Talk Notes from Kieran Flynn Memorial Lecture Series on Islam in the West

 

The silence around feminism and religion is a profound one, and I think some of its roots lie in the narrative of secularism and its influence on feminism in both the academy and in feminist social movements. I think the silence functions to highlight a difficulty in approaching the subject of female autonomy in relation to religion, but also indicates a negativity towards religion on the part of feminist scholars –justified or not.

Although there has been a significant amount of work on religion and patriarchy (Dominance of a society by men, or the values that uphold such dominance.) as well as on agency, autonomy, and gender; there has less on the subject of women, religion and autonomy. Continue reading

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Reaping What We Have Sown in Gaza

by: Amira Hass

I’ve already raised the white flag. I’ve stopped searching the dictionary for the word to describe half of a boy’s missing head while his father screams “Wake up, wake up, I bought you a toy!” How did Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Greater Germany, put it? Israel’s right to defend itself.

I’m still struggling with the need to share details of the endless number of talks I’ve had with friends in Gaza, in order to document what it’s like to wait for your turn in the slaughterhouse. For example, the talk I had on Saturday morning with J. from al-Bureij refugee camp, while he was on his way to Dir al-Balah with his wife. They’re about 60-years-old. That morning, his aging mother got a phone call, and heard the recording instructing the residents of their refugee camp to leave for Dir al-Balah.

A book on Israeli military psychology should have an entire chapter devoted to this sadism, sanctimoniously disguising itself as mercy: A recorded message demanding hundreds of thousands of people leave their already targeted homes, for another place, equally dangerous, 10 kilometers away. What, I asked J., you’re leaving? “What, why?” He said, “We have a hut near the beach, with some land and cats. We’re going to feed the cats and come back. We’re going together. If the car gets blown up, we’ll die together.”

If I were wearing an analyst’s hat, I would write: In contrast to the common Israeli hasbara, Hamas isn’t forcing Gazans to remain in their homes, or to leave. It’s their decision. Where would they go? “If we’re going to die, it’s more dignified to die at home, instead of while running away,” says the downright secular J.

I’m still convinced that one sentence like this is worth a thousand analyses. But when it comes to Palestinians, most readers prefer the summaries.

I’m fed up with lying to myself – as if I could remotely, by phone, gather the information necessary to report on what the journalists located there are reporting on. Regardless, it’s information that is important to a small group of the Hebrew-speaking population. They’re looking for it on foreign news channels or websites. They do not depend on what is written here in order to hear, for example, about the short lives of Jihad (11) and Wasim (8) Shuhaibar, or their cousin Afnan (8) from the Sabra neighborhood in Gaza. Like me, they could read the reporting of Canadian journalist Jesse Rosenfeld on The Daily Beast.

“Issam Shuhaibar, the father of Jihad and Wasim, leaned on a grave next to where his children were buried, his eyes hollow, staring nowhere. His arm bore a hospital bandage applied after he gave blood to try to help save his family. His children’s blood still covered his shirt,” writes Rosenfeld. “‘They were just feeding chickens when the shell hit,’ he said. ‘I heard a big noise on the roof and I went to find them. They were just meat,’ he gasped, before breaking down in tears,” continued Rosenfeld’s article. We murdered them about two and a half hours after the humanitarian cease-fire ended last Thursday. Two other brothers, Oudeh (16) and Bassel (8) were wounded, Bassel seriously.

The father told Rosenfeld that there was a warning missile. Before the attack, they heard the humming of the UAVs, the kind that “knock on the roof.” So I asked Rosenfeld, “If the missile was one of our merciful ones, those that come along as a warning, was the house bombed afterward?” By chance, I found my answer in a CNN report. The network’s camera managed to catch the explosion that came after the warning: knock, fire, smoke and dust. But it was a different house that was bombed, not the Shuhaibar house. I rechecked with Rosenfeld and others. What killed the three children was not a Palestinian rocket that went astray. It was an Israeli warning missile. And Issam Shuhaibar himself is a Palestinian policeman on the payroll of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.

I’ve also given up on trying to get a direct answer from the Israel Defense Forces. Did you mistakenly warn the wrong home, thus murdering another three children? (Of the 84 that have been killed as of Sunday morning.)

I’m fed up with the failed efforts at competing with the abundance of orchestrated commentaries on Hamas’ goals and actions, from people who write as if they’ve sat down with Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh, and not just some IDF or Shin Bet security service source. Those who rejected Fatah and Yasser Arafat’s peace proposal for two states have now been given Haniyeh, Hamas and BDS. Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line, expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?

Hamas is cruelly and frighteningly destroying the traditional double standards mentality that Israel is a master at. All of those brilliant intelligence and Shin Bet brains really don’t understand that we ourselves have created the perfect recipe for our very own version of Somalia? You want to prevent escalation? Now is the time: Open up the Gaza Strip, let the people return to the world, the West Bank, and to their families and families in Israel. Let them breathe, and they will find out that life is more beautiful than death.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: 72 Die in Shejaiya

The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has seen its bloodiest day so far, bringing the Palestinian death toll to more than 500. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday nights. The dead include 72 residents of one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. In the single worst attack to date, Israeli forces shelled homes and fought militants in Shejaiya, leaving behind a scene of carnage that survivors called a massacre. Frightened civilians fled along streets strewn with dead bodies. Wounded residents bled to death in their homes. An unconfirmed report said more than 20 children and 14 women were killed. Scores of homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people were wounded and taken to the overrun Shifa Hospital, which struggled to find room for the bodies. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attack on Shejaiya as an “atrocious action.” The fighting in Shejaiya killed 13 Israeli soldiers, bringing the Israeli military toll to 18 since the ground invasion began last week. Joining us from Gaza City, Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous details the assault on Shejaiya and describes a new Israeli strike that killed 24 members of the Abu Jamaa family in Khan Younis. Kouddous documented their bodies collected together inside a local morgue.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: The Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip has seen its bloodiest day so far, bringing the Palestinian death toll to over 500. Over 100 Palestinians were killed in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday nights. The dead include 72 residents of one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. In the single worst attack so far, Israeli forces shelled homes and fought militants in Shejaiya, leaving behind a scene of carnage that survivors called a massacre. Frightened civilians fled along streets strewn with dead bodies. Wounded residents bled to the death in their homes. An unconfirmed report said more than 20 children and 14 women were killed. Scores of homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people were wounded and taken to the overrun Shifa Hospital, which struggled to find room for the bodies. At the hospital morgue, a survivor said residents were bombed as they slept.

SHEJAIYA RESIDENT 1: [translated] The shells were between the houses. They killed children, women! There is no one left! It is a massacre! There is a massacre in Shejaiya! Go and see!

SHEJAIYA RESIDENT 2: [translated] We are residents sleeping at home. We are at home, civilians. We are not pro-Hamas or pro-Fatah or pro-Israel. We are poor people sleeping at home with children, women and old people. All the shells were randomly fired. At least each house got 10 shells. More than a thousand shells were fired at Shejaiya.

AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Israel’s attack on Shejaiya as a, quote, “atrocious action.” The mass killings there have helped push the Palestinian death toll to over 500 since the assault on Gaza began two weeks ago. The dead include more than a hundred children. Over 3,100 people have been wounded and more than 81,000 displaced. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has warned it’s running out of food and medicine at the schools housing over 50,000 people. The number seeking refuge has nearly tripled since the Israeli ground invasion began Thursday. At least 130 Palestinians have been killed during that time.

AARON MATÉ: The ground invasion has also caused Israel’s first military casualties. Eighteen soldiers have died in Gaza since Thursday, including 13 fighting militants in Shejaiya. On Sunday, Palestinian militants with the Qassam Brigades announced the capture of an Israeli soldier, but Israel denies the claim. Two Israeli civilians have been killed from rocket fire from Gaza. On Sunday, as Israeli forces carried out their deadliest attacks so far, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the assault on Gaza for as long as necessary.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Israel did not choose to enter this campaign. But from the moment it was forced on us, we will implement it until we achieve its result—restoring quiet for the Israeli people for an extended period while significantly damaging Hamas’s infrastructure and the rest of the terror organizations in Gaza. We are undeterred. We shall continue the operation as long as it is required.

AMY GOODMAN: In his remarks, Netanyahu cited the backing of foreign allies, saying he has, quote, “laid the diplomatic foundation that has given us international credit to operate,” he said. The Obama administration has provided critical support, claiming Israel has acted in self-defense, blaming Hamas for the civilian toll. The White House now says it wants an immediate ceasefire, and Secretary of State John Kerry has been sent to join talks in Cairo.

For more, we go directly to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Sharif, you’ve just come from Khan Younis. We’re getting the latest news from there. Can you tell us what you saw?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Amy, I’ve come from the site of yet another massacre. Twenty-four members—at least 24 members of the same [Abu Jamaa] family were killed in their own home in an F-16 strike in Khan Younis. This happened last night at around Iftar, during the sunset call to prayer, the time that Muslims sit to break their fast. And an F-16 missile strike hit this family in their home as they were sitting down to eat. A grandmother, her three sons, their wives and all their children were killed. I went to the site where the house was. The house is completely gone. There’s only a crater left. The family says—the surviving family members said that they used two cranes and a bulldozer, working for 12 hours throughout the night, to retrieve all the bodies out.

At the hospital morgue, it was really a very difficult scene. One of the dead was less than one years old. She was still, you know, in her Pampers, dead. A father of one of the women killed said that the bodies were dispersed between two hospitals in Khan Younis—14 in one and 10 in the other. And the father had to go to two hospitals to pick up one of his daughters’ bodies, because half of her was in one hospital and half of her was in the other.

This is the kind of tragedies that we hear almost on a daily basis here in Gaza. Families are being wiped out in such massive numbers. There’s the al-Batsh family who lost 18 members in an airstrike last week. I went to near Beit Hanoun in the north the other day where a family—eight of them were killed while they were sitting, watching TV when a tank shell, an artillery shell, hit their home, so—while they were watching TV. So this is a very—this is a war on civilians. Civilians are paying the very highest of prices for this. And the killing doesn’t seem to stop.

AARON MATÉ: Sharif, the toll from Sunday, the highest figure I saw was 120, more than a third women and children. Of course, there was this mass killing in Shejaiya that we mentioned. You went to the hospital. You interviewed survivors. You interviewed victims. And you also went to the site of the attack. Can you tell us what you know about what happened in Shejaiya?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, from speaking to residents evacuating, it was very hard to get in. You know, this attack began, everyone says, at around sunset time, around Iftar time. And there was a barrage after barrage of tank shells that rained down on Shejaiya, which is one of Gaza’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods. People said that there was no help. They called for ambulances. Paramedic workers said that they couldn’t get in because of the amount of the shelling, and so people waited for hours. They were left alone. And they finally decided to escape on foot. And when we got there in the early morning Sunday morning, there was just families streaming out, many of them carrying nothing, some of them barefoot, many, many families, young women and children, in complete panic trying to hail cars or trucks to get on or take off. Many of them just walked out. And they spoke of bodies strewn in the streets of Shejaiya. It was very hard to get in to confirm, although some reporters did and confirmed those reports, and there was some footage of it.

And in the hospital, it was just very difficult scenes, again, scenes of such indescribable anguish and loss. In the morgue in Shifa, there was two children—one was nine years old and her brother seven years old next to her. And there was what appeared to be relatives arguing about the name of the seven-year-old brother, whether it was Hamza or whether it was Khalil. They couldn’t tell because his head had been completely shorn off in this attack. So, these are the kinds of scenes of horror that have become a daily occurrence in Gaza, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to the bloodshed.

 

Occupy Gezi: The Limits of Turkey’s Neoliberal Success

by Cihan Tugal

from Jadaliyya

There are two telling, though widely neglected, details about what initiated and popularized the groundbreaking protests in Taksim Square, Istanbul: the protests started out as a response to the governing neoliberal party’s project of urban transformation or urban renewal; yet, urban questions quickly took a backseat as the protests became massive. Understanding these two facets of the mobilization sheds much light on what is happening in Turkey and why.

What the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) disingenuously calls “urban transformation” is the demolition of public places, green areas, and historical sites, as well as the displacement of poor populations, in order to rebuild the city in the image of capital. All these unwanted spaces (and people) are being replaced by malls, skyscrapers, office spaces, and glossy remakes of historical buildings. Resistance against this project has been unfolding for quite a while, mostly out of sight for the national and international mainstream media. The lack of media interest or mainstream hostility is only partially to blame for covering up these past resistances. The governing party, with its cleverly crafted hegemonic apparatus, has been quite tactful in dividing and marginalizing protest. For instance, whenever squatter populations were removed, they were selectively paid: homeowners (rather than tenants); the better-connected families; the politics-prone people in the neighborhoods were compensated generously; dispersing the capacity to resist. When money did not do the trick, the new regime planted seeds of sectarian and ethnic division. When all else failed, the squatters faced heavy-handed police repression. Only one neighborhood in the huge Istanbul metropolitan area was able to withstand all of these pressures and consistently resist the project. But the exceptions proved to be the rule: urban transformation, even though it is a project that influences millions of people, was only resisted in pockets, rather than at the level of the entire city (let alone the whole country, where it was implemented with lesser severity, but still comprehensively, destroying rural as well as urban livelihood and health, despite the misleading “urban” title).

The protests in and around Taksim seemed to be adding to the chains of isolated resistances. When intellectuals and artists recently mobilized against the demolition of first a café and then a historical movie theater in Istiklal Caddesi, they appeared to be fighting a rearguard elite battle, focusing on sites that were of little interest to the popular classes. Each protest would remain marginalized either in elite or squatter corners of the city, until police brutally cracked down on several dozen protesters who wanted to protect the last green area (Gezi Parkı) in Istanbul’s main entertainment square, Taksim. The will to save this park from turning into a mall initiated Occupy Gezi.

Popularization and the Expanding Protest Agenda

Initially, thousands flocked to the square in solidarity with those attacked. As a result, police brutality moved to the top of the agenda. Still, during the first day of popularization, talk about urban transformation was prominent. In a couple of days, however, the focus on police violence, the increasing authoritarianism of the AKP, and the persistent lack of democracy in Turkey marginalized the focus on urban issues. Many tweets and other information circulating on the web emphasized that the protests were “not about a couple of trees, but about democracy.” This was a very crude and ultimately counterproductive rhetorical opposition. The significance of that bunch of trees was that they had fallen, temporarily, outside of economic logic in a country where everything came to be bought and sold freely.

Nevertheless, there are still banners that insist on emphasizing the trees, not only as a symbol of nature, but also of the popular democratic uprising. This is much truer to the initial spirit of the protests. Occupy Gezi has started as a revolt of people who reject being focused on money around the clock. This brings them in confrontation with the government and the police force, who wipe out everything in the path of marketization. The trees are the symbols of unity between the targeted squatters, the students with grim job prospects, the striking workers and civil servants, the intellectuals, and nature. But we should understand that there are also strong dynamics that decenter the focus on urban transformation.

The Context for Intensified Repression

Some elements within the government made a very risky calculation during the last few months. The government has been preparing Turkey for a regional war and needs a unified country with no threatening opposition in such crucial times. This is why after a decade of persistent marginalization it reached out to the Kurds. The Turkish rulers (quite reasonably, it would seem) saw the Kurds as the only force that could stop the government in its tracks. With the Kurds on their side, the calculation went, they could divide, marginalize, and repress the rest of the population, which was already much more disorganized when compared to the Kurds. The peace process with the Kurds also gave the government the chance to win back many liberals, who had been disillusioned ever since 2010. With its renewed hegemonic bloc, elements in the new regime felt that they could easily silence everybody else. The governing party thus intensified police brutality and some other conservative measures (such as tightened regulations of alcohol). People outside of this renewed bloc–whether elite, middle-class, or lower class; secular or Alevi; man or woman; right-wing nationalist or socialist–have been feeling under threat. When Occupy Gezi turned into an anti-police protest, hundreds of thousands therefore joined in to voice their frustration with increasing authoritarianism.

This naturally brings into the picture a lot of people who have been benefiting from urban transformation as well. Some of these people have not had any problem with police brutality and authoritarianism either, as long as it was channeled against workers, Kurds, socialists, or Alevis. Some of them are chanting extreme nationalist slogans throughout Istanbul and Turkey. It needs to be emphasized that these groups are overlapping circles: there is no necessary unity among these factions, though almost everybody calls them “ulusalcı” (extreme nationalist) as a shorthand. Despite government propaganda, they constitute the minority around Taksim Square, but are certainly the majority in better-off parts of the city. There are more organized nationalists among them who want to hijack the protests. Yet most of these disjointed masses do not even understand the protests and issues that initiated the protests. They are in it mostly as a way to defend their own interests and lifestyles. These people do not define the Gezi movement, but have already muddied the waters.  Occupy Gezi has become much stronger partially due to their participation, but its national and international message risks being less clear now.

Stumbling Blocks

The people who initiated the protests (and are now in control of Taksim) are well aware of these dangers, as some of them are activists with years of experience. The public declarations they issue squarely focus on urban transformation, police brutality, and authoritarianism, though these declarations get lost in the muddle of huge protests throughout the country. These experienced activists are coming up against two stumbling blocks:

First, there, are the structural issues and successful hegemonic political moves that have so far divided protests against urban transformation. It is still very difficult, due to reasons which I hope to analyze elsewhere, to construct one consistent block against urban transformation with an alternative vision of development, urbanization, and nature. Class, culture, locality, and much else cut off the people who are suffering from urban transformation from each other. Unlike the governing party and its technicians, who have a bird’s-eye view of how the suffering is connected, they know very little of each other. It is not easy to both sustain andpopularize Occupy Gezi if it remains integrating urban questions.

Second, and perhaps as big of an issue, is Turkey’s peace process with the Kurds. The government and its liberal allies spread the propaganda that the current demonstrations are against the peace process. Actually, it is not hard to believe that some of the disjointed Turkish masses pointed out above were partially motivated with an opposition against peace with the Kurds (as well as many other things, including alcohol regulations). However, the groups who are still in control of Taksim have defended peace for decades, when the Turkish state (including the new regime) was fighting its bloody battles against the Kurds. In this context, dishonesty would be a light word for the liberal ideologues of the new regime who accuse the protests of warmongering. Yet, even though there are many Kurdish activists in Taksim today (along with hundreds of others mobilized elsewhere in support of the protests), most Kurds have not joined the protests, out of fear that they will eventually derail the peace process. Nobody can blame them, as Kurds have been paying a high price for a long time. One of Occupy Gezi’s most difficult tasks will be finding a way to draw the Kurds in without alienating a crushing majority of the non-leftists who have given the movement a part of its life force. This is a multi-class and cross-ideological movement against authoritarianism and marketization. The movement has no reason to exclude some upper-middle class and elite factions (who unevenly benefit and suffer from marketization and authoritarianism), but these latter might willingly opt out if the Kurds weigh in (which is a small likelihood to begin with).

Occupy Gezi sits in a privileged position when confronting these issues. On the one hand, unlike Occupy Wall Street and other similar movements throughout the West, many of the activists do not reject traditional forms of political organization and calculation (even though such sentiments are widespread among some of the younger leading protesters in Taksim). Such abstentionism from formal politics cost dearly to Western movements of the last couple of years. Unlike Arab protesters, on the other hand, Turkish and Kurdish activists have been living and breathing under a semi-democracy, so have a lot of everyday political experience under their belts. In short, “the leaderless revolution” has not arrived in Turkey. The disadvantage of Occupy Gezi, though, is that it is facing a much more hegemonic neoliberal regime when compared to the Western and Arab regimes. Turkish conservatives have been much more successful in building a popular base and a militant (but pragmatic) liberal-conservative intelligentsia (when compared to their fanatical and shallow counterparts in the West, not even to speak of their inexperienced counterparts in the Arab world). This consent is multi-dimensional and integrates compromises and articulations at ideological, religious, political and economic levels. The demobilization and counter-mobilization that neoliberal hegemony could generate cannot be taken lightly.

If the Turkish and Kurdish activists find innovative ways of overcoming these hurdles, Turkey will have the potential of adding a new twist to the post-2011 global wave of revolt.

‘For me, Palestine is paradise’: An interview with Leila Khaled

Exclusive interview with Leila Khaled
Recorded on Thursday 3rd of April 2014
First published here.

Frank Barat for Le Mur A Des Oreilles (LMADO): How are you Leila? What are you doing nowadays in Amman?

Leila Khaled: I am fine as long as I am a part of the struggle for freedom, for our right of return and for an independent State with Jerusalem as capital. I know it is not going to happen in the near future, but I am fighting nevertheless. Here in Amman, I am the chief of the department of refugees and Right of Return in thePopular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (P.F.L.P).

LMADO: You are a Palestinian refugee, one of six million. Do you still think that you will return one day? And what do you make of the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who are denied their most basic rights and yet, are sometimes criticized for trying to improve their lives in Lebanon as this might affect their right of return to Palestine?

LK: The Palestinians were distributed to different countries. Each country has had an impact on the people living there. Those in Lebanon, in the 70s and 80s, until 1982, were the ones that helped the armed struggle, that helped defend the revolution. Israel was attacking and invading all the time and occupying parts of the country as well. After 1982, the main mission of the Palestinians was to achieve their rights, their civil and social rights, which they are deprived o in Lebanon. This will enable them to be involved in the struggle for the right of return. The Palestinians in general take the Right of Return as a concept and as a culture. Any Palestinian will tell you that he fights for his social and civil rights, but this means that he is preparing himself for his return. The two are inseparable.

LMADO: The question of the refugees, in the negotiations, has, in the last decade, become more and more obsolete, something that is no longer an inalienable right but something that can be negotiated. The same applies to the last round, the “Kerry negotiations”. What do you make of this? And what do you think is going to happen after April 29th when the negotiations are supposed to end?

LK: The PFLP and myself personally have been against the negotiations since 1991. The problem is that the two parties are sticking to their guns. The Israelis think that Palestine is the land for the Jews all over the world. The Palestinians are sure that the land belongs to them and that they were forced out in 1947/1948. When this conflict moves from one stage to the next the two sides are considered as even in their power but the fact is that we are not (this is just an illusion). The leadership chose to go for the Oslo accords, thinking that this was a step forward in achieving the main rights of the Palestinians. Some people believed this, but they discovered, after twenty years, that it was nonsense. It brought catastrophe on us. There are more settlements than ever, twice more than before Oslo, the number of settlers has doubled, more land is being confiscated, and, of course, the Wall has been built. The apartheid wall. Israel is an apartheid state. These negotiations, now, are meant to help Israel and not the Palestinians. We have already experienced what Israel means by negotiate. Israel never respects its promises, its obligations, and simply continues its project of making Palestinians’ lives hell. My party and I are against this last round of negotiations too, of course. Especially now. The Americans are supporting an Israeli project that will only help Israel. There was an agreement, sponsored by the Americans, which said that you had to stop settlements in the West Bank and that 104 prisoners should be released on three different dates. Now, the Israelis have said no, we will not abide by this agreement and we will not release the last batch of prisoners. By the way, those people who are released, are often put back in jail shortly after anyway. This is what the Israelis refer to as the rotating door policy. The politicians say that the prisoners should be released but they are then rearrested. Many of them are already back in jail. It is very clear from this that the Israelis are not ready to make peace with the Palestinians. They are also taking advantage of the fact that the Arabs are occupied with many other issues, and do not support the Palestinians. Nobody is therefore going to condemn Israel when they flout the agreements they sign.

Also, what does Kerry want? What is his plan? Nobody knows. It’s all verbal. Nothing is written.  The leadership should refuse what Kerry offers. By the way, Kerry did not go back to Ramallah with another offer. Which means that the Palestinian Authority (is going to use its second option and go back to the U.N Then, today, in the news, the US has again said that it will object to such a move. What does this all mean?

I do think that we need first to consider the nature of the State of Israel. Secondly, we have to understand more about their projects and plans. Thirdly, we know that the Israelis are much more powerful than us in some respects. But we are also powerful. It all depends on our people. We have the will to face the challenges that the Israelis are putting in front of us. There is an English saying that says: “When there is a will, there is a way”. We still believe that this is our right and that we have to struggle for it. We have struggled, we are struggling, and we will struggle. From one generation to another. Freedom needs strong people to go and fight for their dreams. That is why I do not think that there will be a settlement now. The Americans always want to prolong the negotiations. This will not help.

LMADO: If negotiations do not bring peace to the Palestinians, what will? What should the leadership do?

LK: Resist! That’s how you achieve your rights as a People. History has shown us that. No People achieved their freedom without a struggle. Where there is occupation, there is resistance. It is not a Palestinian invention. We are actually going to call for a conference to be held under the auspices of the U.N, just to implement the resolutions taken by this body on the Palestinian question. Resolution 194 calls on Israel to accept the return of the refugees. Fine, let’s put the U.N on the spot. Let’s have a conference reminding people of this. The problem is that the references to any negotiations that have taken place were drafted by the Americans, which we know are biased towards Israel.

LMADO: P.L.O stands for Palestine Liberation Organization. Do you think it has lost its true meaning? Bassam Shaka in 2008 told me that the P.L.O, before anything, needed to go back to its roots as a liberation movement.

LK: No liberation is achieved without resistance. My party has not changed. It has stuck to its original program. We are calling to escalate the resistance. People talk about popular resistance. It does not only mean demonstrations. Using arms is also popular. We have people who are ready to fight.


LMADO: What does peaceful and non-violent resistance means for someone like yourself, who chose armed resistance as a mean for liberation?

LK: Resistance takes more than one face. It can be all kinds of resistance. Non violent and violent. I am ok with those who choose non-violence. We are not going to liberate our country by armed struggle only. Other kinds of resistance are necessary. The political one, diplomatic one, the non violent one. We need to use whatever we have got. For more than 10 years now, people have been demonstrating in Bil’in, in Nabi Saleh….protesting the wall and the annexation of the land. How is Israel dealing with it? Violence, tear gas, bombs… Do you think it is acceptable to have an army with a huge arsenal, against people holding banners? I am ok with using all means of resistance. We cannot say that non-violent resistance alone will achieve our rights. We are facing an apartheid State, Zionism as a movement, the Americans, and in general, the West, which supports Israel. When the balance of forces changes, then we can start thinking about negotiating.

LMADO: It is always easier to advocate for armed resistance when the general public knows who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. Your actions in 69 and 70 were about that, correct? To put Palestine on the map. Do you think the educational process of showing another face of Palestine, showing that the Palestinians have legitimacy and are in the right, has been done enough since the 70s?

LK: Let’s take the example of Vietnam. Or of Algeria and South Africa. People needed time to convince the whole world of the just cause of their struggle. It took time. In the end, the world realized that those who are oppressed have the right to resist the way they want to. Nobody can impose a form of resistance on us. We chose armed struggle. We did not achieve our goals. Then the intifada broke out and the whole world took us seriously. We gained the support of people all over the world. Still, we did not reach our goals because the leadership was not brave enough at that time to escalate the intifada, to take it to another level. Israel was ready to accept to withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But our leadership failed us. The intifada was the choice of the people. If you go back to the beginning of the resistance and holding arms. It was a necessity for the Palestinians after 1967. We depended on the Arab countries to restore our homeland. But they failed us too. Israel occupied more of Palestine. So we decided to take our destiny into our hands. By waging an armed struggle. Nowadays people are waiting but they realize that these negotiations will get us nowhere. Our past experiences with Israel have shown us that they cannot be trusted. They do not respect their words. Threaten us all the time. Abu Mazen is not a partner for peace? Who is? Sharon? Netanyahu? This right-wing government? This is not a government, it is a gang, essentially, which represents the settlers, the fascists, the racists. The lie began last century. That this was the land of the Jews. The bible gave it to them. Is this democratic? The world in 1948 accepted this lie. God promised us the land! As if God was an estate agent. This is a colonial project. This is the main issue of the conflict.

LMADO: The struggle is about ending Israel’s settler colonial project, then, ending apartheid. What will happen, in your opinion, the day after? The day after victory? An Algerian like solution, or a South African one?

LK: We have always offered the more human solution. A place where everybody lives on an equal basis. Jewish, Muslims, I do not care about the religion of the person. I believe in the human being itself. Human beings can sit together and can decide together the future of this land. But I cannot accept that I do not have the right, now, to go back to my city. Like six million Palestinians. We are not allowed to go there. We are offering a human and democratic solution. Nobody can tell me that we cannot decide the fate of our country because we are refugees. What happened to us is a first in history, as far as I know. People being chased away from their homes and another people, coming from very far away, taking their places. The Israelis were citizens of other countries. Israel, thanks to various organizations, before 1948, built an army, Okay, but there was no society. They brought people from outside. Even now, there are huge contradictions in this country and this society. People come from different cultures, some do not even speak Hebrew. We do not want more blood, but are obliged to resist. We have the right to live in our homeland. When the Israelis realize that as long as they do not budge this conflict will be endless, they should accept our solution. Some Israelis have already understood that. That you cannot go on fighting forever. What for?

LMADO: Can you talk to us about the role of women in the resistance. And do you think your actions, the hijackings in 69 and 70, did more for Palestine, or for women around the world, or both?

LK: The hijackings were a tactic only. We wanted to release our prisoners and were obliged to make a very strong statement. We also had to ring a bell, for the whole world, that we the Palestinians are not only refugees. We are a people that has a political and a human goal. The world gave us tents, used- clothes and food. They built camps for us. But we were more than that. Nowadays there are plans to end the camps, because they are a witness of 1948. Women, are part of our people, they feel the same injustices. So they get involved. Women give life. So they feel the danger even more than men. When they are involved, they are more faithful to the revolution because they defend the lives of their  children too. When I gave birth to two children, I became more and more convinced that I had to do my best to defend them and build a better future for them. I felt for women who had lost their children. So I think my actions had an impact on both, to answer your question. The popular front slogan was: “Men and Women together in the struggle for the liberation of our homeland”. The P.F.L.P implemented that by giving a place to women in the military. At the same time, women also played a big role in defending the interior front, the families. Thousands of Palestinian women are now responsible for their families. After all the wars, the massacres, the arrests, the killings by Israel, these women protected their families from being dispersed. Also, women are now educated, they work, they travel, go to university and so on. Before the revolution, it was not like that. Now it is. And it is a must. You can see that women are involved in many aspects of the struggle and society. Whether it is inside or outside Palestine.

LMADO: Lina Makboul who directed the film “Leila Khaled; Hijacker” implies in her last question in the film that your actions did more harm than anything to the Palestinian people. The film stops right after the question. What did you answer?

LK:  She told me she did this for cinematic purposes. But I did not like that. The fact that people could not hear my answer. My answer was no, of course! My actions were my contribution to my people, to the struggle. We did not hurt anyone. We declared to the whole world that we are a people, living through an injustice, and that the world had to help us to reach our goal. I sat with Lina for hours and hours you know, telling her the whole story. She told me afterwards that Swedish TV only wanted the question.

LMADO: Do you sometimes reflect on the past? What was done, what could have been done, what could have been done differently, when you see the current state of affairs? What went wrong?

LK: Recently  my party has held its seventh conference and reviewed its positions. We then made a program to widen our relations with the progressive forces around the world, especially on the Arab level. We also decided to strengthen our interior structure. I also learned that I had to review my own positions, my own thinking. Every year, around December, I look back at the past year and then decide to do something for the coming year. This year, I decided to quit smoking, so I did.


LMADO: Mabruck!

LK: I made this decision and it was easy for me to implement it.

LMADO: Why has Palestine, in your opinion, become such a symbol for the solidarity movement?

LK: Palestine for me is Paradise. Religions talk about paradise. For me, Palestine is paradise. It deserv
es our sacrifices.

Decoding the Syrian Propaganda War

by Anand Gopal

(originally published in Harper’s)

Last month, video emerged from the Syrian town of Tremseh showing scores of blood-sodden bodies of children and adults, some with cracked skulls and slit throats, all of them purported victims of the Syrian army. As the camera panned across the grisly tableau, an anguished commentator read out the names of the dead and cried, “God is greater!” The Syrian National Council, an umbrella rebel group, announced that 305 people had been killed, making Tremseh the gravest massacre of the fifteen-month-long uprising. Hillary Clinton decried this “indisputable evidence that the regime murdered innocent civilians,” and the United Nations issued its strongest condemnation of Syria to date.

Anand Gopal writes frequently about the Middle East and South Asia. He is the author of “Welcome to Free Syria,” in the August 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine. His book about the war in Afghanistan is forthcoming from Henry Holt.

But there was a problem—no one had actually visited the town. The New York Times,for instance, reported the story from Beirut and New York, relying solely on statements and video from anti-Assad activists and the testimony of a man from “a nearby village” who visited the scene afterward. When the first U.N. investigators arrived two days later, they uncovered a very different story. Instead of an unprovoked massacre of civilians, the evidence pointed to a pitched battle between resistance forces and the Syrian army. Despite rebel claims that there had been no opposition fighters in Tremseh, it turned out that guerrillas had bivouacked in the town, and that most of the dead were in fact rebels. Observers also downgraded the death toll to anywhere from forty to a hundred.

The battles of the Syrian revolution are, among other things, battles of narrative. As I recount in “Welcome to Free Syria,” the regime has indeed committed grievous massacres, including one I saw evidence of in the northern town of Taftanaz. The Assad government also puts forth a narrative—the country is under siege from an alliance of criminal gangs, Al Qaeda, and the CIA—that is quite removed from reality. Yet there is also a powerful pull in the West to order a messy reality into a simple and self-serving narrative. The media, which largely favors the revolution, has at times uncritically accepted rebel statements and videos—which themselves often originate from groups based outside the country—as the whole story. This in turn provides an incentive for revolutionaries to exaggerate. A Damascus-based activist told me that he had inflated casualty numbers to foreign media during the initial protests last year in Daraa, because “otherwise, no one would care about us.”

Some in the West are equally uncritical in their skepticism toward the revolutionaries. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, recently declared that as many as a quarter of Syrian rebel groups may be inspired by Al Qaeda—which, according to those who have been inside and met the resistance, is simply not the case. Al Qaeda–style groups can be found among the revolutionaries, but they remain rare. Moreover, radical Islam is far more complex than Washington tends to appreciate. I’ve met beer-guzzling Syrian rebels who carried the black Al Qaeda flag, but for whom this was no contradiction: Islamist stylings in Syria are typically part performance vocabulary, part unifying norm in a riven society, part symbolic invocation of guerrilla struggle in a post–Iraq War world, and part expression of pure faith.

How do we pick through the signaling? There’s still no substitute for on-the-ground reporting (another recent New York Times article that was reported entirely outside Syria sounded alarm at Al Qaeda taking “a deadly new role in the conflict”). But we also need to examine our epistemic framework for the revolution. Syrians are fighting for complex reasons that often do not conform to the way Western leaders have ordered their knowledge of the world: “moderate” versus “extremist” or Western-style democracy versus dictatorship. As my feature illustrates, some of the revolutionaries have established councils that look unlike our institutions, but that are deeply democratic in their own way. Others adore Western-style social liberalism but scoff at the West’s free-market ethos. Others seek some variety of religious law. And most probably don’t know yet what they want, except to live in dignity, free from political and economic repression.

But the complexity doesn’t end there, because, as I realized during my visit, the revolutionaries themselves face a powerful need to order facts in certain ways. The rebels I met in Idlib Governorate spoke of every defeat they suffered as a tactical retreat. Or they insisted that their uprising was supported by all minorities, even as it was becoming unmistakably sectarian. Such claims are designed in part, to be sure, for foreign consumption, but they also serve the rebels themselves. They create value and meaning in what might otherwise be a state of anomie, cohering people around a just and fruitful cause even as families are slaughtered and the regime stands unbroken. Following a devastating series of defeats in northern Syria this spring, I asked a rebel commander there whether he thought Assad would ever fall. “Of course,” he replied. “I know we will win—otherwise, why would we still fight?”

Despotism or Feminism

Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini is a legal anthropologist specializing in Islamic law, gender, and development. She is currently Professorial Research Associate at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Law, University of London. In this lecture, Dr. Mir-Hosseini explores the Islamic feminist movement’s potential for changing the terms of debates over Islam and gender, arguing that the real battle is between patriarchy and despotism on the one hand, and gender equality and democracy on the other.

 

The Arab Spring: The end of postcolonialism

by; Hamid Dabashi

The world keeps discovering, keeps inventing, keeps overcoming itself. Because of the Arab Spring, the world is once again pregnant with better and more hopeful versions of itself. The crescendo of transnational uprisings from Morocco to Iran, and from Syria to Yemen, are turning the world upside down. The task facing us today is precisely to see in what particular way our consciousness of the world is in the midst of transforming itself – by force of history. The world we have hitherto known as “the Middle East” or “North Africa”, or “the Arab and Muslim world“, all part and parcel of a colonial geography we had inherited, is changing, and is changing fast. We have now entered the phase of documenting in what particular terms that world is transcending itself, overcoming the mystified consciousness into which it was colonially cast and postcolonially fixated.

In understanding what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East, we are running out of metaphors. We need new metaphors. Even the word “revolution” – understood anywhere from Karl Marx to Hannah Arendt – needs rethinking. Such a new language of the revolution will cast the impact of “the Arab Spring” on national and international politics for generations to come. These uprisings have already moved beyond race and religion, sects and ideologies, pro- or anti-Western. The term “West” is more meaningless today than ever before – it has lost its potency, and with it the notion, and the condition, we had code-named postcoloniality. The East, the West, the Oriental, the colonial, the postcolonial – they are no more. What we are witnessing unfold in what used to be called “the Middle East” (and beyond) marks the end of postcolonial ideological formations – and that is precisely the principal argument informing the way this book discusses and celebrates the Arab Spring. The postcolonial did not overcome the colonial; it exacerbated it by negation. The Arab Spring has overcome them both. The drama of this delayed defiance Arabs have now called their spring; and I will use the occasion to make a case for our having entered the phase of the end of postcoloniality, delivered from exacerbating a historic trauma.

The transformation of consciousness, and precisely not through dogma or violence, is the inaugural moment of discovering new worlds – not by willing what does not exist but by seeing what is unfolding. As I write, the Arab revolutions, each with a different momentum, are creating a new geography of liberation, which is no longer mapped on colonial or cast upon postcolonial structures of domination; this restructuring points to a far more radical emancipation, not only in these but, by extension, in adjacent societies and in an open-ended dynamic. This permanent revolutionary mood has already connected the national to the transnational in unexpected and unfolding ways, leading to a reconfigured geopolitics of hope. That the Arab revolutions are changing our imaginative geography is already evident in the interaction between the southern and northern coasts of the Mediterranean in terms of modes of protest, with the spread of Tahrir Square-style youth uprisings evident from Greece to Spain, and indeed to the United States and the Occupy Wall Street movement – with even Aung San Suu Kyi comparing her campaign for democracy in Myanmar with the Arab Spring. These revolutions are not driven by the politics of replicating “the West” – rather, they are transcending it, and thus are as conceptually disturbing to the existing political order as to therégime du savoir around the globe. The ground is shifting under the feet of what self-proclaimed superpowers thought was their globe. These variations on the theme of delayed defiance hinge on the idea that the revolutions are simultaneously a rejection not just of the colonial oppression they have inherited but, a fortiori, of the postcolonial ideologies that had presented and exhausted themselves as its antithesis in Islamist, nationalist or socialist grand narratives.

The mystical consciousness our world has inherited hangs around the binary of “The West and the Rest”, the most damning delusion that the European colonial map of the world manufactured and left behind, with “Islam and the West” as its most potent borderlines. It is precisely that grand illusion that is dissolving right before our eyes. But that is not all: the challenge posed by these revolutions to divisions within Islam and among Muslims – racial (Arabs, Turks, Iranians, etc), ethnic (Kurds, Baluchs, etc), or sectarian (Sunni and Shia in particular) – has at once agitated and (ipso facto) discredited them. These revolutions are collective acts of overcoming. They are crafting new identities, forging new solidarities, both within and without the “Islam and the West” binary – overcoming once and for all the thick (material and moral) colonial divide. The dynamics now unfolding between the national and the transnational will, as they do, override all others. The synergy that has ensued is crafting a new framework for the humanity they have thus embraced and empowered. Those dynamics are checked, to be sure, by counter-revolutionary forces that are now fully at work – and that have much to lose from these revolutions.

The world, and not just “the Muslim world”, has long been dreaming of these uprisings. Since at least the French Revolution of 1789, the European revolutions of 1848, the Russian Revolution of 1917, since the British packed their belongings and left India in 1948, since the French left Algeria, the Italians left Libya, the world has been dreaming of the Arab Spring. From the time the colonial world began lowering European flags, and as the postcolonial world was raising new ones, the world has been dreaming of the emblematic slogan, now chanted by people from one end of the Arab world to another: Huriyyah, Adalah Ijtima’iyah, Karamah, “Freedom, Social Justice, Dignity”.

To pave the way for an open-ended unfolding of these revolts, the public space has been expanding for a very long time, and the political act is now being charged and redefined to accommodate it. But the public facade of unity across social classes and between different political tendencies, which has characterised the uprising from the very outset, has been and will continue to be fractured. But these fractures will expand the public space, not diminish it. That societal expansion of the bedrock of politics will not be along ideological lines. In the world beyond Christian dogma, people are not born in a state of sin, for this to be forgiven by way of communal declaration. As there is no original sin, there is no final forgiveness – and thus no grand illusion, no master-narratives of emancipation. The ideals remain open and grand, as they must, but demanding and exacting their realisation require painstaking and detailed work by particular voluntary associations beyond the reach of the state – labour unions, women’s rights organisations, student assemblies – all by way of forming a web of affiliation around the atomised individual, thus protecting her, thus enabling him, to resist the ever increasing power of the emergent state.

The spectre of that emerging state will keep the democratic muscles of these revolutionary uprisings flexing – for a very long time, and for a very simple reason. The world we have inherited is mystified (Marx’s term) by the force fields of power that have at once held it together and distorted it. Fighting the military and economic might of counter-revolutionaries goes hand in hand with deciphering the transformed consciousness that must promise and deliver the emerging world. The colonial subject (now revolting beyond the mirage of the postcolonial state) was formed, forced, and framed as the object of European imperial domination, with multivariate modes of governmentality that extended from the heart of “the West” to the edges of “the Rest”. Europe colonised the Arab and Muslim world from one end to the other precisely according to the model of power by which it was itself being colonised by the self-fetishising logic of capital. It was, by way of partaking in the making of the fetishised commodity, being alienated from itself as it was forcing that massive alienation on the colonial world. Postcolonialism was instrumental in conceptually fetishising colonialism as something other than the abuse of labour by capital writ large. It is not, and never has been.

The postcolonial subject, which was none other than the colonial subject multiplied by the illusion of emancipation, was thus released into the force field of that very same colonial history on a wild goose chase of ideological certainty before and after political convictions. For more than two hundred years – the 19th and 20th centuries – colonialism begat postcolonial ideological formations: socialism, nationalism, nativism (Islamism); one metanarrative after another, ostensibly to combat, but effectively to embrace and exacerbate, its consequences. As these postcolonial ideological formations began epistemically to exhaust themselves, the position of “subalternity” travelled from South Asia and became a North American academic fanfare, before it was politically neutered and soon turned into the literary trope of a “native informant”. Thus colonialism and postcoloniality combined to place the Arab and the Muslim (as its supreme and absolute other) outside the self-universalis

ing tropes of European metaphysics, where the non-Western (thus branded) was never in the purview of full subjection, of full historical agency.

The world was thus sealed in a self-sustaining binary that has kept repeating, revealing, and concealing itself. Finally coming to full historical consciousness in terms of their own agential sovereignty and worldly subjection, “the Arab” and “the Muslim” are now exiting that trap, having identified it as the simulacrum of a renewed pact with humanity – beyond the European entrapping of “humanism”. Arabs and Muslims in revolt have no crisis of the subject, no problem with their cogito.

“The work of our time,” Marx rightly declared is “to clarify to itself the meaning of its own desires”. Indeed – and in that spirit I have written The Arab Spring.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in the City of New York. The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism is now released in London by the Zed Books.

 

Nasrin Sotoudeh Writes From Evin Explaining Reason For Her Hunger Strike

Translated by persianbanoo

My fellow countrymen:

Is penalizing family members (families of the political prisoners) an accidental occurrence?

I was on a hunger strike for 49 days to protest a variety of issues including punishment of my family. During this time much concerns were generated, all of which arose out of grace and love for a common demand, and that was a big “No” to penalizing the families.

It is my duty to extend my gratitude and appreciation to all the people that with their benevolence and kindness paid attention to this matter.

From public and social groups, specifically the Mourning Mothers that have lost their children in the 2009 Movement (I had the honor of representing few of them), to the Mothers for Peace and the women’s rights activists, from the political prisoners that I have the honor of having endured imprisonment with them, to my dear cellmates that endured the hardships associated with my hunger strike, and of course, my husband and my young daughter who endured great sufferings.

From the human rights activists across the world, from the Iranian Diaspora that, after the 2009 Movement, have shown how important their presence is in restoring the human rights and democracy in Iran.

From those who used their individual rights and freedom to stand with us and support the demands that, on the surface, seemed to be limited only to my small family.

Those courageous people that personally decided to participate in my hunger strike, and of course caused me to share the experience of being worried for hunger strikers. They caused me to understand how one person’s hunger strike can create and cause others to worry and be concerned.

Their action brought much heavier responsibility for me, for they had decided to launch a hunger strike in my support.

From the human rights activists across the globe that assisted me in my resistance and standing. And every time I think to myself of what noble human beings are in the other side of the oceans, that support and are sympathetic to my cause and pave the way for me and my family to endure this burden.

I know you were worried about my hunger strike. I would like for all to know that I also was worried for everyone’s worries and concern.

But why I was not willing to halt my hunger strike?

I, along with my clients and tens of political prisoners who are in prison merely because of their noble actions, spend although difficult, but valuable days in prison.

I now proudly endure imprisonment amongst the civil activists, political activists, prisoners of conscience, and our fellow Baha’i countrymen and Christians that I have had the honor to represent few of them. Those who received unfair sentences for simply living based on their beliefs.

After all the injustices, they (the regime) have even resorted to punishment of the families. First they pursued my husband and then they pressed new charges against him.

After the detention of my family and children for hours, even though for only few hours, they pressed new charges on my twelve year old daughter. Then in a rush to judgement, they placed a ban on her foreign travel.

My daughter, like every other child at this age. and not more than other children, has the right to live without the fear of threats and punishment.

Previously, I have had the honor of defending the children of my country. Punishing the children is absolutely prohibited, much less for political charges on account of their parents.

But of course, this sort of punishment has not been only limited to my family. To explain the wide scope of this unjust treatment, it is enough to remember that among the 36 female prisoners incarcerated in the political prisoner’s ward, the immediate family of 13 of them are either imprisoned or are under Judicial pursuit.

This figure represents one third of the female political prisoners. Among this group there are some that have more than one family member either imprisoned or under Judicial pursuit.

To protest the punishment of the families (the punishment of my family was an example of this sort of treatment), I launched a hunger strike.

It is my hope that the punishment of families is removed from the policy of threats and pressure.

Once again, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude and appreciation to all those who’s constant support did not leave me in this endeavor and to declare my confidence in the path that certainly will result in justice, rule of law and democracy.

With hopes of liberty and freedom,
Nasrin Sotoudeh
Evin Prison
December 2012

 

Human Rights Watch Letter to Clinton on Strategy for Women’s Rights in Post-2014 Afghanistan

 October 19, 2012

Dear Secretary Clinton,

We write to ask you to take the lead in formulating a clear and public US strategy for promotion and protection of women’s rights in Afghanistan, and to urge other countries to join in this effort.

We recognize the commitment both you and your Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, have demonstrated to women’s rights in Afghanistan. We also recognize the large commitment of resources and energy by many others in the US government to promote and protect the rights of Afghan women and girls.
Continue reading

Iran, Women’s Rights and the Arab Spring

For each woman that is imprisoned, another will take her place and swell the ranks of the women’s movement. –Shrine Ebadi, Iranian Noble Peace Prize winner, 2004.

The stories of sweeping reform across the Middle East has captured the attention of many of us. In this week’s Weekly Rights Podcast, Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, talks to the Campaign about the effect that Arab Spring has had, and will have, on women. She talks about her new book, The Unfinished Revolution, which is a collection of women’s stories of struggle and defiance from around the world. Her book includes essays from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and women’s rights activist and member of the One Million Signatures Campaign Sussan Tahmasebi, who discuss the status of women in Iran. Minky also discusses the role of women in the protests and uprisings in Iran, and how they have affected women in the Arab Spring.

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran – Podcast 49: Women in Iran with Minky Worden.

Lebanon, the Sectarianization of Politics, & Genderalizing the Arab Uprisings

Eugenio Dacrema (ED): A Few days ago a new session of the National Dialogue council started in Beirut, hosted by the president Souliman. The list of issue which will be discussed is officially very long, but obviously the main issues are related to the recent events occurred especially in Tripoli, but also in Beirut. Why is Syria so important for the political stability of Lebanon? Can you draw for us a picture of what is happening?  Continue reading

Rich, Islamist and post-feminist

by Rafia Zakaria

Rich, Islamist and post-feminist 

Their headscarves match their outfits perfectly, often held up by jewelled pins sporting emeralds, rubies and other precious stones. Their make-up is impeccable and a cloud of perfume follows them wherever they go. In the past few weeks of Ramazan, many have been chauffeured in their shiny sedans to taraveeh services held in venues usually reserved for weddings. Many afternoons have been spent at women-only sessions of Quranic tafseer. They follow a number of leaders, from the now internationally known Farhat Hashmi to other well-known sheikhs.

These women represent an interesting and relatively new phenomenon in the lives of Pakistan’s well to do. Demographically, they belong to the richest five percent of the country, the last section of the population to be affected by the ravages of a collapsing economy and decrepit civil institutions. Many if not all, come from families where women have been educated for generations and encouraged to pursue any opportunity that may suit their fancy. Their ranks therefore are full of doctors, lawyers, educators and the ubiquitous socialites.

Their children are often educated abroad, their husbands clean-shaven and their houses staffed with armies of servants. Like the coffee parties and social welfare melas of old, these tafseer sessions and taraveeh services have become venues of socialisation and cultural reorganisation. In this newly fashionable zeal for all things religious, these women, often plagued by the boredom that comes with affluence, seem to have found both direction and identity.

To most of these women, talk of the necessity of “liberating” Pakistani women seems redundant. First of all, the reality of those women who do not have the same weight of guilt to expunge from their conscience is remote to them. In other words, having been given the choice to embrace religious zealotry, it is difficult for them to imagine an alternative path to embracing elements of faith that give up female agency.

As clarification, consider this illustrative example: Rashida is a university professor who has taught at the engineering department of a private university for the past twenty years. Her children are grown and settled abroad. Her husband, a high level civil servant, had always given her the freedom to work, have her own friends, visit whomever she wants and even take frequent vacations abroad to visit her sisters in America. A highly educated man, who insisted on sending not just their son but also their daughter to be educated abroad, Rashida’s husband would balk at the idea of placing any sort of restrictions on his wife.

Yet, Rashida, since beginning the course with “madam” (as Farhat Hashmi’s adherents refer to her) has begun asking for his “permission” before leaving the home. She observes strict hijab before any unrelated males, including, somewhat embarrassingly, her own daughter’s husband who is over twenty-five years her junior.

The changes, albeit discomfiting to her family members, have been accepted readily by them, much like a new career or hobby that keeps Rashida satisfied and makes her less likely to pick fights with her husband or complain about the lack of attention from her children. Rashida often forces the household maid to attend tafseer sessions with her and has asked her to wear hijab (even though she is Christian!) before male servants and in front of Rashida’s husband and son. When asked about why she wears the hijab, Rashida will insist, truthfully so, that it is a choice made freely and without any pressure from her husband.

Rashida’s case is illustrative for a variety of reasons. First, it demonstrates the palliative nature of pietist movements like Farhat Hashmi’s, for women who, at crossroads in their lives (in this case, after the children have left home), may find themselves unsure of their identity and their place in society. Faith not only fills a much needed spiritual void but also a social one, providing new avenues of meeting people and a new purpose to life; all deeply admirable components.

What Rashida’s example also illustrates is the curious juxtaposition of post-feminist ideas in a society where women’s liberation never took the form of any coherent movement. In other words, Rashida’s case represents how a very small sliver of Pakistani women in the upper echelons of society, who have been insulated by class privilege from the laws and customs that target and persecute the remainder of Pakistani women, is now at the helm of denying the need for legal and sociological changes.

Women like Rashida are the face of the post-feminist Pakistani woman. Born in affluent homes and provided the same privileges as their brothers, they have often never experienced any form of legal discrimination or sexual harassment. The discriminatory weight of counting as a half-witness under Qanoon-e-Shahadat, or being legally entrusted to a male relative, of having to produce four witnesses in cases of rape, are all far away from their comfortable realities where religion is yet another item on a long menu of possible activities.

The women that are abducted, that are imprisoned under accusations of Zina, that are traded away in land disputes, are mere spectres in news stories. Theirs is a world of free choices garnered by class privileges. They take religion as a particular sheikh sells it to them, don hijabs and ask their husbands for permission to leave the home in an experiment with a new identity that may be adorned or shed at will. Indeed, there is no need for feminism in their world since subjugation, legal or otherwise, when freely chosen, represents no subjugation at all.

Instead, the cost of elite women’s experiment with Islamism is borne instead by those women whose agency and free will is ignored in this equation. Just as Rashida does not give a second thought to the relative fairness of requiring her maids of to attend tafseer sessions or wear hijab, the limits to the ability of religious awakening to question core problems in society is exposed. The ability of elite women to define whether or not Pakistan needs feminism is thus circumscribed by the fact that the battles feminism would have to fight have never been battles for them at all, but rather for those women who remain invisible as much because of their poverty as of their gender.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Sanctions Against Iran: A Duplicitous “Alternative” to War

by Raha Iranian Feminist Collective

Media reports on Iran oscillate wildly between threats of imminent military action and hopeful reports of diplomatic progress. Amidst this confusing din, there is a constant truth: the United States has not ceased its economic bullying of Iran, nor has the threat of war receded. As Dennis B. Ross, the Obama Administration’s former Iran advisor, told the New York Times, “now you have a focus on the negotiations…It doesn’t mean the threat of using force goes away, but it lies behind the diplomacy.” This echoes President Obama’s persistent refrain on Iran: “All options are on the table.” We argue that sanctions against Iran are not designed to work as an actual alternative to war, but rather are meant to, first of all, appease calls for sabre-rattling at home and by Israel; second, assert economic control over Iranian oil, while curbing Iran’s increasing influence in the region; and third, lay the groundwork for a diplomatic due-diligence claim in order to justify any potential military strike.
Diplomacy, also commonly thought of as an alternative to war, must be understood within the underlying context of the United States’ efforts to reestablish its sphere of influence over Iran, which it lost after the 1979 revolution. Ongoing talks between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany are not genuine negotiations, but rather are an effort to wring concessions from an economically weakened Iran. The dangerous outcome of these “talks” is that if Iran refuses to submit to Western bullying, the United States will be able to claim that diplomacy has failed, and move towards more aggressive means of achieving its agenda. The effect is that both diplomacy and sanctions become a prelude to war. If Iran does grant some concessions to the United States, this will only increase the US drive to regain access to Iranian oil as well as consumer markets and bring the two states one step closer to cutting a deal at the expense of ordinary Iranians.
Given the vast power imbalance between the two countries, “normalized relations” can only mean US support for another authoritarian regime. Note the fact that Libya achieved “peace” with the United States (that is, sanctions were lifted and it was taken off the State Department list of terrorists) at the very moment when it agreed to stop its nuclear program and allow US corporations a ninety percent share in its newly discovered oilfields. The two choices offered — subordination to the US or escalation of hostilities — are both unacceptable, since they thwart the self-determination of the Iranian people. In addition, the recent NATO invasion of Libya shows that normalized diplomatic relations can be tossed out the window at any time should the United States and its allies see the opportunity to insert their influence more forcefully.
Everyday life for the majority of Iranians is already becoming increasingly unbearable. The Western drumbeats of war are a death threat hanging over their heads, and sanctions erode living standards and hope for a viable future. In this context, we feel it is necessary to lay bare sanctions against Iran for what they really are — the consolidation of geopolitical hegemony and war by other means. This article responds to the stated justifications for sanctions and outlines the impact of sanctions on ordinary people. As feminists, we insist that lasting peace and security will be built by people on the ground in Iran who are mobilizing for political and economic justice — democratizing Iran from the inside out.
Nuclear Capacity
While the United States insists that Iran is developing a “nuclear capacity” — a new term in US rhetoric that allows for slippage between nuclear energy and nuclear weaponry — this is by no means justification for sanctions or war. The US accepts Israel’s nuclear weapons, as well as India’s and Pakistan’s — all of them states that have proven how dangerous they are by engaging in horrendous border wars, occupations, and political repression. Regardless of Iran’s nuclear program, US policies and threats are a way of forcing Iran to line up with US interests in the region. This realpolitik does not, however, mean that we should defend Iran’s “right” to nuclear energy or weapons. As feminists, we take a broader view of the nuclear issue, and see a sense of urgency in unpacking the claims of national rights and regional security.
The world has seen the destructive capacities of nuclear weaponry, and even the nightmare of nuclear energy disasters (in Chernobyl, and more recently in Japan), and has the right to demand an end to the suicidal and homicidal drive towards ever-expanding nuclear capacity. Scapegoating one nation, however, does little to promote the effective global nuclear disarmament that is an environmental, political, and humanitarian necessity. When it comes to nuclear weaponry, the United States has acted hypocritically, fueling a nuclear arms race with itself as the extreme front-runner. The only nation to actually drop nuclear bombs on civilian populations, the United States did so to establish itself as a superpower after World War II — at the expense of millions of people’s lives.
The United States keenly understands the use of nuclear weapons to promote regional dominance. In recent years, the United States has promoted the nuclear ambitions of its allies, like Israel, and turned a blind eye to the ambitions of other nuclear powers, including India and Pakistan, while focusing all of its political attention on Iran. Rather than accepting the cynical US sanctions effort against Iran, we instead need a reinvigorated global disarmament movement that opposes nuclear weaponry everywhere.
Besides bombs, nuclear energy has proven nearly as dangerous. After the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, Germany decided to close all of its nuclear reactors by 2022. Some European nations have followed by pledging to scale back their nuclear programs. Activists should demand that the United States take Germany s lead. Rather than crippling the Iranian people in order to ineffectively punish their leaders, the United States should halt the arms race by dismantling its own nuclear arsenal. The sad truth is that if Iran’s nuclear program poses a threat to anyone, it is to the Iranians who would live closest to the nuclear reactors.
We should not assume that all Iranians support a “right” to nuclear energy as a nationalist stance of defiance towards the West. Many Iranians are terrified to have a government they do not support or trust in charge of radioactive materials, capable of causing environmental devastation and health crises for generations to come. Just as most Americans do not want to live near a nuclear plant, neither do most Iranians. We stand in solidarity with Iranians and people around the world who demand an end to nuclear energy and weapons production.
 War by Other Means
While Iran has been subject to sanctions since the 1979 revolution, recent moves by the United States and European Union are significantly changing the economic and political landscape. In July 2011, President Obama announced the harshest set of sanctions to date, targeting Iran’s oil and banking industries and essentially barring any bank that processes Iranian oil transactions from doing business in the United States. The EU has agreed to ban any transactions with the sanctioned banks, while the SWIFT international banking system climbed on board to also block these banks as a way of intensifying the sanctions. Adding to the mix, the recent and unprecedented EU oil embargo — with a complete cessation of imports by member nations by July 2012 — further cripples the Iranian economy. We believe that Western powers are increasing the severity of the sanctions and targeting the central oil industry in order to completely collapse the Iranian economy, with the Iranian government presumably to follow.
These economic attacks are rapidly snowballing as Asian countries — Iran’s biggest clients for oil — are pressured to follow the US and EU lead. Japan and South Korea are expected to gradually eliminate their reliance on Iranian oil. Saudi Arabia, happy to help undercut its regional rival, is promising to increase its own oil production to fill in the gaps. Russia, far from a reliable Iranian ally despite its previous refusal to support US sanctions, is similarly seizing the opportunity to promote its own oil industry as an alternative to Iranian supplies. China and India, which together consume a third of Iran’s oil exports, have so far indicated their intentions to maintain trade ties with Iran, despite intense pressure from the United States. As Iran loses customers, the remaining importing nations are at a strategic advantage to force Iran to sell at even cheaper prices.
With oil exports accounting for fully half of the Iranian government’s revenue, the newly intensified sanctions, coupled with the EU oil embargo, contribute to the downward spiral of the Iranian economy. A recent spate of bankruptcies is directly tied to the new round of sanctions; meanwhile, foreign-owned factories, such as Hyundai and Peugeot, have caved to US pressure and agreed to shut down their manufacturing operations in Iran. Unemployment is already around twenty percent, and closer to thirty percent for people under thirty years old. The value of the Iranian currency, the rial, has plummeted vis-a-vis the dollar, and inflation has soared into the double digits: 22.5 percent for 2011, with even higher estimates for 2012. Inflation this dramatic affects all classes of Iranian society, as peoples ability to purchase goods and services, save money, or live off fixed incomes rapidly diminishes.
Sanctions as Collective Punishment
Iranians are feeling the effects of intensified sanctions as they shop for essentials, fill prescriptions for medicines, and look for work. The sanctions have seriously impeded imports of food staples such as rice and palm oil, as regional suppliers, such as Malaysia, India, and Ukraine, cancel shipments because sanctions now prohibit the processing of payments. As this squeeze on supply continues, the cost of many basic foodstuffs has increased by fifty to two hundred percent. Rice — a staple in Iranian households — jumped from two dollars a kilo last year to five dollars now.
These sanctions amount to nothing less than collective punishment for a population already suffering under the effects of internally imposed austerity measures, economic mismanagement, and police-state repression. According to testimonials gathered by women’s rights activists in Tehran, medicines for illnesses such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and other chronic diseases are either in short supply, completely unavailable, or no longer affordable even when supplies can be found. According to one pharmacist, “People with life threatening illnesses such as cancer can no longer afford to pay for the injections, so they either delay them or, mostly among poorer communities, totally forgo treatment.”
Children also suffer from sanctions. As economic conditions deteriorate, children have to leave school to help support their families. A thirty-five-year old woman explained that her husbands wages working as a porter in the bazaar no longer cover the family’s basic needs. When her husband insisted their son quit school to work, she explained, “I beat myself and cried so much that he finally relented and agreed to let our son go to school, provided that he works after school.”
Women are often the most victimized by sanctions because, as a group, they are the most economically vulnerable. Women have a harder time finding jobs, are among the first to get laid off, and have fewer workplace protections. As those primarily responsible for running their households, women face increased loads of stress trying to feed their families, obtain needed medication, and buy necessary goods amidst skyrocketing levels of inflation. A forty-five-year old housewife in Tehran reports, “In the last few months, I have bought very little protein such as meat and poultry and have also refrained from buying any clothes for the children.” At the micro-level of household economies, women bear the larger burden for managing their families’ survival. In Iran, as in all societies, increased militarism and violence at the global and national levels exacerbates inequalities between men and women. As societies become more militarized, so do the very citizens living within them; as fear, anxiety, and stress rise in the lives of ordinary people, so do patriarchal and violent responses to conflict and hardship in intimate life.
A Feminist Response to Sanctions
The history of US-led sanctions against Iran shows us that they actually strengthen the regime that they purportedly target. Even as sanctions single out the Revolutionary Guards, whose primary function is as the repressive strong arm of the state, they allow the Guards to behave like a mafia controlling lucrative black and grey markets. This contributes to the further impoverishment of Iranian people. At the same time, the Iranian government has used US aggression and sanctions to justify the extraordinary repression that it has unleashed on Iranian labor, civil society, and activist groups through mass arrests, suppression of public dissent, imprisonment, torture, and execution.
In an effort to present itself as a bulwark against US intervention in the Muslim world, Iran rhetorically spins its ability to withstand sanctions as a moral victory against imperialism, while quietly moving forward with its neoliberal economic policies, ever-increasing militarization, and suppression of opposition at home. Just as in the Iraqi case, US-led sanctions make grassroots democratic dissent much more difficult for ordinary Iranians living in Iran. At the same time, the Iranian government has only tightened its control on the flow of wealth and information in the country. In the conflict between empire and dictatorship, there is a great need for a third way beyond the militaristic dance of macabrestate-led politics as usual.
As feminists and anti-war activists, we believe it is ordinary people inside Iran who have the right to determine the direction and future of their society. We support the efforts of groups like the Iran-based Change for Equality, which began publishing a series of Women Against War videos on 8 March 2012 for International Women’s Day. It is with these and other activists from the labor and student movements in Iran that we stand in solidarity for a peaceful, just, and feminist alternative to all the options on the table.

Ireland Out of Afghanistan

In 1988, just a year before the end of the U.S.-Russian proxy war in Afghanistan, Sher Zaman Taizi, a well-renowned Pashto writer authored The Field, a short story that laconically summarizes the past four decades of war in Afghanistan:

Sultan Bacha was killed. Mir Bacha was sentenced to transportation for life. And that field for which the two brothers were fighting was taken by others.1  Continue reading

Which Islamists?

by: Hani Sabra

Ballot counting continues as Egypt’s first round of elections, in which a third of the country voted, comes to a close. We now know that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, with the weight of an 83-year old organization behind it, will come out on top. But the real surprise has been the success of the more hardline, ultraconservative Salafi Nour (Light) Party. Nour could capture roughly a quarter of the seats in the first round, and there’s no reason to believe that it can’t replicate that performance in the upcoming two rounds.

Nour’s success unsettles many moderate Egyptian Muslims, liberals, and Christians who fret about the potential impact on their personal lives. How will an Islamist-dominated parliament approach banking, tourism, and foreign investment? But Nour has probably unsettled the Muslim Brotherhood too. The upstart Salafis, who until recently did not participate in politics — many of them still say that democracy is “kufr” (non-belief) — have encroached on the Muslim Brotherhood’s traditional territory. Thus, an increasingly critical question in post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt is not how the liberals will fare against the Islamists; that’s already been answered. Rather, it is: Who wins the right to speak for Egypt’s Islamists?

There are roughly three main Islamist political trends in Egypt, and together they will form a supermajority in parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood represents the right-wing, conservative, pragmatic wing of the movement. The rising Salafis represent the more reactionary, uncompromising wing, and parties like Al-Wasat (The Center), who will be by far the smallest Islamist party in parliament, represent a third trend that seeks to emulate Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The three groups have legitimate reasons to believe they can seize the Islamist mantle and settle the question of who speaks for Islam.

With their electoral success and their unparalleled organizational skills, the Muslim Brotherhood is in a strong, but delicate, position. It remains unlikely that Egypt will have an Islamist-only parliamentary coalition, and electoral success strengthens the Brotherhood’s hand with non-Islamists parties, because it allows the Brotherhood essentially to dictate the terms of any parliamentary coalition that excludes Salafis. Non-Islamist parties may dislike the Brotherhood, but they understand that its leadership is essentially pragmatic and unlikely to introduce radical changes that impact the economy or peoples’ personal lives in the short term. The Brotherhood leadership has spokesmen who shave their beards and talk up the need for foreign investment. It also includes a senior Christian member.

But the Brotherhood has to move carefully and can ill afford to alienate the Salafis. For rank-and-file Brotherhood members, the line between a Brother and a Salafi is blurry. It’s almost certain that potential FJP voters chose Salafi candidates or parties at the ballot box. And more Brothers could jump ship if the Salafis illustrate that they better represent “true Islam.”

The Brotherhood is in a complicated position, trying to hew to the right in the provinces, while behaving “moderately” in Cairo and outside Egypt. In some cases, the Salafis and the Brotherhood will collaborate, but it will likely be a more competitive (and unpredictable) relationship.

Hani Sabra is an analyst in Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice.

Demanding Democracy in Afghanistan

Dear Stakeholders in Afghanistan,

Forgive this letter.

We felt we could share with you our burdens without incurring your anger or pity.

Much has happened to the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers since we met with you for a wonderful hour in Kabul.

Like it is with 30 million other Afghans, our mounting challenges are ‘intolerable and untenable’, and in some instances, rather severe on our souls.

It is improbable that we will see any fruit in our lifetimes.Peace has become a broken ideal. It is a joke derided over tea.

We’re not being negative ; our endeavor to love means that we remain realistically positive, even if love seems to have broken.

But the world is being untrue in ignoring the perpetual breaking of Afghan mothers as peace is torn apart like a goat in the Powers buzkashi game ; the humanitarian statistics and our visual witness prove that this shattering is borne on the backs of the people.

The chiseled Herati-stone sculptured dove which we enthusiastically raised funds to purchase from an Afghan artist, sits silently at Bamiyan Peace Park, inviting visitors to dignity.

One its wings was recently broken off and taken away, as if to break us.

We are no longer shocked.

The energies of local and international communities have been twisted to destruction in Afghanistan for at least 3 decades.

Why?

Why is the media, and the political climate, so antagonistically and obstinately breaking peace?

How much time do we have left to change ourselves, in hope of changing a global predicament?

The people know that the strategy in Afghanistan is failing. They
are paying for it with their lives.

We wish there would be a study like the Global Commission on Drug
Policy, in which ex-Presidents and the ex-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared clearly a failed ‘war against drugs’.

Like in Mexico where 40,000 Mexicans have died violently since 2007, Afghans need a Caravan of Solace to grieve together. So, in the past few days, we had telephone conversations with Julian LeBaron and Emilio Alvarez from Javier Sicilia’s people’s movement, to think together about how ‘poems die’, and how beautiful things are ignored, laughed at and then criminalized.

We are sorry that in the Commission’s report, Afghanistan, the top
producer of heroin and marijuana, is not mentioned. It is as if in
thinking about water, we ignore the oceans. It is as if Afghans do not exist.

But in it lies a practical way to live again. It’s found on Page 10 of the report, as its very first recommendation: “Break the taboo. Pursue an open debate……… Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately.”

After Kai Eide had resigned ( and we wish he had declared this BEFORE he left his post as Afghanistan’s UN Envoy ), he declared in a preface of a book he wrote, that he had increasingly disagreed with Washington’s strategy in Afghanistan, saying it put too much emphasis on military operations over civilian reconstruction efforts. ‘In my opinion it was a strategy being doomed to fail.’ He said U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry had also warned against an imbalance between military and civilian efforts. ‘But none of us gained support for our views,’ Eide wrote.

Afghans and internationals like myself have a shared responsibility to stop being subjects and slaves.

So, we will ask for a conversation.

Y Not converse? The Y Generation across the Middle East, Africa and Europe are already rising up in dignity, to listen and to be heard.

More important than it is for leaders to benefit from listening to and conversing with the people, people who are unconscionably dying by the day need to be affirmed as equal human beings. They need to see democracy being practiced.

The youth volunteers have experienced harassment for their peace
activism, but we realize we should not be defeated by this culture of impunity where the victims are cast as culprits, by the Afghan system of ‘justice’ funded and trained by a complicit world.

The Afghan authorities are stealing from the people while abusing them.

The US/NATO coalition wants a ‘victory’ that would match their
strategic national and client-state interests.

The ‘insurgents’ will naturally resist. For those who live here, it is their land and freedom. Other ‘simple folk’ are ‘ideologically or emotionally attracted to’ the fight like bees to nectar.

ALL these groups feel comfortable and justified in using violent
means. Everybody distrusts everybody. A thousand fatal schemes are
being hatched and changed daily. Hate reigns.

Unfortunately, the world is either unaware, mis-informed, too busy or just passively spectating.

It needs to stop.

Otherwise, a negotiated political settlement ( which the youngest
among us knows is NOT a settlement to benefit the people but to please the Powers ) will be reached, perhaps somewhat like the Treaty of Versailles, setting the stage for future mass conflicts, not inconceivably a regional World War III.

Otherwise, a US/Afghan strategic partnership agreement would be
‘successfully’ signed, nurturing the grounds for continued ‘terrorism’ throughout the average 43-year life span of the Afghan human being.

Faiz said in one of our ‘global days of listening’ telephone
conversations that he believed that a ‘peace movement’ has already
begun in the heart of every Afghan citizen, because the people are so fatigued by loss, and desire a reasonable life.

I wanted to tell Faiz that I was burdened by the poverty of human
empathy, that the peace movement he envisions may be buried before its birth because the world will stare as long as it itself is not acutely hurting, and because it’s hard to find human commitment.

We can’t even find a conversation.

I wanted to tell Faiz that we may have to hurt like the dove.

But I didn’t tell him.

He understands already.

We sincerely hope to visit with you again.

Love,
Hakim and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers
http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog
http://globaldaysoflistening.org

The Praxis of the Egyptian Revolution

by Mona El-Ghobashy

published in MER258

If there was ever to be a popular uprising against autocratic rule, it should not have come in Egypt. The regime of President Husni Mubarak was the quintessential case of durable authoritarianism. “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on January 25, 2011. [1] With these words, Clinton gave voice to a common understanding of Egypt under Mubarak. Government officials, pundits and academics, foreign and domestic, thought the regime was resilient — not because it used brute force or Orwellian propaganda, but because it had shrewdly constructed a simulacrum of politics. Parties, elections and civic associations were allowed but carefully controlled, providing space for just enough participatory politics to keep people busy without threatening regime dominance.

Mubarak’s own party was a cohesive machine, organizing intramural competition among elites. The media was relatively free, giving vent to popular frustrations. And even the wave of protest that began to swell in 2000 was interpreted as another index of the regime’s skill in managing, rather than suppressing, dissent. Fundamentally, Egypt’s rulers were smart authoritarians who had their house in order. Yet they were toppled by an 18-day popular revolt.

Three main explanations have emerged to make sense of this conundrum: technology, Tunisia and tribulation. Technological analyses celebrate young people who employed new media to defeat a stolid autocrat. By the second day of the Egyptian uprising, CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman was calling it a “very techie revolution.” In the following days, every major news outlet framed the uprising as the work of wired, savvy twenty-somethings awakening the liberating potential of Facebook, Twitter and the writings of American intellectual Gene Sharp. “For the world’s despots, his ideas can be fatal,” asserted the New York Times of Sharp. [2] A second category of explanation credits the Tunisian people’s ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in mid-January with supplying a shining example to follow. Esam Al-Amin notes that the Tunisian revolution “inspired Egyptians beyond the activists or elites.” [3] A third theorem focuses on the many tribulations afflicting Egyptians, particularly soaring commodity prices, positing that hardship finally pushed the population to rise up against oppression. “Food: What’s Really Behind the Unrest in Egypt,” one Canadian newspaper headlined its story. [4]

None of these explanations are false. All of them correspond to interpretations of events forwarded by the participants themselves. And each has an impeccable intellectual pedigree, harkening back to two influential traditions in the study of popular collective action. One is the dramaturgical model, identifying a cast of self-propelled characters, armed with courage and a new consciousness, who then make an uprising. The second is the grievance model, by which an accumulation of social troubles steadily diffuses among the population and finally reaches an unforeseeable tipping point. The two models call attention to distinct but equally important forces: specific actors and generalized complaints. But both are oddly without context. Because aggrieved and heroic people exist under every type of political system, the models do not explain when such people will band together to challenge the conditions they deplore.

Egypt’s momentous uprising did not happen because Egyptians willed it into being. It happened because there was a sudden change in the balance of resources between rulers and ruled. Mubarak’s structures of dominion were thought to be foolproof, and for 30 years they were. What shifted the balance away from the regime were four continuous days of street fighting, January 25–28, that pitted the people against police all over the country. That battle converted a familiar, predictable episode into a revolutionary situation. Decades ago, Charles Tilly observed that one of the ways revolutions happen is that the efficiency of government coercion deteriorates. That decline occurs “when the character, organization and daily routines of the population to be controlled change rapidly.” [5] The organization and daily routines of the Egyptian population had undergone significant changes in the years preceding the revolt. By January 25, 2011, a strong regime faced a strong society versed in the politics of the street. In hindsight, it is simple to pick out the vulnerabilities of the Mubarak regime and arrange them in a neat list as the ingredients of breakdown. But that retrospective temptation misses the essential point: Egyptians overthrew a strong regime.

Strong Regime, Strong Society

Like his predecessors, President Husni Mubarak deployed the resources of a high-capacity state to cement his power. He handily eliminated all threats to his rule, from a riot police mutiny in 1986 to an armed Islamist insurgency in the 1990s to an over-ambitious deputy, Defense Minister ‘Abd al-Halim Abu Ghazala, whom he sacked in 1989. He presided over the transformation of the economy from a command model with the state as primary owner to a neoliberal model with the state as conduit for the transfer of public assets to cronies. He introduced an innovation to the Egyptian authoritarian tradition as well, attempting to engineer the handover of presidential power to a blood relative, rather than a military subordinate. To manage social opposition to these big changes, Mubarak used the political arena to coopt critics and the coercive apparatus to deal with those who would not be incorporated.

Opposite this wily regime stood an ostensibly weak and fragmented society. Echoing the regime’s own arguments, workers’ protests, rural riots, electoral struggles and any other forms of popular striving were explained away as economic, not political; local, not national; and defensive, not proactive. The little people had no politics. Thus spoke the political scientist and Mubarak loyalist ‘Ali al-Din Hilal to a US diplomat, who in a 2009 cable reported that Hilal said, “Widespread, politically motivated unrest was unlikely because it was not part of the ‘Egyptian mentality.’” Independent academics shared his view: “There could be a poor people’s revolt if the state fails to provide food. But we must bear in mind that Egyptians rarely explode and then only in specific cases, among them threats to their daily bread or national dignity.” [6]

The reality was that Egyptians had been practicing collective action for at least a decade, acquiring organizational experience in that very old form of politics: the street action. Egypt’s streets had become parliaments, negotiating tables and battlegrounds rolled into one. To compel unresponsive officials to enact or revoke specific policies, citizens blockaded major roads with tree branches and burning tires; organized sit-ins in factory plants or outside ministry buildings; and blocked the motorcades of governors and ministers. Take this small event in the logbook of popular politics from January 2001, one of 49 protest events recorded that year by just one newspaper. Workers at the new Health Insurance hospital in Suez held a sit-in to protest the halt of their entitlement pay. State security officers and local officials intervened, prevailing upon the authorities to reinstate the pay and fire the hospital director. [7] By 2008, there were hundreds of such protests every year, big and small. In June 2008, thousands of residents in the fishing town of Burg al-Burullus blocked a major highway for seven hours to protest the governor’s abrupt decision to halt the direct distribution of flour to households. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse demonstrators, and 90 people were arrested. [8]

If one classifies Egypt’s protests by the type of mobilizing structure that brings people out into the street, rather than the content of their claims, three sectors are salient, each with its own repertoire of tactics. The first is workplace protest, including collective action by industrial laborers, by civil servants, students and by trade practitioners such as auto mechanics and gold traders. The second is neighborhood protest, whether on the scale of a single street or an entire town. Protests by Copts, Sinai Bedouins and farmers are often organized along residential lines. Associational protest is the third sector. The organizing mediums here are professional associations such as lawyers’ and doctors’ syndicates; social movements such as the pro-Palestine solidarity campaigns, the anti-Mubarak Kifaya movement and the April 6 youth group; and the youth wings of political parties such as Ayman Nour’s liberal Ghad, the Muslim Brothers, the liberal-national Wafd, the Nasserist Karama and the Islamist Wasat.

Doing politics outdoors brought citizens face-to-face with the caste that rules the streets: Egypt’s ubiquitous police. Mubarak’s was not a police state because the coercive apparatus routinely beat and detained people. It was a police state because the coercive apparatus had become the chief administrative arm of the state, aggregating the functions of several agencies. Police not only deal with crime and issue passports, drivers’ licenses, and birth and death certificates. They also resolve local conflicts over land and sectarian relations; fix all national and sub-national elections; vet graduate school candidates and academic appointments at every level; monitor shop floors and mediate worker-management conflicts; observe soccer games and Friday prayers; and maintain a network of local informants in poor neighborhoods, to ensure that dispossession is not converted into political organization. Officers are free to work out their own methods of revenue extraction, sometimes organizing the urban drug trade. [9] Patrolmen routinely collect tribute from taxi and microbus drivers and shopkeepers, while high-ranking officers partner with landowners or crony businessmen. When there is a riot or a road accident or a natural disaster, Egyptian police personnel are the first responders, not to aid the victims but to contain their rage.

By January 25, 2011, every protest sector had field experience with police rule, from Helwan University students to villagers in the Delta province of Daqhaliyya to Cairo lawyers to Aswan horse cart drivers. But no population group had come close to shifting the balance of resources in its favor, with the arguable exception of Sinai’s Bedouins, who have been embroiled in fierce battles with police for years, ever since the Taba bombings in 2004 led to massive arrest campaigns targeting residents.

The first significant effort to link up Egypt’s three protest sectors was easily aborted by the regime. On April 6, 2008, a loose coalition of Mahalla and Kafr al-Dawwar textile workers, town residents and groups in Cairo’s associational landscape coordinated a general strike and national day of protest to demand a minimum wage and an end to corruption and police brutality. Riot police and state security officers dissolved the strike action at the Mahalla textile factory before it could take off. Then they easily broke up furious protests by thousands of Mahalla townspeople, lobbing tear gas canisters into crowdsand arresting 150 residents. Smaller solidarity demonstrations in Greater Cairo were also effortlessly managed, and state security’s plans succeeded in preventing the spread of protest to other provinces. But the event midwifed the April 6 youth movement, which would be a key organizer of the January 25 action.

Street clashes continued between locals and police in various spots throughout 2010, with some incidents leading to mass arrests and curfews. Although the triggers of these confrontations were particular to time and place, both police and citizens drew upon remarkably similar sets of devices, from Akhmim in Upper Egypt to Rosetta in the Delta to ‘Umraniyya in Greater Cairo. Two signal events embedded these local patterns of friction into a national framework. In June 2010, a young Alexandrian named Khalid Sa‘id was hauled out of his chair at an Internet café and beaten to death by plainclothes police officers in broad daylight, reportedly in revenge for his posting of a video on YouTube that showed the officers divvying up the proceeds of a drug bust. Sa‘id’s death galvanized public opinion in disgust at police predation. Google executive Wael Ghoneim helped start a Facebook group called “We Are All Khalid Sa‘id,” and social movements organized several large demonstrations against police brutality at which the slogan “Leave! Leave!” was hurled at Husni Mubarak. The second occasion was the national legislative elections. Under complete police management, the elections in November-December 2010 were flagrantly rigged to return 97 percent of the seats for Mubarak’s vehicle, the National Democratic Party (NDP). The elections outraged political elites and ordinary people alike, spurring a unified opposition protest on December 12, and leaving behind fresh memories of street battles in dozens of districts across the country.

By the time January 25, 2011 arrived, there was local resonance for the planned national “day of rage” in virtually every corner of Egypt. The political atmosphere was highly charged: Public opinion was inflamed by the Alexandria church bombing on January 1, which had led to numerous rumbles between police and Coptic protesters. The Tunisian people’s toppling of Ben Ali electrified Egyptians. Riot police corralled a January 16 demonstration outside the Tunisian embassy, where activists had gathered to sing the Tunisian national anthem. Unwittingly, the regime itself provided the calendar date for the “day of rage,” having newly designated January 25 a bank holiday to mark Police Day. The holiday freed up citizens for assembly, practically inviting them to convert the official celebration into a popular harangue against police rule. Several get-out-the-protest clips on YouTube strung together notorious scenes of police brutality captured by cell phone video cameras. Members of all protest sectors announced their participation, including Mahalla workers, Sinai Bedouins and civil servants employed by the cabinet. New actors joined in, such as hard-core fans of the two biggest national soccer teams and Khalid Sa‘id’s mother, who, in an interview uploaded by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei’s reform campaign on January 21, also urged Egyptians to reclaim their rights in the streets. [10] The government felt compelled to counter-organize. State security officers warned Muslim Brothers in the provinces to stay home. NDP parliamentarians branded January 25 the “day of loyalty to the leader,” paying for 500,000 posters featuring Mubarak’s visage and pasting them in major squares. [11] The Coptic Church, seven tiny opposition parties, the Nasserist party and Sufi orders spoke out against the protest action. [12]

In the days before the “day of rage,” a little-noted disturbance prefigured scenes that would soon pop up all over Egypt. One afternoon in the Nile-side working-class neighborhood of Warraq, a brawl erupted between two detainees at the police station. Officers violently put down the fight. The detainees then set fire to the blankets in the lock-up, and the blaze soon engulfed the station, injuring the Warraq head detective and his lieutenant. Armored cars and riot police were dispatched to the neighborhood, as rumors spread that a detainee had died in the fire. Hundreds of residents and detainees’ relatives descended on the station and tried to push their way in, pelting the building with stones and breaking four window panes. By 2 am, the standoff had ended. The Giza police chief had arrived to negotiate with residents, allowing them in one by one to ascertain their relatives’ safety. “My brother is wrongly imprisoned. They accused him of stealing a cell phone,” a resident outside the station told a reporter. “One of the officers framed him.” [13]

Verdict of the Barricades

The January 25 protest started as a midsize demonstration and ended as a massive uprising against autocratic rule. But no one leaving their house that morning knew that they were stepping into the largest policing failure of Mubarak’s tenure. The uprising was forged in the heat of street fighting, unanticipated both by its hopeful strategists and its watchful adversaries. “We went out to protest that day and expected to be arrested in the first ten minutes, just like usual,” recalled Ziad al-‘Ulaymi, an organizer with ElBaradei’s campaign. [14] A lieutenant colonel in the riot police, who was monitoring events from the Cairo operations room, later noted, “Our preparations for January 25 were as per usual, and the instructions were not to molest demonstrators.” [15]

Interior Minister Habib al-‘Adli and his four lieutenants had met on January 24 to finalize their strategy. Cairo police chief Isma‘il al-Sha‘ir issued stern warnings through the media, threatening protesters with arrest and invoking the demonstrations law of 1914 requiring a permit for any public gathering of more than five persons. [16] Giza police chief Usama al-Marasi deployed 12 riot police trucks on Arab League Street, the main thoroughfare of Cairo’s western half, and 18 trucks outside Cairo University. The broad avenue and the campus were two of the pre-announced protest locations on the Facebook pages of the April 6 and Khalid Sa‘id movements. For good measure, al-Marasi emplaced trucks along the entire stretch of the Warraq corniche. [17] Outside Greater Cairo, police set up checkpoints along the approaches to the large Delta towns of Tanta and Mahalla, blocking the entry of delegations from Kafr al-Shaykh, Daqhaliyya and Minoufiyya provinces that had been planned by protest organizers. Qalyoubiyya and Suez provinces were placed on high alert. Suez, in particular, had a recent history of troubles. In 2010, a high-ranking police general was assassinated in plain sight by a former informant, whose trial turned into an exposé of the gendarmerie’s brutal methods. And the heavy police hand was evident again during the 2010 elections. “The polling stations are under occupation. Suez has been turned into a military garrison!” cried an irate poll monitor on voting day. [18]

Zero hour, as announced by protest organizers, was to be 2 pm. The stated plan was to demonstrate in front of the Interior Ministry and then disband at 5 pm. Security forces therefore sealed off all the vital downtown streets leading to and from the Ministry, allowing pedestrians to pass only after checking ID cards. But it was a ruse. On the morning of January 25, organizers used cell phones and landlines to disseminate the real locations of the protests and the actual start time: noon. “The protest locations announced on Facebook and to the press were the major landmarks. The idea was to start marching down small side streets and pick up people along the way, so that by the time demonstrators reached the announced locations, they would be large crowds that security couldn’t corral,” explained organizer al-‘Ulaymi. [19]

The crafty tactic worked in some neighborhoods, but not in others. Envision a sizable Kifaya demonstration walking down a tiny, picturesque lane in the inter-confessional neighborhood of Shubra, calling on residents watching them from the balconies to come down and join. Actor ‘Amr Wakid is there, demonstrators are waving Egyptian flags and veteran sloganeer Kamal Khalil is providing the soundtrack with his unique sing-song rhymes. [20] By the time this group surged toward the announced rally point of Shubra Circle, they had collected 1,000 bodies and police officers had started to chase them. Khalil was arrested, and the other legendary sloganeer and seasoned unionist Kamal Abu Eita just barely escaped. “That’s when I realized that Abu Eita runs much faster than me!” said thirty-something activist Ahmad ‘Urabi of Abu Eita, who is nearly 60.

By that point at 2:30 pm, the Shubra people received calls and text messages that crowds were filling streets in the working-class neighborhoods of Boulaq, Imbaba and Bab al-Khalq, and that Arab League Street in middle-class Muhandisin was overflowing with people marching toward Tahrir Square downtown. So they individually hopped into taxis and headed for the square. Meanwhile, outside the High Court building near Tahrir, middle-aged opposition parliamentarians and tweedy professors were scuffling with riot police. Lawyers from the bar association nearby had broken through the cordon and were approaching, as was a third roving group passing by the Judges’ Club around the corner and chanting over and over again, “Hurriyya! Hurriyya!” (Freedom! Freedom!). The police were disoriented by the convergence of the three formations. State security officers negotiated with parliamentarians, trying to convince them to persuade the crowds that they could chant as much as they liked but had to remain stationary on the High Court steps. But there was another logic at work. The bodies gleefully broke through the cordons and rushed toward Gala’ Street and from there to ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Riyad Square abutting the Egyptian museum, a stone’s throw from Tahrir.

While security forces were trying to contain the court demonstration, Ghad party leader Ayman Nour and Wafd party members Muhammad Shurdi and businessman Rami Lakah were fronting an energetic group of Wafdist youth speed-walking from Ramsis Street to the Nile corniche. A couple of hundred strong and each member carrying a green party flag, the procession plucked off bystanders as it moved along, making its way to the NDP headquarters where it stopped for some moments to denounce NDP leaders, promising them the fate of the Tunisian ex-president, Ben Ali. Before security forces could pen them in, a large group coming from the Qasr al-Nil bridge merged with the Wafdists and, together, they set off for the state radio and television building, completely encircling it for a few minutes with no security forces in sight. From there, they roamed the streets of Boulaq, reemerging at the intersection of Ramsis and July 26 Streets, and headed for Tahrir.

Nearby, on ‘Abd al-Khaliq Tharwat Street, Khalaf Muhammad Mursi, a 75-year old newspaper vendor, said, “Back in the days of the monarchy, I saw as many demonstrations as there are hairs on my head. Back then, they flipped over the trams and chanted against the king, and some of them wanted [Prime Minister Mustafa] Nahhas back in power. Demonstrating is good. They’re marching and not doing anything wrong. The government should let them.” [21]

In the provinces, there were also large demonstrations. Police containment varied in intensity, with some brigades tolerating the columns of protesters and others losing control of the crowds, as in Cairo. In Ismailiyya’s Firdaws Square, police made rigorous preparations starting the night before. By early afternoon, rows of riot police were tightly hemming in 600 demonstrators, who were performing the afternoon prayers outdoors and shouting, “Chant it, chant it! Raise your voice high! He who chants will not die!” By 6 pm, more people had joined in, enabling the protesters to break free of the cordon and ramble through the city. The labor stronghold of Mahalla was a different matter, the two demonstrations there having been violently put down, with 11 arrests. Alexandria’s squares and landmarks saw several simultaneous, separate protests. Police ringed a large crowd outside the governor’s office, chanting for the dissolution of the rigged parliament and demanding an audience with the governor, who refused. In the al-Asafra neighborhood, a procession flowed toward NDP headquarters, fending off the “karate companies,” the state security musclemen who disperse crowds by striking demonstrators.

Back in Tahrir, shortly before 4 pm, security forces were resisting demonstrators’ surge toward the national legislative headquarters from two directions. In the square, high-octane crowds led by soccer fans exclaimed “Egypt! Egypt!” in army-like cadence. They repeatedly rushed the thick layers of conscripts blocking the way to Qasr al-‘Ayni Street, which leads southwest in rough parallel with the Nile, passing by the houses of Parliament. When the protesters succeeded in breaking through, panicked officers went in hot pursuit, pushing the discombobulated lower ranks in front of them to rearrange them again in a human blockade before the people could reach the People’s Assembly, as Egypt’s lower house is called. From the other direction on Qasr al-‘Ayni Street, a now iconic scene saw light-footed young men sparring with an armored vehicle. In the footage posted online (where it has upwards of 2 million views), one of them then positions himself directly in the path of the moving lorry as it spouts water from a cannon. He stands there defiantly, hands on hips and drenched, as the vehicle brakes and the videographers wildly cheer him on from a balcony above. [22]

By then, something extraordinary was happening. The thousands of demonstrators who had been wending their way through different parts of the city were streaming through all the approaches to the square. Poet and Baradei campaign leader ‘Abd al-Rahman Yusuf was running from security forces through the labyrinthine streets of chic Garden City, home to the US and British embassies. He and his fellows approached the square from underneath the Qasr al-Nil bridge. “It was one of the most profound moments of my life. The sight of the square filled with tens of thousands heralded the long-awaited dawn. As we entered the square, the crowds installed there cheered the coming of a new battalion, greeting us with joy. I wept.” [23]

In the orange glow left by a setting sun, a skirmish unfolded outside the upper house of Parliament. Demonstrators had inched their way to that spot by making iterated advances into riot police formations, breaking them apart and gaining a tad more ground each time. Protesters clambered atop a red fire truck, and their jubilant fellows began to sing the national anthem. Tense riot police commanders herded their troops. The black-helmeted conscripts jogged in place and emitted the rhythmic grunts of soldiers revving up for close combat. When the order was given, the troops rushed into the crowd. “Silmiyya! Silmiyya!” roared the demonstrators, exhorting each other to non-violence and holding their ground as the troops retreated into position. An enterprising civilian knocked over a white-and-blue sentry kiosk. His fellows rushed to help him roll it to the protesters’ side; a barricade had been made. When hotheads in the crowd started hurling rocks at riot police, a chant rose up from both the front lines and cheerleaders on the sidelines, “No stones! No stones!” In this army, the commanders and the foot soldiers were one. [24]

Night fell, but the people stayed put in the square. Huge speakers were procured from nearby Bab al-Louq, and a people’s broadcast service was set up. Angry monologues, poetry couplets and political demands were read out. A cardboard replica of a squat dictator hung from a lamppost. News was relayed that two citizens had died in Suez that day, solidifying resolve. Volunteers ranged across the square, collecting garbage in plastic bags. People built fires and danced around their light. Out of nowhere, food and blankets appeared, to the delighted claps and cries of the encampment. Memories of March 20–21, 2003 flitted through the minds of those who were there that evening, when the square was under the people’s control for ten hours to express outrage at the US bombing of Baghdad. But on that occasion security forces had uprooted them by the next afternoon. Perhaps determined to avoid a reprise, the broadcast rallied everyone to spend this and every night in the square until their demands were met. As they had repeated over and over again throughout the day, they wanted: “Bread, freedom, social justice!” After sunset, as demonstrators realized their own power, this troika began to alternate with the Tunisian anthem: “The people want to overthrow the regime!” Reporters milled about, collecting stories. Sitting alone was Amal, a young nurse. Her friends had abandoned her, their parents refusing to let them join the demonstrations. Why did not her parents do the same? “My parents have passed away,” she explained, “and I support five brothers and sisters. I’m here so that they can live a dignified life. I don’t want them to be deprived because they’re orphans.” [25]

The riot police lieutenant colonel received the order at midnight. “The square had to be cleaned up,” he recounted. “Absolutely no one was to spend the night there.” The armored vehicles closed in, the riot troops were arrayed and the first tear gas canister was lobbed into the sit-in at 12:45 am. Nearly an hour later, following deployment of 200 vehicles, 50 public buses, 10,000 riot police and 3,000 special forces troopers, the people were expelled. Before scattering in all directions, knots of protesters encircled the vehicles that barged into the square at breakneck speed. A group ran to the NDP headquarters, where they smashed windows before being arrested. Another headed to the television building and blocked traffic in front of it. And a third group set fire to police kiosks and a police car near the ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Riyad bus depot. Holding up bloodied hands to the camera, one of the protesters said, “They shot at us! They shot at us! Who are we, the enemy?” [26]

Mubarak’s Worst Fears

Habib al-‘Adli and his adjutants were concerned by the day’s events, especially the synchronized diffusion of protests across the country, the fluidity of crowd movement in the two major cities and citizens’ euphoric sense of the weak points of the police. As the operations room lieutenant colonel recalled, “What we saw on January 25 was an uprising, not a demonstration. A young man standing in front of an armored vehicle, jumping on it to strike it, falling off and then doing it again? Honestly, there was no fear.” [27] Both the Cairo and Giza police chiefs were in the field all day on January 25, and they saw the electrifying empowerment that seemed to course through Egyptians’ veins. Both were experienced, hands-on officers who had proved their mettle in dicey situations. Cairo police chief al-Sha‘ir won al-‘Adli’s trust by handily managing the large 2006 protests in support of reformist judges. And Giza police chief al-Marasi had been the head state security officer in Suez, seat of a sparsely populated province with multiple coils of social tension, from labor strife to drug running to Bedouin tribes with serious grievances, all sitting at the southern mouth of the Suez Canal, the country’s prime generator of external revenue.

In the early morning hours of January 26, preparations were swiftly made to secure downtown Cairo against another popular takeover. State security instructed all downtown businesses to close before 1 pm on January 26. The two underground Metro lines converging on the major transfer hub at Tahrir announced that trains would not be stopping at the station. Police sealed off four entrances to the station, and three entrances to the July 26 station one stop to the northeast, outside the High Court building. Two thousand undercover policemen fanned out in downtown streets and government installations, and al-Marasi ordered the placement of multiple checkpoints on Nahiya Street, through which thousands of people had streamed the day before onto the Arab League boulevard. Labor commissar Husayn Mugawir, whose job is to control workers through the sole official union federation, instructed all union heads in the provinces to be especially responsive to the rank and file, lest any incipient job action happen to lend the demonstrations strategic depth. [28]

These measures indicated that Mugawir’s superiors were feeling the worst fears of an authoritarian regime. For a capable autocrat like Mubarak, large protests are no cause for anxiety. The fears are diffusion and linkage. Indeed, the diffusion of collective action in time and space emboldened Egyptians, signaling the unwillingness or incapacity of the coercive apparatus to suppress demonstrations. The simultaneity of protests across very different locations, especially the filling of streets in neighborhoods entirely unused to such processions, revised citizens’ calculations of what was possible and reduced uncertainty about the consequences of action. The second fear is the coordination between the three organizational infrastructures of protest. Indeed, the state security directorate existed to frustrate precisely this bridge building. It had done so quite successfully with the April 6, 2008 general strike, and had a stellar track record in branding each sector of dissent with a different label: Associational protest was “political,” but workplace and neighborhood protest was “economic.”

The diffusion of protests on January 25–27 shattered both the mental and material divisions between Egypt’s three protest sectors, forcing the regime to confront them simultaneously, when for 30 years it had done so serially. In Cairo, there was a spontaneous sit-in on the tracks at the July 26 Metro station, with demonstrators halting the train. In Boulaq, a moving crowd of 1,000 residents fought with police from early afternoon until past 2 am Friday morning, braving tear gas and rubber bullets, and setting up barricades on Gala’ Street with dumpsters and carefully arranged burning tires. Undeterred by the traumatic routing of people from Tahrir Square, angry demonstrators by the hundreds continued to stride through the streets of downtown.

The picture in the provinces was much the same, with protesters refusing to empty the streets. Demonstrations in Daqhaliyya, Port Said and North Sinai demanded the release of those arrested on January 25; in Sinai, residents used their signature tactic of blockading the highway with burning tires. On the third day of protests, a young Sinai protester named Muhammad ‘Atif was killed in clashes with police, making him the fourth casualty nationwide. In Alexandria, state security broke up a planned lawyers’ protest on the Manshiya court steps, arresting the first 20 people who showed up. The next day, 200 lawyers returned and held their protest. In Qalyoubiyya, another 200 lawyers marched down the streets on January 26 inveighing against price hikes and the export of Egyptian natural gas to Israel, so police cooped them up in the courthouse the next day. And Mahalla was still under lockdown, with security forces importing reinforcements to block renewed attempts by textile workers to start action. Percolating up from these varied locales was a decision to hold another round of protest on the next common-sense date: after Friday prayers on January 28, first dubbed “the Friday of the martyrs and the detained.”

The situation in Suez developed rapidly. On January 25, security forces had been especially violent; the fighting resulted in 110 injuries and three deaths, as well as 54 arrests. The next day, hundreds of residents flocked to Suez General Hospital to donate blood, finding it so full that the injured were lying on sheets in hallways. Meanwhile, a large group of incensed relatives and citizens had gathered outside the morgue. The authorities insisted on handing over corpses without forensic reports, and security forces besieged the funerals with a ferocity that further enraged residents. “When you see this, you feel like you’re in Palestine and Iraq,” said the leftist Tagammu‘ parliamentarian for the city. “Security uses bullets and tear gas canisters and water hoses, and the residents can only confront this with stones.” [29] But residents escalated their tactics, setting fire to a police post and the municipal council building on January 26, and trying to burn down the local NDP office. On January 27, hundreds of residents and detainees’ relatives demonstrated outside the Arba‘in police station, chanting, “Enough! We want our kids!” Demonstrators hurled petrol bombs at the station and ignited several police cars.

On the evening of January 27, police and protesters each held planning meetings to plot the second act of the confrontation. Police officials devised a comprehensive scheme to cut off physical and virtual means of linkage. They ordered a shutdown of Internet and cellular phone service for the next day; cell phones were especially important for demonstrators to spread news of protest diffusion in real time, and to share spot instructions or eleventh-hour location changes. Cairo was sealed off from the provinces and put under lockdown. All of the arteries and bridges leading into Tahrir Square from east and west were closed to traffic — even to pedestrians. Additional Metro stops were closed, not just the two nearest the square. And mosques were carefully primed in advance. The ‘Umar Makram mosque in Tahrir was ordered shuttered. Friday preachers all over the country were instructed to deliver sermons denouncing assembly and disobedience of the ruler. At the Giza mosque where Mohamed ElBaradei was set to attend prayer before joining the protests, the preacher of 20 years was replaced with a government pick. For their part, the youth groups and opposition forces coordinating the protest added new locations and reacquainted themselves with landlines to cope with the cellular shutdown. Opposition parties who had sat out the January 25 action — the Tagammu‘ leftists and the Nasserists — scrambled to join up. And the Muslim Brothers threw their organizational weight behind the Friday gathering, revising their calculus of risk after seeing the momentous events of the previous three days. The players readied themselves, and the world watched.

On January 28, shortly after noon, a majestic scene unfolded all over Egypt. Grand processions of thousands upon thousands of people in every province made their way to the abodes of the oppressive forces that controlled their lives. Beckoning those watching from their windows, they chanted, “Our people, our people, come and join us!” When the crowds reached town and city centers, they encircled police stations, provincial government buildings and NDP headquarters, the triad of institutions emblematic of the regime. The syncopated chorus that had traveled from Sidi Bouzid to Tunis now shook the Egyptian earth: “The people…want…to overthrow the regime!”

In Tanta, 50,000 people blockaded a major highway, encircled the provincial government building and ripped down its billboards. In Kafr al-Dawwar, 25,000 did the same. In Damietta, the people called for the dissolution of Parliament, torching the NDP building and defacing the façade of the governor’s offices. In Minya, whose governor had bragged that his middle Nile province had not seen demonstrations on January 25, people ignored the entreaties of the police chief and barricaded the Cairo-Aswan highway, braving rubber bullets to chant outside the NDP headquarters: “Corruption caused this country’s destruction!”

Everywhere, the rising of the commons was met with superior force. Police fired tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and — the ultimate escalation — live ammunition. The goal, to be reached at any cost, was to prevent separate crowds of demonstrators from fusing together in city centers. State security commandeered ambulances to arrest the unsuspecting injured, and hospitals were pressured into falsifying the cause of death for demonstrators who were shot at close range. Residents provided first aid to demonstrators leery of getting into ambulances, and tossed water bottles, vinegar and onions (homemade tear gas remedies) to the civilians fighting below. On Ramsis Street in downtown Cairo, as a crowd of 10,000 crashed into a security formation and was hurled back with copious tear gas, a woman cried out from her balcony, “God be with you, men of Egypt!” [30]

Communications between Alexandrian field commanders that day record the shock and awe police experienced in Egypt’s second city. “We are still engaging very large numbers coming from both directions. We need more gas,” a squadron head radioed to a superior. “The people have barged in and burned a security vehicle. The situation here is beyond belief. I’m telling you, sir, beyond belief,” says another. By mid-afternoon, Alexandrians had laid siege to three police stations. In other parts of the city, police had run out of ammunition and resorted to throwing stones. A high-ranking commander got on the line to sternly instruct a field officer, “Stop engaging and secure the police stations! You don’t have sufficient forces to calmly engage these numbers. Go and batten down the hatches!” [31]

And Suez? Security forces had isolated the Canal town from the rest of the country, closing off all access points. Massive reinforcements had arrived daily since January 25. At 1 am on January 28, the top police brass met at the Arba‘in police station, which only a few hours before had been ablaze, to set the plan for the “Friday of anger.” The showdown in Suez started after noon prayers. Gen. Ashraf ‘Abdallah, commander of the riot police in the Canal Zone, later prepared an internal report:

After Friday prayers, no fewer than 5,000 people began a procession that was joined by large numbers of citizens from all mosques. The procession grew to 40,000 people, and the police chief ordered that it be allowed to proceed to the provincial capital building. Once there, the numbers exceeded 50,000. The masses remained outside the building for many hours, chanting hostile slogans. At the same time, large numbers of no less than 20,000 had gathered in front of the Arba‘in police station and assaulted the forces with rocks and Molotov cocktails. The forces used only tear gas. Due to the density of the crowds, the forces were unable to deal with them. The crowds burned the station, released the detainees and burned all the police vehicles in the area, among them ten lorries and an armored car belonging to the Ismailiyya force. [32]

In five compact hours, from noon to 5 pm, the police battled the people in all areas of the capital, desperate to thwart the amalgamation of multitudes in Tahrir Square. A climactic battle erupted on the Qasr al-Nil bridge, as surging crowds from the west sought to cross the river to join their brethren converging on Tahrir from the east. Qasr al-Nil has rightly been memorialized in word and video. [33] But there was another climactic Cairo fight in the east, where at least 15 citizens died (the youngest of them aged 14) and ten troop carriersparked in a row burned. The battle of Matariyya Square, to the east of the suburb of Heliopolis, raged as police sought to stop residents from merging with crowds in the adjacent, densely populated ‘Ayn Shams neighborhood. The people’s insistent anthem, as outside Parliament on January 25, was “Silmiyya! Silmiyya!” and “No stones! No stones!” When police used overwhelming force, including live rounds, the people switched tactics, forming a barricade with overturned dumpsters, seizing the shields of riot police, and burning the vehicles and the police station. The mother of ‘Imad al-Sa‘idi, 24, killed by one bullet to the heart and one to the side, wondered, “If there was no way out for a policeman but to fire, then fire on his hand or his foot. But to shoot him in the heart and end his life — why?” [34]

The Egyptian uprising telescoped the daily encounters between people and police that had played out for more than ten years. Al-‘Adli’s police force did not melt away in the face of a popular onslaught. It fought for four straight days on nearly every street corner in every major city, before finally being rendered inefficient by the dynamism and stamina of exceptionally diverse crowds, each with their own know-how in the art of interfacing with gendarmes. At 5 pm on the afternoon of January 28, when reports started rolling in of police stations burning down, one after another, al-‘Adli capitulated and ordered the removal of his forces from the streets. It was a sight unseen in modern Egyptian police rule — the one and only time that Egypt’s three protest subcultures were able to jointly defeat the coercive apparatus that had existed to keep them apart.

By the end of the street fighting, preliminary estimates were that 365 citizens had died and some 5,000 had been hurt. On the police side, there were 32 deaths and 1,079 injuries, while 99 police stations and 3,000 vehicles had burned. Al-‘Adli stayed bunkered inside the Interior Ministry until January 31, when he was transported out sitting huddled in an army tank. In a six-hour interrogation by the prosecution, on charges of responsibility for the deaths and injuries, al-‘Adli shunted blame upward and downward. He accused his four top assistants of providing him with false intelligence, and demanded that Husni Mubarak be held accountable for the decision to fire on demonstrators, in his capacity as head of the Supreme Police Council. But he did concede defeat.

The situation was beyond imagination. The faces of the demonstrators showed how clear they were in challenging the regime and how much they hated it, how willing they were to resist with their bodies all attempts to divide them with truncheons and water cannons and all other tools. They outnumbered security forces by a million or more, a fact that shocked the Interior Ministry leaders and the president. Those government officials all sat at home watching the demonstrations on TV. Not one of them devised a political solution to what policemen were facing — confrontations with angry people and indescribable hatred of the government. All of us were astonished. [35]

The prosecutor-general referred al-‘Adli and his four lieutenants to Cairo criminal court, on charges of murder and endangerment of public property. [36]

The People’s Choice

When Husni Mubarak appeared shortly after midnight on January 29 to announce his appointment of a new government, it was the first time in his tenure that he had been summoned to the podium by popular fiat. But he was enacting a familiar script written by autocratic rulers past, offering concessions to a population that had beaten the police and gained control of a country’s streets. An offering that if made only four days earlier would have been considered shrewd — a cabinet reshuffle — was now foolhardy. It simply sharpened the population’s apprehension of imminent victory, spurring them to stay outdoors and demand nothing less than the ouster of the president. Since Mubarak had made it impossible to remove him from office through elections, Egyptians resorted to the streets to relay the people’s choice.

The liberation of the streets from the occupation forces of the Mubarak regime was only the opening act. Next was the symbolic public acquisition of Parliament, filling the avenue outside with peaceful protesters and plastering the building’s gates with the people’s insignia. Then came the branding of public goods; “our money,” read a scrawl of graffiti on an army tank. With remarkable focus, citizens targeted the structures of rule that had disenfranchised and dispossessed them for decades. The police stations and NDP headquarters were the first targets, but the nascent revolutionaries did not stop there, hitting municipal councils, governors’ offices, state security buildings, police checkpoints, traffic departments, toll booths, utility buildings and other institutions that had taken their resources without giving in return. In Fayyoum, residents stormed the public utility company and destroyed the water bills that charged them exorbitant rates. In Ismailiyya, among the government institutions stormed was the Electricity Administration. In Alexandria, youthful demonstrators grabbed files from the main provincial building that they said showed evidence of corruption. In Isna, a town in Upper Egypt, 1,000 demonstrators stormed a brand-new administrative building that had yet to be formally opened, paid for with their monies.

The genius of the Egyptian revolution is its methodical restoration of the public weal. The uprising restored the meaning of politics, if by that term is understood the making of collective claims on government. It revalued the people, revealing them in all their complexity — neither heroes nor saints, but citizens. It repaired the republican edifice of the state, Mubarak’s hereditary succession project being the revolution’s very first casualty. It compelled the police to bring back their old motto, erasing al-‘Adli’s sinister “police and people in service to the nation” and returning “the police at the service of the people.” The countless public institutions branded with the names of Mubarak and his wife are now being rechristened in the names of regular people who died for the revolution. The referendum, a procedure disfigured beyond recognition by authoritarianism, on March 19 regained meaning as a matter for adjudication by the people. The revolution will have realized its emancipatory promise if it achieves one great task: constructing institutional checks against the rule of the many by the few.

At press time, Egypt’s revolution is still in full swing. It must be expected, however, that the revolution will undergo phases of setback, real or apparent. The apparatus of coercion, indeed, has been quickly rehabilitated and is gingerly reinserting itself into civilian life. But on what terms? For Egypt’s revolutionary situation to lead to a revolutionary outcome, existing structures of rule must be transformed. Citizens must be free to choose their presidents, governors, parliamentarians, faculty deans and village mayors, their trade union, student, and professional association leaders. They must have a binding say in the economic decisions that affect their lives. The coming years will reveal how much of that will happen and how. Just as it provided an archetype of durable authoritarian rule, perhaps Egypt is now making a model of revolution.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Evelyn Alsultany, George Gavrilis and Mandy McClure for sympathetic and tough-minded feedback.

Endnotes

[1] Reuters, January 25, 2011.
[2] New York Times, February 16, 2011.
[3] Esam Al-Amin, “When Egypt’s Revolution Was at the Crossroads,” Counterpunch, March 9, 2011.
[4] The Globe and Mail, February 9, 2011.
[5] Charles Tilly, “Does Modernization Breed Revolution?” Comparative Politics 5 (April 1973).
[6] Interview with Muhammad al-Mahdi, professor of psychology at al-Azhar University, al-Shurouq, October 15, 2010.
[7] Al-Ahali, January 3, 2001.
[8] Al-Ahram Weekly, June 19–25, 2008.
[9] Al-Misri al-Yawm, March 18, 2011. [English]
[10] This interview is online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgZMz3encLE.
[11] Al-Shurouq, January 22, 2011.
[12] Al-Misri al-Yawm, January 23 and 24, 2011.
[13] Al-Shurouq, January 12, 2011.
[14] Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2011.
[15] Al-Misri al-Yawm, March 12, 2011.
[16] Al-Misri al-Yawm, January 25, 2011.
[17] Al-Shurouq, January 25, 2011.
[18] Al-Shurouq, November 29, 2010.
[19] Al-Shurouq, February 18, 2011.
[20] This scene was in fact captured on camera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HfkUJrSMoM.
[21] Al-Misri al-Yawm, January 27, 2011.
[22] The scene can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWr6MypZ-JU.
[23] ‘Abd al-Rahman Yusuf, “Diaries of the Revolution of the Patient,” al-Misri al-Yawm, March 7, 2011.
[24] See footage from this battle at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgh1iOXI6sQ.
[25] Al-Misri al-Yawm, January 27, 2011.
[26] These moments are recorded at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g58Sl_4GN0E.
[27] Al-Misri al-Yawm, March 12, 2011.
[28] Al-Shurouq and al-Misri al-Yawm, January 27, 2011.
[29] Al-Misri al-Yawm, January 28, 2011.
[30] Al-Misri al-Yawm, January 30, 2011.
[31] The transcripts of these communications were published in al-Misri al-Yawm, March 15, 2011.
[32] The report was obtained by al-Misri al-Yawm, March 16, 2011.
[33] New York Times, January 28, 2011.
[34] Al-Misri al-Yawm, February 15, 2011.
[35] Al-Shurouq, March 19, 2011.
[36] Al-Shurouq, March 23, 2011.

Over Wo(my)n’s Dead Bodies: On Surviving Liberation

It was a vivid autumn evening. Americans were still grieving from the stun of 9/11, and the only entity that dared punctuate the eerily quiet streets of New York were the lurid faces of the missing, plastered across a thousand white pages on everything that could still stand in lower Manhattan. It was under this tense and mournful atmosphere that first lady, Laura Bush, took to the airwaves. It would be the first solitary address of any president’s wife in U.S. history, and Mrs. Bush would use her airtime to bolster her husband’s military campaign, Operation Enduring Freedom. Just six weeks after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Mrs. Bush spoke with confidence and pride as she described the rejoicing felt across Afghanistan with the fall of the Taliban. ?Nearly a decade has passed since Mrs. Bush’s address. The military campaign Bush began in 2001 has become known as the War on Terror. Americans have long learned to swallow the irritating truth that the corporate media assisted the political elites of this country in financing its military aspirations by capitalizing on the deep grief of September 11th. And what of those fatuous geographical alignments of “evil” so prudently crafted in order to solidify American resolve for Iraq? Well, they’ve shifted to Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. But so has global solicitude, once ardently vigiling with slogans declaring “we are all Americans,” now shrinks and scowls embarrassed it was inveigled into believing “Enduring Freedom” meant something other than torture, bombing and occupation.

Of all the stories culled into existence in order to facilitate mass compliance and participation in the War on Terror, none has been as politically potent as Mrs. Bush’s initial November appeal. Her call dared all decent people of the world to join the US and its allies in freeing the women of Afghanistan from the “brutal terrorism” of Islamic fundamentalism. Almost ten years later this explanation continues to oblige the US government’s ‘feminist’ agenda in South Asia. Even Time Magazine weighed in with its July 2010 headline, What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan. Notice the punctuation, and picture a melancholic young Afghan woman, wrapped in a purple veil, her black hair framing her warm brown skin, her nose (according the article inside) savagely cut off by the Taliban.

Unfortunately for the young woman, and the millions like her in Afghanistan, the War on Terror has spiraled into a war of terror. And even those of us who smelled the dire stench of imperialism before a single boot fell to the ground in Afghanistan are nevertheless perplexed by why it goes on into perpetuity.

“Moral arguments do not work,” an old professor of mine stated emphatically when I posed the question to him of how we were going to end the wars. “I don’t know,” he said, followed by a long, penetrating silence, then, “perhaps you, my dear, should write.” He slinks away to call for another drink, and I dare myself not to feel semantically ill-equipped to stop the hemorrhaging of innocent people caught in the cross hairs of a world gone mad on war.

Brushing aside my insecurities, I am resolved to address the contention that this war is a necessary step in liberating the women of Afghanistan. Despite Laura Bush’s optimism, I don’t believe the War on Terror has made anyone safer, not least the women of Afghanistan.

I contest Mrs. Bush’s assertion by taking notice of the dynamics of modern Afghanistan that make her promise entirely problematic. You see, firstly I am unconvinced that the majority of Afghans have much access to sources of international news. A recent poll conducted by the International Council on Security and Development found that nearly 92% of men (women were not polled) in Qandahar and Helmund provinces knew nothing of the September 11th attacks. Further, they reported that nearly 40% of all those surveyed believe the war is being waged to “destroy Islam” and others, Afghanistan itself. If after ten years a majority of Afghanis from the most war-torn areas remain unaware of the US’s principle argument for the war, I cannot say that the 2001 invasion held significant political meaning for the majority of Afghan women.

Beyond this, Afghanistan is a country where the majority of its citizens, nearly 78% according to a 2008 UNICEF report, live in the provinces. This also means that a majority of Afghanis have extremely limited access to civil infrastructure like electricity, running water, roads or means for transportation. Poverty rates are among the highest in the world, and literacy among the lowest. In the case of women, statistics find that only 12.6% are literate, most of them residing in Kabul and Herat. Several surveys do demonstrate an increase in enrollment of girls in secondary schools in Kabul in comparison to ten years ago. They also find that provinces not involved in the heaviest fighting report improvements for women when it comes to freedom of movement outside the home. Still, many claim that these changes are only cosmetic, and that conditions for women have either stayed the same as they were under the Taliban, or have worsened as a direct result of insecurities caused by war.

This past November, twenty-nine non-government organizations in Afghanistan submitted a briefing to the NATO Heads of Government Summit at Lisbon. The briefing entitled Nowhere to Turn described the conditions under which most Afghanis were living and described the security situation within the country as “rapidly deteriorating.” The report also chronicles three major concerns the NGOs deem major factors causing insecurity: a marked increase in night-raids conducted by US Special Operations Forces, a failed counterinsurgency campaign that looks increasingly unable to prevent a civil war, and widely circulated accounts of the US going around the Karzai government and financing and arming any opposition group claiming to be fighting the Taliban.

In a situation where living is far from assured, liberation is unthinkable.

Laura Bush’s contention that Afghan women have benefited from the ‘liberation’ brought to them by the US military is problematic because it isn’t backed up by conditions “on the ground” in Afghanistan.  But there are several other more insidious issues raised by the U.S. governmental and mainstream media propagation of this notion. The narrative about ‘freeing’ Afghan women only became politically expedient when the aim of capturing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda proved harder to do than anticipated. So the Bush Administration asked Laura to polish off that erstwhile story of the savage East in need of an altruistic West, and they cleverly reinvented orientalism in the guise of “the woman question.” Though emotionally manipulative and strongly lacking in historical credibility (the US financed militia groups throughout the 1970’s and 80’s when it was more advantageous to beat the Soviets than to rally for women) the narrative has become one of the most widely used justifications for continued occupation. Whilst there is no novelty in inculcating historical amnesia at politically opportune occasions, neither are these narratives about ‘East’ and ‘West’ impervious.

As we approach a decade of war in Afghanistan we must confront not only the material conditions that make structural improvements in Afghanistan unlikely, but also those narratives that allow continued support for the status quo. For me this confrontation is best expressed in the crucial debates about strategies for resistance.

Many post-colonial theorists contend that discursive change must be a precondition for structural transformation. In other words a process of decolonization necessitates not only the transformation of the political and economic apparatus of colonialism, but also its legitimizing narratives. I see this issue of freeing the women in Afghanistan through war as nothing more than a narrative used to legitimize the apparatus of imperialism, and unfortunately it is not only the political elites who are recycling this story.

There was a great and sobering opportunity, following the September 11th attacks, for all those “meaning makers” (journalists, academics, artists, etc.) to seriously contend with the ideology of American exceptionalism that has kept much of the US public naïve about the injurious role US foreign policy has played in the world. Instead public discourse was concentrated on futile questions like, “why do they hate us?” and determined that the principle issue between ‘the West’ and ‘the Rest’ were civilizational in nature – i.e. Samuel Huntingdon’s foolish “clash of civilizations” theory. Thus, it is no surprise that many people were persuaded that the U.S. must help the abject Muslim women in need of liberation. Notice the refusal by many leftists to critically reflect on the perils of bestowing cultural icons (e.g., the veiled Muslim woman) on serpentine historical and political realities.

Rather than seeking to ‘save’ the women of Afghanistan, with the superiority it implies and violence it affects, solidarity activists can critically engage by making a concerted effort to recognize their  own responsibility to address the injustices that forcefully shape the world in which we live. Critical engagement also involves struggling to understand and manage cultural differences. Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod specifies actions we can take , “What does freedom mean if we accept the fundamental premise that humans are social beings, always raised in certain social and historical contexts…that shape their desires and understanding of the world… I do not know how many feminists who felt good about saving Afghan women from the Taliban are also asking for a global redistribution of wealth or contemplating sacrificing their own consumption radically so that [other] women could have some chance of having what I do believe should be a universal human right – the right to freedom from the structural violence of global inequality and from the ravages of war, the everyday right to having enough to eat, having homes for their families…have the strength and security to work out, within their communities and with whatever alliances they want, how to live a good live, which might very well include changing the ways those communities are organized.”

For me the issue of what constitutes ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation’ is something subject to historical context, and must be understood in the light of capacities and desires specific to the community in which one lives. If we wish to ‘liberate’ Afghan women from disembodiment and violence, what vision of life after liberation are we asking them to be liberated to? Nowhere on the planet have we yet been able to significantly challenge the male-centric social system of patriarchy that is at the heart of disparate power relations between the genders. Not in Afghanistan, and not here at home.

Similarly war and occupation have been the defining features between our society and Afghanistan. This unfortunate reality can also be the impetus for a commonality of purpose between our societies – either we all work to end the war or none of us will survive to benefit from liberation.