details when I learn them.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Music downloads: "Mustapha" (Bob Azzam et son orchestre)

I've set up a new blog, Kanz al-Tuhaf (Casket of Rarities), for the purpose of making available various rare items that I've collected.

Starting with this one, "Mustapha" by Bob Azzam et son orchestre (a Barclay 7"), available for downloading here.

And check out his "Fais-moi du couscous."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Hiltermann on Halabja

Announcing a new, very important book from Joost Hiltermann: A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja (Cambridge University Press), now available.

Writes Joost, "The book highlights US policy with respect to Iraq's use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war, from the first mustard gas attack in 1983 to the massive gassing of Iranian troops with mustard and nerve agents in the Tawakkulna 'ala Allah offensives and of Kurdish civilians and peshmergas in the Anfal counterinsurgency campaign, both in 1988. It also highights the events in Halabja: what happened there on March 16, 1988, and what happened in Washington afterwards."

He will soon be on a promotional tour: in Boston, July 8-9; New York, July 10-12; Washington, DC, July 13-19); in London, the first week of October.

For an introduction to the subjects treated in the book, here's an op-ed Joost recently published:

Two decades later, partial justice for the Kurds

By Joost R. Hiltermann | The Boston Globe, June 29, 2007

CHEMICAL ALI has been condemned to die and Kurds rejoice. More than anyone, perhaps even Saddam Hussein, Ali Hassan al-Majid personifies the horrors visited on the Kurds two decades ago. As overlord of the North, he sent his minions to suppress the Kurds' growing rebellion against his boss's tyrannical rule. Now his power has come crashing down, and this man without morals was reduced to stammering "Thank God" when the verdict was read.

Chemical Ali's reign lasted two years, long enough to crush the Kurdish revolt, level the countryside, and seek to prevent a viable Kurdish national movement from ever arising again. Appointed by Hussein, his cousin, in March 1987, Chemical Ali, who headed Iraq's security police, the Amn, wasted no time in sending a message to the Kurds that their time was up. "Jalal Talabani asked me to open a special communications channel with him," he said later in a chilling speech to Baath party faithful, referring to the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who today, in vindication of his long struggle, is president of Iraq. "That evening I went to Suleimaniya and hit them with special ammunition."

"Special ammunition" was the regime's euphemism for poison gas. In 1987, chemical attacks on guerrilla strongholds multiplied, extending to villages and, in a horrifying climax, an entire town: Halabja, in March 1988. Thousands died in Halabja, and the overpowering fear this attack instilled ensured that when Chemical Ali launched his counterinsurgency campaign, called Anfal, a few days later he caused mass panic by deploying gas at the outset of each of the operation's eight stages.

Terrified villagers ran straight into the Iraqi military's arms, who handed them over to the Amn. They in turn hauled tens of thousands of men, women, and children to areas far from Kurdistan, where execution squads completed the job. The affair was over in six months. Some 70,000 to 80,000 (the numbers are uncertain and disputed) never returned home.

Much of this was known to the Reagan administration, according to government documents and interviews with some of the principals. But knowledge is only half of it. Spooked by the specter of an Islamic revolution radiating throughout the Gulf from Khomeini's Iran, the administration threw its weight behind Hussein's unsavory regime in its eight-year war with Iran, providing it with millions of dollars in credit guarantees as well as diplomatic cover, satellite intelligence, and, indirectly, weapons.

US intelligence was fully aware of Iraq's chemical weapons use, but the administration didn't do anything about it. When it did go so far as to condemn it, in 1984, it did so with a wink and a nod, sending Donald Rumsfeld as envoy to Baghdad to appease the Iraqis by offering to restore diplomatic relations.

Encouraged by Washington's tolerance, the regime escalated its use of poison gas, chemically bombing Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians alike. To preempt rebuke, Hussein trotted out Iraqi chemical warfare casualties, blaming their injuries on Iran. Although there was little evidence of Iranian chemical weapons use and plenty of evidence of accidental blowback on Iraq's own troops, many observers soon accepted the line that Iran and Iraq were gassing each other. In Halabja, this claim was extended to argue that both countries shared responsibility for the atrocity; both were condemned by the UN Security Council. Using this critical breathing space, the regime launched the Anfal campaign on the heels of the attack, using its demonstration effect to flush villagers from their homes -- and to kill them.

The Anfal trial has now ended and although Chemical Ali's sentence will be reviewed on appeal, he is likely to follow his cousin in death by hanging. This means that neither man will be present at the Halabja trial later this year. This is a pity, as their absence will reduce the trial's impact and may deprive the Kurds of information that could help them understand the circumstances that prompted the regime to order the devastating attack.

Absent from the courtroom also, but casting an enormous shadow on the proceedings nonetheless, will be the Reagan administration that condoned if not encouraged its proxy's chemical weapons use and, when Hussein's behavior proved too embarrassing, in Halabja, did its best to defuse the fallout through cover-up and deceit.

The Kurds may be rejoicing, but justice has not been done.

(For more, see his article for Middle East Report Online, "Iran’s Nuclear Posture and the Scars of War.")

Joost is also the author of Behind the Intifada, an account of the Palestinian trade union's and women's organizations that were key components of the grass-roots based intifada. He and I did fieldwork in Palestine at the same time--1984-85. He is now the Deputy Program Director, Middle East and North Africa, for the International Crisis Group.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Beckham in Kufiya-Shemagh; Kate Moss for Palestine (Kufiyaspotting #16)

Thanks to Tom, I've now located a photo of Beckham in a kufiya. These things have now become quite the thing in the UK. (A forthcoming article in the New Internationalist provides more details.)

Urban Outfitters in the UK markets the black-and-white one as the "Shemagh Scarf" at 15 quid for women and 6.99 for men, and in pink and purple, as the "Heart Woven Desert Scarf."

According to the online catalogue, "The Shemagh scarf has been given the girly touch. Now in pretty colours and decorated with hearts, it won't provide you with much camouflage in the desert, but it sure is pretty." And 9.99 quid. (If you look close, you can see the hearts. But it's also got the distinctive kufiya checkered pattern too.)

Meanwhile, Topshop (known lately for its Kate Moss line) is marketing them as "Tablecloth Scarves," in purple (for 12 quid).

And just to show you how different the political atmosphere in the UK is when it comes to Palestine, tycoon Philip Green paid 60,000 pounds at an auction for the Palestinian charity Hoping Foundation for a kiss with Kate Moss--but then gave the chance to kiss to Jemima Khan. The event netted 200,000 pounds. Other donors included Hugh Grant and Imran Khan; attendants included Jerry Hall and her sorta stepdaughter Jade Jagger--whose own mom is pretty radical.

Kate (along with Elle McPherson and Jemima Khan) was also in attendance on June 21, when Elton John netted $200,000 for the Hoping Foundation, getting paid to sing Elvis' "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" Nick Cave, Shane McGowan, Mick Jones, Lulu, Chrissie Hynde (backed by Jeff Beck on guitar) and Bryan Adams also sang at the event, which raised $700,000 for Palestinian children.

Palestinian children really need this help. Where are the Jeff Becks and the Chrissie Hynde's of the US? (Or maybe it's that we don't have a Karma Nabulsi to organize events like this?)

I'm on the hunt for photos of Colin Farrell, Nicole Richie, and Cameron Diaz, who have also been spotted in the kufiya according to this article in the Palestine Chronicle.

Three Reasons to See "Live Free or Die Hard"

Besides the usual ones, some quirky reasons:
1. The theme song, if you will, is Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son," which McLain cranks up loud to wake up his new sidekick, computer geek (Justin Long). We hear the song at the end of the movie too. Amazing, it's an anti-war song.

Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war, lord,
And when you ask them, how much should we give?
Ooh, they only answer more! more! more! yoh,

It aint me, it aint me, I aint no military son, son.
It aint me, it aint me; I aint no fortunate one, one.

2. The bad guy, the terrorist who attempts to shut down the US network and rip off billions, Thomas Gabriel, is a white guy, ex-Homeland Security.

3. The FBI official McLain is in contact with (i.e., the "good" government bureaucrat), Bowman, is played by Cliff Curtis, who looks like an Arab (and plays a sadistic Iraqi interrogator in The Three Kings--the best movie dealing with the first Iraq war). (Cliff Curtis is a Maori.)