Monday, November 26, 2007

In Annapolis, Conflict by Other Means

A new MERO, by Robert Blecher and Mouin Rabbani, of the International Crisis Group. An excerpt:
The squeeze on Hamas in the West Bank is less obvious to the naked eye, but no less real. There have been widespread arrests of suspected Hamas activists, pressures on NGOs and charities affiliated with the movement, and politically motivated hirings and firings -- all of which have generated an atmosphere of intimidation paralleling that experienced by Fatah in the Gaza Strip. Hamas leaders in the West Bank claim that certain government employees, accused of Islamist sympathies, have been denied salaries on the pretext they were “acting against legitimacy.” But it is not only Hamas that is affected, as a Nablus transportation worker complained: “I used to work as a policeman in Jenin. I left in 2000 when the intifada started. Now that things seem to be settling down, I tried to get my job back when the new [interim] government [under Salam Fayyad] started working. I was refused on flimsy and false pretexts. Finally, after I really pushed it, the officer asked me, ‘What is your political affiliation?’ I told him, ‘Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.’ He knew that’s what I was going to say. It was no secret. But at least he was honest: ‘That’s why you’re not getting your job back. Affiliate with Fatah and we’ll rehire you.’”

Update on Egypt torture videos

Reports Brian Whitaker: banned by Youtube.

So, I guess no "Golden Whip" award?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Guevara Convention

Read about The Guevara Convention here.

Salah Ragab and Tony Allen

And speaking of Honest Jon's Records, this is an amazing item: a 12" featuring, on one side, "Sankofa" as performed by Tony Allen and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, and on the other, "One Tree" and "Ole," two Tony Allen compositions performed by Salah Ragab and the Afro-Egyptian Ensemble. (Listen here.)

Tony Allen, of course, served as drummer and musical director for Fela Kuti from 1968 to 1979, and, since Kuti's death in 1997, has emerged as a major Afrobeat (or as he puts it, afrofunk) artist in his own right, as well as collaborating with all kinds of people, including Damon Albarn on The Good, the Bad and the Queen. The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble is a eight-piece band that includes seven of the sons of Phil Cohran, famed trumpeter for Sun Ra. They've performed with Mos Def, among others.

Salah Ragab is a legendary figure, who also played with Sun Ra. He formed the Cairo Jazz Band in 1968, while a major in the Egyptian army and head of the Military Department of Music. He and the Cairo Jazz band and his work with Sun Ra are heard to best effect on the amazing album, The Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab in Egypt.

And there is also a more recent release, which I've not yet heard: Salah Ragab and The Cairo Jazz Band Present Egyptian Jazz. (You've gotta love the cover!)

El Gusto

You would think that by now, I would have had time to produce a blog about my recent trip to Morocco to attend the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques in Essaouira. Somehow, moving my home office out of the living room and into a newly-vacated room in the back of the house has eaten up all my spare time.

In the meantime, please check out this report on the Algerian chaabi band El Gusto. I met Safinez Bousbia, the director of the documentary "El Gusto: The Good Feeling," in Essaouira, as well as one of the Jewish-Arab members of El Gusto, the grand master of the pianoriental, Maurice El Medioni. (Go here to see a photo of us.) Here's another good article about the El Gusto project. I was told that El Gusto (the film and the group) will be touring the US in summer '08. Stay tuned!

The album, Abdel Hadi Halo & The El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers, which features only the Muslim Algerian members of El Gusto, is as yet only available as an import. It was released by Damon Albarn's label, Honest Jon's Records. (I posted about the record previously here.)

To get a flavor of the Essaouira festival, see my photos here.

Indy Torture Film Festival: Cairo--NOT

Check out this AFP report. (I love it: the "Golden Whip" award!)

CAIRO - Egyptian bloggers, long at the forefront of exposing rights abuses, are planning an online festival of torture videos to run alongside the 31st Cairo Film Festival, local media reported today.

The parallel festival is the idea of a blogger named Walid, the Egyptian Mail reported, and will feature "controversial acts of torture allegedly committed by the security authorities". [I've been unable to track down the original article.]

Prizes, including a "Golden Whip", will be awarded to the best entrants.

Egypt's blogosphere has exposed numerous incidents of police torture, including that of minibus driver Imad al-Kabir who was shown being sodomised with a stick in widely distributed video footage shot on a police mobile phone.

Two policemen were jailed for three years earlier this month for that crime in a rare case of security forces members being sentenced for abusing detainees.

Rights groups say the use of torture is widespread in Egyptian jails and police stations, while the interior ministry says that those who carry out torture are always punished.

The Cairo Film Festival runs from November 27 to December 7.

UPDATE: One of those who first released torture videos denies any such "fringe" festival will take place. Khusara!

War Is Peace, Sanctions Are Diplomacy

A new Middle East Report Online (MERO): great analysis of US policy toward Iran, by Carah Ong, analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Proliferation.

Sanctions are punitive measures, not serious diplomacy, and the Bush administration has never undertaken a sustained diplomatic initiative aimed either at inducing Iran to cease enriching uranium or at soothing broader US-Iranian tensions. Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s persistent refusal to take military options “off the table,” combined with its intensified rhetoric against Iran, has made sanctions palatable to allies, as well as to some of the most dovish members of Congress and the American public -- but without addressing the political disputes that keep the US and Iran on a collision course.

Monday, November 19, 2007

W's new lap dog/poodle?


Cartoon courtesy of the inimitable Steve Bell of The Guardian. Please check out the article by Jonathan Steele which accompanies the cartoon, and which opens with this zinger: "Six months in office, and Nicolas Sarkozy has not ceased being an embarrassment on the world stage." It's interesting to see how Sarkozy is viewed from abroad, whereas in the US, both Democratic and Republican politicians are falling all over themselves to praise Sarkozy. When Sarkozy addressed a joint session of Congress on November 7, his speech in French was interrupted by applause over two dozen times and received six standing ovations. We just love foreign leaders who fawn all over us! That nasty Chirac (Sarkozy's predecessor)--wasn't with us on Iraq! So our current stance on Iran must be correct if Sarkozy is going along with it.

Here's a reminder of what urban youth of the cités thought of Sarkozy when he was Minister of the Interior.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Politics of Youth: new issue of Middle East Report

(Confession: I'm an editor, and I have an article in the new issue. Please note that you can access my article along with Marc Lynch's for free. But buy the issue anyway!)

Middle East Report 245
Winter 2007


In many countries of the Middle East, as in other developing regions, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up a fifth or more of the population. These youth face serious socio-economic problems, including unemployment, under-employment and delayed marriage, but not the least of their burdens are the expectations and anxieties of their elders. In recent decades, indeed, youth have come to be seen as a problem in and of themselves. "The Politics of Youth," the winter 2007 issue of Middle East Report, measures the image against reality.

Anthropologist Ted Swedenburg sketches the "imagined youths" that preoccupy policy planners and pundits in the Middle East and the West. Youth are perceived both as people who need to be protected -- from radical political Islam or from "vulgar" popular culture -- and people from whom the social order may need to be protected. A corollary, among Western observers, is to see youth as the inevitable emancipators of closed political systems.

Real Middle Eastern youth confound elite hopes and fears in ways both conventionally political and mundane. In Egypt, finds political scientist Marc Lynch, young Muslim Brothers are challenging their older leaders' platforms and habits of mind with the open discussion fostered by their blogs. In Beirut, as Lara Deeb and Mona Harb demonstrate, the purchasing power of pious Shi'i youth is generating an "Islamic" culture of fun to parallel the hard-partying "Paris of the Middle East" downtown. In Israel, argues sociologist Tamir Sorek, young fans of Likud-supporting Beitar Jerusalem and the Arab team from Sakhnin both use the soccer stadium to demand full integration as citizens, rendering the Beitar-Sakhnin matches more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in miniature.

In a special report, James McDougall checks in on the recovery of Algeria from its long and brutal civil war. Many of the war's deep causes remain in place: The options in formal politics are limited to opportunism or principled, but impotent opposition, while the newly liberalized economy is working best for those who were already prosperous.

Also featured: Norma Claire Moruzzi reviews Shahram Khosravi's Young and Defiant in Iran; Khaled El-Rouayheb reviews Joseph Massad's Desiring Arabs; Rosemary Sayigh reviews Laleh Khalili's Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine; and more.

Subscribe to Middle East Report or order individual copies online at

For further information, contact Chris Toensing at

Middle East Report is published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), a progressive, independent organization based in Washington, DC. Since 1971 MERIP has provided critical analysis of the Middle East, focusing on political economy, popular struggles and the implications of US and international policy for the region.

Middle East Report Online is a free service of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wish I Could Go to This Event!

Poetry of Peace: A Night of Hip Hop & Culture Jam for Peace

* DAM the Palestinian Hip Hop Stars from Israel + Omar Offendum & Ragtop
* Read Taleed El-Sabawi's article on Palestinian Hip Hop
* Shaun Toub "Crash" & "The Kite Runner"
* Shiva Rose "David & Layla"
* Raya Meddine "Bosta"
* Mark LeVine author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Religion and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam
* Saree Makdisi author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation
* Jodie Evans cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace
* Apoetnomadali featuring Morvarid performing Sar Zamin
* Basic Poetry Base One Basic & Apoetnomadali featuring Weapon X performing
* Jerusalem Women: Partners for Peace
* with Deejay Al Fareed

Artists, writers and activists for Middle East peace, a benefit for Levantine Cultural Center, celebrating six years of progressive arts programming.

Bovard Auditorium, USC, 3551 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles 90089. 7-8 pm meet/greet, booths; 8-10:30 pm show; 10:30-midnight after-party.

And, it has just been announced that Palestinian standup comedian Maysoon Zayid is to join the lineup.

Read the press release for the event here. (But note that my friend Mark Levine is wrong about Palestinian-Israeli rap group Dam. Their name means "lasting" or "persisting" in Arabic, "blood" in Hebrew. See Joseph Massad's article, "Liberating Songs: Palestine Put to Music" in the book I co-edited with Rebecca Stein, Palestine, Israel and the Politics of Popular Culture.)

One of the cool things about the Levantine Cultural Center is that one of its founders is Jordan Elgrably, a Moroccan Jewish American. (Thanks, Mohja!)

The Dalai Lama: NOT Pro-Democracy

Although I'm in no way a supporter of China's rule over Tibet, I'm really sick of Western liberals fawning over the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism. So I was pleased to see Slavoj Zizek's recent op-ed in The New York Times (October 11--okay, so I'm way behind on my reading), which contained this observation:

What bothers Chinese authorities are sects like Falun Gong that insist on independence from state control. In the same vein, the problem with Tibetan Buddhism resides in an obvious fact that many Western enthusiasts conveniently forget: the traditional political structure of Tibet is theocracy, with the Dalai Lama at the center. He unites religious and secular power — so when we are talking about the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, we are taking about choosing a head of state. It is strange to hear self-described democracy advocates who denounce Chinese persecution of followers of the Dalai Lama — a non-democratically elected leader if there ever was one.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Progress on the racial front? Income gap between black and white families grows

My mostly-white students tend to think that since the passage of civil rights legislation, racial problems in the US are "so over." My students are probably not out of synch with the rest of white America. Here's some troubling counter-evidence, from the Economic Mobility Project, funded by the Pew Charitable Trust. A few choice excerpts from the AP report:

Incomes have increased among both black and white families in the past three decades - mainly because more women are in the work force. But the increase was greater among whites, according to the study being released Tuesday.

One reason for the growing disparity: Incomes among black men have actually declined in the past three decades, when adjusted for inflation. They were offset only by gains among black women.

Incomes among white men, meanwhile, were relatively stagnant, while those of white women increased more than fivefold...

In 2004, a typical black family had an income that was only 58 percent of a typical white family's. In 1974, median black incomes were 63 percent those of whites.

"Too many Americans, whites and even some blacks, think that the playing field has indeed leveled," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

It has not, he added.

(my italics)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Why the FBI can't use falafel sales to catch Iranian agents

Israel's national dish
Originally uploaded by tsweden
Because falafel is Israel's national dish.

A friend brought me this fridge magnet from Israel last summer. Such falafel tourist kitsch is ubiquitous there.

And an Israeli designer of an Israeli kafiyeh (kufiya), Ben Haim, claims, “It’s going to be like the falafel."

Et tu, kufiya?

now Lauren Bush and Lupe Fiasco

kufiyaspotted by KABOBfest (they spell it keffiyeh spotting).

Yes, comrades, that is W's niece, daughter of Neil, who works as a fashion model. She reportedly once dated a Palestinian-American named Tammer Qaddumi (Yale) and now goes out with Ralph Lauren's son David.

And she majored in anthropology at Princeton. Maybe that explains her desire for exotic garb?

AS for skateboarding rapper Lupe Fiasco, he is Muslim, after all. Also kufiya-spotted by KABOBfest.

(Yes, kabobfest is now clearly outdoing me on the keffiyeh spotting. In my defense, they're a collective. And it's not a contest. My hatta is off to them!)

Friday, November 09, 2007

kufiyaspotting (yet another)

Originally uploaded by Horatio_Blue

I love the eighties feel of this.

I found it at The Fierce and Fabulous flickr pool. Don't miss it.

Watch what you eat...

From Democracy Now!
Thursday, Nov. 8.
FBI Monitored Sales At Middle Eastern Grocery Stores
Congressional Quarterly is reporting that the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales [!!!!], combined with other data, would lead to Iranian agents in the region. The program was the brainchild of top FBI counterterrorism officials Phil Mudd and Willie Hulon. The datamining operation was eventually stopped after FBI officials determined it was possibly illegal to place someone on a terrorist list because of what they ate.
Read the Congressional Quarterly report here. Particularly telling is this statement:
As ridiculous as it sounds, the groceries counting scheme is a measure of how desperate the FBI is to disrupt domestic terrorism plots.
And worse yet, a measure of how completely uninformed the FBI is, since falafel is a mainstay of the diet in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel--but NOT Iran. Falafel sales are much more likely to be indicative of the presence of Israelis than Iranians...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Henri Alleg on Waterboarding

French journalist Henri Alleg, arrested and tortured by French paratroopers in Algeria in 1957, describes his experience to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!

(May the names Schumer and Feinstein live forever in infamy!)