Monday, September 26, 2005

Make Levees Not War

Of all the slogans I heard about from the anti-war demo in DC on September 24th, this is my favorite. Get your t-shirt here. The poster is from Political Humor.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Kufiyaspotting #1: Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin, in Amman during July, as a UN Childrens' Fund goodwill ambassador, and wearing a kufiya scarf with the words, "al-Quds lana" (Jerusalem Is Ours) stitched on it. Martin is tentatively scheduled to perform in Palestine (the PNA controlled territories) in May 2006. I snagged the report on this from Planet Grenada. (In 1992, I published an article entitled "Seeing Double: Palestinian-American Histories of the Kufiya" in Michigan Quarterly Review 31(4): 557-577; I also write about the local and transnational uses of the Palestinian kufiya in my book Memories of Revolt.)

Syrian Beauty Contest: Empty Sign of "Opening"?

Is this a move to demonstrate to the US how "open" Syria is becoming? Or an attempt to compete with the Haifa's and Nancy's and Elissa's of Lebanon? In any case, Lina Saeidi has just been crowned Miss Syria and will compete in the Miss World pageant in China in November. An AP report (I can't find the original) claims this is Syria's first contest, but this appears to be incorrect. I've found an account of a row at the 1965 Miss World contest, when Syrian officials protested over attempts by Miss Israel (Shlomit Gat) to speak to Miss Syria (Raymonde Doucco).

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rally to celebrate Israeli pullout from Gaza breaks up over objections to rappers

On Wednesday September 14, a rally organized by the Palestinian Authority to celebrate the Israeli withdrawal was disrupted when members of the crowd reacted against a performance by Palestinian rappers. I’ve found three different versions of the story. According to Reuters, “devout Muslims” in the crowd threw stones at a Palestinian rap group who failed to stick to nationalist songs. The rappers were then escorted away by police, who fired in the air, dispersing the crowd. A report in Ha’aretz states that the police intervened after a “militant” grabbed the microphone away from a Palestinian rapper. An AFP report is the only one I’ve found that tells us the name of the group, PR. PR were performing a song called “al-Hurriya” when some “angry Islamists” fired off their Klashnikovs. Someone screamed a Hamas chant about resistance and the crowd roared “Allahu Akbar.” People started to storm the stage, the police fired into the air and got PR into a taxi, and Hamas supporters wielding sticks ran after the band.

Ha’aretz also reports that although PM Mahmoud Abbas had invited all factions to attend the celebration, Hamas decided to organize its own rally on Friday, and so the crowd was disappointingly (for the PA) small, only about 2500.

PR (Palestinian Rappers) are Gaza’s best known rap group. According to an article by Peter Schäffer on, PR performed five concerts in Gaza City in 2004. Reaction was enthusiastic, although a grenade was thrown at one concert (but hurt no one). But according to Schäffer, a prevailing “culture of death” in Gaza discourages any kind of public manifestation of exuberance or joy when people are being martyred, and so such rap performances are generally frowned upon. Perhaps this, too, was a factor in the disaffection shown to PR at the celebration rally on Wednesday. (Rebecca Stein and I also discuss the ways in which a Palestinian culture of struggle has weighed upon expressions of popular culture in the introduction to Palestine, Israel and the Politics of Popular Culture.)

Here’s another article on PR, from al-Jazeera.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Punks at ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) Convention

Check out the report by Michael Muhammad Knight, on the adventures of hard-core (taqwacore) Muslim punks at the 2005 ISNA convention in Chicago. Knight is the author of the novel, The Taqwacores (published by Autonomedia), a provocative account of Muslim punks in Buffalo. Knight asserts that Muslim rap, as presented at such events, is neither progressive nor challenging, but "timid daw’ah fare," and that it is the taqwacore bands who are truly creating something new, transgressive, and interesting on the margins of US Islam. If you are a fan of Moorish Science, the Wu Tang Clan, or Peter Lamborn Wilson/Hakim Bey, this is a must read. For a sample of taqwacore music, check out Knight's earlier piece on Kominas and download their song, "Rumi Was A Homo."

New Issue of Bidoun

The latest issue of Bidoun is out, that extremely smart, hip and gorgeous magazine devoted to Middle Eastern art and culture. Includes articles about Egypt's shaabi mikwagi artist ("I Hate Israel") Shaaban Abdul Rahim (who is now shilling for Mubarak), Iran's diva Gogoosh, Yul Brynner, Israel's apartheid wall and Cat Stevens. The photo of the kid in the Christine Amanpour tee is typical of the kind of stunning images that fill Bidoun's pages.

Haram Thong, Hallal Boxers

These are from's "muslimteez" section. There is the Haram (Do not touch in Arabic) Thong, with the following product info:
Panty-minimalists love our casual thong that covers sweet spots without covering your assets – putting an end to panty-lines. This under-goodie is “outta sight” in low-rise pants. Toss these message panties onstage at your favorite rock star or share a surprise message with someone special ... later.

And there is the Halal not Haram Boxer Shorts:
Enjoy the roomy comfort of our sexy boxers as underwear or sleepwear. They’re 100% cotton, open fly…for thinking outside the boxers. Boxers, because you don’t want to be brief.

Curious to find these on the same page with Muslim teez that say "Allah" or "Mujahideen" (and "Jihad al-Nafs" in Arabic) or "Allah is always watching." Not that underwear is not Islamic, but that men's underwear is Halal (permissible) while women's is haram. In fact, according to Muslim teachings as I understand them, both are "permissible" if the partners are married, both are forbidden if the partners are not.

The Haram Thong and its description seems to play on Orientalist erotic fantasies of tearing off the veil of the Muslim woman. Or did I get this wrong?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Poor Black People Evacuated, New Orleans Safe for a Bush Visit Today

Initially I wondered why President Bush waited so long to finally visit the city of New Orleans, but it came to me immediately. Of course! There are no people left, and particularly no rowdy, black, poor people. If he had actually visited the city center the last time around (instead of just dropping in at the airport), it would have been a PR disaster.

But I now believe it’s somewhat more complicated, and that his visit is the result of the convergence of three key factors. First, of course, no pesky “public” to deal with, no one to yell “Fuck you, W,” just “natural” devastation to ponder. Second, it’s not exactly true that New Orleans has been totally depopulated. An article by Christopher Cooper in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal informs us that the white “power elite” is in town, in their exclusive neighborhoods, living quite well in their mansions, with generators, ice for their cocktails, and a private heliport to bring in supplies and private security guards. The article is fascinating not just for the rare insight into how local ruling classes live and operate.

But most illuminating are the views of James Reiss, who made his money supplying electronic systems to shipbuilders and is chair of the Regional Transport Authority, and who brought in an Israeli security company to guard his property against looters. Here are Reiss’s views of New Orleans’ future:

The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

And according to Cooper, the power elite shares this view: they “insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate.”

How convenient! The poor have all been evacuated, their homes and apartments destroyed. Too poor to afford transportation out of the city, and no doubt, too poor to afford to move back, especially if they have carved out new lives for themselves. (And with no poor black people, maybe Republicans can take power in New Orleans again.)

So perhaps Bush plans to meet with these “leading citizens” and discuss their vision of New Orlean’s future: cleansed of the poor and black. According to Cooper, 40 of Nawleans’ power elite met with Mayor Nagin on Friday to begin “mapping out a future for the city.”

The third element is that security in New Orleans is now awesome. It even includes mercenaries from the private security firm Blackwater, who say they are on contract with the Homeland Security Department and the Louisiana state government. Some of them have been back from Iraq only two weeks. Blackwater is one of the leading private security firms operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. After four Blackwater mercenaries were killed in Fallujah and two of the burned bodies hung from a bridge in March 2004, the US military launched an operation in Fallujah that left the city in ruins and displaced tens of thousands of civilians.

1. No poor black people. 2. White power elite to lunch with. 3. Fabulous security. For W, that's almost like being back on vacation.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Clint Black’s “Iraq & Roll” Dissected

The fourth anniversary of 9/11 is being marked by the first (and perhaps last?) "America Supports You Freedom Walk," sponsored by the Defense Department. Its aim: to honor the victims of 9/11 and US military personnel, and to celebrate freedom. Starting in the Pentagon South parking lot, the two mile walk goes through Arlington National Cemetery and ends at the reflecting pool on the National Mall. As befits such a non-partisan, non-political event, the event concludes with a free concert featuring country music star Clint Black. Clint is the perfect figure for this event, based on his hit single “Iraq & Roll,” released in March 2003. According to some it served as the unofficial anthem of our invading troops.

I don’t know whether he will play the song or not today, but given the song’s importance in the event and how it is constructed, I thought I’d do my own “reading” of its lyrics.

Iraq & Roll (written by Clint Black & Hayden Nicholas)

You can wave your signs in protest
Against America taking stands
The stands America’s taken
Are the reason that you can

Critics of peace protesters love to say, in fact they love to yell at you: if it wasn’t for the soldiers in Iraq defending you, you wouldn’t be able to stand there and protest. The implication: shut the fuck up, you shouldn’t be protesting against the people who are fighting for you. Of course, the peace protests have never been against “America taking stands,” but against America taking the wrong stand in Iraq.

If everyone would go for peace
There’d be no need for war
But we can’t ignore the devil
He’ll keep coming back for more

The message: protesters, you are naive, pacifism is stupidly idealistic. There are evil and aggressive people in the world. Furthermore, it’s “the devil” (Saddam/Bin Laden/terrorists) we’re dealing with here. This is the only point in the song where Clint invokes a religious figure. The song is for the most part about patriotism.

Some see this in black and white
Other only gray
We’re not begging for a fight
No matter what they say

If you see things in shades of gray, you don’t understand that the enemy is the devil. “We’re not begging for a fight”: No aggression involved here!

We have the resolution
That should put’em all to shame
But it’s a different kind of deadline
When I'm called in the game

Clint is referring to the UN resolutions and deadlines. He implicitly acknowledges that there was no UN mandate for the invasion but that US interests and prerogatives are higher than international legitimacy. The USA has the resolution--as in resoluteness or resolve--that supercedes or trumps (puts to shame) international resolutions. And the rules of the game change, and deadlines work differently, when the US is involved.

I raq I rack 'em up and I roll
I'm back and I'm a high tech GI Joe
I pray for peace, prepare for war
And I never will forget
There’s no price too high for freedom
So be careful where you tread

The chorus is the most insidiously clever part of this song, and in particular, the first line. Here’s how it sounds: I rock, I rack ‘em up, and I roll. The “Iraq” in the title could refer to either/or both the phrase, “I rock” and/or the phrase, “I rack,” depending on how you pronounce them. It’s a pretty decent “country” pun. The line invokes rock ‘n’ roll and all its mythologies, and it marks how the vernacular meanings of the term have shifted or acquired new connotations. When rock ‘n’ roll music first took hold in US culture, the not-too-hidden implication of “rock ‘n’ roll” was sex, the act of love-making. Eventually--and I’m not sure when--the term took militaristic connotations. (Maybe it was all those phallic guitars?) Hence the phrase, “let’s rock’n’roll” can mean, in certain contexts, let’s go kick some ass, and is frequently invoked by men with weapons who are saddling up for a fight. “I rack ‘em up” probably refers to racking up numbers of “kills.” High tech GI Joe invokes the technologized character of the US military in the Iraq war. “I never will forget”--forget what? 9/11, I guess, drawing the by-now (and even then, in 2003) completely discredited notion of a connection between Saddam and al-Qaida. “Pray for peace”: I wonder when Clint ever did that? “No price too high for freedom”: America’s illegal invasion and occupation a country that posed no military threat to the US and had no WMD’s. Price tag of “freedom” to date: nearly $200 billion. “Be careful where you tread”: a reference to the flag widely flown in the American Revolution, with a rattlesnake and the slogan, “Don’t Tread on Me.” One thing about Clint, he really knows his history.

This terror isn’t man to man
They can be no more than cowards
If they won’t show us their weapons
We might have to show them ours

Yep, those “terrorists” sure are cowards. Only mano a mano combat is real manly combat. “Show us your weapons,” you coward! But are we talking dicks or weapons here? This verse too supports the equation of Saddam with 9/11, the invasion of Iraq with the global war on terror.

It might be a smart bomb
They find stupid people too
And if you stand with the likes of Saddam
One just might find you

“Smart bombs”: more reference to high tech GI Joe weapons. Clever reversal here, Clint: “smart” bombs finding “stupid” people. Who are the stupid people? Those who “stand with the likes of Saddam.” No civilian casualties involved! The description also prefigures what Rumsfeld used to say about Iraqi insurgents in the early days of the occupation: they’re just Ba’athist remnants and dead-enders.

(Chorus II)
I rock, I rack’ em up and I roll
I'm back and I'm a high tech GI Joe
I've got infrared, I've got GPS
And I've got that good old fashioned lead
There’s no price too high for freedom
So be careful where you tread

The second chorus elaborates on and celebrates the military’s high tech capabilities: infrared (night vision), GPS (global positioning systems), and if all else fails, good old lead bullets. (It turned out, of course, that not all the GI Joes were high tech and not everyone had infrared and GPS, especially National Guard units, and that the lead didn’t help much against the IED’s [Improvised Explosive Devices], especially if your Humvee didn’t have good armor or you didn’t have decent body armor.)

Now you can come along
Or you can stay behind
Or you can get out of the way
But our troops take out the garbage
For the good old USA

Best, of course, if you “come along” on this adventure. But if you don’t, better get out of the way. “Our troops take out the garbage”: a domestic chore and the killing of the enemy are semantically merged and normalized.

(Final chorus)
I raq, I rack 'em up I roll (In the USA)
I raq, I rack 'em up I roll (talkin’ ‘bout the USA)
I raq, I rack 'em up I roll (In the USA)
I raq, I rack 'em up I roll (talkin’ ‘bout the USA)
I raq, I rack 'em up I roll (In the USA)

And it sounds like, I rock, I rack ‘em up and I roll. But in the final chorus, somehow, it suggests that this is now happening in the USA rather than Iraq? What kind of “kills” are we “rackin’ up” in the USA, Clint? Is it those who are not “getting out of the way”?

P.S. You can buy Iraq and I Roll t-shirts from the official Clint Black website. Here’s the pitch:

“The Clint Black Foundation has established a fund to benefit the families of soldiers killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Clint Black is providing all the necessary administrative costs to make sure 100% of the proceeds will go to the families. One way to contribute to this fund is to purchase this specially designed t-shirt with a design that highlights his available-only-on-the-Internet single, "Iraq & Roll."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Louisiana National Guard commander: “This place is going to look like Little Somalia”

In an article in the Army Times, the commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, Brig. Gen. Gary Jones stated that “This place is going to look like Little Somalia...We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control.”

Friday, September 02, 2005

Islamic swimsuit

When Western secularists and progressives, experts on the Middle East and non-experts, see an image like this, they tend to view it just as they view the veil and other forms of female Islamic dress: as a sign of un-freedom. If only Muslim women would just get over their backward religiosity, and put on the mini-skirt!

Here’s a different story of “freedom” and Islamic swimsuits: This July a friend of mine was on the beach at a resort town. The beach property is owned by a Turkish bank established by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920’s, and is for the use of employees (working and retired) and their families. A woman wearing an Islamic swimsuit (in the style pictured here) showed up at the beach with her husband and children. Everything was fine until she tried to go into the water and swim. Then the beach security came out and prevented her, and made the woman and her family leave the premises entirely.

Although the current government is Islamist (led by PM Recep Erdogan, head of the Justice and Development party), many of Ataturk’s extreme secularist laws are still enforced--although not consistently. Female government employees and university students are routinely barred from wearing Islamic headscarves. At this summer’s graduation ceremony at Ataturk University in Erzerum, mothers of graduates wearing the headscarf were not allowed to attend unless they doffed their headcoverings. Such incidents and policies provide excellent ideological fodder for Islamists, who can plausibly argue that secularism is the antithesis of freedom and tolerance.

An article in the L.A. Times (August 21) also discusses the controversy over Islamic swimsuits in Turkey. It gives one take on what might be at stake:

Sociologists say the success of Islamic-style fashion is closely linked to the surge in upward mobility of religious Turks. "For this new Islamic bourgeoisie, clothes have increasingly become a vehicle for asserting status rather than piety," said Jenny B. White, an anthropologist at Boston University who has written extensively on Islam in Turkey.

This may be correct, but I believe it also may make a claim that anthropologist commentators make all too often: that Islamic dress for women is more a matter of symbol rather than piety. This too easily skirts over, and fails to take seriously, the fact that women who wear Islamic dress tend to say that their motivation is piety. In this I follow the lead of Saba Mahmood's very important book, Politics of Piety : The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. The book's focus is on Egypt, but I believe the arguments are more broadly applicable.

More swimsuits can be seen here.

Condi, Condi: Spamalot! and shoe shopping as New Orleans goes favela reports on Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's nice little holiday in New York City, when even President Shrub was cutting short his endless summer vacation. On Wednesday night (August 31) she was spotted at Spamalot! Thursday she bought several thousands of dollars worth of shoes on Fifth Avenue. According to, "A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice’s timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, 'How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!'” Rice, as befits a member of a shoot-on-sight administration, had security physically remove the woman.

The Rolling Stones' song, "Sweet Neo Con," out September 6 on A Bigger Bang, deserves to be quoted again:

You parade around in costume, expecting to be believed
But as the body bags stack up, we believe we’ve been deceived
The horror you’ve unleashed will backfire with more grief
When will you ever learn, Sweet Neo Con, as the world burns?

Diwan Baghdad at University of Arkansas

DIWAN BAGHDAD is an informal forum on Middle East Affairs, convened by me and my colleagues Joel Gordon (History) and Najib Ghadbian (Political Science). It is a freewheeling discussion of developments in the region, with a particular focus on the ongoing wars in Iraq and related issues. Diwan Baghdad meets the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of every month from 12:30-1:30 in Arkansas Union 308SW (just off the food court).

New Orleans: another casualty of Iraq war?

Is New Orleans a casualty of the war in Iraq? Please read Bob Harris, Will Bunch, and Paul Krugman.