Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Editorial from Middle East Report on Gaza

The current scene of bombed-out neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip resembles the destruction Israel wrought in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Just published online, this commentary from the editors of Middle East Report (of which I am one) will appear in the next issue (#250).

Here's an excerpt:

Another path is possible, of course. Obama could quietly drop US rejection of the 2006 Palestinian election results, and work to help the Palestinians form a national unity government. As the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is advocating, he could call the siege of Gaza by its rightful name -- collective punishment -- and demand that it cease. He could throw the weight of Washington behind Security Council action toward that end, and toward a genuine halt to settlement and separation wall construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He could enforce the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, and terminate US supply to Israel of F-16s and Apache helicopters, paid for with US military aid dollars, because they have been used to harm civilians in the attack on Gaza. The measure of Barack Obama will be how far, if at all, he travels toward such a dramatic transformation of US policy on the question of Palestine.

Is it true that “change is coming” when Obama enters the White House? We hope so. Yet the conventional pro-Israel tilt of his campaign indicates otherwise, as does the composition of his foreign policy crew. Obama appears poised to content himself with more energetic US engagement in the sort of flawed negotiations of the Clinton years, the sort that put ending the occupation last, as if the developments of the Bush years had not rendered that approach utterly untenable.

Please, Mr. President-elect, surprise us.

Read the entire commentary here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rachel Maddow: A Big Fat Idiot on Gaza



I used to be a big fan of Rachel Maddow. Until this broadcast from last night. As my comrade Laurie King noted, Rachel has "drunk the kool aid on Gaza." I guess I should have known earlier, I've been told that Rachel has expressed support for the Israeli position on Gaza previously.

I wish I had more time to analyze and critique this entire segment. It is so wrong, so insidious, on so many fronts. At the same time it is entirely conventional US pro-Israel propaganda. Just look at the image in the embedded file, which conveys very graphically the fact that Hamas/Palestinians are terrorists, scary, the equivalent of those who cut off innocent Jewish and American heads with swords.

Maddow's expose starts with a map of Israel, surrounded by a sea of hostile Arabs, who have always threatened it, from without, and more recently from within. No mention of the fact that the "within" was the West Bank and Gaza, occupied in 1967. No mention at all, throughout the entire segment, that Palestinians lived under military occupation. No mention of the suffering Gazans have endured under the embargo Israel (with US and EU support) put in place after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006.

And she repeats that tired but ubiquitous formula, the "cycle" of violence. It's not a "cycle" when one side is pummeling the other with its warships, with F-16s and Apache helicopters and the latest in "smart bombs," is getting set to send in tanks, and the other has at the most some rockets that inflict a lot of fear and terror but are not major killers. (Mind you, I am totally opposed to the stupid Palestinian deployment of rockets as a strategy. Or is it tactic?)

Maddow's guest, NBC Middle East "expert" Richard Engel, can't even explain the basic facts about the elections, that the Palestinian Prime Minister was Hamas member Ismail Haniyeh and the Parliamentary was held by Hamas and that the Palestinian Authority essentially was Hamas until President Abbas (illegally) ousted them in June 2007.

Engel does say a couple things that are right. Egypt and Saudi Arabia gave Israel the green light for the assault on Gaza. And he says that if Israel eliminates all of Hamas' rockets, that's good for "moderate" (i.e. slavishly pro-US) Arab states--IF there isn't a massacre of Palestinians. Thus showing more sympathy for Palestinians than cute Rachel. (Although isn't the massacre going on right now, whether through outright killing and more "subtle" means like starvation.)

I hope someone will give this execrable piece of phony news the full treatment it deserves. I consider it more dangerous than Limbaugh and O'Reilly and the rest of the right-wing commentators, because Rachel is such a hero for the liberal left. And deservedly so. But she needs to have her feet put to the fire on this issue.

Glenn Greenwald on the current concensus

"One can travel from the farthest right fringe of the GOP to the heart of the Democratic Party leadership and hear exactly the same thing: Israel is always right. Israel must not be criticized. Israel never bears any blame. Any action taken by Israel is justified. No matter the situation, that just gets repeated over and over like some hypnotic bipartisan mantra. Meanwhile, American citizens overwhelmingly -- 71% -- want their Government to be "even-handed" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet that view is simply ignored, disregarded, not even viable for any American mainstream political leader to express."

It's a "concensus" of the elite and the chattering classes. But if the 71% don't express any public desire for even-handedness, there is no hope for Palestinians. Or US relations with the Middle East.

Read the entire article, which exposes Marty Peretz as a psychopath, and whose views are essentially supported by the US political establishment, here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kufiyaspotting #44: AnnaLynne McCord

Thanks to Rochelle, who alerted me to this. AnnaLynne McCord is on the cast of the The CW's new 90210 spinoff. She also appeared in the fifth season of Nip/Tuck.

Rochelle found this on the very snarky Go Fug Yourself blog. Here's what it has to say about McCord's fashion sense:

Those tights + those boots + that scarf = accessories overload, dude. Pick one and stick with it. Not that I would be able to advise you which to choose, as each of your accessories is problematic for me:

1) The scarf: haven't you seen that scarf on nearly every person in town under 35 at some point in the last three years? Including Lauren Conrad. Just take ten minutes to think about that. But, of course, it's just a scarf. A scarf alone can not entirely constitute a fashion crime. Unless, I guess, that IS all you're wearing.

(Points 2 & 3 critique the tights and boots.)

Go Fug Yourself is full of evidence that McCord's fashion sense is not, er, exemplary. And what do you make of this outfit? It's a bit bellydance, no? (Apparently she is trying to look pirate-ish, which is not really that farfetched. Think Barbary Pirates.)

(I've not yet spotted Lauren Conrad, of the MTV show The Hills, in kufiya. But I'll keep looking.)

Where kufiyas really mean something: demonstrating in solidarity with Gaza in Dubai

I'm sure it's the same at all the demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. I found this article courtesy of Angry Arab. Kufiyas were ubiquitous at the protest held yesterday at the Palestinian Embassy in Dubai. Of course, the police would not let demonstrators take their protest into the street.

I couldn't grab any of the photos, so go to the original, and check out the photos. Notice that they are all wearing black-and-white kufiyas which symbolize Palestinian nationalism. Note that just a few days ago, Hamas in Gaza was trying to stomp out signs of support for Fateh, which include black-and-white kufiyas! Hamas supporters wear red-and-white ones.

“They wouldn’t let us go onto the street and forced us to leave and to stop,” Mrs al Masri said, wearing a niqab with a kaffiyeh draped around her shoulders, shortly after confronting the police. “They said it’s not allowed and I asked them why. They said they would arrest us.”...

“Allah-uh-akbar” the crowd shouted, as a young girl with a kaffiyeh around her shoulders held up a sign pleading for an end to Israel’s “war crimes”. Other placards held by the crowd read “Stop the Massacre” and “We are all Gaza”....

Dressed in a dishdash, with a kaffiyeh around his shoulders, Hani al Saadi, from Yemen, came to express solidarity with his “brothers”.

"Arab Money." Where does it go? It buys jewels for Condi

I plan to put up a long over-due post on Busta Rhymes' song "Arab Money," but here's an initial foray. Here is where the Arab money goes--not to help impoverished Gazans but to pay for extravagant gifts to lavish on the imperial masters and overlords. Apparently they pay Condi to keep her eyes off Gaza. Last night she attended Legally Blonde the Musical. It's not that there is any crisis in the Middle East to attend to, right? (Read the entire article here.)

Arabs lavish jewels on Secretary of State Rice

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008
WASHINGTON, (AP)

President George W. Bush's foreign policies may be unpopular in the Middle East, but Arab leaders showered his top diplomat with jewelry worth far more than a quarter of a million dollars last year. While Bush himself didn't fare nearly as well, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raked in at least $316,000 in gem-encrusted baubles from the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia alone, making her one of top recipients among U.S. officials of gifts from foreign heads of state and government and their aides in 2007.

Condi and lapdog Abdallah II

In January, Jordan's King Abdullah II gave Rice an emerald and diamond necklace, ring, bracelet and earrings estimated to be worth $147,000, according to the State Department's annual inventory of such items released Monday just in time for Christmas.

The king and his wife, Queen Rania, also gave Rice a less expensive necklace and earrings along with a jewelry box valued at $4,630, the document shows.

Not to be outdone, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia presented Rice with a ruby and diamond necklace with matching earrings, bracelet and ring worth $165,000 in July. The inventory also includes a $170,000 flower petal motif necklace the Saudi monarch gave to Rice in 2005, which the department says was not previously disclosed.

From the same Arab leaders, Bush received just over $100,000 in gifts in 2007, the list shows.

Other gifts include an $85,000 sapphire and diamond jewelry set and $10,000 piece of artwork depicting a desert scene of bedouins, camels and a tent made of gold given to first lady Laura Bush by Saudi King Abdullah.

Unfortunately for the Bushes, Rice and other recipients, they won't be able to enjoy the gifts as they have been turned over to the General Services Administration and government archives in accordance with federal law, which bars officials from accepting personal presents in almost all circumstances.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kufiyaspotting miscellaneous #4689

Although I've been completely obsessed today by what is going on in Gaza, the kufiyaspotting must go on. Three random items:

1. Even though Urban Outfitters discontinued its Early Spring '07 kufiya line, marketed as "antiwar woven scarves," it has continued to sell kufiyas, just under other names. Today you can buy a pretty authentic-looking (but probably made in China) black-and-white kufiya from Urban Outfitters online, marketed as a "houndstooth scarf," and found under male accessories. $20. Good for wearing at demos to protest Israel's onslaught on Gaza.


Note that the model is wearing a Sitting Bull t-shirt, also available from Urban Outfitters.

Does the Sitting Bull t-shirt make the houndstooth scarf more "edgy"? Or does it remind us that Palestinians too are living in conditions not unlike Indian reservations?

2. I found this photo at a post on Daily Style Guide, entitled "Controversial Fashion: The Shemagh Scarf."


It's Taylor Momsen, who plays Jenny Humphrey on The CW television series, Gossip Girl. It's the one about teen socialites of the Upper East Side, New York City, full of jealousy, drugs and sex.

3. From a recent report (December 12) by the very well-informed reporter Amira Hass in Ha'aretz, on Hamas' treatment of the Fateh opposition in the Gaza Strip. (One can only hope that things might change a bit after today.) Please read the entire article here. (Thanks, Theresa!)

Are there really no rivals (Fatah, in other words), or have they been silenced? Around November 11, the anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death, the Palestinian police in the Gaza Strip worked to conceal any symbols related to the date, the man and the movement - in addition to prohibiting the staging of any memorials.

It wasn't the Fatah movement that called for rallies, but a committee composed of PLO organizations. It didn't even attempt to hold rallies in an open area (such as a soccer field or city plaza) - as Hamas does every few days (with its green flags). When yellow Fatah flags were hung up, police were called to the location and removed them; high school students who went around wearing checkered kaffiyeh-like scarves - or any other symbol that alluded to Arafat and Fatah - were asked to remove them and also summoned for a brief police interrogation. Even candles that were set out in windows in Abu Amar's (Arafat's) memory were confiscated. So Fatah supporters reported, at least. The removal of these symbols wasn't only an expression of the government's self-confidence, but of intimidation and coercion as well.


I think that the kufiyas in question are the black-and-white ones, favored by Arafat and by Fateh supporters. Red ones, favored by Hamas supporters, are okay.

Gaza

Such an atrocity today. I shudder to think what tomorrow will bring, as Israel continues its offensive.

The US media accounts are absurdly pro-Israel, as one would expect. Fortunately there are reliable alternatives.

Consult first this article by Sara Roy, who is really the Western expert on Gaza, from the London Review of Books. Penned before today's assault, it provides excellent background. Here's one nugget:

According to the World Health Organisation, the political divisions between Gaza and the West Bank are also having a serious impact on drug stocks in Gaza. The West Bank Ministry of Health (MOH) is responsible for procuring and delivering most of the pharmaceuticals and medical disposables used in Gaza. But stocks are at dangerously low levels. Throughout November the MOH West Bank was turning shipments away because it had no warehouse space, yet it wasn’t sending supplies on to Gaza in adequate quantities. During the week of 30 November, one truck carrying drugs and medical supplies from the MOH in Ramallah entered Gaza, the first delivery since early September.

Makes you wonder how Gaza's hospitals can cope at all with all the wounded.

Helena Cobban (Just World News) has a fine commentary that, among other things, demolishes one typical trope used by the US media, the cycle of violence. It's no "cycle" but a vastly uneven contest, as the rightwing British paper, the Daily Telegraph, tells us in a report today from Tim Butcher:

Nine Israeli civilians have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza since it withdrew all settlers and soldiers from the territory in September 2005.

Over the same period, at least 1,400 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in Gaza, according to figures compiled by B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.

Israel's decision to act came after a six-month truce with Hamas, which ran out on Dec 19.

Ali Abunimeh of Electronic Intifada penned a response almost immediately. Here's an excerpt:

What the media never question is Israel's idea of a truce. It is very simple. Under an Israeli-style truce, Palestinians have the right to remain silent while Israel starves them, kills them and continues to violently colonize their land. Israel has not only banned food and medicine to sustain Palestinian bodies in Gaza but it is also intent on starving minds: due to the blockade, there is not even ink, paper and glue to print textbooks for schoolchildren.

As John Ging, the head of operations of the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), told The Electronic Intifada in November: "there was five months of a ceasefire in the last couple of months, where the people of Gaza did not benefit; they did not have any restoration of a dignified existence. We in fact at the UN, our supplies were also restricted during the period of the ceasefire, to the point where we were left in a very vulnerable and precarious position and with a few days of closure we ran out of food."


Electronic Intifada continues to post invaluable first-hand accounts of what is going on in Gaza by people who are actually on the ground. Western media accounts meanwhile will mostly repeat what Israeli government officials tell them. Here's an excerpt from an account by Safa Joudeh, who is getting an MA in Public Policy from SUNY Stony Brook, and is currently living in Gaza and working as a freelance journalist.

Outside my home which is close to the two largest universities in Gaza, a missile fell on a large group of young men, university students. They'd been warned not to stand in groups as it makes them an easy target, but they were waiting for buses to take them home. Seven were killed, four students and three of our neighbors' kids, young men who were from the Rayes family and were best friends. As I'm writing this I can hear a funeral procession go by outside; I looked out the window a moment ago and it was the three Rayes boys. They spent all their time together when they were alive, they died together and now they are sharing the same funeral together. Nothing could stop my 14-year-old brother from rushing out to see the bodies of his friends laying in the street after they were killed. He hasn't spoken a word since.

The AFSC blog, End the Siege on Gaza, is another very good source for regular updates.

Another source is the Free Gaza Movement, which to date has organized four boat convoys into Gaza, breaking the international blockade. (Kufiya wearer Aki Nawaz of Fun-Da-Mental was on the first mission.)

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has initiated an emergency alert--urging letters to the White House, State Department, Congress and the media, and the organizing of demos and rallies.

Here's a cultural angle. I only discovered this song today--"Hamas Rule," a dubstep track that is somewhat in the Muslimgauze vein, by Shackleton from the Skull Disco release Soundboy Punishments. I recommend it highly. Listen to a segment here. Available to purchase from emusic or itunes. And there is also the great Muslimgauze track, "Curfew, Gaza" from the album Zul'm. Listen here. You can buy a download from emusic or itunes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rock musicians will lobby Obama to stop the use of music as a technology of torture

And this too, courtesy of Wired:

"Reprieve, a British human rights law group that represents over 30 Guantanamo Bay detainees, is planning to work with musicians to lobby President-elect Barack Obama to end the practice of sonic torture by military interrogators."

Read the rest of the article here.

Among musicians who have protested are Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who is considering taking legal action to stop the practice. (Don't forget, Trent Reznor has been kufiyaspotted.)

One of the earliest, and best, accounts of the practice is by my Middle East Report comrade Moustafa Bayoumi, published in The Nation. Read it here.

"Locked and Loaded" from the US Air Force band Max Impact

Listen here.

Notice that at the beginning you hear both the sounds of a helicopter and an Oriental sounding flute. Just so you know that the lyrics are about...Afghanistan? Iraq? Pakistan?


Here are a few lines, courtesy Wired:

Walk in the shade of the clouds at night
Crawling in the dirt, calling an A-10 strike
Dancing in the shadows, lives are on the line
Bombs are gonna fall, just in time.


Wired is wrong, however, about Max Impact being a "Nu Metal" band, although "Locked and Loaded" is a Nu Metal song. As their website notes, Max Impact "fuses the elements of contemporary music from today's hip-hop, pop and urban sounds-and everything in between. Max Impact brings together the musical styles of today's top artists like Destiny's Child, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera." Quite a "musical arsenal," as they call it.

Pop Culture Heroes: Eartha Kitt


But she took the steeliness with her, in a willful, outspoken manner that mostly served her career, except once. In 1968 she was invited to a White House luncheon and was asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. She replied: “You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” The remark reportedly caused Mrs. Johnson to burst into tears and led to a derailment in Ms. Kitt’s career. (New York Times, Dec. 25.)

Which contemporary pop culture icon will have the guts to bring such a message to Mrs. Obama, regarding Afghanistan?

Incidentally, Eartha had a minor hit in 1953 with the song "Uska Dara (A Turkish Tale)," sung in part in Turkish, and based on a Turkish folksong. (Download here.) It must be the only US hit sung in Turkish?

UPDATE, Jan. 9: I just found this excerpt from an interview with Eartha Kitt, published in Re/Search 14, Incredibly Strange Music Vol. I, which elaborates on the Lady Bird incident:

RE/Search: When you were invited to a White House luncheon, didn't you cause a scandal?

EARTHA KITT: In 1968, during the Vietnam War, I was invited by Lady Bird Johnson to give my opinion about the problems in the United States, specifically, "Why is there so much juvenile delinquency in the streets of America?" The First Lady seemed to be more interested in decorating the windows of the ghettos with flowerboxes. I mean—it's fine to put flowers in the ghettos, but let's take care of the necessities first: give people jobs, and find a way to get us out of poverty.

When it came my turn to speak, I said to the president's wife, "Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason." I said that the young ghetto boys thought it better to have a legal stigma against them—then they would be considered "undesirable" and would not be sent to the war. In their opinion, in this society the good guys lost and the bad guys won.

I didn't say this ranting and raving, but we were in a large room, we didn't have microphones, and we had to speak loudly enough to be heard. That incident, reported in such a way as to deface me in the eyes of the American people, obviously had to have been given by someone from the White House—probably the press secretary: "Earth Kitt makes the First Lady cry..." There were no reporters present! So this was a manufactured furor.

R/S: Didn't you suffer because of this?

EK: Of course—within two hours I was out of work in America.

RIP.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace Be With You: Bethlehem


Peace Be With You
Originally uploaded by tsweden
Media accounts today claim things are much better today, Christmas '08, in Bethlehem. More tourists, more visitors. But Palestinians who live in Bethlehem and work in Jerusalem still have to pass through this monstrosity every day, this apartheid wall.

Things will not be 'better' in the Holy Land until these structures are all blown up.

Merry Christmas.


P.S. Check out Juan Cole's much more extensive account of how awful things really are in Bethlehem.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kufiya controversy in Beirut: AFP

Several people forwarded me this article from AFP (thanks, all!). It details how trendy young Lebanese are donning multi-colored kufiyas, and how older Palestinians, especially in the camp, regarding the scarf's faddishness as detracting from its Palestinian national meanings. Note that the kufiya patterns in the photos (the one on the left, and go to the original here) from Beirut are not the original Palestinian Arab kufiya patterns, but more like what you'd find in Pakistan. I have no idea why.

Iconic Palestinian headdress brings colourful clash to Beirut

By Rima Abushakra
Published De. 8

BEIRUT (AFP) — The iconic black and white keffiyeh, or Arab headdress, famously donned by late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat has hit the streets of Beirut in a rainbow of colours -- much to the chagrin of older Palestinians.

Stylish youngsters, both men and women, can be seen in the city's chic cafes and restaurants sporting red, blue, pink, brown and purple versions of the keffiyeh.

Western and Arab tourists are also snapping up the hip item.

The trend, however, is seen by many here as an insult to a symbol traditionally linked to the Palestinian cause.

"These colours aren't for us... it's nonsense, it's a fashion show," said Salim Ali Kayd, 74, who has been a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon since 1948, when Israel was created.

"The keffiyeh stands for a person's honour and manhood. It was a rite of passage to wear one upon reaching the age of 18," he added explaining the customs of his generation.

Others like him living in the narrow alleyways of the Shatila refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut are also upset that their national symbol has become a fad.

"Yasser Arafat used to wear it for a reason. It means something," said Kalthoum Ghandour, a 45-year-old Palestinian doctor living in Lebanon.

"It was what the revolutionaries wore to conceal their identity," she added. "This is our revolution, our symbol.

"This trend distorts our heritage."

Shops in Beirut's diverse Christian and Muslim neighbourhoods are selling the bright-coloured items imported from Syria, Thailand and China.

A backlash against the trend has spread to college campuses in Lebanon, where Facebook groups have sprung up called "Palestinian scarf: Understand it or don't bother wearing it!" and "I refuse to let the keffiyeh become a high fashion statement".

This is not the first time the keffiyeh has been co-opted by others. The garment has come in and out of fashion, with youths in the 1960s and 1970s wearing it as a sign of revolt or sympathy with the Palestinian cause. The scarf has also become a signature item for anti-war activists.

While the latest trend may be more accessory and less ideology -- the keffiyeh's powerful symbolism continues to resonate, and not only among Palestinians.

The issue grabbed headlines in recent months when the Dunkin' Donuts chain came under fire for an online ad that featured an American celebrity chef wearing a paisley patterned scarf that some mistook for a keffiyeh

The ad was pulled after a conservative US commentator complained that it promoted jihad.

The US clothing store Urban Outfitters this year also stopped selling coloured versions of the keffiyeh because of controversy.

"They used to wear it around their necks and now they are wearing it around their waists. What's next?," said Haitham, 28, a Palestinian refugee who did not reveal his last name.

>Dana, 25, said she recently purchased a blue version of the keffiyeh and maintains that the garment carries no political symbolism.

"I used to wear the white one when I would go to protests in college," she said. "These ones are a pure fashion statement.

"I got the blue colour because my eyes are blue," added Dana, who did not want her last named used. "Nonetheless people who hate Palestinians shouldn't wear them."

Some young Palestinians, however, are proud to see the craze gather steam.

"I have about 10 of them... The keffiyeh belongs to us no matter its colour. I am happy they have become popular," said Ahmed el-Hassan, 22.

Keffiyehs are hard to come by in Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps that house an estimated 400,000 refugees. They cost on average five dollars but some high-end designers in Lebanon are selling them for over 100 dollars.

"The original one was white and black," el-Hassan said. "These might be copies but they're still called keffiyeh which represents Palestine's heritage."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

New kufiyaspotting: rappers in Iran

Here's yet another kufiya manifestation, this time in Iran, from Monday's Guardian (thanks, Laleh!). The nub of the report--that Iranian rappers are wearing kufiya (for some reason, spelled here "chafiyeh") and, apparently in imitation, by yound men and women. This is ironic because rap has been condemned in official circles and the kufiya is associated with the Iranian revolution, worn routinely by Ayatollah Khamenei and by the Basij. (The article is reproduced in full below.)

While Tait's report on Iranian rappers taking up the kufiya is interesting, I think he gets the history of the kufiya's use in Iran all wrong. I have posted about this previously, and I quote once again from Roxanne Varzi's ethnography, Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolutionary Iran:

The qafiyeh [why this spelling, I don't know] was first donned by Islamic revolutionaries to show support for Palestine and resistance to Westernization. Later, it became a symbol of the volunteer soldiers fighting for Islam in the Iran-Iraq war.

Tait, then, leaves out the fact that the kufiya was originally worn as a sign of solidarity with Palestine, and then took on additional meanings, associated with Iranian nationalism and the Islamic republic.

A report by Mohammed Memarian for Mideast Youth comments on Iranian President Ahmedinejad's use of the kufiya (again, spelled chafiyeh here):

In the visits he [Ahmedinejad] paid to different provinces before elections, he used to meet war casualties [some of them with severe condition, for example those who were affected by chemical weapons, still live in special wards] as well as graves of the martyrs of Iran-Iraq war. Wearing Chafiyeh [i.e. an originally Arabian cloth, similar to a scarf, which people use to cover head and neck in summer in southern provinces of Iran; for the same reason, Iranian soldiers extensively used it during war. After 8 years of Iran-Iraq war, Chefyeh turned into an important symbol of those who had sympathy with the values of war, especially martyrdom] was a straightforward message to all. Whatever the rationale of his election, Ahmadinejad marked a significant breakthrough for fanatic supporters of (original values of) revolution.

As I also note in another kufiya post, the Iranian government has cracked down on those who wear red kufiyas as an insignia of Arab identity in Khuzestan (Arabistan), Iran's southern, Arab-majority province.

Why are Iranian rappers putting on kufiya? Not, I think, out of solidarity with Arab ethnic minority struggles in southern Iran. Could it be the fact that it's so hip in the West, including among US rappers, like Lupe Fiasco, Chamillionaire, The Cool Kids, Kanye West and Jay-Z? Are they trying to shift the meanings of the kufiya away from an association with the Iranian revolution and toward Palestine? (I'm pretty sure Iranian rappers are hip to the Palestine struggle.)

I with Tait's article named names, so I could find videos and photos of the Iranian rappers in question. I'm not terribly conversant with Iranian hip-hop, but I really like Hich Kas, who I've posted about previously. For more general info, music and vids, check out the website Pars Hip Hop. And a decent article.

Iran's underground rap artists take to wearing symbol of Islamic revolution

* Robert Tait in Istanbul
* The Guardian, Monday December 1 2008

For nearly 30 years its distinctive chequered pattern has been a sacrosanct symbol of Iran's Islamic revolution and an essential garment for its most committed adherents.

But now the chafiyeh, the black-and-white scarf proudly worn by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his loyal followers, has become an unlikely fashion item for young Iranians drawn to the same western pop culture that country's leaders disdain.

The scarf has become a craze among Iran's emerging crop of underground rap artists, who have taken to wearing it in concerts and video clips, according to Jahan News, a website considered close to Iran's intelligence ministry.

It has also become a trend among young men, who wear it along with T-shirts incongruously bearing the names of famous western bands. Young women have also been seen with the scarf, Jahan News reported.

Its new-found acceptability was demonstrated in a recent edition of a popular cinema magazine, which carried an advert placed by an Iranian leatherwear company showing a model wearing a bomber jacket with a chafiyeh tucked underneath.

The scarf's popularity with rappers is particularly ironic. Last year, Iran's culture and Islamic guidance ministry announced a campaign against rap music, which it deemed vulgar and obscene. Rap has become increasingly popular with young Iranians, who have been inspired by the work of artists among the large Iranian exile community in Los Angeles. The genre has been used to express concerns about drugs, street gangs and even western pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

The links with rap are far removed from the chafiyeh's origins. After being worn by many Iranian soldiers in the 1980-88 war with Iraq, it was adopted as the symbol of "the sacred defence", as the war effort is officially called. Volunteers used the garments as prayer mats and to protect their faces from chemical attacks. They were also deployed as burial shrouds and sometimes to tie the hands of captured enemy soldiers.

Nowadays, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wears it in all his public appearances. It is also worn by members of the hardline Basij militia.

Visiting foreign dignitaries, including the Venezuelan president, Hugo Ch√°vez, have also donned the scarf. Last year, Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, was greeted with shouts of "Allahu Akbar" when he put on a chafiyeh during a ceremony at Tehran University.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Odetta Footnote: "Oh Freedom," Beirut

Ever since Odetta's passing on December 2 I've been reading a lot about her, and listening to her music a lot--I purchased several of her best songs from emusic. Many I wasn't familiar with. I did not know that the song, "Oh Freedom," was associated so closely with Odetta (she performed it at the 1963 March on Washington.)

Here's the footnote: I was a student at the American University of Beirut (1969-1973) at a time of intense political activism--lots of demonstrations, lots of student strikes. The song that student activists typically sang in those days, particularly in the 72-73 period, was "Oh Freedom." I don't know how many times I heard, and sang, the refrain "And before I'll be a slave I'll be buried in my grave/And go home to my lord and be free," in a demonstration, when a building was occupied, etc.

I saw Odetta perform once, at the Cambridge Folk Festival, in 1968. Although she was a giant in the folk music movement, my impression is that she has not really received the credit she deserves, as an absolutely critical influence on the generation of folk singers that were involved in the folk music movement of the 50s and 60s.

(Incidentally, she died on the same day as Elizabeth Fernea, who was the wife of my dissertation advisor, Bob Fernea, and who I loved dearly and admired greatly.)