Saturday, February 28, 2009

Invisible Orientalism and Islamophobia?

Jehanzeb Dar, of the terrific blog Broken Mystic has written a great essay on the racist/Orientalist epic film "300." It is cross-posted at my home-away-from-home Racialicious and is getting a lot of attention there, which he completely deserves. Here is the link to the original essay. And here is the link for the cross-post. Go and read it, its great.

The comment thread following the cross-post at Racialicious is typically lively, which is to be expected. (The Racialicious crew are a brilliant bunch and the standard of the comments is generally very high--in no small part due to the guiding hand and aggressive moderating style of editrix Latoya Peterson.) But there is a sub-theme popping up in the comments that bothered me and rather than hijack the thread, which is full of other great points, I thought I'd expand my concerns here at the Pomegranate. If anyone has followed me over from Racialicious and wants to jump in, even those I've disagreed with from that thread, you are welcome.

Early in the comment thread CVT posts:

"I don’t know if it specifically read as against Middle Easterners. Because, although that’s the history of it (since it’s “Persia”), I thought they did a pretty good job of lumping all people of color in as the enemy (there are faux-ninjas, black “Africans”, as well as the turbaned “Persians”). And, of course, with the enemies are all the disfigured monsters, etc.

So it’s more just “White is Superior” to me - over ALL other races - and not just Islamophobic. I think Frank Miller is just equal-opportunity racist in this particular portrayal - and I don’t think any thorough, psychological analysis is necessary to see that."

This comment struck me as dismissive, not only of Jehanzeb's thoughtful analysis of "300" but of the Orientalist and Islamophobic themes particular to the film. I am frankly mystified as to what mental trick is required to look at an Orientalist epic like "300" and say "I don't know if it it specifically read as against Middle Easterners." So I responded:

"While I agree with your larger point re: light/dark =good/bad in sci-fi and fantasy I disagree that the “Persians” in 300 stand in for all PoC. They are very consciously designed to represent Middle Eastern people. There is a clear parallel being drawn between the ancient Greeks and “Persians” of the story and the contemporary West/US/Israel and Middle Eastern states. 300 isn’t about African Americans anymore than Birth of a Nation is about Middle Eastern peoples. I agree that we all suffer under the weight of these representations but it is important to be clear: this movie is an Orientalist fantasia, a “virtuous West” triumphs over “morally corrupt East” parable created for an audience that allowed Guantanamo (speaking of homoerotic violence) to happen."

My intention wasn't to split hairs for the hell of it but I was really bothered by the idea that someone could shrug away the specific slur against Middle Eastern peoples that "300" represents in favor of a generalized "White is superior" message. I mean if you can't see it in "300" what is it going to take? But then, I suppose if people weren't rioting in the streets over Guantanamo then a glitzy film wasn't going to do it. At this point another commenter entered the conversation and responded:

'300 isn’t about African Americans anymore than Birth of a Nation is about Middle Eastern peoples'

Did you see the movie, like half the Persians whose face was (sic) visible to us the audience were black. (The messenger, the briber of the priest, the disembodied head of the fallen general) and the other more racially “ambigous”(sic) Persians were hella dark (even though many Persians are as pale as Europeans) Plus, the Persian army was a hodge podge of differnet (sic) races and ethnicities. Whits (sic) vs. POC. yeah."

I was flummoxed that my objection to this sentiment was so difficult to understand, so I wrote:

"Dude, I don’t care if they are purple: the “Persians” in this film were repulsive analogues to Middle Eastern people (who come in 31 flavors, peach to coffee). Yes, there is a general agreement that sci-fi/fantasy is a Eurocentric narrative where white=good. But, again, 300 is supposed to dramatize an actual historical event, not an LOTR fantasy. And yes, I wholeheartedly agree that such representations damage all PoC. But generalizing the insult represented by this film dilutes the intended effect, which is to retroactively justify contemporary violence against Middle Eastern people by linking it to “history.” By overwriting this intent with a US American Black/White narrative you obscure both the history of Orientalist imagery it draws from AND the contemporary propaganda value of a “historic” victory over licentious (but sexually repressed!), barbaric, Middle Easterners.

Sound familiar? It's meant to."

At this point I was feeling the pressure to play along for the sake of "PoC solidarity." The thread was a friendly one, I admired the essay that inspired it and here I was, introducing discord. After all, it is not such an awful thought that what effects some of us, effects all. Except that I am not sure that is how the sentiment was intended in these comments. Instead it seems that these folks--CVT and Dirge--are just not able to see Orientalism and Islamophobia. And I can't help it--that galls me. The last almost-decade has been an endless human-rights nightmare with Middle Eastern people and Muslims at the center and these guys still can't see prejudice unless it is framed in Black/White terms? How is that even possible? Presently CVT rejoined the thread ans posted:

"Although the “Persians” are literally equated with Middle East/Islam in the film, it’s no coincidence that their allies are various - differing - folks of color, all lumped in together, as one massive “evil” Empire. Dismissing that fact is counterproductive. “Birth of a Nation” only has black folks as the “evil” - “300″ has most forms of non-white skin as “evil,” and clearly so."


So at this point I am incredulous. I write:

"I am not dismissing it, I am saying it is a misstatement at best and a deliberate obfuscation of Orientalism and Islamophobia at worst. I have said repeatedly that I support the basic idea that we are in the same boat–but not at the expense of a particular understanding of this as hate film directed at me and people like me.

A cursory look at Jack Shaheen’s Reel Bad Arabs (referenced by Jehanzeb in his essay) clearly shows the genealogy of these images in American cinema. But they predate the advent of that media by thousands of years. Orientalist and then Islamophobic narratives are central to the formation of the West from its beginnings.

I refuse to allow that history, which is played out to such devastating effect in the present as State-sanctioned violence against Middle Eastern people, to be absorbed into a different racial narrative just to satisfy a general American need to recast every story in familiar (i.e. Black/White) terms: No.

I have no desire to turn this excellent thread into a debate over this one element that popped up in the comments. I have said what needed to be said about it and you’ll either hear me or you won’t. Instead of continuing down that road I’d like to ask a few general questions:

There are countless examples of repellent portrayals of black folk in American culture–new and old and when they are called out on this site and elsewhere I gladly join the chorus of voices decrying them. So why is the reciprocal gesture so difficult for some to manage when the focus is on Middle Eastern people?

Why, in order to enjoy wider PoC support, do I have to submit to the notion that "300"–or whatever Orientalist cultural expression is at issue– is “really” about a Black/White narrative, which trumps all?

Do you think it is a coincidence that this film was made while we are occupying Iraq? While Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and numerous other CIA “black site” prisons are filled with Arab and Muslim prisoners? (Still! Thanks for nothing so far President Obama…) When torture is made legal in the United States but it is only practiced on Arabs and Muslims?

Can you understand why, given these things, the attempt to recast a hate film created specifically to demonize Middle Eastern people into a completely different racial narrative, is offensive?"

...Which brings us to this post. As an Arab/American I sometimes feel caught in the limbo between these categories and not comfortably within any of them. This is a particular experience, and a significantly different one from folks who are easily categorized. Still, I am losing patience with the lack of imagination--especially among progressives--that stems from an unwillingness to entertain parallel narratives. The willful dismissal of specific Middle Eastern/Islamic concerns is not new--even in so-called progressive, anti-racist circles. There is a great deal of talk in such circles about "white privilege" but I think attitudes like those expressed by CVT and Dirge embody privilege of a different sort: Western privilege. That is, the "right" to frame the conversation in familiar terms and the demand that others fit their experience within yours.


So I checked back in on that thread and after Jehanzeb made a passionate post comparing "300" to a minstrel show (as a way, presumably to reach the folks who wanted to brush aside the racism and only engage with the movie as entertainment) an individual who calls herself--ironically enough--"Think" wrote:

"If they had been fighting a bunch of black women who look like me I probably would have felt differently though, so I do understand what you mean. However, they weren’t…So all I saw were “buff and half naked” men fighting in slow motion, which I think is H-O-T. Maybe that’s not what you want to hear (see?) but at the end of the day it IS entertainment for me. I didn’t like what Frank Miller had to say, but when I watch the movie the themes that come to my mind are of courage and tenacity against all odds. That’s my lens. When I watch it again, I wonder if I’ll think differently….if so at least I know that 300 isn’t the last movie on earth.

So sorry, instead of fuming, I fanned myself…like I said, they were hot! They could have been fighting a bunch of stuffed animals, as far as I’m concerned."

...I think I can actually taste my lunch again.

So the next time you ask yourself, "how could this happen?" re: Guantanamo/Iraq/Abu Ghraib/Palestine etc. etc. etc...

Clueless morons like "Think" are how.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Conference: Transnational Tides and the Future of the Arab City

Yale Arab Alumni Association

Call for Proposals

Transnational Tides and the Future of the Arab City
A Conference in Beirut

October 2-4, 2009
At the American University of Beirut and other locations

Submission Deadline: March 27, 2009

The Yale Arab Alumni Association invites professionals and scholars from all fields to submit proposals for our inaugural conference, "Transnational Tides and the Future of the Arab City." This interdisciplinary event encourages the exchange of cutting-edge expertise by environmental, cultural, business, political, design, and intellectual innovators, Yale alumni or otherwise.

Description and Aims of Conference

The Arab experience of globalization has resulted in the refashioning of Arab cities into unique spaces hosting transnational communities. These communities are distinguished not only by their demographic diversity but also by their extraordinary mobility. And despite the fluidity of these transnational communities, they are a fixture, at least for the foreseeable future.

The movements within the globalized Arab Middle East – of people, of capital, of ideas – can be understood as tide-like in their scale, force, and effect. Gesturing toward the historical dimension of these shifting patterns of migration and exchange, this conference explores how transnational leaders can use their mobility and resources to engage the new metropolitan network in the building of a sustainable, integrated regional future.

We welcome participants from all disciplines on topics such as:

-Education and globalization
-Urban planning and development
-Cultural sustainability
-National versus cultural identities
-Environmental sustainability
-Financial networks
-Migrant labor rights

We particularly encourage the submission of working papers and projects on topics relevant to the transnational nature of Arab cities which, like the concept of transnationality itself, transcend established geographical, temporal, political, and academic boundaries.

Proposal Submission Guidelines

Interested individuals should submit a 250-word abstract by March 27, 2009. Those selected to attend will be notified no later than April 17, 2009.

Participants are encouraged to seek funding from their host institution or organization. In some instances, funds may be available to those without institutional support to attend the international conference.

Please send abstracts to

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Caryl Churchill Responds to Criticism of "Seven Jewish Children"

I blogged about "Seven Jewish Children", written by Caryl Churchill in response to the Gaza crisis, when it opened. Perhaps predictably she has been attacked for the play and accused of anti-Jewish sentiment for her criticism of Israel. In a February 18, 2009 editorial in the UK Independent British comic novelist, Howard Jacobson (often described as "the British Phillip Roth") writes,

"Caryl Churchill will argue that her play is about Israelis not Jews, but once you venture on to 'chosen people' territory – feeding all the ancient prejudice against that miscomprehended phrase – once you repeat in another form the medieval blood-libel of Jews rejoicing in the murder of little children, you have crossed over. This is the old stuff. Jew-hating pure and simple – Jew-hating which the haters don’t even recognise in themselves, so acculturated is it – the Jew-hating which many of us have always suspected was the only explanation for the disgust that contorts and disfigures faces when the mere word Israel crops up in conversation. So for that we are grateful. At last that mystery is solved and that lie finally nailed. No, you don’t have to be an anti-Semite to criticise Israel. It just so happens that you are."

Jacobson writes a weekly column for the Independent and often contributes op-ed pieces in defense of Israel. To read Jacobson's entire editorial click here.

Churchill responded to Jacobson via the Independents' letters page on February 21, 2009. Her letter is reprinted below.

Caryl Churchill: My play is not anti-Semitic

Howard Jacobson (Opinion, 18 February) writes as if there’s something new about describing critics of Israel as anti-Semitic. But it’s the usual tactic. We are not going to agree about politics. Where he sees the benevolent withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, I see more than 1,000 Palestinians killed by Israel since the withdrawal, before the recent attacks. But we should be able to disagree without accusations of anti-Semitism, which lead to a pantomime of, “Oh yes you are”, “Oh no I’m not”, to distract attention from Israel.

My play, Seven Jewish Children, to which Howard Jacobson referred, shows the difficulty of explaining violence to children. In the early scenes, it is violence against Jewish people; by the end, it is the violence in Gaza.

It covers many years in 10 minutes and is, of course, an incomplete history. It leaves out a great deal that is favourable to Israel and a great deal that is unfavourable. It shows people being persecuted, some of them going to a homeland (where others have been displaced) and the defensiveness of their threatened position, leading to further violence.

Howard Jacobson seems to see the play from a very particular perspective so that everything is twisted. The characters are “covert and deceitful”, they are constructing a “parallel hell” to Hitler’s Europe, they are “monsters who kill babies by design”. I don’t recognise the play from that description.

Throughout the play, families try to protect children. Finally, one of the parents explodes, saying, “No, stop preventing her from knowing what’s on the TV news”. His outburst is meant, in a small way, to shock during a shocking situation. Is it worse than a picture of Israelis dancing for joy as smoke rises over Gaza? Or the text of Rabbi Shloyo Aviner’s booklet distributed to soldiers saying cruelty is sometimes a good attribute?

Then we have “chosen people”. Some people are now uncomfortable with a phrase that can seem to suggest racial superiority. But George W Bush, speaking to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, talked about “the homeland of the chosen people” without anyone suggesting he was accusing Israelis of racism or was anti-Semitic. Some supporters of Israel still use it with enthusiasm.

Finally, the blood libel. I find it extraordinary that, because the play talks about the killing of children in Gaza, I am accused of reviving the medieval blood libel that Jews killed Christian children and consumed their blood. The character is not “rejoicing in the murder of little children”. He sees dead children on television and feels numb and defiant in his relief that his own child is safe. He believes that what has happened is justified as self-defence. Howard Jacobson may agree. I don’t, but it doesn’t make either of them a monster, or me anti-Semitic.

If one of the main pieces of evidence for the rise of anti-Semitism is this play, I don’t think there’s much to worry about. If it’s really on the increase, then we should all stand up against it. But calling political opponents anti-Semitic just confuses the issue.

When people attack English Jews in the street saying, “This is for Gaza”, they are making a terrible mistake, confusing the people who bombed Gaza with Jews in general. When Howard Jacobson confuses those who criticise Israel with anti-Semites, he is making the same mistake. Unless he’s doing it on purpose.

Caryl Churchill

Royal Court Theatre, London SW1

...This pointed exchange between two artists highlights the difficulty in addressing the human rights crisis in Israel. Given their history, Jewish suspicions about criticism of Israel are perfectly understandable, at least to me. However, the need to have a frank conversation about the occupation of Palestine is pressing: The violent excesses of the Israeli government cannot be allowed to pass without comment by people of good conscience. It is predictable then, that conflicts such as the one modeled by Churchill and Jacobson will continue. What interests me is what happens after this name calling stops? (Assuming that it ever stops.) Is there a way to be sensitive to Jewish concerns without surrendering the discourse entirely?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Reading: The Uncultured Wars—Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought

Book Reading/Signing: The Uncultured Wars - Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought-New Essays by Steven Salaita
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 7:00 PM

Alwan for the Arts

16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor (bet. Broad & Broadway)
New York, NY 10004
Tel.: (646) 732-3261 Fax: (212) 967-4326

Co-sponsored by AMEJA - Arab and Middle Eastern Journalist Association (

Free and Open to the Public

In much of the past decade, many thoughtful people turned to liberal-left commentators such as Michael Moore, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Lerner, and Katerina venden Heuvel, to offer a rational corrective to the often false claims and brutish polices of the Bush administration. Yet, as Steven Salaita argues, many of America’s liberal voices have fallen far short of enlightenment vis à vis Arabs, Muslims and American imperialism. The Uncultured Wars is a powerful indictment of dominant American liberal-left discourse. Through twelve stylish essays Steven Salaita returns again and again to his core themes of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia and the inadequacy of critical thought amongst the 'chattering classes', showing how racism continues to exist in the places where we would least expect it.

By looking at topics as diverse as 'Is Jackass Justifiable?', 'Open Mindedness on Independence Day' and 'Ambition, Terrorism and Empathy', Salaita explores why Arabs are marginalized, and who seeks to benefit from this. He goes on to make the case that Arabs and Muslims urgently need to be included in the conversations that people have about American geopolitics.

About the Author:
Steven Salaita is assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech. He is the author of four books: Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where It Comes from and What It Means for Politics Today; The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan; Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures, and Politics; and The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, which he will discuss at Alwan.


Funny, sarcastic, witty, provocative, engaging and challenging, this book is sure to leave a significant mark on how we think about and enact progressive politics' - Evelyn Alsultany, University of Michigan

'The Uncultured Wars is a searing intervention by a political thinker who incisively critiques US liberalism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, and the brutal excesses of empire. Salaita's eloquent, honest and witty analysis challenges contemporary thinking about race, religion, feminism, indigeneity, the 'war on terror' and the Middle East. This is a book that anyone interested in cultural politics must read.' - Sunaina Maira, University of California: Davis

'You hold in your hands the work of a genuine intellectual, someone who privileges humanity over capital. Refusing to engage simplistic binaries, Salaita has provided a nuanced and much needed perspective that helps to historicize, anchor and elucidate the place of Arabs and Muslims in the larger central questions of race. The Uncultured Wars is illuminating, forthright and stripped to bare honesty.' - Matthew Shenoda, author of Somewhere Else and Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone.

TRAINS: 4/5 to Bowling Green; J/M/Z to Broad St.; R/W to Whitehall
St.; 1 to Rector St. or South Ferry; 2/3 to Wall St.

BUSES: M1, M6, M9, M16, M20.

BIKE: Hudson Rvr. Greenway, East Rvr. path, Liberty St., Broadway,
Water St.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The X-Patsys at (Le) Poisson Rouge on March 6 as part of Armory Arts Week

Performa Presents

Devouring Time: A Song and Spoken Word Journey Into Night

Co-presented by Metro Pictures and Deitch Projects as part of Armory Arts Week

Friday, March 6, 2009
8:00 pm (Doors open at 7:00)
(Le) Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, New York
Tickets $20
Buy Your Tickets Now!

Performa is pleased to present The X-Patsys – an art rock band comprising the extraordinary German actress Barbara Sukowa (star of Fassbinder films including Lola and Berlin Alexanderplatz) and acclaimed visual artists Robert Longo and Jon Kessler – at the downtown art cabaret and performance space (Le) Poisson Rouge.

The evening-length performance, Devouring Time: a song and spoken word journey into night, which Performa first presented for the Performa 07 biennial in 2007, will once again feature celebrated musicians Knox Chandler (guitar), Anthony Coleman (keyboards), Sean Conly (bass), and Anton Fier (drums). Using elements of Baroque musical forms to tackle themes of love and loss, the X-Patsys will perform songs by artists such as Patsy Cline, Tom Waits, Muddy Waters, and Joy Division, interwoven with readings from William Shakespeare and Andreas Gryphius, resulting in a blend of cultural references that creates a sonic journey of magical intensity.

Tickets are $20 and available through (Le) Poisson Rouge at (212) 796-0741 or by going to

Monday, February 16, 2009

Roundtable Discussion: Women & Fluxus

Thursday, February 19, 2009
7:00pm - 8:30pm

Lecture Hall, Rm 102
19 University Place
New York, NY


Alison Knowles (artist), Carolee Schneemann (artist), and
Barbara Moore (historian/director of Bound&Unbound), and Sara Seagull (artist)
Moderator: Midori Yoshimoto (art historian)

Please join us for an evening of informal discussions about the contribution of women to Fluxus, an avant-garde movement that has thrived since the 1960s. Unlike earlier, male-dominated art movements, many central, creative roles in Fluxus were performed by women, such as Alison Knowles, Yoko Ono, Takako Saito, Mieko Shiomi, and Shigeko Kubota. Other women artists who were briefly associated with the movement, like Carolee Schneemann and Kate Millet, also played crucial roles in shaping the historical significance of Fluxus. The conversation will revolve around the history and legacy of Fluxus, especially as it relates to gender studies, and will feature discussions of several artworks. The presentation will include a brief Q&A session.

A reception will follow the event.

Organized by Women and Performance: a journal of feminist theory
Hosted by NYU Performance Studies

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Music: An Occasional Series

Just discovered Fleet Foxes, whose dippy, hipster-Jesus schtick might annoy me if their music weren't so lovely. They are getting a ton of play just now (signed to Sup Pop, played SNL etc.) so I thought I'd feature this cover of their beautiful "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" by lesser known Swedish group First Aid Kit. You can download the cover here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Israeli Apartheid Week: Culture and the Boycott of Israel

5th Annual International Israeli Apartheid Week

March 1-8, 2009

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an international series of events held in cities and on campuses across the globe. The aim of IAW is to contribute to the chorus of international opposition to Israeli apartheid and to bolster support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. IAW will be running for the fifth consecutive year in 2009, with events taking place between the 1st and 8th of March. The week's events will include lectures, multimedia events, cultural performances, film screenings, demonstrations, and more.

From Johannesburg to Jerusalem: Anti-Apartheid Organizing in the US
Monday, March 2nd, 7 pm
St Mary's Episcopal Church, 521 West 126th Street, NYC
Showing of critically acclaimed film "Have you heard from Johannesburg?", followed by a discussion with David Wildman of the United Methodist Church and Mahmood Mamdani of Columbia University.

The Art of Resistance: Culture and the Boycott of Israel
Friday, March 6th, 7 pm
Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, NYC
Panel discussion with best-selling author Ahdaf Soueif, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel Omar Barghouti, and NYC poet Remi Kanazi; moderated by Brooklyn College Professor Moustafa Bayoumi.

All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

For the full schedule of the week's events (Still in formation):

Contact the New York City Organizers: | 718-408-1640

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Update: Imprisoned Blogger Phillip Rizk is Free

Yesterday evening I received an email from an old schoolmate of Rizk's who wrote,

"Word just came out that Philip has been released and is now safely back with his family. Thank you again for your participation and help, we are all breathing a sigh of relief."

...I tried to log on to Rizk's blog, Tabula Gaza to get more information but it appears to now be invitation only. After this ordeal who could blame him? It seems that the Egyptian government had been keeping track of Rizk for some time before his arrest. Still, I am sad that another voice in support of Palestine has been muted.

So while I am incredibly happy about his release I am left with the question:

What is the cost for supporting the Palestinians globally?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gaida and her Ensemble: Levantine Indulgence

Alwan for the Arts and Joe's Pub Present:

Gaida and her Ensemble: Levantine Indulgence
Joe's Pub | 425 Lafayette Street | New York, NY 10003 $20
Thursday, February 19, 2009 9:30 PM

order tickets online at or by calling 212-967-7555

Gaida improvised incantatory lines as an accomplished jazz vocalist might have done… plaintive, gauzy vocals effectively disarmed listeners”- Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

Gaida Hinnawi is a vocalist and composer working at the intersection of the New York Arab and improvised music scenes. Her songs draw at once on classical Arabic music, Syrian folk traditions, and free improvisations that expand on traditional Arabic maqams (modes) to produce an original and highly personal style marked by great emotional intensity. An acclaimed singer from an early age, Gaida was born in Germany and raised in Damascus. Later she lived in Kuwait, Paris, and Detroit, where she received classical voice training at Wayne State University.

Now settled in New York, Gaida works with leading music artists such as Amir ElSaffar, Brahim Fribgane, Arturo Martinez, Zafer Tawil, and Rufus Cappadocia. She appeared on Jonathan Demme's latest film,Rachel Getting Married, which featured one of her compositions and a performance with Robyn Hitchcock. She has subsequently performed with Hitchcock on several occasions in New York. She also recorded with Gillian Welsh and Alejandro Escovedo on Demme's previous film,Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains. Gaida composed and performed an original song for the documentary film,The First Saturday in May. Her debut CD, Levantine Indulgence is scheduled for release in the spring of 2009.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blogger Grabbed by Egyptian Security Forces

LA Times --Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo A blogger and peace activist is being held by Egyptian security forces at an undisclosed location after he was arrested Friday following a march to raise awareness about conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Philip Rizk, a 26-year-old Egyptian-German filmmaker and student at the American University in Cairo, was last seen leaving the Abu Zabal police station in a white mini-bus.

Rizk and other activists had earlier marched at a rally outside Cairo to condemn the Israeli blockade of Gaza and urge Egypt to open its Rafah border crossing to allow aid to enter the Palestinian enclave.

"He is in the custody of State Security, which means illegal detention and a high probability of torture and ill treatment," Aida Seif El Dawla, who runs a group that counsels torture victims, told the Associated Press. "The fact that they are not saying where he is is very worrying."

German officials have contacted Egyptian authorities, and Rizk’s Egyptian father and German mother have filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office. Arrests of bloggers, activists and political opponents are common in Egypt, where they can be held for months without charges. More than 50 members of the Muslim Brotherhood organization were also detained after a recent Gaza rally.

The government of President Hosni Mubarak is sensitive to criticism regarding its handling of the Gaza crisis. Egypt has kept its Rafah border with Gaza mostly closed since late December, when Israel launched a 22-day incursion into the seaside enclave that killed about 1,300 Palestinians. The Egyptian government fears opening the border would ease pressure on the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza and supports exporting radical Islam across the region.

Rizk had been filming a documentary about the Palestinian resistance. A post on his Tabula Gaza blog late last week urged activists to march toward Gaza to protest the Israeli siege:

"Though the immediate Israeli military onslaught on Gaza -- for the time being -- has come to a standstill this is not a solution. Let us seize this time of urgency to act and call for an end to siege on Gaza. Though our respective governments reject expressing our resistance to the status quo we -- the multitude -- must move to the streets, as a collective global expression in condemnation of Israel’s actions."

Please sign the petition demanding his release:

For more information, here is the link to the Facebook page about the situation:

And here is the link to the organization dedicated to securing his release

Thursday, February 5, 2009

When the Sun Goes Down and the Moon Comes Up: R.I.P. Lux Interior

The front man of horror-punk/psycho-billy pioneers The Cramps,
Lux Interior, dead at 62.

...and somewhere a little devil gets its wings.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Emily Jacir at the Guggenheim, February 6–April 15, 2009

Border Crossings Between Art and Life

New York Times


IN 2006 Emily Jacir fired a .22-caliber gun successively at 1,000 white books ranged on shelves for the installation piece “Material for a Film,” which commemorates the 1972 assassination of the Palestinian intellectual Wael Zuaiter by Israeli intelligence agents.

On Friday two versions of the bullet-scarred piece will go on view at the Guggenheim Museum in an exhibition devoted to Ms. Jacir, 38, the winner of the 2008 Hugo Boss Prize, bestowed every other year by a jury overseen by the Guggenheim Foundation in recognition of “significant achievement” by a contemporary artist.

Ms. Jacir is known for works that blur the boundary between art and life, with a frequent emphasis on global mobility and political exile. An artist of Palestinian descent who mainly divides her time between New York and the West Bank town of Ramallah, she has often explored the impact of Israeli actions on Palestinians.

The killing in Rome of Mr. Zuaiter, a spokesman for the Palestinian cause, was carried out by Mossad agents in retaliation for the slayings that year of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Israeli agents said he played a role in planning the attack; Palestinian factions vigorously denied it, and subsequent accounts by investigative journalists have also raised doubts that he was involved in those killings.

In “Where We Come From,” perhaps her most acclaimed piece, Ms. Jacir addressed the theme of a lost Palestinian homeland. To create the work, she used her American passport to realize desires — lighting a candle in Haifa, for example — of Palestinians who lacked the freedom of movement needed to cross borders freely between Israel and the West Bank.

Her politically provocative art has drawn some sharp criticism from those who feel it maligns Israel, and the Guggenheim show is opening against a backdrop of fervid controversy over Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

Asked to take part in a question-and-answer session about her work in person or by telephone, Ms. Jacir declined, but she agreed to respond to queries submitted by e-mail.

Strikingly, she refused to answer a question about where she was born. Whether the confusion is a conceptual-art strategy intended to mirror the displacement of Palestinians or she does not want her real birthplace known remains unclear. Following are excerpts from the interview. MICHAEL Z. WISE

Q. Why did you create an artwork focusing on Wael Zuaiter, and who was he?

A. Since I was a teenager I have been haunted by the Mossad massacres of Palestinian intellectuals, poets and politicians. Back in 1998 I began collecting as much information as I could on the Palestinians who were murdered on European soil. Initially my plan was to make a project about all of them. The more I researched, however, the more compelled I became with Wael’s story in and of itself. He was the first target and an innocent man.

I felt that there were a thousand Palestinian stories in the narrative of his life. I felt connected to him in that I lived in Rome and had moved there from the gulf as he did. He was also a pioneer in trying to tell our story to the outside world. Wael Zuaiter was a poet and a translator who despised all forms of violence. The great Italian novelist Alberto Moravia said that his “dominant characteristic was his sheer benevolence towards everyone and everything. This seemed to me a rare and precious quality, especially when I remembered that he was Palestinian and therefore had many reasons for allowing himself to resort to violence. But he rejected violence, absolutely. ”

Q. Why did you want to symbolically re-enact Zuaiter’s shooting?

A. This piece is based on one element of Wael’s story that I discovered during my research, which was that he was killed by 12 bullets at close range to his body, but there was a 13th bullet which struck his copy of “A Thousand and One Nights.” Wael’s dream had been to translate “A Thousand and One Nights” directly from Arabic into Italian. He had been working on this project since his arrival in Italy. This alone inspired an entire performance in which I shot 1,000 books each with one bullet using the same gun the Mossad had used to kill Palestinians in Europe. The books were white, and they were blank and symbolized the thousands of stories that have not been written and will not be written.

Q. How did you learn that he had been carrying that book?

A. The Rome police found Volume 2 of “A Thousand and One Nights” on Wael’s body in his pocket pierced with a 13th bullet. At 6 a.m. they came to [Zuaiter’s companion] Janet Venn-Brown’s apartment to inform her of the murder and take her in for questioning. It was then that they gave her the book, which she safeguarded for 30 years. She then donated the book to the Wael Zuaiter Center in Massa Carrara [a province in Tuscany], where you can go see it if you’d like.

Q. Where did you learn to fire the weapon?

A. The 2006 Sydney Biennial organized that. ... At a local shooting range. Q. What was it like to shoot the gun 1,000 times?

A. I shot it much more than 1,000 times. I was in training for a few days learning how to shoot before I embarked on my project. It was grueling and required a lot of stamina.

Q. Did you feel a sense of revenge against the Mossad?

A. Absolutely not, and that was not the intention of the piece.

Q. Steven Spielberg’s film “Munich” appeared in 2005 around the time you began work on “Material for a Film.” Was it a catalyst for your project?

A. Spielberg’s film appeared long after I was well into my research, and he didn’t bring anything new to the table.

Q. What would you like those who view this work at the Guggenheim to take away from seeing it?

A. Poetry.

Q. You’re active politically. In the past few weeks you have called for artists to boycott Israel and for New Yorkers to condemn Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s recent visit to Israel in support of Israeli military actions. How do you distinguish between your political activity and your art?

A. They are two completely different things.

Q. How so? Aren’t they conjoined, in a sense?

A. Yes, they are conjoined in the sense that this is like asking me how I distinguish between my love life and my art, or my family and my art, or the food I cook and my art. Or my physical activity and my art, or my intellectual pursuits and my art.

Q. You’ve said that “a lot of my work is not so directly about Palestine, but about me wandering through space and time.” In recent years your work has become increasingly concerned with documenting the effect of Israeli actions on Palestinians, as seen in your video piece “Crossing Surda,” where you show the hardships imposed by West Bank checkpoints. Why has your work developed in this direction?

A. My work comes out of my life experience, and that experience is broad and varied. That particular piece you are referencing, “Crossing Surda” (a record of going to and from work), exists because an Israeli soldier threatened me and put an M-16 into my temple. [Ms. Jacir says she was filming her feet with a video camera at a checkpoint that day.] If I had not had this direct threatening experience this piece would not exist.

Q. In biographical information distributed about you, your birthplace has variously been given as Palestine; Bethlehem; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Jordan; Chicago; Memphis; Baghdad; and Houston. Where were you in fact born?

A. No comment.

Q. Much of your work deals with the Palestinian historical narrative and its commemoration. The haunting sense of absence is reminiscent of conceptual works related to the Holocaust, for example the British sculptor Rachel Whiteread’s concrete library, a monument to the murdered Jews of Vienna, or the pillar erected by Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz in Hamburg that is lowered into the ground when inscribed by citizens with messages remembering Nazi victims. What have you learned from such works, and do you yourself see such a connection?

A. I absolutely agree that there is a connection with such works and others. We are talking about entire communities that have faced large-scale unspeakable trauma, so there is bound to be a connection in works that try to deal with this. One of the most profound art experiences I had when I was studying was seeing the Hans Haacke piece “Germania” at the Venice Biennale in 1993, which addressed the Nazi-era German pavilion.

There was a photograph showing Hitler at the 1934 Biennale, and then you walked around and into the giant empty pavilion where he had jackhammered the entire floor of the German pavilion into fragments, and you walked on these fragments where microphones picked up the sound of the shattered pieces shifting. Alfredo Jaar’s “Rwanda Project” is also another work that deals with trauma and commemoration that impacted my thinking.

Q. Do you expect your Guggenheim exhibition to attract controversy?

A. Unfortunately I am afraid it might. I really hope not, but the reality of the situation is that the Palestinian narrative has been strictly censored in this country, so when it does get a chance to be told, people get really upset.

Q. You’ve been teaching at the International Academy of Art Palestine, founded in Ramallah in the West Bank. What are the most important things that you attempt to convey to students there?

A. The same as the things I try to convey to students I teach anywhere. I hope I can cultivate and nourish critical thinking, teach them to learn how to see, and to impart learning skills that they will have for life.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dear Italy, Eat Me!

Italy bans kebabs and foreign food from cities

January 31, 2009

The tomato comes from Peru and spaghetti was probably a gift from China.

It is, though, the “foreign” kebab that is being kicked out of Italian cities as it becomes the target of a campaign against ethnic food, backed by the centre-right Government of Silvio Berlusconi.

The drive to make Italians eat Italian, which was described by the Left and leading chefs as gastronomic racism, began in the town of Lucca this week, where the council banned any new ethnic food outlets from opening within the ancient city walls.

Yesterday it spread to Lombardy and its regional capital, Milan, which is also run by the centre Right. The antiimmigrant Northern League party brought in the restrictions “to protect local specialities from the growing popularity of ethnic cuisines”.

Luca Zaia, the Minister of Agriculture and a member of the Northern League from the Veneto region, applauded the authorities in Lucca and Milan for cracking down on nonItalian food. “We stand for tradition and the safeguarding of our culture,” he said.

Mr Zaia said that those ethnic restaurants allowed to operate “whether they serve kebabs, sushi or Chinese food” should “stop importing container loads of meat and fish from who knows where” and use only Italian ingredients.

Asked if he had ever eaten a kebab, Mr Zaia said: “No – and I defy anyone to prove the contrary. I prefer the dishes of my native Veneto. I even refuse to eat pineapple.”

Mehmet Karatut, who owns one of four kebab shops in Lucca, said that he used Italian meat only.

Davide Boni, a councillor in Milan for the Northern League, which also opposes the building of mosques in Italian cities, said that kebab shop owners were prepared to work long hours, which was unfair competition.

“This is a new Lombard Crusade against the Saracens,” La Stampa, the daily newspaper, said. The centre-left opposition in Lucca said that the campaign was discrimination and amounted to “culinary ethnic cleansing”.

Vittorio Castellani, a celebrity chef, said: “There is no dish on Earth that does not come from mixing techniques, products and tastes from cultures that have met and mingled over time.”

He said that many dishes thought of as Italian were, in fact, imported. The San Marzano tomato, a staple ingredient of Italian pasta sauces, was a gift from Peru to the Kingdom of Naples in the 18th century. Even spaghetti, it is thought, was brought back from China by Marco Polo, and oranges and lemons came from the Arab world.

Mr Castellani said that the ban reflected growing intolerance and xenophobia in Italy. It was also a blow to immigrants who make a living by selling ethnic food, which is popular because of its low cost. There are 668 ethnic restaurants in Milan, a rise of nearly 30 per cent in one year.

The centre Right won national elections in April last year partly because of alarm about crime and immigration. This week there was a series of attacks on immigrants in bars and shops after the arrest of six Romanians accused of gang-raping an Italian girl in the Rome suburb of Guidonia.

Filippo Candelise, a Lucca councillor, said: “To accuse us of racism is outrageous. All we are doing is protecting the culinary patrimony of the town.”

Massimo Di Grazia, the city spokesman, said that the ban was intended to improve the image of the city and to protect Tuscan products. “It targets McDonald’s as much as kebab restaurants,” he added.

There is confusion, however, over what is meant by ethnic. Mr Di Grazia said that French restaurants would be allowed. He was unsure, though, about Sicilian cuisine. It is influenced by Arab cooking.

...And here are some choice comments on this article from the Times online:

"Just a pompous attitude bred from self importance. Italians should know that their ' Culinary heritage' is based on imports ( as most Empire nations) and to disregard that is dumb...but what does one expect! They won't ban football though will they? An import form Great Britain."
--Billy, Bangkok, Thailand

"Laugh if you want. Fascism began in Italy under Mussolini - no one cared when the fascists started burning books...look where it ended. For sure, history does not repeat itself, but that does not mean that mankind's infinite stupidity can only ever occur once. From these small sparks will come a fire."
--Andre, Brussels, Belgium

"Pizza: originally the ancient Greek flat bread 'plakous'
Tomatoes: the Spanish took these with them from South America (Peru)
Spaghetti: Arabs brought Chinese noodles to Italy
Basil (a main ingredient of the Pesto sauce): originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia
Spinach, almonds and rice: introduced by Arabs in the 9th century."
--Karin, Oslo

"Kudos to those in Italy for protecting not only their heritage, but Italian business owners!"
--Sandy, Philadelphia, PA, USA

"Impressive - this is something Monty Python couldn't have written better in all its absurdity - of course it's based in racism and protectionism, be honest about that fact at least.
And it's happening everywhere - sometimes it's just sad to be part of the human race."
--Kenneth, Aalborg, Denmark

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How Does It Feel To Be A Problem?

How Does It Feel To Be A Problem?: Being Young And Arab In America
Book Discussion With Author Moustafa Bayoumi And Professor Andrew Ross

Date: Thursday, Feb 12th
Time: 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

A/P/A Insitute And Department Of Social & Cultural Analysis
41-51 East 11th Street
7th Floor Gallery
New York, NY 10003
(212) 998-3700

Free and open to the public.

Just over a century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois posed a probing question in his classic The Souls of Black Folk: �How does it feel to be a problem?� Today, Arab and Muslim Americans, the newest minorities in the American imagination, are the latest "problem" of American society, and their answers to Du Bois� question increasingly define what being American means today.

In a wholly revealing portrait of a community that lives next door and yet a world away, Moustafa Bayoumi introduces us to the individual lives of seven twenty-something men and women living in Brooklyn, home to the largest number of Arab Americans in the United States. Through telling real stories about young people in Brooklyn, Bayoumi jettisons the & stereotypes and clich�s that constantly surround Arabs and Muslims and allows us instead to enter their worlds and experience their lives. We meet Rasha, Sami, Lina, Akram, Yasmin, Omar and Rami and discover through them often-unseen entanglements: government surveillance and detentions, workplace discrimination, warfare in their countries of origin, threats of vigilante violence, the infiltration of spies and informants into their midst, and the disappearance of friends or family. As their lives turn on the winds of global conflicts, these young Arab Americans manage the major issues of our day while forging the contours of our future society.

The discussion with author Moustafa Bayoumi will be moderated by Andrew Ross, Professor and Chair of the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU.

Moustafa Bayoumi is an Associate Professor of English at Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is co-editor of The Edward Said Reader and has published academic essays in Transition, Interventions, The Yale Journal of Criticism, Amerasia, Arab Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Asian American Studies, and other places. His writings have also appeared in Nation, The London Review of Books, and The Village Voice.

Co-sponsored by the Asian/Pacific/American Institute and the NYU Center for Multicultural Education and Programs

For more information contact:
Tanesha Barnes at

To RSVP:, or Call 212-992-9653