Sunday, March 25, 2007

Egyptian Textile Workers Confront the New Economic Order: Middle East Report Online

A new MERO. I quote from the announcement:

The Egyptian regime is cracking down on all manner of dissenters -- from
Muslim Brothers in Parliament to the well-known Kifaya movement to bloggers and journalists. But another form of opposition has been scoring victories: a wave of wildcat strikes that, like the Kifaya protests, began in late 2004. The collective action of Egyptian workers is currently the most broad-based kind of resistance to the regime. It represents a possible threat to the "stability" President Husni Mubarak needs to pass his office on to his son, as most Egyptians are convinced he seeks to do.

Joel Beinin and Hossam el-Hamalawy tell the story of the most militant and politically important strike to date in "Egyptian Textile Workers Confront the New Economic Order," now available in Middle East Report Online.

Here's an excerpt I particularly liked:
Then, on December 7, thousands of workers from the morning shift started assembling in Mahalla’s Tal‘at Harb Square, facing the entrance to the mill. The pace of factory work was already slowing, but production ground to a halt when around 3,000 female garment workers left their stations, and marched over to the spinning and weaving sections, where their male colleagues had not yet stopped their machines. The female workers stormed in chanting: “Where are the men? Here are the women!” Ashamed, the men joined the strike.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Denny Crain learns that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic

Did anyone catch Boston Legal on Tuesday? In it Denny Crain (played with panache by William Shatner) learns (well, he's such a buffoon and a curmudgeon) that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic. Bethany Horowitz (the very short lawyer) explains this to him--it's a very small country, surrounded by millions of Arabs, etc. Denny still doesn't really get it, and so, at the end of the show, as usual, he and his friend Alan Shore (James Spader) are out on the balcony drinking brandy and smoking cigars, and the subject comes up again. Denny asks Alan, didn't you think that Israel over-reacted when it attacked Lebanon last summer? Alan says, yes, but procedes to explain to Denny again why you shouldn't criticize Israel, and why Jews don't like it. (I can't remember the logic.) Since Alan is the "liberal" on the show, of course he is presented as more sensitive on this matter than Denny, the loveable conservative Neanderthal.

For daily ripostes to this line of reasoning, check out the irreplaceable MuzzleWatch, a blog from Jewish Voice for Peace that "track[s] efforts to stifle open debate about US-Israeli foreign policy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Kufiyaspotting #15: Nine Inch Nails' "Survivalism"

A new video from Nine Inch Nails, featuring lead singer Trent Reznor sporting a kufiya scarf. A verse from the song:
Hypnotic sound of sirens
Echoing through the street
The cocking of the rifles
The marching of the feet
You see your world on fire
Don't try to act surprised
We did just what you told us
Lost our faith along the way and found ourselves believing your lies

Interesting vid, showing a heavily armed military/police unit entering a building (it looks at first like it could be Iraq)--and what apartment are they targeting? The gay couple's? The Asian woman dressing in front of the mirror? The (Hispanic?) couple on the couch? The older black man? Or the band?

Kufiyas spotted at Urban Outfitters in Westwood

Thanks to a comment on my Urban Outfitters post, I learned of a great blog, KABOBfest. A post there by Maytha reports that even though, due to protests, Urban Outfitters took the kufiya (marketed as an "anti-war scarf") off its early spring catalogue, one can still find the item at the Urban Outfitters at Westwood (near UCLA campus). It's not really clear why. Maybe the fashionistas in LA haven't got the word from the East Coast that the kufiya is passé? (Photo by Maytha.)

Here's my guess: Urban Outfitters bought a lot of kufiya stock before it announced the early spring catalogue. UO has got to sell that it does so, without fanfare.

UPDATE: See the comments--Urban Outfitters in downtown Toronto is also selling multi-colored kufiyas, under the name 'shemagh'. (Thanks, Nashwa.) This is another Arabic name for the kufiya (known in Palestine more commonly as a hatta. British soldiers in the Middle East since before WWII used the shemagh rather extensively, and that's the name they used exclusively. Check out how the British Special Air Service used shemaghs in North Africa during WWII.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Fayetteville rally: US out of Iraq

Pink for peace
Originally uploaded by tsweden.
A belated post: on March 11, about 200+ marched in Fayetteville against the US occupation of Iraq. The march marked the fourth anniversary of the US invasion, which was launched on March 17 2003. (Most rallies are this weekend, but not here--we marched a little early due to spring break.) About twice as many showed up last year--not sure why, but nonetheless, it was a spirited event.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Michael Franti in Fayettville: What's the Use of Political Music?

Michael Franti & Spearhed played at George's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, AR on March 6, and I manage to catch the show. I first hear of Franti back in the early nineties, when he led Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, who are best known for their song, "Television: Drug of the Nation." I saw him perform with Spearhead in Seattle, I think it was back in 1996. I've not followed him so closely of late, but I still consider him one of the most important political artists around.

The concert was sold out, just jammed with a crowd of 2-300 that could loosely be termed "hippies." The crowd was very appreciative, very familiar with the music. Franti seemed quite surprised at the enthusiastic reception he received in his first-ever concert in Arkansas--and the crowd was of course very glad to hear themselves praised by the likes of Franti.

But all during the concert--which I enjoyed immensely--I couldn't get the thought out of my mind that this Sunday, March 11, the Omni Center for Peace and Equality is organizing anti-war, anti-occupation demonstration, on the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.
There were flyers advertising the march spread around in the club, and due to the efforts of a couple of my younger friends, the flyer managed to end up in Franti's hand at the conclusion of the concert and he read it out. I'm pretty certain, however, that despite Franti's endorsement, and despite the fact that Franti's music is consistently progressive and political (and the politics is expressed very clearly), that very few of those at the concert will come out to the march. Twenty at most, I imagine, and I will know most of them. The march (if the weather holds up) will probably include several hundred people, if the last march is any guide, but it won't be the hippies who attended the Franti/Spearhead concert. They're sympathetic with Franti's message, but they'd pay $20 and show up to dance and drink beer (and smoke some Chronic--a lot of that in the air) than participate in a demo. Our demo on March 11 will include people of all age groups (with a lot of middle aged folks like me), but it will be very short on young folks of the "alternative" or hippy variety.

So is Franti's music, so infused with radical politics, of any political use in a place like this? I discussed this with my friend Dave, and he suggested that probably, in a place like San Francisco, there would be more of a convergence between the audience at a Franti concert and marchers at an anti-war rally. I think that's probably true. And I'm not sure why all the good-hearted pot-smoking longhaired young people here are so unlikely to show up at a rally. I have no answers, only a feeling of depression...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Radical Islam: Destroying Europe from Within?

Last month I started reading Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within (Doubleday, 2006). Before I finished I learned it had been nominated in the criticism category for the National Book Critics Circle Award. On February 8, the The New York Times reported that Elliott Weinberger, previous finalist for the award, denounced Bawer, accusing him of "racism as criticism." Meanwhile, the president of the Circle's board, John Freeman, wrote on the organization's blog, "I have never been more embarrassed by a choice than I have been with Bruce Bawer's 'While Europe Slept'...It's [sic] hyperventilated rethoric tips from actual critique into Islamophobia."

Having now finished reading it, I must agree with Freeman's sentiments about While Europe Slept. If Bawer does win in the "criticism" category when awards are announced on March 8, it will bring shame upon the Circle.

Writer and critic Bawer is gay, an avowed liberal who moved from New York to Amsterdam in 1998 because of its more tolerant atmosphere. He now lives in Oslo. While Europe Slept is a full-out critique of what Bawer considers Europe's complacency with regard to the radical Islamist threat, by comparison with the vigorous and resolute response taken by the US since 9/11. But while Bawer is critical of Europe, his views with regard to Islam are in fact symptomatic of a widespread, and growing, European tendency. Whereas hostility and racism toward Muslim immigrants were previously the property of the extreme right, such views have become increasingly mainstream. For instance, take the fulminations of Oriana Fallaci in books like The Force of Reason, or Polly Toynbee's columns in the Guardian. Whereas in the US, Islamophobic rhetoric tends to be the province of right-wing commentators and, especially, conservative evangelists, in Europe Islamophobia is more frequently articulated from within the terms of liberal discourse.

Bawer rehearses a number of the alarms about the threats posed by Muslims in Europe that are common currency on the right. First, the demographic threat, the nightmare that Muslims are about to swamp Europe. Bawer quotes British historian Niall Ferguson, who wrote in 2004, "a youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonize a senescent Europe to the north and west." Now, Bawer claims, nearly the whole of Europe is within their [the Islamists'] grasp" (231). Second, the failure of Muslims to integrate into European society, their insistence on separation, rejection, ghettoization and inter-marriage (20, 209). Third, the threat of violence and crime posed by young Muslims resident in Europe. Bawer cites the example of the city of Malmö in Sweden, whose population is 40 percent "non-Swedish" (meaning non-white Swedish), where the incidence of rape is five or six times that of nearby Copenhagen, child rapes have doubled in a decade, and teenagers were torching schools (205). Brawer piles on example after example, such as the June 2005 incidents, where 500 Muslim teenagers were involved in mass muggings on strand of beach near Lisbon (211). Fourth, Muslims in Europe are resistant to adopting "European values." Even those who might oppose the terroristic methods of radical Islam are "hamstrung by the belief that loyalty to the umma...overrode any civic obligations to their kaffir (infidel) neighbors," and so they are loathe to criticize extremist Islamists (3, 229). Moreover, "many" immigrant communities are "led by fundamentalist Muslims who looked forward to the establishment in Europe of a caliphate government according to sharia law (3)." Fifth, the immigrants bring their "tribal customs" with them, such as FGM (female genital mutilation), honor killings, payment of blood money and so on (18, 22, 211).

Let me address these scare-mongering arguments briefly. (1) The notion that the eleven or so million Muslims in Europe, who constitute 3 percent of the EU's population, are likely to become the majority any time soon is ludicrous. (2) Muslim failure to integrate and Muslim ghettoization are in large part the consequence of policies of the state and local governments, as well as fear of racist attacks, rather than active decisions of Muslim communities and individuals. "Ghettoization" is more imposed than freely chosen. (3) The violence and crime that are endemic in lower-class, "immigrant" ghettos, are the products of poor education and infrastructure, lack of opportunity and high unemployment. Bawer objects to such explanations, and cites as evidence Theodore Dalrymple's claim that young Muslims in the French cités are not poor but typically have cell phones and cars (Bawer adds that young Muslims all over Europe drive BMW convertibles) (110). Cell phones, yes, but it is well-known that France's banlieusard rioters of November 2005 torched some 9,000 cars -- because they can't afford them. Bawer elsewhere does acknowledge that "in Europe, generally speaking, only the most undesirable employment is available for people with foreign-sounding names of foreign-looking faces (72)." As for the mass muggings near Lisbon, I've seen no evidence that the bands of muggers were composed entirely, or even mainly, of Muslims. (4) As for refusal of "European values," Jocelyne Cesari's book When Islam and Democracy Meet (2004) argues persuasively that Muslims in Europe have, among other things, adopted the very "secular" notion of religion as individual choice. Many European Muslims have criticized Muslim extremism, such as the Islamic Commission of Spain, which issued a fatwa declaring Usama Bin Laden an apostate. No Muslim community in Europe is led by fundamentalists who want to reestablish the caliphate -- this position is held by a small minority, not by community leaders. (5) Most Muslims in Europe originate from countries where FGM ("female cutting" is a less incendiary term) is not practiced. Reports do suggest a rise in the rate of honor killings in the last few years, but this Boston Globe report sees this as an effect of Muslim Europeans' feelings of embattlement and isolation rather than as an imported "tribal custom."

Overall, Bawer's argument proceeds through distortion of fact, selective use of evidence, taking minority trends as representative of the whole community, and blaming the victim. While Europe Slept presents a picture of (white) Europeans intimidated and bloodied by violent Muslim youth, when in fact it is European Muslims who are most at risk, from racist attacks by extreme-right militants and the police, and increased racial profilings and community repression since 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings.

Where Bawer's argument connects with "liberal" discourse is in its concern with women's and gay rights. Bawer asserts that "some estimates suggest that 90 percent of European Muslim wives are physically abused" (59), and he is concerned that non-Muslim European are threatened by Muslim violence, particularly rape (55). But it is Muslim homophobia that really exercises him, as someone who left the US because of Christian fundamentalist intolerance for gays, only to find conditions were worse in Europe. "I wasn't fond of the hypocritical conservative-Christian line about hating the sin and loving the sinner," Bawer writes, "but it was preferable to the forthright fundamentalist Muslim view that homosexuals merited death" (33). And he quotes approvingly the statements of Pim Fortuyn, Holland's charismatic anti-immigrant and populist politician, assassinated in 2002: "What...would happen to same-sex marriage when fundamentalist Muslims gained enough power to eradicate it? Islamic countries not only prohibit gay marriage: they execute people for sodomy" (164-165). Bawer concludes the book by stating that Muslim intolerance is making life more dangerous for gays in Holland, and that this is prompting a desire among many Dutch to emigrate.

Certainly, women's and gay rights must be defended. What I want to underscore here, however, is the ways in which Bawer deploys stereotypes of Muslim intolerance of women's and gay rights to argue for a crackdown on Muslim immigrants (and citizens) and immigration writ large. Western discourse about defending women from sexist Muslim men, of course, has a long history, whereas the defense of gay rights against fundamentalist Muslims represents the embrace of a relatively new Western "tolerant" value. According to a report in the New York Times last October, "So strong is the fear that Dutch values of tolerance are under siege that the government last winter introduced a primer on those values for prospective newcomers to Dutch life: A DVD briefly showing topless women and two men kissing."

Increasingly, centrists and liberals across Europe are embracing the view that Muslim religious and cultural values are simply too conservative and fundamentalist, that they are incompatible with the "tolerant" European values that have taken hold since the 1960s and 1970s. Immigration, therefore, should be strictly limited or cut off altogether, and Muslims in Europe should be forced to "integrate."

Let's hope that the National Book Critics Circle has the good sense not to honor a book that propagates such arguments.