art of resistance, Iraq

The Option Of Last Resort: Iraqi Refugees.

ira8/photo © Gabriela Bulisova/

There is something special about Gabriela Bulisova’s photography. She documents wars, conflicts, exiles. Her subjects go through tragedies, they are extremely vulnerable and extremely powerful at the same time. Like the countries they come from, they are war-torn. Like the countries they come from, there’s more to them than just war.

The great thing about Bulisova’s photography is that she manages to capture the internal struggle – longing, desperation, sadness, void. It’s in the faces and movements of the people she portrays, but also in everything around them – light and the absence of light, unclear lines, shadows.

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In her series The Option of Last Resort Bulisova follows the stories of Iraqi refugees in United States. Why such a name for the project? For people who seek refugee status in America, the U.S. government offers resettlement as the “option of last resort” for the most vulnerable refugees.

“The masses of people displaced by the war in Iraq have become invisible and insignificant, overshadowed by other war-related events. Many of the displaced were the brains, the talent, the pride, the future of Iraq. Many of them, stigmatized by unforgettable violence, will never return to their homes”, Bulisova writes.

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Many of these refugees dreamed of America as a promised land, but the reality turned out to be very different from that. Once in the United States, they encounter the intricate, challenging, and often disillusioning process of transitioning to life in America.

“Many feel abandoned by the country they helped and risked their lives for; many are unemployed and facing dire financial crises; many yearn for the embrace of family and friends left behind; and many wish they could return home. Still fearful for their own safety and the safety of family members in Iraq, many refugees asked that I not reveal their faces or names”, Bulisova writes.

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“I want to feel like a human being again” is a sentence you can hear refugees repeating. It made me think of so many other refugee and exile stories – captured in stories, poems, novels. The same thought is present in all of them. Human being. To feel like a human being.

But for many – it just doesn’t seem to happen. There are no changes. They are, like Nadia Anjuman wrote – “lost in a sea of darkness, emptied of the thought of time, that eternal pit”. They are asking, like Mahmoud Darwish asked – “are we to remain like this, moving to the outside, in this orange day, only to touch the dark and vague inside?”

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In 2015, the escalation of armed conflict across the central governorates of Iraq, and the constantly changing security situation, resulted in new and secondary movements of internally displaced people across central Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

UNHCR reports that newly displaced people in Iraq find their limited financial resources quickly depleted by the increasing costs of accommodation and basic foods. The number of Iraqis seeking refuge in other countries is still rising and it will not stop, atleast not considering the (political) solutions we have so far.

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It makes me think of Riverbend, again and again. “In 2003, we were counting our lives in days and weeks. Would we make it to next month? Would we make it through the summer? Some of us did and many of us didn’t.

Back in 2003, one year seemed like a lifetime ahead. The idiots said, ‘Things will improve immediately.’ The optimists were giving our occupiers a year, or two… The realists said, ‘Things won’t improve for at least five years. And the pessimists? The pessimists said, ‘It will take ten years. It will take a decade'”, she wrote in 2013.

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Years went by, more than a decade passed. Iraq Body Count still counts the bodies, they still have a lot of work to do. The website says: Tuesday, 29 December: 36 killed. Monday, 28 December: 65 killed (30 children executed in Qayyarah).

Civilian deaths are almost doubling every year. What will the new year bring us? What will we bring to it? What will we do with all the possibilities? Can we make people feel like human beings again?

//all photos © Gabriela Bulisova//

For more on this and her other projects, visit Bulisova’s official website.

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art of resistance, Iraq

The Book To Read: Night Draws Near.

tumblr_mxq7ppmmuh1rouua1o10_500/photo © Jehad Nga: Something in the WayIraq, 2010/

I often search for books on Iraq written by reporters who’ve spent a lot of months and years writing, understanding, witnessing – trying to come as close as possible to the truth of it all. Anthony Shadid was one of those reporters.

Shadid was a Lebanese-American writer, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times based in Baghdad and Beirut. He died three years ago, from an acute asthma attack while attempting to leave Syria.

I finally read his book Night Draws Near: Iraq’s people in the Shadow of America’s War. The book was published almost ten years ago, and it might seem I am really late for reading this. The sad truth is that Iraq today is not much different from the one Shadid describes in the book – in it, the night draws near fast and everything is ghamidha, ambigious.

Shadid writes: “Baghdad is a city of lives interrupted, its history a story of loss, waiting, and resilience. In the days before the American invasion in March 2003, the capital scarred by war after war felt torn, aggrieved, and filled with longing for the greatness it once possessed and has never forgotten.”

jead/photo © Jehad Nga/

He is great at observing how the greatness Baghdad once possessed plays a formative role in Iraqi culture of memory:

Rome can still see its past, the magnificence of its ancient empire gracing the modern cityscape. Paris and London, storied cities reinventing themselves as they age across centuries, live in their histories, which surround them. Baghdad, its ancient grandeur utterly destroyed, cannot see its past, its glory. It can only remember. Baghdad’s is a culture of memory, the city that draws strength and pride from the myths to which it continually returns. But the curse of recalling is the reminder of what has been lost.”

This book is a rare accomplishment because its focus is almost entirely on Iraqi people and the way this long war cripples their lives. Unlike many reporters, Shadid doesn’t forget that and doesn’t end up writing a book about himself (which is what many journalists do). He went independently through Iraq, detached from US forces, and on daily basis he asked the Iraqi people how they feel about the state of affairs in their country.

The dichotomy of the war (Washington vs. Baghdad, media vs. reality) becomes very obvious in this book. The war that is at the same time proclaimed a liberation and an occupation, is after all and before all – a war. Shadid notes all the little frustrations of the people – who cannot understand the efficiency of a superpower (US) that can take out their leader in couple of weeks, but is so inefficient in keeping the electricity running.

Throughout the book, we meet Iraqi people, different people with different backgrounds (social status, education, religion), and see how all their lives became similiar – reduced to war. We meet, for example, fourteen-year-old girl, Amal, who kept a diary starting around the beginning of the war. We see how she changes with time, how war changes her.

Shadid alo explains how fundamentalist used the growing hatred of America and found a way to appeal to young people – mostly desperate, without work and sense of purpose (and future) in life. At the same time when I read this book, I was also reading The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmina Khadra, and it is just incredible how similiar these books are in their atmosphere – although Khadra’s book is a work of fiction.

Night Draws Near is a truly important book – for all of us to understand, for all of us to bare witness. That is the fair thing to do, that is the least we can do.

Through its storied history, Baghdad has had many names. Its medieval Abassid rulers knew it as Medinat al-Salam, the City of Peace. I hope it returns to that.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

Anti-Arab Racism in the USA

A Tale of Love and Darkness

Afghanistan, Were God Only Comes to Weep

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Afghan Women by Farzana Wahidy.

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The Afghan city of Kunduz was seized by the Taliban this week. A hospital in Kunduz was bombed today during the US airstrike – Medecins Sans Frontieres says it gave the coordinates of hospital (hit by an airstrike that killed at least 19 people) to US forces several times.

Another 19 human beings and all their lives are now being reduced to collateral damage. Afghanistan, and all the other war-torn places can’t seem to leave my head…

Farzana Wahidy was born in Kandahar and moved to Kabul at the age of six. She attended school during the years of the Afghan civil war. After the Taliban came to power and prohibited the education of women, she secretly attended an underground school located in an apartment with three hundred other girls (it made me think of Nadia Anjuman and the Golden Needle Sewing School).

And Anjuman’s verses just keep on reappearing in front of my eyes, falling all around – sounds of shattered glass.

One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

But back to Wahidy now. When the Taliban were defeated Wahidy continued her education, completing high school then enrolling in a two-year program sponsored by AINA photojournalism Institute. In 2004 she began working part-time as a photojournalist for AFP becoming the first female Afghan photojournalist to work for an international wire service. She continues to freelance for a number of international news outlets.

These are some of the photos from her Afghan Women series.

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/all photos © Farzana Wahidy/

I’d like to end this post with one more Afghan woman I admire and often think of – Setara from the Afghan Star. I don’t know where and how she is now, but I hope music still lifts heaviness from her heart and she still manages to look life in the eyes with a smile.

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• • •

For more on Farzana Wahidy and her work, visit her official website.

For more on Nadia Anjuman and her poetry, visit Circumference.

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art of resistance, Yemen

Yemen: The Melody of Our Alienation.

max pam/image © Max Pam, Ramadan in Yemen (1993)/

“What could I say about Yemen that did it justice. I tried in my journal to work it honestly. I tried with 60 rolls of black and white 120 film to translate the experience. That hot, spare and beautiful Ramadan.

No eating or drinking anything between sunrise and sunset. The faithful waiting for the moment. The cannon booms from the mosque in the afterglow of the day. KABOUMMM and a frenzy of quat buying, tea drinking and food eating begins in the suqs and squares and oases and towns all over the country. Everyone happy, elated laughing and joking sitting down together as one nation.

And you know what, people always wanted me to share and be part of their Ramadan, their community, their Yemen. I travelled all over the country with them. To Shibam, Taizz, Al Mukallah, Sanaa, over the desert, by the sea and into the mountains. The shared taxis were always a half past dead Peugeot 405’s with sometimes 10 or 12 people jammed in.

The 92 pages of this book give my version of that unforgettable Ramadan month. An experience freely given to me by the generosity of Yemeni people.”

That is how Max Pam described his experience of Yemen twenty-two years ago, summed up in his journal Ramadan in Yemen.

Twenty-two years later in Yemen, at least 120 people are dead after Saudi-led airstrikes pummeled a residential neighborhood in the western port city of Mokha late Friday. It was the deadliest wave of bombings since the U.S.-backed campaign against Houthi rebels began in March. The strikes hit a housing complex for power plant workers, flattening buildings and sparking fires that spread throughout the neighborhood and burned alive women, children and elderly.

One of the Mokha residents described the onslaught: “There were continuous airstrikes without any breaks. And we have no military men, no devils. We don’t even have gunmen around here. We couldn’t get to our children. There were some 20 bodies that I pulled out with my own hands and counted. Who is to blame for this?”

The ceasefire took effect Sunday night at midnight, but within hours both sides said the other had resumed attack.

As Yemeni poet Abdulaziz Al Maqaleh asks in The Melody of Our Alienation: “Has nonsense become common sense? Has the non-rational become rational?”

His poem comes to my mind because it is a beautiful act of devotion and hope in these bad times for Yemen. But, it also comes to my mind because the title The Melody of Our Alienation illustrates the position of the outside world towards Yemen (and not just Yemen) perfectly. All these wars and conflicts played to the tunes of our alienation – from the rest of the world, from ‘others’, from anything and everything that is not Me, Myself & I.

Watch and listen. In the end, The Melody of Our Alienation is a reminder that no matter how strange the city of Sana’a (and Yemen in general) feels now, its people are not strangers in their own city. It is their city. It is where they belong. It is where they will make a difference as agents of peace.

“Sana’a.. Even if she slept on its sorrows for some time. Even if she caved in and the numbness took too long. Her morning shall revolt in the face of darkness. And certainly… The rain will one day wash away her drought.”

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

The ‘Victory’ in Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN.  Dasht-e-Qala, Northeast region. Northern Alliance troops marching. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. Dasht-e-Qala, Northeast region. Northern Alliance troops marching. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

The following article was written by Demian Vokši and it makes me happy it is first published here on Middle East Revised.

In the heat of the race for the 2016 US presidential election primaries, Jeb Bush – brother of the former US president George W. Bush, admitted that he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 if he had been in his older brother’s shoes. [1] Faced with overwhelming outrage over such a confession, he tried to point out that Hillary Clinton would have done the same, and then tried to dump the blame for the Iraq catastrophe on Obama but damage was already done.

The upheaval over his statement was huge and the degree to which the sentiment is controversial is telling a lot: a US presidential candidate, even a republican one is esentially comitting professional suicide by admitting his support for the 2003 invasion. Such is the legacy of Iraq- an illegal war built on a foundation of lies, resulting in an estimated half a million civilian deaths, destabilizing a whole country and pushing it towards a civil war which resulted in the birth of the so called ‘Islamic State’.

But for all the outrage which is being made about Iraq, it seems that its older brother, the War in Afghanistan is getting none of it. The Afghanistan war, spearheaded by the United States and later led by NATO has been perceived legitimate by almost everyone who cared to comment about it, and has been supported by virtually all of the top players on the global political scene.

In the Afghanistan- Iraqi tandem, the Afghanistan war is seen as, how Tariq Ali had put it in his 2008 essay, the „Good War“ [2], a legitimate and legal older brother of the failure that is the War in Iraq. Such a reasoning is inherently flawed- it ignores the geopolitical context of the invasion, it downplays the histories of Afghanistan and the very important neighbouring Pakistan, and it creates space for making the same mistakes in Afghanistan which were made in Iraq- mistakes which are already in the process of repeating themselves.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. 2001. Refugees living in the ex Russian embassy compounds.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. 2001. Refugees living in the ex Russian embassy compounds. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

To explain Afghanistan we would have to go back to in time. The initial reason for the invasion were the terrorist attacks of 9/11 after which the US commenced Operation Enduring Freedom by bombing Afghanistan extensively in order to eliminate terrorist training camps. In order to succesfully operate in Afghanistan the US had to secure the cooperation of Pakistan. On the surface it would seem that Pakistan, a long term US ally, would not object to the US operations in Afghanistan but the reality is that the Taliban were basically an extension of Pakistan in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, especially its secret service ISI, had been a major player in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion. Although the horifically inept Afghan Communist Party had kickstarted the Mujahideen rebellion in Afghanistan by rash and not particularly thought out implementation of land and social reform (even Soviet officials suggested a more gradual implementation) thus pulling the Soviet Union into Afghanistan to protect the interests of its ally state, the US and Pakistan had exploited that chain of events to the best of their abilities.

The US has supplied Pakistan’s ISI with military equipment and money, and ISI has channeled those resources to fuel the Mujahideen rebellion in Afghanistan. The US logic behind this was obvious- to hurt the Soviet Union and give them its own Vietnam, and the Pakistani logic was that if Afghanistan fell in Soviet hands, the Soviet Union would be just a step away from its long time wish – a warm water port, possibly in Pakistan itself.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. The river. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. The river. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

After the Soviet withdrawall, the US lost its interest for Afghanistan, and Pakistan was now unable to control the warring fractions of the Mujahideen which engaged in a civil war across the country. Therefore it turned to the new rising force, the Taliban. The Taliban were largely groomed in Pakistan’s Madrassas – Islamic seminaries.

The students in those Madrassas (and the word Taliban literally means students in Pashto) came from the Afghan refugee population and the local Pakistani population- poor families unable to support all of their children would often send their sons to Madrassas because the Madrassas would not only grant them education in a country with an underdeveloped educational infrastructure, but would also house and feed them during their stay thus relieving the family of that burden.

Thus, the rise of the Taliban in the 90’s (although they had already been active in the 80′) was navigated by Pakistan as a way to stabilize Afghanistan, to lead it out of the civil war phase and to ensure that the country is calm enough so Pakistan can go on with the new energy deals which would connect it with the rest of Central Asia, whose infrastructure would have to go through Afghanistan. The need for such energy deals has been a vital interest for Pakistan who to this very days still suffers from energy reductions.

Meanwhile the US mainly kept away from the issue of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It even tried to dissuade Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Mujahideen leader of the opposition to the Taliban, from putting up a fight. He refused to surrender. Only after several Al Qaeda operations against US targets in the 90’s, had the US started to cooperate with Massoud and his Northern Alliance.

AFGHANISTAN. . Southeast region. On the road to Tora Bora refugees escaping from the conflict areas. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. . Southeast region. On the road to Tora Bora refugees escaping from the conflict areas. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan (one of the three states, together with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has recognized the Taliban led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) had to turn its back on its most succesful foreign policy, at least oficially, and had lent its help to the US, and the NATO operations in Afghanistan.

The US started a bombing campaign designed to rout the Al Qaeda forces from Afghanistan and to end the Taliban support for the terrorist organization. Interestingly, in October 2001, not long after the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Taliban had offered to hand Osama bin Laden to a third country under conditions that the US stop their bombardment and that they offer proof that bin Laden is guilty of the 9/11 attacks. Bush turned the offer down. [3] The invasion went underway, and was soon enough taken over by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by NATO forces with the goal of combating Taliban and Al Qaeda forces and rebuilding the country.

Almost 14 years later ISAF concluded Operation Enduring Freedom on December 28, 2014 with not much accomplished. After the initial show of force and establishing its presence in the whole of the country, NATO, led by US forces had been caught in a lenghty and tiring assymetric warfare with the Taliban forces. The number of the Taliban fell from the inital estimate of 40 000 fighters, only to rise again in recent years.

AFGHANISTAN. Kalakata front line, Northeast region. A Northern Alliance soldier jumps out from the truck bringing him to the front line. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. Kalakata front line, Northeast region. A Northern Alliance soldier jumps out from the truck bringing him to the front line. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Their number in 2015 is estimated to be 60 000 in Afghanistan and there are more of them in Pakistan. Accordingly, although the number of Taliban attacks fell during the initial years of the NATO operations, they have risen again in 2013 and especially in 2014. [4] The reasons for the spike in attacks can be attributed to the fact that the Taliban were simply waiting for the foreign forces to leave and were starting to intensify their attacks when the US withdrawal was underway.

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) consisting of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) have proved time and time again to be not particularly cohesive [5], have been described as generally unprepared [6], are plagued by corruption (especially the police) and desertions. The number of ANA troops fell from 184 839 in February 2014 to 169 203 in November 2014 with the complete number of ANSF forces being 34 000 people short of the 325 000 projected goal for the end of 2014. [8]

An incompetent army, low on numbers and morale rings dangerously similar to the American  project of disbanding the army and building it from scratch in Iraq, only to see that army being blasted away by the forces of the ‘Islamic State’ again and again. The danger is only amplified in Afghanistan which has an unpleasant tradition of being utterly unmanageable by any unprepared invading or even domestic force since Alexander the Great, and then through the British wars, the Communist period, the Soviet invasion, Mujahideen civil war and lastly the US/NATO invasion.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. Chicken street. The woman showing me a drug prescription. 2001.

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul. Chicken street. The woman showing me a drug prescription. 2001. Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos

Although Operation Enduring Freedom has ended, NATO forces have mantained a presence in Afghanistan through the new Resolute Support Mission devised to advise ANSF. The US have also started Operation Freedom’s Sentinel devised to root out the remnants of Al Qaeda form Afghanistan [9] although Al Qaeda has not been a significant force in Afghanistan for years now and has since started a number of other branches including one in Iraq (which has evolved into the ‘Islamic State’), and in the Arabian Peninsula (which has, among plentiful other activities, managed to pull off an attack in January this year in Paris, targeting the magazine Charlie Hebdo). Such a lasting commitment in Afghanistan also goes against Obama’s promise of a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan by the ond of 2014, later prolonged to 2016.

With the US desperately chasing remaining irrelevant Al Qaeda members in Central Asia so it could somehow justify the immense civilian deaths, the 14 year long strain on the economy and the, if seen in the light of recent Taliban successes and gains, failed attempt to eradicate radicalism from Afghanistan, the game has transferred into other parts of the world.

Terrorism has gained a globally distributed network, and new centres from which it can operate. The US was not particularly opposed to negotiating with the Taliban when it has not had an interest in Afghanistan so why should it be difficult to negotiate now? After all, the Afghan government is already negotiating peace talks with Taliban leaders [10], and considering all of the US support for the most repugnant dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, the Afghan government-Taliban cooperation is not really something that impossible to imagine being supported by the US.

In the end, the War in Afghanistan has proved to be a particularly gruesome child of the imperialistic Wolfowitz doctrine and the knee-jerk reaction to the 9/11 attacks which could have been handled much better. In fact, it could not have been handled worse. Its enduring legacy is 20 000 dead civilians [11], almost 2 000 000 refugees [12], and a country not much better than it was to begin with, with a dangerous tendency of turning to worse. Iraq’s older brother, the „Good War“ has proved itself not to be so good in the end.

[1] http://time.com/3853505/jeb-bush-iraq-war/

[2] http://newleftreview.org/II/50/tariq-ali-afghanistan-mirage-of-the-good-war

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/14/afghanistan.terrorism5

[4] http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=50111#.VWoKGu_a9TQ

[5] http://rt.com/op-edge/178404-afghanistan-shooting-security-soldiers/

[6] http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/afghanistans-army-still-unprepared

[7] http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/1/12/afghanistan-s-3-6billionpoliceproblembrokensystemsandcorruption.html

[8] http://www.stripes.com/news/casualties-desertions-spike-as-afghan-forces-take-lead-1.332504

[9] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/12/29/meet-operation-freedoms-sentinel-the-pentagons-new-mission-in-afghanistan/

[10] http://www.wsj.com/articles/taliban-afghan-officials-to-meet-for-peace-talks-1424335356

[11] http://www.costsofwar.org/sites/default/files/Direct%20War%20Death%20Toll%20in%20Iraq,%20Afghanistan%20and%20Pakistan%20since%202001%20to%20April%202014%206%2026.pdf

[12] http://costsofwar.org/article/afghan-refugees

• • •

//all photos © Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos//

For more on Demian Vokši and his writing, contact him at demian.voksi@gmail.com.

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art of resistance

Horace Campbell on Boko Haram & Nigeria.

Last Friday, Democracy Now did a great show concerning Nigeria and Boko Haram. The guests were Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations for Amnesty International USA, Rona Peligal, deputy director of Africa Division for Human Rights Watch, and Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University.

15287339777_d1f69c76dd_b/Horace Campbell, photo via Miscellanynews/

Campbell is the one that stole the show, with his on-point answers and the big picture analysis. Speaking about the rise of insurgence groups, he said:

“And what we’re describing in northern Nigeria and the scale of what has taken place in Baga clearly could not be the work of some groups of militias. So we’re dealing with many different entities here. And in the specific case of Nigeria, we’re dealing with the political struggles for control of the state, so that in the case of Nigeria, we have Boko Haram, or the elements that are called Boko Haram, that are financed from inside the top levels of the state apparatus. And the intensification of the killings and destabilization of Nigeria at the moment is directly related to the upcoming and forthcoming elections on February the 14th.”

He asked three important questions about Boko Haram and Nigeria in general:

“What is the role of the United States government in the knowledge that they have about Boko Haram? That’s a first point I want to make.

A second point is, with John Kerry, what do they know about the role of Chad in Baga and the relationship between Chad and those who are providing missiles and resources to Boko Haram and the destabilization of Nigeria?

The last point I want to make is that when there was a vote at the United Nations about Palestine a month ago, John Kerry called the Nigerian government to change its vote about Palestine half an hour before the vote was made. He called Goodluck Jonathan. Clearly, they have information about the compromised leaders in the Nigerian state who are financing Boko Haram. Why do they not bring that information to the African Union, to the United Nations, so that there’s an exposure of all of the forces—in Chad, in France, in the Cameroon and in the Nigerian leadership—who are financing Boko Haram?”

Campbell continued to say that Nigeria is by far the most dynamic force in Africa, describing how: “what everyone fears at the moment is the mobilization of the Nigerian people, as the people mobilized in Egypt or the people mobilized in Burkina Faso, to remove corrupt elements. So, there is a merger of forces of exploitation in Nigeria. Militias are being used against the people. The humiliation, violation and exploitation of women has reached the most obscene levels. And the accumulation by the Nigerian political class—40 percent of the oil wealth from Nigeria is siphoned off by that political class. The Boko Haram struggle is a struggle about who will control the billions of dollars, 10,000 barrels of oil per day, that is siphoned out of Nigeria.

The United States government have the information about bunkering, about exportive capital, about financing Boko Haram. The United States government used that information selectively in order to get what they want from the Nigerian government. Note, 40 years ago, the president of Nigeria, Murtala Mohammed, was called by Henry Kissinger when the Nigerians supported the Angolans and the Cubans in Southern Africa. And the Nigerians were very important at that point to tell Henry Kissinger, ‘Go to hell.’ Murtala Mohammed, the president of Nigeria, was killed after that, because Nigeria was not going along with what the United States want. We need a movement here to expose the collusion between the United States, the oil companies and the political class, who use elements such as Nigeria and Boko Haram to destabilize Nigerian society.”

He also reflected on the role of Chad:

“What we must ask ourselves is: How is it that the former governor of Borno State becomes part of the delegation of the government of Chad, when we have this notion that Chad was going to be a mediator? And the government of Nigeria spent millions of dollars to organize bringing back the girls, only to find out that elements from within the Chadian government were supplying weapons and missiles to Boko Haram from Sudan.

So, there is a wide web that we need to penetrate and investigate that we’re not dealing simply with some armed, wild-eyed young people. There is a conspiracy against the Nigerian people so that Nigeria is not stable, peaceful, so that the people can have a good quality of life.”

Watch the full interview on Democracy Now.

• • •

To end this post, here’s some great tunes from Nigeria. Salawa Abeni calling for equal rights.

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art of resistance, Iraq

The Book To Read: Late For Tea At The Deer Palace.

Tamara Chalabi’s Late For Tea At The Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family was the book I was really struggling with. It’s not because the book is poorly written or hard to read (quite the opposite), I was struggling with my inner thoughts and my own opinions of the people Chalabi wrote about, which were (most of the time) in contrast with the picture Chalabi painted throughout the book. But that is exactly why I wanted to read it and why I feel the need to write about it.

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/Late For Tea At The Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi/

My first reservation towards this book stemmed from the fact that Tamara’s father is Ahmed Chalabi, who helped US government in launching war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (for more about him, you can read Aram Roston’s book The Man Who Pushed America To War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi). After years in exile, Ahmad Chalabi entered Baghdad in 2003 as a would-be president of the new Iraq but he never reached that goal. In Late For Tea At The Deer Palace, Tamara Chalabi trys to stand outside her father’s shadow. In the first pages of the book, she writes:

“Everybody asks me about my father. He has been labelled a maverick, a charlatan, a genious. He has been named as the source of supposedly faulty intelligence that led America into the war in Iraq. He has been called a triple agent for the Us, Iran and Israel. But this is MY story.”

Still, the whole story of Late For Tea At The Deer Palace is based on memories of Chalabi family, so keeping a distance from certain aspects of her father’s story and his character was just impossible. The history of the Chalabi family is quite amazing. Pre-Saddam, the Chalabis held high rank: they were prominent Shia Muslims, part of the wealthy power elite, occupying positions of prestige and responsibility from the Ottoman Empire to the time of the national government. The Deer Palace was the nickname for the Chalabi mansion in Baghdad. Chalabi writes:

“The magnificent dining table could seat twenty-four, and was used for official receptions Abdul Hussein [Chalabi] held for personages such as the King, members of the Cabinet, official foreign visitors or the British High Commissioner.”

For the most part, the Chalabis were loyal to Nuri Said, the long-time British puppet who’d been part of Lawrence’s Arab Revolt in 1917 and who, until 1958, was the power behind the Iraqi throne. When the monarchy  was toppled in 1958, they fled to London.

The main character of the book is Bibi, Ahmed’s mother, a matriarch who’s quite spoiled and a snob, but also very fierce and determined in controling the lives of the others in the family. Her royal status was always extremely important to her, and the event that might illustrate this the best was when the family temporarily relocated and had to live without servants, in an apartment in London. Bibi was enraged to see her husband, Hadi, making baklava for the family, telling him she “didn’t marry a confectioner.”

chalabi family/The Chalabi Family, photo via NY Times/

It was so hard for me to relate to these people and to feel any kind of compassion. Tamara’s writing is gripping, captivating, but her main characters were just not that easy to identify with. I felt more sympathy towards their servants who were shortly mentioned from time to time. I didn’t have the same experience when reading Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, although the story was also from the perspective of a privileged family and a person who was part of the elite. In Chang’s book I felt a deep awareness of that fact (being privileged fact) and the great modesty of her family, while in the story of Chalabis – there is not a lot of that, and that makes it a little repulsive.

All that being said, I still think this is an important book and I would recommend reading it. It offers ‘the other side of the story’ on many levels, primarily two: privileged elites versus ‘regular’ masses and exile versus motherland. It is a well-told saga and a whole century of Iraqi culture and history is at times greatly woven into the story. Chalabi writes:

“Does exile ever really end? Rather than being a physical separation from a place, I believe that it is essentially a state of mind. It grows and evolves, taking on a life of its own. To have an inheritance of exile is a never-ending journey between myth and reality. Part of my coming to terms with Iraq entails accepting a reality that was built on an old dream; the dream of another home.”

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

A Sky So Close by Betool Kheadiri

My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness

Suad Amiry & The Absurdity of Life Under Occupation

Sohrab Sepehri & The Water’s Footfall

and more.

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