Wednesday, June 30, 2010

interzone radio podcast, june 29

it can be found here

and the playlist is exactly here

music from DuOud, BLK JKS, Estrella Morente, Wadali Bros., and more!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Kufiyas in "From Paris with Love," "The A-Team," and "Glee"

I have posted previously about the kufiya-wearing Charlie Wax character in the film, From Paris with Love, played by John Travolta. I have finally seen the film. It was agony. If not for the sake of research, I would have turned it off long before the end. It's a real turkey of a film, but the kufiya does play a prominent role. CIA agent Charlie Wax, who lays waste to multiple "bad guys" in the film--Chinese, Pakistanis, devious beautiful women, banlieusards--at the rate (his partner James Reese [Jonathan Rhys Meyers] estimates) of one an hour--wears a kufiya in almost every scene. Along with his bald pate, goatee, earring, and leather jacket, the kufiya seems to be essential to Wax's image as a kind of rogue secret agent who uses unconventional (i.e. bloody) methods to track down and get his prey. (He's also supposed to be funny, but the humor never really works.) The kufiya has nothing to do with any identification on the part of Wax with Arabs, who he at one time refers to as "ragheads." Rather it seems to involve a kind of sympathetic magic that, through mimesis, taps into the power of the Other (terrorist, raghead)--see Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, 1993. This seems key to the phenomenon of what I'm calling the "tough guy" kufiya. (After I re-read Taussig I will probably have more to say about this.)

As if to reinforce the fact that Wax is tapping into the strength and energy of the bad guys, the ragheads, one of the banlieusards who is a member of Rashid's gang that deals in cocaine and other crime wears a kufiya. Rashid is on the right. (The fact that Wax and Reese at first get held up by a gun-yielding 10-year old gang member works in the film to show how pathological these gangsters are. To deal with such criminals, whose drug ventures are linked to the Pakistani terrorist suicide bombers, the final targets of Wax and Reese, of course requires "unconventional," i.e., lethal methods.)

Wax's guns are almost as ubiquitous as his kufiya.

Here's a different look, with a baseball cap. (I never could figure out why Reese was carrying around the vase with cocaine.)

This is one of the film's "humorous" scenes, which I suppose is intended to lend Wax, who is otherwise preoccupied with killing bad guys non-stop, a human and likable side. Wax is on his way to take out the Pakistani terrorist who is driving Reese's erstwhile girlfriend Caroline on a mission to bomb a summit meeting. Wax gets the driver to play a bit of pop fluff on the radio, and, as he pops his fingers, he tells the driver not to tell anyone that he ever listens to such "soft" music.

I learned today, courtesy a photo in the New York Times, that a kufiya also appears in the new film, The A-Team. Another "tough guy" kufiya.

Here's a photo. That's Bradley Cooper as Lt. Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck on the left, and Liam Neeson as Col. John ‘Hannibal’ Smith on the right.

I suppose I will also need to see that film as well--and I dread that it will be even worse than From Paris with Love. I also plan to see The Book of Eli soon but I have higher hopes for it.

A couple friends have told me that the character of Mercedes wears a kufiya in the TV show Glee. I have not seen the show, and have been unable to track down an image of Mercedes in kufiya. If anyone has any ideas about how I might do so, please, do tell.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

interzone radio show, june 15: podcast + playlist

these can be found here.
music from:
Dhafer Youssef, Tinariwen,
Ralph Marterie, Fufü-Ai...and much more!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Back on the tarbush/fez tip: Shafiq Husayn (plus Edward Said and a kufiya)

Thanks to Omar for turning me on to the video of Shafiq Husayn's "The U.N. Plan," from his album Shafiq En A-Freek-A.

I've mostly paid attention to the video and the general sound, so I'm turning to this account of the lyrics, courtesy The Quietus.

'The U.N. Plan' is about being stuck in a rut, "living in circles". A tight, delicious groove and surging drums accompany vocals about remembering to be a star. They duel with reflections in reverb, saying things like "her name was boo and she left me all alone to expand", as if a consciousness were struggling to put positive light on a situation.

As for the video, there are a number of intriguing elements. Shafiq appears in it in five guises: as a kind of Lonnie Liston Smith in red turban and camo fatigues; as a kind of Rasta-ish boho wearing a knit hat with Ethiopian colors; a somewhat similar look to the former, but with a red hat (you can see this guise in the frame of the embedded video above); in dark glasses and red beret; and finally, and most remarkably, as an old-school Afrocentric intellectual, complete with Malcolm-style glasses and a fez (tarbush).

The provenance of Shafiq's very intello look here is given in an earlier frame, with the titles for the video, when we see this title page, from a text by the Moorish Science Temple, founded by Noble Drew Ali. The fez was part of the outfit worn by adherents of Moorish Science. And in fact, in the photo above, not only does Shafiq recall Malcolm X, but also Noble Drew Ali (see the photo from this previous fez post.)

With these images Shafiq is conjuring with the racialist theories of Moorish Science, which proposes that African-Americans are of Moorish origin. But he also conjures up the image of post-Mecca Malcolm, who abandoned the racialist doctrines of Elijah Muhammad and advocated progressive alliances with peoples of all races. The gentleman sitting at the table with Shafiq-in-fez could be Arab or Hispanic or South Asian. The video also shows images of the Buddha and a text about Tibet.

And then the Shafiq-in-beret is shown with a woman wearing what may be an Islamic headscarf (worn pretty loosely). In one scene the two of them are shown in front of a mural that depicts a woman in red kufiya, who appears to be depicted with "African" features. (The woman also appears with Shafiq-in-red-hat.)

We see a shot of another page of a book toward the end of the video, another text that the Shafiq-in-fez is presumably reading.

Look closely, and you will see that it is the top of page 175 of Edward Said's Orientalism, from Chapter Two, "Orientalist Structures and Restructures." The passage is about Chateaubriand's visit to Egypt.

How cool is that, Edward Said in a music video? Of course, it would be a video from an artist who belongs to the afro-futurist ensemble Sa-Ra Creative Partners, a group that evokes the name, sensibilities, and mythologies of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. A group responsible for production on Erykah Badu's incredible New Amerykah: Part One.

There is no doubt more to say about how expansive and complex is Shafiq Husayn's "U.N. Plan," but I'll leave it there for now.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Kufiyas: new & old (Mavi Marmara, Spike Lee, Madonna)

New kufiyas

Like all Palestinosymps, I've been following the Gaza flotilla outrage obsessively. It has been impressively covered--although not, of course, by the mainstream media in the US. (Did Maddow or Olbermann give it any meaningful coverage?)

My comments are just a side note, motivated by my kufiya obsession. I watched a bit of the live feed from the Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, right before the Israeli attack. One of the things that I noticed was that everyone seemed to be wearing kufiyas of some sort--as scarfs, as headgear, and so on. I did not realize at the time that the passengers on the boat were mostly Turks, mostly affiliated with the IHH.

But it was not just the Turks, it was everyone, it seemed. Here's a photo captured from the live feed, an interview with a British-Asian woman with a red kufiya wrapped around her neck (I did not catch her name).

And here's a photo of one of the Turkish passengers who was wounded in the Israeli assault, from a report from Al Jazeera English which conducted interviews in Istanbul with several of the wounded. (The US media, of course, saw fit to do no such interviews.) Several of the interviewees were adorned with kufiya-patterned scarves and Palestinian flags.

Here's a photo of Irish activist, spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement, which sponsored the flotilla, together with the IHH. (I have lost her name: someone help!) [added, June 8: it's Caiomhe Butterly]

Here's a photo of the ship the Rachel Corrie, with its crew of Irish and Malaysian humanitarians, before it was launched on its mission.

And the kufiya was so scary for the Israelis that it showed up in one of the propaganda photos put out by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to illustrate to what extent the passengers on the Mavi Marmara were armed and ready to "lynch" the Israeli military personnel who landed on the vessel.

So you get the (perhaps all-too-obvious) point. Ubiquity of kufiyas in the Gaza flotilla.

Here's a somewhat silly kufiya item, in my opinion. (No doubt my take on this is influenced by Angry Arab, who is constantly making fun of the seemingly never-ending efforts in Lebanon to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, by making the biggest tabbouleh or the biggest kunafeh or the biggest hummos or whatever.) The world's biggest kufiya, certified as such by the Guinness Book, was put together in an effort to publicize the 62nd anniversary of the Nakba and to call attention to the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, whose conditions are abysmal. The kufiya was sewn by children and youth groups from Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps. I'm all in favor of calling attention to the Nakba and in particular the dire situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. They and their conditions have been criminally ignored, particularly since the so-called "peace process" was launched in the early 90s. But using the Guinness Book as a means of publicity? Symptomatic of the Lebanese disease diagnosed by Angry Arab.

Old kufiyas

I've beem trying to put the current "kufiya craze" in historical context, arguing that there is a history, going back to the early 70s, of the kufiya being used for both political and stylistic purposes in the US. And, I would argue, the line between the two is not fixed and rigid, but rather, fluid, and hard, at times, to delineate. Here are two examples.

From the Village Voice in 1992 (November 10), a photo of Spike Lee, who has just released his Malcolm X movie. (The photo accompanies an article by Hilton Als on Spike and his new film.) How to read the kufiya here? It was all over New York City, worn by hipsters, by lefty politicos, by African-Americans. What sort of message is Spike broadcasting here, in his kufiya and his X baseball cap. Style and politics are intimately linked here, mutually interdependent.

And here is Madonna. Thanks to Nihal for this. I guess this photo is from around 1981-1984, when the kufiya was showing up in the downtown NYC scene, in hip circles.

The kufiya probably circulated with the same white kids who were the first to get into hip-hop, as documented by Jeff Chang in his invaluable Can't Stop Won't Stop. Madonna was part of the crowd at the Roxy, the downtown club that was the first to feature hip-hop, imported from the Bronx. One of the most important hip-hop pioneers in that group was Afrika Bambaata. Here's a photo of him, in faux kufiya.

Clearly more research is needed on the dates of the Madonna and the Bam photos. And, inshallah, a better copy of the Madonna photo.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Henning Menkell's Gaza flotilla diary

This was published today, June 5, in The Guardian, on the 43rd anniversary of the June 1967 war, which led to the occupation of Gaza. I found it incredibly moving, in its very mundane and lowkey description of all the indignities and abuses heaped upon nonviolent humanitarians attempting to bring aid to Gaza. Some of the more memorable passages are excerpted below:

Those who are to board the ships somewhere off the coast of Cyprus are gathering at Hotel Centrum in Nicosia. It's like being in an old Graham Greene novel. A collection of odd people assembling in some godforsaken place to set off on a journey together...

It takes exactly an hour for the speeding black rubber dinghies with the masked soldiers to reach us and start to board. We gather, up on the bridge. The soldiers are impatient and want us down on deck. Someone who is going too slowly immediately gets a stun device fired into his arm. He falls. Another man who is not moving fast enough is shot with a rubber bullet. I think: I am seeing this happen right beside me. It is an absolute reality. People who have done nothing being driven like animals, being punished for their slowness...

We are put in a group down on the deck. Where we will then stay for 11 hours, until the ship docks in Israel. Every so often we are filmed...

Eleven hours, unable to move, packed together in the heat. If we want to go for a pee, we have to ask permission. The food they give us is biscuits, rusks and apples. We're not allowed to make coffee, even though we could do it where we are sitting. We take a collective decision: not to ask if we can cook food.

Then they would film us. It would be presented as showing how generously the soldiers had treated us. We stick to the biscuits and rusks. It is degradation beyond compare...

So in those 11 hours, I have time to take stock. We have been attacked while in international waters. That means the Israelis have behaved like pirates, no better than those who operate off the coast of Somalia. The moment they start to steer this ship towards Israel, we have also been kidnapped. The whole action is illegal...

Quayside somewhere in Israel. I don't know where. We are taken ashore and forced to run the gauntlet of rows of soldiers while military TV films us. It suddenly hits me that this is something I shall never forgive them. At that moment they are nothing more to my mind than pigs and bastards.

We are split up, no one is allowed to talk to anyone else. Suddenly a man from the Israeli ministry for foreign affairs appears at my side. I realise he is there to make sure I am not treated too harshly. I am, after all, known as a writer in Israel. I've been translated into Hebrew. He asks if I need anything.

'My freedom and everybody else's,' I say. He doesn't answer. I ask him to go. He takes one step back. But he stays.

I admit to nothing, of course, and am told I am to be deported. The man who says this also says he rates my books highly. That makes me consider ensuring nothing I write is ever translated into Hebrew again...[I wish he'd demand that Wallander never be shown on PBS until the US changes its Gaza policy. It was the best mystery show I ever saw on PBS, so that would be too bad, but....--TS.]

Agitation and chaos reign in this "asylum-seekers' reception centre". Every so often, someone is knocked to the ground, tied up and handcuffed. I think several times that no one will believe me when I tell them about this. But there are many eyes to see it. Many people will be obliged to admit that I am telling the truth. There are a lot of us who can bear witness.

A single example will do. Right beside me, a man suddenly refuses to have his fingerprints taken. He accepts being photographed. But fingerprints? He doesn't consider he has done anything wrong. He resists. And is beaten to the ground. They drag him off. I don't know where. What word can I use? Loathsome? Inhuman? There are plenty to choose from...

The myth of the brave and utterly infallible Israeli soldier is shattered. Now we can add: they are common thieves. For I was not the only one to be robbed of my money, credit card, clothes, MP3 player, laptop; the same happened to many others on the same ship as me, which was attacked early one morning by masked Israeli soldiers, who were thus in fact nothing other than lying pirates.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Do MIA's gingers stand for Malcolm McLaren?

Is Nabeel right? Do the gingers in MIA's 'Born Free' video really stand for the late (and seriously ginger) Malcolm McLaren? That reading would actually make MIA's vid a little more comprehensible: as both a tribute to the recently departed punkmaster and Situationist, and as a kind of allegory about the threat posed by McLaren style punkers.

Waddya think?

A ginger from MIA's vid:

Mr. McLaren (RIP, ginger):

Not to mention that Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistol fame was (often) a ginger:

Previous post on the MIA vid is here.

interzone radio, podcast for 6/1/10 + muslimgauze + Gaza's DARG Team

the podcast for the june 1 show is here

playlist is here

as you might imagine, as I was preparing this show, I was thinking a lot, obsessing in fact, about Gaza.

(a very good commentary on the Israeli assault on the Freedom Flotilla, from Merip, is here).

so, among the tracks I played were Muslimgauze's "Curfew, Gaza," from the album Zul'm. an earlier post about Muslimgauze can be found here. if you go there, be sure to read the comments. and thanks to Nabeel, I learned about this site, where you can download, for free, the album El Tafkeera: Re-mixs in Remembrance of Muslimgauze. It's produced by Islamophoniacs. (I love the name.)

I also played a track by a rap group from Gaza that I quite like, DARG Team (DARG stands for Da Arabian Revolutionary Guys). You can go here (at to listen to some of their very fine tracks. (And PalRap is a great place to access all sorts of Palestinian rap. But it helps to know Arabic to navigate the site.)