Thursday, December 29, 2005

best “world” music of ‘05

I’ve not compiled a best-of list for a couple years, although I used to do it regularly on my Interzone Radio show. But lately I’ve been consuming music in a somewhat different way, sampling cuts from here and there, and I’ve been less focused on what is the most “current” or hip in the world music scene. But inspired by Steven Shaviro, I’ve decided to have at it again. My top 10 is all “world music”, whatever that is. My "others" ventures a bit further generically. This list is not necessarily in order of what I think is best, and for sure I’ve forgotten some things....

1. Kamilya Jubran and Werner Hasler, Wameedd. Amazing collaboration between former Sabreen vocalist and Swiss electronic sound producer. Spare, beautiful, experimental, eerie.

2. Tranglobal Underground, Impossible Broadcasting. TGU (pictured above) finally return to their true transnational ethno-funk roots, this time with some great Bulgarian assistance.

3. Mutamassik, Masri Mokkassar: Definitive Works. Egyptian-Italian American d.j.’s collection of her finest work. Breaking down Arabic music, cutting it into hip-hop & drum ‘n’ bass.

4. Konono No 1, Congotronics. A total assault from Kinshasa: massively-distorted electric thumb piano and frenetic percussion. (Congotronics #2 now available from

5. V.A., Guitars of the Golden Triangle: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma), vol. 2. Another Sublime Frequencies revelation: more wonderful surf and psychedelic rock from Southeast Asia. After hearing various S.F. collections from Thailand and Cambodia, these rockified versions of Myanmar cease to sound weird.

6. Baba Zula & King Tubby, Duble Oryantal. Despite the punned title and the presence of King Tubby, the dub is lowkey, just enough to lend the various Turkish folk-based genres presented here an edge, and an element of subtle strangeness.

7. V.A., Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara. The revelation here is that the incredible gutbucket blues guitar of the legendary Malian group Tinariwen is not a one-off, but a much wider phenomenon. Check out Nayim Alal and Mariem Hassan.

8. Balkan Beat Box, Balkan Beat Box. New York based underground Israeli scenesters Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat lead a high energy romp that fuses not just the Balkans but also Israel and the Arab World, an Eastern Mediterranean with the boundaries--temporarily at least--blown apart.

9. MIA, Arular. This dancehall/grime blowup, with its Tamilese Sri Lanka tinges, is on everyone’s list, and I am compelled to concur. Although MIA’s references to violence and terrorism are controversial,she does namecheck the PLO--and gets away with it.

10. Khaled, Ya-Rayi. The US mix was released in 2005, but the producers almost wrecked it for me by putting the execrable “Love to the People” (English and Arabic versions) onto what, in the French version, was in part a return and tribute to the roots of rai, the Wahrani genre. So skip cuts 2 and 11 and all the “peace through music” bullshit.

Other favorites: I get lots of my music from emusic, and lately have been very keen on all the offerings from Tzadik (John Zorn’s project to expand our notions of Jewish music) and Doublemoon, which features all kinds of great Turkish music. I’ve also been into favela funk and reggaeton, like everyone else. Also into Ellen Allien (everything! this year’s release is Thrills), Laura Veirs’ Year of Meteors, and OOIOO’s gold & green.

Good news from the NYT: "Independent labels account for more than 18 percent of album sales this year - their biggest share of the market in at least five years, according to Nielsen SoundScan data...The independent sector as a whole already outsells two of the big four companies, Warner Music and EMI."


Monday, December 26, 2005

Hakim in "Vanity Fair"

I finally have seen Mira Nair's film Vanity Fair (2004), starring Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp. I found it somewhat entertaining but felt by the end that it had run aground. But really, what I want to comment upon is the unbelievable and completely non-credible "dance scene," staged by the Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne) and featuring Becky Sharp, to impress the King of England.

It's hard to imagine why Indian director Nair would put such a sequence on screen, where a posse of white British dancers wear what basically are bellydance outfits (somewhat Indianized) and perform ersatz bellydance moves, and where Reese Witherspoon wears Goth-style eye makeup. Such "bellydance" costumes were invented, in fact, by Hollywood in the early 20th century, and eventually adopted back in the Middle East. But what is really strange about the sequence is that it features Egyptian bellydance music by acclaimed sha'bi vocalist Hakim. The song, "El Salam," (from Hakim's 2002 Mondo Melodia release, Takatik), features all acoustic accompaniment, but nonetheless it's entirely inauthentic and anachronistic. Normally I like such "Arab inroads" into Western culture, but this one sits ill with me. Plus it fits into that standard Orientalist trope, whereby all "wog" culture, whether Indian or Arab, is more or less equivalent.

I also hated the end of the film, where Becky realizes her dreams and ambitions by finally marrying Joseph Sedley and traveling to India. The last scene shows Becky and Joseph riding elephants in a gorgeously colorful and exotic India. Pure raj/imperial nostalgia.

Tags: ,

"has so Eunucht our Husbands...": The 1674 Women's Petition Against Coffee

London, 1674, women petition against the "Grand INCONVENIENCIES accruing to their SEX from the Excessive Use of that Drying, Enfeebling LIQUOR [coffee]." Here are a few choice bits:

"Never did Men wear greater Breeches, or carry less in them of any Mettle whatsoever."

"They come from it [coffee] with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears..."

" young Train-band-men when called upon Duty, their Amunition is wanting; peradventure they Present, but cannot give Fire, or at least do but flash in the pan, instead of doing Execution."

"Certainly our Coutrymens pallates are become as Fanatical as their Brains; how else is't possible they should Apostatize from the good old primitive way of Ale-drinking, to run a whoreing after such variety of distructive Foraign Liquors...this ugly Turkish Enchantress..."

(I found this thanks to the latest issue of Harper's.)


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: "Paradise Now" #14 in best movies of '05

Philip Martin, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's very fine film reviewer, ranked Paradise Now (dir. Hany Abu-Assad) #14 in his review of the best films of 2005 yesterday (Dec. 25). Unfortunately, as far as I'm aware, the film hasn't opened anywhere in Arkansas. (I saw it in Washington, DC.)

Here's what Martin had to say: "While geopolitical realities shape this story of two would-be suicide bombers from Palestine, the characters remain recognizably human, to the point where we begin to suspect their arguments are voiced largely to convince themselves."

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Benefits of "Separation Barrier"

Great and unexpected news! Now it is easier, and cheaper, to buy olive wood carvings from Bethlehem (nativity scenes, rosaries, crosses, etc.) due to in part to their availability on the internet--a boon not just for consumers but for the woodcarvers as well. And as an AP report by Sarah El Deeb explains, "Bethlehem's woodcarvers are getting another unexpected boost: cheap olive wood from the construction of Israel's controversial West Bank separation barrier. Thousands of olive trees have been uprooted to make way for the barrier, creating an abundance that has driven the price from $260 to $195 per ton, carvers said."

Who would have thought that Israel's construction of the apartheid wall (shown above, with Christmas pilgrims passing through) could have such positive benefits for producers and consumers?

There is, however, a downside, as El Deeb explains, "the barrier is creating new hardships for Bethlehem, cutting off many people from farmlands and defacing the landscape that draws tourists."

But does that really matter, as long as we can still buy our Christmas creches and our rosaries, made from authentic Holy Land olive wood?

Merry Christmas!

, , ,

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No More "Hotel California" in Iran: Great!

Along with all the world's civil libertarians, music lovers, neo-cons, and professional Iran bashers, of course I think it's awful that Western music is banned from state broadcast outlets in Iran. But I'd like to also dissent, slightly. Is it really so bad that the Eagles' "Hotel California" will now no longer be heard accompanying Iranian news broadcasts? I wouldn't mind visiting a country where you couldn't hear that execrable song, which has been torturing me for years and years.

(On second thought, if it's banned that will, inevitably, make it that much more popular. Strike a blow for freedom and listen to "Hotel California" in Tehran. Argh!)

Monday, December 19, 2005

North African Chic in Paris

In the Travel section in the Sunday New York Times, an article by Seth Sherwood describes the multiple ways that North African fashion, cuisine, and music are so-o-o hip today in Paris. Inappropriately titled, "In the Heart of Paris, an African Beat" (inappropriate because Moroccans, Algerians, and Tunisians most often tend to think of themselves as part of the Maghreb, the "West" of the Arab-Islamic world), it elaborates on the ubiquity of North African culture in the French capital. Seth describes many of the hippest restaurants, clubs, and boutiques, and his descriptions of the varieties of couscous and tajine dishes is especially enticing. Two of the most noteworthy restaurants are 404 and Andy Wahloo, owned by Hakim and Mourad Mazouz, who own Momo and Sketch in London.

I've been to both Sketch and Momo in London. (An old friend of mine who is a friend of Mourad got us in.) Sketch is unbelievably posh and gorgeous, but not Middle Eastern themed. Momo by contrast is ultra-chic Middle Eastern, with a hookah bar/café upstairs and a restaurant downstairs that features very fine world music. (And Mourad has compiled 3 volumes of fabulous Middle Eastern music, Arabesque [vols. 1-3].)

Andy Wahloo, in Paris, is a wonderful pun on "Andy Warhol" which means, "I have nothing" in Maghrebi Arabic.

I'm pleased that Maghrebi culture has become so mainstream in France, and have been involved over the past 15 years in documenting the movement of Arabic music in France from the margins to the center of French pop culture. I'm glad as well that entrepreneurs like Mourad Mazouz, and not just white French citizens, have been key figures in these moves.

But while the "Beurgoisie" has moved into the center of French pop culture, the unemployed and working-class youths of the banlieues have been mostly left behind, as the recent riots show dramatically showed. The fact that Maghrebi culture attracts French bohos (and boho US tourists, if this article does its work) doesn't guarantee jobs, or respect, to Franco-Maghrebi residents of the cité. (Nor does the fact that rap music dominates US pop culture mean that poor blacks will be treated with any consideration when a disaster like Katrina strikes.)

Tags: , ,

More on Rock Music as a US Military Weapon

The HRW report on the US use of Eminem and Dr. Dre as tools of torture reminds me of how US forces used loud rock in the December 1989 invasion of Panama ("Operation Just Cause"). President Noriega (sought after on drug charges) took refuge in the Nunciatare of the Vatican Embassy. US troops surrounded it and attempted to use loud rock music as a form of psychological warfare to drive him out. The Vatican protested and the troops shut off the noise. Noriega finally surrendered on January 3, 1990.

The president in charge: President George H.W. Bush. Secretary of Defense and director of "Operation Just Cause": Dick Cheney. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Colin Powell.

You can see a list of songs here, courtesy of the National Security Archive.

Tags: ,

Eminem & Dr. Dre: Weapons of Torture in the "War on Terror"

The Associated Press informs us that Human Rights Watch released a report today on a secret US prison outside Kabul, Afghanistan, where as recently as last year, detainees were tortured by, among other things, being forced to listen to loud music in the dark for days. "They were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music or other sounds blared for weeks at a time."

One detaine, Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian-born Guantánamo detainee who grew up in Britain, said that he was "forced to listen to Eminem ["Slim Shady," to be precise] and Dr. Dre for 20 days before the music was replaced by 'horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds.'"

The HRW report can be read in full here.

So much for music as a "universal language"...

I've not heard Eminem and Dr. Dre's position on the use of their music as a torture, but teenagers have deliberately used loud rap and heavy metal for years to torture their parents. And remember ghetto blasters on city buses?

(To his credit, Eminem is against the war, as is evident from his video "Mosh.")

Tags: , , ,

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Kominas: Islamic Punk

Taqwacores: 4 songs available to download from The Kominas' homepage. My fave, right now, is "Sharia Law in the USA," recorded with 8bit, which invokes "Anarchy in the UK": "I am an Islamist, I am an anti-Christ."

Thanks to Michael Muhammad Knight, I have learned that Kominas member Basim is now in Pakistan, volunteering for the Kashmiri relief effort. That is so punk rock. You can read his "punkistani" blog here. [Correction: for some reason that link doesn't work, so paste this into your browser:]


Why Bin Laden Will Lose

George W. Bush, December 11, 2001: " I couldn't imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah, or the joy of Christmas, or celebrating peace and hope." On the occasion of the first lighting of the Hanukkah Menorah at the White House.

I was, of course, tipped off to this by The Daily Show. You can hear these immortal words here.

Tags: ,

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Kamilya Jubran: Wameedd

Kamilya Jubran, lead vocalist for Palestine's beloved, avant-folk group Sabreen from 1982 to 2002, has recently put out a solo recording called Wameedd. I don't yet have the album, but I've listened to the quite long samples from the album that are up on Kamilya's website and they are just amazing. Wameedd features the voice and 'ud playing of Kamilya and the very creative electronic sounds produced by Swiss composer and sound wizard Werner Hasler. The result is truly remarkable, about as unusual a recording of "Arabic" music as I've ever heard. It puts me in mind of Sabreen's last release, Hases Maz'ooj, not because the latter sounds like Wameedd but because both are so singular, so unlike anything else. Someday (but not now) I hope to write something about Hases Maz'ooj, which is very hip-hop/electronic and a radical departure from Sabreen's earlier work.

I highly, highly recommend Wameedd. I will be reviewing it soon for RootsWorld, along with the new solo release, Min Ba'd, from Wissam Murad, also of Sabreen.

Wameedd is available from CDRoots (and so is Hases Maz'ooj).


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Psychebelly: Baba Zula

Continuing the bellydancing theme...This is the cover to Baba Zula's album, Psychebelly Dance Music (2003). Baba Zula perform what one might call "treatments" or "wreckings" of Turkish folk music. They play traditional Turkish acoustic instruments and mix them up with electronica. Although Mad Professor works with them on Psychebelly, the dub elements are quite subtle and organic sounding, not as crazy and excessive as the Professor's usual outings. I highly recommend this, and all of Baba Zula's recordings. They are put out by Doublemoon; I access them through the fantastic online music source, Psychebelly is available from cdroots.

Baba Zula, along with many other great Turkish artists, are featured in Fatih Akin's film, Crossing the Bridge - The Sound of Istanbul. I've not yet seen it, but informants tell me it is fabulous.


Make Love Not War

Another provocative work of art from Josephine Meckseper: Make Love Not War, 2003, Mixed media and gouache on paper. First, the two pieces as reproduced by Gavlak (West Palm Beach), second, as hung at the Galerie Borgmann.Nathusius, Cologne. Two works by Meckseper featuring the kufiya are here and here.

Grassroots Middle Class Antiwar Sentiment

A simple, low key yet effective expression of sentiment against the war. A ranch house, up the block from us on Olive St., with an enormous lawn, on one acre of prime real estate. I don't know the owners of the house, and I think this display went up only recently. I think it reflects the very widespread and deepseated public disaffection with the Iraq War, even among prosperous, upper middle class southerners. (Photo taken on December 13.)

Tags: ,

Monday, December 12, 2005

Green Party Calls for Divestment from and Boycott of Israel

Resolution: Adopted by the Green Party of the United States, November 21, 2005

1. The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) publicly calls for divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel until such time as the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized.

To maximize the effect of the Green Party's support for divestment and boycott of Israel:

2. The party calls on all civil society institutions and organizations around the world to implement a comprehensive divestment and boycott program. Further, the party calls on all governments to support this program and to implement state level boycotts.
3. The party urges the Campus Greens network to work in cooperation with other campus organizations to achieve institutional participation in this effort.
4. The GPUS National Committee directs the Green Peace Action Committee (GPAX) to encourage the larger anti-war movement to promote the divestment/boycott effort.
5. The GPUS National Committee directs the International Committee to work with our sister Green parties around the world in implementing an international boycott.

On July 2, 2004, the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 431-62 “to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine.”

Tags: , ,

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Absolut Beirut.

I found this at Queer Arab and just had to put it up. (It's from It reminds me that I must get back to my beloved Beirut, where I lived from January 1964 to January 1976 (with a couple sojourns in the US).


Iranian Girl Rock Group Orkideh

...Or Does It Explode? reports that a pair of concerts (women-only) by the Iranian rock group Orkideh ("Orchid") are upcoming in Tehran on December 16 & 17. No mp3's available yet!


Condaleeza Greeted by Nadia Comaneci

Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci greets Condi on her arrival at Bucharest airport, Romania, on December 6. Before the visit, one of Condaleeza's senior staff predicted, "Romanians 'will go crazy' over the meeting"--confirming Condi's "rock star image."

Although Romania is now post-Communist, Nadia continues to show her good training under Stalinism as she greets the torture-apologist on behalf of the state.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Fred Pfeil, R.I.P.

I just received word about the passing of Fred Pfeil, on November 29. Fred, who taught in the English Department at Trinity College, was 56.

I had the great privilege of getting to know Fred during the First Gulf War. I had previously read some of his essays and had seen him at a conference or two, but I first met him in the offices of the Seattle Coalition Against the War (I think that was the name), shortly after the US invaded Kuwait, in early 1991. We got to be good friends. I was living in Seattle, teaching (sometimes) at UW, and looking for a tenure track job. Fred was on a post-doc and living in Seattle. We were both heavily involved in anti-war organizing. The day of the invasion the Seattle Coalition mounted a sit-in at the Federal Building in Seattle. (I was in the Coalition 'leadership', so I didn't sit in.) Fred cut off his long hair, put on a suit so that he looked like a bureaucrat, and stood outside the Federal Building, telling federal workers that they could go home. (And a lot of them took his word for it.) When the police started arresting protesters, Fred was one of the first they grabbed. (He later served a day or so in prison for the offence.)

So, we hung out a lot, discussing politics, film, music, and reading each other's work. I remember lots of great times, and one night in particular, when we went to a concert of jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine, who Fred turned me on to. It was a simply great and inspiring concert (although a lot of Courtney's recordings are too commercial). We next went and caught the end of Maceo Parker's set at Blues Alley. We topped the night off by going to the ReBar (Seattle's best dance club at the time), where it turned out to be Fetish Night. A truly memorable night.

Fred was working on his great book on masculinity, White Guys, at the time. In particular, he was doing the chapter on the Men's Movement. One Saturday he convinced me to go along to a men's meeting, he thought he should have a "real" ethnographer assist him with his fieldwork. It was quite interesting, and even though the stereotypical men's movement things happened, such as the dancing and drumming at the beginning and end and the passing around of the "wisdom stick" to those who addressed the crowd, I came away with a much more sympathetic and nuanced sense of the men's movement, thanks to Fred.

Fred was incredibly multi-talented, and I don't ever think he received the academic props he was due. His highest advanced degree was "only" an MFA, and this, I believe, kept him from landing a position at a more "prestigious" institution. But never mind that, and Fred himself was never bitter about this. His two "theory" books, Another Tale to Tell: Politics and Narrative in Postmodern Culture (1990) and White Guys: Studies in Postmodern Domination and Difference (1995) are first rate: smart, theoretically astute, witty as all hell, politically engaged and nuanced, extremely well written. Many scholars, as we all know, never manage a second book, and Fred produced two first-rate ones. But he was also a writer of very fine fiction. His novel, Goodman 2020 (1986), is a fabulous work of science fiction, very dystopian, very depressing. I've never understood why it is not more widely read and celebrated. I try to foist it off on friends to read, and those who do, seem to like it as much as I do. What They Tell You to Forget: A Novella and Stories (1996) got a lot more props, and won the Editors' Book Award of 1996. It is just brilliant. Also very depressing and has a very dreadful (because so depressingly bad) sex scene. Fred was brilliant at writing about the depressing stuff, in part because he came from a real working class family (but he never beat people on the left up with his proletarian background) and he had some good old Scandinavian blood (on his mother's side, I think). On occasion he'd venture into Ballard, Seattle's Scandinavian neighborhood and bring back some pickled herring to share with me. While we were sojourning together in the Northwest, he was also working on a libretto for an opera. I can't remember the title, it had to do with dogs, and it was performed. I mention it only to give another dimension of Fred's many activities.

I only got to hang out with him 2 or 3 times after I moved to Cairo in 1992. I visited him once in Trinity, in fall 1993, I think. I may have seen him in summer 1996, but I'm not sure. The last time was in September '02, when I was lecturing at Wesleyan and my friend Elliott drove me over to see him for a couple hours in Hartford. We had the usual great Fred conversation. One of the things I remember talking about was, what anti-war slogan was he gonna write on a highway overpass, once the Iraq invasion started. (Fred and his direct-action pals already had it planned out.) For me, Fred was an exemplary political academic, always working with students and community-based groups on progressive political action. One of his favorite activities was "improving" billboards, and he had lots of stories. He was also involved, after going back to Trinity in the nineties, in work with prisoners, promoting alternatives to violence. I don't think I've ever met an academic who was so politically engaged, and in such nuanced, lving, humane and non-dogmatic ways.

Fred wrote a very moving obituary in New Left Review for his departed buddy Michael Sprinker. (And Fred co-edited, A Singular Voice: Collected Writings of Michael Sprinker [2003]). I hope someone writes an equally brilliant and compelling tribute for Fred. (I'm not up to the task, either intellectually or stylistically.)

I miss you buddy. You made the world a much better place by your example. Thank you so much.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sonny Lester: How to Belly Dance For Your Husband

The cover of the 1968 release from Sonny Lester - His Orchestra & Chorus:
Little Egypt Presents: How to Belly Dance For Your Husband.

The “Little Egypt” referred to is not a real person but a marketing hook. The name evokes the “original” Little Egypt, the scandalous sensation who bellydanced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. There was probably no “real” person called Little Egypt at the World’s Fair but there were a number of bellydancers from Egypt and Algeria at the Fair and they did create a sensation and a longlasting legacy. The scandal and sensation launched a “shimmying” trend in female dancing that reverberated in carnival sideshows and burlesque halls and strip clubs for decades, and it lives on today in the huge network of US bellydancers and the performances of Shakira and Britney and....

Bellydancing music was HUGE in the US in the 1950s and early and there are dozens of recordings and many amazing covers. The theme was: middle class women, spice up your married lives by bellydancing for your spouse. Belly dance clubs in New York City and other urban centers were hip meccas for middle class whites looking for exotic and wild experiences. has a great archive of album covers and also uploads albums once a month. The Lester recording is still up as of today. I’m not sure about it’s legality but....

Sonny Lester (b. 1924) was an important figure in the “exotica” genre, so popular in the 50s and 60s. (Check out David Toop’s book Exotica for a great account.) He was especially well known for his album, How to Strip for Your Husband, and put out a number of exotica stripping and bellydance releases on the Roulette label. I was somewhat surprised to learn that this release appeared in 1968. I wasn’t aware that the “craze” was still going on at that late date.

The music on How to Belly Dance For Your Husband is in the exotica vein and evokes rather than performs Arab/Middle Eastern bellydance music. It is nonetheless quite fun. Most of the releases I’ve heard from the period by contrast are quite “authentic” bellydance tunes performed by Arab or Armenian or Turkish musicians.

Earlier bellydance posts: a description of an album featuring Özel Türkbas here and covers with Özel Türkbas are here and here. A photo of bellydancing in stereo is here.


Condaleeza's "Rock Star Image"

Joel Brinkley had a silly piece in the New York Times on Monday, entitled "The Man Behind the Secretary of State's Rock Star Image." (I'm commenting on this a little late, because I've been away at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings in Washington, DC.)

Silly on a number of accounts. First, because: what "rock star" has to spend all his/her time attempting to explain away torture, secret prisons and extraordinary renditions as s/he travels around the globe?? The worst that a "rock star" might be called account for might be, what, sexist or homophobic lyrics? Second, silly because Brinkley seems to agree with "the diplomats, politicians and journalists of the world, [who believe that] there is no argument that [Condi] has ascended to rock star status." Who are these foolish diplomats and pols and journalists? Brinkley gives us no evidence that this benighted circle includes any other than US pols and journalists. When Forbes magazine put Condi at the top of its list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, the New York Post's headline read, "Condi Rules the World!" Brinkley somehow doesn't understand that the statement, "Condi Rules!" means something very different than, say, "Missy Elliott Rules!" Celebrity showbiz and politics have been getting more and more intertwined in the US for years but this doesn't guarantee that when Condi is greeted by Olympics gymnast Nadia Comaneci on her visit to Romania, the images of Abu Ghraib are automatically obliterated and forgotten. Plus, when did the New York Post become a rock star maker?

A close reading of Brinkley's article leads one to suspect that it is mostly Condi's staff and especially the man in charge of Condi's image-making, Jim Wilkinson, who believe this rockstar nonsense. (Another case, I think, of a Times reporter getting so "embedded" in his sources that he can't see the obvious.) The staff seems quite convinced that their efforts at image-making, such as having Condi greeted by Japanese-American sumo star Konishiki on her arrival in Japan, are brilliant strategy successes that help her "connect with the ordinary citizens of the countries she visits." Maybe her staff is compensating for the fact that no other foreign policy strategy seems to be working?

Given that all the news about Condi's trip to Europe that has come out this week since Brinkley's report is about how she is dealing with the question of torture and renditions--how rockstar could she be?

I'll leave the last word to a real rockstar: Mick Jagger. Mick is a multimillionaire and is in his mid-sixties and we don't really expect much of him anymore, but he is much more clued-in than Brinkley and all those pols and diplomats and journalists. From the Rolling Stones' recent song, "Sweet Neocon," off the album A Bigger Bang:

You parade around in costume, expecting to be believed
But as the body bags stack up, we believe we’ve been deceived

Tags: ,

Monday, November 28, 2005

Michael Jackson building mosque in Bahrain

The Khaleej Times (Dubai, UAE) of November 24 reports that Michael Jackson, who recently settled in Manama, Bahrain's capital, is donating large sums of money (amount undisclosed) to build a state-of-the-art mosque near his luxury palace in the city. "Jackson did so," says the report, "as a token of appreciation to the Bahraini people, who welcomed him and treated him as if he was one of the citizens of their country." Michael's brother Jermaine, formerly of the Jackson Five, converted to Islam in 1989.

Tags: ,

Mass gay marriage busted in UAE

An AP report states that 22 Emirati men were arrested at what police called a "mass homosexual wedding" earlier this month at a hotel chalet in Ghantout, on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway. Four others were arrested, including an Indian DJ and three men from "neighboring Arab states." An Interior Ministry spokesman said that the men are likely to be charged with prostitution and adultery. Below are some interesting quotes:

Outward homosexual behavior is banned in the United Arab Emirates, and the gay group wedding has alarmed leaders of this once-isolated Muslim country as it grapples with a sweeping influx of Western residents and culture.

The Arabian peninsula, nevertheless, has a long tradition of openly homosexual wedding singers and dancers...

[Interior Ministry spokesman Issam] Azouri said the Interior Ministry's department of social support would try to direct the men away from homosexual behavior -- using methods including male hormone treatments, if the men are found to be deficient...

Azouri said government psychologists were grappling to learn the causes behind an apparent increase in homosexual behavior in the Emirates. The booming economy has lured hundreds of thousands of Western residents and millions of tourists. Azouri said authorities want to be seen to be taking action at a time when complaints of gay behavior were emerging from the country's schools and myriad shopping malls.

No time to comment now but, inshallah, in the future.

Tags: ,

Friday, November 25, 2005

PM de Villepin: rap not responsible for riots

According to a BBC News report, French PM Dominique de Villepin (UMP) has weighed in on the claim by many colleagues in his ruling party that French rappers incited the recent banlieue riots. "Is rap responsible for the crisis in the suburbs? My answer is no," says Villepin. "But he said that the courts should deal with lyrics that overstepped the mark."

Monsieur R, chief target of the attacks, has reponded: "Hip hop is a crude art, so we use crude words. It is not a call to violence."

Tags: , ,

Thursday, November 24, 2005

French lawmakers accuse rappers of inciting riots

If it’s not the Muslim extremists, it must be the rappers....

An article by Nolan Strong on cites an AFP report (“Lawmakers accuse French rappers of inciting riots,” Wednesday, November 23) that 201 French lawmakers (152 Deputies, 49 Senators) have signed a petition accusing seven rap outfits of helping provoke the country’s recent riots through their rap lyrics. The petition is addressed to Justice Minister Pascal Clement. François Grosdidier, of the ruling center-right UMP (Union pour un mouvement populaire), the deputy who initiated the petition, charges the rappers’ lyrics with “sexism, racism and anti-Semitism.” The petition singles out Monsieur R and his song, “FranSSe” (from the album Politikment Incorrekt) which describes France as a "bitch" to be "screwed until she drops". (Here are the lyrics: “La France est une salope, n’oublie pas de la baiser jusqu’à l’épuiser. Comme une salope il faut la traiter, mec!”) The petition also targets singers Smala, Fabe and Salif and the rap groups Lunatic, 113, and Ministère Amer.

Grosdidier had already, prior to the riots, filed a complaint against Monsieur R. On August 12, Grosdidier requested that Justice Minister Clement forbid the dissemination of Monsieur R’s “FranSSe” (both the recording and the video), charging that it was an incitement to “racism and hate” and that its message could, when received by “destructured (destructuré)” and “lost (paumé)” urban youth, legitimate “at best incivility and at worst terrorism” among them. Grosdidier cited lyrics describing France as a “bitch” (garce, salope) and attacked the state and the police. He describes the video as containing a scene where two nude women rub themselves with the French tricolor (flag), and states that the clip’s “amalgames” liken France to the Third Reich. The clip also shows Chirac shaking the hands of the late Zairean dictator Joseph Mobutu. (Monsieur R is originally from Zaire/Congo.) (And here’s another line frequently criticized: "Moi, je pisse sur Napoléon et le général de Gaulle.")

Monsieur R responded to the charges in an interview with Libération (August 12, p. 11), saying “when I speak of France, I’m not talking about the French people (les Français) but about the leaders of a state who, from slavery to colonization, exploit us.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Mach, another UMP deputy, has brought a procedure against Monsieur R at the correctionnal court of Melun, where Monsieur R was to appear yesterday (Wednesday November 23).

The line, “La France est une salope” reminds me of the great song, “Inglan is a Bitch,” by England’s brilliant leftwing anti-racist dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. It’s on his album Bass Culture (1980). Here’s a sample:

Inglan is a bitch
Dere’s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
Y´u haffi know how fi survive in it

Well mi do day wok an´ mi do night wok
Mi do clean wok an´ mi do dutty wok
Dem seh dat black man is very lazy
But if y´u si how mi wok y´u woulda sey mi crazy

Tags: , ,

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Other Occupation

Occasionally, we are permitted a view of the everyday reality of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, now in its THIRTY-NINTH year. This AP photo appeared today on the front page of our local paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, with the caption, "Israeli soldiers stop Palestinian schoolgirls during a scuffle Tuesday in the West Bank town of Hebron before tear gas was fired to disperse the crowd." The message of the photo itself, of course, is much more powerful than the caption.

This photo also reminds me of summer 1993 which I spent in Ramallah with my family. I remember walking with my wife and son, who at the time was five years old, from downtown Ramallah (the Manarah), where we did our shopping, to the Batn al-Hawa district, where we were staying in a friend's apartment. On our way we always passed by the Ramallah bus station. On the roof of a tall apartment building that overlooked the bus station there was an Israeli military post from which soldiers kept watch on the goings-on below. I recall, on more than one occasion, spotting an Israeli sniper, beading his gun on my five year old son.

Tags: ,

Monday, November 21, 2005

Kufiyaspotting #6: Josephine Meckseper at Galerie Reinhard Hauff

Here's another piece by Josephine Meckseper, from an exhibit entitled, "IG-Metall und die künstlichen Paradiese des Politischen," at Galerie Reinhard Hauff, Stuttgart, April 24-June 5, 2004. Again, the kufiya, red this time, appears twice. On the left are two figures who appear to be doing the Muslim prayers, using the kufiya as a prayer rug. A strip of red kufiya material separates the praying figures from the lower half of the body of a glamorous model, clad in fashionable slacks and red high heels. On both sides of the kufiya strip, the figures are depicted in prostrated and worshipful positions.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Kufiyaspotting #5: Josephine Meckseper's "Untitled," Lyon Biennial 2005

It's weird: yesterday I finally got around to scanning and writing about 3 of the kufiyas I've spotted over the last few months. Today, while thumbing through the New York Times T Style Magazine: Travel I find this! The reproduction of a piece by Josephine Meckseper called "Untitled," featured at the Lyon Biennial of Contemporary Art that runs through December 31.

Two of the three parts of this work feature the kufiya. First, there is the manikin, wearing the kufiya as a scarf that partially obscures her breasts. She also sports a kind of hoody vest, which covers her head and hints (vaguely) at an Islamic headscarf. Her gold pendant is an iconic marijuana plant. Second, above and to the right is a painting, whose style is remiscent of Russian Futurism. The straight line which looks like it might be part of a question mark is a piece of kufiya fabric. Next to the manikin is the cover of a book, entitled The Angry Brigade, 1967-1984: Documents and Chronology. The Angry Brigade were a left-wing, anarchist-inspired urban guerilla organization in Britain that conducted a series of bomb attacks on "establishment" targets between 1970 and 1972. (The Angry Brigrade could be compared, loosely, to the US Weather Underground.)

Printed Matter's press release for its book launch for The Josephine Meckseper Catalogue describes what the artist is up to as follows:

Meckseper's work reveals the ways in which counterculture becomes codified through surface concerns such as style and packaging. Hippie accessories such as used Birkenstock shoes, orgy rugs, Palestinian head scarves, and psychedelic wallpaper rub shoulders with conservative political parties' campaign posters, German union logos, and installations of retail windows. Her filmic, photographic, sculptural and performance-based investigations into the aesthetics of political protest are ironically at home in a (mock) publication dedicated to style.

Kufiyaspottings #2-#4 below illustrate well the kufiya's role in the phenomena that Meckspeper is investigating: how countercultural and leftwing politics are closely connected to style, "cool," and commodification.

Meckseper is German born and now a resident of New York City.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Kufiyaspotting #4: The Libertines, 2004

This photo is from the back cover of The Libertines' second, self-titled, album. The band member wearing the kufiya is guitarist-vocalist Carl Barat (if you click on the photo you can see a larger and clearer image). Next to Barat, in the hat, is Pete Doherty, The Libertines' legendary bad boy: confessed heroine and crack addict, in and out of rehab and court, boyfriend to Kate Moss. By the time this album appeared, Doherty was out of the band. The Libertines are a somewhat mainstream, Top 40 rock band, often compared to The Strokes, The Hives and the like. It's worthy of note, therefore, that Barat chose to wear a kufiya in this photo. But also important to remember that The Libertines are English. Meaning that: (a) solidarity with the Palestinians is much more acceptable there than in the US and (b) public opposition to the Iraq war has been much more sustained and vocal than here.


Kufiyaspotting #3: Defunkt, 1988

The photo is from the jacket (not the cover) of Defunkt's 1988 release In America. Defunkt was a great and eminently danceable New York jazz-funk fusion band led by trombonist Joseph Bowie. (Bowie's picture is on the cover, the photo here shows the band members.) I think the guy wearing the kufiya is Ronnie Drayton, who along with Bill Bickford plays guitar on the album. (Drayton has also recorded with Nona Hendryx, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Bill Laswell, and James Blood Ulmer.)

It's notable that Defunkt's In America was released in 1988. Kufiyas had been worn for a number of years by US progressives expressing solidarity with the Palestinians, as well as by urban hipsters who considered kufiyas not only cool-looking but also, perhaps, slightly "dangerous." It was only in 1988 that kufiyas were noticed by the mass media. Several reports appeared that remarked upon and tried to make sense of the kufiyas that were spotted, especially in urban centers. What made them suddenly worthy of commentary? The first Palestinian intifada, which erupted in 1987. For a time, the intifada was massively covered on nightly TV news, and so one regularly saw Palestinian youths, sporting kufiyas and throwing stones at heavily armed Israeli soldiers. (For more, see my article "Seeing Double: Palestinian-American Histories of the Kufiya," Michigan Quarterly Review 31(4), 1992.)


Kufiyaspotting, #2: Designer fashion, fall 2004

This is a short notice I clipped out of Complex magazine a year or so ago. Here is the text:

At first glance, Jeff Griffin's new clothing collection seems like it was made for guards at the Abu Ghraib prison: it's menacing, yet whimsical. But the U.K. designer's fall/winter message is all about nonviolence--and not violating the Geneva Convention. Griffin skews urban-assault attire and injects it with joie de vivre, adding splashes of bright pink, orange and purple to camouflage army jackets and guerilla blaclavas. Griffin subverts military style, taking it off the battlefields and into the streets. (L-R) "A-Hood" hooded sweater, $320; "Shut Sellafield" bomber jacket, $380; "Eco Skull" T-shirt, $85;

(This is the fall/winter collection from last year and so it is unfortunately no longer up on the Griffin website. Unfortunately, too, the scarves that are wrapped like kufiyas around the faces of the two models on the right are not described and not priced. And I don't really agree that this photo projects "nonviolence," given that the models' faces are wrapped so you can't recognize them, in the style of the anarchists' Black Bloc, and that the model on the right is showing a clenched fist, a sign of militancy and black power. Kufiyaspotting #1: here.)


"Parisien du nord" reprise

A few days ago I mentioned Marco Werman's report on the Cheb Mami/K-Mel duet "Parisien du Nord." Thanks to Nabil Boudraa and David McMurray of Oregon State, I can now provide a translation (below, in caps) of Mami's contribution to the song.

Comme ça vous m'avez trahi, comme ça
Ou hakada dertouha lia, hakada
Comme ça vous m'avez trahi, comme ça
Ou hakada laabtouha lia, hakada

Ala oujhi enkartouni, ou goltou étranger
Kont haseb fi bledi, ou hnaya enmout


Choftkom wellit ghrib la wal ou le hbib
Pourtant zeïd hna ou hadha echchay hram

Here's K-Mel's lyrics (I hope to provide a translation, eventually)

Parisien du Nord, clando d'abord
Un kiffe dans la musique sans passeport, c'est le talent d'abord
C'est comme le pa-ré qui a taffé, ramé pendant des années
Les exploitants que j'me ferais un véritable plaisir de canner
J'suis pas violent, mais tant d'années
À 5000 francs par mois, c'est fanner
Et pour les jeunes c'est la tanné, non il fallait
Pas faire l'erreur d'assimiler face à ces professions
Ce ne sont que des bassesses de vocation
La leçon à en tirer, c'est quoi que tu dises, quoi que tu fasses
T'es embauché tant que l'on n'a pas vu ta face
Souvent les jeunes PDG dans leurs bureaux
Gérant leurs entreprises comme on gère des Kilos (Oh shit)
C'est pas dur je veux voir des sup bouffer aux murs
Je veux voir des soeurs comme chefs ou secrétaires, quitte à
Pour leurs compétences et non pour leurs derrières
Je veux, enfin, que les jeunes pèsent à vrai dire

Tags: , , ,

More on Rap & Riots

Finally I've found a couple articles that examine the--to me--rather obvious point that French rappers have for years been exposing the troubling realities of the banlieues of France, which recently exploded in riots & car-torching throughout the country. Hugh Schofield, in an article for BBC News entitled "French rappers' prophecies come true," cites a number of prescient rap lyrics. Here's a sample:

"What is it, what is it you're waiting for to start the fire? / The years go by, but everything is still the same / Which makes me ask, how much longer can it last?" (Joey Starr of Supreme NTM, "They Don't Understand," Qu'est-ce qu'on attend?, 1995)

"There had better not be a police blunder, or the town will go up / The city's a time-bomb / From the police chief to the guy on the street - they're all hated." (113, "In Front Of The Police," Les princes de la ville, 2000)

"The state is screwing us / Well you know, we are going to defend ourselves / Don't try to understand." (Fonky Family, "Don't Try To Understand," Si Dieu veut, 1999)

"Clichy-sous-Bois, it's gangsta gangsta / And Aulnay-sous-Bois, it's gangsta gangsta." (Ghetto Fabulous Gang, "Gangsta Gangsta", Gangsters avec des grands boubous, 2005)

(Clichy-sous-Bois is the Paris banlieue where the teenagers Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna were electrocuted at an electricity substation on October 27; Aulnay-sous-Bois is another Paris "suburb" and one of the centers of the rioting.)

A couple days before Schofield's piece, Stéphanie Binet wrote a similar piece in Libération entitled, "Les rappeurs l'avaient bien dit," which features prophetic lyrics, and commentary, by a number of French rappers.

Tags: , ,

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hillary supports apartheid wall; moderator of Church of Scotland sees it and is "gobsmacked"

Senator Hillary has just visited Israel and toured a section of the apartheid wall, which the Israeli government calls the "separation barrier." Hillary reaffirmed her support for the wall, which the International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 was in violation of international law. The photo above shows her in front of the "separation barrier" at Gilo. The US press insists on calling Gilo a "Jerusalem neighborhood," but in fact, it is in fact an illegal Israeli settlement on West Bank land.

Meanwhile, the moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly, David Lacy, has just spent two weeks in Israel and the Palestinian territories. After viewing the same wall that the Senator saw, he remarked,"when you actually see where it is, you see that it's not for security, it's for making political statements. It's theft of land and I don't know how you can justify it on the grounds of anti-terrorism." Lacy went on to say the barrier is "a huge, horrible, oppressive sign of distrust and hatred in the birthplace of the son of God"

David Lacy is, of course, much more in tune with reality, and with world opinion. As for Hillary, she is running for re-election (and of course has her eyes on the White House). This appears to require stating one's unqualified support for the state of Israel. As a UPI report put it, "U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is in Israel on a visit intended to put to rest any lingering doubts about her support for Israel."

Who had lingering doubts?

Tags: ,

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ann Wright, Arkansan hero

Interview from TomDispatch with Ann Wright, a native of Bentonville (home of Walmart). Ann is one of three Foreign Service officers who publicly resigned immediately before the launching of the invasion of Iraq, in protest of US foreign policy. In August, she helped run Camp Casey for Cindy Sheehan in Crawford Texas, and more recently, she was escorted out of chambers for protesting against Condoleeza Rice's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

(My one quibble with the interview concerns what she says regarding her recent speech at Fayetteville High School. She describes "Fayetteville, Arkansas," as "a very Republican part of the United States." Although Northwest Arkansas is indeed very Republican, Fayetteville is very Democratic.)

Leaving that aside, the U of A should definitely give this woman an honorary doctorate!

Tags: ,

"We Do Not Torture" (Bush)--But we claim and the reserve the right to do so (Cheney)

A very important article on the US torture debate by Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the leading defenders of the tortured over the last few decades. A couple juicy quotes:
The idea that torture could be so publicly defensible -- and the news that the United States is maintaining secret facilities in former Soviet-era prisons for torturing nameless and disappeared people -- fills me with shame and horror.

All the fictions that sustained the war on terror -- that abuses were one-time mistakes by low-level grunts; that the rules about human rights weren't clear; that soldiers didn't understand the parameters when they beat and humiliated and tortured prisoners -- have been replaced by a clear declaration: The United States is going to torture people as it sees fit, to subject them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment wherever and whenever it decides to.

Typically, this article appears in Spiegel and not the US media.

Meanwhile, another very important article, from Ken Silverstein in the LA Times, entitled "U.S., Jordan Forge Closer Ties in Covert War on Terrorism." (Amazingly, it showed up today on the front page of our local paper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.) It tells us, among other things, that "Jordan has emerged as a hub for 'extraordinary renditions,' the controversial, covert transfer of suspected extremists from U.S. custody to foreign intelligence agencies." Since we still have some qualms about torture and especially extreme torture, we routinely "render" suspects to countries like Jordan or Syria or Egypt for the really heavy duty stuff.
Although the Israeli Mossad is commonly considered the CIA's closest ally in the region, [ex-CIA officer Michael] Scheuer and others interviewed said that the GID [Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate] is as capable and professional as the Mossad — and as an Arab nation, Jordan is more effective combating predominantly Arab militant organizations.

Over the years, several of my friends and acquaintances have suffered torture at the hands of various states in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt), and in most cases it was due to non-violent political activity. (The other cases involved those caught with illegal drugs.) So I have never been a big fan of the practice. And now, with our own increasingly rampant and blatant practice of torture, I am not only ashamed and horrified, like Ratner, but also fearful of the deeply corrupting and immoral effects it will have on our own society. The practice will, no doubt, spread and grow and mutate like a virus from Abu Ghraib and the secret holding cells in Rumania and Gitmo into our own heartland.

Tags: ,

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rai Rap Riots

Check out Marco Werman's short piece on the Cheb Mami (above left) and K-Mel duet "Parisien du Nord" (on Mami's Meli Meli). Werman is the first US journalist I've come across to suggest that anyone paying attention to Arab popular culture in France would not particularly be surprised by the current rioting by youth in the banlieues. The signs (alienation, hatred for the police, complaints about racism, etc.) have all been there for some time: in novels like Mehdi Cherif's Le thé au harem d'Archimède (Tea in the Harem) from 1983 or Matthieu Kassovitz's 1995 film La Haine or all the great French hip-hop of the last 15 years.

And let me put in a plug for the best US ethnography on the subject, by my friend Paul Silverstein: Algeria in France: Transpolitics, Race and Nation (Indiana UP, 2004).

Tags: , , ,

We Don't Torture, We're A Civilized Nation

George Bush's recent claim that "We do not torture," reminded me of the Au Pairs' great punk song, "Armagh," off their 1981 album Playing with a Different Sex. The song needs to be revived or covered by Steve Earle or someone needs to write a new song called "Gitmo" or "Abu G." (The Au Pairs song was about British torture of suspected IRA members in Northern Ireland.) Here are "Armagh"'s lyrics:

We don't torture, we're a civilized nation
We're avoiding any confontation
We don't torture, we don't torture
American hostages in Iran
Heard daily on the news
Forget about Vietnam
You can ignore the 32
There are 32 women in Armagh jail
Political prisoners here at home
The British state's got nothing to lose
It's a subject better left alone
We don't torture
We're a civilized nation
We're avoiding any confrontation
We don't torture
Alleged crimes withheld information
She gets no sanitation
Dries her shit on her cell wall
Feeling cold and sick
She gets a couple of valium
Now she's relaxed for the next interrogation
Naked spreadeagled on her back
It's a better position for internal examination
It's a better position for giving information
An armed guard squad she gets a beating
bleeding and wounded she's stopped eating
Has a baby gets nothing for pain
They came and took her baby away

Tags: ,

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Danger De Mort: Sarkozy

Bouna Traore, 15, born in Mauritania, and Zyed Benna, 17, of Tunisian background: accidentally electrocuted on October 27 at an electricity sub-station in Clichy-sous-Bois, one of Paris' banlieues (suburbs), after reportedly fleeing from police.

Nicolas Sarkozy, France's Interior Minister:

Declares a "war without mercy" on violence in the working-class suburbs/banlieues.

Calls rioters racailles (rabble, scum, riffraff, lowlifes).

Friday, November 04, 2005

Eno, Rachid Taha, Nitin Sawhney: Stop the War

The legendary Brian Eno, French-Algerian Arabo-punkrocker Rachid Taha, Nitin Sawhney (major figure in the Asian Underground movement) and Imogen Heap (Euro-electronica-pop) are joining forces on November 27 in a concert to benefit England's Stop the War coalition. (The concert is at the Astoria in London.)

Eno plays on Taha's latest album, Tékitoi, and has appeared with him in concert earlier this year. The concert marks Eno's first stage appearance in England since 1979. Interviewed in The Independent on Tuesday, Eno had this to say:
It's up to us few who haven't surrendered to television to say, 'Hold on, there's a world out here and it's going badly wrong. Do we want to continue to be proud little partners of a bunch of medieval rednecks [he means Bush & Co.] or are we going to choose to do something about it?'

Although Taha's great song, "Barra Barra," famously appears in the soundtrack of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, Rachid is a longtime and vocal opponent of US interventionism in the Middle East. (He gave permission to Scott to use the song based on Scott's earlier movies, but he considers Black Hawk Down "Orientalist.") In the film, "Barra Barra" comes on as Rangers and Delta Force soldiers are gearing up to go into battle in Mogadishu. It is such a kick-ass song that it serves the function of making them look very cool, ready to "rock'n'roll." I later met someone who served in the US military in Afghanistan who said that guys in his unit used to play Rachid Taha's "Barra Barra" to get pumped up before they went out on patrol. (I should add that the young man who told me this story is now a Middle East Studies student and is not uncritical of US policies in the Middle East.)

Tags: , ,

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Entertainment Weekly Grades 'Paradise Now': A-

Lisa Schwarzbaum reviews Hany Abu-Assad's film Paradise Now in the latest Entertainment Weekly and gives it an A-! She writes: "Of all the shocks in the riveting and timely political thriller Paradise Now, the most unsettling may be the dignity bestowed on a pair of prospective Palestinian suicide bombers..."

Tags: ,

Mossad Killed Kanafani

Eitan Haber, former spokesperson and speechwriter for the late Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, has confirmed in an article published by Yediot Ahranot (read translation here) that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, assassinated noted Palestinian writer and PFLP spokesperson Ghassan Kanafani. Kanafani and his niece Lamis (pictured above) were killed by a car bomb in Beirut in July 1972. Kanafani, born in Acre in 1936, is one of Palestine’s most famous writers, best known for his novellas Men in the Sun (adapted for a film, al-Makhdu’un [The Dupes], by Egyptian director Tswfiq Salim) and Return to Haifa. (I found this on The Angry Arab blog)

Eitan Haber, by the way, co-authored (with Michael Bar-Zohar) the sensationalist book The Quest for the Red Prince: Israel's Relentless Manhunt for One of the World's Deadliest Terrorists, about Mossad's ultimately successful effort to assassinate Arafat's lieutenant Ali Hassan Salameh, who was said to have been the head of Black September and to have been responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympics operation, in which 11 Israeli athletes and 5 Palestinian hostage-takers lost their lives. Haber says, in the Yediot Ahranot article, that "two years after the incident took place it was revealed that all of the killed were by German snipers in spite of the fact that everyone believed that the Palestinians killed them". (Whenever Munich is discussed by the US media, it is invariably claimed that the Palestinian hostage-takers killed the Israeli athletes, although it has been known for years that this was not the case.) Although German snipers were responsible for the deaths, Israeli PM Golda Meir, according to Haber,"issued an order to form a ministerial committee in order to assassinate Palestinian figures,and take revenge." A wave of assassinations ensued.

Ali Hassan Salameh, who Mossad eventually managed to take out in 1979, was married to Georgina Rizk, the Lebanese Miss Universe (1971), shown above in hotpants.

Tags: ,

Hillary Clinton: Lovin' the Apartheid Wall

Sen. Hillary, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is off to visit Israel next week, to meet with PM Sharon and deputy PM Peres. The purpose, says the New York Times, is "to discuss American-Israeli relations, in a trip that may help her strengthen her support among Jews in New York as she faces re-election next year." As a taxpayer, I'm glad that I can help out with this important project. Hillary will "reiterate her condemnation of remarks made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran calling for the destruction of Israel." Isn't that brave of her? And she will visit a portion of the "security fence" (a.k.a. separation barrier, a.k.a. apartheid wall) Israel is constructing in the West Bank, a move that she supports.

Meanwhile, an art exhibition in protest of the separation barrier, called Three Cities Against the Wall, opens this month simultaneously in three cities: Ramallah, Tel Aviv, and New York. The photo above is a painting by Suleiman Mansour, one of the Palestinian organizers of the exhibit. Maybe when Hillary's in Israel she could drop by the Beit Ha'omanim gallery in Tel Aviv, or after her visit to the wall she could check out the Al-Hallaj Gallery in Ramallah. And when she's back in NYC, she could drop by ABC No Rio at 638 East 6th Street.

The press release for the exhibit reminds us:

The Separation Wall was found to be illegal by an advisory opinion given by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague on July 9, 2004. In its ruling, the ICJ stated: "The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, [is] contrary to international law."

Tags: ,

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Free Palestine

I found this at the Queer Arabs blog. I presume it's the Halloween parade in San Francisco, but not sure.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Ahmadinejad & Bibi

Iranian president Ahmadinejad's statement that Israel "should be wiped off the map" is, of course, execrable. But the reaction in the West and particularly the US, including a condemnation by the UN Security Council, is extremely hypocritical. Iran presents little concrete threat to Israel, whereas Israel's violence against Palestinians is an ongoing, daily occurrence.

Moreover, one could cite dozens of similar statements by Israel's leaders about the Palestinians, statements never condemned by the US media or the UN Security Council.

Here's one, advocating ethnic cleansing, from ex-Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu of the Likud. Speaking in 1989 at Bar-Ilan University, when he was serving as deputy foreign minister, he declared: "Israel should have taken advantage of the suppression of the [Tiananmen] demonstrations in China [in summer 1989], while the world's attention was focused on these events, and should have carried out mass deportations of Arabs from the territories. Unfortunately, this plan I proposed did not gain support, yet I still suggest to put it into action." (Reported in Yediot Aharanot, Nov. 24, 1989 and quoted by Alexander Cockburn, "Beat the Devil," The Nation, Jan. 8 & 15, pp. 42-43. I cite it in my book, Memories of Revolt.)

"Paradise Now": Palestinian film in US theaters now!

I just learned that Hany Abu-Assad’s latest film, Paradise Now, is about to be released by Warner Independent. (Thanks Laurie!) Much of the film was shot in Nablus, and as you can see from the trailer, it gives a real sense of what daily life is like for Palestinians in the West Bank. The story concerns two young men, best friends, and their last 48 hours, as they set off on a “suicide bombing” mission (what Palestinians call “martyr operations.”) That a subsidiary of Time Warner would release such a film, written and directed by a Palestinian director, starring Palestinian actors (mostly Israeli citizens, like the director), and depicting the everyday conditions of Palestinians in the West Bank (including the separation barriers/apartheid wall), is truly remarkable and unprecedented. (New York Times film critic Stephen Holden gives it a "critics pick" in his review of the film.)

I’ve not yet seen it, but given Abu-Assad’s track record, I’m quite optimistic. His 2002 film, Rana’s Wedding (available from Arab Film Distribution), is marvelous, perhaps my favorite of all Palestinian films. It concerns the efforts of a young woman from Jerusalem to get married, and all the obstacles caused by the occupation and by checkpoints in particular. There are many very humorous moments, which are all the more remarkable because they arise out of terrible circumstances.

Given what Abu-Assad said in an interview about the film with Igal Avidan
and published by, we can be pretty confident that it deals with “suicide bombing” in a complex way, and is not simply a denunciation.

As long as the suicide attacks continue, Israel will not concede to any compromises, and the Palestinians will not get their own state. Do you agree with this view?

Abu-Assad: The suicide attacks are a consequence of oppression, which first has to stop. The Israelis forget that the occupation continued during the Oslo peace process.

Do you condemn the suicide attacks?

Abu-Assad: Why? I am against killing people, and I want that to stop. But I do not condemn the suicide attackers. For me, it is a very human reaction to an extreme situation.

Here are the opening dates announced thus far:
October 28: Los Angeles, New York
November 4: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C.
November 11: Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, Monterey, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, West Palm Beach

Warner Independent is also releasing (January '06) what promises to be another great film, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, written and directed by and starring Albert Brooks. (Sony backed out of distributing the film, fearing reprisals in the Arab world.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Dolly & Yusuf

I learned the other night (October 17) when Dolly Parton was interviewed on The Daily Show that Yusuf Islam accompanies her on guitar on her cover of the Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam tune, “Where Do the Children Play?” The song appears on Dolly’s new album of 60s and 70s covers, called Those Were the Days. Yusuf, of course, had to send in his contribution, since he is still unable to travel to the US. Says Dolly of Yusuf: "He's a precious man. He's got a lot of bad press lately but I think he's out to try to save the world, not destroy it."

Back in the day, I was never, ever a Cat Stevens fan, and I remember “Where Do the Children Play?” (from Tea for the Tillerman) as particularly cloying and annoying. I’m glad to report that Dolly’s cover is simply wonderful, and it made me, for the first time, pay attention to the words. It’s all “green” -- save the environment, raising questions about unfettered development and technology. Here are a couple of lines that particularly struck me:
Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
For your lorryloads pumping petrol gas.

When you crack the sky, scrapers fill the air.
Will you keep on building higher
Til there's no more room up there?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Merle Haggard: US Out of Iraq

Merle Haggard has released a new album, “Chicago Wind,” and it contains a couple songs that harshly criticize the war in Iraq and its negative effects on the US. “Rebuild America First” includes the following lyrics:
Yea, men in position but backing away
Freedom is stuck in reverse
Let's get out of Iraq and get back on the track
And let's rebuild America first.

Why don’t we liberate these United States?
We’re the ones who need it the worst
Let the rest of the world help us for a change
And let’s rebuild America first

On “Where’s All the Freedom”:
Are we a nation under God anymore?
How long do we cower down?
Is this really still our ground?
Our country is like a prisoner of war
Where's all the freedom that we're fightin' for?

Given that the war is massively unpopular, Merle’s sentiments should not be all that surprising. It would only appear remarkable if you considered Merle as a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary, as many political progressives (who tend not to like country music anyway) seem to do. But “Okie from Muskogee,” as far as I’ve heard, was originally meant as a spoof. Okay, I have no defence for “Fightin’ Side of Me.” But when it comes to songs that articulate a working class sensibility, I don’t think there’s any country artist who does it better. I’ve seen Merle in concert twice, and he’s one of the best artists I’ve ever seen perform.

I got the lyrics from an article by Chet Flippo about Merle’s latest album on (and reprinted by CounterPunch), and in a short note by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times.

So add Merle to the anti-war country ranks, along with Mary Gauthier, and against Clint Black.