Archive for February, 2011

Sensationalizing Orientalism: The Media’s Hummus and Kebab Analysts

“It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar.”

— Edward W. Said

The word ‘analyst’, routinely fatigued by the mainstream media (MSM), has become comparable to the sound of nails against a chalk-board.

When the media finally caught on to the explosive uprisings in the Middle East they seemingly had  ’experts’ on Tunisia, Egypt, Libya etc. waiting in queue; in this context the term “expert”  being any individual who has convienently waltzed through the most westernized boroughs or whose ventures are pock-marked with xenophobic back-wash outlining categorical divisions between “The West” and “The Arab World”. Evidently, any correspondent who has spent a number of days in Cairo, Beirut et al. on a network tab while downing a falafel sandwich and a bottle of Pepsi was being described as a qualified professional – being able to spit out a number of Arabic words, in the harshest accent mind you, solidified said ‘experts’ proficiency on the subject.

The mainstream media enjoys its vast selection of polished orientalist’s who’ve had an elitist ‘kebab and hummus’ experience, thus have supreme authority over Arab culture in its entirety.

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02 2011

Revolution Cry

I haven’t felt a rush of pride quite like the one I experienced while watching the revolution in Egypt. It was so heartening to see something relatively non-violent (on the part of the protesters, anyway) and so grass-roots. This was something that the people really wanted, and they persisted. It was beautiful to see. It’s the kind of event that would have made Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi proud.

I’m also thrilled to see that the seeds of revolution planted in Tunisia and Egypt are expanding to other parts of the Arab world. Libya, Yemen and Bahrain are the latest countries banding together to overthrow dictators.

I’ve long suspected that if the United States hadn’t interfered in conflicts in Iraq, the people would have taken up the cause themselves to create a more organic overthrow. There’s only so much time that anybody can stand under an oppressive regime.
I do hope, though, that the pictures of violence we’ve seen by rulers unwilling to leave in Libya and Bahrain abet.

It’s sad and disgusting to see Muslim rulers take out their frustration at their population in such a terrifying way. There’s obviously a change coming, and they’re too reluctant to bend to the people’s will.

It’s also been pretty maddening to see American pundits, mostly conservatives but also a fair share of others, who aren’t happy with the way things happened in Egypt. There’s concern over the Muslim Brotherhood taking control. I’ve heard people saying that democracy is just not meant for Arabs. It’s apparently not “part of their DNA.”
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02 2011

Is Life Possible?

Cell Life Cycle

Is life possible? At first glance, it certainly does not seem so, at least on a thermodynamic and molecular level. Our skin cells are replaced every six to eight weeks. Every atom in our body is replaced every year by other atoms that were once created billions of years ago, and light years away. So, in what sense are we the same person from year to year? Definitely not in the physical sense. Nonetheless, we consider ourselves alive, but in what sense do we actually exist? In what sense are we “alive?” Our genetic makeup, though thermodynamically fragile is dynamically repaired and transmits fidelity, but not perfect fidelity. Imperfections arise from time to time usually in the form of a mutation. Without these mutations evolution could not proceed and take its course. Hence, these same entropic forces that threaten to destabilize our very existence and form of life, simultaneously allow us to sustain, maintain and evolve life to higher levels. How and why is this possible? [1]

Food for thought.
[1] Plotkin, Joshua. Short Talk. University of Pennsylvania: Arts and Sciences. Philadelphia, Pa. 19 April 2009.


02 2011

What about Libya?

The Arab world is fired up right now. Paving the way, the people of Tunisia and Egypt have successfully removed their dictators and are in the process of rebuilding their countries. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have sparked anti-government movements across the entire Arab world, after decades of stagnation. And there is no turning back now.

Furious protests are happening now in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Governments are scrambling to do everything they can to stop them, by any means necessary. Still, hundreds of thousands of people are out in the streets protesting with no fear, ready to die in the name of freedom.

Libya is in one of the most dire situations right now. Libyans have suffered under Gaddafi’s tyranny for 42 years. As the longest running dictator in the Arab world, Gaddafi has ruled the nation with an iron fist. Please don’t be fooled by his perceived harmless, flamboyant dress or eccentric behavior. And Arabs, please don’t be bamboozled by his supposed anti-imperialist rhetoric and criticisms of Israel.  His actions speak louder than his words.

Gaddafi’s regime has a poor record for human rights.  He is responsible for the arbitrary arrest, torture and murder of countless prisoners, even without charge or trial. The judiciary is controlled by the regime, and there is no right to a fair public trial. The rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, association and religion are restricted.  Although Gaddafi pretends to be some sort of defender of the Palestinians, he ordered the ethnic cleansing of 30,000 Palestinian refugees from Libya.  His criticisms of Israel are merely a way to deflect criticisms of his own regime. Gaddafi has maintained his rule by using his wealth, playing up the tribal loyalties in Libya and instilling fear in the population.

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02 2011

Bahrain, Ya Bahrain.

Bahrain, Ya Bahrain

I was crying on the way from work.  My tears could not stop.  How could anyone attack people as they slept? … At a traffic light, a policeman approached me. He thought I was crying because of the red light.  I told him – massacre in Bahrain.  His response?

Innocenet Child Murdered

You’re Bahraini? You have family there?  We are all family, I replied.

I have tired of people assuming that only someone from a particular country would be impacted by actions there. I have tired of people asking me: Are you Egyptian? And when I say no, they say, ah, so you’re interested in politics, then? sigh…

I have been – and continue to be – inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, inspired by the rising up of the people and by their success in expelling a dictator.  I am inspired by the protests in Bahrain and Yemen and Algeria and Libya … Many of us are…

I could make the argument that what happens throughout the Arab world does impact us here in Lebanon. I could make the argument that democracy there brings stability here. I could argue that with the change of the government in Egypt – even if in facade only – Israel will be uneasy and thus less likely to attack Lebanon, as a colleague of mine at the university stated today.

Yet, that is not what inspires me. That is not why what is happening – there – is relevant – here.

It is important because people are rising – first and foremost. It is important because when people rise up against injustice, they break their own chains of fear and inspire us all to rise up against injustice. And, yes, the closer the revolt for liberty, the greater an impact it has.  And, yes, when those organizing and protesting are Arab, it means even more to us here in Lebanon.

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02 2011

Apologies for an Empire

The Middle East is often spoke of by the elite and their apprenticed citizens in a way an overlord would speak of his slave; commanding, repressive and domineering. For far too long the West has remained the dominant, hegemonic entity in the region – that is until recently. As of late their role in the Middle East has been threatened, ironically by the very ideal they enjoy planting in territories they occupy  - Democracy.

The fall of Mubarak’s Regime has turned many stomachs, especially those in Israel and Washington. Israel has lost a decisive collaborator and Washington, a vital puppet and strategic ally.

On June 2, 2009, no more than 9 months ago, while speaking to BBC’s Justin Webb prior to his widely-acclaimed speech in Cairo, President Obama refers to recently ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak as a “…stalwart ally of the United States” and a “…force for stability and good”.

If we look at the statements stemming from the Obama Administration and its actions, prior to Mubarak’s much awaited resignation, we will not only witness a cascade of blatant hypocrisy but the pathetic attempts of a waning empire to more or less save-face as they stand face to face with a region ready to break free of imperialist shackles.



02 2011

Life’s Confusion

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Listening to Hamed Saghiri – Bar Madare Tambour

Vying for the votes of 43,000-plus healthcare workers across California’s Kaiser Permanente Healthcare System, The National Union for Healthcare Workers and the Service Employees International Union have been gearing up for this moment for a long time. It is the largest private union battle since 1941 and we are expected to change the shape of American, even international unionism with this election. We have been preparing for the GOTV (Get Out the Vote) stage of the campaign for over a week, about when I joined.

Here I sit in the conference room of the Longshoresman Local 17, a room that one day before we wallpapered with our intricate wall charts. In the corner of the room I am surrounded by binders, papers, records, hundreds and hundreds of names of workers who we believe will vote us, the National Union of Healthcare Workers into victory.

I am listening to the mix of sitar, dulcimer, ney, tombak, and other classical Persian instruments while updating the charts. While crossing names, highlighting boxes, updating binders, wall charts and checking them, the long lulled sound of Saghiri’s sorna, it suddenly hits me. Is it really worth it? I try so hard to be useful, to be as productive as possible. In managing the office, providing support to the field staff, and in serving as the liason for HQ in Emeryville, CA, I scramble to be meticulously accurate even creating work when I have none. But is it really worth it or is this my feeble attempt to keep myself busy? Is it even right? Here we are, union activists paradoxically working nonstop for weeks on end to maintain the 5 day, forty hour work week and so much more that forerunners like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta fought so hard to achieve.

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02 2011