Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Betrayers or the Betrayed?

On Saturdays, I like to listen to NPR's Wait, Wait, don't Tell Me and This American Life while I leisurely clean up the house. Last week, I was off to a slow start, so I ended up listening to Studio 360, which had an Iraq themed show. They talked about the lackluster performances of Iraq films at the box office and later interviewed Kimberly Pierce, the director of Boys Don' Cry who has now made Stop Loss.

But then they got to George Packer, and a play he has made about locals collaborating with US forces in Iraq. The play and the article on which it was based are called, ironically, Betrayed. Of course Packer is not using the word "betrayed" in the sense that most Iraqis would use it when referring to these people: most Iraqis would probably say that the collaborators have betrayed their own people, whereas for Packer, it is the US that has betrayed these servants who for a few dollars, er, I mean, out of their loyalty to the US project in Iraq, joined the US forces as interpreters, errand boys, etc.

In the scene that NPR broadcast from the play, a woman interpreter is harassed or beaten or killed (clearly I was too angry to pay too close of attention to this thing) by some undetermined group of "fundamentalists." For Packard, who apparently was pro-war before and for some time after the invasion, the Iraqi people as a whole did not and do not need protection against devastating sanctions and the invaders of their country. Only the handful who have worked with the coalition forces are the ones in need of protection, and they need to be protected against other Iraqis, or as he puts it, fundamentalists (and never mind that the rise of fundamentalism in Iraq is itself traceable to US sanctions and war).

But it seems no one dares to point these things out to Mr. Packard. Certainly the fawning NPR reporter isn't going to do it. And Mr. Packard surely has enough pet Iraqis, for example the pro-occupation dentist turned blogger that Packard brought to the US, that will be more than happy to condone everything that comes out of his mouth. How could they not? You can't bite the hand that feeds you. Well, you can, but it requires some principle, and people who cooperate with invading armies are generally lacking in that.

This sponsoring of bloggers, by the way, seems to be a family business. Mr. Packard's wife, in fact, has brought two of her own, an Iranian couple. I'd like to say more, but because I don't want to make this a personal attack and because the Iranian blogger is a friend of sorts, I I will leave it at that.

More broadly, however, someone should look at the bring-an-Iraqi (and now, increasingly, bring-an-Irani) phenomenon, and the power grids that make them possible. Who are the real beneficiaries of these relationships, the local who gets "saved" by the compassionate American journalist, or the American journalist, who will build a career and collect countless accolades as a result?

Friday, March 28, 2008

1. I was sorry when I heard last week that Iranian folk singer Shusha Guppy had passed away. I have one of her CDs, I think its called Persian Love Songs or something. The album consists of well-known folk songs, but her unique voice and delivery made you feel like you had never heard them before. I have to say, however, that I could only take her music in small doses.

Unfortunately, I read the sad news of her death via this idiotic Guardian obituary , which annoyed me so much by paragraph two, that I couldn't read any further.

Roger Scruton, the author of said obituary, states in the second sentence that Guppy was the daughter of grand Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Assar. In the second paragraph, he notes: "Although Assar enjoyed the title of Grand Ayatollah, and was in all probability a direct descendant of Muhammad, he had absorbed the open-minded philosophy of the Sufi masters, was an admirer of western civilization, and sent his children to the French lycée for their education."

Did you notice the word "Although" ? In the worlds inhabited by the author and his readers, Islam and muslims are equated with all that is evil, backwards, close-minded, closed-in, and violent. But in this world, there are also some "good" muslims as well, they are either the ones who either enthusiastically bash Islam and only Islam, or they are the "Sufis," you know, the "spiritual" and peaceful ones. Roger Scruton has to immediately throw that "although" out there right away or risk tainting the subject of his obituary: It is as if he is saying, "Yes, it's true that she was a child of a Grand Ayatollah, but don't hold it against her, he was in any case influenced by the Sufis."

Well, I hate to burst the oblivious bubble of people basking in some kind of hippie sufi love, but there is no singular entity known as "the sufi" or "the beliefs" of "the sufi."

And here is a fun fact that may really confuse the hell out of these folks who fetishize sufism as a somehow exceptional type of Islam: Former Iraqi Vice president, Ezzat Ad-duri, is a Naqshbandi Sufi, and his Naqshbandia Army is responsible for all sorts of attacks against occupation forces in Iraq.

2. There is a Canada-based Iranian blogger who scours the Net on a daily basis, looking for anything and everything that can be used to make Iran or Islam look like the pits of hell. He then re-posts his findings with glee on his own English and Persian blogs, as well as an Iranian equivalent of the site Digg. Well, this poor guy has been killing himself the last few posts it seems, trying to draw attention to the crappy video of the islamo-phobic fascist who made that anti-muslim "film." Luckily, the reaction to this video has been relatively "muted". I certainly hope it stays this way.

The best way to deal with pigs like this video-maker and the hapless Iranian blogger in Canada doing his bidding, is to ignore their blatant attempts at being provocative. Don't name them, don't link to them, don't click on the video. This is my advice to anyone who is tempted to talk about the whole thing. If you really want to vent about it, do so without giving these thugs and fools the satisfaction of having their names mentioned even on some random blog.

3. And now, for a little happiness, check out the enthusiasm of this little boy during his graduation from pres-school, his pure joy is just contagious:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dead Men Speak Volumes

Making sense of US and UK announcements of casualty figures in Iraq or Afghanistan is not always straightforward. For example, the US government openly says that it may not reveal information about those killed or wounded in say, the Green Zone, for "security" reasons. In some ways, it makes sense, revealing the names of civilian war profiteers, mercenary contractors, and local collaborators who die or are wounded in the green zone is tainting. Somewhere deep down inside, most of these people probably feel burdened by the shame of what they are doing.

But even if names are not always available, and the coalition forces are not always forthcoming, every now and again, random news of deaths inside and outside of the green zone raises questions that the US and the UK would rather avoid at all cost. For example, what was this man doing in Baghdad? Is it not the case, as the article itself notes, that British forces are officially not involved in combat operations inside Iraq? So it bears repeating again, what was this UK SAS soldier doing, carrying out a "a covert operation in the Baghdad area" , if the British are supposed to be holed up in their base in Basra?

What else have the British been doing covertly in Iraq, that when they are caught red-handed, the UK sends helicopters and tanks to bust them out of prison?

One day the stories of these covert operations will trickle out, and when it does, the people involved will be shivering like those in the green zone, and like them, they will be more afraid of the shame of their names being revealed than the prospect of dying.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Soft" Power, Hard Luck


The "soft power" arm of US intervention in the rest of the world has for some time now been ostensibly enamored with the idea of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. The big push for "non-violence" has been largely mobilized through a handful of institutions that are wholly or partially funded by the US government and yet bizarrely insist on calling themselves "non-governmental." Much of this new found love for non-violence is directed at the Arab and Iranian audience, even as the US government drops bombs, arms militias, and enhances Israeli military might.

The State Department and UASAID funded Freedom House translates for Iranians one book on Non-violent Resistance, and the US congress funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) translates for Iranians another book on the topic. I heard that even the Palestinian activist, Mubarak Award of Non-Violence International, who I once met and admired, had received funding from some fishy sources to do work on Iran.

I have much to say about these governmental non-governmental organizations and their destructive role throughout the world, and in West Asia in particular, but today, I just want to raise these questions: Given that "fire brand cleric" Moqtada Al-Sadr has threatened a massive civil-disobedience campaign, will NED make him one of its grantees? Will Freedom House sponsor Moqtada to come participate as one of the "high-profile candidates from the Middle East and North Africa" it picks for a six-week, all expenses paid tour of the United States?

These questions are important not because the obvious answer to them is a big fat "no", but because they get at the fundamental hypocrisy of organizations that hide behind, misuse, and therefore defile even the most commendable principles.

Monday, March 24, 2008

1. The disqualifications of many reformists before the recent parliamentary elections in Iran were inexcusable, but these reformists and their supporters are really loathsome. I told a friend who shares my contempt for this bunch that these so-called reformist politicians remind me of US Democrats in lacking two things: convictions and something else that rhymes with mesticles.

Later this same friend sent out an email outlining his problem with Akbar Ganji and reformists more generally, and I think that his concise and incisive comment is so right-on, that I asked if I could copy and paste it here, citing him only as an anonymous scholar and friend. So here it is:

The reformists and their entire intellectual and political vanguard of theorists had their days in the sun from 1997-2001. since then they've been totally and utterly irrelevant (and i think the smarter among them know this). for two reasons i think: 1- the reality of american power, which has been much more brutally visible since 2001, even though reformists should've known about it before then. khatami's "dialogue" and all talk of democracy and republicanism and human rights in the mode of 97-01 basically amount to a steaming pile of shit after 9/11. 2- reformists never ever were able to get a handle on a decent discourse of social justice. they were and still are interested in nothing more than a political "emancipation" of the middle class. ahmadinejad and his ilk have stolen the show on the social justice discourse, even though it is populist and they may not produce any results in the end. i still think though that they haven't lost their steam and they will be able to stay dominant (and their discourse hegemonic) for the next four or five years at least, even without intervention of the guardians, the sepah, rahbar, etc.

i'm not saying anything new or different from everything that's been said by many others since 2001, and especially 2005. until reformist thinkers are able to produce some kind of critique of state and society in iran that is also cognizant of the problems of empire and capital on the one hand, and is understanding of the religious feelings of a vast segment of the iranian population on the other (the way marxists never have been), they're not going to get anywhere. until then, ganji and his ilk are going to be an irrelevant bunch of losers. and they'll for ever have to do the rounds of europe and north america begging for patronage and trying to please the self-satisfied young secular middle class "activists" (of whom maybe we are some of the more disgruntled) whose lot is not much more than intellectual and political masturbation on weblogs and discussion boards and email lists.


2. Thank you, Harry de Winter from Another Jewish Voice, for being brave enough to state the obvious about the latest Islamaphobe-Fascist, Geert Wilder: "If Wilders had said the same thing about Jews (and the Old Testament) as he does about Muslims (and the Koran), he would have been ostracized a long time ago and accused of anti-Semitism."

3. Following a steady increase in attacks against occupation forces in the last few weeks, the announced US casualty count in Iraq just hit 4,000. After months of repeating the administration's line that the surge is "working," somnambulist pundits and reporters are on pause, waiting for the recent developments to be re-framed and handed to them. Expect the "analysis" to include a whole lot of references to eye-ran and the eyeranian president, I'mgonnaneedajob.