Saturday, February 28, 2009

The stylish kufiya in "Iron Man"

I finally got around to watching this thoroughly enjoyable film last night, and even though its liberal political turns are somewhat hokey and predictable, I appreciated (a) Tony Stark's "moral" decision to turn away from war profiteering and (b) that the film represented the Afghani "bad guys" as being in cahoots with US weapons producers. I suppose the latter represents a kind of backhanded acknowledgment of the CIA's role in helping create and strengthen those "bad guys" during the struggle of the Afghani mujahideen against the Soviet occupation.

But here's one thing I didn't like, seriously. The real "bad guy" of the film, Raza (played by Faran Tahir), who leads the terrorist group, wears a kufiya around his neck. And not only does he wear it in the manner of the Western hipster--more typically in Afghanistan it would be worn it as a turban--but the colors are straight out of...Urban Outfitters. It's tan. But it should (if verismilitude is the aim) be black-and-white, or maybe red-and-white.

So, Iron Man manages not only to associate just kufiyas with terrorists, but hipster kufiyas as well.

The semiotic war continues....

Friday, February 27, 2009

misc. #8756

Time to post, at least in shorthand, some of the items that I've been saving up.

1. This just in, from the blog Hipster Runoff: "Are Palestinian Scarves Still Authentically Alt?" This is so hipster that I feel I can't really decode it. I think the blog's answer is, no, it's now "cool" to support Israel. Only blacks are still wearing (faux) kufiyas. Really, after Gaza, it's cool to support Israel?? (Thanks, Laine.)

2. Three students at Gateway High School in Monroeville, PA (near Pittsburgh), were banned from wearing kufiyas to school on February 17, after 35 Jewish students signed a petition against the scarves. The next day, the ruling was reversed. Read more, from al-Arabiyya, here. (I'm underwhelmed with the quality of al-Arabiyya's journalism, lots of misspellings and goofs.) And a commentary from the Muslim American Society here.

3. This is dated, but for the sake of completeness, for the sake of the archive, I include it. An article from Columbia News Service, April 29, 2008: "Militant fashion? A Palestinian scarf becomes hip-hop chic,"by Lawrence Delevingne. (It quotes me.)

All the kufiya-garbed people who Delevingne interviewed for the story denied there was any political meaning to it. One claimed it had to do with his Muslim identity. And yet, Tracy Thompson owner of the Harlem clothing store, Connection One Fashion, was prompted to start selling kufiyas after several people came into the store asking for “A-rab,” “Taliban” or “Bin Laden” scarves.

Hmmm, low Palestine consciousness levels, eh? Check out the photos that accompany the article, shot by Delevingne. I especially like this one, which shows a display at Connection One Fashion.

4. Mother Jones has a very short piece on taqwacore in the Jan/Feb ish. Why so short?!

5. Please check out the music that Dave Watts (aka WattsRiot aka Impi-D) of Fun'Da'Mental has put up on his Myspace page. I particularly like "The Aziz Visitation Demo." And then there is "Plaything Demo," which Dave posted to commemorate the departure of W from DC.

Here's what Dave posted on Facebook about it--I think it's probably ok with him that I repost. A lost-found track from FDM's All Is War.

Since the frat-boy that is George Dubbya has packed up his shit and is departing from our faces as POTUS, I thought I'd post PLAYTHINGS, over at

It was done three years ago for the FDM album 'All is War'. We were gonna do the album in two parts...but things got a bit outta hand regarding the reaction. So we moved on.Playthings was my hard drive 'til it crashed, taking all my work, thousands of samples to digital heaven or hell!Found a copy though...

Crying and marketing your one fucking hit.
Crying and hollering 'cos of one fucking hit.
We took away your playthings 'cos of too many hits.
Took away your plaything 'cos of too many hits.
Tired of just surviving in this man made shit.
Wise men of old knew of better and more.
Than living of bent knee, nailed to the floor.

Took away your plaything 'cos of too many hits.
Always read the label, still tasted like shit.
Texas crude dude what's a piece that's bigger.
That's my oil under your sand*******

Count them, one, two, three, four, five hundred years of tears.
Morning breaks, hunting calls, mourning cries No surprise.
Atta-boy threw back your bouncing ball.
Patriots to the shopping malls.
Buy a flag, funeral shawl.
Combat soldiers got new toys.
Hand 'em out to the boys.
Night vision, tunnel vision, System failure, animation.
Digitize real lives, skin-slapped high five.
Body parts six feet under'cos of blue-eyed plunder...and so it goes.

Inspiration came from The Bolivarian Experiment, Franz Fanon, the First Nation Movement in North America, EZLN, Black Panther Party for Self-Defence, Malcolm X, Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the countless and nameless Rebels that have fought back tried to turn us onto a new path for human development

Over, but not out.

6. For those who can read French, check out this post by Yves Gonzalez-Quijano, who authors the terrific blog, Culture et politique arabe. You should check it out regularly. He surveys recent uses put to the kufiya in the Arab world, mostly through a careful reading of the Arab mass media. I'm going to have to come back to this one (someone remind me, ok?), but for the moment, just check out this piece of kufiya art by Mona Hatoum, from an exhibit (Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking) at MOMA, February 26-May 22, 2006).

"Keffieh," by Mona Hatoum, (1993-99), human hair on cotton, 1993-1999, collection Peter Norton, Santa Monica

Here's an excerpt from a review of the exhibit:

Mona Hatoum is well known to international art viewers, and a particular favorite of this reviewer for her head-on collisions with conformity - including this re-creation of the traditional headscarf or "Keffieh" worn by Arab men that interweaves strands of women's hair with the Arab symbol of machismo.

"Can you for instance imagine a man wearing it with trailing hair?" asks Hatoum. In an interweaving of two genders in one fabric Hatoum recognized "a kind of quiet protest in the art of embroidery, which like Reichek and Amer she specifically associates with women" writes Feresteh Daftari. "In 'Keffieh' then, she is subtly giving women visibility through both the work's medium and its technique."

Homi Bhabba also gives an interpretation of this enigmatic work:"The macho style is an externalized response to the powers of domination; but it is also a form of domination turned inward, within the community poised against the presence of women, whose voices are either repressed, or sublimated in the cause of struggle. Hatoum's feminized headscarf reveals this disavowal of the place of women and re-inserts their point of view through the embroidered strands of hair that hang loose beyond the boundary, breaking the pictorial grid of the material in the process of redefining the symbolic surface of political struggle."

You can read a shorter English version of Gonzalez-Quijano's kufiya post here. But best to read it in French and, if you've got Arabic skills, check out the articles he links to.

Jim Quilty reviews "Waltz with Bashir"

"Waltz with Bashir"
Originally uploaded by tsweden
The estimable Jim Quilty reviews Waltz with Bashir in today's Daily Star. Here's the link. I post it in full here because (a) I always admire the work of Quilty and (b) Daily Star "free" links become "pay" links in a few days.

Here's just one of the pithy insights: In Folman's narrative, occupation does not make good people do bad things; rather it makes good people watch bad people (aka "the Lebanese") do bad things.

Read on:

What's all the fuss about 'Waltz with Bashir"?
Folman's documentary fudges questions about Israel's involvement in Sabra-Shatilla massacres
By Jim Quilty
Daily Star staff
Friday, February 27, 2009

BEIRUT: Every year, Lebanon's southern neighbor submits a film to the foreign-language competition of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Oscar Awards. For the second time in as many years, the Oscar nominee of the Zionist Aberration has been set in Lebanon. Twice in two years, members of the international media have heard the call, speculating, tremulously, whether this would be Israel's year.

In 2007-8, the Sturm und Drang coalesced around Joseph Cedar's "Beaufort," which follows the final days of an occupation-fatigued squad of Israeli soldiers during their final tour at Israel's base at the Crusader-era castle. "Beaufort" didn't win any Oscars. In 2008-9, the sound and fury has centered on Ari Folman's "Waltz with Bashir," again signifying nothing.

For those too preoccupied by things of substance to follow this media melodrama, "Waltz with Bashir" purports to reconstruct the events surrounding the 1982 Sabra-Shatila massacres. Perhaps the most infamous episode in that vaudeville of inhumanity called Lebanon's 1975-1990 Civil War, its story is recollected by several Israeli Army veterans of the 1982 Lebanon invasion. Many of the ex-soldiers (including Folman) speak for themselves. Others, presumably actors, channel some characters' remarks.

The film's visual language churned up excitement among some critics. Rather than having the camera focus on middle-aged vets recollecting things, Folman's film - memories and the odd fantasy sequence or three - is illustrated with animation.

Fiddling around with disjunctions between sight and sound is one of the mainstays of brainy auteurs, so Folman's conceit has been regarded in certain circles as unassailably cool. Anyway, as Marjane Satrapi demonstrated with the 2007 film adaptation of "Persepolis," graphic novel-style animation can be pressed into the service of serious narrative, bringing fame to the filmmaker in the process.

"Waltz with Bashir" opens with a sequence of a vicious black dog charging down a cartoon street, joining a pack of 25 other vicious black dogs as they gather below the window of Boaz Rein, the Israeli Army vet who's recollecting this recurring nightmare to Folman. Cartoon versions of the two men sit in a cartoon bar.

Because his commander knew him incapable of shooting people, Rein explains, his squad commander during the Lebanon invasion always dispatched him to shoot any dogs that might give away the squad's location. He iced 26 canines this way.

Cartooning aside, this scene - and the post-traumatic stress element of the plot - is highly reminiscent of Adrian Lyne's post-Vietnam tour de force from 1990, "Jacob's Ladder."

Folman's character says he remembers nothing about his stint in the Lebanon war. The filmmaker's voiceover then remarks that this conversation took place in the summer of 2006, and that it provoked his first flashback of Israel's 1982 Lebanon war: He and two other soldiers are swimming in the Mediterranean, until they're drawn to the ruckus created by some flares being fired on shore, in Beirut.

He visits a friend - not a shrink, appropriately enough, but a lawyer - who informs him that there is such a thing as "dynamic memory." It has been clinically demonstrated, he claims, that when shown a fake image and told that it belongs to their personal history, 80 percent of people remember the event as if it happened to them. If they're asked a second time, the other 20 percent accept it as real too.

"Waltz with Bashir" purports to be the fruit of Folman's efforts to uncover what he was doing during the Sabra-Shatila massacres. A documentary with a therapeutic flavor, it depicts the filmmaker seeking out fellow Lebanon war veterans, only to find that, like himself and Rein, they suffer variations on a theme of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Adding to the film's medicated patina are the narrator's visits to see veteran Carmi Cnaan, one of the two soldiers alongside him in his Sabra-Shatila flashback. He has migrated to Amsterdam and made himself rich with a falafel franchise. During their lengthy exchanges, Cnaan and Folman smoke pot unremittingly, though, in one of the film's several lapses in verisimilitude, neither man's speech betrays the telltale signs of THC consumption.

Therapist Zahava Solomon adds further psychoanalytic grist to Folman's rhetorical mill, informing him that many Lebanon veterans survived the experience with "dissociative events" - that is pretending they were witnessing something without actually being part of it.

Having hammered home the point that Israeli veterans were, and are, wounded by their time in Lebanon, the film turns to one veteran after another as he recollects some traumatic Lebanon experience. In the process, the animation winks at various respected war films to which it wants to do homage.

Israeli soldiers are seen surfing (a-la "Apocalypse Now"). The eponymous waltz - which sees Frenkel dance with his 50-caliber machine gun during a fire fight with Beirut's invisible defenders, while a huge poster of Lebanese Forces militia founder Bashir Gemayel looks on - appropriates the close order drill-cum-floor show choreographed for Elia Suleiman's "Divine Intervention" in 2002.

As cartoon Folman wends his way closer to reconstructing what he did during the Sabra-Shatila massacre, his informants make a special effort to pin all the blame on the Israelis' Lebanese allies in the Phalange militia. Cnaan remarks that, based on the atrocities he saw the Phalange perpetrate, it was no surprise to him that the Christian militiamen committed this massacre.

In a remarkable example of defense-attorney psychoanalysis, Folman's lawyer friend suggests Folman's confused feelings of guilt are rooted in Israel's founding trauma, the Nazi Holocaust. "You look back at the Sabra-Shatila massacres," he opines, "and you see the one your parents witnessed. You recall this camp and you see another camp: Auschwitz."

It turns out Folman's role in the massacres was to lob flares over the camp during the several nights the Lebanese militiamen took to go about their work. "Unwillingly," the lawyer continues, "you assumed the role of the Nazi. You didn't carry out the massacre but you fired the flares."

Some journalistic responses to this film have praised it as a remarkable grapple with culpability, a cathartic film contemplation of war, on par with that of "Apocalypse Now," but superior for its documentary basis. It is particularly brave, these critics suggest, for being forged in the summer of 2006, when Israel's military, already engaged in Gaza, returned to Lebanon for 34 days - though its 2006 pirouette on Lebanese soil was far more proscribed than it was in 1982.

The degree of Israeli involvement in Sabra-Shatila that Folman's film acknowledges is in no way remarkable. That Israel provided flare cover and body bags for this operation - on top of whatever materiel and training they'd already donated to the Phalange and their allies - is a matter of public record.

Folman fudges the more pertinent question of direct Israeli involvement. One witness refers to the "men in Israeli uniforms" among the militiamen gathering around the entrance of the camp before the slaughter.

As if to seal any doubt about Israeli culpability, one of Folman's informants recollects that the slaughter was stopped by Israeli Brigadier Amos, who personally drove to the camp gates and forbade the Phalangists taking any more Palestinians to the sport stadium for execution.

As with "Beaufort," then, "Bashir" leaves you with the impression that Israeli soldiers are nice kids, scared shitless - contrary to the brutality evinced on television news footage. If the facts of the human condition that the film depicts do evoke pity and fear from the audience, it's not because your estimation of these boys has diminished. In Folman's narrative, occupation does not make good people do bad things; rather it makes good people watch bad people (aka "the Lebanese") do bad things.

There is something laughably predictable in the orientalism embedded in Cnaan's analysis of the Phalange: "There was something erotic about the Phalangists' relationship with Bashir," he observes sagely. "Avenging his death was, for them, like taking revenge for the killing of a wife."

Worse, "Waltz with Bashir" asks the audience to feel as much sympathy for those that made the Sabra-Shatila massacre possible as you do for the victims themselves. There is something perverse in this.

"Waltz with Bashir" won't screen in Beirut. It may be found among the pirates.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Arabesque in DC (warning: kufiya content)

Earlier this month I met one of the producers of PBS' The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and as a result of that meeting, I decided to give the show a second chance. For a long time I've been in agreement with what Alex Cockburn said about the show years ago, that it was the Snooze Hour, whose purpose was to present the news in so boring and stultifying a fashion that it would convince listeners that politics was both uninteresting and to be left to the oh-so-dull-and-serious pundits.

Tonight, I'm really glad I did give The News Hour a second shot. In particular, I was delighted to see Jeffrey Brown's long segment (the third of the week) on the Kennedy Center's Arabesque Festival. Tonight Brown featured three women artists, all of whom I found quite interesting, but I was particularly taken by the work of photographer and installation artist Lara Baladi. And I thought it was great that she chose to wear a blue kufiya around her neck for the interview, and at the same time, insist that she didn't like the way in which the position of artists in the Middle East gets so politicized. So, on the one hand, she refuses the notion that an artist should be a politician, and on the other, she expresses solidarity with the Palestinians by wearing the kufiya. Watch the segment--the most interesting thing about it in my opinion is the kaleidoscope installation which you can see at the Arabesque Festival. Wish I could make it!

The segment that aired tonight was originally scheduled for Wednesday; Thursday was to be a report on Marcel Khalife (who says, don't call me Bob Dylan) and Friday on Fathy Salama. Both are terrific musicians, so I hope they both get an airing tomorrow. Or maybe next week? Tune in to find out.

Until then, check out Marcel Khalife performing this gorgeous tribute to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. (I found it courtesy of Jeffrey Brown's blog. Big up to Jeffrey.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Advances for gay rights: Lebanon, Arkansas, Hollywood

It's not just Milk, folks.

1. Yesterday the Lebanese LGBTIQ support organization Helem organized a sit-in to protest violence against victimized minorities, including homosexuals, women, children, domestic workers and immigrant workers. The organization reported that 200 people participated. As far as I'm aware, this is the first demonstration of its kind in Lebanon. Media reception in the country, it seems, was largely positive (see the accounts here, in English, French and Arabic).

The sign in the photo can be translated as, "Violence is Deviance in a Civilized Society." (Deviance/shudhudh is the standard homophobic epithet used in Arab to describe homosexuality.) The photo is from Helem's facebook site, and posted by Anarchist Queer from "Syria." (Shukran to her and Angry Arab for alerting me to yesterday's action.)

2. Meanwhile in Arkansas, this happened on Saturday:

Arkansas Presbyterians voted overwhelmingly Saturday for a constitutional amendment to allow noncelibate gays and lesbians to serve as deacons, elders and ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The lopsided 116-64 vote surprised leaders of the Presbytery of Arkansas, a collection of nearly 100 congregations spread across central and northern Arkansas. "It tells me that there's no predicting the Holy Spirit," said Interim General Presbyter Sallie Watson, shortly after the vote.

Read more here.

Even though Arkansas voters passed Act One last November, which bans any unmarried cohabiting couple (gay, straight, whatever) from being able to adopt or be foster parents--not all is homophobic in the Natural State.

3. And then there is Milk, Sean Penn and the Oscar. Hopefully, a blow against Prop 8. But y'all know about that one.

So let's give a cheer for Lebanon and Arkansas, where, unlike in Hollywood, we might not expect such advances.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Anarchist Queer from "Syria"

I'm feeling too crummy (rheumy, achy, coughy) to blog right now, but I just learned about an excellent blog, which y'all should check out: Anarchist Queer from "Syria." Among other great things about it is that it features a red kufiya on the logo. (Uh, Anarchist Queer, isn't black the color of anarchy? Or are you in fact more of a leftist?)

And I'm going to link to it, right now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

NPR report on Israeli racist politician Avigdor Lieberman: no room for Palestinian Arab comments?

This is really remarkable, but not untypical for National Public Radio: a report (from Eric Westervelt, on yesterday's All Things Considered) on Israeli far-right and racist politician Avigdor Lieberman, head of Israel's Israel Beiteinu party. Lieberman's party came out number three in Israel's recent elections, ahead of Labor. It did so well in large part because of its calls for Israel's Palestinian Arab citizens to take loyalty oaths, and its plans to employ "transfer" (i.e. ethnic cleansing) in order to "solve" the Palestine/Israel territory dispute (that is, to "exchange" Palestinian Arab villages in Israel for Jewish settlements in the West Bank).

If you do a news report on a racist politician, it seems that you could find at least one voice from the ethnic/racial minority that is under threat. But Westervelt managed to produce his report without quoting a single Palestinian voice. Only Israeli Jews, seemingly, are qualified to talk about Lieberman.

Not to mention that Westervelt employs the term, "Israeli Arab," throughout his report. Palestinian citizens of Israel reject this terminology vigorously, since it is a designation designed by the Israeli Zionist establishment in order to erase their Palestinian identity.

Come on, NPR, you can do better.

Taqwacores at SXSW

This just in: a Taqwacores concert at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX. Friday, March 20, 2009, 9 P.M. at Club 115, 115 S. Jacinto St.

The lineup is:

The Kominas
Omar of Diacritical
Vote Hezbollah
Secret Trial Five

Go here for info on the concert and The Kominas from SXSW, and to download The Kominas' "Sharia Law in the USA."

I am very partial to The Kominas and Al-Thawra; have not yet had much time to familiarize myself with the other groups. (Click on the links above to listen and download.)

I think Mark Levine, author of Heavy Metal Islam, will be sitting in with one or more of the bands on guitar. I don't know whether the godfather of taqwacore, Michael Muhammad Knight, will be there. I'm going to try to get down to Austin for this, if I can figure out how to attend the event without buying one of those super expensive SXSW badges.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gaza on Our Minds Rap-a-thon in NYC: Tomorrow!

I really wish I could go to this event. If you are in NYC, don't miss it. I've not heard any of these rappers before except for Palestinian MC Sabreena Da Witch (AKA Abeer), who appears in the film Slingshot HipHop and guests on Invincible's track, "People Not Places."

I'm happy to report that there was a fundraising event for Gaza in Fayetteville last Sunday, sponsored by the Omni Center for Peace Justice and Ecology, and featuring Hedy Epstein as the speaker. Hedy is a holocaust survivor who has been active in the Free Gaza Movement, and was on the first Free Gaza boats to make it to Gaza carrying relief supplies back in August, along with Jeff Halper and Fun'Da'Mental's Aki Nawaz, among others. Hedy has also been active in the International Solidarity Movement, and has participated in a number of demonstrations against the apartheid wall, particularly at Bil'in. She is a very inspiring speaker. The money raised went to ANERA.

Alas, it wasn't a hip-hop event, but it did raise money for Gaza.

UPDATE, Feb. 12. The event raised $1460.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Dana International & Tzipi Livni

Kadima leader Tzipi Livni campaigned today with Dana International, the transsexual dance diva, AP reported today. According to the report:

Livni held a noisy, colorful women's rally in Jerusalem, dancing to loud music and singing with Dana International, a popular transsexual entertainer. The pink-and-white themed attempt had a rock-concert feel, as throngs of people jostled to get a glimpse of Livni or have a picture taken with her.

Isn't that great, that with all of that Gaza blood on her hands, that she gets treated like a rock star?

Discussions of Dana International usually don't mention the fact that she is of Yemeni origin, and that early in her career, she recorded a number of hits in Arabic. I published an article on Dana International's popularity and notoriety in Egypt during the mid-1990's in Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond, ed. Walter Armbrust, University of California Press, 2000. You can read it here.

I have no idea whether Dana actually supports Tzipi, or if she was just paid to show up at the event.

What is even more alarming about the AP report on the run-up to the Israeli elections than Tzipi as a rock star is the rise of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party.

The Haaretz poll showed Lieberman surging to 18 seats, compared with Labor's 14. That sets Lieberman up as a kingmaker, holding the crucial swing votes that the winner will need to form a government. Lieberman clearly leans toward Netanyahu.

A tough-talking immigrant from Moldova who succeeded in turning a party for immigrants from the former Soviet Union into one with broad national appeal, Lieberman has centered his platform on attacking Israel's Arab citizens, demanding that they sign an oath of loyalty or lose their right to vote or be elected.

Perhaps his most polarizing policy is to redraw Israel's borders, pushing areas with heavy concentrations of Arabs outside the country and under Palestinian jurisdiction.

Lieberman appears to be capitalizing on a swell of anti-Arab sentiment among Israelis, fueled partially by the rocket fire from Gaza that sparked Israel's recent offensive there.

The number three party in Israel, the kingmaking party, may well be one that advocates ethnic cleansing. (I should add that Israel launched the offensive against Gaza, starting on November 4. The rocket fire from Gaza came in response to Israel's aggression. This erroneous claim, of course, is repeated endlessly in the US media.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Documentary on the last kufiya factory in Palestine

By French journalist Benoit Faiveley, courtesy Monocle. Watch it here.

Among other things we learn, from owner Yusif Harbawi and one of his workers, that black and white is for Fateh, red for the PFLP, multicolored ones for tourists, and green for Hamas--but they don't get many orders for the latter. (It seems that in Gaza, however, red ones are favored by Hamas supporters.)

A young man named Muhammad, from Ramallah, is also interviewed. He says that in the Occupied Territories, before 1992, at a time when the Palestinian flag was banned, the kufiya functioned as the symbol of Palestinian nationalism. According to Hirbawi (or his assistant), during the first Palestinian intifada (1987-92), the factory had lots of work, and produced on the order of 1000 kufiyas a day. Today it produces around 70-80. Previously 15 machines in the factory operated; today only 4 operate, 2 hours a day.

The problem is imports, mostly from China. It has affected textile production in Hebron in general, which has declined drastically since the West Bank and Gaza opened up to trade in the wake of the "peace process" launched in 1992. Hirbawi argues forcibly that such imports should stop, and that Palestinians should be buying textiles and kufiyas that are produced in Palestine.

It's unlikely that the quisling Abbas regime will make any move to bolster Palestinian industry, however. It's not likely that he even has any power to do so.

Hirbawi and his factory have received a lot of attention from the media in the last couple of years. See my previous posts on Hebron kufiyas here.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Crusade against kebabs in Italy

Italy's anti-immigrant movement gets even loonier. (I've highlighted some of the most pithy and outrageous aspects of this campaign.)

Can we expect Italian crusades against the kufiya soon? Make no mistake, this is for the most part anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism and xenophobia. As the article notes, what are they gonna do about Sicilian cuisine, which is rooted in Arab cuisine?

From The Times of London
January 31, 2009
Italy bans kebabs and foreign food from cities
Richard Owen in Rome

The tomato comes from Peru and spaghetti was probably a gift from China.

It is, though, the “foreign” kebab that is being kicked out of Italian cities as it becomes the target of a campaign against ethnic food, backed by the centre-right Government of Silvio Berlusconi.

The drive to make Italians eat Italian, which was described by the Left and leading chefs as gastronomic racism, began in the town of Lucca this week, where the council banned any new ethnic food outlets from opening within the ancient city walls.

Yesterday it spread to Lombardy and its regional capital, Milan, which is also run by the centre Right. The antiimmigrant Northern League party brought in the restrictions “to protect local specialities from the growing popularity of ethnic cuisines”.

Luca Zaia, the Minister of Agriculture and a member of the Northern League from the Veneto region, applauded the authorities in Lucca and Milan for cracking down on nonItalian food. “We stand for tradition and the safeguarding of our culture,” he said.

Mr Zaia said that those ethnic restaurants allowed to operate “whether they serve kebabs, sushi or Chinese food” should “stop importing container loads of meat and fish from who knows where” and use only Italian ingredients.

Asked if he had ever eaten a kebab, Mr Zaia said: “No – and I defy anyone to prove the contrary. I prefer the dishes of my native Veneto. I even refuse to eat pineapple.”

Mehmet Karatut, who owns one of four kebab shops in Lucca, said that he used Italian meat only.

Davide Boni, a councillor in Milan for the Northern League, which also opposes the building of mosques in Italian cities, said that kebab shop owners were prepared to work long hours, which was unfair competition.

“This is a new Lombard Crusade against the Saracens,” La Stampa, the daily newspaper, said. The centre-left opposition in Lucca said that the campaign was discrimination and amounted to “culinary ethnic cleansing”.

Vittorio Castellani, a celebrity chef, said: “There is no dish on Earth that does not come from mixing techniques, products and tastes from cultures that have met and mingled over time.”

He said that many dishes thought of as Italian were, in fact, imported. The San Marzano tomato, a staple ingredient of Italian pasta sauces, was a gift from Peru to the Kingdom of Naples in the 18th century. Even spaghetti, it is thought, was brought back from China by Marco Polo, and oranges and lemons came from the Arab world.

Mr Castellani said that the ban reflected growing intolerance and xenophobia in Italy. It was also a blow to immigrants who make a living by selling ethnic food, which is popular because of its low cost. There are 668 ethnic restaurants in Milan, a rise of nearly 30 per cent in one year.

The centre Right won national elections in April last year partly because of alarm about crime and immigration. This week there was a series of attacks on immigrants in bars and shops after the arrest of six Romanians accused of gang-raping an Italian girl in the Rome suburb of Guidonia.

Filippo Candelise, a Lucca councillor, said: “To accuse us of racism is outrageous. All we are doing is protecting the culinary patrimony of the town.”

Massimo Di Grazia, the city spokesman, said that the ban was intended to improve the image of the city and to protect Tuscan products. “It targets McDonald’s as much as kebab restaurants,” he added.

There is confusion, however, over what is meant by ethnic. Mr Di Grazia said that French restaurants would be allowed. He was unsure, though, about Sicilian cuisine. It is influenced by Arab cooking.