art of resistance, Syria

Jehan Bseiso | Requiem For Raqqa.

raqqa_bread/Scenes from Syrian War: Raqqa, by Molly Crabapple/

Requiem For Raqqa

4th of July fireworks descend hot as acid,
call it chemical, not white phosphorus,
call it mistake, not massacre.

A doctor in East Ghouta tells me one grave holds his entire family.
(you left me)

A pharmacist sends me a voice note saying there is no more Insulin.
(you left me)

A politician in the US doesn’t know what Aleppo is.
(how could you leave me?)

In occupied Jerusalem, a young man says:
“Syria is the Nakba of our generation.”

(you broke my heart)

Hide in a cafe in Marseilles, order Turkish coffee with lots of sugar.
Go to the library in Alexandria, order lots of books about politics.
Stop reading.

Don’t watch Al Jazeera.
Don’t listen to the BBC.
Make up your own mind, says Beirut graffiti.
(but, you left me, you really left me)

It’s been six years since I slept, Syria.

This poem was first published on Mada Masr.

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art of resistance

In Defence Of M.I.A.

mia borders video/photo: ytb-prtsc, Borders video/

There has always been a lot of controversy about M.I.A. and her music, and most of the time for the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t usually take time to write about it, but I feel it’s important to write something because it just doesn’t stop – by it I mean the shitstorm M.I.A. is facing.

Like it was nicely explained on Backwithpowerpower, it really doesn’t stop – from the dislikes she gets for posting photos of refugees and conditions they live in on Instagram, to debates about her headlining Afropunk. Sure, some of the criticism she has faced over the years is justified and it opened up space for conversations  that were much needed (I think Afropunk is in that category), but it’s also important to note that there was a lot of criticism over the years that wasn’t aimed to be constructive, but rather destructive (in relation to M.I.A.).

It wasn’t really about engaging with her, it wasn’t about having a discussion, it was about silencing her, discrediting her – in one fast move, usually. Of course, M.I.A. is a not a one-trick pony and cannot be discarded just like that. Her message resonates with many people, although they might not be the ones having the power in their hands and setting the course of mainstream conversations.

The first thing that comes to mind and is necessary to go back to again, is the famous article published in The New York Times six years ago, written by Lynn Hirschberg, titled M.I.A.’s Agitprop PopIt was the article that made M.I.A. say “fuck the New York Times” and that sentiment was not without a reason.

After it was published, M.I.A. posted two audio recordings from her interview, that she secretly taped. Hirschberg suerly didn’t expect that. In the published piece, M.I.A. is described as “eating a truffle-flavored French fry” as she mused about what type of artist she is. To be precise, here is the quote:

“‘I kind of want to be an outsider’, she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry. ‘I don’t want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I’m a terrorist.'”

Now, if you are an observant reader, truffle-flavoured French fry is not just a small detail, it might tell you a lot about M.I.A.’s personality, it might tell you how she is, well, one of the fancy rich folks, pretending while talking about being an outsider and all.

The thing is, according to the tape M.I.A. posted after the interview was published, it was Hirschberg who introduced the concept of fry-ordering, and proposed the idea of a fancy treat. M.I.A. also tweeted Hirschberg’s phone number in response to the piece. Hirschberg said that was an unethical thing to do, but didn’t think it was surprising. “She’s a provocateur, and provocateurs want to be provocative”, she said about M.I.A.

But M.I.A. was just angry, because she felt that she was cheated on, that her story was distorted. Hirschberg’s own opinions and desire for a strong angle got in the way of her piece’s veracity. All the way through the nine page piece, it feels like she wants to discredit M.I.A., in a subtle way, writing things like:

“But many of her fans didn’t listen too closely to her lyrics, concentrating instead on the beat, the newness of the sound and her own multiculti, many-layered appeal. She was an instant indie darling (although Arular sold only 190,000 copies in the United States). Her songs were creative and abrasive in an intoxicating way, and it didn’t hurt that Maya was absolutely great looking. She quickly became a style icon: like that of all great pop stars, her anger and spirit of revolution was mitigated by sex.”

Now, that is what I am talking about. Hirschberg, whose main issues with M.I.A. are precisely her political lyrics, tries to downplay the importance of that part of M.I.A.’s work – saying how her fans don’t even listen closely to the lyrics. She also says how it’s basically all about her great looks. Sure, M.I.A. is beautiful, she has a unique style and there’s a cool vibe about it, but, her anger wasn’t and isn’t mitigated by sex (that is exactly why many people have issues with her).  In a song 20 dollar, from her second album Kala, M.I.A. raps:

People judge me so hard

’cause I don’t floss my titty set

I was born out of dirt like I’m porn in a skirt

I was a little girl who made good with all that I blurt

I put people on the map that never seen a map

I show ’em something they ain’t never seen

And hope they make it back

Saying M.I.A.’s politics don’t matter means being dismissive about the absolute core of her work, from day one. It’s also totally dishonest, as it is obvious in the part of the article where Hirschberg writes about the Born Free video:

“Seemingly designed to be banned on YouTube, which it was instantly, the video is set in Los Angeles where a vague but apparently American militia forcibly search out red-headed men and one particularly beautiful red-headed child. The gingers, as Maya called them, using British slang, are taken to the desert, where they are beaten and killed. The first to die is the child, who is shot in the head. While ‘Born Free’ is heard in the background throughout, the song is lost in the carnage. As a meditation on prejudice and senseless persecution, the video is, at best, politically naïve.”

So, first we will say that M.I.A.’s political message is not important at all, and then we will discard her on the basis of that political message. Hirschberg was not the only one to do that. In an article on Flavorwire, titled Is It Time To Give Up On M.I.A.? Judy Berman writes:

“The (ultraviolent, NSFW) music video (if you can call it that) for ‘Born Free’ brought M.I.A.’s political posturing to a new low. In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the flap over the seemingly endless clip, it features military types rounding up and shooting redheads, including some particularly adorable children. While some were impressed with M.I.A. and director Romain-Gavras’ messaging, all we got out of the extreme visuals was this: ‘Genocide happens! And it’s bad! What if it happened to you?’ Next time, try telling us something we didn’t know… or at least leaving shocked viewers with some opportunity to get involved in efforts to stop mass murder around the world.”

So, many of the critics got on the bandwagon, saying M.I.A. is just superficial and provocative, and her work is pure political posturing – she’s not really informed, she doesn’t really care, she just wants attention. Now, this definition “she’s not really informed, she doesn’t really care, she just wants attention” can be applied to a great majority of pop stars today (although they will never be nailed to a cross, or even questioned for it), but it cannot be applied to M.I.A.

You don’t see a lot of pop stars doing what she’s doing to “get attention”, do you? You don’t see a lot of mainstream musicians making bold statements and taking a stand on various issues, through their music and their public appearance, do you? Sure, little moments happen from time to time, but they seem very calculated and thought out in order not to shake things up too much. So, why aren’t their PR experts telling them to do what M.I.A. does, if that has been working out so well for her?

Simply because – it’s risky, it will get you in trouble, it upsets the status quo (and status quo is good for business, and business is all that matters). But M.I.A. won’t stick to the rules of business. In Born Free, she raps:

Yeah I don’t wanna live for tomorrow

I push my life today

I throw this in your face when I see ya

I got something to say

I throw this shit in your face when I see ya

Cause I got something to say

We really ought to ask ourselves what we want from our public figures. Should we really aim all the criticism towards the ones who are trying to open up the debate, who are giving space to new voices, who offer us new and different perspectives, who make us think, or make us feel uncomfortable? Are we really going to analyze them in detail, tear them apart, make them disposable? Do we really want to magnify their flaws, present them as the main thing about their work?

And at the same time, we will not say anything about all of those who create music that supports the system, that questions nothing, music that is just a nice sound and nothing else, music that is one long lullaby to our brain. They are ok, the damage that they are doing we do not see and do not question. But from M.I.A. we will demand consistency, adherence to principles all the time, in everything she does. And if she makes one mistake, we will call her a fake and say it’s time to give up on her?

Sure, that doesn’t mean we shloudn’t talk about the issues that exist. I don’t like the fact that M.I.A. decided to be fronting a recycling campaign for H&M, a company that relies on sweatshops and cheap third world labour. Even if you want to say they are making an effort (recycling and all) there’s an issue there too – those who recycle their clothes at H&M, which allows you to turn in garments at its stores year round, get a voucher for a discount on their next purchase, giving them incentive to buy more clothes. So yeah, it’s an issue.

Also, criticism of M.I.A.’s headlining of Afropunk have some truth to them – it is an event conceived by Black people, for Black people. But is it really just her fault, or was it also the organizers, who invited her in the first place? Aren’t they also complicit in erasing Black talent in this case? Those questions also need to be asked and we need to think about them, the same way we need to think about the importance of Black-Brown solidarity.

Now, back to that interview published in The New York Times. In it, it was also emphasized how M.I.A. said that instead of giving peace a chance we should maybe give war a chance, a stance then connected to her “militaristic and rebelious character”. I think this could be discussed on so many levels. For example, watching the Democratic National Convention (!) last week, you could hear much more horrifying things than what M.I.A. has (ever?) said.

General John Allen went out to say (yell might be a better word for it), among other things: “To our enemies, we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us, we will defeat you”. I didn’t see much uproar about his and many other similar views expressed that night. If Hassan Rouhani yelled out something like that, it would be welcomed with terror. Because, you see, from the position of world dominance fueled with the (out of reality) idea of the “greatest nation in the world” it’s hard to recognize your own violent rethoric, your own exclusivity and aggression. That’s why it’s troubling to many when they hear lyrics like the ones in Bucky Done Gone from M.I.A.’s first album Arular:

Can I get control

Do you like me vulnerable

I’m armed and I’m equal

More fun for the people

Recently, M.I.A. has been criticised for her comments about Beyoncé and the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed in the interview in the Evening Standard. “It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me – it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s”, she said.

She later added: “Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV programme, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.” Since the piece was published M.I.A. has clarified her position, saying she wasn’t criticising Beyoncé directly, or BLM, and that her point was that only certain issues are allowed to be discussed on “American platforms”.

What she is really questioning is American exception and hegemony, the larger American imperialist structure. Now, this is where we need to talk about unity, about the way the oppressed people can recognize each other’s struggles and the way their struggles are connected. It’s a chance to talk about the multiple layers of oppression that make up the complex realities we live in. Because it’s not only about racism, it’s not only about imperialism, it’s not only about capitalism, it’s not only about patriarchy. It’s about all of it combined. That is the struggle. Neither one of those alone can serve as a lens to understand all forms of power and all the issues we face – it is just not that simple. We need to recognize that in order to develop true solidarity.

As Akiba Solomon writes in Yes! Magazine, “My lips, so accustomed to spitting out ‘White supremacy’ and ‘racism,’ never once considered ‘patriarchy’ as a way to explain why things were so fucked up for people who were not White, heterosexual, able-bodied, traditionally masculine, cisgender males with money. This was true even as I saw the women closest to me doing feminist work.”

And finally, when it comes to M.I.A., I think one of the most important things about her is (one) that she is holding a mirror and (two) she is trying to own her story. And she won’t be silenced, she won’t play the game politely, she won’t be a puppet. Yeah, she’s flawed, and who isn’t? Unlike many, I think she’s actually willing to talk about it. You may not like what she has to say, and so what? That’s Karmageddon, baby.

Things do change and change can have range

System shouldn’t operate by sticking me in a cage

Ain’t Dalai Lama

Ain’t Sai Baba

My words are my armour and you’re about to meet your karma

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art of resistance

Border Wars | Profiting From Refugee Tragedy.

arms

A new report by Transnational Institute (TNI) is out – it focuses on the arms dealers profiting from the refugee crisis. The report exposes the military and security companies that are winning contracts to provide the equipment to border guards, the surveillance technology to monitor frontiers, and the IT infrastructure to track population movements.

This report turns a spotlight on those border security profiteers, examining who they are and the services they provide, how they both influence and benefit from European policies and what funding they receive from taxpayers. The report shows that far from being passive beneficiaries of EU largesse, these corporations are actively encouraging a growing securitisation of Europe’s borders, and willing to provide ever more draconian technologies to do this.

Most perverse of all, it shows that some of the beneficiaries of border security contracts are some of the biggest arms sellers to the Middle-East and North-African region, fuelling the conflicts that are the cause of many of the refugees. In other words, the companies creating the crisis are then profiting from it.

Under the banner of “fighting illegal immigration”, the European Commission plans to transform its border security agency Frontex into a more powerful European Border and Coast Guard Agency. This would have control over member states border security efforts and a more active role as a border guard itself, including purchasing its own equipment. The agency is backed up by EUROSUR, an EU system connecting member and third states’ border security surveillance and monitoring systems.

borser

The reports shows that the the border security market is booming. Estimated at some 15 billion euros in 2015, it is predicted to rise to over 29 billion euros annually in 2022. The arms business, in particular sales to the Middle-East and North-Africa, where most of the refugees are fleeing from, is also booming. Global arms exports to the Middle-East actually increased by 61 per cent between 2006–10 and 2011–15. Between 2005 and 2014, EU member states granted arms exports licences to the Middle East and North Africa worth over 82 billion euros.

The big players in Europe’s border security complex include arms companies Airbus, Finmeccanica, Thales and Safran, as well as technology giant Indra. Finmeccanica and Airbus have been particularly prominent winners of EU contracts aimed at strengthening borders. Airbus is also the number one winner of EU security research funding contracts.

Finmecannica, Thales and Airbus, prominent players in the EU security business are also three of the top four European arms traders, all active selling to countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Their total revenues in 2015 amounted to 95 billion euros.

Israeli companies are the only non-European receivers of research funding (thanks to a 1996 agreement between Israel and the EU) and also have played a role in fortifying the borders of Bulgaria and Hungary, and promote their expertise based on the West Bank separation wall and the Gaza border with Egypt. Israeli firm BTec Electronic Security Systems, selected by Frontex to participate in its April 2014 workshop on “Border Surveillance Sensors and Platforms”, boasted in its application mail that its “technologies, solutions and products are installed on [the] Israeli-Palestinian border”.

The arms and security industry has successfully captured the 316 million euros funding provided for research in security issues, setting the agenda for research, carrying it out, and then often benefiting from the subsequent contracts that result. Since 2002, the EU has funded 56 projects in the field of border security and border control.

Read the full report here, (and pass it on).

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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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art of resistance, Syria

Five For Friday: Postcards From Syrian Refugees.

Postcards of Hope are the result of a series of art therapy workshops in Ramtha, Mafraq, Irbid and Zaatari camp organised by International Rescue Committee (IRC) . More than 70 Syrian refugees participated in the workshops, mainly women, adolescent girls and boys as well as children.

As it is stated on the official site of the project, “the postcards were a tool to encourage Syrian refugees to dare to dream, dare to hope again and are their messages to the world. Through the postcards created, images, refugee testimonies, and video, the resulting body of work presents a unique insight into the hopes and wishes of Syrian refugees living under harsh conditions.”

I am posting only five postcards today, but be sure to check out the rest.

1. “Despite the pain, the hope remains

IRC-10E

2“I hope to live a flourishing life among my children”

IRC-70

3. “The love between the people”

IRC-43

4. “The calm of the sea”

IRC-36

5. “I hope to go back home”

IRC-26

//all photos © IRC//

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Costs of War

Conversations With History

Iraq War Documentaries

Graphic Novels on Israel & Palestine

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Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan

Five For Friday: Costs of War.

This week, Five For Friday presents five charts and graphics concerning wars in Afganistan, Iraq and Pakistan. These exist thanks to the Costs of War project. First released in 2011, the Costs of War report has been compiled and updated by more than 30 economists, anthropologists, lawyers, humanitarian personnel, and political scientists as the first comprehensive analysis of over a decade of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

The project analyzes the implications of these wars in terms of human casualties, economic costs, and civil liberties. Some of this data is from 2011 and 2012, so have in mind that these numbers are probably significantly higher today.

1. Iraqi IDPs and refugees.

iraq

There are more than 1.5 million internally displaced Iraqis and 1.5 million Iraqi refugees. Fifty-eight percent of Iraqi IDP households are food insecure, consuming only cereals and carbohydrates on a daily basis. Approximately 500,000 people live as squatters in Iraq. For more on this issue, read the Costs of War report.

2. Afghan IDPs and refugees.

afghan

As of 2012, there remained 1.8 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. There are an estimated 447,547 IDPs in Afghanistan (updated). Over half of all Afghans do not have clean water and 63 percent lack effective sanitation. There are an average of 55 health personnel—including doctors, nurses, and midwives—for every 10,000 inhabitants. For more on this issue, see the Costs of War report.

3. Education in Iraq.

io

Education is important. After the 2003 invasion, Iraqi universities were stripped of their cultural artifacts as well as basic equipment—such as books, lab equipment, and desks—that allowed them to function at all. As of 2006, an estimated 160 to 380 Iraqi professors had been killed, and over 30 percent of Iraq’s professors, doctors, pharmacists and engineers emigrated between 2003 and 2007. Up to one million books and ten million unique documents have been destroyed, lost or stolen across Iraq since 2003. The US Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Education received only $8 million dollars to reconstruct Iraqi universities, including the provision of basic supplies. For more on this issue, see the Costs of War report.

4. Direct war deaths: Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

deaths

The tally of all of the war’s recorded dead — including armed forces on all sides, contractors, journalists, humanitarian workers and civilians — shows that over 350,000 people have died due to direct war violence, and many more indirectly. 220,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict, and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as the violence continues. But most observers acknowledge that the number of civilians killed has been undercounted. The true number of civilian dead may be much larger when an adequate assessment is made. For more – see the full Costs of War report.

5. The impact of military spending.

usa

The increased military spending following 9/11 was financed almost entirely by borrowing.  According to standard macroeconomic models and evidence, rising deficits have resulted in higher debt, a higher debt to GDP ratio because debt has risen faster than income, and higher interest rates. There are many other reasons the debt has grown since 2001, including tax cuts, increases in other government spending, and the effects of the largest postwar recession and the policy response.  But military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have raised annual deficits by about 1 percent of GDP, a trend that the Congressional Budget Office expects to continue through 2020. For more on this issue, see the Costs of War report.

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Conversations With History

Iraq War Documentaries

Graphic Novels on Israel & Palestine

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